Thursday, April 24, 2014

La Femme's Movie Marathon….Hong Kong Part 2

Johnny Hallyday.

Election (Johnny To, 2005):  Every marathon inevitably has a clunker and Election was ours.  Election is a fairly typical and rote crime film chronicling the election (!) of a new triad president in Hong Kong.  The election is between professional, cool headed Lok, and the more thuggish, angry Big D. When Lok is fairly elected, Big D tries to stop him from obtaining the "dragon baton" which symbolizes his power.  Various acts of violence ensue:  bludgeoning, shootings, stabbings, and, most disturbingly, rolling people in cardboard boxes down huge hills.  Both actors Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka-fai (sadly a different Tony Leung than the much admired star of the first half of our marathon) are fairly charismatic, and the supporting cast is fairly colorful, but none of the characters leave much of an impression.  Election isn't exciting enough to be an action film and not intriguing enough to be a crime film.  The ending is a shocker though! If only more of the movie had been like that unforgettable and frankly stomach turning scene.

Vengeance (Johnny To, 2009):  Unlike Johnny To's earlier film, Vengeance was one of the highlights of the marathon for me.  Again, the story starts out fairly typically: a family is brutally murdered in their home, including two young children.  The wife and mother, a French citizen, survives and is visited by her father, a chef, in the hospital.  She asks him to get revenge for her, and we get the feeling that Francis Costello (a nod to Alain Delon's character in Le Samourai, as is the trench coat they both sport) is more than just a chef.  Johnny Hallyady (an aging and terrifying looking French pop icon) is spectacular as Costello; angry, yet completely in control, he methodically hires a trio of hit men to help him track down the killers. The revelation that Costello has had a bullet in his brain for the last twenty years that affect his memory is a little clunky.  He goes from being a little forgetful to essentially a child in a matter of minutes. This may be To's only misstep in the film.  The cinematography by Cheng Siu-Keung is crispy and beautiful, and the set pieces including a crazy fight in a garbage dump are nail biters.  Whereas in Election, the henchman were indistinguishable, in Vengeance the three hitmen who become Costello's partner each give nuanced, individual performances.  We grow to love each of them and their ultimate fates mean something; in so many violent films, people die in terrible ways but it means nothing.  In this film every taking of a life is meaningful, as To shows us that all of these hitmen have people waiting at home for them, even the ones that killed Costello's family.   The message of most revenge thrillers is that revenge is ultimately pointless and doesn't change anything, but it is elegantly expressed (if a bit heavy handed; if you can't remember you got revenge, does it even matter?) with a deft hand by To.  I expected a silly action movie and found something much deeper.  The surprise of the marathon for me.

This is the face he makes the whole movie.
Ip Man (Wilson Yip, 2008):  Ip Man is a gear shift movie, one that starts out a certain way that makes the viewer think they know exactly where it is going and ends up in a completely different place.  A biopic of kung fu master, Ip Man (Donnie Yen, very zen and completely serviceable, if not a bit boring and one note throughout), this film starts out positively silly.  The island of Foshan is an idealized place where everyone seems wealthy, the sun is always shining, and all they have to do is practice kung fu and challenge each other to good natured sparring.  The biggest conflict (if that is really the word) is when a group of rogue kung fu mercenaries come and try to beat up all the masters of Fosham's numerous schools.  The conflict is resolved when Ip beats the head mercenary in a fight in Ip's elaborate mansion wherein Ip's wife scolds him not to fight at home and his adorable son rides around on a tricycle telling him that "Mommy is going to be mad!".  If it sounds silly, it is, supremely.  I was laughing hysterically and my marathon mates were looking at me like I was crazy. The dialogue was clunky and silly and the characters were one dimensional at best.  The movie takes a quick turn about halfway in when the island becomes occupied by the invading Japanese army and Ip loses everything.  The film becomes a fight for survival as Ip almost inadvertently and then deliberately  joins a fighting ring organized by the Japanese General (although life and death is now at stake the second half does seem intent on proving all the ways kung fu is better than karate).  The film still has clunky dialogue and adds a sniveling, evil henchmen, but the actors are sincere and director Wilson Yip handles the change fairly well.  The story ends exactly as you think it will with Ip the hero, but it was also a lot more nuanced than I expected from the first half hour. Gordon Lam, who was also in Vengeance, is solid as a former Foshan police man, Lee Chiu, who becomes a translator for the Japanese.  Perhaps the only fleshed out character, Lam portrays Lee Chiu as an unpopular stick in the mud who transforms from collaborator to patriot seamlessly.  Unlike many of the films we watched, this was clearly a big budget crowd pleaser and, like so many Hollywood films, used the clichés and tropes we come to expect from them in an ultimately affective way. 


Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's Twelve O'Clock Somewhere…Blood Orange Margarita

Every year right about April, I start to long for the weather to turn around.  In Seattle, winter isn't oppressive and snowy like so many parts of the country, instead it is endlessly grey and dreary.  I want the sky to be bright and the days to be long, so I always find myself shifting from winter and fall foods into spring and summer ones even before the weather has changed.  It is no different with my cocktails.  Winter and even early spring yield amazing citrus and Blood Orange Margaritas are the perfect drink for the transitional season.  They are a gorgeous deep red color, not too sweet with the acidic oranges and have a great kick.

I use fresh squeezed blood orange juice, but if you can't find blood oranges, you could use blood orange soda instead.  If you use the soda, I would omit the simple syrup though.  And don't forget to salt the rim; I never understand why restaurants offer sugar on the rims of margaritas instead of salt!  The contrast is important, that bite of salt pushes through the sweetness of a margarita and brings out the tartness of the citrus and pairs wonderfully with the bite of the tequila.

Blood Orange Margarita:

2 oz Tequila
1 oz Triple Sec
1 oz lime juice
2 oz Blood Orange Juice
1 oz simple syrup

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice.  Serve in a salt rimmed glass and garnish with a blood orange slice.



Five Things 3.28.14

1. Staycation! Because K is in law school, the last two years we have enjoyed spring break.  Last year we went to New Orleans but this year we decided to do a staycation instead.  We spent a couple lazy days on Lopez Island day drinking and playing games (and watching Pitch Perfect, obvs).  The rest of the week, we hung out at home, cooking and relaxing.  Vacation is definitely better than staycation, but any extended time I get to spend with K is still pretty great.  Next year will be the last spring break of law school, and let me tell you, I think it should be mandated for all adults, not just students!

2. My Tiny Backyard: Speaking of staycation, K and I headed to Flower World, an absolutely huge and overwhelming nursery in Maltby, WA.  In our townhouse, we have what is really a glorified patio but in our last apartment we had no outdoor space at all.  That means this year, we are working hard on making it our perfect outdoor oasis.  K, my dad and my uncle already ripped out the grass and paved it, we have some adorable cafe lights and now are slowly starting to add some greenery to the planter boxes.  It is definitely a work in progress, but I can't wait for the weather to warm up so we can sit outside!

3. Vanilla Apple Cosmo:  This is a cocktail I have featured on the blog before and it is one of my absolute favorites.  It has been my cocktail of choice for the past few weeks and I don't see myself getting sick of it anytime soon.
4. Conscious Uncoupling: Gwyneth Paltrow has always been a controversial picture, you either love her or hate her.  I have been squarely in the love camp since I saw Emma way back in 1996.  So, I was shocked, saddened and frankly heartbroken to learn that she was getting a divore from her husband, Chris Martin.  I wouldn't have picked Mr. Martin for my dear Gwynnie in my game of celebrity matchmaking; I always saw her with more  a Jude Law type, and I never did like that he seemed so shy to express their relationship in public.  But, still, I always thought they would be a couple to last!  And I was dismayed by the media assault on my  Gwyneth in her moment of heartbreak; in fact, I love Gwyneth so much that I even considered (no I didn't) becoming a Chris Crocker for her!.  Where so many see her as pretentious and spoiled, I think she is trying to express her emotional trauma in the most elegant way possible.  I for one am forever and always Team Gwyneth! LEAVE GWYNETH ALONE!

I nearly died from laughing during this.  Then I cried.
Girls in a nutshell!
5. Girls Season 3:  I freaking love Lena Dunham.  For all her faults, I think she is intelligent, witty and incredibly brave and Girls has become essential viewing for me.  Season Three of Girls was perhaps the strongest yet;  I loved where she took Hannah and there were some standout episodes for me; the beach house, Hannah's grandma and oh god, the role playing, oh the role playing!  I think the last episode was also really strong and I can't wait to see where it is going to go next season.   I am squarely Adam and Hannah forever and that last scene with them kind of broke my heart into a million pieces.  Adam Driver and Dunham have such palpable, strange but alluring chemistry and I want them to be on t.v. together forever.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

La Femme's Top Five...of 2013

This is a belated list, but much like my favorite podcast, Battleship Pretension, I save my list of best films of the year until The Oscars (yes, I realize they were a few weeks ago… you can't rush genius!).  It gives me time to catch up and watch everything most some of the stuff I missed from last year.  There are still a bunch of movies I want to see from 2013, but based upon what I've seen so far, this is my top 5. So here is the belated, but surely much anticipated La Femme's Top Five Films of 2013!

1. Frances Ha  (Noah Baumbach): Frances (a luminous and charming Greta Gerwig) is abruptly left without a roommate and therefore a place to live when her best friend Sophie moves out to be with her new boyfriend.  Frances, who is training as a dancer but doesn't have much talent, finds herself untethered and quasi-homeless, and we watch her float from one place to another.  She lives with two guys and has an awkward, almost romance with her roommate, visits her parents at home, has the saddest trip to Paris ever, and eventually, in a small way, learns how to be a grown up and accept and even embrace responsibilities.  Writer-Director Noah Baumbach nods to the French New Wave, from the camera work to the musical cues, and Gerwig is so winning as Frances that she reminded me of a modern day Anna Karina, only a lot more awkward.  Baumbach combines the very cinematic elements of the New Wave with an extreme naturalness and awkwardness that reminded me of early Woody Allen.  Gerwig meets the challenge of making Frances, who could be an extremely annoying hipster character, all whiney and self righteous and privileged, and instead infuses her with intelligence, kindness, and naiveté.  By the time the nature of the title is revealed in the last shot of the movie, we are not only completely on Frances's side, but even a little bit proud of her. 

2. Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh):  I have already written about this riotous, campy, sad, and beautiful film here, so I will keep it short.  Although technically for HBO, Behind the Candelabra was just so damn cinematic that I would be remiss to not include it on my list.  Michael Douglas is revelatory as Liberace, and Matt Damon, as his lover Scott Thorson, meets him at every step.  The costumes and set are the stuff of my dreams.  But what makes the film compelling is the perfect tone Steven Soderbergh sets: a little campy, a little over the top but mostly just an honest look at the tragedy of the closet. No matter the fame, no matter the excess, Scott and Lee are forced to hide their relationship and Soderbergh explores what constantly lying does to a relationship.  Spoiler Alert: it doesn't end well.  But they look great doing it.

3. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater):  I am going to be short and sweet on this one too because I have a big post planned for the entire "Before" series.  This was a movie that made me literally sob when I saw it.  I think I may have said to K, "Are they trying to ruin my life, how can I even believe in love anymore?"  Such is the toll the third installment in the romance of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Deply) had on me.  Some twenty years after they first met, Jesse and Celine are exactly where so many fans of the series imagined them to be: together!  In the first films, we shared some of the best times of their lives, but in Before Midnight we see  one of the worst nights.  A huge fight;  a real, terrible, relatable fight, breaks out between two people that know each other very well and know exactly how to hurt each other in the worst way possible, and we see their personalities, all the beautiful and terrible things about them on full display.  Hawke and Delpy are just so natural and their chemistry is so pronounced that you believe every moment.  During that moment that K had to pause the movie due to my sobbing, I would have said this movie ruined my life.  But by the last, perfect scene, I started to feel the exact opposite (ok, maybe not exact opposite).  Too say to much would be to spoil that ending so you'll just have to take my word for it.   Like the films before them, I was left with a feeling of hope, that maybe I still could believe in love after all. 

4. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen):  Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave was a film I kept putting off watching, because I assumed it would be too oppressive, too depressing, too difficult to watch.  That was my mistake. 12 Years a Slave portrays terrible human suffering without every wallowing in the misery of it.  I hate the phrase misery porn but this film could easily have devolved into something more lurid, and while McQueen never shies away from the truly disgusting torture of slavery, he manages to affirm life instead of condemning it.  If anything, Solomon Northup (brilliantly and humanely portrayed by the lovely Chewitel Ejiofor) has a deeply felt will to “not just survive, but live,” and McQueen brings that somewhat modern idea to the screen in this period piece of the most shameful period in our country’s history.  Solomon is tricked, disappointed, deceived, tortured, and worked nearly to death, and, while McQueen shows us the frankly horrifying and ugly-beyond-belief moments of slavery, he does it with a deft touch.  We are moved but not oppressed. Lupita N’yongo and Michael Fassbender are equally great as master and slave caught in a terrible web of lust, power, and self-hatred.  An important film, yes, but also a great one.

5. Room 237 (Rodney Ascher):  Rodney Ascher’s exploration of obsession of the Stanley Kubrick-classic The Shining is something every cinephile can appreciate. Ascher uses clips from the film to illustrate the theories of people obsessed with the hidden meaning of Kubrick’s most famous film. Some think it is a metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans, some  see it as a metaphor the Holocaust, some even think it is Kubrick’s confession of being involved with the government faking the moon landing.  All the theories seem crazy at first, but Ascher’s superb, hypnotic editing begins to creep under your skin, and the film slowly becomes as creepy as the movie that inspired it.  I love the fact that a film can inspire this bizarre loyalty and attention to detail, and, although I don’t think any of the theories hold any weight, Room 237 is still a fascinating exploration of a world of film criticism that I think both enriches and poisons the cineastes plight.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

La Femme….in Boston

Last July, after our week in New Hampshire and Vermont K and I drove down to Boston for a long weekend, thus completing our mini New England odyssey.   I found Boston to be a lovely, almost magical city, so much so that remembering our time there, it is easy for me to forget the stifling heat (seriously, I made K stop at a Chipotle just so I could be in air-conditioning and drink an ice cold Coke.  Nothing tastes better than ice cold Coke when you are sweltering) and instead remember our few days there as a hazy, leisurely, romantic weekend.

After pooing out that stupid pit!
Traveling with K is always easy and always fun.   Luckily, we love to spend time together and uninterrupted time together is the best. In the interest of full disclosure, before I wax poetic about our romantic weekend (anytime you come from a wedding, I think romance is in the air), I have to share our drive from Vermont.  Everything was going swimmingly, the car was cool and the traffic was flowing nicely.  Suddenly my mom calls.  From the moment I said "Hi!", I could tell that something was wrong, and I knew it was something with my beloved pup, Rufus.  Long story short, he had swallowed some sort of pit and my Mom had quickly taken him to the vet clinic that I work for.  After talking to the doctor, I had worked myself into a complete frenzy, convinced he would need foreign body surgery.  Poor K had hit Boston traffic and was trying to get us to the car rental return.  After getting to our hotel, I was still in a state of panic and so we decided to get a drink and walked to a nearby hotel bar (I have a soft spot for a good hotel bar).  I could barely notice the Back Bay neighborhood or be charmed by the brownstones, instead I could only focus on my boo boo baby (yes, I call him that).  Luckily, seconds after sitting down, I checked my phone and the vet had left a message that he had passed the pit!  Our vacation could resume and I could begin to relax and quickly did (with a celebratory cocktail, or three). 

We stayed at the quaint but modern Chandler Inn, our room was tiny but comfortable.  My favorite part of the hotel was the gay sports bar adjacent to it.  Every time K and I would walk down the street, there would be some adorable guys outside ready to make comments to us. It didn't help that for some reason K and I decided we were the Beckhams this trip and every day accidentally coordinated our outfits; one day we both wore green, the next purple.  This amused the peeps down at Fritz (best name for a gay sports bar ever) a lot.  Our neighborhood, the Back Bay was charming, filled with drool worthy brownstones, an adorable square of cute restaurants and café lights and a banging, modern wine shop.  I loved it.

K and I spent our days wandering around the city, from Newberry Street, where we had a lovely lunch al fresco and I spotted the cutest dog ever in the window of an eyeglass shop (other than Ruf, obvs).  We visited the HUGE Anthropologie and the tiny Jonathan Adler store, and bought our pups some souvenirs from an adorable doggie boutique.  What struck me most is just how pleasant and friendly everyone was, it was something I just wasn't expecting from this brusque east coast city.  My favorite moment was when I got an ice cream on our last day; we went to a soft serve truck and I ordered a cone.  I then noticed that they had sprinkles so of course, I had to get some.  The guy obliged, but not before good-naturedly  telling  me in a thick Boston Accent, "you're gettin' real little kid on us".  I was smitten!  The only way I could have been more chuffed is if someone had said to me, how do you like dem apples!   It basically made my life.

The Freedom Trail which crosses through the whole city was also one of the highlights for me.  Months later it all runs together and I don't have much of a head for historical facts.  But I loved wandering through the city, visiting cemeteries, churches and City Hall.  It made me unexpectedly patriotic.  K and I also got to stroll through the North End, which is the Italian neighborhood and I fell in love.  It was so uniquely American, with great restauarnats and terrible, tourist shops and real people who lived there.  The architecture was old but didn't feel like anywhere in Europe I'd ever been.  We knew we had to return for dinner that night, which we did, to Lo Conte's, a Italian red sauce joint that fulfilled my craving for Italian American food.  Walking in the evening all the way back to our hotel, we strolled and held hands and it was lovely.  Speaking of food, another highlight was a lobster roll that we had the next day for lunch.  We went to this place right by the water and there were a bunch of people ordering lobster rolls (there were people tourists who didn't want any mayo on it, WTF!) and they had a huge tank full of the very bugs we were about to eat.  We ate our rolls and clam chowder outside and it was filling and delicious.

Now this wouldn't be a post from La Femme unless I discussed cocktails, right?  Drink was a bar I knew I wanted to go to as soon as I started researching Boston.  But, K and I were kind of an a budget this trip because we had literally closed on our house a few days before leaving.  So I didn't think blowing $$$ on cocktails was very wise, and K and I don't have a very good history of sticking to our vacation budget (our mindset is, don't regret something later, you never know if you'll make it back).  Long story short, I thought we wouldn't make it to Drink.  But lo and behold, after spending an afternoon wandering around Harvard University and the surrounding Cambridge neighborhood, we found ourselves at an underground tavern at 2:30 pm discussing what to do next.  We had dinner plans, yes, but it was so stinking hot, we couldn't stand to walk outside any more than necessary.  And although our bartender was very friendly, I didn't want to spend all afternoon sitting and drinking rum and cokes at a nondescript student hangout.  So, looking at my guidebook, I suggested Drink to K, telling him it was one of the most highly regarded cocktail bars in America.  He wondered why I hadn't mentioned it before, and before I knew it, we were on our way to South Boston.  We wandered around the quiet, industrial neighborhood for a while waiting for the appropriate time after it opened to go in. Luckily we weren't the first and we took a seat at the very long bar.

Drink was perhaps one of my favorite bar experiences, ever.  The bar steadily filled up but still remained fairly quiet, almost reverential.  The atmosphere, at least in the late afternoon wasn't my favorite (overall the look of the bar was a bit clinical for me), and K and I didn't have a chance to go back in the evening as we were leaving the next day (thank god we didn't go the first day, our budget would have been really blown, then!) but I have to say the drinks were some of the most carefully constructed, beautifully presented ones I have ever had.  There is no menu at Drink, instead you talk to your server about what you like/want.  I knew I wanted a Mary Pickford, one of my favorite rum drinks.  It was prepared carefully and served on a white napkin, almost like a gift.  I followed it up with a Ramos Gin Fizz, a difficult but tasty, lighter than air cocktail.  It takes a lot of shaking, and I did notice the bartender didn't seem to keen when other patrons began asking about my milkshake looking drink.  But he made me the best one I have had to date.  It was a lazy, sun filled afternoon that I will never forget.  And I can't wait to go back to Drink, to the North End, to Fritz's and to the lovely, charming, friendly city of Boston.

How about dem apples?


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Five Things 2.7.14

1. These salami chips:   K and I aren't big football (of the American variety) people, but we watched a bit of the Super Bowl and I used it as an excuse to make these amazing chips.  The dip in the recipe didn't really work (I make a different White Bean Dip that I think would have been better, but the roasted garlic wasn't quite flavorful enough), but I often serve a bit of salami for appetizers and heating it up and making it crispy was a great change of pace.

2.  My new haircut: I got a new haircut this week and am super pleased with it.  I am a firm believer that we need to change up our hair frequently and this angled bob was just the change I was looking for!

3.  The Waterlogue App:  I discovered this awesome app this week and can't stop creating photos with it.  You put your photo in and it makes a water color of it!  I want to take some and add them to my gallery wall in our living room.  It is an awesome app that takes your photos makes them a unique piece of art!

4. Homemade cocktail mixers: As an aspiring mixologist, I try to use the highest quality ingredients, but I also like sweet drinks.  Therefore, sour mix and grenadine are something I use in a couple of my go-to cocktails.  So I definitely want to try out these easy recipes to up my cocktail game!  But boy, that is going to be a lot of lemons and limes for the sour mix.

5.  Philip Seymour Hoffman: And finally, sadly, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  To say Hoffman was a great actor is an understatement: some of my favorite performances of his were The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, The Savages, and I could easily go on.  K and I have been having a mini marathon of some of our favorite performances and what struck me was (1) the impact he could have in a small role and (2) his incredible generosity as a performer.  I would have sworn that Freddie Miles was a central character in The Talented Mr. Ripley, but in reality, he is in it for just a few scenes. In that time, he creates a fully formed character and MAKES Freddie a central character for those scenes; you can't help but be drawn to him.  Watching The Master, I was struck by what a generous actor he was: Lancaster Dodd could be a scene stealer;  he is an over the top character, but sometimes Hoffman holds back and lets Joaquin Phoenix take the lead; its as if he knew that it was Joaquin's film and used his abilities to do everything he could to help Joaquin's performance shine.  Almost Famous is another great example of that; his scenes are some of the best in the film and he is charismatic, funny, cynical, and gentle as Lester Bangs. But the funny thing is that they are also Patrick Fugit's best scenes too.  That is what I will miss most about him: the generous spirit he brought his roles and the way he elevated everyone else around him.  You always knew that no matter the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman would never cease to surprise and delight you with his performance.  He will be greatly missed.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's Twelve O'Clock Somewhere…Original Hurricane

I have already featured a variation of the classic New Orleans cocktail, The Hurricane (SoCo Hurricane).  When K and I were in New Orleans last year we avoided the fabled (?) Pat O'Brien's, the bar where the hurricane was invented, but I did have a lovely, flavorful Hurricane at The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel (where the bartenders provided enough entertainment I could still be sitting there).  A few months ago, on a nostalgic afternoon, K and I went to Marcela's Creole Cookery in Pioneer Square, a lovely little swath of New Orleans in Seattle, and I decided to order the Original Pat O'Brien's Hurricane (hey, I didn't have to go to work!), which I knew full well would be made of the eponymous mix I had seen in NOLA.  Well, that wasn't the best choice, as it was like an adult Kool-Aid only you couldn't taste the rum.  SWEET was its only flavor.  So, all though this recipe is for the "Original" Hurricane, no fear, readers, I would never subject you to a terrible sugar bomb!  Instead, we are going back to the actual original recipe, before it came in a powder!

The only ingredients are dark rum, lemon juice, and passion fruit syrup, which can be found at fine liquor stores and costs only a few dollars.  These are the only ingredients in the original Hurricane, but I found it a bit too syrupy, so K and I top the cocktail off with seltzer water.  The drink is fruity but acidic and slightly sparkly.  I wouldn't trade it for an "original" Pat O'Brien's Hurricane for anything!

Original Hurricane:

2 oz dark rum
1 oz passion fruit syrup
1 oz lemon juice
Seltzer Water

Mix rum, syrup, and lemon juice together in a shaker with ice.  Serve in a Collins glass topped with seltzer water.  Garnish with cherries!

In honor of the forthcoming Mardi Gras, I have one more Hurricane recipe coming in the next few weeks!