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Well, never mind …

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Alas.  As much as I love writing about movies, this blog is not going well in that views are practically zero.  That’s life.  So I will not be posting here for the foreseeable future but will be posting occasionally on Facebook — link to the right.

For those of you who did give AMaAM a look-see, thank you!

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Music, color, romance, epic!

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You know those movies you can watch over and over, even though you know how everything is going to turn out?  Meet one of mine, Jodhaa Akbar from India.  Before you run away screaming, “Nooooooo!  Not another silly Bollywood musical where everyone breaks into song every few minutes!,” let me assure you that this is more of a historical epic with a ginormous dose of romance.

There are songs in the movie, but most of them are in the context of ceremonies and events where music, singing, and dancing are appropriate.  Some are background music, and there is one “let’s burst into song” scene near the end.  But I think they’re all well-done and not silly at all.

This is a long film, a little over three and a half hours.  But I love it so much I wish it was longer.  Oh, don’t get this standalone movie confused with an Indian television series of the same name.

Jodhaa Akbar poster

Jodhaa Akbar (2008) stars Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the title role, and her character marries the Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, played by Hrithik Roshan.  Don’t worry, there’s no history test at the end.  The film is loosely based on real historical events but is not true in every aspect, plus of course there’s a ton of artistic license.

Jodhaa Akbar

Jodhaa Akbar HR

The barest-of-the-bare plot summary:  Jodhaa Bai is a Rajput princess in the sixteenth century, and she is betrothed to Akbar in a marriage of political expediency.  A strong-willed woman, she is less than thrilled, and tells her new husband that if he wants her to be his wife in every sense of the word, he’s going to have to win her heart.  And she’s not talking about gifts of jewels and other material things.

There are several side plots and complications — religious tolerance (he’s Muslim, she’s Hindu, and she won’t convert), the interference of Akbar’s hateful “second mother” who wields considerable influence at court, the political aspirations of Jodhaa’s brother, and more.

The first time I saw this film I was watching for the story.  The second and third times, all I wanted to do was stare at the amazing costumes and jewellery.

Jodhaa Akbar women

Jodhaa Akbar2

One thing that stood out to me was the use of color in the movie.  Almost all the costumes are red, orange, yellow, green, or white.  No blue.  I’ve read anecdotally that blue was considered a “bad luck” color then but don’t know for sure if that’s true.  It may have been a conscious choice of the costume designer.

Trivia!  Hrithik Roshan has two thumbs on his right hand.  It’s not a disability and he neither hides it nor flaunts it.  It just is, a healthy attitude.

More trivia!  Both Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have unusual light-colored eyes, a trademark for each of them in the Indian film industry.  His are a light green/hazel, and hers are blue-green.  The producers felt it would be too unrealistic and distracting for both main characters to have light eyes, so she wore brown contact lenses for her role.

Food trivia goof!  In a pivotal scene involving food and cooking in the film, a large pile of potatoes is shown.  Potatoes are not native to India and did not reach the region from the New World until the next century.

Notice how I segue into the food aspect.  Jodhaa Akbar comes with its very own perfect time to serve a themed meal, as there is an intermission.  I recommend watching the first half of the movie, eating during the intermission and discussing what’s happened so far, then sitting back to enjoy the second half.

I’m not big on print cookbooks and find many of them to be all flash and fancy photographs with very little substance.  A happy exception is the small paperback The Book of Curries & Indian Foods by Linda Fraser.  (ISBN 0-89586-820-2, published in 1989, Amazon link HERE).  There are many great recipes:  main dishes with and without meat, vegetables, desserts, side dishes, spice mixtures, bread, and dips.

There’s a Mixed Vegetable Curry to die for.

Vegetable Curry

I can’t print the recipe here because it’s copyrighted, but something similar can be found at AllRecipes.com.  If you’d like to explore Indian foods and curries in a non-complicated, inexpensive way, I highly recommend the cookbook.

Serve the curry with some naan (bread) and perhaps some dipping sauces such as cucumber raita and/or mango chutney.

Movie stats

  • Genre:  Drama, Action, Romance, Musical
  • Running time:  213 minutes (3 hours, 33 minutes)
  • Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):  Unrated.  The Blu-ray label says age 12 and up for “strong language and moderate violence.”  I don’t recall strong language but there is battle violence and other violent scenes, not terrible.  No nudity.  Chaste bedroom scenes between characters married to each other.
  • Color
  • Language:  Hindi, Tamil
  • Subtitles:  English, Arabic
  • Aspect ratio:  2.35 : 1
  • IMDb link
  • Official trailer (low-res, the actual movie is much more stunning)

Jodhaa Akbar is not on Netflix streaming as of this writing but the disc is available to rent.  I loved it so much I bought the Blu-ray two-disc set where the video is amazing, audio is sharp, and subtitles are perfect.  Bonus features too.

Young Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes has been a movie and book staple for many years, and even more so lately.  Sequels, prequels, and numerous re-imaginings abound.  For whatever the reason, the world has been and is fascinated with Holmes and his sidekick Watson.

One of my favorite Sherlock Holmes movies and an often overlooked little gem in the canon is 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes, not to be confused with Young Sherlock or any other film with the name Sherlock Holmes in it.  Starring Nicholas Rowe in the title role, it co-stars Alan Cox and Sophie Ward and has a fantastic group of supporting actors.

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Young-Sherlock-Holmes-1985b

It was directed by Barry Levinson, and the screenplay was written by Chris Columbus whom you might know better as the director of the first two Harry Potter movies, Mrs. Doubtfire, and many others.  Full producer was Henry Winkler (yes, the Fonz) and one of the executive producers is someone you may have heard of, Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over this one, from the homemade flying machine (you almost expect to see E.T. in it) to the Temple-of-Doom-like peril to some of the special effects.  Some call it Indiana Jones Lite.

Set in a suitably Dickensian-looking Victorian London, the main story begins as young John Watson arrives at his new boarding school in London.

Young-Sherlock-Holmes-1985

Walking into his dormitory, he finds a tall, thin fellow student playing the violin.  Badly.  Before Watson can introduce himself, the other teen — Holmes, of course — deduces numerous facts about Watson, dazzling him with his intelligence and logic.

But wait.  Before this scene we see a bizarre sequence involving a portly older Londoner who hallucinates wildly and ends up leaping from an upper story window to his death.  What’s going on?  More people die.  Who’s going to get to the bottom of this, and how is the boarding school involved?  If you haven’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises.  But I will say that it offers a poignant explanation for why the adult Holmes was the way he was; that is, aloof and alone.

Our family rented this movie numerous times when our kids were younger; it was the perfect adventure film.  I would advise, however, to take the PG-13 rating seriously.  Young Sherlock Holmes is NOT for younger children, as there are many frightening scenes.  Even older kids, if they’re very sensitive, might be frightened.

Mention must be made of the special effects, most of which are utilized in the scary scenes.  Young Sherlock Holmes was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Visual Effects category, although it didn’t win.  Trust me when I say that for 1985, these visual effects were amazing.

Trivia!  This was the first feature film to have a completely computer-generated character, the knight in the stained glass window scene.  This character took Industrial Light & Magic artists four months to create.  Four months!  Nowadays a graphic artist could knock it back over his or her coffee break.  But for the mid-’80s this was some seriously awesome — in the old-fashioned sense of the word — stuff, and the scene still holds up well.

More trivia!  Watch all the way to the end of the credits at the close of the film for a peek at a famous character in the Sherlock Holmes world.

Well, then what food goes with Sherlock?  He wasn’t much of a foodie, but in this movie John Watson sure was!  Let’s go with his favorites and indulge our sweet tooth.

Early mention is made of custard tarts and later on more treats that look like cream puffs, eclairs, and so on have a role, shall we say.  😉  For watching Young Sherlock Holmes I’ll recommend not a full meal but a snacktastic array of your favorite goodies:  Mini tarts with egg custard, vanilla or chocolate filling, or sweetened fruit.  One-bite cream puffs and tiny scones.  If that’s too much sugar, add some small sandwiches.  You know, make it like an English high tea.

afternoon-tea-london-bb-bakery-2

(Photo from afternoonteaonline.co.uk)

To drink, I’d recommend good British tea, perhaps a nice Earl Grey, or some coffee.  A light dessert wine would be good too if you want something alcoholic.

Elementary, my dear readers!

Movie stats

  • Genre:  Mystery, Adventure, Thriller, Fantasy
  • Running time:  109 minutes
  • Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):  Rated PG-13
  • Color
  • Language:  English
  • Aspect ratio:  1.85 : 1
  • IMDb link
  • Official trailer

Young Sherlock Holmes is not on Netflix streaming as of this writing, but it is on Amazon Video streaming.  You may find an old DVD in a video store for rent, and there has not yet been a Blu-ray release.

Now departing….

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Depart.  Departing.  Departure.  The words can mean many things — leaving on a plane or a train or another means of transportation, doing something different than the way it’s always been done, or, of course, dying.

One of the most beautiful and touching movies I’ve ever seen is 2008’s Departures (Okuribito) from Japan.  It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film the following spring.

Departures

Young Daigo Kobayashi is a professional cellist in Tokyo, but when the orchestra he’s in closes, he has to find another job.  He retreats to his small hometown where he and his wife live in the house left to him by his late mother. His father, as we see through flashbacks, left years ago when Daigo was very small.  Daigo can’t even remember his face.

Getting desperate for a job, he answers an ad titled “Departures” in the newspaper.  He thinks it’s for a travel agency but it turns out to be a job as a nōkanshi, one who prepares the dead for burial or cremation. It’s not the same as a mortician; the tasks are much more formal and ritualized than we are used to seeing here in the United States.  At first he’s aghast, but realizes he has to start earning some money, so he accepts the job and begins training under his kindly, dignified mentor.

Departures2

I don’t want to give too much away.  As Daigo finds out, dealing with the dead mostly means dealing with the living and all their memories, expectations, and emotions.  The film is also about finding your true calling in life, parent-child relationships, and so much more.  In some of the final scenes I was crying so hard I could hardly see.

As of this writing, Departures is available as a DVD rental from Netflix, but is not on their streaming service.  It is available on Amazon Video streaming.

A special mention needs to be made of the soundtrack.  When the movie was over, my husband said, “Wow, all the music was so beautiful.”  I turned to him and said, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”  He never notices music in a film!  I was shocked.  Ended up buying the imported soundtrack on CD as a gift for him, and I listen to it often too.

So what food goes with this one?  Whatever you pick, I think eating before or after the movie might be better than during, because of the many scenes of death.  My vote is to have a nice dinner first and then watch it.

Since I know very little about Japanese food, I’ll suggest my favorite, sushi.  And I mean good sushi, not the pre-packaged who-knows-how-old-it-is junk often sold in grocery stores.  That stuff is about as flavorful as the styrofoam tray that holds it.  Sushi made fresh all day by experts in a grocery store is fine; that’s our nearest best choice.  Perhaps you could go out to a nice sushi restaurant.  My favorite kind of sushi is unagi, which I fell in love with before I knew it was freshwater eel.  Now my idea of heaven is a big bowl of rice covered in grilled unagi.  Or a dragon roll.

But maybe you want to make something at home.  Making good, beautiful sushi is an art.  An art I cannot accomplish.  However, I found a recipe for “Sushi Roll Salad” and it’s pretty good.  You mix everything up together instead of making and slicing rolls or forming perfect one-bite morsels.

The recipe can be found HERE at Epicurious.  It contains wasabi paste, which I prefer to serve on the side so I can control the spiciness.  You could also add some shrimp, chicken, tofu, or other protein if you wanted.  Unagi, if you’ve got it.

Movie stats

  • Genre:  Drama, Foreign
  • Running time:  130 minutes
  • Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):  Rated PG for thematic material (death)
  • Color
  • Language:  Japanese, with subtitles available
  • Aspect ratio:  1.85 : 1
  • IMDb link
  • Official trailer

Will the real General Tso please stand up?

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When it comes to the armed services in food and drink, we’ve got Colonel Sanders, Captain Morgan, and a few others.  Today let’s go on The Search for General Tso.

search-general-tso

The Search for General Tso (2014) aka TSfGT, is a short documentary about the ubiquitous dish found in Chinese restaurants all over America and the world.  Was there really a General Tso?  Was this his favorite dish?  Did he invent it?  Is it even authentic?  Why is it so popular?

TSfGT is directed and written by Ian Cheney, and it starts a bit slowly but gets more interesting, funny, and even mysterious as you go along.  Just when you think, OK, got this dish figured out, the film goes in another direction.  You’ll never look at General Tso’s Chicken the same way again.

If you like Chinese food, authentic or not, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be hungry by the end of the film.  As of this writing, it’s available to stream on Netflix.

So let’s make… you guessed it… General Tso’s Chicken (GTC).  It may be hard to pick from among the ten gazillion online recipes for this dish.  Everyone says his/her recipe is the best, the tastiest, the most authentic, blah blah blah.  Since I don’t want to spoil the outcome of the film for you, I have two alternatives for your meal.

First, the no-cook option:  go to various grocery stores, deli counters, and/or Chinese restaurants in your area and pick up several different versions of GTC.  Then do a taste test!  Would be fun with family members.  You could have a Tso-Off, a competition to find the best local GTC.  As you taste different ones, pay attention to the sweetness and spiciness of the dish, and the tenderness of the chicken.  Dark meat or white?  Broccoli or not?

Second, let’s make our own.  I have severe Fear of Frying, and although almost all GTC dishes feature fried pieces of chicken, I’m going to bake.  So right off the bat, this isn’t going to be “traditional.”  I found a recipe that looked so good I was tempted to lick my monitor at DamnDelicious.net — HERE.  I’m not printing the recipe here since I didn’t come up with it and don’t own the rights, if any.  Please note that you bake the chicken on a cooling rack on a baking sheet, not directly on the baking sheet.

Yeah, I know, you’re dying to find out how it turned out.

General Tso's Chicken

Two big thumbs-up from me and the hubby; it tasted great.  The chicken was tender yet crispy and the sauce was yummy.  But a few caveats: I found the prep time listed in the recipe to be severely underestimated.  Or maybe I’m just slow.  It took me a long time to cut up the chicken, dredge it in flour, dip it in the egg, and roll it in the crushed corn flakes.  The sauce was very easy, though.  I poured it over the chicken and rice instead of tossing the chicken in the sauce.

I thought the dish could have been spicier, but that’s easily remedied by adding red pepper flakes or Sriracha sauce to taste.  If you were serving this as a family dish I think it’s something even kids would eat.  It seemed a little weird to be using something so pedestrian as corn flakes; rice flakes might seem more appropriate yet I do like the golden color from the corn.  You could experiment.

Hopefully I’ve made you hungry!

Movie stats

  • Genre:  Documentary, Comedy, History, Mystery
  • Running time:  71 minutes
  • Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):  Unrated.  I would say G for General (no pun intended).
  • Color
  • IMDb link
  • Official trailer

Welcome! Draw your swords and knives and let’s go!

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Welcome to A Meal and a Movie! Why is it called that? Because every darn permutation of “Dinner and a Movie” was taken.  But then I got to thinking, hey, maybe it’s better this way because then I can talk about lunch.  Breakfast.  Snacks. Oh yes, definitely snacks.  I can make a meal of snacks.

For movies, this is not a review site except in a very general sense.  I’m not reviewing new theater releases; I’ll talk about movies on disc or streaming that you can buy or rent and watch in the comfort of your home.  Or go mobile and watch the movie on your tablet while you have a picnic!

The meal part will come in as either food that appears in the movie or, much more likely, food that I think “goes” with the film.  Some will be cooked from scratch, some will be made via shortcuts, and a lot will be plain ol’ store-bought.  A recipe site this is not, although I will include some.  Overall I’m all about easy.  I’ll also add some history and/or trivia as we go along.

I started doing this at home years ago and boy did our family have a good time.  We’d eat the dinner and then watch the movie, although you can do it any way you darn well please — movie then dinner, movie with dinner, just the movie, just the food.  Actually I think a leisurely “with” is the most fun, as long as kids and pets don’t make it too hectic.

So for my first offering on A Meal and a Movie, I’m going with the very same combination I started with at home, the multi-Oscar winner Gladiator (2000) and a meal to satisfy the patrician or plebeian in you.

Gladiator poster

Directed by Ridley Scott, Gladiator was a box office and critical success, sometimes credited with rekindling interest in historical epic films.  You’re probably already familiar with the plot, but if not, briefly:

Set in approximately 150 A.D., the film begins with General Maximus (Russell Crowe) leading his army against the tribes of Germania.  He’s loyal to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), who loves and trusts Maximus more than he does his own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix).  Since Commodus is power-hungry not to mention bat**** crazy, you can imagine that this doesn’t bode well for Maximus, to put it mildly.

T: Gladiator / Gladiator D: Joaquin Phoenix, Russell Crowe R: Ridley Scott P: USA J: 2000 PO: Szenenbild RU: Drama DA: , - Nutzung von Filmszenebildern nur bei Filmtitelnennung und/oder in Zusammenhang mit Berichterstattung über den Film.

Most of the movie is Maximus’s fall from grace and subsequent rise as a famous gladiator in Rome’s Coliseum, with the thought of revenge always uppermost in his mind.

Although Gladiator is only fifteen years old, that’s light years when it comes to advances in computer-generated (CG) effects.  Some of the CG that was stunning in 2000 looks a bit clunky now.  Supporting actor Oliver Reed, who plays slave trader and gladiator trainer Proximo, had the audacity to die during filming so some of his scenes and lines were dubbed or CG’ed in.  You have to overlook that stuff.

Also, for your sanity and movie enjoyment, overlook the boatload of goofs that Gladiator contains — continuity, anachronisms, crew or equipment visible, and so forth.  One glaring one that I cannot forget, no matter how much I try, is how some of the posters and flyers advertising Coliseum events appear to have been made with a printing press… far more than a thousand years prior to the printing press’s invention.  [facepalm]  But overall it’s an exciting outing that brought back the “sword-and-sandal” genre.

Interesting trivia:  Phoenix’s famous line, the scream of “AM I NOT MERCIFUL?!?” was ad-libbed and really frightened his co-star Connie Nielsen who plays his sister Lucilla.  This is a fun line to yell at random times, like when you drop some money in a tip jar.

Now for the food!  While I am indeed old, I wasn’t around during the Roman Empire so have to rely on several popular and historical sources for ideas of appropriate food.  First of all, even though we’re talking Rome, forget spaghetti or anything like that, since pasta as we know it didn’t appear in Italy until the 13th or 14th century.  There’s an unproven legend that Marco Polo introduced it and other noodles from China.

Per Wikipedia, bread was a main food for Romans — wealthier people ate wheat bread and poorer people ate bread made from barley.  A variety of olives, vegetables, fruits (both fresh when available, or dried), and nuts were eaten.  Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk were considered superior to cow’s milk.  While wine was an important beverage, Romans drank their wine mixed with water, and drinking wine undiluted was viewed as a Barbarian custom (oops).  Various meats were also eaten, and dessert often contained honey.

Not everything was so simple of course.  The favorite dish of the emperor Vitellius was called “The Shield of Minerva,” and was allegedly composed of pike liver, brains of pheasant and peacock, flamingo tongue, and lamprey milt.  If you want to try making that, knock yourself out.  I’m fresh out of flamingo tongue and suggest a much simpler meal.

  • Bread, a flat round loaf of whole wheat or barley.  Tear off pieces with your hands.
  • Olive oil for dipping.  You can buy various flavored kinds for more variety.
  • Olives — grocery stores and specialty food stores may have an “olive bar” where you can try different kinds.
  • Goat cheese.  If you’ve never tried it, don’t be squeamish.  It’s not weird and it really does taste great.
  • Fruits — grapes (you know you want someone dangling a bunch over your head), other berries in season, dried figs or dates.
  • Nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds.

For a beverage, wine’s gotta be #1, but not everyone imbibes so you could substitute white or red non-alcoholic grape juice.  If you do go with wine, there is no way you’re going to reproduce an ancient Roman one, so don’t kill yourself trying.  Go to the store and get a good Italian wine, either red or white, perhaps a Sangiovese or a Pinot Grigio.  DON’T get one of those round-bottomed bottles in a straw basket (called a fiasco… and, no, I don’t know why).

As someone who loves wine but is no expert, the best advice I can give is to find someone who is an expert and who will steer you right.  We have a local wine shop called Brix Bottleshop, and I can go in there and say I want a wine from _______ that costs about $X, and they’ll find it.  They don’t pressure me to spend more than I can afford.  Find a place like that.

For dessert, I keep thinking of something like baklava.  Wait, I know that’s Greek!  But apparently it’s similar to an ancient Roman dish called, disgustingly, placenta cake.  Forget that name and try baklava, which is a heavy pastry made of numerous thin flaky layers of dough, with chopped nuts and lots of honey.  You could of course make it yourself, but I tried that once and only once.  It was a sticky mess and a TON of work.  Easier to buy it pre-made.

This may all seem like a lazy meal.  That’s the point.  If you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you can pretend you’re an upper-class Roman with an army of servants.  Isn’t that part of the reason we love movies — to pretend we’re someone else, somewhere else?

You could eat all this sitting at a table, but where’s the fun in that?  Try reclining on your left side on a couch per the ancient Romans and having everything in arm’s reach while you watch the movie or chat.  That’s entertainment.

Movie stats

  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Running time:  155 min | 171 min (Extended Edition)
  • Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):  Rated R for intense, graphic combat
  • Color
  • Aspect ratio:  2.35 : 1
  • IMDb link
  • Official trailer
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