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Kitchen Nightmares: Returns Thanks to a 5 Game World Series

Last night Fox had to scramble for extra coverage when the World Series abruptly ended after a two-day rain delay in Game 5. Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” returned in its usual slot at 9pm ET, with a bonus re-run episode at 8pm. In the new episode, Ramsay visited South Bend, Indiana….his second venture to the middle of America after doing most of these shows in New York and Los Angeles. The establishment here, a few miles from Notre Dame University, was J. Willy’s, a bar/restaurant focusing on barbecue cuisine.

The restaurant was owned by three people–married couple Rich and Tricia, who owned another restaurant three hours away and were rarely at J. Willy’s, and J. Willy himself, a.k.a. John William. Dave the manager and Steve the chef as well as the rest of the staff were just pawns doing what John made them do, which was to use more and more processed, cheap food and cutting corners everywhere. As a result, this restaurant was $1.2 million in the hole. Yes, you read that correctly.

So Ramsay arrived and noticed the ratty decor and then proceeded to order from the menu….potato pizza (blech), beef ribs and a pulled pork sandwich. He was grossed out by all of the items and I was too watching it. At the dinner serivce that night, Ramsay also noticed that the poor food quality was scaring customers away. So he brought the three owners to a nearby church and posed as a priest at confession, asking them to share their feelings about why the restaurant was failing. The general verdict was that John had lost his passion and it was all his fault. Ramsay convinced him that if he freshened up the menu and got his staff on board, things could quickly change. They went back to the kitchen and started throwing out all of the processed and spoiling food.

Then Ramsay taught the kitchen staff how to make homemade BBQ sauce, and they served it that night along with fresh hamburgers and fresh cut fries. Everything was a hit until they ran out of food and started using frozen stuff again that had somehow been saved from the purge, angering Ramsay. So before he gave them a re-design of the restaurant, Ramsay made sure the owners were all committed to making changes. They agreed, he made it beautiful and brought in four of his own chefs to help re-design the menu further. The kitchen got behind and was making mistakes again, but manager Dave, and the three owners were able to rally their staff and have a great dinner service.

Ah, success. And they showed the restaurant months later still enjoying success and winning BBQ sauce competitions. Good for them, and hopefully they are climbing out of that big financial hole. Ramsay, you bugger, you’ve done it again.

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Le Plaisir

This one’s for you, Criterion fans. It’s a French-language black and white extravaganza from the German-born master of subtle romance and outlandish tracking shots, Max Ophüls. Following up on the director’s previous international smash, the episodic “La Ronde,” “Le Plaisir” is an adaptation of three tales by France’s master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant, all on the theme of pleasure. Story #1 concerns the identity a strange masked dancer; Story #2 features French superstars Danielle Darrieux and Jean Gabin (“Pepe Le Moko,” “Grand Illusion”) and deals with the attractive staff of a cozy, midline brothel attending a first communion; and Story #3 features Simone Simon (1942′s “Cat People”) as a woman who takes precipitous action when her boyfriend wants to end their relationship.

His propensity for elaborate long-takes aside, Max Ophüls remains hugely respected for his work on four terrific Hollywood melodramas made in the late forties, followed by four ambitious and widely acclaimed French works completed in the following decade, including the recently restored cinephile sensation, “The Earrings of Madame de….” Still, on the level of story, “Le Plaisir,” which was cowritten with Jacques Natanson, may not be among his absolute best. The middle segment, which takes up the bulk of the running time, is a beautifully wrought low-impact comedy, but it’s almost too gentle and threatens to wear out its welcome at various points. Even so, the closing segment, about the cataclysmic resolution of an failed romance, feels like an anticlimax – until we get to the actual climax, which includes one of the most unbelievable single shots in film history, outdoing even some similar moments from Alfred Hithcock’s “Vertigo.” What that guy could have done with a Steadicam….

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Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil

Lewis Black is a very funny guy, Patton Oswalt has been known to elicit a chortle or two, and Greg Giraldo…well, it really depends on who’s being roasted. Why then is “Root of All Evil” such an embarrassingly unfunny program? The concept of the series revolves around taking two subjects that may be considered social cancers and pitting them against one another in a mock courtroom setting. Black is judge, jury and prosecutor, while a revolving guest cast of two comedians per episode mount the cases for defense. (It goes without saying that anything even remotely resembling a legal reality is left at the door.) Of the eight episodes showcased here, titles include such mind-numbingly stupid topics as “Weed vs. Beer,” “Oprah vs. Catholic Church” and “Paris Hilton vs. Dick Cheney.” The half hour episodes are sleep-inducing affairs and you’ll be doing well if you mildly chuckle even once an installment. The defense attorneys occasionally present material from outside of the courtroom – these pre-taped bits that appear to at least have had some thought put into them are episode highlights (if one was searching for such bright spots), but the painful courtroom antics that dominate the screen amount to little more than bad improvisation. If this series were to return for a second season, it either needs to seriously rethink its game, or put the show itself on trial in an episode titled “Root of All Evil vs. The Moment of Truth.” Now that might be funny.

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The Biggest Loser: It’s All About the Game

NBC’s “The Biggest Loser: Families” reached epic gameplay proportions last week when Phil told Brady they should band together to oust Heba. I thought it was B.S. personally, but it turns out Phil really did say that, but not with any kind of vicious intent. Well, he should have known better, becuase Brady and wife Vicky are all about the gameplay and earning an edge to win the grand prizes totaling $350K. So when the blue team lost last week and ousted Phil’s wife Amy, Phil was broken up about it for days. He also was broken up when the blue team confronted him in front of his teammates on the black team, who did show their support to Phil.

But first, blue team trainer Bob Harper was absolutely livid about his team sending Amy home and sensing some serious gameplay. He basically accused Vicky and Brady of it, saying that Brady’s 3 pound weight loss was “unheard of” and that something was afoot. Brady admitted he wasn’t eating every four hours like he was supposed to because he “wasn’t hungry.” Um, have you had a look at that dude? Guys that big are ALWAYS HUNGRY Read the rest of this entry »

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The Shield 7.9 – Moving Day

To call this week’s episode of “The Shield” a disappointment would be to admit that the cast/crew did something wrong, and, well, that’s just not the case. Nevertheless, I found it to be less eventful than most shows, and that probably has something to do with the fact that with four episodes to go, Shawn Ryan and Co. seem to be holding off on playing their final hand. This is something that I warned against a few weeks back, and though it isn’t so bad that it feels like the characters are just standing around waiting for the end to come, this week’s episode felt like it was stretching out the story a little more than usual.

The spotlight was shifted to Shane this week now that he’s on the run from the cops, and though his initial check-in with Corrine doesn’t go as planned (he knows Vic is there coaching her the minute she asks too much), Shane really seems to have a handle on how to properly evade capture. For starters, he’s not planning on leaving LA anytime soon, since he knows the entire police department is out searching for him, and he’s quick to trade in his flashy Lexus for another car with clean papers. The wrench in his plans, however, is that Mara forgot to bring Jackson’s medicine with her before leaving, and the kid’s whooping cough could escalate into pneumonia at any minute. This forces to Shane to head to a nearby pharmacy to pick up new medicine, and when that causes some bad reaction, Mara begs him to take Jackson to the hospital. It’s there that Vic finally catches up with him, but when he pulls out his gun to take Shane down, a squad car pulls up and the cops arrest Vic instead.

The Shield 7.9

Now, I find it hard to believe that every cop within the city limits wasn’t shown a picture of Shane before heading out on patrol, but even if they didn’t recognize him in the dark, don’t you think one of the officers would have at least pulled Shane and Mara aside to take down a statement? It seems like a pretty sorry excuse for Shane to get away, especially considering the circumstances. Still, he’s free for the time being, and though he suggests that Mara go turn herself in so that she may properly take care of Jackson, she refuses, claiming that family sticks together. And for all the trouble that Mara has caused over the last few years, you’ve got to respect that she’s still standing by Shane’s side.

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The Small Back Room

Life during wartime is getting to English weapons researcher and bomb disposal expert Sammy Rice (David Farrar). He’s in constant pain from an artificial foot and his preferred method of medication, whiskey, is highly problematic. It gets worse because his struggle to avoid drinking is just one of a few thorny issues that’s giving Susan (Kathleen Byron), his very serious girlfriend, some equally serious doubts about their future. Oh, and those damned bloody Nazis have taken to leaving a new kind of tricky unexploded bomb laying around, and it’s killing local soldiers and Prof. Rice’s own colleagues.

Based on a famed wartime novel by Michael Balcon, 1951’s “The Small Back Room” is one of the less well known films from “the Archers,” the writing and directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Best known for ravishing and slightly insane Technicolor spectaculars like “A Matter of Life and Death,” “The Red Shoes,” and their masterpiece, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” the influential pair also had a flair for creating genuinely captivating black and white thrillers and love stories. “The Small Back Room” is a bit of both and possesses a degree of complexity and implied sexuality unusual in its time, and also today. Still, the film maybe bites off a bit more than it can chew resulting in a relatively distancing second act, and one semi-dream sequence involving a giant whiskey bottle shows how Pressburger/Powell’s admirable creative risk-taking could sometimes lead to unintended laughs. Still, there is humor, fine drama, suspense in the climactic bomb disposal sequence, and an amazing cast of some of Britain’s best local talent. This may not be the Archers at their absolute best but, trust me, that’s no insult.

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Haunted Histories Collection Vol. One & Two

If creepy tales of haunted houses and other landmarks are your thing, then you might want to pick up either or both of the sets titled “Haunted Histories Collection,” produced by the History Channel. But those looking for subjects slightly more sinister will also find plenty of thought-provoking material alongside the standard ghost stories contained on these affordably priced box sets. Each set is comprised of five documentaries that range from limp to goose-bump inducing, depending on your tastes.

The first volume features two obligatory titles called “Hauntings” and “Poltergeist” that deliver various tales and reenactments amounting to about what you’d expect. The set delves a little deeper on “The Haunted History of Halloween,” which is amiable yet informative fare covering the history of the holiday. “Salem Witch Trials” covers not only the infamous Massachusetts trials, but also the history of witch hunting in general. Finally, there’s the cherry on the cake, “Vampire Secrets,” which at 90 minutes runs twice as long as the other docs on the set. It might as well be R-rated, given the sheer amount of blood spilled while detailing the exploits of famous vampires such as Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who allegedly killed as many as 600 young women for their blood back in the 1500s, and the more recent case of Rod Ferrell, a disturbed Kentucky teen who took the role-playing game “Vampire: The Masquerade” far too seriously.

Volume Two again offers up two platters of garden variety ghost tales, and follows them with two docs that make an excellent double feature due to their Haitian connections: “Zombies” and “Voodoo Rituals,” neither of which are for those with weak stomachs. The final doc is the keeper, though. “In Search of the Real Frankenstein” traces the roots of Mary Shelley’s mad scientist all the way back to a trio of real scientists working on experiments eerily similar to her fictitious counterpart back in the day, and pretty much everything short of the walking dead can be traced back to their work. If there’s anything to be gleaned from either set, it’s that sometimes fantasy is close enough to reality to keep you awake at night.

Click to buy “Haunted Histories Collection, Vol. 1″

Click to buy “Haunted Histories Collection, Vol. 2″

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Heroes 3.7 – Repeat after me: “Robert Forster is AWESOME.”

Robert Forster is a god among men…and I’m not even talking about his character of “Heroes.” I don’t know what it is about the guy, but he just brings something to his roles where he can deliver more coolness than ought to be allowed by law, and “Heroes” is certainly no exception to that rule. Mind you, even with that ability, he still couldn’t pull off that awful line that was teased in last week’s preview (“Son, until you change that attitude, you’re grounded”), but I refuse to believe that there will be a funnier delivery of a line by any other character this season than his delivery of the punchline, “Have you met their mother?” Genius. But while Papa Petrelli’s scenes this week with Peter and Sylar were great, his best moment came with his handling of Maury Parkman. Wow. Nice knowin’ ya, Maury.

Claire and Mom have bonded over her handling of the Puppet Master, but it doesn’t stop Mom from being hesitant to accept the idea of Claire going on a road trip with her new best gal pal, Elle. And, really, can you blame her? Elle’s got a villainous past. Still, you have to like the fact that everyone from Claire’s little brother on up is aware that all they have to do to stop Elle is pour water on her.

There was a time when I would’ve heard Claire deliver that line about how “something’s wrong with us” and I would’ve figured it was just the writers being lazy…or possibly Claire just being stupid and somehow forgetting that her problems didn’t start until Sylar sliced into her brain. But, no, it appears that she’s actually being smart for a change and blatantly using Elle to get her own problem fixed, even if its origins aren’t the same as Elle’s. But speaking of stupid, I couldn’t believe the ridiculousness of Claire and Elle flying on a commercial aircraft while Elle’s powers were sparking left and right. I have to believe that the entire scene only existed because someone in the writer’s room was too proud of the “please turn off all electronic devices” joke to let it go unused.

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Zack and Miri Make an R-rated Trailer

Click here if you prefer not to hear naughty words in your movie trailers.

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Entourage 5.8 – First Class Jerk

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen an episode of “Entourage” as good as the one tonight, but after weeks of pointless subplots, Doug Ellin and Co. finally delivered some of that old school flavor that has been sorely missing from the new season. But before I get into any of the specifics, first thing’s first. In last week’s blog, I made a comment about how it might be fun to see Vince represented by Adam Davies for a while, but what I meant to say was Josh Weinstein. I know that doesn’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still an important distinction – especially considering tonight’s episode revolved around exactly that.

Now, it didn’t pan out quite like I imagined it would, but it’s probably for the best. After seeing Weinstein sandbag the guys with a promise that Frank Darabont was interested in Vince for the lead role in an upcoming project, only to discover that it’s a TV show he’s executive producing, I’m more than certain that Weinstein (or Adam Davies, for that matter) wouldn’t be right for Vince’s career. They might get him the jobs he wants, but they’ll never care about him like Ari does. Which brings us to the biggest story of the night: Ari’s decision not to take the Warner Brothers job.

Entourage 5.8

At first, I was utterly perplexed by the decision. I mean, if most people were offered a promotion of that magnitude, they’d take it no questions asked. After all, isn’t the life of a Hollywood agent all about bigger and better opportunities? If it wasn’t, then no one would care who they were representing as long as they were good pals with their clients. One thing I didn’t considered, though, was that Ari didn’t like the consequences that might come with the new job – namely, less time with his family. When he finds out that Amanda Daniels is not only next in line for the job, but refuses to put Vince in “Smoke Jumpers” if Ari turns down the offer, however, Ari decides to take the job just to spite her. (On a side note, that shot of Amanda’s reaction as Ari left the office was great.)

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