Menu (1933)

Its head is off, which makes it a dead duck.

During the TCM 31 Days of Oscar series (which I have been enjoying immensely), the small chunks of airtime in between the feature-length films have been filled with network promos and short films. I wasn’t paying attention to the shorts until I noticed this one playing the other day.

The 10-minute film, part of a series produced by Pete Smith, appears on the surface to be an instructional cooking video. However, it turns out to be a satire with  Smith’s near monotone voice lending itself to the sarcastic narration. There are only three characters in the film, one of which is a hopeless young housewife who cracks eggs with a rolling pin (she had already contemplated using a nutcracker).  Fortunately, her hard-working husband’s dinner is saved by a Chef Boyardee-esque angel who magically appears to show her a thing or two. What ensues is an amusing video where the bird that’s about to be cooked is just as much a character as the humans, complete with nerves and a preference for whether the cook uses their left or right hand to baste it.

Despite it being intended for laughs, someone could actually learn how to cook a complete roasted duck dinner if they watched it! If Food Network produced more videos like this, it might once again be watchable. Ho-hum.

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The 84th Annual Academy Awards

“They must be nuts in France right now. Or whatever the French have in place of joy.”
Billy Crystal 

images via oscar.go.com

After last year’s unimpressive awards show, poorly hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, watching last night’s Oscar telecast was a treat. Billy Crystal returned for the ninth time to host and brought with him his traditional Best Picture nominee song and his opening montage, which immediately caused both outrage and confusion by the appearance of his Sammy Davis, Jr. character. If anything, I thought Justin Beiber was the one out of place. Crystal’s jokes throughout the night were often funny, though not risky (bar the aforementioned Davis bit).

Highlights of the show included a wonderful Cirque de Soleil performance that exemplified a great movie-going experience and Chris Rock presenting an award for animation, but not before he pointed out that being a voice in an animated film is the easiest job out there that pays a million dollars. Best was the “rare footage” video made by Christopher Guest and his reliable stable of actors (Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Eugene Levy) depicting a focus group from 1939 who had watched The Wizard of Oz and didn’t care for it. Willard’s character at least appreciated some of it, saying, “I didn’t like it ’till they got to the flying monkeys”.

JLo and Cameron Diaz, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey, Jr., all tried to be funny but failed. Also, what was up with Angelina Jolie and her awkward diva pose when she presented the writing awards? Was the guy who won as part of the writing team for The Descendants making fun of her when he struck a similar pose on stage (mere feet from where she was standing)? If so, I now like him despite not knowing who he is.

As for the winners and their acceptance speeches, they were pretty ordinary and predictable. Christopher Plummer became the oldest recipient of any (non-honorary) Academy Award at the age of 82, which was a nice bit of history-making. Woody Allen was still not around to accept his screenwriting award for Midnight in Paris. Meryl Streep won Best Actress for a movie nobody watched (yawn). I was, however, very excited for Bret McKenzie when he won for writing a song from The Muppets, mostly because a) I love Flight of the Conchords (the duo and the series), b) I enjoyed the song when I watched the film, and c) I like Bret more than Jemaine.

I didn’t see as many of the nominated films as I could have this season because the options seemed lackluster, and I have a hunch that neither The Artist nor 2012 will stand out in film history. However, it was still comforting to see Billy Crystal again, who I can recall as the host throughout my childhood.

Honorable mentions go out to Sandra Bullock for reciting part of her presentation for Best Foreign Language Film in German after setting everyone up to think she would speak Mandarin, and the JCPenney commercials (at least on the East Coast in the United States) starring Ellen Degeneres. 

Flex Mussels

Seafood
174 East 82nd Street, NYC
(212) 717.7772
Website

While the seafood and appetizers are all quite good here, the donuts are where it’s at. Airy, fluffy pillows of yeasty dough, lightly covered in granulated sugar, and piped with delectable fillings.

Sea salt caramel donut

From the “Flex Donut Collection” that consisted of atleast ten different flavors, I sampled Meyer lemon curd, sea salt caramel, and blueberry cheesecake. All three were great, but the blueberry cheesecake was my favorite of the three (although the sea salt had been touted as the most popular). We were pointed away from a S’mores filled one on the basis that other diners that night who had already tried it found it cloyingly sweet.

Blueberry cheesecake donut

These donuts are so good that the dessert chef, Zac Young, opened a pop-up donut shop in Grand Central Terminal last year. Fortunately, though, these treats are on the regular menu at the restaurant and will likely not disappear anytime soon.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

I always say: When life gives you Meyer lemons, make lemon cupcakes. Okay, I don’t say that – but I was craving lemon cupcakes recently. I had only ever made vanilla or chocolate cupcakes before so I was hoping my first attempt would turn out okay. After recent success with a new chocolate cupcake recipe, my new rule for baking cakes or cupcakes is that one of the ingredients must be sour cream. Some quick research on the web gave me two recipes, one for the cake and one for a lemon cream cheese frosting.

When I was prepping these, I forgot to zest any of the lemon so I left out the zest called for in the cake recipe. Regardless, these cupcakes came out lovely. They’re not too sweet, not too tart (although that may be due to the fact that I used Meyers), and have a nice buttery flavor. The frosting was great, also – luscious and tangy and very smooth.

My Week With Marilyn

image via The Weinstein Company

I got myself to the theater recently to watch My Week With Marilyn starring Best Actress nominee Michelle Williams. I was looking forward to watching this movie because I’ve been an admirer of Marilyn Monroe since I first knew of her. Despite all the rumors and stories of her life, I always get a thrill out of watching her on screen. She was bubbly and gorgeous and everything you wanted in a movie star.

The basis of the film comes from real-life personal accounts of a young Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) who landed an entry-level position on a Sir Laurence Olivier production, The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark, and the movie, would have us believe that through luck, a small amount of charm, and a large amount of awe, he found himself in Monroe’s inner circle – much to the dismay of those who had known her longer. For most of the movie I found myself questioning whether much of it actually happened.  Many of the more unbelievable scenes occur when Colin and Marilyn are alone so we’re left on our own to decide whether they’re accurate or exaggerated.

As a premise, the story tugs on the common fantasy to spend any amount of time with one of our idols. What would you do? How would you act? Would the person turn out to be as awesome as you always imagined? As it turned out in this story Marilyn’s personal struggles caused her to be, in essence, a little girl who just wanted to be loved. This is implied as the source for her inner demons, the reason she married so frequently, and even why she allowed a controlling sycophant like Paula Strasberg in her life.

Despite an interesting supporting cast (Julia Ormond as Vivian Leigh and Emma Watson as a costume department girl and love interest for Colin) this film didn’t live up to my expectations. From start to finish, I never once had a moment where I felt I was watching Marilyn Monroe. Michelle Williams made a good effort trying to emulate a larger-than-life cultural icon, but she didn’t nail it (also, the makeup department dropped the ball by not doing lush sweeping eyeliner and lashes). Williams came off more as an above average impersonator. Kenneth Branagh, on the other hand, did a phenomenal job as Olivier and I would be happy to see him win at this year’s awards.

Dame Judi Dench portrayed their co-star at the time, Dame Sybil Thorndike, whose only function seemed to be as a nice old lady with a lot of life experience. However, I didn’t see the point of her in it at all by the end. She kept stating that Marilyn was a great actress but nothing in the film supported that, it only contradicted it by stressing Monroe’s enslavement to the Method and her constant frustration on set. Also, did Marilyn ever end up joining Dame Sybil for tea with a spoonful of wisdom on the side? Did Paula tag along? I guess I’ll never know.