Friday, March 4, 2011

Movie Openings: Weekend of March 4th, 2011 - Rango Your Fate

Well, the 2011 Oscars have come and gone and it was business as usual, with no big surprises in any of the major categories. Those who were expected to win, won. In short, the show was predictable, stale and in dire need of an overhaul. Even the two youthful hosts could not inject any excitement into the evening's well choreographed proceedings. As expected, The King's Speech took home four Oscars, for Best Picture, Actor (Colin Firth), Director (Tom Hooper) and Original Screenplay. If you are looking to take home one of those golden statues, just make a film like The King's Speech. It was the ultimate Oscar bait. No doubt, it was a great film but all the same, it was a film catered perfectly to Academy voters. While Inception deservedly picked up the Oscars for visual effects, sound editing and cinematography, the Boston-based pugilist film The Fighter took home two of the supporting actor prizes (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo). Early favorite, The Social Network picked up 3 Oscars but they were in lesser categories like Film Editing, Original Score and Adapted Screenplay. By most accounts, David Fincher was robbed as Oscar stayed true to the arcane concept of always awarding the Best Director prize to the director of the Best Picture winner. Oh well, maybe next year.......

So last weekend, which film did you think came out on top at the box office? Well, the only logical pick is of course the Farrelly Bros' raunchy comedy "Hall Pass," which easily bested the other new release, the Nic Cage-crash and burn-tour-de-force, "Drive Angry." "Hall Pass" picked up $13.5M, narrowly edging out the still-going-strong animated film, "Gnomeo & Juliet," which garnered another $13.4M to bring its 3-week total gross to an impressive $74M. The Liam Neeson thriller, "Unknown" came in at number 3 with $12.5M and finally, the teen sci-fi thriller "I Am Number Four" lived up to its moniker, coming in in 4th place with $11M. The Adam Sandler comedy "Just Go With It" rounded up the top 5 with $10.5M. So where did "Drive Angry" end up? Well, down at #9 with a mere $5.1M. Can you believe that Nicolas Cage was a former Oscar winner and going by his recent choice of bad movie roles, he can't really go anywhere else but up. Seriously, Cage needs to fire his current agent and hire someone that might have an ounce of brain matter, someone like maybe a trained chimpanzee or something.

OK, now on to this week's movie releases.......

Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie Openings: Weekend of February 25th, 2011 - Drive Angry/Hall Pass

Last weekend, we had a surprise number 1 at the box office. Liam Neeson's crime thriller "Unknown" beat out the projected box-office topper, "I Am Number Four" in a light week of movie releases. "Unknown" inched into the top spot with $25.45M, followed very closely by "Gnomeo & Juliet" with $25.41M in a dramatically tight photo finish. The teen sci-fi thriller "I Am Number Four" rounded up the top 3 with $22.7M. That "Number Four" could not wrest the number one spot in its opening weekend might be cause for concern for Disney's Buena Vista, which had hoped to put this movie on a strong footing in order to create a new film franchise ala Twilight. Unless things improve dramatically the next couple of weeks, that's just ain't happening.

The most impressive gainer this week is perhaps the animated children's film "Gnomeo & Juliet," which not only kept up with its opening week numbers but actually improved on it slightly. The Sandler-Anniston romcom, "Just Go With It," stayed strong and came in at number 4 with $21.5M, followed by the disappointing bad Martin Lawrence-in-drag comedy, "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son." In its 2nd week of release, the Justin Bieber movie dropped almost 45% from its opening weekend business to come in at number 6 with $16.3M. Oscar nominee, The King's Speech stood steadfast in 7th place, even gaining more than 10% from its previous week's gross. And speaking of the Oscars, remember that the glitzy ceremony is this Sunday (2/27). So set your DVRs. The two hosts this year, James Franco and Anne Hathaway may not excite people as much as maybe a Billy Crystal would but let's give these two a chance, shall we? The Oscar show producers are obviously trying to attract a younger audience to the show and these two fit the bill perfectly. Who knows, maybe we might even see an Arcade Fire-like upset at the Oscars, like what happened at the Grammys this year.

Now on to this week's new movie releases:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ginger Scallion Noodles - Easy, Cheap, Delicious!

Many of you may have heard of David Chang's famous Momofuku ginger scallion noodle recipe. In the book, Chang describes it as sort of your basic Asian dish that is easy to make and delicious to eat. And if you want to keep to its bare necessity principle, it's dirt cheap to make. All you need to have in your pantry are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, fresh ginger and scallion plus a few packs of instant ramen noodles. In a pinch, you can whip up a scrumptious meal within 5 minutes without much thinking or preparation. And if you have some leftover meats like chicken or steak, just heat that up and throw it all together.

On the one hand, you can try to glamorize the dish all you want and go all Top Chef on it but I say, just keep it simple and enjoy it for what it is. For my version, I am pairing it with some leftover wantons which had I made the day before. Put on a pot of water and depending on how hungry you are, boil one or two packets of ramen noodles. Throw the little sachets of seasoning away.

On a plate, mix together:
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
1-2 stalks of scallions (cut into small segments) - for garnish

When the noodles are cooked, remove from the pot, drain the excess water and just add it to the plate with the ingredients above already mixed together. Garnish with the scallions and maybe if you like it a little spicy, sprinkle some chili flakes or even some pickled peppers or jalapenos. That's it, really. Simple, no?

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Feb. 21st, 2011 - Due Date, Superman

Happy President's Day! It's also school vacation week here in Massachusetts and we are starting out the week with what else but some more snow. The good news is, it'll all be over in a few hours and none of that white stuff is supposed to stick around for long. After all, Punxsutawney Phil called for an early spring and we had a glimpse of it last week when temperatures soared into the 60's for a couple of days. But enough about the weather. It's that time of the week again to look at the new release stuff. Fortunately, this week's Blu-ray releases have some great films that you might want to add to your collection. Here they are:

Due Date (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)Weeds: Season Six [Blu-ray]Fish Tank: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]Sweet Smell of Success (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]Mesrine: Killer Instinct: Part 1 [Blu-ray]Memento (10th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Farro with Clams, Basil and Fresh Tomato Puree

Farro is a grain with ancient roots that seems to have been forgotten by modern day consumers. Seldom do we see it on restaurant menus or on our dinner tables. So, what is farro anyway? Well, that's kind of hard to explain. Searching around the internet, I could only find various ambiguous descriptions of it and by proper definition, its real name isn't even farro. Some call it emmer while others say it is similar to spelt; both are types of wheat. Confused yet? Known as farro in Italy, it is a species of wheat that has been cultivated for hundreds, if not close to a thousand years. It was thought to have fed ancient populations of the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East for centuries.

If you are looking for an alternative to pasta, risotto, polenta or rice, why not try farro for a change? Even when cooked, farro has a firm and slightly crunchy texture. I've seen farro utilized in salads but I prefer it as a pasta-like dish. It comes together very well when  paired with a fresh tomato sauce, basil and cheese. So I thought why not make a version of linguine and clams but with farro instead.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Openings: Week of February 18th, 2011 - Are You #4?

As the winter season meanders along, so does the current crop of new movies. Yet again, nothing really stands out this week. We have a sci-fi action thriller about special humans with powers and the mysterious aliens who hunt them, a Liam Neeson thriller in the vein of Taken, another Martin Lawrence playing dress-up film, an apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about creatures that live in the dark and finally a great horror film about a family of cannibals.

Last weekend, which also happened to be sort of a long Valentine's Day weekend, the only romantic movie to open in wide release, "Just Go With It," romanced its way to the top of the box office with an impressive take of $30.5M. I guess all the lovebirds were out in full force, doing the dinner and a movie thing. Coming up a close second was the Justin Bieber movie with $29.5M, which I had expected to top the list. Romance wins over the Biebster! The other two new release movies, "Gnomeo and Juliet" ($25.3M) and "The Eagle" ($8.7M) rounded up top four while last week's number one, "The Roommate" dropped to the fifth spot. Oscar contenders, "True Grit," which came in at number 9, breached the $160M milestone while "The King's Speech" stayed strong at number 6, bringing its total gross to over $93M.

Here are the highlights of this week's new movie releases:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Feb. 14th, 2011 - My Movie Valentine!

Love is in the air......not! This is the day when the cabal of Hallmark, florists, chocolatiers and most probably lingerie makers and restaurateurs as well, collude to make a pretty dime off the hordes of people willing to partake in the let's-show-our-love-fest (if only for one day). Cynical or not, Valentine's Day seems like a big manufactured hoopla that is just another excuse to spend your hard-earned cash. If you are looking to partake and buy some good movies for your loved ones, Amazon and Best Buy has some good deals this week. One of last year's best films, Inception (Two-Disc Edition) is on sale for $13.99, a great price for a great movie. Also on sale this week for $13.99 are Salt (Deluxe Unrated Edition)The Town (Extended Cut) and Easy A. Oh and remember that action star extravaganza, The Expendables? Well, the Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy version is on sale for only $12.99. So take your picks.

As for this week's releases, just one new release is worth a mention. The rest of this week's releases are mostly catalog titles that may be of interest to some people. So here they are:

Unstoppable [Blu-ray]Network [Blu-ray]All the President's Men [Blu-ray]Last Tango in Paris [Blu-ray]Chaplin (15th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]The Twilight Zone: Season 3 [Blu-ray]

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blu-ray Review: "The Twilight Zone: Season 3 (1961-1962)"

Despite its relatively short existence of only five seasons (a total of 156 episodes) on television, Rod Serling's anthology series, “The Twilight Zone” should be viewed as a watershed event for the medium. Praised by most critics of its day and cited as childhood inspirations by many future television and movie writers and producers, “The Twilight Zone” not only entertained its audience with some genuinely scary stories, the show also serves as a subtle microphone for Serling to express his views about the various issues plaguing society and the politics of the day. To illustrate what an impact Serling's writing had during the lifespan of the show, he was nominated for an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama” three times and won twice (for the first two seasons of the show). The show was also awarded the sci-fi-centric Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation three years in a row, a feat that has not been matched until 2008 by “Doctor Who.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Movie Openings: Week of February 11th, 2011 - Never Say Bieber?!

I have just one word to say: WHY?!?! Does the world really need a Justin Bieber movie? Well, if you are the Biebz and his entourage, then yes. Why not make a pretty penny off your legions of fans while you are still on top, right? The rest of us are just gonna shrug and go, "whatever." Other than the Bieber movie, we also have an Adam Snadler-Jennifer Aniston comedy, an animated tale about Romeo and Juliet starring garden gnomes and a swords and sandals Roman empire flick.

Last weekend, an upset happened at the box office. Despite some major advertising muscles, the 3-D-driven survival-adventure film, "Sanctum," finished only second at the box office with $9.5M, way behind "The Roommate," which picked up $15M. "No Strings Attached" stayed strong, picking up another $8M, boosting its total take to $51M in just 3 weeks, not bad for a rom-com. Rounding up the top 5 are "The King's Speech," which continues to benefit from its post-Oscar nominations, and "The Green Hornet." Last week's first place movie, "The Rite" dropped off by more than 60% to land in sixth place ($5.6M), followed by Jason Statham's "The Mechanic" ($5.3M). Now on to this week's movie releases:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mahi-mahi with Stir-Fried Vegetables in Kung Pao Sauce

I recently acquired some Sichuan peppers, one of the pillar ingredients used in Sichuan cuisine and also one of the main ingredients in the famous kung pao sauce. With its unique aroma and tongue-numbing feature, I knew I had to try it out on a dish. But there was no way I was making kung pao chicken. Too easy and too familiar. So, last week, while I was at the grocery store, the fish counter had mahi-mahi (its Hawaiian name; also known as dolphin fish) for sale and since I loved its robust flavor and texture, I thought that it would be a good fit for a spicy dish with Sichuan peppers.

But first, a little background on these unique peppers. Although the name implies it, Sichuan peppers are not related in any way to black/white peppercorns or chili peppers. It is actually harvested as the outer husk of a tiny berry-like fruit and not an actual pepper. In Mandarin, it is called huājiāo (literally, "flower pepper") and of course, originates from the Sichuan province in China. It is one of the main ingredients used in Chinese five-spice powder and also Japanese shichimi togarashi or seven-spice mix. If you take a single Sichuan pepper and put it on your tongue, you will immediately feel a numbing and tingling sensation caused by a chemical found in the pepper. It is a rather strange feeling and would eventually dissipate in time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Feb. 7th, 2011 - I Spit On Paranormal Activities!

Well, the Packs won and the much-hyped Superbowl ads are now over and done with. Sprinkled among the commercials were several blockbuster movies debuting their new trailers, most for the first time. There was the JJ Abrams-Steven Spielberg collaboration, "Super 8" (is it E.T or is it Cloverfield?), "Captain America: The First Avenger,"  "Thor," "Transformers 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" and a bunch of others. Did you see them? What did you think?

The first Paranormal Activity was a resounding success for two simple reasons: one, it was genuinely scary and two, it was not a cookie-cutter horror film. In fact, it was not even a proper movie per se. In the context of what we have come to assume how a typical movie should be like, Paranormal Activity defied all expectations. It was made on an indie garage film budget of approximately $15K, a pittance in terms of movie budgets and was picked up by Paramount and went on to make close to $200M worldwide! It is a Cinderella story not unlike Saw (the first film). Of course, when such good fortunes happen, people just want to cash in on the immense interest for the film and guess what? Here comes the sequels! Paranormal Activity 2  was released last October and has a pretty good theatrical run and it is now available on Blu-ray and DVD this week. Also releasing this week are a couple more horror flicks, comedies and Criterions. Here is the list of this week's Blu-ray new release highlights:

Paranormal Activity 2 (Unrated Director's Cut) (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)I Spit on Your Grave [Blu-ray]I Spit on Your Grave [Blu-ray]My Soul to Take [Blu-ray]Ong Bak 3 Collector's Edition + Digital Copy [Blu-ray]Life as We Know It (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)You Again (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Middle Men [Blu-ray]Amarcord (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]Still Walking (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]