Best Picture Baking Project: Ben-Hur

IMG_3527 I’ve had a copy of Ben-Hur sitting on my desk since April, because I got it into my head that watching it was going to be a chore. I’m not sure where this idea came from, maybe it’s length, or the fact that I knew it was a religious movie, which I was afraid meant a preachy, pedantic slog. But, maybe because of these low expectations, it surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. For the dessert I found a website about throwing an Ancient Roman dinner party, this cheesecake was apparently prepared as an offering to household gods, and it is both easy to make and pretty delicious, but first the movie:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope, pretty much all I knew about it was that it was based on a book, is tied with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for most Oscars won, and that it has a famous chariot race that was a technical marvel when it was filmed.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. I realized that I had never seen a Charlton Heston movie before this. I’m not sure exactly how this possible, but because of that my only image of him, includes a rifle and “cold dead hands,” but he was legitimately charming and affecting in this. And he had pretty eyes:

2. It is too damn long. I know that it was a different time, but three hours and forty four minutes is too long for a single movie. I was afraid, based on my experience with the last movie on this list, that it was going to just be a string of set pieces, and in some ways it is. (I particularly liked the slaves rowing for combination of drama and pure technical ingenuity.)

But the character development and relationships are actually really well developed and at points genuinely moving. (Plus there’s a a great homoerotic subtext that Gore Vidal wrote into the script, but didn’t tell Heston about because he knew that he wouldn’t agree to do it. Heston claimed until the end that this wasn’t true, but I’m not sure how you can watch this movie and not see it. It’s not subtle:

 But, if they weren’t going to cut down the novel’s epic scale, then it needed to be a miniseries (which it was apparently remade into in 2010.)

3. Stylistically it was more interesting than I expected it to be. Some of the special effects are understandably dated, but some of William Wyler‘s choices were fascinating, particularly what he decided to leave out. For example, despite the fact that Miklós Rózsa‘s score is used to highlight dramatic moments throughout the movie, in that epic chariot scene he doesn’t use any music just the sounds of the arena. Also, despite the fact that it’s based on a novel subtitled “A Tale of the Christ” we never see Jesus’ face, just the back of his head. His power is portrayed through the reactions of the people around him, which was interesting.

Also he’s got some good hair  

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Anatomy of Murder – Haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s interesting.

The Diary of Anne Frank – I think I saw this in school at some point, obviously it’s a moving story, but it’s not on the same scale of Ben-Hur. 

The Nun’s Story – I didn’t know this existed until right now.

Room at the Top – Also, haven’t heard of this.

I can’t say definitively of course, but I feel OK about this.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Yep! There are three women with names, and they are actually all given their own stories. Obviously, the movie is mostly about Heston’s Judah, but his love interest (played by Israeli actress Haya Harareet), mother (Martha Scott), and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) are all given space to speak about the troubles they face (and they face a lot) and their spiritual lives. There’s also some troubling stuff about slavery and arranged marriage and subservience, but I didn’t say this was a feminist masterpiece, just not as backward as I was expecting.

Libum (Ancient Roman Cheesecake)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese (I used reduced fat and it worked very well)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • bay leaves (the recipe calls for fresh, but I couldn’t find any at Whole Foods and used dried which turned out fine)
  • Half a cup (or so) of honey

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl
  3. Beat the cheese until soft
  4. Mix cheese into flour
  5. Add the egg to form a soft dough
  6. Grease a baking sheet and place four bay leaves
  7. Separate dough into four equal pieces
  8. Shape pieces into rolls and place on a bay leaf
  9. Bake for 35-40 min or until golden brown
  10. Warm honey (I just left the bottle on top of the stove as the cakes baked) and pour onto a dinner plate
  11. Remove cakes from oven and place them onto the honey
  12. Let sit to allow the honey to absorb into the cake
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Award Show Round Up: Emmys 2015

I’ve written in the past about how the Emmys are usually underwhelming and predictable (in not fun ways), but last night’s show felt charming and emotional, and if still a bit predictable, surprising enough to feel almost fresh. (I mean, at least I didn’t have to start this post with yet another call for someone other than Modern Family to win – Go Veep!)

I’m going to start with the obvious highlight of the night – Queen Viola Davis‘s historic win and beyond-inspiring speech:

Also amazing – Taraji P. Henson‘s clear, genuine joy for Davis.

OK, now I’ll go back to my usual chronology (that moment just felt too important to bury down in some long list of videos).

Although he faltered at times, I generally enjoyed Andy Samberg. I told my mom early yesterday afternoon that with him as host the show was bound to be goofy, and it was, starting right from this opening that warmed my theater-nerd heart:

(The monologue that followed was pretty great too.)

There were a lot of great speeches last night that managed to balance the personal with the political without feeling preachy, I particularly liked Jill Soloway (showrunner for Transparent):

Among the surprise wins that had me dancing in my chair was the long-undersung Regina King (for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for American Crime):

(Fun fact: the next installment of this show is filming at the ACC campus where I work!)

I have to admit that I have yet to actually watch Olive Kitteridgebut I will (I promise), especially after both Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins gave such lovely speeches:

(Shades of Merrit Weaver – who still wins for best Emmy speech ever in my book.)

It truly is Amy Schumer‘s year, and I couldn’t be happier about that:

And while I was super happy for Jon Hamm (I never even watched Mad Menbut I know he deserved that Emmy), my favorite Jon of the night was Stewart:

Other moments that made me cry included Uzo Aduba‘s heartfelt gratitude:

And this great moment:

Wow, this post is already so long…but like I said, it was a genuinely well run, emotional awards show. But you know I wouldn’t leave you without some pretty dresses to look at:

Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in Miu Miu (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Sarah Paulson in Prabal Gurung (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Kristin Schaal in Rubin Singer (Photo Credit: Jason Merrit/Getty Images)

Laverne Cox in Calvin Klein dress and Nudist shoes (Photo Credit: Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television Acadeny/AP)

Lady Gaga in Brandon Maxwell (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Allison Janney (with her record breaking Emmy) in La Bourjoisie (Photo Credit: Wenn, Steve Granitz/ Kevin Winter/ Jason LaVeris/ Getty Images)

Teyonah Parris in Francesca Miranda (Photo Credit: John Shearer/WireImage.com)

Patrick Kielty and Cat Deeley in Monique Lhullie (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Mindy Kaling in Salvador Perez (Photo Credit: FOX via Getty Images)

Laura Prepon in Christian Siriano (Photo Credit: John Shearer/WireImage.com)

Viola Davis in Carmen Marc Valvo (Photo Credit: All Access Photo Group)

Weekly Adventure: Bullock Texas State History Museum

Well if you’re looking for a night and day contrast in scale and tone from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas’s small yet charming display, may I suggest a trip to the Bullock Museum.

I live only a few blocks away from the Bullock, and it’s not exactly hiding:

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Not pictured, the giant bronze star at the intersection

The building is pretty and easy to navigate on the inside too. As an outsider to Texas (I’ve been here for a year now, but I’m not sure I’ll ever really feel like an insider. Case in point, during my visit I saw some children reciting the Texas Pledge in front of this display, it made me feel like I was in a foreign country.) Which I guess makes sense given how proud people are down here of the once independent Republic.

I really learned a lot at the Bullock about the Texan Revolution, not just the heroes names and the Alamo, but the various viewpoints (Mexico, Anglo-Texans, USA) on the conflict and its outcome. Although the flashiness of the display, and some really stupid shots in reenactment videos, was a bit distracting, I was able to follow the historical narrative really well.

Two for Two on gun displays in museums for this class

Two for Two on gun displays in museums for this class

Speaking of distracting visuals, this one freaked me out. I know I'm supposed to be focusing on the Texan Declaration of Independence, but all I can see are the creepy mannequins eyes. Why put glasses on him at all?

Speaking of distracting visuals, this one freaked me out. I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the Texan Declaration of Independence, but all I can see are the creepy mannequins eyes. Why put glasses on him at all?

The post-annexation parts of the museum felt a bit more rushed to me, though I once went on a date with a guy who grew up in Houston who said that the “Texan history” they get taught in schools pretty much ends there too. (“Connecticut history” basically ended with the Constitution – and then Mark Twain so I can’t really judge.)

I know it's not practical with 50 stars, but I sort of wish this design stuck around

I know it’s not practical with 50 stars, but I sort of wish this design stuck around

They did have a whole floor dedicated to Texas industry, and that’s where I met a very friendly volunteer who wanted to share with me the story of this woman:

IMG_3476 Apparently Rosa was such a big deal that her priest son’s grazing lands got to be known as (South) Padre Island. The guide said she always tries to stop young women, “especially Hispanic young women” as they pass this display so that they know “they can be anything in this world” which I thought was very touching.

I know this is for children, but I couldn't resist the trivia photo op

I know this is for children, but I couldn’t resist the trivia photo op

IMG_3487 This is the only mention of the space program, a lot of the industry floor was unsurprisingly dedicated to oil, but I liked glimpsing the moon around the corner as I went through.

The Bullock is located at 1800 Congress Ave (just south of MLK/UT Campus) and also has an IMAX movie theater 

Classics from the Queue: Kinky Boots

 I don’t think I’ve ever actually lied and said that I’ve seen Kinky Boots, before tonight, but I’ve always sort of felt like I had seen it. From the trailer, it looked like a fun fish out of water tale, that I would thoroughly enjoy but had no real urgent need to see. And, that’s basically true, but it got me thinking about a couple of things. One, Chiwetel Ejiofor has been amazing for so long…

I’m glad he’s ascended into the A-List conversation in the past few years.

Two, there is a whole subgenre of movies (many of which I love), which are ostensibly about characters who feel like misfits in industrial English towns trying something radical and waking everybody up to a sense of fun. Off the top of my head this movie brought to mind The Full Monty, Billy Elliotand Prideall of which have deceptively flippant trailers and then the movies themselves turn out to be meditations on the meaning of masculinity in a dying industrial culture. Which is fascinating, and in the case of Kinky Boots, done with a light enough touch that it doesn’t have to be that unless you’re looking for it. It could just be an excuse to watch Joel Edgerton look adorably lost while Lola (Ejiofor) sings a Nancy Sinatra song.

This was turned into a Tony winning musical a couple of years ago, and I wonder if it retains much of its emotional depth. (A problem I have with the Billy Elliot stage adaptation.) Or if it just becomes a glitter and rhinestone revue, which would be fun and totally valid, I’m just curious. I may have to see it when it comes through Austin this fall.

Bonus Adventure: Republic of Texas Museum

As many of you know, I’m in my second year of grad school at the University of Texas School of Information, where I’m studying to be a research librarian/archivist/someone-who-helps-connect-people-to-old-stuff. As part of that fuzzy, but I think, worthy goal this fall I’m taking a class on historical museums, which long time readers will know, was basically designed for me. As part of our work for the class, we go to visit many of the museums in the Austin area, which is probably the coolest homework I’ve ever had (and bonus it gives me content for this blog, so it won’t languish while I wade through piles of articles like it did last fall!). Especially because it forces me off the beaten track (or off the pedestrian accessible part of downtown) to places I would never have discovered on my own. Like the headquarters of the Daughters of the Texas Republic, where the Republic of Texas Museum is housed.

I’m not going to write critical or analytical reviews of the museums I visit for class on the blog, mostly because I have to do that for class already, and this isn’t an academic space. Instead, I’m going to use this as a place for observations that may not seem relevant in an academic discussion, but I couldn’t help but notice.

Along with some cool “war trophies” from Santa Ana (I’m sure he would have a different label for them), like this chair you can see on my Instagram, and documents related to military and business transactions between early Anglo-American settlers in Texas, the collection has some cool ephemera from the period. My favorite part was a min-exhibit called “A Texas Childhood”

That caption reads: "Game of Grace" (reproduction) This was a popular leisure activity for young girls during the 1830s. it was considered a proper game befitting young ladies and supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys." (Good I was worried about that.)

That caption reads: “Game of Grace” (reproduction) This was a popular leisure activity for young girls during the 1830s. it was considered a proper game befitting young ladies and supposedly, tailored to make them more graceful. Graces was hardly ever played by boys.” (Good I was worried about that.)

The childhood exhibit also included guns, because...Texas

The childhood exhibit also included guns, because…Texas

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And this lovely decorative touch

A lot of the museum, understandably, focuses on the Texan War of Independence, which not being from Texas, I know next to nothing about (except what can be learned from repeated childhood viewings of The Alamo and one brief trip to The Alamo – coincidentally also run by the DTR), so I was more drawn to the slice of life stuff like:

IMG_3399Which is clearly aimed at teaching children about pioneer life, but includes a cute little kitchen model, complete with toy food:

Very authentic I'm sure

Very authentic I’m sure

And an adorable chicken coop:

I'm being snarky but I really think I would have loved being able to actually go in and touch this stuff as a kid - so rare in history museums!

I’m being snarky but I really think I would have loved being able to actually go in and touch this stuff as a kid – so rare in history museums!

A great Texas touch

A great Texas touch

These dioramas were throughout the museum, but remarkably unremarked upon, I got the feeling the current managers (who were all very sweet and welcoming to me) inherited them from past DTR members:

This one depicts the announcement of the annexation of Texas into the US

This one depicts the announcement of the annexation of Texas into the US

Unintentional history selfie

Unintentional history selfie

Anyway, get ready for a lot more museum posts in the next couple months.

The Republic of Texas Museum is located at 510 E. Anderson Lane (Don’t try to get there by bus. I took the 801 North and then got a Lyft)

Weekly Adventure: Hamlet from Ballet Austin

 Although I’ve always loved performance, and art, and live music, I never got super into ballet as a kid. (Mostly The Nutcracker freaked me out and then I fell in love with Riverdance, which is a whole other story.) But I went to see a couple of productions at The Joffrey in Chicago and was in awe of the skill and grace of it. So, when I started getting Facebook ads for the Ballet Austin‘s production of Hamlet, I was intrigued. One, to see what our local company was like and two, to see how they were going to pull off translating Hamlet, one of the most language based stories I can think of – I mean the most famous sequences from that play aren’t the sword fights but the soliloquies – into a wordless ballet.

The answer to that, mostly through Philip Glass music and strobe lights.

  OK, that’s not fair. The ballet, choreographed by Ballet Austin’s Artistic Director Stephen Mills, was actually incredibly well conceived and though there was some use of literal smoke and metaphorical mirrors (Hamlet (Frank Shott) is followed in his descent into madness by “shadow Hamlets” as is Ophelia (Ashley Lynn Sherman) in her – very affecting – death scene) most of power of the piece came from the dancers themselves – particularly Shott.

Hamlet wrestles his guilt over Ophelia’s death, by dancing a pas-de-deux with her ghost

In the end, I was very glad I went, because I love Shakespeare and this story has all the pathos needed for a great tragic ballet, even though I’m not sure I would have been able to follow the story at all if I didn’t already know it. Also the score, which I was worried would be too strange for my (admittedly ill-informed) classical music taste, was gorgeous and just the right amount of romantic and unsettling. (And was played beautifully by the Austin Symphony Orchestra – conducted by Peter Bay). Here’s a little snippet:

All cast members referenced here danced on 9/6 the day I saw the show.

Songs I Heard on Dance Floors and Yoga Classes This Summer

It’s hard to believe that it’s already Labor Day Weekend, what I’ve always thought of as the end of Summer (even if the Texan weather doesn’t agree with me for a few more months) and I figured I would make a playlist to send off this wonderful season. I’ve had a lovely (and busy) summer filled with weddings and trips and a lot of yoga. So here’s a list of songs I’ve loved moving to this summer, it might actually be hard to tell which came from DJs and which from yoga teachers, but that’s part of the fun.

I’ve Got My Mind Set On You – George Harrison

Bonus, this video stars a young Alexis Denisof, or as I like to call him Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.

Run Around Sue – Dion 

(OK so this one is from weddings, all three weddings I went to. Not that it’s not a great song to dance to, because it is, but isn’t it a little weird that this song about a woman who cheats on her boyfriend is such a wedding staple?)

Hooked On A Feeling – Blue Swede

It Will Come Back – Hozier 

No Diggity – covered by Shinyribs

Rock the Casbah – The Clash 

I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel 

All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey  

Breaking my usually strict no Christmas music outside of holiday time (Thanksgiving-New Year’s Day) because it was actually a super fun song to dance to at a wedding…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole

When I was kid my family and I used to refer to this as “the happy song,” which I think is a good note to end this summer on…

Until next year…