Friday, January 28, 2011

Movie Openings: Week of January 28th, 2011 - Ip Man 2

At first glance, Ip Man, sounds like a strange title for a movie. No, it is not the name of a new weird superhero and the pronunciation is much different from what is literally written. Ip Man is actually the name of a well-known (in Asia, at least) Wing Chun kung-fu grandmaster (more specifically, Yip Man) and his life is chronicled in two Ip Man films that starred Donnie Yen. That film was a smash hit and have been universally praised for its explosive martial arts sequences as well as its story. This week, Ip Man 2, the sequel to the first film is coming stateside with a theatrical release, as well as an Anthony Hopkins horror film about exorcisms and yet another high-kicking Jason Statham action flick.

Last weekend, with no competition in sight, the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher rom-com, "No Strings Attached" shot to the top of the box-office chart with a commendable $19.6M, just ahead of "The Green Hornet," which raked in another $17.6M, for a total gross of an underwhelming $63M so far. Rounding up the top 5 are "The Dilemma" ($9.1M), "The King's Speech" ($7.8M) and "True Grit" ($7.3M). With the Oscar nominations announced this week, expect to see a spike in the box office take of nominated films like "The King's Speech," "True Grit," "Black Swan" and "The Fighter." Now on to this week's movie releases:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pan-Roasted Salmon with Green Lentils

For some reason, lentils complement salmon very well, some might even say it's a classic combination. And the best thing is, there are health benefits as well: low fat, high protein and of course the famed omega-3 fatty acids from the salmon. Here I have a delicious and simple recipe that would easily find a home in any restaurant.

Let's start with cooking the lentils. It is combined with a lot of the ingredients that The Flavor Bible (my personal culinary guide) states go well with lentils. Here are the ingredients:

1/2 lb. green lentils (washed and soaked for about 15 minutes)
2 carrots (small dice)
4 celery ribs (small dice)
leeks (2-inch portion, julienned)
1/2 onion (small dice)
4 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
3 strips applewood/hickory-smoked bacon (optional if you would like to keep the dish strictly vegetarian)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
Parsley (chopped fine, for garnish)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 Academy Award Nominees Announced

From CNN, here are the Oscar nominees for the major categories:

Really, no big surprises this year. "The King's Speech" led the way with 12 nominations, followed by "True Grit" with 10. The problem is, not many people have seen or know about "The King's Speech," as it is languishing in theaters in just limited release (that fact might end soon with these nominations). Despite its recent accolades, a British film about the British Monarchy may not be everyone's cup of tea and that's a shame. Colin Firth is superb as the stuttering King George VI as he tries to rally his fellow countrymen as Britain and the world plunges into World War 2. The Best Picture category is again a 10-movie field, like last year. The Social Network, winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture will face stiff competition against "The King's Speech" and "True Grit" in that category. It is an open and competitive race for most of the categories and we might see some surprises come February 27th. Check out the video to see if your favorite movies made it to the big dance.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Jan. 24th, 2011 - Secretariat Seeing Red Over Lennon

Say it ain't so, Bruce! Has my favorite action hero officially joined the old-timer's club? Did the AARP come calling and good old Brucie man up (like he always does), stood up and say, "Aye!"? Even the ever beautiful Diane Lane decided to go retro in Disney's 1970's equine tale of overcoming incredible odds. Add a John Lennon biopic into the mix and we might as well step into Marty's DeLorean and journey into retro-land! All jokes aside, this week is actually looking good on the home video front, with a bunch of good Blu-ray releases that I believe, would be great additions to any collection, either now or later.

Red (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]Secretariat (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest [Blu-ray]The Stieg Larsson Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / The Girl Who Played with Fire / The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) [Blu-ray]Nowhere Boy [Blu-ray]Lennon NYC [Blu-ray]Broadcast News (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]Saw: The Final Chapter (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) (Formerly Saw 3D)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Pinky Violence Collection - A Review

Back in the 1960's, to counter declining theater attendance in Japan, independent movie studios like Toei introduced pinku eiga or pink films, a form of softcore exploitation films that became very popular in the 60's and 70's. Unlike its hardcore Western counterpart, these pink films were intended for theatrical release and have to conform to strict Japanese screen censorship laws, which prohibits the depiction of genitalia and pronounced sexual activity. Using the genre´s required sex scenes as a form of titillation may be its primary objective but as this new genre grew, it eventually matured into adding some form of character and story development as well. In any case, even offering big helpings of nudity and sex is sometimes not enough to lure skeptical audiences back. To further spice things up, gore and violence was later added into the mix, which, by most account, seems like a natural fit for the exploitation film scene.

So, in the early 1970's, Toei Studios came up with a sub-genre of pinku eiga that has become known as "Pinky Violence". This new sub-genre of tough-girl exploitation films features unbridled nudity, gratuitous violence and even scenes of bondage and sadomasochism. The executives at Toei figured that by jacking up the "blood and breast" quotient in their films, it would give audiences what they could not see on television. In 1968, Toei achieved some success with their "Red Peony Gambler" films with actress Junko Fuji. When rival studio Toho released the now-famous female revenge film Lady Snowblood, Toei decided to up the ante by creating an ultra-violent film that features even more sex and nudity.
Reiko Ike
Toei essentially had two types of "Pinky Violence" films: one is the sukeban (delinquent girl boss) films and the other, the "Elder Sister" films. Toei´s continued success could be attributed to two of the more famous actresses from this genre, the irresistible Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto (Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs). While Ike helmed the two "Elder Sister" films to great acclaim, she also teamed up successfully with Sugimoto in three other famed sukeban films, Girl Boss Guerilla (Sukeban Gerira), Terrifying Girls' High School (Kyoufu Joshi Koukou Bouroku Rinchi Kyoushitsu) and "Criminal Woman – Killing Melody" (Zenka Onna Karoshi Bushi). Ike, the more beautiful of the two, has a classical beauty that is better suited to the period era "Elder Sister" films while Sugimoto has the intense tough chick look that serves her very well in the more modern sukeban films.
Miki Sugimoto

Films from this particular genre almost always follow set plot points that are often recycled and tweaked ever so slightly every now and then. For example, the yakuza gangs, which are mostly entirely made up of men, are often depicted as caricatures that essentially label them as lecherous dim-wits or misogynistic morons who would readily sell out their own mothers for a pack of smokes. The street-wise all-girl criminal gang is also a recurring theme in many Pinky Violence films, where the underdogs are almost always sexy but deadly groups of girls who are capable of going up against the traditional male-dominated yakuza establishment. Most of these characters, especially the male ones, typically behave in an over-the-top and exaggerated manner. Of course, in these films, all the female protagonists are expected to suffer through varieties of sexual humiliation--most likely some forms of bondage or torture--before they return to outwit the gangsters by using not only their voluptuous bodies as bait but most importantly, their brains as well.

After releasing the two Reiko Ike "Elder Sister" films, Sex and Fury and Female Yakuza Tale on great DVD packages earlier (complete with beautiful video restorations), specialty arthouse studio Panik House Entertainment is back with a unique 4-movie DVD set that would make 70´s Japanese exploitation films fans salivate in anticipation. This loaded DVD set, titled The Pinky Violence Collection consists of the following four films:

"Criminal Woman – Killing Melody" (1973) (Zenka Onna Karoshi Bushi)
"Delinquent Girl Boss – Worthless To Confess" (1971) (Zubenko Bancho Zange No Neuchi Mo Nai)
"Girl Boss Guerilla" (1972) (Sukeban Gerira)
"Terrifying Girls´ High School – Lynch Law Classroom" (1973) (Kyoufu Joshi Koukou Bouroku Rinchi Kyoushitsu)

Let´s now take a closer look at each of these four movies:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Openings: Week of January 21st, 2011 - Company Men

Already into the third week of January of the new year and still no new release movies have managed to stand out from the pack. Yes, the year is still young and we'll see our fair share of blockbusters come summertime but these first few weeks already seem to drag on forever without any good films to look forward to. Last week, "The Green Hornet" took top honors at the box office with an encouraging but tepid $33.5M, followed by the Vince Vaughn comedy "The Dilemma," garnering a disappointing $17.8M. Making up the top 5 movies are "True Grit," still going strong with a collection of $11M (total gross: $126M), "The King's Speech," finally expanding to more theaters with $9.2M and "Black Swan" coming in at $8.3M (total gross: $73.2M)

This week, we have a couple of good, middle-of-the-road movies that might just catch your attention. Both are stories of survival, one takes place in the treacherous wilds of the Siberian gulag and the other, in the equally treacherous world of upper middle management, in the time of massive corporate downsizing.

But first, a few words about the recently concluded 68th Golden Globe Awards. I'm not a big fan of these self-congratulatory award ceremonies but one can't help but get caught up in all the glitz and glamor of the movie business. These award shows are also a good way to find out which good films I missed in the theaters the next time I set up my Netflix queue. With host Ricky Gervais stepping on his fair share of sensitive Hollywood toes, the Globes concluded with The Social Network picking up the evening's biggest awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin) and even Best Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). These wins not only enhance the film's chances of a good showing in the upcoming Oscar nominations but puts it as the frontrunner in many categories as well. Other notable winners include Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") and Melissa Leo ("The Fighter") for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively and Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") and Christian Bale ("The Fighter") in the male category.

With that, let's move on to the week's new movie releases:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tom Yum Goong - Thai Hot and Sour Soup

Visit any Thai restaurant and the first thing you should order is the traditional Thai hot and sour soup, also known as Tom Yum Goong. It is a shrimp/seafood-based soup that contains almost all of the traditional Thai ingredients in a single bowl. If you ever wanted to know what Thai cuisine is about, just have a sip of this delicious soup and you can feel as if you are walking in the streets of Bangkok.

One of the most accurate and encompassing cookbooks about Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines is Robert Danhi's Southeast Asian Flavors: Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Singapore. The recipe for the soup you see here comes from this book and I can wholeheartedly tell you that it tastes as authentic as it looks. Chef Danhi spent years travelling and eating his way through the Southeast Asian region and in this book, he not only details the most authentic recipes (over 100 of them) from that region, the book is also a one of a kind peek into the varied cultures of the people living there through the food they eat. If you are interested in Asian cuisine, particularly the Southeast Asian variety, then this book is a must-own. You can also visit the book's companion website here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Jan 17th, 2011 - Justifying the Week

When the only Blu-ray release highlight of the week is a cable TV series (albeit a good one), you just know it's time to catch up with the previous weeks' releases that you were not able to get to. Looking down the list of releases this week, nothing stands out, except for maybe for two Samuel Fuller films that are getting the Criterion treatment and a couple of hidden gems that never got much traction in their theatrical runs.

Justified: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray]Buried (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Animal Kingdom [Blu-ray]Takers [Blu-ray]Shock Corridor (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]The Naked Kiss (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Movie Openings: Week of January 14th, 2011 - The Green Edition

While last week was a major disappointment in terms of quality (and quantity of) movie releases, this week promises to offer better prospects for restless moviegoers looking for something to do this weekend. We have a 60's comic superhero remake, a third movie in a martial arts franchise, a Vince Vaughn comedy and a bunch of no name films that might or might not catch your attention.

But before we get to them, let's do a quick review of what went down at the box office last week. The tussle between "Little Fockers" and "True Grit" for box-office supremacy continued last week without much competition from some of the newer releases. After playing second fiddle to the Fockers for the past month or so, the Coen brothers' Western finally shot itself up to the top, albeit during one of the slowest January box-office takes in a decade. Overall box-office dropped 30% from the week before and "True Grit" claimed top spot with $15M, putting its total gross at an estimated $110M. This financial milestone is important for two reasons. "True Grit" just became the Coens' first movie to cross the $100M threshold and at the same time, moved it past Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to become the 5th highest grossing Western ever, behind Dances with WolvesCity SlickersBlazing Saddles and Wild Wild West. The best news is "True Grit" is projected to move into the number two spot on that list by the end of its run. "Little Fockers" slid into the second spot with $13.8M, followed by the dismal "Season of the Witch" at third with quite a decent $10.7M take. Rounding up the top 5 are "Tron: Legacy" ($9.8M) and "Black Swan" ($8.4M).

As always, read on and have a great time at the movies!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Jan. 10th, 2011 - The Facebook Edition

What does it take to make a great film? Bombastic CG special effects to wow the audience (as well as deafen them)? Big stars who bring much-needed name recognition to the film? A story based on historical tragedies or legendary heroes? Maybe they should just ask David Fincher, who in 2010, crafted one of year's best films out of a subject matter that seemed superficially trivial and at best, a seemingly throwaway movie that would be forgotten in a week. Or so we thought. That film is now a shoo-in for an Oscar Best Picture nomination and it comes to Blu-ray this week. Other titles slated for release this week include a schlockly fishy tale and a set of movie classics. So here they are:

The Social Network [Blu-ray]Piranha [Blu-ray]Piranha [Blu-ray 3D]Raging Bull (30th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]Once Upon a Time in America [Blu-ray]Dances with Wolves (20th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]Army of Shadows (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]