Friday, May 22, 2015

Movie Musings: Pitch Perfect 2

On Sunday afternoon I met three friends at Assembly Row in Somerville to see "Pitch Perfect 2." Before I get into my thoughts on the film, I have to say two things: first, LOFT is having a sale - two for one shorts and second, if you want the ultimate movie candy, pop into Sugar Heaven before you head into the theater and get chocolate covered gummi bears. You'll thank me.

When I first heard there would be a sequel to "Pitch Perfect" I was over the moon. I loved the first movie so much and I couldn't stop singing "Bullet proof/Titanium." As we sat down to watch the second installment, I thought to myself, "As long as we get to spend two hours with our favorite characters, I'll be good."

Well, many of our favorites did return. For the Bellas - Beca, Chloe, Fat Amy, Cynthia and Lily (the girl who whispers). For the Treblemakers - Bumper (my personal fave), Jesse and Benji. And then of course, the two most politically incorrect announcers on the planet, John and Gail.

*SPOILER ALERT! Do not read on if you don't want to know anything about the plot of the movie. Stop. Stop right now.*

The story opens with the Barden Bellas performing for the President and Fat Amy's jump suit ripping wide open, showing the whole world her lady bits. As punishment, the Bellas are stripped of their national title. In order to be reinstated, they will have to win the world championships of a cappella.

For the first 30 minutes of the movie I was completely bored and I was thinking, "What a shame they couldn't recapture the magic." That was until . . . Fat Amy decided to serenade her one true love, Bumper, while paddling to him in a canoe.

The entire theater was laughing so hard it was impossible to even hear the song lyrics. That was my undisputed favorite moment.

I also enjoyed the a cappella battle (not an ounce of originality in the plot here, but we'll let it go). I particularly enjoyed the unexpected fifth group, the Green Bay Packers. Who wouldn't want to see Clay Matthews singing? Thank you for that treat.

In the final fifteen minutes, things really picked up and I was getting into it. I could feel myself leaning closer to the screen and suppressing the urge to sing along.

The film ends with the world championships of a cappella. Pentatonix (one of my favorites) has a cameo as the Canadian team and then the returning champions, the Germans, do the most incredible version of Fall Out Boy's "Light 'Em Up."

The Bellas took the stage for their grand finale and while I did enjoy their mashups and their choreography, it was nothing like the finale in "Pitch Perfect." Remember how wide we all smiled during that final scene? When Beca so clearly worked in the song from "The Breakfast Club" as a nod to her love for Jesse? Sigh.

Speaking of, "Pitch Perfect 2" barely had any Beca/Jesse scenes and I was majorly disappointed. I really loved them together.

I also thought the inappropriateness of the announcers' jokes reached an all time low. They also added a new Bella, Flo, whose sole purpose was to be the butt of a bunch of really disgusting immigration jokes. Dislike.

I have mixed feelings about the youngest Bella, Emily, played by Hailee Steinfeld. When it came to her participation in the group she was a total eager beaver (which I hate in movies and in real life), but in the scenes she shared with Benji, I melted. They were so cute together.

I think the biggest difference between the first movie and this second one is, with the first film I truly wanted to download and learn to sing every single one of the songs. I replayed them constantly, I watched the movie over and over again and I just couldn't get enough. With this second attempt, it fell flat. The music wasn't as fun and all the relationships I loved watching got minimal screen time.

Tell me, did you see the movie? Did you like it as much as the first one?

*Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 45 and 6.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Foodie List: Filming (Part II)

Every day this week I've been gushing about my fifteen minutes of fame on the upcoming television show "The Foodie List." In case you missed the first few posts, I shared my audition tape, my transformation thanks to Alexandra Dale Makeup Artistry and some stories and photos from the first day of filming. Today, I'm recounting the tales of my second day on set.

When I woke up the morning of day two, I wasn't feeling so hot. It was unclear if it was nerves, the anticipation of the day ahead or all the decadent food we had the night before, but either way, I was queazy. 

When Ali arrived to do my makeup, I was breathing kind of funny. I asked her if it would be ok for me to drink water while she worked and she said "Of course." What I wanted to say was, "I hope I don't puke on you." 

Thankfully by the time my face was good to go, I was feeling much better. I put on my outfit (black, since it had been confirmed the night before that I could in fact wear my color of choice) and headed out the door.

Our first stop on day two was Union Square Donuts in Somerville. Though I've eaten their donuts countless times at SoWa, private events and even a wine and donut pairing, I had never been to their storefront. 

When I arrived to Union Square, I found a killer parking spot. I was pretty proud of myself, but I immediately realized all the parking meters on the street had been converted to the Park Mobile app. With just minutes until our call time, I was panicking as I waited for the app to download, let me plug in my credit card info and get on my way. Minor freak out! 

I walked into the shop and Bianca, Dan and Fiona were already there (damn, parking app!). They were waiting patiently as Sebastian took the beauty shot of our donuts. 

He was really committed to capturing that chocolate ganache frosting.

While Sebastian was asking our donuts to make love to the camera, we took a minute to snap a few family pictures. 

In these photos you can see that Union Square Donuts has a wall of post-its. This wall is where people leave messages of love, kindness and praise. 

We decided to leave a post-it to mark our shared experience together on "The Foodie List." We peeled off a blue post-it and each signed our names.

Meanwhile, Sebastian took another minute to shoot the server putting our donuts into the takeout box and then we'd be ready to sit. 

Here are Dan, Bianca and Fiona posing with the donuts we were about to consume: 

Naturally they had to Instagram the donuts before we inhaled them.

Now, unlike both of the shoots on day one where each of us sat solo in front of the camera, this meal at Union Square Donuts would be our one group meal. Once we were all seated and had our microphones on, Maude (our director) started to ask us questions. Things like, "Why is the Boston food scene unique?" or "What was your favorite thing you ate this week?" or "Why should people from other counties come to Boston to eat?" 

It was fun to share the scene, all four of us together. Since we're friends in real life, the conversation flowed easily and we all made each other laugh. 

What was not easy, was eating a Boston Cream Pie donut on camera. First of all, it's probably the messiest of all donuts. Second, I was so nervous about getting frosting or custard on my face while we were filming, that I started to kind of nibble around the outside of the donut. However, as we kept rolling, I had to keep eating and the custard was seconds away from dripping out all over my hand. To try and stop that from happening, I held the donut with a firmer grip, but I wound up sinking my fingers into the donut. My nails were actually fully submerged beneath the frosting, cake and custard. Major fail.

When Sebastian and Maude finally yelled, "Ok!" I slowly pulled my fingers out of the center of the donut. #HotMess 

Once we finished filming our donut-eating scene, we went outside to film our entrance. This was a fun one. Bianca, Dan and I sat out front and pretended to wait for Fiona to arrive. Then we pretended to greet her as if we didn't know she was coming that very minute. TV is hilarious. 

Next, we walked a few blocks up to a really beautiful, tree-lined street to shoot our introduction to the show. We all tried to shout at the same time, "Welcome to The Foodie List Boston!" but when that sounded like a chorus of incompetent elementary school students, we switched to each of us being assigned a different word in the sentence. That version was much more successful. 

Lastly, Sebastian took some still shots of us as a group for the show's website and then I actually got to have what they call a "portrait session" where they shot still photos of me by myself. Ironically they had me, the vegetarian, leaning up against a tree. 

At that point, some of the cast headed with the crew to lunch at No Name Seafood and I had a few hours off. I would rejoin the group for dinner. 

Our dinner location was one of my picks, Piattini on Newbury Street. Piattini was actually one of my very first restaurant reviews on Pop.Bop.Shop. back in 2009. Since then, the place has doubled in size! They recently took over the space next door and added an enormous bar. 

The restaurant owner put us in a private room in the back. Maude and Sebastian got set up, ready for us to roll. 

Bianca went first and I was able to take a few photos of her before the sound of my camera beeping drove Sebastian insane. 

Here she is talking about the wine she selected to go with the food.

And now she's moving on to describe each component of the dish - eggplant with smoked mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and truffle cream sauce. Also known as heaven. 

When Bianca wrapped, I handed her my iPhone and I hopped into the hot seat. This eggplant dish is one of my favorites in the city and I couldn't wait to talk about each ingredient, the symphony of flavors and the fact that you can have stellar Italian food outside of the North End. 

It should come as no surprise to those who've spent time with me in person that I have a very expressive face, especially when I'm excited or trying to make a point. Evidence: 

As I was talking about the dish, I was trying to eat slowly because if the cameras had not been there, I would have cleaned that plate in seconds! 

Once both Bianca and I had successfully described and devoured our eggplant, we headed outside with Maude and Sebastian to film our entrances. First they filmed Bianca coming out of the Copley T stop and then they filmed me walking through Copley Square and crossing Boylston Street. I walked across the street three times and the final time Sebastian took a close up of just my feet. Thank god I shaved my legs! 

And with that final shot across Boylston Street, I was done! A few of the cast members would convene again the next day for two more meals, but Piattini was my final location. 

I was immediately overcome with sadness. I wasn't ready for my time with Maude, Sebastian and Adriana to end. I so loved creating this food-centric tour of Boston with them.

As Oprah would say, while I was filming this show I was "living my best life." I have never felt so happy, excited and energized about anything. It has been an absolute joy to relive the filming experience here with you. I hope you've enjoyed hearing about it as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. 

Thank you to my family, friends, coworkers and all of you - my amazing readers - for the never-ending support and encouragement. 

As I mentioned earlier this week, "The Foodie List" will air in Canada in September and in Europe and Asia in January 2016. No word yet on a U.S. air date, but of course I'll keep you posted. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Foodie List: Filming (Part I)

This whole week I'm sharing with you my experience as a cast member of the upcoming television show "The Foodie List." On Monday I shared my embarrassing audition tape. Yesterday we chatted all things Glam Squad - the amazing Ali of Alexandra Dale Makeup Artistry, as well as my go-to hair style for special occasions and my panic attack when I thought I couldn't wear black. Today I want to get to the good stuff - filming!

Before we dive into the behind the scenes dirt, let me tell you a little bit about how the location scouting was done. After we had been cast, Bianca, Dan, Fiona and I were each asked to send our top four dishes in Boston. Not restaurants, individual plates of food. 

I found this to be such a tricky request! While some of my favorite Boston restaurants have incredible atmosphere, impeccable service, heavenly cocktails and delectable bites, do those places have one single dish I'd want to call out? 

I was scratching my head for how to narrow down this list to just four plates and in the end, I decided I couldn't. I sent the casting coordinator seven dishes (lucky number seven). I told her, "This is like being asked to name your favorite child. I just can't. Here are my choices. Cut off the list wherever you have to, just don't tell me!"

The list I sent was:

1) The eggplant with smoked mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and truffle cream sauce at Piattini on Newbury Street
2) The profiteroles at Petit Robert Bistro in the South End 
3) The buffalo fried Brussels sprouts at Highland Kitchen in Somerville
4) The ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers at Bricco in the North End
5) The asparagus with egg and black truffle at Sarma in Somerville
6) The saffron arancini at Bin 26 Enoteca on Charles Street in Beacon Hill 
7) The tater tot nachos at Highball Lounge in Downtown Crossing 

When the production coordinator sent us the final schedule, two of my places had made the cut! Piattini on Newbury Street and Highland Kitchen in Somerville. 

On the morning of my first shoot date, I was accompanying Fiona to one of her picks, Mike & Patty's in Bay Village. They are located right at the corner of Church and Fayette Streets. 

If you aren't familiar with Bay Village, it's the small neighborhood in between the Theater District and the South End. It's tucked behind the Park Plaza Hotel and the Boston Center for Adult Education. 

When I arrived, I met Maude (our director), Sebastian (our cameraman) and Adriana (our production coordinator). They were outside taking what they call "the beauty shot" of the dish we would be eating.

You know how in "Top Chef" they always show a close up of each contestant's dish, perfectly plated, on a solid color background? That's the beauty shot. 

Here's Sebastian capturing the perfect morsel: 

Once the food had been snapped, it was time for us to start talking about it. Fiona went first since it was her selection. I was grateful I got the chance to watch and listen to her, since I had never been to Mike & Patty's before or tasted the dish we'd be describing (minor freak out). 

The menu item Fiona selected is called the Fancy breakfast sandwich. It's two fried eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon, avocado, red onions and house mayo on toasted Iggy's multi-grain bread. I know, you're drooling.

The owner of Mike & Patty's fried up a sandwich for each of us (mine with no bacon) and after Fiona's screen time, it was my turn. 

I handed Fiona my phone and asked her to take some action shots and then I took my seat in front of the camera. Since I had never been to Mike & Patty's before, Maude (our director), helped me by asking me questions. Things like, "Why is this a great neighborhood to spend time in?" or "When do you usually treat yourself to a breakfast sandwich?" With her prompting, I didn't feel quite so useless! 

Here I am talking about the joys of putting sriracha on your breakfast sandwich: 

As you can see, it is very difficult to look cute while talking and eating at the same time. 

I am not sure what was going on here, but I clearly didn't like it:

Once the team got all the footage they needed, we headed outside to film our entrances. One at a time Fiona and I walked around the neighborhood and faked walking into the front door. Sebastian (our cameraman) clearly instructed me, "Just walk. Do not look at the camera." I have never had to try so hard at anything! It is much tougher than it sounds. I have a whole new respect for "The Real Housewives." 

We wrapped at Mike & Patty's and the team headed to Santarpio's in East Boston for lunch. I was on break until our dinner shoot.

Our evening stop was my pick, Highland Kitchen! If you've never been, I can't say enough about it. They are located in a kind of no man's land of Somerville, but they have a free parking lot, a funky retro vibe, a hoppin' bar scene, a giant chalkboard specials menu (you know how I love that), a killer cocktail program and most importantly, insanely delicious, crave-able grub. 

To start the shoot, Maude, Sebastian and I hit the surrounding streets to film my entrance. Since the sun was going down, they wanted to secure that footage before it got dark. Then it was Bianca's turn. 

Once both of our entrances were set, Sebastian took the beauty shot of the dish - the buffalo fried Brussels sprouts.

What was cool about our evening shoot was, Highland Kitchen stayed open while we filmed, so we had people all around us. The energy in the room made it even more fun. 

Bianca sat down to shoot first. Much like me at Mike & Patty's, Bianca had never been to Highland Kitchen and never tasted the sprouts, so she was relying on the team to coach her. 

Unlike the first stop of our day, I actually walked away from the team so I didn't hear what Bianca was saying. I wanted my turn on camera to be totally organic and to say the things I had been thinking about ever since we learned we'd be going there. 

When it was my turn to sit in front of the camera I couldn't stop talking! I was so excited to share my love of this dish. 

After my ode to the buffalo fried Brussels sprouts, in which I may have called them "the best vegetarian appetizer on the planet," Maude began asking me some additional questions like "Why do Americans love buffalo sauce so much?" Ha! It was particularly funny in her beautiful French accent.

With our plates wiped clean, we wrapped! 

Since Bianca had never been to Highland Kitchen before, we actually stayed after and ordered a full dinner. The shrimp and grits and fish cakes for her and the deviled eggs and macaroni and cheese for me. 

It was nearly 11:00pm by the time we finished, so I dropped Bianca off and zipped home for some beauty rest. After all, I was expecting Ali again the next morning at 7:00am! 

Tomorrow I'll be bringing you behind the scenes of our second shoot day, which included our group meal, filming our "Welcome to Boston!" introduction and me trying to gracefully eat a Boston Cream Pie donut on camera. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Foodie List: Glam Squad

As I mentioned on Monday, this week I'll be sharing with you my entire experience filming "The Foodie List" TV show in Boston. Yesterday we talked about my audition and the casting of the show and today I thought we'd dish about hair, makeup and wardrobe. Ladies, you know this is critical.

After getting the email that I'd been cast, I waited about . . . five minutes to ask what the hair/makeup/wardrobe situation would be. When you're imagining your face beaming into the homes of people around the world, your appearance is naturally a concern.

Since the show is in its first ever season, the production is real scrappy. In all 13 cities the crew consisted of our amazing director Maude, our cameraman Sebastian and our production coordinator Adriana. That's it!

Since they were traveling so light, all hair, makeup and wardrobe had to be DIY for the cast.

Now, I know what you are thinking, "No problem! Just do DryBar or Sephora." Well, when your call time is 9:00am and some of those places aren't open, or don't open until an hour before you need to arrive, your options are limited.

So, I decided I would do my hair myself (straighten it) and then I would try to find a makeup artist to come to my house early in the morning each of the shoot days to transform me.

On the recommendation of a friend, I reached out to Ali, the owner of Alexandra Dale Makeup Artistry. She couldn't have been nicer and with zero hesitation, agreed to come to my house each morning at 7:00am.

I told Ali I wanted to look natural and still feel like myself, but I definitely wanted to keep in mind that I'd be on camera and that camera might mega zoom onto my face (while eating! EEEK!).

Ali had quite the set up!

Who knew one could use so many different types of makeup brushes?

Before she began, Ali asked me to sit in the room with the most natural light. We both agreed that was the dining room. For one full hour she worked on my face, feature by feature - foundation, eyes, lashes, cheeks and lips. When she was finished, she asked me to go take a look in the bathroom mirror.

Here is what was looking back at me:

I loved the way she smoothed out my complexion, shaped my eyebrows, accentuated my blue eyes and gave my lips just the right hue.

I'm always hesitant to smile with teeth when I have lipstick on, but Ali assured me I could not it without smudging:

Now, of course I was concerned with keeping my lips looking great all day because I knew we'd be eating for the whole shoot. Ali was nervous too, so we searched my personal makeup stash and discovered I already owned a sample size of the lipstick she'd used, Makeup Forever's Rouge Artist Natural. Phew! I tucked it into my purse for touch ups throughout the day.

In case you are wondering if the makeup made any real difference, take a look at this photo of me with the whole cast. That is definitely not my usual face! #upgrade

As I mentioned earlier in the post, for hair, I just used my straightener to give my locks a sleek look. It took just 30 minutes each morning and made me feel very glam.

Now for the most interesting piece, the wardrobe. Over email in the days leading up to the shoot, the casting coordinator told us not to wear "black, stripes, neon or any brand names or logos." If you've ever seen me in person, you know all I wear is black. If I do ever deviate from that color choice, it's for electric pink or orange (usually while in Miami). This rule about "no black" had me in a total panic.

On the first day of the shoot, I decided to wear a green and gray dress from Anthropologie. This dress is usual my go-to for client meetings. It's simple, but sophisticated. Here's a shot of me in the green dress, taken by my castmate Bianca (forgive the iPhone pic!):

While shooting at our dinner location that first night I was lamenting to the crew about how hard it was to find non-black clothing to wear. The production coordinator said quizzically, "Who told you that you couldn't wear black? Of course you can! Wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable." I felt like I was going to vaporize right in front of her. I had been stressed about this for weeks! Needless to say, I wore black on day two.

And there you have it, the makings of a TV newbie!

Tomorrow I'll take you behind the scenes of our first day of shooting.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Foodie List: Casting

You may remember a few weeks ago I shared a restaurant review of Vagabond in Miami, FL and I mentioned that dinner was to celebrate a special project I'd be working on. I have so been looking forward to sharing this news with you and now, without further ado . . .

 . . . I am going to be on TV! 

Yes, it's true! My face is going to be broadcast across Canada, Europe and Asia as a cast member of a brand new show called "The Foodie List."

"The Foodie List" was green-lit by a production company based out of Montreal, Canada. This will be the show's first season. There will be 13 episodes total and each episode will focus on one city.

The set up is that every new episode, four food experts take viewers around their home city to show off the best of the food scene. The show features 11 international cities - places like Helsinki, Tel Aviv and Vienna - and two U.S. cities - Boston, MA and Austin, TX.

So how did this all come about?

Well, one day I was minding my own business when I got an email from the show's casting person. I thought it was a complete scam. To test the waters, I asked her if she'd like to connect by phone.

To my surprise, she happily agreed and within in the next hour I had watched the pilot episode and agreed to proceed with the casting process.

Once I confirmed I wanted to move forward with the process, I was asked to create a two minute video introducing myself, sharing a bit about my blog and talking about why I love Boston. It's no secret that I really prefer to be behind the camera, not in front of it, so of course I was nervous.

Since I knew I could only talk for two minutes, I scripted what I wanted to say and I practiced it about 300 times. Then I set up my laptop in my dining room and went for it!

I recorded about eight different versions before I couldn't stand watching myself anymore. Here is the audition video I submitted:

You can tell I am nervous because I was talking so fast! Also, I wish I knew enough about video editing to cut off that awkward bit at the end where I shut the camera off, but oh well.

So with total trepidation, I emailed the video to the casting woman and held my breath.

I didn't hear a peep for three full weeks. I was positive they had gone with someone else and any minute I'd see photos on social media of other Boston foodies have a blast taping the show.

Then, one random morning, I was on the T into work when I got an email notification. I opened my blog's email account on my phone and it read:

"Hi! I'm writing to you because you've been selected to be part of 'The Foodie List - Boston.'"

My heart leapt out of my chest! I was so sure I didn't make the cut and it turned out, they just hadn't made their selections yet.

That same email also included the names of the three other Boston food experts I'd be filming with. To my surprise and sheer delight, all three people are bloggers I already know and love! My castmates would be:

- Bianca Garcia, Confessions Of A Chocoholic
- Dan Whalen, The Food In My Beard
- Fiona Coxe, A Boston Food Diary

I was absolutely elated! The four of us immediately began exchanging emails and sharing our excitement. Here is one of my favorite pictures of all of us:

For the next few days I am going to be sharing the whole filming experience with you - hair and makeup, wardrobe, locations, food and behind-the-scenes details. If you want a sneak peek, search Instagram with the hashtags #TheFoodieList or #TheFoodieListBoston. You can see photos of our shoot, plus all of the other cities.

More to come!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Look Up: Janet Echelman On The Greenway

When I was a little girl, downtown Boston was kind of a mess. I remember every time my dad would drive our family to the airport, we had to go a slightly different route because the Big Dig kept changing which streets were open. Though I don't remember what it was like before that maze of construction, my parents and grandparents always remind me that the highway used to run through downtown, not below it.

With the Big Dig complete, not only did the city of Boston finally get a commute free of construction vehicles at every turn, but we also got one of the most beautiful public spaces imaginable, The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway (the Greenway, for short).

If you've been reading Pop.Bop.Shop. for a while, then you already know how much I love the Greenway. When I was working on Broad Street I loved to go have lunch there, enjoy the food trucks (and the free wifi), watch people doing fitness bootcamps together, see kids splashing in the fountains and take home goodies from the farmer's markets. And don't even get me started on my obsession with the Greenway's carousel.

Just when you thought the Greenway couldn't get any more awesome, this month they've added an incredible work of art by Brookline artist Janet Echelman. According to a statement issued by the Greenway, Echelman is "a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and was named an Architectural Digest Innovator for 'changing the very essence of urban spaces.' Her work was ranked #1 on Oprah Magazine's 'List of 50 Things that Make You Say Wow!' and she received the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Visual Arts."

This new work is "inspired by the transformation of the city's waterfront following the Big Dig and Echelman's early inspiration for her work - fisherman's nets in Bali."

Check out this very cool time-lapse video of the installation:

It took six cranes, over 50 laborers and more than 15 hours to lift the piece into position. The sculpture hangs from three skyscrapers along the Greenway and is suspended 360 feet in the air.

Everyone who walks by or under the new Echelman sculpture is in total awe. Mostly because they are wondering, "How did they ever get that up there?" Well, here are some stats on the making of this new, jaw-dropping piece:

- The sculpture includes over 100 miles of twine
- There are over half a million knots (roughly 542,500)
- The sculpture weighs approximately one ton
- The longest span is 600 feet
- The piece is illuminated by 32 individually programmed LED lights
- In total, the sculpture covers almost half an acre

I don't know about you, but I am tired just thinking about all that!

Now that the installation is soaring above the Greenway, we can enjoy it all summer long. It's schedule to remain in place until October 2015.

Have you seen the Echelman sculpture in person? What do you think?

*Photos courtesy of Melissa Henry for Studio Echelman.
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