Sunday, January 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Iron Lady (2011)

Vote for the hair.

Warning: this review features INTENSE FAWNING.

First, let me be clear: The Iron Lady is not a spin-off of Iron Man, although if it were, Meryl Streep would have us all convinced that a woman in her 60's can and will invent a suit of iron, get in it, and blast bad guys to smithereens, all while being attractively conflicted about her own role in the military-industrial complex, and sporting a devil-may-care attitude to hide her intense attraction to her loyal secretary.

...Excuse me, I must now write that screenplay.

(type type type)

All kidding aside, I went into The Iron Lady with no preconceptions and came out bloody moved. (Full disclosure: I was not yet born when she became Britain's first female Prime Minister, and I was a little kid during her days of ultimate power and glory.) The film is a loving answer to the question: what happens after power? What is it like for the formidable Lady Thatcher in her twilight days? Unlike the woman in the bathroom after the movie who opined that it "spent too much time in the now," I appreciated the creative glimpse into a strong woman's struggle with old age, powerful memories, and unfamiliar solitude.

Meryl Streep, as we all know, can earn a Best Actress nomination even if she played Optimus Prime in Transformers 4: Run Robot Run. At the recent Golden Globes, she was clearly surprised at winning the award, nearly jumping out of her chair when her victory finally sank in, and once again graciously thanking her fellow nominees for their excellent work. After watching this film, I am totally rooting for her to win the Oscar. Streep breathes fiery life into the woman who fought every day of her life to rise to the top, and fought every day since to enforce her principles, and then fought even after that to retain her sanity and make sense of a crazy, crazy world.

Gosh, and the makeup! It was spectacular and complemented Streep's flawless performance. That old lady face deserves a prize, too. The music was also terrific, and the supporting cast -- most notably darling Jim Broadbent and Alexandra Roach as the young Maggie -- were superlative.

Did I cry like a baby near the end? You bet I did. Of course, I also secretly wept at the trailer about a town in Alaska saving three whales, it starred Drew Barrymore and it was called Big Fishies or something, so perhaps my emotional reaction is not, er, a good standard for judging a film's impact and merit. But if this was Streep's campaign, she's got my vote.

Insert clever closing line here, I'm exhausted from all the fawning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie Review: Haywire (2012)

Violence has never looked better.
Gina Carano is badass. She stars in Haywire with a slew of excellent Hollywood male specimens, and beats the crap out of most of them. Her Mallory Kane is a sympathetic character -- she's smart, capable, beautiful, and a decent human being. Director Steven Soderbergh teams up with composer David Holmes, which is why the soundtrack is very Ocean's Eleven. Soderbergh also chooses to cut the music during fight scenes, so the sounds of grunting and fist meeting face and foot saying hello to solar plexus and body hitting the ground are available in their full, painful glory. There's plenty of tension, lots of shadiness, and, surprisingly, a ton of laughs. The target of Kane's wrath definitely isn't laughing as she races up behind him, but the audience was howling in anticipation of a righteous beating. And whoo, does Kane deliver!

Oh, and there might have been a plot in there somewhere. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Xīnnián kuàilè! Happy New Year!

Legend has it that the Moon Rabbit fell in love with a princess of the Kingdom of Woo, and it descended from the sky to, appropriately enough, woo her. The Moon Rabbit lavished upon his love many gifts, including a jade cut into the shape of a paperweight, a sapphire fashioned like a comb, and a bathrobe with inlaid diamond snowflakes. The princess cast her eyes demurely upon these gifts and protested that the Moon Rabbit did her too much honor, whereupon they totally got it on, please don't ask me how. When the time came for the Moon Rabbit and his princess to return to the moon, their children -- again, don't ask me how -- vowed to celebrate their parents' love every spring with a festival. And that, dear readers, is about as far from the true origins of Chinese New Year as I could manage. You're welcome.

Back in the real world, Boston is below freezing, driving above 40 mph is dangerous, and the howling winds of death come from every direction.


But I had been invited to go to a Chinese New Year celebration, and contacted Boyfriend as soon as I heard "potluck" mentioned. He, obliging gentleman that he is, instantly set to work with some garlic, chili paste, soy sauce, fresh ginger, and pork loin.

Leave in slow cooker for 10 hours.

At the party, there were so many people that it was a fire hazard, and everybody brought food, which is a health hazard, unless high blood pressure is suddenly a good thing now. We stuffed ourselves with (deep breath): pork loin lettuce wraps, homemade kimchi, homemade bread, scallion pancakes, beef with green peppers, fried rice, noodles, cranberry cake, pecan pie, grapes, strawberries, and, because I never learn, brie. Needless to say, my lactose intolerant self was like a ninja fart machine several hours later at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I'm just classy that way.

The scallion pancakes were prepared as I watched, and the kitchen was like a factory. A group had been assigned moon cake creation, and one mixed the dough, another rolled one layer, yet another made one more layer, and the last person stuffed the pork into the dough and formed it into a bun. Said buns were then baked in a little oven. When asked what traditional recipe this moon cake came from, our hostess replied, "YouTube dot com." Obviously.

Scallion pancakes: it takes at least five before the heart attack.

No celebration is complete without one animal (that is not being consumed, of course) and perhaps a child. The little girl pictured below was enamored of Henry the Boston Terrier, seen here with his winter hoodie:

No dogs or children were harmed during this photograph.

People asked me if we celebrated Chinese New Year in the Philippines, and I said, I'm sure the Chinese do, only to find out this morning via Skype that the entire country apparently takes a day off to celebrate the joyful love between the Moon Rabbit and the Princess of Woo. Book my flight home, please. I hear a lechon calling my name...

新年快乐! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Land of the Rising Rice Cake, and Beantown

I miss Japan. I'm all natsukashii (nostalgic) for the good ol' times in Kyoto. I spent all morning parallel processing -- working on a spreadsheet and also wracking my brain to see which part of my year abroad rocked the most. So many things instantly come to mind: the mouth-wateringly delicious yet simple food (takoyaki, onigiri, donburi); the social acceptance of youthful raging alcoholism; the hyaku-en (dollar) store where I bought the cute tupperware that still gets compliments to this day; the all-night karaoke joints; the free packets of tissue passed out in street corners; the giant manga stores... AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH SO WONDERFUL

It could be any and all of these things, but I think it's the intertwining of nature and food that featured so prominently during my stay there. Lemme 'splain.

We once trekked up a mountain during fall to visit three temples. I remember a certain someone having to be bribed with chocolate to make that first daunting ascent up a sixty-degree slope, I kid you not, we needed ladders for this hike. The sporty boys were bounding along like mountain goats, while Smoker Me (alas! I used to smoke ze cigarette, je suis désolée) wheezed my way up the "trail." Then we got to the top and the damn temples were waaaaay up a whole bunch of stairs, dagnabit! Fortunately, you could clearly see the temple gift shop from the bottom, so we raced up the steps to get our boxes of traditional fall chestnut buns.

Yours for only ¥3,300!

And then there was the time my host mommy took me to a bamboo forest near our home in the Ukyo-ku area. 'twas fabulous and breathtaking, and at no time did I feel like chopping down bamboo with my samurai sword, not that I had one at the time, how ironic. I ate freshly-pounded mochi afterwards, mochi being an all-season food choice (I'm guessing). Host mom also took me to tsukimi, or moon viewing, and we sat on a boat out on a lake and stared at the moon and ate moon dumplings.

Tsukimi dango: for your moon-viewing pleasure.

There was plenty of home cooked goodness, too, especially when winter came. As temporary adoptive foreign daughter, my job was to make the miso soup every night. After school, I would dutifully take miso paste and dissolve it in boiling water via chopstick. One night, I was told I didn't have to do that, and then they busted out this beauty:

Have you ever seen anything so glorious?

Nabe is a big ol' hot pot with tofu, chicken/beef/seafood, and fresh vegetables in a gently simmering soup stock. Ironically, the best nabe I've ever had was here in the US, but it was made by a Japanese government worker so it totally counts. And we drank sake with gold flakes! Such decadence!

Anyway, back in the land of the rising rice cake, come spring my host mom whisked me to see all the cherry blossoms and OMG THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. Previously, I had been like, "Oh, I've seen this in Washington D.C., I'm sure it's the same in Japan." Readers, I was so very, very wrong. The beauty of the sakura enraptured me. There are a bunch of spots in the neighborhoods of Ukyo-ku with canals and narrow streets and all you see is a tunnel of sakura, their delicate leaves spiraling gently to the ground, quick, get me a calligraphy brush, I am about to compose a poem about beauty and transcendence.

It's traditional to eat sakuramochi during spring time, so we did that too, with a dash of tea ceremony included. I did not know tea could be foamy, but there you have it. It was, of course, delicious.

Basically, it boils down to this: the Japanese make it a point appreciate the turning of the seasons with season-specific foods. They prepare dishes that take advantage of whatever is plentiful that time of year. Brilliant!

Boston has a similar tradition, except with beer: Samuel Adams brews Summer Ale, OctoberFest, Winter Lager, and Noble Pils. Incidentally, did you know Boston is the sister city of Kyoto? I found out while having this convo with two instructors at the start of grad school:

Fragrant Elephant: 京都の同志社大学で日本語を勉強しました。(I studied Japanese at Doshisha University in Kyoto.)
Instructor: おお!京都はボストンの姉妹ですよね。(Oh! Kyoto is Boston's [unknown word], isn't it.)
Fragrant Elephant: (rictus smile) そーそうですね。(Y-yes, it is, isn't it.)
Then I completely spaced out of the conversation in a futile attempt to figure out what "shimai" means. But do not fear! I still placed into the Can Ask For Directions level of Japanese, which is a step up from Possibly Not A Total Moron, which in turn is an upgrade from I Declare War On Your Accent, hurray.

And so it is my pleasure and privilege to have lived/live in Kyoto and Boston, two cities that know what the hell they're doing when it comes to gastronomic delights. If they are indeed sisters, Kyoto would be the prettier older sister, demure and proper and slightly mysterious, and Boston is the younger sister who alternates between grouchy and overly friendly, but always, always welcomes another drink.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Let's Move! with First Lady Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama started the Let's Move! program as a way to combat child obesity in the US. Just to give you an idea, one in three kids in this great nation is a fattie. Not a cute fattie where you go, "Awww, I could just squeeze your chubby cheeks all day!" No, this is the kind of fattie where you learn to your horror that little Bobby is at extremely high risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma, although let's face it, everyone and their dog is at risk for asthma thanks to industrialization. But more about my three-step plan to eliminate noxious gases from the atmosphere via osmosis later. This post is about having fun while shaking your booty.

Mrs. O is game! Just check out this video:

Inspired by her example, I have now upgraded my morning routine to a Beyoncé dance. Previously, my SPAMER (SPoradic A.M. Exercise Regimen) consisted of pathetic attempts to follow a four-minute routine from Just Dance 3 via YouTube. Try "Boom Boom Pow," it's a doozy. But she who reaches for the stars lands on the sun and gets burnt to a crisp thereby losing water weight, or so they say, so today I tried to dance like the kids in this video:

The one guy in the group is the best dancer, so I try to model my moves after him. Do I fail spectacularly? Of course! But the point is, it's a fun fun fun way to start the day. Perhaps one day I shall be good enough to perform at the always-competitive family Christmas party at Lola Tita's. Ho ho ho!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Some Light Entertainment

I managed to squeeze in some downtime between plotting world domination (phase 1: elaborate graphs), hacking up my lungs, and emotional eating. Dear readers, I share with you some stuff that entertained me this holiday season:

#1: It will make you go, "Ooooh" -- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007)

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath take a break from teaching business to tell us about stickiness, a concept that they attribute to my very favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, and by "very favorite" I mean "his very name makes me sneer in disdain." Made to Stick uses a lot of examples from the advertising, business, and urban myth worlds to make their argument that "sticky" ideas can be taught. My favorite example was the "Don't mess with Texas" ad campaign that proved effective in reducing roadside litter, by having Texas celebrities play on Texans' identity as non-litterbugs.

The authors' handy mnemonic tool is the acronym SUCCES(s), which stands for Simple Unexpected Concrete Creditable Story(ies).

Like, one time, in Subic, my little cousin Jillie got her finger bitten by a monkey and blood gushed out and I could see her capillaries and monkeys are totally evil. Let's examine that event in the context of this book:

Simple: Cousin got bitten by a monkey.
Unexpected: A monkey! Don't they usually just fling poop at people?
Concrete: Blood gushed out, ugh.
Creditable: I was there. I totes saw it. It was awful.
Story: It is a true story.

Made to Stick is a fast read, even if you don't skip the bits where they take hilariously jargon-y paragraphs and whittle them down to their main ideas. I like it for their surprise sub-theme: you don't need to be creative. There will be many more creative ideas than yours. Instead, you need to be perceptive -- ya gotta know that an idea is profitable good as soon as you hear/see it.

What? I just need to be on the lookout for someone else's bright idea? Sign me up!

#2: The tension is killing me -- Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Let's just say that at least one bag of popcorn would have perished while I gnashed my teeth at all the tense scenes. Helmed by director Brad Bird, Tom Cruise's latest foray into the world of action and impossible gadgets is a nail-biting romp. The spectacular stunts include an invigorating climb up the world's tallest building, which of course begs the question: uh, how do I get down from here?; sneaking past a guard using HD technology; and dead-accurate shooting while plummeting from a rooftop. The characters are more human this time around, with visible internal freaking out when presented with the certain possibility of extreme pain and/or death. My dear Simon Pegg gets all the laughs, and he has an exchange about magnets with the usually stoic Jeremy Renner that had us in stitches. The bad guy, played by icy-eyed Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, aka the Man Who Got with the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009 version), is a good villain -- competent and totally nuts. Oh, and spoiler alert: THE GOOD GUYS WIN ZOMG.

#3: Awwwww -- Rio (2011)

Full disclosure: I almost stopped the movie when all the damn birds started flying and singing in the opening scene, until I saw the cute widdle baby pawwot and went all gooey on the inside. Okay, the main character isn't a parrot, he's a blue macaw voiced by Jesse Eisenberg who ends up in Minnesota after being smuggled from his home country. He is found and then raised as a pet (or companion, as he would argue) by a local gal (Leslie Mann). And then comes a cute Brazilian bird specialist proclaiming that they must go back to Rio, because how else will the title have thematic impact? Just kidding. To save his species, the dorky bird must get it on with the fiery Jewel (Anne Hathaway), who proves more than a match for him. They get birdnapped from the research facility, chained together, and hilarity ensues! Rio is a terrific film where everything stands out: the voice acting, the animation, and the music. Sure, the plot is thin like that chick with huge eyebags who plays the assassin in the latest Mission Impossible, but like Made to Stick suggests, simple works. Highly recommended!

The weekend is almost here! We can make it!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So Special

Note: Medicare is a US government program that provides health insurance to the disabled. Read more about Medicare!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cold Like My Heart

Last night Sheba and I came home to a chilly apartment. At first I didn't notice anything amiss, because I immediately flew into a flurry of sweeping and mopping. Before you allow yourself to be dazzled by my dedication to next to godliness, let me add the disclaimer that 400 square feet only takes about 10 minutes to tidy up, before the next wave of hair, fur, and dust comes along. Anyway, I finished up, teeth-fully and facially hygiene-icated, and plumped myself into bed.

Then I realized it was cold. Like my heart. I checked and it was 56°F (13°C) inside my apartment! I cranked the thermostat to 70°, but couldn't hear the pinging sounds of my baseboard heater working. I shoved my bed aside and peered at the poptop control valve, which looks like a little box with a skinny lever poking out. I fiddled with the lever a bit and accidentally lifted the top of the box off, exposing the thingybob inside, you know, the doohickey connected to the pipes. It was warm. So why wasn't it heating my apartment?

I texted my predicament to Boyfriend, who offered to come pick me up. But as a modern independent woman, I had to take a stand. No chill will drive me from my home! So I put on my comfy socks stolen acquired from a friend's hospital stay, and my stylin' North Face running hat, and settled down to outfight the cold with my body heat. And of course there's my Super Sikrot Weapon:

BAM! Take that, lack of heat! I have my own personal space heater, and it's the size of a breadbox and responds to visual cues!

But Sheba alone is not my Super Sikrot Weapon. No, it is the combination of her microJoules of energy, my Tempur-Pedic® bed, which as we all know is really alien technology, and my Comforter of Friendship, bequeathed unto me after grad school. (Hmm, it's been that long? I should probably wash it...)

Anyway, when these three become one, they utterly destroy the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat cannot spontaneously flow from a cold location to a hotter location. So instead of poor me miserably and unwillingly losing heat like a frying pan left to cool on a stove top, my Super Sikrot Weapon sucked in all the heat in the room to power my deep slumber, also known as the sleep of the innocent.

I called my apartment manager this morning and was assured that they'll look into it because it's probably a building problem. In the meantime, if you would like to rent the mobile component of my heat Weapon (pictured above), she is available during the daytime and only costs a can of high-end cat food! Due to neutering, I only have one in my supply, but I'll get on the waiting list for a cloning program and perhaps you too can have your very own Sikrot Weapon! Bed and comforter not included.

I'm so moving out this year. First the laundry machine is dead for three weeks, now this... (grumble, grumble)

Happy Monday!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bring It, Cheesecake

I beheld my moon-shaped face this morning and knew that last night's fried apple cheesecake was laughing at me. The perfect roundness of my cheeks told a dark story of defeat, of a bitter battle waged and lost. My close resemblance to a dumpling was proof of the saying: "In old country, cheesecake consumes you."

The FAC (fried apple cheesecake) came courtesy of The Tavern in Central Square, where I dragged Boyfriend to because I felt entitled to comfort food after being unable to eat most of the day due to my body's vigorous attempts to expel phlegm via unstoppable coughing fits at work. My, that last sentence was so long it deserves to be written in Spanish. Pero no hablo español, so sad.

Moving on, prior to FAC, I'd had my beer of choice, a black & tan, and half of a grilled filet sandwich (thanks to McDonald's, I always thought filet was a type of fish). I also finished a side salad in between stealing chunks of Boyfriend's mashed potatoes. The greens made me think I was being good, and because balance is so important in life, I just had to have something to counteract all those nutrients. Enter the fried apple cheesecake.

Not only was it made of cream cheese and then deep fried, it also came with two enormous scoops of vanilla ice cream topped off with syrup. I mean, come on. Obviously, deep frying a cheesecake is never enough. Your arteries won't block themselves, you know.

I was fine after polishing off my half of the horribly awesome dessert, but Boyfriend complained of a tummy ache afterwards, as we watched 1995's action film Assassins starring a sinfully sexy and young Antonio Banderas on crack. Sly Stallone and Julianne Moore may have been there, too. The point is, we were miserable -- he holding his stomach in pain, me hacking up my lungs (ice cream = dairy = thicker mucus). Only Sheba was happy, shuttling back and forth between laps as the fancy took her, and sometimes squishing herself between us, just to mix it up.

It is now the next day and I am burping up a storm. Apparently, like my emotional development, my reaction to cheesecake is delayed. Oh my. Aren't my coworkers lucky!