Thursday, May 2, 2013

Perennial Procrastination: Marshmallow Flower Cupcakes

Put down the pencil. Close that Statistics textbook. DROP THOSE NOTECARDS. Who needs to study for finals when you can spend a sunny afternoon baking these bloomin' babies? And to all you lucky scallywags who have already finished finals, I say you make these as a celebratory treat. Because Heavens to Betsy, you deserve one.

Saw these on Yammie's Noshery last year, Pinned them immediately, and decided that I'd much rather spend today adventuring in the kitchen than trying to wrap my head around Financial Accounting. (*Shakes fists at sky in desperation and loathing.*) They're deceivingly easy to make, and provide the perfect excuse to turn on the iPod speakers and belt your heart out for an hour or two as you cut, dip, and arrange marshmallows atop a fluffy white cake. Just head on over to Yammie's site for the recipe! She's the coolest.
Have a great day. I'm going to go open my Accounting book, stare at it for six minutes, and then most likely end up rearranging my room or watching one of the 600+ movies that have been piling up on my to-watch list. Anything but debits and credits. G'bye!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

I really should get around to writing about a movie I loathe. I'm sure all four of you kindhearted readers have had it with my gushing, and are ready for some EXTREME FILM OBLITERATION-TION-tion-tion-tion-tion. I must ask that you stay strong and power through one more compliment-filled review, however, for today is not the day I whip out my most delicately-worded criticisms. Today is the day I raise my glass of chocolate milk and toast to the smoldering beauty that is Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines.  

This synopsis is taken from Rotten Tomatoes because I didn't have the mental strength to sum up this three-part epic in a few sentences: The Place Beyond the Pines explores the consequences of motorcycle rider Luke's (Ryan Gosling) fateful decision to commit a crime to support his child. The incident renders him targeted by policeman Avery (Bradley Cooper), and the two men become locked on a tense collision course which will have a devastating impact on both of their families in the years following. 

FIRST OFF: THE MUSIC. Painfully beautiful. My stomach hurts just thinking about The Snow Angel, a recurring theme that features a deep, ringing piano and thunderous booms of disorienting chords. Mike Patton composed the majority of the score, and contributions were made by Ennio Morricone and Bon Iver. That's right. The film ends with Bon Iver's song, "The Wolves (Act I and II)." It's emotional torture. I was trying to figure out why that tune was given such a monumental place in the film, and apart from its fantastically relevant opening lyrics—(Someday my pain/ Someday my pain will mark you)—I think the instrumentals made it a perfect song with which to end the film. It's filled with a mixture of synthesized melodies and haunting vocals, which reflect the fundamental themes of the movie: circumstance and choice.

Derek Cianfrance describes Luke as a marked man. After he tells Romina (Eva Mendes), "I never had my father and look at the way I turned out," it's clear that negative events in his life set him on the twisted path that led him to where he is today: scarred, alone, and ashamed. That's the synthesizerthe controlling push that certain events in our lives seem to have, leading us to and influencing the choices we must make like an overpowering machine. And then the song's natural harmonies return. Bon Iver's voice reverberates with each harmonized chord, acting as a powerful representation of how our own choices can echo across generations, just as Luke's and Avery's do.
On top of the fantastic story and agonizingly wonderful music were enough incredible performances to fill up at least 40 Oscar ballots.  How did the film's cast and crew survive being so close to such fiery talent on a daily basis?! This is...*whispers* of the few movies in which I've been genuinely, over-the-moon impressed with Ryan Gosling. He had such a palpable presence on screen, and communicated the most complex emotions with just a quick jaw clench or flinch of his eyebrow. And BCoops! Spectacular! It was so interesting to see how his character changed and matured as the film went on, going from a nervous officer, to a hot-shot political figure, to a struggling father, and finally, to a cowering man expressing the guilt that's weighed on him for more than 15 years. Ben Mendelsohn played his part flawlessly, as well, providing a fresh breath of vigor and comic relief to the intense storyline. (Quick sidenote: I loved reading about how Derek Cianfrance cast Mendelsohn for the role. Why go through the nerve-wracking pain of auditioning for a movie when you can rip out your teeth instead?!)

Out of all of the film's talented actors and actresses, however, I was most in awe of Dane DeHaan. (And no, it's not just because he's a sleepy-boy-look-alike of Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio. Although it certainly makes him all the more fun to stare at.) He kept the film's momentum running strong throughout the poetic third act, and that's no easy feat, considering the edge-of-your-seat action that proceeded it. 'Nother sidenote: in order to mirror the close relationship of Luke and his motorcycle, DeHaan opted to build his character's BMX bike, which strengthened their bond and made the bike a best friend of sorts. I can't get enough of these little behind-the-scenes tidbits, especially when they illustrate just how dedicated some actors and actresses can be.

Summin' it up, The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious, gorgeously-shot epic that combines the suspense of a crime drama with the emotional depth of intimate character studies, all while exposing the generation-spanning consequences of the choices we make. If you haven't gotten around to seeing it yet, DO SO. Right now. Right this very second. It's one hell of a ride.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho tells the story of two male hustlers, Mike Waters and Scott Favor, who live on the streets, sell themselves to men and women, and eventually embark on a transcontinental quest to find Mike's mother. Scott (Keanu Reeves) is the rebellious son of a high-ranking family, who lives this life mostly to embarrass his dad, and Mike (River Phoenix) suffers from narcolepsya condition characterized by brief attacks of deep sleep, brought on by a chemical change in the brain that occurs during times of stress.

I read a quick run-down of the film's plot before pressing play, and learned that elements from Shakespeare's "Henry IV Part 1," "Henry IV Part 2," and "Henry V" were woven within Van Sant's screenplay. "Ah yes, 'to be...or not to be?'" I thought to myself before promptly realizing I knew diddly-squat about Shakespeare. Turns out that famous quote is from Hamlet. Who knew!!?!1!? Despite my pitiful knowledge of 16th-century plays, I was still able to fall in love with My Own Private Idaho. Mike is in a perpetual state of detachment. Constantly toeing the line between being cognizant and unconscious, he's never fully awake, and while it may not have been Van Sant's intention, the frequent lapses into Shakespearean dialect only heightened the dreamlike feel of the story.
 Another awesomely surreal element: talking magazine covers. And the title, "Homo On the Range?" Golden.
The twice recurring image of salmon swimming upstream was another beautiful touch. In fact, I felt it made clear the ending of the movie, which apparently has been deemed too ambiguous in the past. After living their adult lives in the ocean, salmon must migrate upstream toward the river gravel beds in which they were born—a harrowing voyage that requires them to fight against the current for thousands of miles. Surviving salmon, after miraculously finding their way back to their birthplace, lay eggs of their own and die, which enables the salmon life cycle to begin anew. Mike embarks on his own strenuous journey when he sets out to find his mother: traveling from Oregon to Italy and back again, he seems to have just missed her at every step of the way. Even when deserted and left with no additional clues, however, his journey continues, for his birthplace, Idaho, continues to pull him like a lure. We're left with the final shot of a sleeping Mike being loaded into the truck of a passing highway traveler. Despite this cryptic ending, we know his journey must endure. Like Pacific salmon, Mike will try to fight the current until he's home, and if he doesn't make it, there will be another floundering wanderer like him in search of the same elusive destination. What could better attest to this story's perpetuation than Mike's last words?
"I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world."
Even better than the film's dialogue and imagery was River Phoenix's performance. I had a marathon of his filmography last week, and this, as it does for many others, stands out as one of his greatest works. James Franco (who endearingly gushes about celebrities as much as I do in his Huffington Post Blog) once commented on River's performance in My Own Private Idaho, describing it as "funny and heartbreaking, [like] Charlie Chaplin and James Dean all rolled into one." I'd say that's a pretty spot-on observation. River incorporated physical comedy into his performance by twitching like an adorable puppy in his sleep, and then managed to portray some of the most genuine, understated emotion I've ever seen in the iconic campfire scene, which was written by River himself(!). Honest to sweet baby Jesus, if you're iffy about watching My Own Private Idaho in its entirety, just try the campfire scene.  He displays raw vulnerability and emotional strength at the same time, and Keanu Reeves does a fantastic job of playing off both sentiments while also adding to the scene's intimacy. And the hug. God, that hug is so sweet.

So, while the movie's plot revolves around two prostitutes, sex is one of the least important elements of the story. It's a gorgeous cinematic Bildungsroman (I may not be an expert on Shakespeare, but I remember this word from high school English class!) that focuses on the lives of troubled outsiders, the poetry of life on the streets, and the universal pursuit of love. Thanks for reading. I'mma steal one of my favorite lines from Keanu's character as a send-off: Wherever. Whatever. Have a nice day.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Below you will find my Oscar picks and predictions. Hover over each box to see what I think should win vs. what I think the ol' farts in the Academy will ultimately choose! This blog is gettin' interactive!

I'mma be honest with you guys and admit that I didn't get around to seeing all of this year's Documentary Features. I did see Searching for Sugar Man and The Gatekeepers, though, so I just chose between the two.
(Both are wonderful, and I hope to see the rest!) 
Thanks for reading, and I wish you all a wonderful Oscar night!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Short and Sweet: Mini Reviews of Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

I am no animation aficionado. I sketched a hand the other day and was so proud of it that I forced each of my family members to shower me with compliments as I held it three inches away from their eyeballs. ''LOOK. LOOK WHAT I DID. Do you SEE how almost life-like this hand is, you guys?!!?!" They each managed to stammer out a "nice job!" or a "look at those fingernails wow!" before things got too crazy. I was satisfied. So before I start, let me just state that I am in awe of anyone who can do draw something more advanced than bubble letters (my forte), and give a HUGE virtual hug to all who were involved in the production of these short films!
Adam and Dog, directed by Minkyu Lee
The SOUNDS in this film were incredible! Every footstep and every swaying blade of grass could be heard. My dog was sitting next to me as I watched this and did the adorable I'm-confused-back-and-forth-head-tilt the entire time, most likely because he thought I was holding live birds captive in my laptop. Bravo, sound design team! This was a beautiful, colorful telling of an old story, and I'm glad to have seen it. Also: dogs are da best.
Fresh Guacamole, directed by PES
I was so excited to see this listed as a nominee! I had seen the video a few months ago online and couldn't get over it. Honestly. How. I could watch this over and over again for the rest of the weekend. I probably WILL watch this over and over again for the rest of the weekend. I don't think the ol' Academy will give this one the gold, but it sure is a fun, impressive project. You can see "Western Spaghetti," a similar project by PES, here!
 Head Over Heels, directed by Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
I'll just come out and say it: claymation has always creeped me the heck out. I really don't know why, because the only claymation I was exposed to was in Christmas movies! Whatever the reason, I was wincing as I clicked play on this one. I'm happy to say, however, that I really, really enjoyed it. It was a truly affecting display of what can happen in so many marriages: couples gradually drift apart until they're living two separate lives under the same roof. The creative upside-down concept was such a neat way of getting the message across, and the couple was adorable. I'm a sucker for lifelong love. NEAT FACT: This film was made by students! 'NOTHER FACT: I am also a sucker for underdogs. I can't imagine the whirlwind of excitement these talented guys and gals must be feeling.
The Longest Daycare, directed by David Silverman
I was an elementary school camp counselor last summer, and one day we took the young boys and girls to see Ice Age 3: Continental Drift (yawn). This short film played before the movie began, and I remember wanting to cover the kids' eyes! It was a little disturbing, what with the cement walled-rooms and crushed butterflies! I suppose it did make for an in-your-face commentary on our current school systems, though. Accelerated students getting star treatment while others are left with posters that read, "A is A" and "C is C." (I did enjoy the detail put into background elements of this film.) This wasn't my favorite of the bunch, if just for its lack of a "wow" factor.
Paperman, directed by John Kahrs
Oh, Paperman. Last but certainly not least. I don't have much to add to the conversation about this one. It's just wonderful. The combination of 2D animation and CG makes for such a lovely final product—can you pleeeeease make a feature film using this technique, Disney?! I was amazed at how they made animated objects look out of focus. And the characters had such realistic movements! You could immediately tell Meg was in the middle of an interview just by her tense posture. It's nuts how much Disney got us rooting for George after just a minute or two, but I guess that's just the power of film for ya. Beautiful job.

Good luck to all! I'll reveal my official Oscar picks in a future post. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Make Bright Your Day

After much consideration, I decided Beatles' lyrics would serve as a suitable title for an outfit that combined a '60s-tastic shag vest with a pair of shoes plucked straight outta the Fab Four's closet! (They were actually found buried deep in my mom's closet. Let me pretend.)
Neon sweater: Marshall's. Here's a similar one!
Faux Fur Vest: ASOS (found at a thrift store?!!?) Lots of similar styles on Etsy.
Leather skirt: Thrifted, but here's one like it.
Necklace: Forever21.
Tights: Modcloth.
And now to give photo credit: Joseph agreed to climb a snowy hill, trespass on possibly private (but sweet-awesome graffitied!) property, and take pictures despite having strep throat. #1 trooper! He's #1! And with a smile to boot! I gave him $4 and a frozen pizza for his troubles. The price for photographers these days, man. Pretty steep.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pouty with a Plate of Meatballs

While I knew that food photography would be a tricky hobby to pick up, I never expected it would cause me to reach an about-to-bash-my-face-into-the-kitchen-window level of frustration. Like I almost did while attempting to take pictures of these meatball hoagies.

No matter what I tried—flash, no flash, white background, wooden background, on a plate, on a pan—they. would not. look. appealing! Finally, I decided I'd just mess around in Photoshop and make some text that would hopefully distract viewers from the harsh appearance of these cheesy, delicious bundles of fun. (Did it work??? No??? Darn.) I suppose I'm going to have to chalk it up to experience, read even MORE photography tutorials, and do better next time. Can't get anywhere without a few bumps in the road, right?

The hoagies were really tasty, by the way! The extra time that was needed to bake the homemade meatballs was worth it, and the cheese was reeeeeeal bubbly and nice when it came out of the broiler. Yumnumnum.

Meatball Hoagies
From Let's Dish.
For the meatballs
1 pound ground beef
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
1-2 teaspoons olive oil

For the sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves
2 (28 oz. cans) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup water

For the sandwiches
6-8 hoagie rolls
Sliced provolone or mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375°. To make the meatballs, combine the ground beef, sausage, and spices in a large bowl. Finely chop the onion and add to the meat and spices. Add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and beaten egg, along with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Combine the mixture thoroughly with your hands. Form into meatballs, about the size of a walnut, adding more olive oil as needed to hold meatballs together. Place meatballs on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by heating the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Add water a little bit at a time until sauce reaches desired consistency. Add the cooked meatballs to sauce and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

To make the subs, preheat oven to 400°. Place open hoagie rolls on a large baking sheet. Spoon 3-4 meatballs into each roll, along with sauce. Top with sliced cheese and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the rolls are toasty and the cheese is browned and bubbly. Enjoy!