Monday, January 28, 2008

Mansfield Park

Film: Mansfield Park
Like/Don't Like: Don't like. I guess. I'm getting tired.

Oh, it's been years since I've read Mansfield Park. And I remember it not being my most favorite of her books. Big surprise, I can't remember why. Curse this memory of mine! But I do remember characters and the plot and I've seen the version that came out in 1999 a number of times so I'm not wholly unfamiliar with it. I feel like I'm just repeating myself here so I'll give you the abridged version: It was too short and too chopped up. No continuity. What happened to all the characters. 90 minutes is not enough time, blah, blah, blah. The ending was very sweet and romantic so it left me with moderately good feelings and I felt that everyone, with the exception of Fanny* was well casted. But there were several times during the show that I felt like just chucking it all and going to bed. It didn't grab my attention at all.

And it was too modern**. It felt like I was watching a dress rehearsal of a plucky young troupe of actors pulling something together at a country estate and their hair people hadn't shown up yet so they had to do it themselves. Which brings me to my real criticism. Hair. It's a shame Fanny couldn't stroll down to the local merchant and pick up a box of Miss Clairol Ashy Blonde to touch up her roots. I'm pretty sure that woman in Jane Austen's time had eyebrows that matched their hair color. And Edmund's looked like it was styled by some emo kid with too much gel on his hands. Distracting, to say the least.

*I will NOT say anything about her unfortunate overbite. No I will not.
**"Hold the phone," you're saying. "Wasn't the 1999 version really modern too?" True. But it was also beautifully done. Loosely based, yes. Liberties abounded. But as a film, very nice to watch.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chicken & Dumplings

Recipe: Chicken & Dumplings
Like/Don't Like: Mmmm. Warm & tasty. Like.

So it's really cold here. Let me amend that, it's really cold here in California. Which means that it's about 55 during the day and about 40 at night. Brrrr. And it's rainy. Cold and cloudy and rainy. Anyone feel sorry for me now? I didn't think so. But that does not change the fact that for the last week I've been very chilled. So I was in need of comfort food last night. Warm comfort food with dumplings. Because nothing says, "Let me hug your tummy" more than dumplings, right? It was too late to think about stew, which is my go-to vehicle for dumplings. So I wracked my brain and remembered the one time I had chicken and dumplings. It was heavenly. This may have something to do with the fact that Courtney made it. Anyone who knows Courtney knows what I'm talking about. In heaven, all of our meals will taste like Courtney made them. I digress...I remember it being warm and creamy and delicious. And last night as I drove home from work in the cold, cold rain all I could think about was how perfect chicken and dumplings would be.

And it was. Warm and delicious. I got the recipe off of but I changed it so much that it doesn't really even resemble it so here's what I did, including the changes that I will make the next time I make it, which may be tonight since it is still cold and rainy and I'm still a wimp.

1 - 2 chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
some celery chopped
some carrots chopped
some onion finely chopped
maybe some minced garlic if you want it
whatever other vegetables you want to add, maybe potatoes or peas or corn
some Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
whatever other seasonings you feel like, this is your soup, go for it.
1 box of low sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. flour

In a big pot heat up about a teaspoon of olive oil and throw in everything but the broth. Cook it until the chicken no longer is pink on the outside and the onions are translucent. Pour in the broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked and the veggies are soft. Mix together milk and flour until smooth and pour into soup. Return to a medium boil.


1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp margarine
1/2 cup milk

Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in medium size bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in milk to make a soft dough. Drop large spoonfuls into the boiling soup. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. DON'T LIFT THE LID! Ha. I said that just to scare you. I don't actually know what will happen if you lift the lid but maybe we don't want to find out. Insert a toothpick into a dumpling and if it comes out clean then your gold. Last night I didn't have any flour so I used corn starch to thicken it and refrigerated biscuits for the dumplings. They worked alright but I'm still craving the real deal.

I have no idea how much this will make. The dumplings soaked up a lot of the liquid and it was enough for me and Katie with just enough for leftovers for my lunch. So I've upped the liquid ingredients here. Probably about 4.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Northanger Abbey

Movie: Northanger Abbey
Like/Don't Like: Like. And a sigh was heard from apartment 103.

Okay, this was more like it. After my disappointment with Persuasion last week I didn't have much hope for Northanger Abbey. Especially since, once again, it was only 90 minutes. (Dear PBS, Get a clue! The people who are watching your shows are not 13 year old girls who thing that TRL is a little long and like, ya know, boring sometimes. We may be 80 but I think we can handle staying up until 11 if it meant having a better movie. Hey, how about trying a mini-series? I can wait a week because I'm practically a grown up. Regards, Rachel) So I settled down in my jim-jams with a cup of cocoa (or, as the kids say, ho-cho. To go with the fro-yo. I'm gagging now.) and a skeptical look on my face. Katie joined me because she has today off and could stay up past her bedtime.

Well, I went to bed with peace in my heart because I liked it. Truly. It was charming and funny and captured the whole feel of the novel. Kind of tongue-in-cheek gothic. Catherine was appropriately naive and Henry did just the right amount of teasing. And the actual Northanger Abbey was as spooky as it should be. The ending was a little rushed but they still did a pretty good job with it considering how much time was left. My one thumbs-down was that every single man in Bath seemed to be a leering cad. Everywhere Catherine went men were turning their heads and raising their eyebrows and nodding to their fellow scoundrels as if to say, "Nice spencer. I'd like to help her with that." If they had had mustaches they would have been twirling them. I don't know if that was done to give it a danger-at-every-turn feel but I found it to be kind of laughable.

But really, besides that and the 90 minutes I was really thrilled with it. Next week...Mansfield Park. In the previews the girl who plays Fanny Price looks like a buxom Swiss milk maid. I'm fearful.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Raising Sand

Album: Raising Sand
Artists: Allison Krauss and Robert Plant
Like/Don't Like: Let's just say that I cried through half the songs. Yes. I like it.

This is exactly the type of music you would hear if you found yourself one night at a roadhouse off a lonesome Texas highway. A roadhouse often visited by gypsies, fallen women, couples on the verge of breaking up, and a trucker who may or may not have killed a man.

Which is to say that this album is eerie and sad* and warm and all together AMAZING. It's folk and blues and a little rock (natch, it's Robert Plant) but it mostly just defies all the genres because it's so perfect. I got it last night after work and I haven't stopped listening to it. My plan is to quit my job so I can listen to it full time. I'd have to give up really good benefits but at least I'd have magic in my heart.

I love albums that sound like they're telling a story, where each song feels connected to the next. This one feels that way all the way through. I think that has a lot to do with T-Bone Burnette, who produced it and played guitar and bass on it. Most of the songs have that really heart-breaking wobbly bass line that evokes the creepy roadhouse image. Allison Krauss and Robert Plant sound like they come from the same family. Like a father and daughter duet. They sound incredible together. They're so well blended that it's hard to tell sometimes who's taking the lead and who's singing harmony. And the musicianship is some of the best I've heard.

I bought this album without ever hearing a single song from it. It popped up on my Amazon recommendations and I took a shot. I tend to get lucky when I do that, but it takes a few listens to really warm up to it and there will still be a few songs that I never get. So it's pretty high praise that I can't ever remember loving an entire album this much on it's first go around. Maybe you should think about getting it.

*It really is a very melancholy album so I would not recommend say, listening to it while actually driving on a lonesome Texas highway. I've never been on one but I've listened to enough Lyle Lovett to know that they're no place for people with low spirits.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Movie: Persuasion (The new one on Masterpiece Theatre)
Like/Don't Like: The day after I felt like it was okay, but after thinking about it I'm going to have to give it a don't like.

I should not have read the book just before watching the movie. I didn't intend to. It's just that I was in the mood for a Jane Austen book and even though I don't believe is having favorites, Persuasion would probably be it. I had no idea that it would be the first one shown on Masterpiece Theatre's Jane-a-palooza.

I try to avoid reading books just before seeing an adaptation of it because I find that it ruins it for me. I'm a firm believer that film adaptations should be allowed to stand on their own, seperate from the book. I'm okay if little things are tweaked here or there for time or continuity. As long as the movie is true to the spirit of the book. If the tone and pacing and themes are the same then I'm fine with a few characters or scenes missing. I do have a bit of the purist in me, which is probably why I think that the A&E Pride and Prejudice is the best, but I try really hard to supress that when I'm watching a movie because I want to enjoy it.

And I really wanted to enjoy this new Persuasion. I love the 1995 version (I just recently bought the dvd of it because my tape was so worn out.) and I love the book, but I didn't want any of that to get in the way of my loving this new one.

And it didn't get in the way, because there wasn't a whole lot to love. Sure, there were a few moments where I felt like they got it right, like when Anne and Fredrick meet again after 8 years, but for the most part it was just too rushed. I don't know whose idea it was to fit the whole movie into 90 minutes, but it was a bad one. I'll give it points for covering most everything but this was a perfect example of how sometimes faithfulness to the story gets in the way of actually telling the story. There were so many times when I thought that they should have shown something instead of telling us about it. It felt like they adapted the Cliff's Notes instead of the book.

And the parts they weren't faithful to were some of the most important parts of the book. Like the speech Anne gives to Harville about "loving longest" which, let's be honest, is one of the best book passages of all time. And the end, when Captain Wentworth writes her the letter, was butchered. And then there was all that silly running around Bath. What was that?! And I won't even mention the kiss at the end except to say that it was icky. And disturbing. And weird. I need to change the subject.

Now that I think about it, they probably would have been able to fit it all into 90 minutes had the director not chosen to have every other scene end with Anne gazing longingly into the camera. We get it Anne. You love him. You feel miserable that you broke his heart and you want him to forgive you. Staring desperately into the camera is not going to fix that.

My main problem was that they short changed every character. Jane Austen is a master at characters and she takes the time to develop them. This movie had no time at all to do that and so it turned all of them into caricatures without any context to the story. It made the whole film see cheap.

I was disappointed. And it's made me a little nervous for the other ones. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Movie: Rebecca (the 1997 BBC version)
Like/Don't Like: Don't Like, even though I wanted to.

A few years ago I was at Acres of Books (I think it may have been the all public transportation adventure trip where we took the blue-line out to Long Beach. Here’s something fun to do…take a train through south central LA. You will be thrilled with the number of people you see with boomboxes to their ears. Like they're in Breakin’ II-- Electric Boogaloo.) I found an old copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier there and bought it because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I ended up reading it on a very cold winter day last year while snuggled up in a blanket. It was possibly the greatest time I’ve ever had reading a book. Why? Because it’s simply marvelous. And I say simply marvelous because that’s exactly what they would say in the book. Only it would be “It’s simply marvelous, darling.” Reading Rebecca made me wish I were the type of person who could get away with saying darling, preferably in a posh British accent.

It’s such a delicious book. All full of dressing for dinner and hosting fancy dress balls and trips to Monte Carlo and servants and great estates and intrigue and “darling this” and “darling that”. And it’s dark and kind of spooky and mysterious. And it’s just the right amount of over-the-top-ness. I loved reading this book.

But, this is not a book review. It’s a movie review. And not the 1940 Hitchcock movie, which is fabulous, but the 1997 BBC version which is not so much.

Two reasons why:

1.) I think I probably would have liked it more if I hadn’t read the book and seen the Hitchcock, who was born to make it into a film, with Lawrence Olivier, who was born to say darling. This one just didn’t capture the creepiness and excess of it all. It was too sunshiny. And Mrs. Danvers, the evil housekeeper, was more pathetic than scheming. It was kind of lacking.

2.) I know that Maxim deWinter is suppose to be old enough to be his new bride’s father but did he have to look like it? According to imdb the actors who played Maxim (Charles Dance) and The Second Mrs. deWinter (the girl who played Georgianna in the A&E Pride and Prejudice) are 28 years apart but she actually looked like she could be his granddaughter. It was kind of skeevy. Plus, he was COVERED in freckles. And while I have a soft spot in my heart for men with freckles, and think that in most cases it makes people look cute and youthful like wee little scamps, his mask of them made him look like he was 80 and covered in age spots. Tragic!

I’ll give it a plus for staying true to the story and the costumes were wonderful, but you would do better watching Lawrence Olivier say, “Darling, be a good girl and go dress for dinner.”

Thursday, January 3, 2008

P.S. I Love You

Movie: P.S. I Love You
Like/Don't Like: Like

Dear Hillary Swank,

I'm writing you to let you know that I can't watch anymore of your movies. I don't want you to take offense to this but I'm pretty sure it's you. I know that I'm a natural crier, that crying for me is sort of like breathing in that it's an involuntary reflex. I can't help myself. But I started crying right at the beginning of this movie and didn't stop until the credits rolled. Which brought to mind, naturally, your other movie that made me weep bitter tears, Million Dollar Baby. I actually can't think of other movies that you've been in that I've seen but now I think it's best if I stay far, far away from them. I don't recall crying very much during your brief stint on Beverly Hills 90210 but I would not be surprised.

Aside from all the tears, I really liked this movie. It wasn't as schmaltzy as I expected it to be and it had the Ultimate Triumvirate of Hot Men: Gerard Butler, Harry Connick Jr., and That Guy Katherine Heigl was In Love With but Who Died in the One and Only Episode of Grey's Anatomy that I've Seen. And Hillary, I have to admit that I've always been a little terrified of your enormous teeth, but they weren't nearly as distracting as I feared they would be. You were actually really lovely in this part. That should make up for me dumping your, right?

But it's not enugh to sway me. My new New Year's resolution will be no more Hillary Swank movies. I think I really embarrassed that girl next to me with all of my pathetic sniffling.

Best, Rachel