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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

From Beantown

Ok, I'm not even going to spend precious vacation time explaining why for the first time ever, I'm SERIOUSLY considering never watching the Oscars again, or at least pay it as much attention as I have- that's for another post altogether. When I muster my wits about me, you're going to hear me rant about how underwhelming Ellen was, how annoying it is when nominees pretend to be so surprised when their names are called even though they KNOW full well they'll win (Jennifer Hudson, I hope someone tells you to keep the acting to the big screen), and what a travesty it is for Martin Scorsese to win BOTH Best Director and for Best Picture, my personal bias aside. The only salvageable moment last night was when Alan Arkin deservedly won for Little Miss Sunshine- go Grandpa!

On a decidedly happier note, Boston has been a complete blast! :) We'll definitely furnish more details when we get back in the a couple of days. So far, it's just been a wonderful time catching up with Stan, Susan, and of course Terence, who's generously letting us squat in his apartment :) The city is so amazingly rich in history that I'm still trying to take in every historical detail I'm encountering. And it's quaint and pretty, just like Montreal- which means, I LIKE! :)

Friday, February 23, 2007

It's that time of the year again...

I'm upset- the year I finally watched almost all the movies nominated in the major categories (we're only missing The Queen and Pan's Labyrinth) is also the year I can't watch the ceremony 'live'- a first in five years. We're going to be in Boston for spring break and as much as I would love to be plonked in front of the TV between 7pm and midnight on Sunday at our friend, Terence's, I can't bear to squander a night in New England and miss out on fresh seafood and the delights of Beantown.

And I'm all the more upset because it's going to Ellen at the helm this year! I adore the woman... ever since her sitcom more than a decade ago, few people have made me laugh as hard as she has. It was her show that got me hankering after opening a bookstore cum cafe, and one day, I will bring myself to wear Converse sneakers with a business suit :) Another reason why I think this year's Oscars is pretty cool (but this is just me of course), is that almost exactly 10 years after a certain juggernaut of a movie propelled them to international celebrity, Kate and Leo are going to be at the ceremony together, both nominated for best acting awards. I think that's gotta be kind of sweet on some level right?...

Anyways, to the nominees. Okay- that's it; this year, I'm going to go determinedly with my head and pick the nominees most likely to win rather the ones I would like to win (except for one- cross my fingers!). After more than a decade of following this thing EVERY year, you'd think I would have learned by now that it's not about who should win, but who will. I'm not doing the voting so why should my personal opinion count in this decision-making process? Because if I had my way, Ryan Gosling will take home the statuette as the anguished crackhead of a teacher, and in that same perfect world, Brad Pitt would also have been nominated for at least Best Supporting Actor over Mark Wahlberg. Ah well, c'est la vie...

So anyways, ladies and gentlemen, my choices for the year:

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Eddie Murphy - DREAMGIRLS
This is definitely one of those head over heart choices people- I would rather see Alan Arkin receive the statuette to the strains of Super Freak than Dr. Doolittle go on stage doing a Norbit impersonation (or is it the other way round?)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Helen Mirren - THE QUEEN

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Jennifer Hudson - DREAMGIRLS

Best animated feature film of the year

Achievement in art direction

Achievement in cinematography

Achievement in costume design

Achievement in directing
As much as I disliked the film, c'mon, give that man an Oscar!...

Best documentary feature

Best documentary short subject

Achievement in film editing

Best foreign language film of the year

Achievement in makeup

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
Unless the Academy decides that the same artist (Gustavo Santaolalla) somehow cannot win two years in a row (after the hauntingly exquisite Brokeback Mountain score last year)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
"Love You I Do" - DREAMGIRLS

Best motion picture of the year
This is probably the only choice where I'm going with my heart rather than my head. Like I told my best friend, although Babel is probably the more "winnable" film, I really, really love Little Miss Sunshine, and when it comes down to just pure film narrative and heart, it's honestly the better movie too.

Best animated short film

Best live action short film

Achievement in sound editing
Because almost every year, it's the movie that made the most noise and the most money that wins this award... ;)

Achievement in sound mixing

Achievement in visual effects

Adapted screenplay
"It's who will win, not who should win, who will win, not who should win..." I'm sorry Mr. Borat, that you have no fortunate of great success this night that will make you much fame in your homeland.

Original screenplay

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dearly Departed...

Ok, how shall I put this politely without offending legions of Scorsese fans and hundreds of movie critics out there? Ermmm, we finally watched The Departed today and it was kinda, hmm... how shall I put this?... Flabby?...

Really, I promise, I tried to be as open-minded about the movie as I could despite my initial gut reaction when I found out that Scorsese had gone and made a remake of Infernal Affairs. Honestly, I tried. Everyone around us- even those who had watched the original- told us that it was a phenomenal movie in and of itself, Entertainment Weekly talked about it as being "urban noir" and Scorsese's return to his gritty, "Mean Streets" visceral form, and the Academy clearly thought it worthy enough for a Best Picture nod.

Okay, I'm sorry, but I think the Academy has made a mistake.

Maybe I'm a naive audience, maybe I don't know enough about American film-making, or maybe I'm just plain biased, but there is no way The Departed matches up to the original; in the immortal words of Jerry Maguire, it wasn't nearly close to being in the same vicinity as matching up to the original. I think it's a weakness of Hollywood film-making in wanting to always demystify things- to talk about things to death and rationalize characters' every act and sentiment. There must be no ambiguity to anything, all must be resolved, and every loose string must be tied up in the end. If you had watched Infernal Affairs, you'd know what I mean.

Infernal Affairs was crisper, tighter, and ironically, even though you knew less about the characters than in The Departed, more human. Tony Leung was anguish personified- a walking paradox of guilt, anger, righteousness and shame. You could really believe that this man may no longer be able to distinguish the line between good and evil. His character was sent into the streets as a mole right when he was a young police cadet- all of 10 years. That's a lot of time to mess up a man if you ask me... And poor Leonardo's character wasn't given that same opportunity by Mr. Scorsese.

And what's with all the extra contrivances? The common love interest (again, the Hollywood machinery at work), the sad childhood baggage, and Mark Wahlberg. I know, he used to Marky Mark, and he's come a long way, but what's with the inexplicable attitude and bad hair? And am I the only one who thinks that when it comes to the movies, Morse code is way cooler than text messaging? Talk about unsubtle film-making...

Most importantly, Infernal Affairs is ultimately the better movie because it didn't have Jack "I-need-to-steal-every-scene-I'm-in-by-sneering-and-being-slimy" Nicholson. Eric Tsang played the mob boss better coz even though he's dimunitive in stature, his controlled, smiling malevolence made him way creepier than Jack Nicholson's over-the-top deranged antics. Sure, Infernal Affairs isn't flawless (admittedly, Vera Farmiga's character was more developed than either of the two female leads in the original), but in my book, it sure came close.

Ok, I know I'm ranting, and I know many of you are going to disagree with me. But I haven't felt this outraged at a remake since Dangerous Liaisons was remade into Cruel Intentions. I'm not a purist, and I don't feel this way about all remakes, some are good, sometimes even better than the original (see Ocean's 11, Cape Fear- see, Scorsese can make a good remake, even The Lake House). Unfortunately, The Departed is just not one of them.
Remakes in general have the deck stacked against them. We know the original, so the new film treads on that iconography. We also know the story, which makes for no new shakes. Worse, in dealing with this, decisions are often made in the effort to "take a twist" on the old film. Dumb and dumb.

The best remakes have often involved a great talent taking on a role that is better suited for them than the original actor. The worst remakes suffer from the delusion that this is true.
-Dileep Rao, The Voices of Reason


It was an eclectic Chinese New Year dinner to say the least- there was Cuban mojitos, Mexican guacamole, Asian-American lettuce wraps, Singaporean curry puffs, Polish peirogis and Brazilian cheese bread. Rick, Emilee, Yong-mi and Art came over for our Asian film marathon/ Chinese New Year celebration last night, and with the exception of the food, it was definitely more of the film marathon than a Chinese New Year thing.

I miss being home for Chinese New Year of course (this blustery wind/ snow/ ice/ cold thing doesn't help)- the family gatherings, home-made snacks, a legitimate reason to get new clothes (not that Serene Koh ever needed a reason to go shopping... heehee...), and just the general bustling atmosphere of celebrating a cultural tradition. Ann Arbor doesn't have a Chinatown (although our Asian supermarket was packed to the brim yesterday- I never had to wait so long in line ever before!...) so there isn't even anywhere we can go to soak in any of the festivities even if we wanted to. It's going to be a few years more before we'll be able to be home for Chinese New Year, and till then, we'll just keep having these fusion food parties and watch countless Asian movies :)

Speaking of which- the movies we watched last night:
1) The Exiled (Johnny To, Hong Kong): Violent mobster flick meets playful black comedy meets Mexican-American spaghetti Western, it was rollicking good fun after a rather slow first hour or so. Suitably bloody yet with an almost balletic quality to the violence, Jude and I are now feverishly looking for Election I and II, for which To is better known (see trailer for The Exiled here).

2) Three Times (Hou Hsiao-Hsien): This movie received ecstatic reviews from the NYT but unfortunately, because we watched it after The Exiled, it felt painfully slow and plodding in comparison. A triptych on love, longing and loss, I think I'll have to revisit it on an occasion when I didn't just watch a bunch of men shoot themselves bloody silly...

3) Moving House (Tan Pin Pin, Singapore): I've written about this short film several times (see here and here), and this is probably the 4th or 5th time I've watched it. It never gets old for me though- every time I see it, the sad resignation of the family at having to exhume their parents' grave still always gets to me.

Anyways, Asian movies aside, here's wishing everyone who celebrates the Lunar New Year- whether you're in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Australia, the U.S. or anywhere where the Chinese have managed to find themselves, here's wishing you cherished blessings and a bountiful, joyful Year of the Pig ahead!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Devil. Really?...

As it is every year, the months leading up to the Oscars are typically packed with serious, brooding films that scream "Look at me, I'm making a profound political/ social/ existential/ environmental statement! This film is deep! Give me an award!" Which is why I'm overjoyed that Little Miss Sunshine is in the running for Best Picture- it's so rare that a happy, little movie gets recognized for the joy and good cheer that it brings.

I'm also thrilled (though not as surprised) that Meryl Streep got nominated for her deliciously wicked performance in The Devil Wears Prada. I finally got round to watching it on video last night and it was just great fun :) The impossibly glamorous outfits aside, I thought Meryl Streep was just an absolute hoot, and so were Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt (OMG, talk about overdressed, over made-up, aneroxic, anal co-worker from hell!...). Anne Hathaway, not so much- there's only so far that cute bangs and sparkly eyes can get you, dear.

The thing is, if the film-makers had wanted us to sympathize with the poor little underling and see Meryl Streer's character as the incarnation of evil she's supposed to be, then they clearly cast the wrong person. You're talking about Meryl Streep here, an actress whose every glance, every nuance of emotion conveys a depth of humanness no amount of talking/ whining on Anne Hathaway's part can compare.

I've never read the book, but I suspect that it is immeasurably less sympathetic to the Miranda Priestly character than the movie. You cannot expect to cast someone like Meryl Streep in any role- no matter how hateful, vitriolic, or comic, and not expect facets of human vulnerability to invariably ooze our her every pore. She's probably not going to win the Oscar this year (what with being up against my darling Kate Winslet and the the juggernaut of a contender, Helen Mirren), but she lent a depth to an otherwise fluffy, glossy movie, and she was wonderful.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine breakfast

Dutch babies
Originally uploaded by jyew.
* (17 Feb) Update: Replaced the photo with another one I made again this morning (I know- how much butter can you ingest in a week right?). I think the key is really to make sure that the oven is at 425F and that the pan is searing hot too. This allows the pancake to really rise and achieve that crowning crust. And one more thing, you HAVE to be liberal with the powdered sugar!

One of the drawbacks of watching too much Food Network is that one gets easily caught up by the multitude of foods and cooking methods out there that you lose sight of the wondrous alchemy of simple ingredients. It is almost magical what happens when you bring together eggs, flour, half & half and then allow the oven to do the rest. I really can't claim much credit for today's breakfast except for turning the oven on, whisking the ingredients together, and dressing the pancake in the end.

I made a German Pancake- a.k.a a Dutch Baby Pancake. Honestly, this is one of the simplest things you'll ever make but oh is it glorious! You open the oven door after 25 minutes and all you see is this enormous golden crown of luscious goodness. Dressed with strawberries and powdered sugar, it managed to be sweet, rich, light and fluffy all at the same time. No one would believe it was made with just 3 simple ingredients. See one my favorite food blogs, Orangette for a more delectable description of this wondrous process.

Jimmy’s Dutch Baby Pancakes

For the pancakes:
4 Tbs unsalted butter
4 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup half-and-half

For the topping:
4 oz clarified butter (or, if you’re not into clarifying, simple melted butter will do)
Juice of 1 lemon
Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the 4 Tbs butter between two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, and melt it over low heat.

In a blender, whir together the eggs, flour, and half-and-half.

Pour the batter into the skillets over the melted butter. Slide the skillets into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the puffed pancakes from the oven, transfer them to a plate or shallow bowl, and pour on clarified butter, sprinkle on lemon juice, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Serves two.

The original recipe calls for either two 6-inch cast-iron skillets or one 11-inch one, but we don't have a cast-iron pan so I used a 9-inch pie glass and pre-heated it in the oven. This also meant that I had to cut the ingredients down by about a quarter, which was easy to do. I also topped the pancake with strawberries at the end but you can probably put whatever fruit you like. I do have to warn you though that this recipe involves an almost obscene amount of butter, but what's a little indulgence on Valentine's Day? :)

Happy V-Day everyone!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's your candy heart?

Awww... this is kinda cute :)

Your Candy Heart Says "Hug Me"

A total sweetheart, you always have a lot of love to give out.
Your heart is open to where ever love takes you!

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a surprise romantic evening that you've planned out

Your flirting style: lots of listening and talking

What turns you off: fighting and conflict

Why you're hot: you're fearless about falling in love

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hedonist Artisan Chocolates

To continue the theme of chocolate-related posts this week, we want to give a resounding shout-out to our beloved friends, Zahra & Jennie who have just undertaken a marvelously brave and wonderful endeavor- starting their own handmade chocolate truffles business, Hedonist Artisan Chocolates! We're so excited for them! They've already sold a gift box worth of chocolates and many individual truffle pieces, and even have orders all lined up for Valentine's Day- congrats guys!! See photos of their efforts here and here.

Although they're physically located in upstate New York in Rochester, Zahra's all raring to go to put the store online. Jude and I can't wait for that to happen- we've already told ourselves that we'll definitely be ordering their chocolates, not just for ourselves, but as gifts for our friends and family too. Jennie's a genius in the kitchen (our tummies have benefited much from her delicious cooking), and Zahra's so gifted when it comes to design. Together, we have no doubt that they will make Hedonist a great success :)

Just look at the first batch of Hedonist artisan chocolates on sale- don't you wish they were online NOW? Congrats and all the best, Zahra & Jennie- we're so happy for you!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What have they done to my Nancy Drew?

I can't believe they've gone and done it- as if making a ghastly movie version of Possession wasn't enough, Hollywood has taken another one of my hallowed literary treasures and turned it into a movie, and from the looks of the trailer, an awful one at that... ;( What have they done to my beloved Nancy Drew??! She's not supposed to be a perky, color-coordinated, penny-loafer wearing cutie-pie. Nancy Drew is NOT cute! Oh please... And isn't she a little too young in the movie? I'd always pictured Nancy Drew as someone more like Natalie Portman, or a much younger Mary Stuart Masterson, or maybe Leelee Sobieski -plucky, resourceful, and a little more rough-and-tumble than the squeaky-clean teen queen they got playing the character in the movie. Bleah....

The entire Nancy Drew series was such a defining part of my growing up years. I remember one year in primary school when I was going through my most obsessive Nancy Drew phase; I borrowed every single one of the Nancy Drew books available in the school library over the course of the year, and wrote ALL my book reports that year on them. I also learned all these "new" American words that I'd never heard used before (compared to the British versions)- Nancy's father is an attorney, which I discovered meant "lawyer", and I also remember looking up "sleuth" in the dictionary to find out that it has the same meaning as detective. I wanted to be just like Nancy Drew when I grew up- brave, pretty, kind, and intelligent, slightly proto-feminist too, come to think about it... She was awesome! And I loved her.

And what have they done to her now? Urgh, I don't even want to think about it... Perky? Cute? Some books are just not meant to be made into a movie. Don't they get it? For every Lord of the Rings, there are five Jumanjis or The Scarlett Letters... And a children's book series no less- these are people's cherished memories of how they're favorite characters will always be. If you want to bring them to "life", at least do your homework, and be faithful and respectful to the character, and people's immortalizations of them.

Ok, I know, I'm on a spiel, but these book-to-film things always get to me. If you want to rework a classic, do it right. If not- please, just don't bother ok?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chocolate Comfort

In anticipation of Valentine's Day, the Food Network has dedicated the whole of this week and next to everything Chocolate. And according to Alton Brown, the most intense form of chocolate after the bean itself is actually ground cocoa, i.e. the powder, since it doesn't have any milk or butter content. Which is why if you want to drink hot chocolate, it's best to add cocoa powder to milk rather than melt chocolate chunks in it. That way, you minimize the amount of milk and maximize the flavor of chocolate.

So when I was outlet shopping with my cousin, I chanced upon this irresistible treat- Dark Chocolate Truffle Hot Cocoa from Godiva. It was the pretty packaging that caught my eye, but c'mon, dark chocolate cocoa? Which girl wouldn't pick it up?... Anyways, in the midst of the frigid cold last night, I made some for Jude and I by heating up some milk and four tablespoons of the truffle powder for each cup of milk. Talk about intense flavor...

People, it is the single most decadent, luxurious mug of hot chocolate you will ever taste...

For those few short moments of visceral chocolate heaven, it's like someone reached into your inner being and covered your heart with a warm fluffy blanket and gave you a loving forehead kiss and a tight hug (ok, mixed-up anatomical analogy I know, but you get what I mean...) Whatever chill we felt just faded away and all was well with the world once more :)

I'm not sure if you can get the hot chocolate in the regular stores and I know that Godiva only released it as part of their holiday collection, but if you ever see it, hoard as many as you can find. These cold frigid nights will never be the same again :)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Graduate Library graffitti

Thought I'd share some inspired graffiti wisdom that I've come across in the graduate library:

"1.0 = 0.9
1 = 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = 0.3 + 0.3 + 0.3 = 0.9
Crazy world huh"

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet ... constipation."

"97 pages to go. 11:10pm 11/8/06"

I foresee that this may be a rolling list that I'll add to when I come across more ...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Halfway through

Halfway through
Originally uploaded by jyew.
I reached some sort of a milestone today I guess- I submitted Part A of my pre-candidacy exam! :) There are two parts to the exam and *if* I muster enough discipline and self-will to finish the other half by the end of this semester, I should be able to achieve candidacy by the summer, if not fall. After that, it'll just be me and my dissertation for the next 2 years, which honestly, I'm keenly looking forward to. As much as I've loved almost all the classes I've taken and everything I've gained over the years, I honestly think I'm about done "schooling". If I include the year I was in teacher training, I've literally been in school 20 years in total- discounting the years that I taught. Ok, thanks for those years, but I think I'm done now.

The prelim paper wasn't that much of a bear to finish actually- I've virtually spent almost a year and a half on this research. Many of you have seen the study evolve from this, to this, to this, and now this. I think that's enough number-crunching for me for a while. I'm going to take a break from stats at least for the next year or so. My research for the second half of the pre-candidacy exam will be more related to my dissertation in the long run, so I'm looking forward to just sitting back and doing alot of reading for that. I've really really missed reading, even for school.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I've resigned myself to the fact that there's a part of me that will always be a little bit of a dork, and why I've been in school for 20 years... :)

Monday, February 05, 2007

In the bleak midwinter

This is our fourth winter here and I've never said this before- it's very very cold, it's very very windy, and there's much, much snow.

According to the Weather Channel, the Midwest is experiencing some of the coldest temperatures in years, and the lake effect and intense wind shield is not helping. There are severe weather warnings all across Michigan, and wind chill advisories till tomorrow afternoon.

Now that we've moved one of the writing desks to the bedroom just in front of the window, I've been looking at the weather develop throughout the weekend as I work. It is not funny- we're talking blustery winds, snow swirling everywhere, and a deep, intense cold seeping in through every little crack it can find. We have the heat up in the house, a hot drink perpetually by my side, and my woolly socks on so that helps, but I'm not looking forward to walking to the car later when we go to Rick and Emilee's for the Super Bowl game.

Weather report the last time we checked: 5F (-16C)
With wind chill: -5F (-25C)

Bundle up and stay warm everyone! And to you guys on the West Coast, we wish you were here! Heehee... ;)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Of family and winter indulgence

Serene and Jean at the Arboretum
Originally uploaded by jyew.
I think I've consumed more calories these past few days than I usually do in a week, and did more shopping than we typically do in 6 months.... My cousin, Jean is here for a visit from Hong Kong and we have just had the most joyously heady time together! And I mean joy in the most essential sense of the word :) I actually haven't seen her since Jude and I got married, but though it's been three and a half years, it's like that time didn't matter at all. We practically grew up together, and now as we look back, we realize how more we've become alike as we've gotten older. We haven't run out of things to talk about- we never have- and this became acutely apparent to us when on the hour long journey to and fro the outlet mall at Birch Run, we literally did not stop talking! Jude said he never knew it was possible for his wife to talk so much... heehee :) While there was of course much to catch up on with our separate lives, it was also alot of reminiscing about our childhood together, and so much cheer, and much laughing :)

I haven't had so much fun busting my wallet and waistline in a long time- it's been a thoroughly dizzying experience! It was mostly outlet shopping so the bank account hasn't taken that much of a thrashing. I can't say the same for my tummy though...

What I bought in the last two days alone:
- 2 sheer polka-dotted blouses, 1 kimono-style knit sweater, 1 hooded knit tunic, 1 embroidered shirt, and a pair of capri pants from Banana Republic;
- 2 long-sleeved tees, a pair of jeans (on sale at $2.97!!!!), and a pair of corduroys for Jude (also $2.97!!!) from Gap;
- a Brooks Brother dress shirt (complete with cufflinks) for Jude (on sale at $9.99!!!); and
- 2 tins of Dark Chocolate Truffle Cocoa from Godiva.

What I ate in the last two days (all thanks to my equally gastronomically weak-willed cousin...):
- a huge all-American breakfast at Northside Grill- we're talking hash, sausage, bacon, eggs- the works folks...
- a root-beer float, cheese curds and a coney dog at A&W (it was unthinkably indulgent...)
- pork chop (with all the requisite sides) at Grizzly Peak;
- a cardiac arrest-inducing lunch at Zingerman's consisting of a lusciously succulent pastrami sandwich (#11: J.J.'s Pastrami Special), the mushroom, beef and barley soup, a slice of lemon chess pie, and a chocolate-custard eclair;
- a homemade dinner with Jean's finger-licking good garlic herb-rubbed chicken wings, and my good ol' dependable spicy mac & cheese; and
- as if the day's already obscene calorie count wasn't delirious enough , we took it to even greater stratospheric heights by having Stroh's Mackinac Island fudge ice-cream for dessert.

Guess who's heading straight for the gym after dropping Jean off at the airport tomorrow? ;)