All posts by Emmawoj

Bourdain: amusing or insulting?

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Whether you are a culinary enthusiast who can prepare a six-course French meal or a cooking neophyte who does not know how to boil water you have the ability to read, appreciate and enjoy “Kitchen Confidential: Adventure in the Culinary Underberlly” by Anthony Bourdain.

Dressed in white, Bourdain stands confidently and somewhat smugly clutching a sword on the cover of his book. He looks formidable; the book reveals that his cover appearance is justifiable. Bourdain’s narrative divulges his experiences and knowledge gained from working in the restaurant business in Manhattan.

Prior to traveling and eating his way around the world for his cultural culinary show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, Bourdain worked his way through restaurants and kitchens in New York City. Bourdain shares anecdotes about his different jobs and colleagues; he gives cooking and dining advice based on his experiences behind-the-scenes; and he makes your jaw drop from his outlandish tales, secrets and opinions. His witty, honest, in-your-face writing style makes you feel like an insider to the culinary world. Bourdain does not hold back embarrassing stories or gloat about his accomplishments, but he shares his career’s highs and lows with a “this is how it is” kind of attitude.

Bourdain organizes his book like a meal: appetizer, first course, second course, third course, dessert and coffee and cigarette. The book is a hodge-podge of stories, observations, lessons, advice, cooking tips and insight into the business of food.

Bourdain tells stories about specific people and restaurants that impacted his life and shaped his career. His mentor, nick-named Bigfoot, gave Bourdain a job and showed him the way to run a business. “Bigfoot inspires a strange and consuming loyalty. I try, in my kitchen, to be just like him,” Bourdain says about his mentor. “I want my cooks to think that, like Bigfoot, when I look into their eyes, I see right into their very souls.” Bourdain explains how the restaurant world works and who the people are that run it – thoroughly.

Cooking advice intertwines with details of Bourdain’s experiences. He explains what the essential items and ingredients are for the average, professional chef, some of which include: a chef’s knife, non-stick sauté pan, heavy-weight pots and pans, butter, shallots, roasted garlic. He gives advice on how to obtain some items. “If you have a few extra bucks, read the back of the paper for notices of restaurants auctions,” Bourdain recommends. “Restaurants go out of business all the time and have to sell off their equipment quickly and cheaply…” Bourdain is not condescending, nor does he have an all-knowing attitude; he is practical and honestly shares his advice, including his do’s and don’ts for eating in restaurants—don’t eat fish on Mondays, don’t order hollandaise sauce and do eat the bread, but understand it has been recycled from someone else’s table. Bourdain justifies his advice and includes more things to watch out for, but you will need to read the book to learn how to dine like an expert.

Bourdain is not shy, and he does not care if his opinions, language or stories offend anyone. “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food,” Bourdain says, clearly not caring if he offends those who fall into the vegetarian or more stringent categories. He goes on to say, “Amoebas are transferred most easily through the handling of raw, uncooked vegetables, particularly during the washing of salad greens and leafy produce. So think about that the next time you want to exchange deep tongue kisses with a vegetarian.” You either laughed out loud or closed the book in disgust, but that is Bourdain and his writing style/sense of humor.

Bourdain wrote this book before he joined what he calls “the celebrity chef culture.” He admits that the culinary world is different now because chefs have the potential to make money and achieve stardom. Instead, his book tells how it was in the ’80s and ’90s when chefs went from job to job working 14-plus hour days hoping and waiting for the opportunity to run their own kitchen. Bourdain’s narrative appeals to people who know what its like to work hard for love and survival.

Georgetown’s French failure

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost staff writer

Georgetown hosted its 7th Annual French Market, which made for an especially crowded sidewalk scene during the market’s hours Friday and Saturday. Georgetown poorly promoted this event as a market when it was actually a sidewalk sale. The expensive upper-Georgetown stores and boutiques put a limited amount of merchandise on tables and advertised 70 percent off – and everything was still too expensive. Shoppers must have felt like they were at a garage sale looking at Grandma’s knock-off costume jewelry rather than the sale table of an over-priced boutique. The most popular store with the most worthwhile items was Rooms with a View. The store had reasonably priced spring merchandise, including placemats, serving trays and ceramic tiles with floral patterns, wallets, camera cases and stationery. It was the ideal store for Mother’s Day gifts.

The French Market food options were scarce. A Safeway stand served cheese, crackers, cookies and fruit in a bank parking lot. Another stand sold lamb sausage and grilled cheese sandwiches in an alley for $6 to $9. The French restaurant, Café Bonaparte, sold its signature item, crepes, probably the most well-known, favored French cuisine on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. People lined up down the street for the sweet and savory crepes starting at $2, by far the most successful food option at the market. The rainy forecast on Saturday did not materialize, so the line was worth the wait.

And the market achieved a somewhat Parisian atmosphere. The crowd could hear French music; men with accordions and different instruments sat on the corners playing music. A mime roamed the streets and one man sat on a unicycle leaning against a ledge juggling small French baguettes. Anyone who has been to Paris knows that street entertainers crowd around touristy areas, so it seemed fitting for Georgetown’s attempt.

Unplanned “Parenthood” could use something extra

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

'Parenthood' photo provided by NBC.

NBC’s new drama “Parenthood” premiered and flopped Tuesday night. Created by Ron Howard and based on his hit movie of the same name, “Parenthood” lacks personality and fails to make a good first impression. The show’s concept sounds promising, but the cast lacks chemistry and bores rather than entertains.

“Parenthood” focuses on the Braverman family. Sarah (Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls”) leaves her dead-beat husband and moves with her two teen-age children back into her parents’ house. She immerse into the lives of her sibling and their families. Sarah’s sister, Julia (Erika Christensen), a successful lawyer, tries to juggle her career with her family. Sarah’s brother Adam (Peter Krause, “Six Feet Under”) must learn to accept his son’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and the affect it will have on his family. The younger brother, Crosby (Dax Shepard, “Baby Mama”), confronts his commitment issues with his current girlfriend and contemplates his priorities. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson, “Coach”), anchors the family while discovering that he must step back and let his children handle their own families.

The cast of “Parenthood” consists of actors from previously successful TV shows. An actor’s success in a previous show does not guarantee success in future shows. Also, actors run the risk of being typecast; Lauren Graham’s character, Sarah, is too similar to her previous role as Lorelei on “Gilmore Girls.” The first scene of “Parenthood” features Sarah talking a mile-a-minute on the phone; fast-talking was one of Lorelei’s character traits.

The cast’s lack of chemistry is “Parenthood’s” biggest problem. It is difficult to tell who is related to whom and who is married to whom. Viewers should look at to learn the family tree. “Parenthood” pales in comparison to ABC’s family drama “Brothers & Sisters.” ABC’s cast members vary in age and look related – there is no confusion.

The creators try to market “Parenthood” as being relatable to parents, encouraging viewers to comment on the show’s blog and interact with other viewers. Each Braverman sibling is given a parent stereotype – the poor, single mother, the career-focused mother and the overly competitive father. The creators exaggerate the stereotypes and make parents look bad. Sarah’s teen-age daughter is arrested for smoking marijuana and the extent of Sarah’s discipline is telling her she is disappointed and that it will take time for her to regain her mother’s trust.

“Parenthood” claims to be a drama, and features previews that make it look like a comedy. But the show is neither funny nor serious. It is not necessary for television to fall into the comedy or drama category, but it is necessary to emotionally enthrall and entertain the audience.

“Parenthood” is on NBC on Tuesday  at 10 p.m.

Movie stars + Hallmark holiday = just OK

By Emma Wojtowicz 
ArtsPost staff writer


Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher in "Valentine's Day". Photo from the Internet Movie Database.

As entertaining as the crowded, all-star cast of “Valentine’s Day” is, skip the theater and wait until it is available on Netflix. Too many story lines create too many plot lines, which results in a shallow movie. The stories intertwine and surprise the audience, but, overall, the movie is predictable.

“Valentine’s Day” takes place from sunrise to sunset on Feb. 14 in Los Angles, and follows the day’s events of the cast of nearly 20 big-name actors. The main character is Reed (Ashton Kutcher), a florist, who is busy fulfilling Valentine’s Day flower orders. He proposes to his girlfriend, Morley (Jessica Alba), but the audience thinks he secretly likes Julia (Jennifer Garner). Reed spends the day driving around in a pink van with his best friend and work companion Alphonso (George Lopez). Now on to the next cluster of characters. Edgar (Hector Elizondo) and Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) have been married for more than 50 years, and they are raising their grandson (Bryce Robinson), whose babysitter is Grace (Emma Roberts), who is friends with Felicia (Taylor Swift), who is dating Willy (Taylor Lautner). Then there are the story lines and appearances of Julia Roberts, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway and Queen Latifah.

The problem with this movie is not that there are too many top actors; rather there are too many actors, period. Anne Hathaway lucked out with a unique, comical story line that is effective despite her limited time on screen. Jessica Biel was not so lucky; the audience does not understand if a past relationship has made her bitter or if it is just Valentine’s Day. Queen Latifah’s character is pointless. Taylor Swift either needs to be less annoying or have less screen time. On the other hand, Julia Robert’s story line is endearing and deserves more screen time. “Valentine’s Day” could have made the list of best chic flicks if there were fewer characters and more character development.

Director Garry Marshall, who also directed the “Princess Diaries” movies and “Pretty Woman,” fails to successfully incorporate all the stories. “Valentine’s Day” pales in comparison to British film “Love Actually” and the masterful way it weaves stories while creating an emotional connection between the viewers and the characters. The muddled story lines in “Valentine’s Day” prevent the audience from sympathizing or empathizing with any of the characters. Just when the audience is intrigued and questioning what happens next, the characters disappear and are not seen for at least 20 minutes.

The characters’ ages range from a fifth grader to teens to 20-40 year-olds and grandparents. The meaning and stigma of Valentine’s Day is accurately depicted in the story lines of each age bracket, and is the saving grace of this film; without a buffer on each end of the age spectrum, “Valentine’s Day” would be added to the list of movies about 30-somethings complaining about their rough, loveless lives. But like the holiday itself, the movie will have come, gone and been forgotten.

Soars higher than expectations

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) describes her on-screen love interest Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) saying, “It’s like being in love with a buzz saw.” More quips and clever comments follow in Howard Hanks’ 1939 film, “Only Angels Have Wings.” The smart dialogue is engaging and the best feature of this film.

The film takes place in the fictional South American banana port of Barranca. Geoff is a thrill-seeking pilot who manages a small airline and group of flyers responsible for carrying mail over a dangerous mountain pass. Bonnie is a piano-playing entertainer, who is transferring boats at the port. The cast dynamics change when Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) and his wife, Judy, (Rita Hayworth) arrive. Bat’s past causes tension and strife among the pilots, but Geoff is in need of a pilot who is willing to take chances.

“Only Angels Have Wings” incorporates love, life and loyalty into the characters’ relationships. According to Geoff, flying is a dangerous occupation that does not accommodate love. Bonnie is convinced she can accept the risks that come with flying and will not try to ground Geoff as have other women from his past. Her feelings and emotions are put to the test when storms threaten the safety of the flights. Bonnie Lee is annoying and needy. She stalks Geoff, hoping he will give her attention and does not take “no” for an answer. Geoff and Bonnie lack chemistry and their potential romance is unbelievable. Geoff’s friendship with fellow pilot Kid (Thomas Mitchell) is more heartfelt than his relationship with Bonnie.

But Grant’s portrayal of Geoff makes the film worthwhile. He plays Geoff as quick-talking and arrogant, but loyal to his business and his pilots. His witty comments invoke laughter and emotion in the audience. Geoff’s constant criticism of Bonnie and her decision to linger on the island is amusing. Grant brings sophistication and confidence to his character. The audience recognizes when Geoff is fighting off his sensitive feelings and sees that he genuinely cares about his pilots and their business.

“Only Angels Have Wings” was nominated for two Oscars in 1940, best cinematography and best effects. The flying scenes are excessive by the end; nevertheless, they are exciting and well-made for the time. The other scenes take place in a saloon where clever dialogue is exchanged among the characters. The film bounces between the sky and the saloon, thus bouncing between different moods of the film. One minute the audience fears for the lives of the pilots, and then the next scene they are laughing at conversations between Geoff and Bonnie.

This film falls under several movie genres: drama, action, comedy and romance. This is a charming feature of older movies uncommon to films today. “Only Angels Have Wings” would be criticized today for being unfocused and scattered. This kind of film appeals to a wider audience because it encompasses different genres. Romance is intertwined with action-aviation sequences, but neither steals the spotlight. Geoff’s interest in women and his passion for flying are both evident and are both the focus of the film. The setting contributes to the movie’s genres; the tropical setting is romantic, but when the fog sets in it become dangerous. Howard Hawks, who also directed “Bringing Up Baby,” effectively balances romance, drama, comedy and action into one film.

Run time: 122 minutes