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The Next Food Network Star: Halfway Home

It’s hard to believe, the current season of “The Next Food Network Star” is half over. We started out with ten contestants, and now five have been eliminated. In last night’s Episode 5, as usual, the remaining six last night had two challenges. The first was to open a box that had six ingredients, and to make a dish using those ingredients in 45 minutes. Then, they had to talk about the dishes on camera in one minute. But wait, there’s more. The coach in this case was Iron Chef Cat Cora, who told them that instead of talking about their own dish, they had to describe the dish of the person next to them. Talk about a curveball.

The pairings were Shane and Kelsey; Lisa and Jennifer; and Adam and Aaron. These would also be the teams for the second challenge, which was to recreate a dish assigned to them that typically takes a long time to prepare, and transforming that dish to a 45-minute weeknight meal along with two side dishes. Wow, that is some serious pressure. The dishes were Coq Au Vin, Beef Wellington and Turducken. Yikes. And the judges were the usual judges along with the editorial staff of Bon Appetit Magazine. Yikes again.

With that, here is how each contestant fared in both challenges Read the rest of this entry »

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This very Parisian suspense comedy-drama was a sensation on the American art house scene during the early 1980s and helped launch a wave of more stylish, genre-oriented, French directors, action-meister Luc Besson included. (It also earned its own palindrome: “Avid was I, ere I saw Diva.”) It’s still fun, and very sexy in a demure, PG-13 way, if also kind of silly and lackadaisical.

Based on a novel by the pseudonymous Delacorta, writer-director Jean-Jacque Beiniex’s feature debut tells the story of a twentyish, scooter-driving postman (Frédéric Andréi) obsessed with a beautiful African-American opera singer (real opera star Wilhelmina Wiggins Fernandez) who, for artistic and philosophical reasons, refuses to allow herself to be recorded. The young man sneaks a high-end recorder into a performance and, after meeting his idol, steals her dress. He soon finds himself pursued by Asian audio pirates, but also by local assassins seeking an incriminating cassette. At the same time, he pursues a light flirtation/friendship with a larcenous Vietnamese teen orphan (Thuy An Luu) – and, shyly, but a lot more earnestly, romances the diva. He’s definitely one lucky celebrity stalker. Among other bits of good fortune, his less famous, underage gal-pal is under the possibly fatherly, possibly not-so fatherly, protection of a mysterious former Special Forces type (Richard Bohringer), who proves to be helpful in his tight spot.

“Diva” is really not about story but primarily about style, music (lots of opera, so be warned), and only then about its characters. While it doesn’t impress me today the way it did when I was the same age as its young postman, it’s still a nifty bauble with one really great foot/scooter chase through the Paris metro and lots of beauty — though buyers should be aware that the Lionsgate/Meridian Collection DVD has taken some hits for its technical quality. The print could probably be better.

Click to buy “Diva”

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Finishing the Game

Fans of Bruce Lee might find a movie like “Finishing the Game” a little insulting, but considering the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the real-life events occurred that much differently. After the shocking death of the martial arts star left his final project (“Game of Death”) unfinished, Hollywood producers set out on a worldwide search to find his replacement. Shot in the style of a mockumentary, “Finishing the Game” tells the behind-the-scenes story of five such candidates: Breeze Loo (Roger Fan), a successful B-movie action star; Cole Kim (Sung Kang), an aspiring actor managed by his girlfriend; Troy Poon (Dustin Nguyen), former star of the hit show “Golden Gate Guns”; Tarrick Tyler (McCaleb Burnett), a half-Caucasian, half-Asian equal rights activist; and Raja (Mousa Kraish), a doctor-turned-stunt double.

Though the laughs don’t come quite as frequent as you’d imagine a concept like this would serve up, “Finishing the Game” is an entertaining addition to director Justin Lin’s eclectic résumé. The reason it works as well as it does is because Lin has compiled a talented cast of Asian-American actors (most of which he’s worked with before) that are all on the same page. Sung Kang, specifically, delivers some of the film’s best moments (despite being given one of the weaker roles), while Dustin Nguyen’s parody of himself is worthy of a few giggles. Cameos by Leonard Nam (as the director’s dream replacement for Lee) and James Franco (as Nguyen’s suicidal co-star) are welcome surprises, while Roger Fan’s performance as the flashy and overconfident Breeze Loo (a melting pot of all those Bruce Lee knockoffs from the late 70s) steals the show.

Click to buy “Finishing the Game”

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Holy Blu-Ray, Batman!

There are some movies that beg to be viewed in glorious high definition, but “Batman: The Movie” isn’t one of them. It isn’t for lack of trying, however. The special edition Blu-ray release of the 1966 cult classic looks amazing when compared to its DVD counterpart, and it even includes an exclusive extra that tracks the film’s location shooting via an onscreen map. As some people may have noticed with Paramount’s recent release of “Face/Off,” however, HD video transfer isn’t always a good thing. Fishing line can be spotted during Batman’s early run-in with the shark, and Cesar Romero’s under-the-makeup mustache is more evident than ever.

Of course, that only makes watching “Batman: The Movie” even more fun, and so in honor of its grand debut on Blu-ray, here’s a look back at some of the film’s more ridiculous moments. And when you’re done, head on over to for your chance to win your own copy!

Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them. But which one? Which ones?
Batman: Pretty fishy what happened to me on that ladder…
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea… Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: That exploding shark was pulling my leg…
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O’Hara: All adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-r. Riddler!
Commissioner Gordon: A thought strikes me… So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance…
Batman: The four of them… Their forces combined…
Robin: Holy nightmare!

Robin: That crazy missile! It wrote two more riddles before it blew up!
Batman: What goes up white and comes down yellow and white?
Robin: An egg!
Batman: How do you divide seventeen apples among sixteen people?”
Robin: Make apple sauce!
Batman: Apples into applesauce… A unification into one smooth mixture. An egg… Nature’s perfect container. The container of all our hopes for the future.
Robin: A unification and a container of hope? United World Organization!
Batman: Precisely, Robin! And there’s a special meeting of the Security Council today. If what I fear is true…
Robin: Wow! Let’s commandeer a taxi!
Batman: No, Robin. Not at this time of day. Luckily, we’re in tip-top condition. It’ll be faster if we run. Let’s go!

Batman: Listen to these riddles. Tell me if you interrupt them as I do. One: What has yellow skin and writes?
Robin: A ballpoint banana!
Batman: Right. Two: What people are always in a hurry?
Robin: Rushing people… Russians!
Batman: Right again. Now what would you say that means?
Robin: Banana… Russian? I’ve got it. Someone Russian is going to slip on a banana and break their neck!
Batman: Precisely, Robin! The only possible meaning.

Batman: Look at this pair of joking riddles.
Chief O’Hara: What does a turkey do when he flies upside down?
Robin: He gobbles up!
Chief O’Hara: Of course.
Batman: And number two…
Commissioner Gordon: What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?
Robin: A sparrow with a machine gun!
Commissioner Gordon: Yes, of course.

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Hell’s Kitchen: Family Time

Last night’s “Hell’s Kitchen” featured the remaining three chefs–Corey, Christina and Petrozza–battling to reach the final showdown. To kick things off, their families were invited in to have lunch with them as Ramsay cooked for them himself. What a treat, right? Well, Christina was the only one who was smart enough to realize she should pay attention. So she analyzed the dish, which was a venison dish with white bean puree and some kind of wine sauce. The challenge, of course, was for them to re-create the dish using ingredients in the kitchen, in 45 minutes.

Not surprisingly, Christina won the challenge, though Petrozza and Corey put in quite an effort. Christina’s reward was to spend more time with her family and Ramsay as they dined at a few of the hot spots in Los Angeles. Corey and Petrozza, meanwhile, had to scrub glassed behind the bar.

For the dinner service, each contestant was asked to take turns “at the pass,” meaning they had to bark orders the way Ramsay does each night to everyone else in the kitchen. None of the three were particularly convincing doing this, but were not horrible, either. As always for this challenge, Ramsay had the sous chefs mess up a few of the dishes to see if the chefs would catch the mistakes. Only Christina did.

And while each contestant did a fairly good job last night, they each made their share of mistakes. Ramsay knows it gets tough at this point to send someone home, but he had to ask each one to nominate someone else for elimination. Corey chose Christina, Christina chose Corey, and Petrozza chose Christina. Ramsey announced the Petrozza was the first to reach the finals, and then he chose Christina as his challenger, sending Corey home.

I think Ramsay may already have it in his mind that Christina will be the executive chef at his new restaurant. But Petrozza is a fighter and he’s really hung in there. Not to mention he must really know something about running a kitchen.

So there you have it….next week we have the battle for the championship–the 47-year-old kitchen veteran against the 25-year-old up-and-comer. Should be interesting, but either one will be a good choice for Chef Ramsay. See you all next Wednesday!

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And our very special guest star…Fred Willard!

Show: “Stargate SG-1″
Episode: “Family Ties” (Season 10)
Role: Jacek

It has been said…by me, if by no-one else…that when it comes to guys whose mere appearance in a film automatically guarantees that it won’t be a complete waste of time, there’s a tie for the spot at the head of the class between Larry Miller and Fred Willard. I don’t have a bad word to say about either of them, but it must be said that, of the two, Mr. Willard has probably managed to be funny in more different genres.

Yes, even in sci-fi.

Fred Willard

Although Willard earned major geek points by appearing in episodes of “My Secret Identity” and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (as the President of the United States, no less) and providing voiceover work to “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command,” “Transformed: Animated,” and “The Batman” (he’s also in “WALL*E,” for that matter), the one full-fledged science fiction role on his resume is that of Jacek on “Stargate SG-1.” From the moment the character first appears, two things are clear: 1) Jacek is going to be the episode’s comedy relief, and 2) Willard is going to play this part just like he plays any other part, even if it is on a sci-fi action / drama.

Though the episode technically begins with Vala Mal Doran (Claudia Black) and Lt. Col. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) returning from an off-base shopping trip, the excitement doesn’t start until the gang at SG-1 get an unscheduled video transmission. “Hello? Is this thing working?” shouts Jacek, into the camera lens. He introduces himself, explaining, “I don’t get out to your end of the galaxy very often, but I have a friend who lives in the area, and he speaks very highly of your people.” Jacek claims to possess information which reportedly could impact the very survival of Earth, but the information that proves far more interesting comes when Vala identifies him as her father.

Jacek: Vala, is that you? Sweetheart, how is life treating you?
Vala: Certainly better than you ever did.
Jacek: Ouch! I suppose for the benefit of your friends there you’re going to want to list all the reasons why I was such a bad father.
Vala: Oh, I wish I could, but a wormhole can only be maintained for 38 minutes.
Jacek: Ah, you’ve got your father’s wit…
Vala: It’s hardly enough time to cover your inadequacies as both a parent and as a human being in general.
Jacek: …and your mother’s uncanny ability to hold a grudge.

Jacek asks to be brought through the Stargate in order to reveal his information, but Vala refuses to vouch for him; she changes her tune, however, when he reveals that what he knows has to do with a plot to destroy Earth that Arkad set into motion prior to his death. “Take your time, there’s no pressure,” says Jacek. “Just that your whole planet could very well blow up at any moment.”

Cut to the SG-1 team preparing to retrieve Jacek.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season One, Ep. 2

Belle’s got a special date tonight, but it’s more of a “where” than a “who.” A client, Alexander, is taking her to a chic private sex party – the sort of thing you need an invitation to get into, and something she’s always dreamed of attending. She’s vamped out in a little back dress, an elaborate choker, and a neat black wig – ready to enjoy a night of decadence. But such nights often don’t go as planned, and she ends up in the most unexpected of places as the dawn crowns a new London day.

Alexander (Aleksandar Mikic), like any of Belle’s clients, has expectations and demands. He is paying for a service that she is there to provide. He needed date for the party, but he also appears slightly geeky and inadequate. Belle isn’t just his ticket in; he also plans to own her and her every move for the night. At first things go as planned as they take in the ambience of the situation and visit one room after another. It is an elaborate setup, in a safe “Eyes Wide Shut” sort of way, although without nearly as much naked flesh on display. (The lighting, in fact, echoes the strands of lights that decorated Sydney Pollack’s party at the beginning of that movie.) Alexander tells her he doesn’t plan to have sex with her at the party. He’d prefer to wait, and have one man after another lust over her, and then after they leave when she just can’t take it anymore, he’ll ravage her at home. On cue, Belle looks at the camera in disbelief.

The pair is momentarily separated when Belle clumsily bumps into another man (Jamie Sives), spilling wine all over them both. They apologize and flirt and he goes on his way. She tells us she recognizes him, and that could be awkward. She must go through her mental Rolodex of all the men she’s slept with. “This could take a while,” she deadpans. She realizes that she doesn’t know him personally, but rather he happens to be one of her favorite authors, Jay Lorre, and she recognizes him from the backs of his books’ dust jackets. She tracks him down again, only this time he’s with someone – maybe his wife, maybe his girlfriend, maybe his date. In any case, the woman exhibits no jealousy as he and Belle talk each other up. Just as things begin to heat up, Alexander shows up to stake his claim. He drags Belle away from a far more interesting situation.

But Belle isn’t about to give up that easily. She hooks up Alexander with another woman by engaging them in some geekspeak and she once again heads off to find the writer. This time things get considerably more heated and they end up in one the back rooms where anything goes. There’s a fairly tasteful shot of a guy banging a woman in the background. You can’t see anything and yet you can see plenty. Belle and Jay get into the mood and fall back on a bed. Before she knows it, his partner is right alongside them, and Belle engages in a lengthy kiss with her. (Stop me when I begin sounding like a Harlequin romance novelist.) Things are definitely going in the right direction and it’s no doubt a very hot scene. Suddenly Belle realizes her professional duties. She tears herself away from them with the promise of more to come. She enlists the aid of a waiter and then finds Alexander. The waiter shows up and tells he she’s got an important call on the emergency line. There is no call, but Belle and the waiter exchange pleasantries as she buys some time. When she returns to her client, she tells him she must go “for personal reasons.” He’ll of course get a refund. The poor guy’s evening is a bust, but we don’t really feel sorry for him. After all, Belle’s got a far more exciting journey to go on – finishing the night off with the couple. Just as she’s ready to head off with them, she checks her phone only to find several messages from her family. “For personal reasons” she must now leave the couple as well.

Enter Hannah, as Belle removes the wig and choker, and she goes to the local hospital where her sister has just given birth to a son. Her family, as well as best friend Ben (Iddo Goldberg), are all there, and somewhat surprised by her dress, which she explains away as part of a work function. The sister in particular is snotty and seems annoyed that Belle is never around for anything important. Ben drives Hannah home in the morning and finds the black wig in her purse. He’s not sure what to think, but knows that she wasn’t doing anything that had to do with work. Hannah climbs into bed (but not before showing us a fantastic shot of Billie’s butt) with a Jay Lorre novel and rationalizes that at least she can be in bed with her favorite novelist, even if it isn’t quite the way she expected.

This was a nice episode, slickly shot and full of humor, that eventually further underscored the dual Belle/Hannah lifestyle. Belle was much easier to like here, especially in her attempts to ditch Alexander, a guy that’s very difficult to care about. Likewise, her dealings with the writer are an interesting setup that we wish would pay off. There’s a voyeuristic quality to the episode, more so than last time. I think this show is corrupting me and making me into a much dirtier person than I really am. (Yeah, right!) As far as the recent news items claiming Piper thinks her career may be over since she’s showing some skin, I don’t think she’s got much to worry about. (Further, I believe her comments have been somewhat taken out of context – I think she was half joking.) The first episode of this series scored Showtime its highest ratings ever for the premiere of a new series.

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The Delirious Fictions of William Klein

The best reason to pick up this “Eclipse Series 9” from Criterion is the inclusion of the great “Who Are You Polly Magoo?” Made in 1966, the film is a wonderful satire of the silliness of the fashion and modeling industry – well before it was fashionable itself to make fun of such things. In the other two films included here, “Mr. Freedom” and “The Model Couple,” director Klein continues to point his satirical lens on such things as American imperialist ideals and the humdrum drudgery of middle-class life and its societal trappings. The two films aren’t always as bracingly hilarious as “Polly Magoo,” but no one can deny that it’s a treat to have all three of these works finally available on DVD. For those who aren’t familiar with Klein’s work, this is definitely a great – and affordable – place to start. And not to worry about these being uppity arthouse flicks; Klein’s work can be enjoyed easily by all who care to experience them.

Click to buy “The Delirious Fictions of William Klein”

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The Next Food Network Star: Bye Bye Bollywood

Are you on board yet? I’m telling you, this show rocks, despite the fact that the Food Network airs it so late at night on a Sunday (10pm ET).

Anyway, last night Episode 4 began with the remaining seven contestants having to perform a 60-second info-mercial for Food Network personality Tyler Florence about a specific task that they were assigned on the spot. For the second and main challenge, they were asked to come up with a fish dish for possible “syndication” on Red Lobster menus nationwide, and then Iron-chef style, had to make a second fish dish with a strange ingredient. They had 45 minutes to prepare their dishes on a Coast Guard ship to serve members of the Coast Guard along with the judges, including Iron Chef Michael Simon. Here is how it all went down, by chef…..

Kelsey had to “french” a rack of lamb for her video shoot Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Reasons to Mourn George Carlin That Aren’t Stand-Up Related

5. Herbie Fleck (“With Six You Get Eggroll“)
4. Eddie Detreville (“The Prince of Tides“)
3. Frank Madras (“Outrageous Fortune“)
2. Cardinal Ignatius Glick (“Dogma“)
1. Rufus (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey“)

I also remember enjoying “Justin Case,” a TV movie that was written and directed by Blake Edwards, where he played the ghost of a private detective who attempts to solve his own murder…but it’s been 20 years since I’ve seen it, so I might be giving it too much credit.

So long, George.

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