Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Strawberry Rating

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close touches the viewer to the very core. In the way that Titanic and The Sweet Hereafter depicted tragedy by pulling back at the pivotal moment, only increasing the heartache portrayed, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close shows the massive losses experienced in New York on September 11, 2001, through the lens of one young boy. Thomas Horn plays Oskar, a boy devoted to his dad (played by Tom Hanks, in flashbacks), who is lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The devastation of that day shudders through Oskar’s family, including his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock, in a subdued and affecting turn). Young Oskar is lost in the broken new world, but suddenly finds a purpose: a key left by his father. As Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close progresses, Oskar focuses on the key as a way to connect to his lost father–but finds, instead, connections in the unlikeliest of places. Horn is a wonder in his leading role, and commands attention even as his emotions are scattered. Hanks and Bullock are excellent, as always, though they are more incidental to the film than the viewer might have hoped. Standing out in the cast is Max von Sydow, a mysterious mute whom Oskar meets on the New York subway, and who becomes the most unlikely of guardian angels. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling novel, which was able to depict a bit more wry humor to leaven the heartbreak and history lessons, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close nonetheless faces human tragedy straight on, and shows how a broken family can be rebuilt, one small key, one subway ride, one awkward hug at a time. —A.T. Hurley

I have very little to say about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

I went to the movie theater with the intention of going to another movie, only to find out that I was a little late for the showing.  Whoops!  I didn’t want to waste my trip to the movies so I chose another Oscar-nominee off the list.

That is how I ended up sitting in this movie without being fully prepared- no tissue box, no candy to distract myself with.

Like most tragedies, one thing that links all of us is that we remember exactly where we were when we heard the news.  I was only in ninth grade when 9/11 happened, but I remember standing in my first period concert choir, numbly watching my conductor try to explain to us what was happening.  After that, I have very little memory of what I actually did for the rest of the day.

I was lucky.  I did not have family members or friends who were in the buildings that day.

Oskar was not so lucky, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to find a way to cope with his father’s death.

Some critics say that this movie uses these terrible events to play on our emotions, and that it crassly uses a tragedy to heighten those emotions.  Perhaps that is true.  I am not sure.  I think that the movie is terribly sad, but it also shows the possibility of hope for the future.  It shows how people can come together to help each other.

That promise of hope and growth was the only thing that saved this movie for me.  The title is quite fitting because, just as it denotes extreme discomfort, I was very distressed and uncomfortable for the entire movie.  I left the theater with red-brimmed, moist eyes, and the desire to go home and huddle in the dark.  And maybe that was the movie’s intention?

The Grade

Visuals: 4.5/5

Plot: 4/5

Acting: 5/5

All right Academy Award nominees, bring it on!  It is my goal to see, review, and invent a treat for every single one of you by Oscar Night.  I’ve already seen Moneyball, Hugo, and The Help.  Now on to the rest!

Oh, and don’t forget to try out this treat.  It will help wash away your tears…

Read on for the recipe!

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Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (with Orange-Thyme Iced Tea)

For years, twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille. The tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town, Camille was a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when she is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt Tootie in her vintage Packard convertible.

-Back Cover

Some books are incredibly deep and thought-provoking. Others feel unique, like the author is telling a story that has never been told before.

This is not one of those books.

A classic beach read, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is light, breezy, and cute.  Perfect for long days sitting by the water and sipping a cold beverage, Hoffman’s story is a fun exploration of the zany characters who round out CeeCee’s existence.

Do I think this is incredibly unique?  Not really.  A girl has a rough childhood and is “saved” by a relative she didn’t know she had. That is a fairly common theme.

What makes it worthwhile and immensely enjoyable to read, though, are the ways that Hoffman dreams up the characters.

CeeCee’s mother is not a drug dealer or a drunk, as would often be the case in a story like this.  She is a woman lost in her past, parading down the street in prom dresses that she bought at Goodwill.

Thelma Rae Goodpepper (don’t you just love that name?) may be a fun and worldly next-door neighbor, but she has a dark side that threatens to lead CeeCee astray.

If I could change one part… I would make the book a little more stressful.  Do you ever have those moments when you think that something bad is going to happen and you get a bit stressed about it?  Several times throughout this book, my tension started to mount and then, all of a sudden, the narrative nipped it in the bud.  This made is a light book for a hot summer day, but is also made it a book that I may not remember in a year’s time.

Recommendations

Boys: I don’t think you are going to want to read this.  The only male character is fairly despicable and it is a world dominated by women.

Girls: Check it out if you have interest in Southern society or zany characters.  Use it as a break from reading “serious” stuff.  Preferably, bring it to the beach/lake/pond/nearest body of water.

Oletta’s Orange-Thyme Iced Tea

Okay, so at no point in the book do we hear about the combination of orange and thyme.  We do, however, read about the myriad of cold beverages that one drinks on one’s porch in the South.  Naturally, I wanted to make my own version, so I thought about what would be refreshing as a flavor for iced tea.  I am not a huge “lemon in iced tea” fan and so I thought that orange might work better for me.  Then, I took a look at my herb garden on my balcony, spied the thyme, and BAM, Orange-Thyme Iced Tea was born.  I served this last night to a couple of my friends and it was unanimously enjoyed.  I’m making this again today 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 10 tea bags (I used black tea.  This could work with mint or green tea as well.)
  • 7 cups of water divided
  • a bunch of thyme
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Procedure:

  • Bring 5 cups of water to a boil.  Put your tea bags in the tea pot and let steep for the recommended amount of time.  Take out the tea bags, throw them away, and pour the concentrated tea into your pitcher.
  • In a small saucepan. place the thyme and 1 cup of water.  Heat on low until it comes to a simmer.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Strain the mixture so that only the thyme-infused liquid ends up in your pitcher.
  • In that same small saucepan, mix together the sugar and a cup of water.  Heat until the sugar dissolves.  Pour into the tea.
  • Pour the orange juice into the pitcher as well.  Stir.
  • Taste and adjust sugar if needed.  The way I have it, it is slightly sweet, but not as sweet as commercially-made iced tea.
  • Serve over ice with a sprig of thyme for a garnish if you are feeling fancy.  I was.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (and Tiny’s Chicken Parmesan)

will grayson meets will grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their worlds will collide and lives intertwine.

-Back Cover

One of the most important ideas that I learned in teacher school is that every single teenager is “at risk.”  Sure, some teens are at more risk than others, but, overall, teens go through a time that I have named the “Self-destructive hormonal tornado” phase.

For some, this phase does not last very long.  They are inherently confident and self-aware.  Others are not so lucky.  Questions like, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and “Who are you taking to prom?” lead to code red lockdowns.

Only once you leave your little microcosym and look out at the world can you begin to see that your problems are not so bad.  Try comparing some of your high school issues with other world issues.

You don’t have the latest fashion v.  Sex trafficking

Crush rejects you v. Bombs destroying your village

Ahhh the beauty of perspective.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-written by John Green and David Levithan, delves into this teen angst and shows us two “versions” of Will Grayson.  One version is a straight, middle-class kid trying to coast through life.  The other is a terrified introvert who suddenly realizes that he is gay.  Told in alternating chapters, it is up to the reader to distinguish between these two characters.

Are the two versions of Will Grayson the result of a schitzopherenic episode in an attempt to balance his two personalities?  Are there actually two Will Graysons?  Only time, and the reading of this book, will tell all.

This is a book that has content which is at times difficult to read, yet it is worthwhile for teens (and adults trying to understand teens).  It shows teens that they are certainly not alone when it comes to identity confusion, and even offers up some helpful (but not preachy) solutions to some of the code red level problems.

With that said, it is definitely not my favorite YA book.  That would most likely be this or this.  While I could identify with what the characters were going through, I really did. not. like. any. of. the. characters.  Chances are, I would not be friends with them because they remind me of people who annoy the heck out of me.  Perhaps I don’t have a lot of patience for this since my job description should include listening to teenagers whine, but I got really sick of the amount of moping done in this book.

No, I’m not saying it is easy to be a teenager.  I do think that some tough love does wonders.  Will Grayson(s), stop the whining and do something productive with your time!  Ahhhh!

Tiny’s Chicken Parmesan

Will Grayson’s mother makes a special dinner when he introduces her to his boyfriend, an absolutely giant fellow named (ironically) Tiny.  She is aware that he is a big eater, so she makes the quintissential dish for big eatin’ and elegance- chicken parm.  Tiny LOVES it and his enjoyment of it made me crave some myself. 

There are many ways to make chicken parmesan and I certainly can’t claim that this is the “authentic” or “best” way, but this is the way that I enjoy it the most.  It isn’t health food, but it doesn’t clog your arteries or make your stomach hurt with an insane amount of cheese. 

An additional perk for the busy cook, I make this in less than 30 minutes from start to finish.  Take that Rachel Ray!

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut in half so that you have two thin, and flat pieces of chicken, 4 pieces total
  • 3/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs (I like Panko crumbs)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • Enough oil to fill a pan 1/2 inch (if you are pan frying the chicken)
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • pinch of salt

Procedure:

  • If you are going to bake the chicken breasts, preheat the oven to 450 F.
  • Get out 3 bowls.  In the first, put the flour.  In the second, beat the eggs together with the milk.  In the third, put the bread crumbs and cheese.
  • Set these bowls up as an assembly line, with an empty plate at the other end. Dip the piece of chicken in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.  Shake off the excess and settle it on the plate.
  • Repeat this for all pieces of chicken
  • Once you have completed this, get all of the assembly line materials out of the way, preferably in the sink or dishwasher.
  • If baking, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, lay the chicken out flat and cook for 20 minutes, turning once.
  • If frying, heat the oil in the pan until it sizzles when you drip water into it.  Place the chicken in there and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Then flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes.   Once done, take the chicken out of the pan and place it on a paper-lined plate to drain any residual oil.  If you cook the chicken in hot enough oil, the end result will not be oily.
  • Meanwhile, dice up the tomato.  I don’t like the skin of a tomato so I skin it first and then chop it up.
  • When everything is ready, top your chicken with the tomato and serve with a yummy side dish (like the roasted asparagus seen here).

Swallows and Amazons: Potato Croquettes for the Kid in Us

Rating:  Strawberry

Truth:  I love children’s books.  I  know that their very designation for children means that I shouldn’t be reading them, but you know what, I’m going to color outside the lines on this one. 

Most well-written children’s books deliver for adults as well.  They are entertaining, witty, and help to nurture the kid inside us who really doesn’t want to grow up. 

Swallows and Amazons  by Arthur Ransome is just the type of children’s book that is an entertaining read for children and adults alike.  Some people might argue that it doesn’t have any deep Dickensian meaning or conflict. On the contrary, these books do have great meaning.  They show us that we shouldn’t always take ourselves too seriously.  That we can find joy and adventure in the most mundane of tasks. That the best-laid plans can fall apart and that being brave and trying your best is what matters.

In a world that sometimes feels like it is falling down around us, I think we could use to see a little more magic in our surroundings and adventure in our lives.

What children’s books have you enjoyed?

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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (AKA Eggs That Are Bigger Than You Cannot Be Good)

Rating: Strawberry

As I sat on the plane, flying home from Paris, I had a real problem.  I had 8 hours on a plane.  I had finished all of the reading material I brought with me. They ran out of newspapers to hand out.  I do not sleep well miles above the ground.  At one point, I came to the conclusion, “Well, I guess I could do work so I don’t have as much to do when I get home.”

That is when I knew that I hit rock bottom.  This could not be.  Rushing into self-preservation mode, I frantically looked around for something, anything, to do to avoid facing the real life that was awaiting me.

My eyes eventually came to rest on the blank screen in front me.  My own private TV.  Aha! 

You see, I watch TV and movies so rarely, that I don’t generally take advantage of the free ones at our disposal.  This flight, I made up for it.

Along with blankly gazing at several episodes of random TV shows (and coming to the conclusion that I’m not missing much), I flipped to Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

This was wayyyyy better than the TV shows, thank goodness!

Basically, it covers the makeshift herd (the wooly mammoths, the saber-tooth tiger, and the sloth) at a time of great change in their lives.  The wooly mammoths are having a baby and each of their friends react differently. 

The saber-toothed tiger wants to head out for a life of great adventure, leaving his herd. 

The sloth decides to become a mother himself, finding giant eggs and stealing them.

Note to self:  When encountering eggs that are as big as me, do not seek to nourish or nurture them.  Tiptoe away until they are out of sight and then run.  far. away.

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What Was So Wrong With The White Swan?

Rating: Strawberry AND Chocolate Cake– On one hand, it was excellent. On another, I did not enjoy this movie. If you appreciate depressing and unsettling material that begs for some psychoanalysis, watch it.

The phrase “Good guys finish last” bothers me. 

We live in a world that does not always seem to reward people for the good that they do.  You turn on the news and what do you see?  You see criminals, politics, and tragic accidents.  Reality TV is no better.  Find the people who have the saddest lives and film them so that we can all watch and take comfort in the fact that we have not hit rock bottom.

Very rarely do you see a sweet gesture or an act of benevolence. 

We “good guys” like to think that the gesture gratifies us on a deeper level.  It does, of course, but that is not to say that a general nod at some point wouldn’t be welcome. 

So often, we focus on everything that is bad in the world and, in doing so, it makes us miserable.

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True Grit: A Thing of the Past?

Rating: Strawberry

I bet you a nickel that if you were to go through your encounters of the last day, you will find at least one instance when you said something that you really REALLY didn’t mean. 

“Oh honey, the steak is done perfectly [as I try to pick around the bits that still seem to have blood pumping through them]!”

“No, I don’t mind muddy shoes in the house.  I was actually [I will now] going to be vacuuming later anyway.”

“Oh, yes, I have tried that [obscure and gross] food that you suggested [keep insisting that I try].  It wasn’t really my thing [I hated it], but I can totally understand the draw.”

Now, one would argue that those small lies are more a gesture of etiquette and manners.  After all, in today’s world, we never want to say something that might actually hurt someone’s feelings.  Gasp! 

So what if we [or our floors] get [muddily] walked on?  At least we haven’t made the other person feel badly!

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