Monday, July 31, 2017
Below is an article on the dish known as Lasagna:
The Italian dish known as Lasagne has been popular for years here in the United States . . . ever since the arrival of immigrants from Italy. When the recipe for Lasagne first appeared in an American cookbook, I have no idea. But I discovered, to my surprise, that there are several theories to the origin of Lasagne.
The first theory is that Lasagna originated from an Ancient Roman dish called lasana or lasanum (Latin word for "container", "pot") described in the book "De re coquinaria" by Marcus Gavius Apicius. Another theory is that the dish actually originated from an Ancient Greek dish called λάγανον (laganon). This dish was basically a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips.
The most popular theory is that Lasagna originated in Naples, Italy during the Middle Ages. An early recipe for this dish first appeared in the early 14th century cookbook, "Liber de Coquina (The Book of Cookery)". It bore a slight resemblance to the more modern form of Lasagna. This early recipe featured fermented dough that is flattened into a thin sheet, boiled, sprinkled with cheese and spices, and eaten with the use of a small pointed stick.
Later recipes also written in the 15th century recommended boiling the pasta in a chicken broth and dressing it with cheese and chicken fat, or in one case walnuts. This recipe was adapted for the Lenten Fast. The more traditional form of Lasagna - Lasagne di Carnevale - consisted of local sausage, small fried meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and a Neapolitan ragù sauce. The pasta dough prepared in Southern Italy for Lasagna used semolina and water. It used flour and eggs in Northern Italy, where semolina was not available. In modern-day Italy, the dough for commercial Lasagna is made from semolina (Durum Wheat).
Below is a modern, yet traditional recipe for Lasagna from the All Recipes website:
Easy Lasagna I Recipe
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 (4.5 ounce) canned mushrooms, drained
1 (28 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
1 (16 ounce) package cottage cheese
1 pint part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 (16 ounce) package lasagna noodles
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
Reheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a large skillet, cook and stir ground beef until brown. Add mushrooms and onions; saute until onions are transparent. Stir in pasta sauce, and heat through.
In a medium size bowl, combine cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, and eggs.
Spread a thin layer of the meat sauce in the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan.
Layer with uncooked lasagna noodles, cheese mixture, mozzarella cheese, and meat sauce. Continue layering until all ingredients are used, reserving 1/2 cup mozzarella. Cover pan with aluminum foil.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Uncover, and top with remaining half cup of mozzarella cheese. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
"SPOTLIGHT" (2015) Review
Have you ever watched a movie on DVD or cable that you regret not seeing in the movie theaters? I have. In fact, I have seen at least three films nominated for Best Picture . . . after they had been released on DVD. One of those films was the actual Best Picture winner, "SPOTLIGHT".
Directed by Oscar nominee Thomas McCarthy, "SPOTLIGHT" told the story of The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. The story began in 2001 when a new editor named Marty Baron is hired by The Globe. During a staff meeting, Baron brought up the subject of a Boston priest named John Geoghan, who was sexually abusing children and nothing was done - by the Church or the city's law enforcement - to stop him. Baron urged the "Spotlight" team to investigate. Initially believing that they are following the story of one priest who was moved around several times, the "Spotlight" team eventually uncovered a pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests throughout Massachusetts and an ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard Law.
After watching "SPOTLIGHT", I easily understood why it had received a good deal of acclaim and award nominations. It really is a first rate movie. Due to the fact that the movie focused on a newspaper investigation team, it allowed moviegoers to enjoy the team's step-by-step investigation into the priests and their victims in the Boston area. I might as well say it. The movie reminded me of the 1975 Oscar nominee, "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN" . . . and in a good way. I have not seen a really good movie about investigative journalism in a long time. I also have to commend director Thomas McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer for conveying the "Spotlight" team's discoveries via interviews and records in a well-paced manner. McCarthy did not rush the"Spotlight" team's investigation, but he did not drag it as well. In the end, the investigation itself struck me as a fascinating mystery that developed into a horror story that left me feeling appalled.
"SPOTLIGHT" not only received nominations for McCarthy's direction and the screenplay that he wrote with Singer, it also received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Mark Ruffalo and Best Supporting Actress nomination for Rachel McAdams. The pair portrayed two members of the "Spotlight" team - Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer. I will admit that both gave first-rate performances. The movie also featured excellent performances from Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, who started the whole thing in motion; John Slattery as Assistant Managing Editor Ben Bradlee Jr.; Brian d'Arcy James as reporter Matt Carroll; Jamey Sheridan as Catholic Church attorney Jim Sullivan; and Billy Crudup as attorney Eric MacLeish.
Ironically, my two favorite performances in the movie did not receive any Academy Award or Golden Globe nominations. One came from Stanley Tucci, who portrayed Mitchell Garabedian, a sharp-tongued attorney who represented many sexual abuse victim. I enjoyed Tucci's sardonic, yet understated performance and how his character pointed out how many Boston officials cooperated with the Catholic Church to cover up the abuses. I also enjoyed Michael Keaton's ambiguous portrayal of editor and the team's leader, Walter "Robby" Robinson. Keaton did a great job in not only conveying his character's leadership, but also his knowledge that The Globe had learned about the abuses years earlier, but had covered it up. It seemed a shame that he did not receive an Academy or Golden Globe nomination.
As much as I enjoyed "SPOTLIGHT" and was impressed by it, a part of me feels that it should not have won the Best Picture award. I think the Academy had awarded the film its top honor simply based upon its topic. The problem for me is that "SPOTLIGHT" simply lacked any real artistry. One might accuse me of being shallow. Perhaps I am. But I would prefer to choose a movie that not only provided a great topic, but also first-rate writing . . . and artistry. I can think of two other films that were also nominated the same year as "SPOTLIGHT" that provided all of those features. Someone once pointed out that if you take away the movie's topic of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, "SPOTLIGHT" would come off as a solid, paint-by-the numbers film by a first-time director. And you know what? That person was right. There were times when McCarthy's direction for "SPOTLIGHT" seemed a bit amateurish.
Even though I feel that "SPOTLIGHT" should not have won the Best Picture Oscar for 2015, I cannot deny that it is a basically an first-rate film. I believe that this is due to its fascinating subject, the film's approach to the topic as a mystery and the excellent cast led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Below are images from "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES", the 2017 entry in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie franchise. Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the movie stars Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow:
"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TELLS" (2017) Photo Gallery
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1700 and 1749:
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1700 AND 1749
1. "Tom Jones" (1963) - Tony Richardson directed this Best Picture Oscar winner, an adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1749 novel, "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling". The movie starred Albert Finney and Susannah York.
2. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006) - Gore Verbinski directed this second entry in Disney's "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" franchise about the search for the chest that contains Davy Jones' heart. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003) - Gore Verbinski directed this first entry in Disney's "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" franchise about a dashing pirate who forms an alliance with an apprentice blacksmith in order to save the latter's beloved from a crew of pirates - the very crew who had mutinied against the former. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
4. "Kidnapped" (1960) - Peter Finch and James MacArthur starred in Disney's 1960 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel about family betrayal in 1740s Scotland. Robert Stevenson directed.
5. "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (2007) - Gore Verbinski directed this third entry in Disney's "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" franchise about the Pirate Lords' alliance and their stand against the East Indian Trading Company and Davy Jones. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush.
6. "Against All Flags" (1952) - Errol Flynn and Maureen O'Hara starred in this swashbuckler about a British sea officer who infiltrates a group of pirates on behalf of the government bring them to justice. George Sherman directed.
7. "Rob Roy" (1995) - Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange starred in this adventure film about Scottish chieftain Rob Roy McGregor and his conflict with an unscrupulous nobleman in the early 18th century Scottish Highlands. Michael Caton-Jones directed.
8. "The Master of Ballantrae" (1984) - Michael York, Richard Thomas, Fiona Hughes and Timothy Dalton starred in this second adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. Douglas Hickox directed.
9. "Swashbuckler" (1976) - Robert Shaw starred in this adaptation of Paul Wheeler's story, "The Scarlet Buccaneer", about a early 18th century pirate who forms an alliance with the daughter of a disgraced judge against an evil imperial politician. James Goldstone directed.
10. "The Master of Ballantrae" (1953) - Errol Flynn, Anthony Steel and Roger Livsey starred in an earlier adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. William Keighley directed.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" (2017) Review
Before I started on this review, I found myself wondering which "phase" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" found itself. Phase Two? Phase Three? In fact, I continued to ponder more about the franchise's current phase than about the plot for this movie. Until I finally shook myself out of this stupor.
Back in 2014, Marvel Films/Disney Studios released "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" during the month of August, more or less a graveyard for summer films. I suspect that Kevin Fiege had low expectations of the film's performance at the box office, due to its unfamiliarity with the general public. The movie proved them wrong and went on to become a major box office hit for that year. Due to its success back in 2014, Marvel Films/Disney Studios released a sequel, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" in the more exulted release date in early May, three years later. James Gunn, who had directed the 2014 film, returned to direct this film. And although he had also served as co-writer of the first film with Nicole Perlman, he served as this film's sole screenwriter.
Following the events of the 2014 film, Peter Quill aka Starlord and his friends have become renowned throughout the galaxy as the "Guardians of the Galaxy". The movie begins with the Guardians delivering stolen and valuable batteries to a race called the Sovereign, after they had protected the items from an inter-dimensional monster. In exchange, the Sovereign deliver Gamora's adopted sister Nebula, who had been caught earlier trying to steal the batteries. However, this peaceful transaction is disrupted when one of the Guardians, Rocket the Raccoon, steal some of the batteries for himself. The Guardians find themselves hunted by a fleet of ships controlled by the Sovereign and their leader, Ayesha. They eventually crash land on a planet inhabited by a mysterious figure, who destroys the Sovereign fleet for them. That figure turns out to be Ego, Peter Quill's powerful father first mentioned in the 2014 film. Ego turns out to be a god-like Celestial that manipulated the matter around its consciousness to form his "home" planet. He explains to Peter that he had projected a humanoid guise to travel the universe and discover a purpose. He eventually fell in love with Peter's mother Meredith Quill. Following her death, Ego hired Yondu to collect the young Quill, but the boy was never delivered and Ego has been searching for his son ever since. The latter invites Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet. Meanwhile, Rocket and Groot remain behind to repair the ship and guard Nebula. Unbeknownst to all, Ayesha has hired Peter's former mentor, Ravagers leader Yondu Udonta to hunt them down. But the Guardians eventually discover that Ego might prove to be a bigger problem than either Ayesha or Yondu's crew.
I was surprised by the characterization featured in "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2". It had been one of the strong points of the 2014 movie. But director-writer James Gunn took it to another level in this film, as Gunn's screenplay further explored the main characters' backgrounds and emotional concerns. More important, the characterizations featured in this film led to better performances by the cast.
One good example was the exploration of Peter Quill's relationships with the two father figures in his life - his biological father Ego and his mentor, Yondu Udonta. Peter's search for a permanent father figure proved to have an ironic twist, considering his longing to meet his real father, Ego's charismatic personality and his occasionally hostile relationship with Yondu. Chris Pratt had to step up his game to develop Peter's character even further. He did . . . and proved that he could be a excellent dramatic actor . . . for the second (or third) time in his career. Kurt Russell gave a first-rate and charismatic performance in his portrayal of Ego. And thanks to Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan's excellent performances, the movie also explored Gamora's relationships with her adoptive sister, Nebula and their adoptive father, the villainous Thanos. Although the latter did not appear in the movie, his presence was strongly felt - especially in the confrontation between the two women as they confronted the circumstances that led to their estrangement. "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" also featured the further development of Peter and Gamora's relationship. The potential romance in this relationship not only manifested in a charming dance between the pair on Ego's planet, but also a heated quarrel in which Peter expressed his frustration at being kept at a distance by Gamora. This scene featured great acting from both Pratt and Saldana.
Bradley Cooper had been highly praised for his voice performance as Rocket the Racoon in the 2014 film. The character's past was not really explored in this film. Considering his origin as a lab experiment, I found this a pity. But Rocket's problems with being part of a group and his emotional issues were touched upon - especially in a strong and emotional scene that featured a conversation between him and Yondu, while they were being held prisoner. Both Cooper and actor Michael Rooker nearly stole the movie with this scene between Rocket and Yondu. Also, Rocket found himself serving as the toddler Groot's protector - a strange twist, considering that the latter had been his protector in the previous film. I understand that actor Vin Diesel continued to provide the voice for Groot - and yes, I do mean Baby Groot. I thought Marvel would hire someone other than the deep-voiced Diesel for the role. But they brought him back. And I am amazed that he was able to forgo his usual deep voice to portray the toddler Groot. And speaking of the Yondu, his past reared its ugly head following the revelation that the other Ravager leaders had exiled his group due to child trafficking on Ego's behalf - including the kidnapping the young Peter Grill from Earth. This revelation also led to another in which audiences learn the true strength of Peter and Yondu's relationship.
The very literal Drax the Destroyer forms a strange friendship with a young empath named Mantis, who has been forced to serve as Ego's "pet" for a number of years. Although Drax's needling personality and strange sense of humor made his regard for the naive and sheltered seem abusive, I was surprised at how the pair managed to grow close - to the point that Drax nearly sacrificed himself for her safety. In these scenes involving Drax, Dave Bautista proved once again that he was a better actor than many had assumed, due to his past as a professional wrestler. And he had a first-rate co-star in Pom Klementieff's subtle and charming portrayal of the empathic Manits.
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" also saw the return of Yondu's right-hand man, Kraglin, who was forced to overcome his sense of self-preservation in order to come to his captain's aid when the crew turned on Yondu. Ayesha, the Golden High Priestess and leader of the Sovereign, proved to be another interesting role for actress Elizabeth Debicki's filmography. Ayesha proved to be not only interesting, but also one of the most arrogant characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) . . . the type of character that eventually rubbed Rocket the wrong way. Audiences also got an expanded look into the world of the Ravagers. Thanks to Gunn's script, I realized that most of them - including Yondu - was not as despicable as I had originally assumed. And I was shocked and pleasantly to see the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames and Michael Rosenbaum as among the older leaders of the Ravangers.
But despite the movie's strong characterizations, I was not as impressed by "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" as I thought I would be. It lacked something that the 2014 movie possessed - a strong narrative. At first, I thought Ayesha would prove to be the heroes' main protagonists, considering that she had hired the Ravagers to hunt down the Guardians in the first place. However, about midway into the movie, I realized that she was nothing more than a plot device (and a tiresome one at that) used by Gunn to drive the Guardians into the path of Ego, Peter's father. And in the end, it was really about him . . . and his plan to remake the universe into his image, using the seedlings he had implanted on different planets, impregnating various females like Meredith Quill and using his offsprings like Peter.
I know . . . this sounds confusing. Let me put it this way. For years, Ego traveled to different parts of the universe, planting seedlings on different planets. Then he seduced and impregnated women like Meredith so that he can utilize the powers of his offsprings to activate the seedlings . . . and he can terraform those planets into his image. As it turned out, Peter was the only offspring who had the power to help him activate the seedlings. Personally, I found this story rather lame. It was more or less just another "meglomaniac" trying to conquer the universe. In a way, it reminded me of Thanos' narrative within the MCU involving the Infinity Stones . . . only it involved "seedlings" and Ego's offsprings. I found this narrative less original and with more shortcuts. The film's minor plot lines involving the characters' emotional arcs struck me as more interesting.
The movie also featured the usual first-rate visual effects. I was surprised that so many visual effects companies were involved in the film's production. I think I managed to count at least nine of them. Wow. Nine companies involved in the visual effects? Hmmm . . . perhaps I should not have been surprised. "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" seemed to lack a cohesive visual style, despite having a single production designer, Scott Chambliss. Some people were not impressed by the visuals for Ego's planet, as shown below:
Personally, I was. Mind you, there was nothing mind-blowing about the visual effects for Ego's planet. But I had enjoyed them, nonetheless. However, I was impressed by the special effects used to visually convey Rocket, Groot, Kraglin and Yondu's journey across the galaxy - involving several jumps. I found it very effective and rather funny.
Peter Quill's audio cassette tape played a major role in the score for "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY". Near the end of that particular movie, he came across the package that his mother Meredith had given him just before her death. The package contained another cassette with more of her favorite songs of her youth. I hate to say this, but I was not that impressed by the collection of songs used for "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2", aside from one or two. Even more surprising is that I found the songs featured in the movie's end credits to be a lot more entertaining . . . and right for the movie. Pity.
Overall, I enjoyed "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2". It was not exactly a disappointment thanks to the strong characterizations featured in the film and the first-rate performances by a cast led by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. But I must be honest, it was almost a ghost of the 2014 film. And this is due to what I believe was a weak narrative that included a villain with goals that struck me as unoriginal. It is a pity that Nicole Perlman did return to serve as director James Gunn's co-writer in this second film. I had the odd feeling that needed a collaborator for a stronger narrative.