Monday, November 24, 2014

Movie Musings: The Hunger Games - Mockingjay (Part I)

It's Thanksgiving week, friends! Can you believe it? This whole year has been flying by at lightning speed. Since Thanksgiving weekend is a popular time to see movies with family and friends, for the next three days (leading up to Turkey Day) I'll be sharing reviews of movies I've seen this month. I hope these posts help you decide which flicks to see over the long weekend.

Let's start with "The Hunger Games - Mockingjay (Part I)." I saw the movie yesterday morning with three friends. We purchased tickets to the 10:15am show at Assembly Row in Somerville and not only did we get the leather seats that recline all the way back, but since it was a matinee, we only paid $8 dollars a person! The odds were ever in our favor.


When the movie began, they jumped right into the story line of the third book. One friend commented, "I really could have used a quick recap at the start. They just launched into this new chapter without reminding us where we left off." Very true. I agree that some type of recap or flashback to the final moments of the previous movie would have been helpful.

In "Mockingjay (Part I)" we are welcomed to Katniss' new home, the underground District 13. The movie brings the District to life in a way that felt very authentic to the book - the shocking depth of the campus, the simplicity of life, the all gray uniforms - it was exactly as I had pictured it in my mind.

The pace of the story feels slow at the start, where we basically see how torn up Katniss is day in and day out thinking about Peeta. There's a moment where she has a dream that she wakes from a nightmare and Peeta is there to comfort her. Then she actually wakes up and discovers he's still nowhere to be found. You really understand the weight of her pain and guilt in that moment.

With Katniss in District 13 is her life-long friend and sometimes love interest, Gale. The love triangle between Gale, Katniss and Peeta brings more tension to this film than any of the warfare or violence. You go back and forth between wanting her to be with Gale and wanting her to be with Peeta. For the record, I am 100 percent Team Gale. And not just because he's played by the devastatingly handsome Liam Hemsworth.

One of the new additions to the cast this installment is Julianne Moore as District 13's President Coin. She's traded her signature red hair for a sophisticated silver. President Coin requests that Katniss serve as the symbol of the revolution and she pushes Katniss every step of the way. Her character was one of my favorites.

Returning to his role as Plutarch Heavensbee is Philip Seymour Hoffman. I completely forgot he was a member of the cast. I wasn't sure if they would address his passing, but at the very end of the movie, the screen goes black and white text comes up and says, "In loving memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman."

The last thirty minutes of the film are action packed! The final scene is heart wrenching and a total cliff hanger. I wasn't sure how they would divide the last book into two, but they picked the perfect ending point.

I really enjoyed this installment of our beloved "The Hunger Games" franchise. So many of my favorite characters returned and gave stellar performances - Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett and Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair. It made me want to fast forward to the final film! According to IMBD, we'll have to wait until November 20, 2015.

Did you see "Mockingjay (Part I)" this weekend? What did you think?

*Image sources 1, 2 and 3

Friday, November 21, 2014

Grey's Anatomy: Little Buddha

Last night's episode of Grey's Anatomy was the last new one we'll see until Thursday January 29th! Can you believe it? Where did 2014 go?

This hour Maggie, Meredith and Derek are arguing over a patient in need of both heart surgery and brain surgery. The tension between Mer and Der continues to build for the entire episode until the final scene where Meredith pushes him into accepting the job in Washington D.C. I'm not a fan of this "pull rank" version of Derek. Where's the original McDreamy we all fell in love with?

Across the hospital, Callie and Owen continue their work with veterans in need of limbs. Two of their patients are enjoying competing against each other for milestones until one falls, hits his head and suffers a massive bleed. Could Callie have one single thing go her way this year? Just one.

Later on in an on call room, Arizona walks in on Dr. Herman having sex with her fellowship rival, Graham. That was unexpected!

Arizona sneakily gets her hands on Dr. Hermans's x-rays and asks Amelia for an expert opinion. Turns out, Amelia thinks she can remove the tumor. I wonder if Dr. Herman would fire Arizona once she'd be relieved of the pressure of only have a few months left.

The big news of the night resulted from April's ultrasound. In an awkward turn of events, Stephanie has to conduct the ultrasound. While doing so, she accidentally mentions the sex of the baby (a boy). She also notices something abnormal. She checks with both Arizona and Dr. Herman and they agree the baby has a bone disease that could keep it from living beyond a few days or weeks.

In the hallway, Jackson overhears Dr. Herman talking to Stephanie about the ultrasound and the "Little Buddha" baby. I sincerely hope Stephanie finds a way to down play this and keep it from Jackson. He and April will be heart broken.

At the close of the episode, Meredith experiences a wave of flashbacks. I am not sure what purpose that was supposed to serve. Anyone?

Don't be sad that you won't have a new episode of Grey's Anatomy to watch next week because next Thursday is Thanksgiving!

*Image source.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Read: One More Thing

Thanks to a recent whirlwind of work travel, I've had extra time to read these past two weeks. One of the books I just finished is called "One More Thing: Stories And Other Stories" by B.J. Novak. You most likely know B.J. as Ryan from NBC's "The Office." What you may not know, is that B.J. and I both grew up in Newton, MA. Have to support the hometown! 

For me, "One More Thing" was a collection of short stories likely stemming from jokes B.J. told at dinner parties and never quite got the reaction he was hoping for. So instead of tossing that small talk material, he decided to jot those thoughts down and get praise for them by publishing those bits in a book. I really wanted to love it, but I just didn't.

The list of crazy topics discussed includes: a Comedy Central roast of Nelson Mandela, Mark Twain attempting to get "Huckleberry Finn" published in 2014, the life of the man who invented the world's most famous math problem (if a train leaves Boston at 10:00am, and another from Seattle at 12:30pm, each going 60 miles per hour, at what point will they meet?) and how roller coasters get their names. 

There were a few stand out stories. My favorite one is called "All You Have To Do" (page 43 of the hard cover edition) which is written from the point of view of a man who always wears a red shirt out in public and when he returns home at night, he checks the Craigslist "Missed Connections" section for the key words "red shirt" or "red t-shirt" to see who noticed him or developed a crush on him that day. Yes, seriously. 

My gut instinct about how B.J. wrote the book wasn't exactly wrong. When I finished the stories and read the acknowledgements (which you should always do, because there is always amazing information revealed in there), I discovered that before writing the book, B.J. performed these stories as live readings for the Upright Citizen Brigade in Los Angeles and New York as a way to test the material. 

In the acknowledgements he mentioned two celebrities with hilarious shout outs:

1. "Years ago, I shared a lunch with the actor John Stamos. While we did not discuss any aspect of this book, I felt that it would be fun to include his name as a surprise for anyone casually scanning this section for names of celebrities."
2. "Mindy Kaling gets her own line in the acknowledgements, as previously negotiated by her representatives. Thanks, Mindy. I love you and you're the best." 

Reading those two tidbits made it worth reading the whole book! 

Since finishing this book, I've moved onto Tom Perrotta's "The Leftovers." Over two plane flights I've already devoured 250 pages. It's so good! When I finish, I am going to reward myself by watching the adaption that's been running as a new series on HBO.

What are you reading? 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Mindy Project: My Side Of The Bed

Before I get into last night's episode of The Mindy Project, let's discuss how FOX ordered another six episodes, which will bring this season to 21 episodes total!

Also, if you aren't following @mindykaling on Instagram, she is posting the most amazing photos from their shoot in San Francisco this week.

This week's episode was titled "Diary of a mad Indian woman" in which Danny uncovers Mindy's diary. Apparently Mindy likes to compare Danny's body parts to foods like hot dogs and empanadas.

There wasn't anything particularly juicy in the diary (sadly).

My favorite moment of the episode was actually when Danny agreed to spend the night at Mindy's apartment. He walked in and she shouted, "Hello my love! Welcome back to paradise!" He then replied, "Oh God. It's like Grey Gardens in here. I'm going to be smothered by a collapsing tower of chotchies." Ha!

Also this hour, Dr. Fishman forces Mindy into teaching interns at the hospital. She winds up having a sexual harassment suit filed against her. I wanted to laugh at this story line, but it just never quite got there.

I was surprised that there weren't really any side stories this week. Nothing with Morgan and Tamra, nothing with Peter chasing a new girl, not even more than one scene with Danny's mom Annette.

What did you of last night's episode?

*Image source.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Read + Giveaway: Kissing Frogs

As some of you already know, my friend Stephanie just published her third book, "Kissing Frogs." Last week I shared with you the book brunch we threw to celebrate this incredible accomplishment. Today, I want to talk to you about the book and give you a chance to win a signed copy.

I have to admit, I've been avoiding writing this post for a couple of days. Not because I didn't want to share the book with you, quite the opposite in fact. I think because the book and the person who wrote it mean so much to me, it's been really tough to articulate my thoughts. You only get one chance to review a book, you know?

That being said, let's travel together to the land of "Kissing Frogs" where bad dates are worse than you could ever imagine, nights with girlfriends are like oxygen and fairy godmothers really do exist (in the form of grandmothers).

"Kissing Frogs" is the story of Elliott Roux, a twenty-something girl living in Boston. Underwhelmed by her job, Elliott fills her free time with a much more colorful cast of characters.

Let's start with Dylan and Sasha, Elliott's roommates. Every night Elliott comes home to share the tales of her day with her two besties - Dylan, who plays pop songs on repeat and is always looking for the next party and Sasha, who would much rather veg on the couch and order in pizza. Despite their differences, the three girls share a love of one thing in particular: gossip.

On the nights she goes out after work, Elliott endures some of the worst dates I've ever had the pleasure of reading. A guy who likes to taser himself? A guy who attempts naughty things while you're sleeping? A guy who would rather snuggle with his cats than with you? The list goes on.

While many regard Sunday as the day of rest, Elliott reserves Sundays for her grandmother, affectionately known in the book as just "Gram." Together they share weekly picnics in the Public Garden, a love of animals and a deep devotion to the best meal of the week, brunch.

I don't want to spoil any of the scenes or chapters for you by giving away my favorite parts, but I will say, the moments I loved most in the book are either when Elliott and her gaggle of girlfriends are all together retelling stories from the night before or when Elliott goes toe to toe with her obnoxious mother, one of the most selfish characters I've ever met in a book.

What Stephanie brings to this book is the authentic voice of a single twenty-something just trying to figure it all out. What do I want to be when I grew up? Who will be the guy I settle down with? How do I process that my family is human and they make mistakes too, even the people I thought were perfect? She brings such a sincerity and truth to this story and these characters.

Now for the fun part! Stephanie has generously provided two signed copies of "Kissing Frogs" for two very lucky Pop.Bop.Shop. readers.

In addition to the signed book, you will also receive your very own "Kissing Frogs" tote bag with the book's hashtag on it.

I take my tote everywhere! Seriously, it's been all over Watertown and Boston. It's the perfect size for this book, your phone, your wallet, your keys and a king size bag of M&Ms.

To enter to win:

1. Like the Stephanie Blackburn author page on Facebook
2. Leave a comment below with your worst dating story

This giveaway will be open until Sunday 11/23 at 11:59pm ET. The winners will be contacted on Monday 11/24.

Good luck!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Celebrate: Asulia Foods Dinner Party

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Sue Liang, the founder and owner of a veggie obsessed company called Asulia Foods. I was teaching a class at MassChallenge on social media and community management and Sue had planned to attend. Work got in the way and we wound up missing each other. Thankfully, she emailed me later that day to introduce herself and ask if there was a time we could meet up to talk about her company. After our very first meeting, I knew I had to spread the word about about Asulia Foods.

Sue started Asulia Foods and is literally a one woman show. Currently, she has created recipes for three types of vegan dumplings: kale shiitake, taro root sesame and chickpea curry. Each box of dumpling is handcrafted here in Boston and contains two to three servings of vegetables, almost the daily recommended amount. Bonus!

All three flavors are certified vegan by Vegan Action and the packaging for the dumplings is printed in Maine by certified wind power.

In addition to the dumplings being good for you, 5% of all proceeds are donated to Room to Read, an organization dedicated to the education of young women and girls.

When Sue and I talked about the best way to introduce new people to Asulia Foods, it felt only right to host a dinner party. To say the invitation was met with enthusiasm would be a dramatic understatement. People couldn't wait to sample these dumplings!

On the evening of the dinner, Sue arrived to my house and within 12-15 minutes, all the dumplings were ready. This is the tray of the kale shiitake dumplings:

We had a second tray with a mixture of the taro root sesame and the chickpea curry flavors.

In addition to the dumplings, Sue prepared an entire feast, including these beautiful asparagus and mushroom tarts. Smelly pee be damned! These were delicious.

She also made this stunning mix of roasted vegetables, tossed with minced garlic, salt and black pepper. I love how bright the veggies are.

The third dinner dish was a noodle salad made with whole wheat noodles, kale, carrots, zucchini, red onion, cilantro and scallions, served with a peanut dressing on the side.

I seriously could have eaten that entire bowl by myself. The noodles were so yummy and I love the super food punch from the kale.

Once everyone arrived, Sue gave an overview of the company and how it all began. Then, it was time to dig in!

After the first few bites, we took an impromptu poll and the group's favorite flavor of the three was the chickpea curry. Personally, my favorite is the kale shiitake.

After all the girls agreed the meal was incredible, we surprised them with one last dish - a chocolate zucchini cake with toasted coconut frosting. As you may know, Almond Joy is pretty much my favorite candy (behind gummy bears and M&Ms) so I was thrilled about this flavor combo!

The cake was so gorgeous and it tasted even better than it looked! You couldn't tell there was zucchini in there at all, it just tasted decadent and perfect. Here's a photo of my slice:

Post-dessert, Sue surprised the girls with gift bags. Each bag had an Asulia t-shirt in it, each with a different phrase. The shirts said things like "Vegetable obsessive disorder" or "Kale is the new kale" or "Real men eat veggies."

Once everyone had a belly full of dumplings and a new t-shirt tucked away in their bag, we posed for a group photo. That's Sue on the far right in the red.

A huge thank you to Sue for preparing such a fantastic meal and for introducing all my best girls to the deliciousness that is Asulia Foods.

If you'd like to get your hands on some Asulia Foods dumplings, they are sold at specialty food stores like Formaggio Kitchen and Volante Farms, as well as at Whole Foods Markets all over New England. To find out if they are sold in the Whole Foods closest to you, click here.

You can also follow Asulia Foods on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Have you tried the Asulia Food dumplings? Which flavor is your favorite?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grey's Anatomy: Junkie

Hello, friends! I came home last night around 10:00pm from a business trip to North Carolina and this morning at 6:00am I boarded a plane to head to a client meeting in New Jersey. But, I love our weekly Grey's Anatomy dish session so much, I decided to stay up and watch the episode so we could share thoughts together this morning!

Since I'm running on very little sleep, this week I'm doing a Cliffs Notes version.

Norris and Harriet are the cutest 

This week's primary patient story about an elderly couple who survive a fire in their apartment building was so touching. Did it remind anyone else of "The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks? (Or the movie if that's all you know of it). The scene where they first come into the ER and Norris won't let go of Hatty, oh man. That was emotional!

Amelia's a junkie 

When Norris and Hatty's daughter arrives to the hospital and sees Amelia is their doctor she freaks out and starts screaming that Amelia is a junkie, she's hooked on Oxy and she woke up with her boyfriend dead in the bed next to her. Last week a bomb drops about Dr. Herman having a brain tumor and this week Amelia has a dead boyfriend? Jeez!

Derek's the worst brother ever 

Derek gets two chances to defend Amelia, first to the patients' daughter and then to Owen. It takes until moments before they are about to fire her at the board meeting for Derek to finally show up and make it right.

What was with the flashbacks to a robbery in a convenience store? Is the person who got shot Derek and Amelia's dad? Did we know this story line and I just forgot it?

Never rip on your boss without first checking if she's in the room 

Stephanie and Jo are in the ladies room, talking their way through an upcoming procedure. Jo says, "See, I've got this down and I'm not afraid of little bitty Dr. Bailey." And then voila! Bailey appears from behind a stall door.

This is seriously my worst nightmare. Anytime I have a conversation with a coworker in our office bathroom I always look for feet under each stall before I say a word about anything.

Maggie's on the brink of becoming a cat lady 

In a short scene toward the end of the episode, Maggie admits to Meredith that she was really disappointed about the dinner that never wound up happening at Mer and Der's house. She confesses, "I was really excited for pot roast. And people. I changed my outfit four times!" She also whispers that she's one step away from getting a cat. Ha!

Winter finale 

In the previews for next week, apparently this is the last episode of 2014! Can you believe it? It also looks like Stephanie finds a problem with April's ultrasound. How awkward! I sometimes forget she used to be with Jackson.

Do you think the conversation April and Jackson had in tonight's episode about God's plan is going to come up again when they learn something is wrong with their baby?

*Image courtesy of the Grey's Anatomy Facebook page.
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