More HORROR, Please!

the_american_scream_onesheet-banner

I went grocery shopping on Thursday to get a jump on all the assholes getting ready for the “big storm” we are supposed to be having here in Seattle. But like a true Seattleite, this storm just couldn’t be bothered to be where it said it would. So I cooked chili and have a list of horror to watch and no storm. Not really. I mean, it’s windy. It’s grey. It’s been raining off and on for two days. But this is Seattle.

So, while my fella catches up with GLaDOS, I’ll give you a brand new list of horror movies. Movies I haven’t listed before! I’ve made a few lists of horror movies. I’ll link them here for you. https://alicia-prague-blog.com/2010/10/24/boo-25-best-movies-for-halloween/https://alicia-prague-blog.com/2013/07/05/top-10-horror-satires/https://alicia-prague-blog.com/2012/10/13/3213/https://alicia-prague-blog.com/2013/10/01/the-scariest-ghost-movies-of-all-time/

Since some awesome movies have come out in the past few years, and I have overlooked a few, I thought it was the right time for another list. Enjoy!

Lake Mungo, (2008) – I’m putting it first so you don’t miss it. This is by far the scariest film on the list. And I do NOT scare easy. If at all. This is a documentary style horror film that leaves you wondering if it really isn’t true after all. It makes Blair Witch look like the footage my mom found of our camping trip to Lake Tahoe in 1988. I don’t want to say anything else. If you see one of these movies, make it this one. You’ll be sorry in all the right ways.

From the Dark, (2014) – I put this in the “survive the night” category of horror movies. All they have to do is make it until the sun comes up. That’s all. A couple who has… car trouble… finds a creepy house to take shelter in. Stupid.

Antichrist, (2009) – All of Lars Von Trier’s films should be classified as horror. I’m just saying. But this one… THIS ONE! Let’s just say you haven’t seen a “couple in a cabin in the woods” movie like this one before. Known only as HE and SHE, the already terrifying Willem Dafoe, and the always in need of a hug or a valium Charlotte Gainsbourg play the couple. If you have the stomach for it, this is a fantastically horrifying film that even seasoned horror fans like myself had trouble sitting through. A fucked up movie. It’s violent. It’s gory. And again, it’s directed by Lars Von Trier.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, (2014)large_sgkw6ifftakwlqy2olfdq4ubxv0I love horror movies in black and white. Maybe it’s a sentimental thing, but every shadow is creepier in black and white. This movie takes place in the aptly named Bad City, where darkness, death and loneliness are your new neighbors. It’s also about a skateboarding vampire badass bitch. It’s an Iranian film written and directed by a woman named Ana Lily Amirpourhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WSMrSucjGA

The Vanishing (Spoorloos, 1988) – This movie fucked me up for a few days. Psychological terror is worse than a guy with a knife any day. This movie deals with that feeling of needing to know… A woman is abducted from a truck stop. Years later, after dedicating his life to finding her, he receives a letter from her abductor. An utterly devastating movie.

Wolf Creek, (2005) – My favorite way to begin any movie: BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. Ah, yes… Backpackers on a road trip. Does it ever end well for them? Not onscreen. Without giving too much away, this one deals with three Australians in the outback who run into some trouble and go looking for help. This movie is disturbing and it feels like someone is breathing over your shoulder the entire time. You’ll hate every second as much as you love it. A remake is due out this year, but see this first!

Dead End, (2003) – As the title suggests a family makes a really bad decision on their way to a family Christmas dinner. This is low budget horror at its best. And that’s all I’ll say about it. I don’t want to give anything away.

The Bad Seed, (1956)bad-seed-1956-patty-mccormackAn oldie but a goodie. The original Kiddie Killer is still the creepiest. Played to perfection by a young Patty McCormack, Rhoda Penmark is the perfect little angel. Most of the time. She just gets real upset sometimes. Another movie in black and white, this 1950’s film breaks from the monsters of the time and gives us something far more horrifying: CHILDREN.

Grace, (2009) – Speaking of fucked up children, have you seen Grace? I guess this is more of a fucked up mom, but still. After a tragic accident kills her husband and unborn baby, Madeline Matheson insists on delivering the baby to term anyway. And as you might have guessed, this baby doesn’t want Mother’s Milk. It’s gross and disturbing and pretty much perfect for mom’s to be.

Bug, (2006) – I’m still pissed at my friend who told me to watch this. This movie messed me up for like… six years now? It stars Ashley Judd and the always frightening Michael Shannon as two lonely losers who find solace in each other and a shared delusion. It’s insane. It’s scary. I took a shower after.

Advertisements

Books: 16 Feminist Books For Women’s History Month!

CharlottePerkinsGilman_HerlandWomen’s History Month has always seemed like a consolation prize, or rather a participation trophy given to “women” as acknowledgement that we exist, and are important. An entire month of acknowledgement is supposed to somehow make us forget that MEN are systematically taking away our rights. Women’s History Month is only necessary because women are still being held down, and held back. I don’t see a “Men’s History Month”, and you know why? Because every month of every year since the dawn of time is Men’s History Month.

But I don’t want a month. I don’t want a “special” anything. The world should be a place where there isn’t a second thought about a woman running for president, or running a country. Where we don’t talk about a woman’s appearance before her accomplishments. Where women and men can work and live together without sexism getting in the way.

But that day isn’t here. They threw us a bone called “Women’s History Month” so I’ll take it and run. The following list is made up of some of my favorite books which I would consider Feminist. I didn’t put any of the famous books on the list because… who wants to read the same lists over and over? Hopefully you will find some new, interesting and favorites among these. And yes. There are books written by men on this list. I hope you are not so ignorant as to think men can’t be feminists.

ENJOY!

  1. Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  2. The Temple of my Familiar, by Alice Walker
  3. A Bloodsmoor Romance, By Joyce Carol Oates
  4. Spinster, by Kate Bolic
  5. Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler
  6. Around the World with Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis
  7. The Mists of Avalon, By Marion Zimmer Bradley
  8. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
  9. Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit
  10. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
  11. Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain
  12. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
  13. The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood
  14. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
  15. I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
  16. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Books: Challenge Yourself

IMG_0209I’m not a fan of reading books for “bragging rights”. Making your way through “Infinite Jest” or “Finnegans Wake” just to say you did is silly. They don’t give out reading awards to people over the age of ten. You should be reading long or challenging books for the pleasure of reading them, not to seem cool. And reading DFW does the opposite of making you look cool.

So why read challenging books at all? Why not just read Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, YA, and John Grisham? They have easy words, easy plots, and are quick and easy to digest. But… that doesn’t sound fun to me. Or stimulating. Reading only easy books will make your mind complacent and lazy. The more “candy” you take in, the harder it will be to digest “real” material. So why not challenge yourself with a book which has difficult vocabulary or themes? How about picking a book with an uncomfortable or difficult subject matter? Maybe challenge yourself by reading a book where the author plays with form and style? If you have never asked these questions of yourself, then I’d bet you are not challenging yourself as a reader. If you don’t consider form and style when you choose a book, or you don’t think about complex themes… ask yourself why not? Reading isn’t always comfortable, nor should it be. Growth hurts. It can be painful. But challenging yourself is the only way to grow.

The following books demand something from the reader. Nothing will be spoon-fed. No silly plot twists just for the sake of it. What you will find are rich and complicated storylines, beautiful, strange, or ugly language, uncomfortable themes and characters. And hopefully some new favorite books!

*As always, my lists are made up of ONLY first-hand knowledge. That means, no books appear on this list which I haven’t read. Sorry!

  1. A Bloodsmoor Romance, by Joyce Carol Oates – This is the book the prompted this entire post. I have read MANY books by JCO. I adore her. I could put any of her books on this list because she is an incredible writer. But this book is different. Almost like she is showing off. JCO writes the entire book in a Gothic style, and Victorian language! At 700+ pages, it is taking me forever to read, but it is SO GOOD! It’s like… Stephen King writes Little Women. Kind of. It defies categorization (yay!) and tackles racism, feminism, the golden age of invention, cross-dressing, spiritualism and… hell… just read it. If you dare. It isn’t easy, but it sure is fun. I really want Guillermo Del Toro to read it and make a movie of it, if that helps. 
  2. Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill – Tough girls. Tough streets. Drugs. Sex. Violence. The short story which inspired the lovely film, Secretary can be found in this slim volume of stories. Gaitskill is a master of gritty and uncomfortable, and her writing is subtle and dotted with humor. A character in the story “Connection” has this to say about careers. “I want to work at Dunkin’ Donuts when I get out of school. I want to get fat. Or be addicted to heroin. I want to be a disaster.” How can you not want to read that?
  3. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron – This book wrecked me. For weeks after I couldn’t pick up another book. So painfully vivid and raw, I dare you to read it without crying.
  4. Desperate Characters, by Paula Fox – 81lrmJgwuKLThis novel, written in 1970, took me completely by surprise. The novel follows Sophie and Otto, early Gentrifiers of New York in the late 1960’s, long before the word was a word. They are a childless couple caught up in a changing world: Too old for the rebellion, and too young not to feel tormented by it. Otto dwells on images of filth and disease, seems to hate the young and is on the verge of rage. But it is really Sophie who pushes the novel forward in an uncomfortable progression of bad choices. A simple cat bite makes for a compelling story. Sophie and Otto would be amazed to see the world today! The prose is economical, short and worthy of Faulkner or Tolstoy. “He wasn’t a seducer. He was remote. He was like a man preceded into a room by acrobats.”
  5. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad – The horror! The horror! Dense, and layered with symbolism, challenging vocabulary and extensive literary devices, this slim little book is not as easy as it looks. An unsettling look at imperialism and the horrific human consequences of such savagery. 
  6. The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber – Mr. Faber doesn’t write the same book over and over again.He doesn’t even come close. All of his books are challenging, but The Book of Strange New Things is masterfully done. It’s a scifi book, but it is also very literary. Times reviewer Marcel Theroux calls it, “an imaginative visit to speculative realms that returns the reader more forcibly to the sad and beautiful facts of human existence.” There.
  7. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess – This book has a glossary in the back even though it is written in “english”. The nasty lads in this novel have their own slang, and it takes a while to get used to it. It’s a rough and exhausting little novel, but well worth the read. I showered like.. twice after.
  8. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke – This awesome book is a challenge on every level. The paperback weighs in at 1006 pages, and I’d say a hefty amount of those pages is dedicated to footnotes. This book is so much fun, but you have to put the work in. Magic has returned to London… or has it? The two magicians of the title are entwined in a battle for power (magical power!) and fairies and other magical beings are afoot.Clarke seamlessly blends fiction and reality to the point where you aren’t really sure if magic isn’t real.
  9. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison – I like to be in a locksongofsolomoned room with cushioned walls, and no distractions when I read Toni Morrison. She takes for granted that her readers are educated enough to understand the way she uses unconventional approaches to both plot and style. She mixes past and present in the form of different… persons. The narrator is present and an observer, but also able to see inside the characters. And, a cool bit of trivia about this book: The protagonist, Macon “Milkman” Dead III, was the inspiration for the band “The Dead Milkmen” to take their name. Toni Morrison thusly (partially) responsible for one of the greatest punk rock bands of all time.
  10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  by Jon Le Carre – I still have no idea what happened in this book. I even watched the film and it just made me more confused. The book is about spies, right? And all spies have code names, right? Right. And each agency has it’s own code-names. And double agents have double, code-names. Even places have code-names. Anyway, I read it and it was really hard. Really hard. Like, don’t read it on a bus, hard. I’ve read a few of his other books and found them very enjoyable, so I gave this one a second chance. It’s well worth the read if you like intrigue, but keep a cheat sheet of code names handy. Seriously. 

Books: A Year in Reading 2014

bandits-book-art

This poster is from Anagram Bookshop in Prague, where I used to work. It was a great little shop.

I am a book stacker. When I die I expect my body to be found under a pile of books. I stockpile. There could be some sort of book shortage, or even worse, Book Zombies! I’ll only have access to what is in my home! I’ll need variety. But seriously folks, I never know what I’ll want to read next. I choose what book to read based purely on my mood. When I finish a book like Lawrence Wright’s AMAZING Going Clear, which EVERYONE SHOULD READ, I like to follow it up with something a little lighter, like Stephen King or Joe Hill. I like variety so I read everything. Reading only one type of book is like listening to only one type of music – boring. We read to have new experiences and learn new things. And we can’t do much of either if we read the same kinds of stories over and over. That would be the equivalent of wearing the same outfit every day for the rest of your life. And nobody wants to be that guy.

I started out 2014 on a road trip from Texas to California with a Stephen King book tucked in my bag. Today I type this from a tiny studio in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, while Ray Bradbury’s lovely Dandelion Wine sits next to me patiently awaiting completion. I looked at the books I read this year and couldn’t find a common theme. Some books were about solitude and loneliness, and others about love seeking robots. There were flesh-eating zombies and murderous humans. There was even a mansion in a trash heap. I learned everything I need to know about Scientology and cheese, and reminisced about London with the incomparable Zadie Smith. I read historical fiction set in Texas and the Appalachian Mountains. I read a somewhat funny book about a not so jewish dentist, and an even funnier book about a whiskey drinking’ duck named Fup.

My reading list was all over the map, just like I was.

Since people are always asking me to give them book suggestions, I have put together a doozie for ya. Here is the best of what I read this year. In no particular order. I divided them into helpful categories because I work in a bookstore, and that’s what we do. I left out the few clunkers I read so you don’t have to suffer needlessly. You’ll have to look them up for yourself, or go to your local bookstore and take a look. Just write down the title and author before you go. We thank you in advance.

FICTION

  1. N-W, by Zadie Smith
  2. Serena, by Ron Rash
  3. The Wilds, by Julia Elliott
  4. The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly
  5. Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi
  6. Fup, by Jim Dodge
  7. The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta
  8. Mildred Pierce, by James M. Caine
  9. You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates
  10. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, ed Kate Bernheimer
  11. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  12. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
  13. The Children Act by Ian McEwan
  14. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (Be warned. This book has an almost intolerable narrator. A good book, but man. Paragraphs go on for PAGES with no interruption.)
  15. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

NON-FICTION

  1. Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright
  2. The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti
  3. Tibetan Peach Pie, by Tom Robbins

HORROR/THRILLER

  1. Bag of Bones, by Stephen King
  2. Pontypool Changes Everything, by Tony Burgess
  3. Horns, by Joe Hill
  4. *The Quick by Lauren Owen
  5. Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
  6. Her by Harriet Lane
  7. Crooked River by Valerie Geary

*This title is in horror only due to subject matter and style. It isn’t horror like Stephen King. It is literary like Dracula, or Haunting of Hill House. 

KIDS

  1. Heap House (Iremonger, #1) by Edward Carey
  2. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Books: 13 Badass Babes From Literature

normanrockwell-4When I decided to make a list of kick-ass female characters from literature, I wanted to use only characters from adult fiction. This proved to be more difficult than I thought. It’s fairly easy to find awesome female characters aimed at making young girls believe they can grow up to do or be anything. Katniss, Hermione, Violet Baudelaire – all of them are awesome and smart and feisty. But they are also all teenagers. Every list I found of “The Best Female Characters in Books” was full of YA or children’s characters. Aren’t there any cool female characters who are all grown up? Answering that question proved a little harder than I hoped. It made me angry that every literary female cited was under twenty.

Unfortunately the adult world of literature favors men. MEN have adventures. MEN fight dragons. MEN go to war. And MEN live full lives. Perhaps it’s because girls are encouraged to be active, seek adventure, and be daring. Women are encouraged to make babies and seek a husband. How dull. How sad. But I managed to put together a list of thirteen of the most badass ladies in literature despite the stereotypes. The only criteria: 1. It must be a book that I have read. Personally. 2. Must be a book aimed at adults.

  1. Jo March (Little Women) – Smart, impulsive, argumentative, tomboyish, and hot-tempered. Jo March loves life and wants to participate. Much like the author Louisa May Alcott, Jo was a rebel. She is forced to live a life that doesn’t suit her and soon yearns for more. She is a writer, and her main focus is writing. Not romantic love. Although she does have romance in her life, it isn’t what defines her. I love Jo. My good fellow. 
  2. Jane Eyre9780143106159She’s my favorite character of the Brontë universe. Throughout the novel Jane possesses a sense of self-worth and dignity.  She’s only a mouse, but underneath she is a tiger. Her integrity is tested over the course of the novel, and Jane must learn to balance the frequently conflicting aspects of herself. She’s self-reliant and never expects to be “rescued” from her circumstances. Jane Eyre has always been a hero of mine. A woman trying to find balance between her need for freedom and her yearning for love, and often voicing radical opinions on sex, gender, religion and social class. Bad. Ass.
  3. Elphaba Thropp (Wicked) – Even before this book became a hit musical with songs that annoy karaoke participants to this very day, I was singing its praises. Long before TV and movies got on board with the “new twist on classic tales” idea, Gregory Maguire had it nailed. He created a Wicked Witch of the West that was vulnerable, kind and funny. A true hero. She’s tough, smart, sassy and green. And like the song says, it’s not easy being green.
  4. Marian McAlpin (The Edible Woman) – Margaret Atwood tells the story of a young single woman who works for a market research company. Unable to foresee a fulfilling career, she begins to worry about her future and about what she might become. She soon realizes that her relationship with her boyfriend Peter is more serious than she would like. Yet when Peter proposes marriage, Marian accepts. A story I whole heartedly related to when I read it. Marian has an affair and develops one of the best eating disorders I’ve ever seen in print. A woman, like Emma Bovary in some ways, has to determine her own worth and her place in her own life.
  5. Miss Jane Marple – She’s not what you think of when you think of detective, but she’s one of the best. Long before Jessica Fletcher was out solving crimes, Miss Jane Marple was doing it better. A shrewd observer and a natural genius, Miss Marple proves herself a match for every murder she meets. Sure, I’m more of a Poirot fan, but even I have to give props to Agatha Christie’s tour de force, Miss Marple. A cheerful person who always expects the worst. How can you not love her?
  6. Scarlet O’Hara – A dark-haired, green-eyed, spoiled brat of a beauty takes center stage in this novel of the south. screen-shot-2013-06-29-at-4-32-01-pmShe’s not nice. And that is exactly what I like about her. Scarlet gets shit done. And if you are in her way, good luck to you. She proved to be strong, smart, and even a shrewd business woman who always gets what she wants. She embodies the old and new south, and struggles with those ideas internally. She adapts to what life throws at her and doesn’t just survive. She thrives.
  7. Mildred Pierce – At first glance, Mildred Pierce is a dumb woman who lets people manipulate her. But that’s not all Mildred Pierce is. The story takes place right after the depression in Southern California, and Mildred finds herself needing to work for the first time ever. Her spoiled daughter is embarrassed of her. Her best friend tells her to use her femininity to her advantage, use men for what she can get out of them. But Mildred instead chooses to start her own business, earn her own money and take control of her own life. Bad. Ass.
  8. Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights) – All that we know of Catherine is second-hand, filtered through diaries and memories. 2c0ad9efeee96800985915d822546939She is a literal ghost at the opening of the novel. She is a woman torn between two loves and two worlds – Edgar and Heathcliff. Her choice of husband is the turning point of the novel, and when the nastiness begins. She manages to become a “lady” – a snobby brat who gets her way – but underneath is still that strong, wild woman who wants love and freedom. She’s a ghost for the majority of the novel. That says something about the strength of her character.
  9. Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) – A is for Adultery. The heroine of The Scarlet Letter is ostracised in 17th-century Boston for giving birth to a daughter out-of-wedlock. This story shines a bright light into the world of suffocating American puritanism that still exists today.  Hester endures shame and scorn for a situation she could hardly control, and a situation she was not alone in. It takes two to tango, ya know. Hester was forced to marry an old man and while waiting for him in to come to Massachusetts, she meets a charismatic minister and has an affair with him. I wonder who gets punished for that one? I’ll give you a hint, it ain’t the minister. Hester is an independent woman, and a free-thinker in a time when none of that was okay to do. If you were a woman.
  10. Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair) – A poor orphan of low birth, Becky Sharp is a born hustler and social climber who manages to raise herself to the upper limits of high society and wealth. Evil doer or misunderstood woman ahead of her time? 20111017071648-vanity_fair_coverThackeray never actually reveals whether she is guilty or innocent of the crimes that cause her reputation’s crash. Sure, she is constantly stealing from her creditors, allowing Rowden’s gambling to disrupt her friendships, and pulling con jobs, but somehow the narrator makes these sound comical rather than evil. I feel like Becky only committed crimes of circumstance or survival. Any woman in her place would do the same thing. Okay, she’s not the best mom in the world, but not every woman wants a child. And I don’t think Becky wanted to be a mother.
  11. Claire Fraser (Outlander series) – She’s a no-nonsense nurse and all around badass. Oh, and she also time travels. Cool, right? I read the Outlander series back in 1992, and I’ve been recommending them ever since. See, she’s married to a guy in the 20th century, but meets an even hotter guy when she is transported back to the 18th century. Claire has a quick tongue, a hot temper and she’s smart. Sure she gets into trouble, but watching her get out of trouble is half the fun. It was the first time I had read a book where a woman was having the adventure, time traveling, and making decisions that changed the course of the story. And history.
  12. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) – Okay, she might be a sociopath, but given the circumstances of the novel, I feel alright with that. She’s a feisty, world-class computer hacker with a photographic memory, and she’s also the survivor of an abusive childhood. That’s why she’s anti-social. And why she has just a teeny, tiny violent streak. If you fuck with Lisbeth Salander, you better be a fast runner.
  13. Auntie Mame (Auntie Mame) – This is the story of a ten year-old boy who is sent to live with his zany aunt. And before I go any further, I want to state that I think the world needs more zany aunts. 1549471_10152037290632496_1516082930_nAuntie Mame is a worldly, hilarious, irrepressible, adoring, easily distracted, and all around awesome guardian of her little nephew Patrick. Mame’s life is filled with parties, travel, bathtub gin, caviar, Broadway stars and Indian mystics. The perfect environment for raising a well-rounded kid. No. Seriously. Mame believes in trying things, thumbing your nose at convention, taking roads less traveled because they’re bound to be more interesting, and being yourself no matter what the assholes of the world think of you. These are valuable lessons to learn at any age. My life motto is from this book: “Life is a banquet” she says, “and most poor suckers are starving to death.” (The picture here is my vey own first edition of “Around the World with Auntie Mame”)

Movies: 10 Best Food Movies

big-nightI just saw John Favreau’s new film Chef. While it was fun and enjoyable to watch, it wasn’t anything special. Here is a film that had every opportunity to say something about food, food culture in America, “food bloggers” and other dilettantes in the industry. But instead of taking a stand they took us on a road trip… in a food truck. Eh. In the end it was just a pretty movie filled with missed opportunities. I was disappointed. Here are ten that hit the mark and made me hungry.

  1. Big Night (1996) – Stanley Tucci co-wrote, co-directed (with Campbell Scott!), and starred in this beautifully crafted, delectable little film about two restaurateurs who hope Louis Prima will save their family business. Aside from Stanley Tucci being an all around badass, this movie makes italian food look so good, so delicious, that’ll you leave wanting to eat like an Italian, drink like an Italian, and just BE Italian. My brother saw this back in 1996 and he’s been pretending to be Italian ever since. I’m so not kidding.
  2. Chocolat (2000) – armandes-party3Take the beautiful and talented Juliette Binoche, (as a single mother who moves to a tiny French village in the 1960s) add a pinch of Johnny Depp, (as a sexy riverboat-dwelling drifter) stir in a little Alfred Molina (as the towns moral compass), and of course a certain sweet, cacao-based quintessence that will open the closed hearts of the suffocating villagers. The cast is full of greats like Lena Olin, Carrie-Anne Moss, and the great Leslie Caron. Oh, and Dame Judi Dench as a grumpy grandmother who curses and tells gore filled stories to little kids. It’s a charming movie that will make you happy and hungry in equal measure.
  3. Ratatouille (2007) – imagesThis movie captures the Foodie attitude perfectly. An adorable rat (who loves to prepare and eat good food) enters the human world where good tasting food is only for those who can afford it. Yes, fine dining with a rat. I can’t think of a better way to give the finger to food snobs than this sweet little movie. Good food should be for everyone, not just industry professionals and foodies. Oh, and an evil food critic named Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole. Yes please!
  4. Like Water For Chocolate – (1992) 3112406_origSex and food. Love and Death. These are the things that make life worth living. And these are the things worth living for in this delightfully sensuous Mexican film based on the novel by Laura Esquivel.  (Directed by her husband Alfonso Arau.) This movie is an aphrodisiac. It’s hot and spicy, sweet and salty. It’s the perfect balance of food and story.
  5. Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994) – Ang Lee draws from his own life as he tells the story of Chinese master Chef Mr. Chu, his three daughters and their Sunday night dinners. It’s a heart warming movie that looks at generational clashes and how families grow apart as they grow older. And the food? Wow. Just… wow.
  6. Julie & Julia (2009) – julie and julia2Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Stanley Tucci as Paul Child. Jane Lynch as Julia’s sister, Dorothy. Directed by the late, great Nora Ephron, this movie tells the story of a struggling writer who decides to cook the entire French Cooking cookbook that Julia Child wrote. The movie weaves in and out of present day NY and 1960’s France seamlessly. And Meryl Streep is a joy to watch. Even when she’s just chopping onions.
  7. Food, Inc. (2008) – This movie blew the lid off of corporate farming in America. It shows viewers the reality of processed foods and how those foods are made. Not only is it ruining life for animals, it is harming the humans who farm them. It is an eye-opening film that deserves to been seen by anyone who eats. Yes, that means you.
  8. Mid August Lunch (2008) – static.squarespaceThis movie is about a guy who doesn’t have to do much. He’s a slacker who loves food. His only real responsibility is taking care of his mother. When his friends ask him to look out for their mothers over a long weekend, we get treated to great laughs and fantastic looking food. Four italian mothers at one dinner table = greatness.
  9. Hot Coffee (2011) – In 1994 Stella Liebeck filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s after spilling a hot cup of coffee on her lap. She was an elderly woman when it happened, and the case quickly became a joke for every late-night talk show. But the facts surrounding the case are not as frivolous as they sound. In this movie you get to see the photographic evidence of the injuries she sustained. And it’s bad. If this was YOUR grandma, you’d be pissed. Director Susan Saladoff offers a glimpse at the PR machine a fast-food behemoth like McDonald’s has at its disposal to maintain a positive public image. (Amazon, does this sound familiar? Hmmm?)
  10. The Trip (2010) – The-Trip-007Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star in the hilarious movie as fictionalised versions of themselves on a restaurant tour of northern England. As is the case in most road movies, the trip becomes an occasion for philosophizing, and talking about real life. It’s a journey inward and out as the friends banter and joust – improvising and entertaining each other. We are even treated to Coogan’s hilarious, spot on imitations of Michael Caine and Sean Connery. They also eat. They eat often and they eat well. They dine in restaurants with incredible views and service, and in places where the dishes are extravagantly conceptualized and prepared.

Things I’m Over, Things I’m Loving – Winter 2013

MjAxMi1hYTIwZDM3YmFjYTllMTZkThings I’m Over

  1. Christmas Consumerism. I’m staying with people, so I have a TV in the house for the first time in about ten years. Oh. My. God. I saw a car commercial where the a girl was asking Santa for a car. A CAR. Then I go on FB and see/hear posts featuring kids already opening presents, kids demanding certain presents, and adults patting themselves on the back for… being really good at shopping, I guess. Spending money isn’t thoughtful and it doesn’t require any talent. If you want folks to feel loved and special try making a gift, or spending time together.
  2. Christmas competition. war-on-christmas2Speaking of commercials, what’s with the implied competition? Am I supposed to worry about what my friends and neighbors are doing and then out do it? I supposed to “Own” Christmas? Out-gift the competition? Christmas supposed to be about love and community, not spending money and showing off.
  3. The War on Christmas. The first thing to understand is that not everyone celebrates Christmas, so not everyone cares what race Santa is. And white people, you don’t own Christmas. Christmas is different in every culture, every state, heck – every family. So just live and let live y’all. I’ll keep my black Santa next to my hispanic nativity, which is right next to my Disco menorah. Thank you very much. Now mind your own business.

Things I’m Loving

  1. Nebraska. The film, not the state.I have nothing against the state, I’ve got friends there, but I’ve never been there. The film on the other hand, I saw over the weekend and I can’t stop thinking about it. Alexander Payne is back with yet another movie that made me cry. His movies are often very funny and very real. This one is the same. It tackles themes like aging, and identity and what that means to a persons life and to a family. It is filmed in black and white, but it doesn’t feel condescending or lame or gimmicky. (I’m talking to you Francis Ha) Go see it. It’ll make you feel good.
  2. Beyonceku-xlargeI love that she released an album digitally and without fanfare. Target is refusing to sell her physical album because they think they won’t make money. (Stupid Target) I love that Bey took a page from Cher’s playbook and does copious amounts of costume changes in each of her 17 music videos. I love her voice. And I love her willingness to show her backside.
  3. Law & Order marathons on USA. svu_gallery_600x500It makes me so happy that they have themed marathons like, “What Would B.D. Do?” or “Locks and Loaded” all of Benson’s hair styles displayed for you marathon style. Awesome.
  4. 1375786_10151732595407496_1569055580_nOrange cat. Everyday, at least once a day, I go outside and look for Orange Cat. I don’t know where he lives, but he walks the battlements (the fences dividing the properties) daily. I call him and he comes and lets me pet him. He’s pretty awesome. I made a cardboard box bed for him that he has never used.
  5. Sesame Street Parodies. They’ve been doing these for years. They have done Law & Order, Downton Abbey, and even The Hunger Games. They are hilarious and fun. The Richard Belzer muppet in particular has a great likeness. 

20 Holiday Fun Facts

index-santaIt’s December, and that means it is officially “The Holiday Season”, and that means holiday parties! Time to deck the halls, sing some carols, break out the dreidel, and hit the eggnog. Be the hit of your office party or family get together with these handy, holiday fun facts!

*These facts are all easily searchable, therefore I didn’t include links.

  1. America received the largest Christmas gift ever, The Statue of Liberty, from the French in 1886.

  2. Daniel Stern mimed the scream when that tarantula was on his face in the film Home Alone. His actual shriek was dubbed in later. Daniel Stern would only allow the spider on his face for exactly one take. It’s now or never!

  3. President Teddy Roosevelt, an environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912.

  4. Guess what? It’s not blasphemous to use the term “Xmas”. The Greek “X” is a symbol for Christ.

  5. Ming Ming the elf from the beginning of the movie “Elf” is Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie in A Christmas Story. medium_ralphie

  6. Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas celebrations and carols in England from 1649-1660. The only celebrations allowed were sermons and prayers. Yawn.

  7. Latkes, or potato pancakes, are a popular Hanukkah dish. They are often served with applesauce and sour cream. Jelly doughnuts, known as sufganiyot, are also popular. The more you know…

  8. Dorothy Parker contributed rewrites to the script for “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

  9. In 1962, the first Christmas postage stamp was issued in the United States.

  10. The Puritans banned Christmas, in Scotland, in 1583. Then they banned it in England in 1644 and reinforced the ban with a 1647 law threatening to throw Christmas celebrators in jail. Christians started the war on Christmas. So there.

  11. In the Czech Republic Christmas is celebrated on December 24 witch a traditional dinner of carp and potato salad. I lived there for seven years and can tell you first hand that, yes, it is as gross as it sounds.

  12. Jack Skellington first appeared in Beetlejuice(1988). His head can be seen atop Beetlejuice’s carnival hat.

  13. Ebenezer Scrooge’s famous catchphrase ‘Bah Humbug’ was only said twice by him in the book. It took Dickens only two months to write the book – October and November of 1893.

  14. The German Krampus accompanies Santa Klaus, as a sidekick, to beat naughty children with a switch but that’s just a day job. The main concern of the Krampus, who wields a foot-long tongue, is sex. Gotta love the Germans. abominable-snowman-520169

  15. The choreography in the film White Christmas was directed by (an uncredited) Bob Fosse. He appears in three dance numbers including an amazing performance in the Abraham number.

  16. The Chanukah Song, by Adam Sandler was off a 1996 album called “What The Hell Happened To Me?”

  17. It’s not active yet, but if you go to http://www.sendacallfromsanta.com/ you can personalize a phone call from Santa. I send one to my friends across the globe every year, and it’s free! And fun!

  18. Santa Claus, the real guy, was born around the year 270, and was the Bishop of Myra, a town in what is now Turkey. He “earned a reputation as an anonymous gift giver by paying the dowries of impoverished girls and handing out treats and coins to children — often leaving them in their shoes, set out at night for that very purpose.”

  19. The first mention of Santa’s reindeer was Clement Moore’s 1822 poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas (Twas the Night Before Christmas).

  20. Jean Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash”, which “A Christmas Story” is based on, is a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that Shepherd wrote for “Playboy” magazine during the 1960s.

What I’m Loving Right Now – Fall 2013 Edition

brandery-portfolio-imageIt’s Fall. At least that’s what the calendar says. I’m in Texas at the moment, so it looks like every other day of the year just eight degrees cooler. I really miss the fall foliage, wearing my pea coat, and feeling crispness in the air as I walk down the street in my super cute scarf. Since I can’t have those things this year, here is what I’m loving right now.

  1. roadtrippers.com – Hands down my favorite place to suck time. If you have a serious case of Wanderlust like I do, then you find a lot of inspiration and useful tools here. You can plan your (US) trip down to the mileage and estimated gas costs. You can find cool and unusual places on your route and save them to your trip! It’s a “web and mobile platform that streamlines discovery, planning, booking and navigation into one engaging road trip planner.”
  2. Gravity (film)gravity_ver2_xlgI saw this movie a few weeks ago (in 3D, of course) and I can’t stop thinking about it. It was a beautiful and intense movie that explores more than outer-space. A few of my friends have complained that the film inaccurate, and had little plot. To this I say, you are wrong. A film like Gravity isn’t to be taken literally. If you do that, you are missing the whole point of the film. The movie isn’t “about” astronauts and what it is like to be in space. It isn’t a documentary. The film is about the gravity of relationships, isolation and loss. The movie asks – do things like love and loss tether us to the past, pull us back down to earth, or let us float free? Try watching movies with a wider view and your enjoyment will triple.
  3. Masterchef Junior (FOX) 131022_TV_JuniorMasterchef_top.jpg.CROP.original-originalBy far the best competition show on television, and it stars children. And Gordon Ramsey. And he’s nice! Most shows featuring kids either exploit the kids and their family by making them seem out of control, or crazy. I find Toddler’s and Tiaras to be a good form of birth control, and also a handy “What Not to Do” guide for parents.  It’s difficult to watch a kid lose, especially when they lose like a brat. Watch any T&T episode and you’ll see what I mean. The kids featured on Masterchef Junior behave better than most adults in these situations. It focuses on talent, good parenting, smarts, and losing. You probably cannot cook half as good as these kids (I can’t!) and it is eye-opening to watch a nine-year old make a perfect three layer cake, sear a steak, or cook escargot – ALL BY THEMSELVES. No parents around. Just Gordon, Graham, and Joe. Children are capable of so much more than most people give them credit for. They don’t need to be talked down to, or fed “kid food”. They are capable of being happy for the person next to them when they win, and losing with grace and dignity. Adults sometimes are not. These kids know that playing the game is more important than winning or losing.
  4. Trader Joe’s (Market)73994643_88b6765232_zAfter seven years in the Czech Republic, US grocery stores were a frightening experience. I almost had a panic attack when I went to the local supermarket. I actually got lost inside. I got used to a smaller store. It was a year before I was able to get my ass back to TJ’s. (They finally opened one in Austin last month) TJ’s is the only place to go for inexpensive, healthy food that is good quality. I feel like Trader Joe’s takes the guess-work out of shopping. When you walk into a Trader Joe’s you are not going to have 75 different yogurt to choose from. You’ll have about ten. And that’s more than enough. You’ll know which ever you choose will taste good and have less chemicals and shit than what you’ll get at a BIG store. They have the best wine and beer selection for the budget minded, and their coffee is the shit. I’m so happy to have TJ’s back in my life. And not just for the White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn.
  5. CampingFisherman camping at a wilderness lakeOkay. I haven’t actually camped in a really long time. But that is about to change. In January we are driving to California and camping along the way. I have a new tent, jacket and sleeping-bag, and I’m super excited to test them out. We are going to drive to San Antonio next month and test out our gear before taking it to The Grand Canyon in winter. I’m excited about being outdoors (in The Nature for all you Prague Expats) and being surrounded by beauty. I can’t wait to be disconnected from everything, and everyone, and having time to just sit in peace or just read a book. And, your day revolves around food. I’m a big lover of food, and when you’re camping, it’s the perfect time to really enjoy cooking. It just takes a little longer to prepare, but camping can be an excellent time to bring out your inner “foodie”.