Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar roundup 2013

This was the third year in a row I attended AMC Theater's Best Picture Showcase marathon, and I think this year's movies were probably, top to bottom, the best slate of nominees since the Academy expanded the pool beyond five movies. And like last year ("Oscar roundup 2012" - Feb. 26, 2012) I'm putting my thoughts down for all the nominees. I got there about 30 minutes early and got a high center seat in the Dolby Atmos-equipped theater for 24 hours of movies. Here's how the schedule looked:

10:00AM - Amour
12:20PM - Lincoln
3:20 PM - Argo
5:35 PM - Django Unchained
9:30 PM - Les Miserables
12:30 AM - Zero Dark Thirty
3:20 AM - Life of Pi
5:40 AM - Silver Linings Playbook
7:55 AM - Beasts of the Southern Wild

Amour - Smart of the organizers to put this movie early because otherwise people would probably just sleep through it. Beautifully acted and actually tightly edited so that the story moves along, considering it takes place entirely in one apartment and about 85% of screen time is taken by the two lead characters, a husband and wife dealing with old age and declining health. As many people around me commented, it was kind of brutal way to start things off at 10 in the morning. Nobody likes to think about getting old and dependent on others for daily care. But the movie reminds us that love is not just for the young. Everything we do that's important in life, we do for love.

Lincoln - I'd seen most of Lincoln when it first came out but missed the end because I wanted to see Perks of Being a Wallflower. I think this movie was the marathon's most inspiring tales, even with the liberties the screenplay took with history. Daniel Day-Lewis is a deserving three-time Oscar-winning actor and gives the performance of a lifetime - hard to know what he can do for an encore. Spielberg redeems himself somewhat from the meandering Oscar-nominated War Horse last year, which I felt lacked his special touch.

Django Unchained - I skipped Argo (since I saw it with Morgan) to pick up some things for my Oscar party and came back in time to see this one, which was pure Tarantino, a revenge tale about a slave turned bounty hunter in the Civil War era. I describe this movie as a buddy-bounty hunter movie, with Christoph Waltz turning in an Oscar-winning performance opposite Jamie Foxx. Waltz builds and condenses his previously-honored performance in Inglorious Basterds, and Tarantino's winning script keeps the story on track through all the Pulp Fiction-style shootouts. I kind of wish Kill Bill had been this tightly scripted, but I'm still hoping he will remix it someday.

Les Miserables - Anne Hathaway. That's all that needs to be said about this adaptation of the Broadway musical. What she did in 15 minutes singing "I Dreamed a Dream" was shattering. I have never seen an actor appear so convincingly naked on screen, conveying emotions with such intensity and authenticity. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, it will be a hard act to follow, for her and everyone else. In fact, I felt the whole rest of the movie, as good as it was, just couldn't compete with her towering performance at the beginning. I'm tearing up even now just thinking about it.

Zero Dark Thirty - I enjoyed this movie, but this was where I started fading a bit. I shouldn't have stayed so long at Liz's Mardi Gras party Friday night. I found this movie hard to follow, and during a slow section right before the raid commenced, I nodded for a bit before the helicopter crash woke me up. I actually felt that SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden on the National Geographic channel was a better-paced film about the same subject. And it's hard for me to watch Jessica Chastain and not see her in her nominated role in last year's The Help.

Life of Pi (in 3D) - Cast Away with a tiger instead of a volleyball. Did anyone else have that reaction to this movie?  While reserving full judgment because I dozed off about 30 minutes until the end, I didn't enjoy this movie as much as I though I would. I found the 3D distracting and fatiguing and the sound overly amped up. But from what I understand, the finale is what ties it all together to make a spiritual revelation so I will have to try it again on my 2D screen at home someday.

Silver Linings Playbook - I drifted off during the exposition part of this movie between when the main character comes home from the mental hospital and making his deal with J-Law's character, but I got enough from context to understand what was going on. I feel badly for Bradley Cooper, who in any other year would have been a serious Best Actor contender but got steamrolled by Daniel Day-Lewis' singular performance. All of the acting performances were really good (it was the only film to have nominees in all four acting categories) and director David O. Russell is becoming an Oscar favorite.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - Starting a movie at 7:55 am after being up all night is not an ideal situation. So with this movie, I drifted off during the fantasy elements (which someone compared to Where the Wild Things Are) and came back during the scenes between the father and daughter. Certainly Quvenzhane Wallis' performance was astounding and deserved her nomination. This is a small budget movie so it's hard to compare to movies like Lincoln and Les Miz. In a way, it tackles the same themes of love and death as Amour, but from the viewpoint of a child instead of an elderly person.

I got home about 10 am on Sunday and Puck was in the shower just waking up. They snuggled with me as I crawled into bed until 4 pm, when I woke to prep for the Oscar party. Piper came over at 6:30 with her portion of the menu, which was:

- ARGO Tea
- ZERO DARK dIRTY martinis
- LINCOLN logs - Chinese sausages with scallions, dipped in hoisin sauce
- LES Mushrooms (arugula and goat cheese stuffed mushrooms)
- LIFE OF PIneapple and mANGO UNCHAINED fish tacos
- SILVER LININGS cupcakes - mini cupcakes in foil wrappers
- S'AMOURs - chocolate fondue with marshmallows and graham crackers

Here's the recipe for my fish tacos (I doubled amounts to make two pounds of fish), which I served with flour tortillas, Newman's Own pineapple and mango salsas, fresh chopped cilantro, onions, and avocado, sliced jalapenos, sour cream, and the ground habanero chile powder Meador gave me from Houston.

1 lime, juiced 
1 TBSP olive oil 
1 TBSP honey 
1 tsp. chili powder 
1 tsp. ground cumin 
1/2 tsp. garlic powder 
1/2 tsp. salt. 
1/4 tsp. ground coriander 
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper 
1 lb. fresh tilapia 

Combine the first nine ingredients in a large zip-top bag. Add the fish, seal, and marinate in the fridge for 1 - 2 hours. 

Heat a grill, or large non-stick skillet, over medium-high. Brush pan or grill with oil. Remove the fish from its marinade and place directly on the hot grill or pan. Sear 1-3 minutes, or until lightly charred on one side. Gently flip each fillet, and cook for another minute, or until flaky and opaque all the way through.

Beth tied me for most correct picks with 13 apiece, so she won my grand prize of a $50 AMC Theaters gift card. K-Rand won the first prize of the night, a leather bound journal, for picking Best Film Editing. Piper and Liz won prizes for picking the surprize winner of Best Supporting Actor. Josh took home my extra AMC marathon poster as a consolation prize.

It was a super-fun TSMC event, and I loved the energy of people in the room - so much laughter and good humor. It was the first time visiting for Liz and Josh, so now they know the lay of the land. Next up for TSMC is the finale of our Firefly marathon on Wednesday, when I expect I'll see Chelsea, Natalie and one or both of the Katies.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The plays the thing

I've been slowing down gradually from a very busy two weeks, but about to ramp back up again starting this weekend. So you could say this week is a trough in my social life.

After Myth, I had an astonishing 16 days straight of things to do outside the apartment other than work, 17 if you include my Daniel Craig 007 double-feature that I watched by myself last Thursday. Since I'm so far behind in blogging, I listed the events below (using K-Rand for Puck's former Facebook wife Katie and K-Rau for my PWG friend Katie):

1/22 - Open Love NY meeting with Puck
1/23 - Firefly marathon with Chelsea, K-Rand and Puck
1/24 - The Mystery of Edwin Drood with Puck
1/25 - Summer party at K-Rau & Dave's apartment in Astoria
1/26 - Puck and I had pizza with Peter & Floor, who were visiting from the Netherlands, followed by Village Stories with Kacey & Becker, Chelsea, Lourdes, Christina and others, a solo Italian musical storytelling performance in a medieval castle-like Gramcery Park apartment. Puck left early and Chelsea and I had tea at Boise Tea Parlor before she had to go to work.
1/27 - Helping Puck pack for their move back to SBU, then yoga, followed by dinner with Chelsea at a Thai restaurant on Amsterdam
1/28 - 2001: A Space Odyssey with Piper, continuing our Stanley Kubrick marathon
1/29 - Jury duty postponement in the city, followed by winning the Newsies lottery with Agnieszka and dinner at Schnipper's
1/30 - TSMC showing of The Unbearable Lightness of Being with Kacey, Becker, Chelsea and Marton
1/31 - Poly Women's Group (PWG) meeting
2/1 - Firefly marathon redux with Natalie & Matt, Lauren, K-Rau, Dave, Kiwi and Puck, then MMMM
2/2 - Haircut and color at Salon SCK, followed by an X-Men movie marathon with K-Rand while Puck went to the Cakehole party
2/3 - Yoga and Hampton Chutney Co. with Puck
2/4 - Shotz! with Kacey, Becker and Chelsea, followed by Klong Bangkok Street Food
2/5 - Play reading of Final Analysis with Kacey, Becker and Richard
2/6 - Play reading of Lysistrata Rape Play in the Cold Reads competition
2/7 - TSMC viewing of Casino Royale / Quantum of Solace

WHEW! So much fun stuff going on. I actually worked from home on 2/7 and 2/8, when Storm Nemo rolled in. So I stayed home pretty much all day and all night for three straight days until going to see The Man Under, a play my friend Liz is stage-managing, and then yoga on Sunday. So that was a good catch-up on quiet time for me.

Monday night was Poly Cocktails, the sixth anniversary party. Puck had come back for a doctor's appointment since classes had been cancelled due to Nemo, so we had dinner at Klong with Alex before they went off for tea and I went to Poly Cocktails. Puck texted me later to tell me that they ran into Chelsea because they chose to go to the Boise Tea House, which happens to be a favorite of Piper and Ilan as well.

Poly Cocktails was really fun. I was happy to see Jen for the first time in months since she's been in Australia. She's coming back in June for her birthday and we'll try to schedule something. Tall, blonde Jennifer was also there, glamorous in her candy apple red dress, looking like she stepped out of a Hitchcock movie, and she caught me up with her life. For some reason it seemed to be a night for deep conversations; with Lisa (talking about artistic paths) and Buck (about his housing situation).

I also connected with Jani again after Myth, and met a new friend, Robin, both of whom are going to Wicked Faire this weekend. We all exchanged numbers so we can find each other there and coordinate transportation. I'm really excited about spending time with them, Puck and Morgan this weekend, and looking forward to a great time!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Spirits in the material world

I have never been much of a drinker. The first time I drank seriously was on my 21st birthday in college, when my friends took me out to La Carafe, the oldest bar in Houston where the only thing on the menu was Budweiser. I went through a short phase when rum and Coke was my preferred drink, then an even shorter gin and tonic phase.

These days I'm more likely to order (on the extremely rare occasions when I drink out at a bar) a Long Island Iced Tea or my current favorite, the sidecar. Obviously I'm way out of step with the popular drinks of today.

However, lately I've been amassing quite a collection of interesting spirits at home, starting with the bottle of
Jameson 12-year Distillery Reserve that I brought back with me from Dublin last year and just cracked open last week. The special thing about this Irish Whiskey is that you can only get it at the Old Distillery in Dublin and nowhere else. So once it's gone, I'll have to plan another trip to visit Agnieszka's family to restock.

I've been watching a lot of "How It's Made" and "Ultimate Factories" programs involving spirits because I love knowing the history and stories behind these products. For example, I was fascinated by the manufacture of tequila and how much intensive manual labor it requires to harvest the blue agave hearts, which each weigh up to 100 pounds and must be carried from field to factory by burro. Then they are quartered by ax-wielding workers and cooked in ovens to extract the juice, which is fermented and distilled. My bottle of Herradura Tequila Anejo ("anejo" means "aged") is matured for two full years, twice as long as required to be called anejo tequila.

I also have an interesting aged rum, Dos Maderas P.X. 5+5, that is the product of a triple aging process. First the rum rests for 5 years in the Caribbean where it's made, then it is moved to Spain to age an additional 5 years, first in American oak casks which have previously held sherry, then transferred again to different barrels which have been used to age other spirits at least 20 years old. The result is an extremely complex and smooth rum with notes of chocolate, caramel and blackberries.

I also just bought a bottle of Jack Daniel's Single-Barrel, which is individually hand-selected from, as the name implies, a single barrel that comes from the uppermost floors of the barrelhouses around the Jack Daniel's distillery in Tennessee. Regular Jack Daniel's No. 7 is blended from several barrels to achieve a consistent flavor. But the extremes in temperature these upper floors experience through the year not only causes a significant percentage to be lost to evaporation (the so-called "angels' share") but also yields whiskey of uncommon smoothness, aroma and flavor with notes of vanilla, toasted oak and caramel. Of course, even regular Jack Daniel's is very interesting in how they make their own charcoal to filter their whiskey, and use limestone-filtered underground water from a singular spring at the distillery.

Since I like sidecars, and since I'm currently reading a book called Cognac: The Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit, of course I had to get a bottle of Courvoisier VSOP for my shelf. I haven't opened or tasted it yet, so I can't comment on the taste yet. But I still need to get some orange liqueur to make my own sidecars at home, even if they might not be as fancy as they do them at Bar Centrale ("Visit with Ben" - Sept. 4, 2011).

Even with all this hooch around, I still don't really drink that much. I like to pour a small amount of one into a glass and just smell it for a good long time before I sip it down. My favorite way to use liquor is probably in milkshakes, which seems a bit wasteful with top-shelf products. But it's also nice to have the good stuff around for my movie-night guests who appreciate quality booze.