Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Storm, 2011

I’m back in the office now, with actual lights and power enough to type this. Let me tell you about the last few days.

On Friday morning, the radio informed me that the area (Eastern PA) would be getting 4-6 inches of snow. By the afternoon, a co-worker was saying 6-8. When I got home, my mother-in-law said 8-10. I was simply hoping that it would get me out of my Saturday morning cat dissection. No such luck.

At 7:30am Saturday, when I left the house, it was cold, windy and pouring rain. By the time I left class at 11am, it looked like this:This is not normal October snow. I’m from Syracuse, and snow on Halloween is more common than not. But that is usually a powdery dusting. This was wet, heavy, icy shit. January snow. And lots of it. At one point, it was coming down at an inch an hour, easily.

I got home safely - barely - and was eating lunch with my fiance and his mother when that stupid Miley Cyrus song about hiking came on the radio. I said, “When I hear this at the office, I turn the radio off”, and the power went out. It hasn’t come back on yet.

Saturday was nice: Dave and I took a nap in our still-warm room, we went out for Chinese food, watched the Usual Suspects and drank Black Russians. We walked by candlelight and it was more an adventure than anything. Throughout the night we could hear loud cracks from outside as branches broke under the strain of such heavy snow.

We awoke Sunday to blazing sun and half a tree across the porch. Also, no heat. We took a shower with what little hot water remained in the tank and enjoyed watching our bodies steam in the rapidly cooling house. We cleared the debris and ran errands all day in the hopes that we would get power back soon. When we heard from a neighbor that Tuesday is the earliest that the grocery store down the road will get power, we checked into a hotel. By now every hotel in the city is booked full, as over 115,000 homes in the area are without power.

As fun as staying in a hotel can be, this sucks. It means I have to get up even earlier for work, Dave is back doing his rotations so I have a room alone, and this morning it was so foggy I could barely see to drive. I’m beginning to think that Harold Camping may have been right.

And yet, we are the lucky ones. We can afford a hotel room, and we had enough foresight to book it while there were still some left. There are still hundreds of thousands, I’ve heard up to 2.1 million in total in the Northeast, without power. If you can find a way to help, please do. This is America, we should be above having our citizens freeze to death, though I’m sure it is already happening.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Movie Review


When I first saw the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was not expecting great things. I have only seen parts of the version with Mark Whalberg, which, despite having a great cast (other than Marky Mark), is utter rubbish. The whole idea struck me as rather silly, but with good graphics. The second trailer cast a new element onto the idea, suggesting that there might be an actual story in the thing. Since it was either that or Final Destination 5 as the second movie at Becky's, it wasn't a difficult choice. I was pleasantly surprised with the result.

The film opens with a scene reminiscent of Mighty Joe Young, a movie that apparently scarred me far more than I realized as a child. Chimpanzees are hunted through the jungle by men with trucks and guns, to be captured and caged in boxes barely large enough to fit their body. This strikes a cord with me for a number of reasons, the largest being my disgust at the use of apes in testing. These are creatures so like us they can learn to communicate with us. When I was young I had a book about Koko the Gorilla, and one part talks about Michael, the male gorilla she lived with. He was mean to her and she signed "Toilet Head" in response. I don't think I have thought of apes as animals since then. How can we do medical testing on creatures only one tiny genetic code away from us?

Unlike what I have seen or heard about all the other movies (seven in all, as well as two TV shows), not only is this movie the only one that documents the start of the rebellion (hence Rise of), this is the only movie that casts all of the apes, not just a handful, in a good light. The apes are lab animals, used to test a new, radical medication that has the potential to reverse Alzheimer's and various other neurological diseases. It creates new pathways in the brain in order to repair damage - in an undamaged brain, it enhances natural intelligence. The result is a group of apes with the intelligence and reasoning power of a brilliant human, but still with the body and instincts of a chimp (or gorilla or orangutan). Rather than simply registering fear and hate at their captivity, the apes see injustice and a desire to escape, and have the mental capacity to do so.

This post has gone in quite a different direction than what I was intending. I was planning on a simple movie review, but in a way, the movie itself is to blame for that. There are human characters in the movie, but the acting is so stiff and uninteresting that you can pretty easily forget that they are there. James Franco, a star for reasons I fail to understand, is the extremely awkward narrator - providing entirely unnecessary voice over and at one point ending a thought so strangely that it made an otherwise serious moment hilarious. His character, Will, is the head scientist behind the drug, and naturally has a father (John Lithgow) slowly dying of Alzheimer's. Freida Pinto, so fantastic in Slumdog Millionaire, was just sort of boring as the zoo vet (who questions not at all the fact that Will has a pet chimp) turned girlfriend who is bothered-ish by the treatment of the apes, but not enough to actually do anything. Brian Cox is typically evil as the head of an 'ape santuary' and Tom Felton is god awful as his psychotic son. I'd need to watch it again to tell if I hated him because of the character (who is positively vile) or because of the acting, but every time he came on screen, I cringed.

That's all OK though, since the real star of the movie - who bizarrely has almost last billing on IMDb (after "guy with newspaper", for crying out loud) - is Andy Serkis, as the chimp Caesar. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he did the motion capture and voice work for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings. He has made a name for himself doing incredibly difficult motion capture work - as well as Gollum he was King Kong in the most recent movie, and he is to be Captain Haddock in the new Tin Tin movies. As Caesar, the leader of the revolution, he is astounding - not only does he make a chimp a totally sympathetic character, he does so while being absolutely convincing as a chimp. The effects and his skill are such that for the most part, you forget that they are effects. There are some moments that look odd, but they are easy to overlook. The scene where Caesar stands up to Tom Felton's character (I don't want to give any more away) is chilling. I'm honestly getting goosebumps now, it's that powerful.

So, yea. The acting from the humans is pretty crap, but it's a great movie anyway. Go see it.

Conan the Barbarian - Movie Review


Saturday morning was my first class of the school year. Yea, Saturday morning. At 8am. That means getting up at 6:30. On Saturday. Kill me. Also, the class is Anatomy and Physiology lab. We will be dissecting a cat. On Saturday mornings. Is this real life? Anyway, since the morning sucked so hard, a friend and I went to Becky's Drive In. They had an epic double feature option of Conan the Barbarian and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and that was way too good to pass up. I saw the original Conan the Barbarian my freshman year of high school. It supposedly fit into the course curriculum but all I remember is my English teacher attempting to censor the sex scenes by putting a piece of paper in front of the projector. This might have worked if she had turned the sound down as well, and held the paper against the projector lens. As it was, we were able to hear perfectly well the horrid Schwarzenegger sex noises, and the paper thing only created a smaller screen. For a 14 year old, it was hilarious.

For a 24 year old with a love of insane bloodbaths, Conan the Barbarian (the new one) was just OK. Unlike other movies of it's ilk - The Scorpion King comes to mind - none of the characters were particularly memorable. I take that back, almost none. Ron Perlman, as Conan's father, was rather delightful. This is a man who got his start playing a caveman without makeup. I still can't decide if he is fiercely unattractive or very sexy. And he's downright awesome in Sons of Anarchy. But yea, other than him, nothing really spectacular from any of the actors. Jason Momoa, as Conan, was big and growly with an admirable rear but the actor who played the younger version, Leo Howard, had more guts. Rose McGowan, some witch chick, was her normal, disturbing self with along with a decidedly not normal forehead. I'm amazed, every time I see her in a movie, that people keep paying her to 'act'. She's truly awful.

Speaking of terrible actresses, Rachel Nichols (as TaMARa, not TAmara, just so she is a bit more exotic) is utterly devoid of emotion other than 'vaguely irritated but still trying to look sexy'. In one scene she - along with a group of large men who really do the work - defeat an enemy and she looks about her with such an idiotic expression that I wanted to stab her with the sword she could barely lift. The bad guy, Khalar Zym, portrayed by Stephen Lang (also known as 'Ohhh, THAT guy!) was utterly forgettable other than that horrible spider-mask thing. He kind of fights, but his daughter (Rose McGowan) does most of the work and he mostly just glares and makes snarky comments.

Alright, so the acting was shit, but who expected more? The movie wasn't even as epic as it could have been. There were a number of times I thought "I would have done this" or "This would have been better", which makes me wonder why no one in Hollywood has hired me yet! So many opportunities were lost - no close ups of angry elephants, no hilarious side kick, no Dwayne Johnson... What we did get was an overabundance of implied incest (never a good thing), a really obnoxious sidekick that was obviously a failed take-off of Arpid in The Scorpion King and a really lame sea monster. On the other hand, we did get tomahawk wielding crazies who scream like velociraptors from Jurassic Park, but we didn't get to see a whole lot of them. The first 40 minutes was entertaining, then it just got old.

All in all, mildly entertaining, but only because I was able to laugh and comment loudly (in the car), only paid $4 for it (or rather, nothing, since my friend paid for me), and was going to see a better movie right after. Save your money on this one.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A New Ending to a Problematic Story

Last year when Dave and I lived in Maine I worked in the home care field. While there were horrible days (the day I cleaned blood off a bathroom floor will go down in history as Yucky Day #1), there were some great moments. I worked for a 99 year old guy who would tell me stories about life in Maine almost a century ago - he will get his own post someday. There was a 27 year old with a spinal cord injury who became more of a friend than a patient. And there was another older man, 95, who was an absolute sweetheart and a total physical mess. Mostly blind, no sense of balance, no muscle tone, lots of memory loss - much of him had deteriorated except his love of books and music. I went to see him three to five times a week and every day I would put on a record, make him some food, and read.

He didn't have any books in his apartment that really lent themselves to being read aloud - non-fiction on herbal remedies and trolley cars. I had to think for a while about what book to read to him - nothing with too much violent or sex or swearing obviously, but I wanted something that might interest an older man. Anything by Neil Gaiman was out - too much of all of those no-nos - none of my many heroine fueled fantasy novels, and no murder mysteries. It gave me some consternation to discover that I don't own many books suitable for all audiences when I found my savior. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, has been one of my favorite book for over a decade, and my paperback copy is worn to fuzzyness. I have read it more times than I can count but it was only with this reading, done aloud with many repetitions of chapters (that's what happens when you read to someone with memory loss), when I noticed a problem with the story. Maybe it isn't a problem with the story itself, but it certainly created a problem for me, so much so that I will never read it the same way again. I could explain it to you, but I think what I would rather do is address it in the form of a short epilogue to the story. That said, I give you Buttercup's Epiphany.

Buttercup's Epiphany

Ten years after Westley relapsed again and Buttercup's horse threw a shoe, they lived in a small house on the Florinese coast. Buttercup was no longer the most beautiful woman in the world, not even in the top fifty, but she still turned heads at market. Westley was no longer as strong as he had been - the death had taken a lot out of him - and he had developed a gut that no amount of wood chopping could banish. They had two golden haired children, a boy and a girl, who were both beautiful, though not particularly intelligent.

Buttercup was washing up after dinner when she paused, suds making her hands prune in a way that dropped her another few levels.



"You were the Dread Pirate Roberts."

Westley looked up from his paper. He stared at his wife for a long moment. "Darling, now I know that you have never been the brightest, but..."

"Don't make fun of me, Westley. I'm having a revelation. It only just occurred to me. You were the Dread Pirate Roberts. For years, you told me."

"Yes." He returned to his paper.


He carefully folded his hands and looked up. "Yes?"

"The Dread Pirate Roberts never leaves survivors."

Westley stared. "Well, yes."

"So you never left survivors. In all those years."

Westley said nothing.

"Westley. You killed people for money. For years."

Still he said nothing.

Buttercup turned back to the sink and looked out the window. The boy and girl played outside.

"Get out. You are not my farm boy. He died on that ship."

Westley got up from the table and went into the bedroom. Buttercup was finishing scrubbing the stew pot when he came back out, a bag over his shoulder.

"Out. Don't ever come back."

"As you wish."

All characters belong to William Goldman. There is no copyright infringement intended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Pirate King, and Some Tootage of My Own Horn

Ever since I read The Beekeeper's Apprentice a number of years ago, Laurie R King has been one of my favorite authors. I have read almost everything she has ever written (I was happy to discover just now that there are two books I have yet to read, more for me!) and she has an incredible talent for being poignant, funny and perfectly descriptive of human emotions. Her novel Folly is the best assessment of deep depression I have ever encountered, and anyone going into the psychological or medical field should read it. A bit sidetracked, sorry.

Her series of novels about Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice Mary Russell, beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, is soon to have an eleventh installment. The last two books were quite dark and this one, The Pirate King, is to be more humorous - combining the world of Sherlock Holmes with another of my favorite things, The Pirates of Penzance. The book even takes its name from the opera, as shown below.

P.S. Don't be scared off by the word "opera"; Kevin Klein is in it.

As part of the promotion for the new book, hitting stores September 6th, Ms. King is conducting a number of contests, on of which I entered. One of the characters in The Pirate King is a scarlet macaw, and she wrote a flash fiction about him, fittingly titled Parrot King. The story is free to download from her website, with the request that you return it with a picture. I was at work when Ms. King put this up online, so I promptly printed it and used what office supplies I could find (pen and highlighters) to illustrate the thing.

The link to the Parrot King page is here. Submissions are being taken through September 5th, after which you can vote for your favorite. There are a number of really good drawings, and they are worth checking out. As mine was the first submission Ms. King was nice enough to send me a movie style poster for the book, absolutely fitting for me. I'm really looking forward to the next book in a series I love so much I got a tattoo of it. Yea, beat that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

State College, PA

On Friday when I was done with work Dave and I drove to State College for the night. My mother's parents live there and my grandfather had had emergency surgery that day. I knew he was alright, and has a much more major surgery already scheduled in another month, but I wanted to see them. Yet another of the many benefits of living in Allentown is the proximity to our families. We have the ability to simply hop in the car and go see our grandparents when we want.

State College has been my grandparents' home for almost 50 years, and many of my childhood memories are of their house. They will be moving out of that house in the spring, the house my mother and aunt grew up in, and I know it breaks all of our hearts to see the place go. We will be spending Thanksgiving there this year, and it will be nice to have one last big family holiday there.

Enough of the sad stuff. What I really want to talk about (as always) is food. Pictured above is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, the Corner Room, or the Allen Street Grill. We did not get to eat there this trip, but we will definitely go the next time. They have grilled sticky buns that are truly to die for. Some Wegmans in Pennsylvania are now selling them, and this is dangerous.

Instead of the Corner Room we went to the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory on Allen Street. We went there originally because they had Creamery ice cream advertised and we weren't sure that we wanted to go through the trouble of finding the actual creamery. Instead we ended up getting a couple pretzel dogs - hot dogs in pretzel dough rather than a bun, amazing - and some rivets, like pretzel doughnut holes. All together it was about $8 and totally filling for both of us.

After that we did end up going to the Berkey Creamery. Run by the Penn State's agricultural school, it has some of the best ice cream I have ever had. It is also, according to the website, the country's largest university creamery. I can believe it, the line we were in had easily 35 people ahead of us, and it was pouring rain outside.

There is only one size (diabetes, as Dave called it) and it is about $3 for a cup or cone. I hadn't had ice cream from there in ages, so I didn't really know what to get. I opted for the Peacy Paterno, partly because I love everything peach, but mostly for the name. It turned out to be amazing peach ice cream with slices of actual peaces in it.

See? He approves.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. - Movie Review


The summer movie season this year has been truly astounding. As a former film student I do see more than my share of movies in theaters - I don't drink alcohol, so this is where much of my spending money goes - and usually there are a number that I had high hopes for that were truly dreadful. The biggest disappointment I have had so far this summer was Captain America, and even that wasn't terrible. Part of it may be that I try to keep my expectations low so I can't be let down. That certainly went for Crazy, Stupid, Love. The trailer made me laugh quite a bit, especially Emma Stone's reaction to Ryan Gosling's amazing body, "Ugh, it's like you're photoshopped!" I was expecting a decent romantic comedy. I was not prepared for the sincerity and depth I got.

The movie opens with Cal, Steve Carell, and Emily, Julianne Moore out to dinner. They are middle aged and together long enough that the passion left their marriage a few decades earlier. Cal asks what she wants for dessert, Emily says she wants a divorce. It is far more painful to watch than the similar scene in Mrs. Doubtfire - Cal so utterly shell-shocked all he asks is that Emily stop talking about it, and she is so guilty and unhappy that the only thing she can't do is stop talking. There is no discussion of who moves out, Cal simply does it. He drowns his sorrows in a bar for a few days until he is approached by Jacob, Ryan Gosling's immensely attractive and horridly chauvinistic character.

Jacob takes Cal under his wing after debating whether to 'help him or euthanize him'. Their entire relationship is like this first meeting - Jacob insulting Cal and teaching him how to dress, and Cal going along with it because he has nothing else to do. Jacob successfully makes Cal in his image, making him quite a ladies man, and Steve Carell cleans up well enough that this is believable. At the same time that Cal is sowing his oats Jacob falls suddenly and unexpectedly in love with Hannah, Emma Stone's lovely and hilarious law student.

The acting is what makes this movie so fantastic. The writing alone is great, but left in the hands of less sympathetic actors it would have fallen apart. Ryan Gosling maintains his charisma while being a huge perv, Steve Carell able to be injured even when he is in the wrong. Julianne Moore is so unsure of her own feelings that you just want to hug her and tell her it will be OK. Emma Stone is perpetually bubbly, whether actually happy or angry and drunk.

Jonah Bobo, as Cal and Emily's son Robbie may be the greatest actor in the entire film. He is madly in love with his babysitter Jessica - played by America's Next Top Model alum Analeigh Tipton - and is so sure of himself that we know he must get the girl in the end. At the same time he doing his best to get his parents back together, not because he wants a whole family again, but because he knows that they still love each other and belong together. Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon are excellent supporting characters, and I don't think I have liked either of them more in any other film.

The film as a whole was completely satisfying, and I can't really think of anything I didn't like. Well, maybe the scene at the end with the photograph, that was a little creepy. You'll know what I mean when you see it. However, the ending is very good - not 'pat', it isn't 'happily ever after' for everyone, though you do get the sense that it will be happy at some point for most people. Nothing happens quickly in the movie - the pace is not slow, it just happens in a believable way. It certainly had it's heart-wrenching moments, but it also has some stunningly funny ones. Steve Carell gets in a line about Marisa Tomei's character that made the theater practically explode, and there were at least two times that a plot twist - completely unexpected but not ridiculous - shocked me speechless.

This is a movie I would recommend to anyone, male or female, over the age of 13 or so who has ever been, will ever be, or is in a relationship. Or even if you don't like relationships - you can watch this and crow that you don't have these problems. Just go see it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Horrible Bosses - Movie Review


Two years ago, when The Hangover was being heavily marketed, I was in India. I heard none of the hype, saw no trailers, and when I returned to the states, it was all anyone was talking about. I may have watched a trailer then, I don't remember, but I know that going into the theater my expectations were very low. As anyone who has seen the movie knows - and tickets sales suggest that that was everyone in this country over the age of six months - it is hilarious. My low expectations made it even better. The same could be said about Horrible Bosses.

Everything I saw about Horrible Bosses suggested that it was going to be another stupid Hangover rip-off. The only thing that made it remotely interesting was the cast - a movie with Kevin Spacey, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Jamie Foxx can't be all bad. Jennifer Aniston seems to be permanently stuck in the role of Rachel Green, so she lowered my expectations of the movie even further.

On Saturday, when the weather finally began to cool down, Dave and I went to Becky's Drive In. They have an awesome double feature deal (2 movies for $8) and Captain America had just opened, so that took care of film one. Our choices for the second feature were Transformers 3 or Horrible Bosses. I would rather perform oral on a wall socket than watch another Transformers movie, so it was Horrible Bosses by default. In the end, I think I liked it better than The Hangover, and certainly more than Captain America.

The premise of the movie is basic and totally relatable - three men, friends since high school, stuck in jobs with bosses that may in fact be agents of Satan. During a drunken bitch-fest the friends determine that it would be better for them and society at large if their bosses were no longer alive. Having had awful jobs and currently being in the employ of a boss slightly on the difficult side, I totally relate to the fantasy side. These men actually decide to carry out their plan and hire a murder consultant - the recently paroled Jamie Foxx, who later spouts these words of wisdom: "Don't go into a bar and give a guy $5,000 just cause he's black". Seriously, don't.

We laughed pretty consistently throughout the movie, with one recurring cat attack moment reducing me to coughing fits when I choked on a piece of funnel cake (did I mention that Becky's has funnel cake?). I had no major problems with the plot - the issues of "why don't they just quit?" and "can they really go through with it" are addressed creatively and believably. Like all good comedies it does not drag, clocking in at 98 minutes. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who has ever had the desire to choke their boss until his eyes pop out of their sockets and roll across the floor... Just me? Ok.

I still recommend it.

Becky's Drive In

One of my favorite summer activities in Allentown is Becky's Drive In. I had never been to a drive in before I met Dave - I don't actually know if there are any in the Syracuse area. The concept is an old fashioned one, but it is the type of thing that should be regaining popularity, and I hope it does to the point that the dying industry begins to turn around.

At Becky's there are two screens, each one playing two films per night. The movies are timed so that if you want to switch screens during the interval you can, without missing anything. Admission is $8 for adults and $4 for children. Regardless of whether you stay for one movie or two. Did you read that? $8 for TWO movies. Not only do you get to sit totally alone, undisturbed by anyone else, and you can even bring your own food if you want to *gasp* you get to see two movies for less than the price of one. If this doesn't sound like the best deal ever, I don't know what's wrong with you.

See the following two posts for reviews of the movies Dave and I saw this weekend: Captain America and Horrible Bosses.

Captain America: The First Avenger - Movie Review


The superhero movie genre has really impressed me lately. X-Men: First Class was superb, Thor was a lot of fun and was almost brought to "good movie" status by Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Branagh. Both Iron Man movies were great, and of course there is no comparing Christopher Nolan's Batman films to any other. We have come a long way from Danny DeVito as the Penguin - and let's just try to forget the monstrosity that was Wolverine. I have been looking forward to The Avengers since it was first rumored, and even more so since Joss Whedon took the helm. So I was confused and disappointed with Captain America.

Set during the last 'good' war the United States has been a part of, it is furiously patriotic but not obnoxiously so. Steve Rogers is played by the exceedingly handsome Chris Evans - who had been able to show off his acting talent more in Push, of all things; a very underrated movie that is like X-Men on crack. I also just discovered he was the Human Torch in The Fantastic Four, does this man do anything other than superhero movies?! Anyway... Steve Rogers is the 98 pound weakling you were warned about. He is desperate to fight in the war but would be of more use as ammunition than as a soldier. After an unnecessarily long sequence of him really, really, really wanting to fight, he gets the chance. He is spotted by Dr. Abraham Erskine, portrayed by Stanley Tucci, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors. The Doctor sees past the tiny stature (and weirdly disproportionate head) and chooses him to be the first subject in a super soldier experiment.

It works, then things go wrong, and Steve becomes the one and only soldier of his kind. Of little use on his own he is made a figure head, dubbed Captain America, dressed in tights and sent around the country to sell war bonds. This is the best of the long sequences in the movie, and perhaps my favorite part of the movie, period. You watch Steve go from shy, unsure and wishing he was doing something more, to confident, charismatic and with the knowledge that what he is doing, silly as it may seem, really is helping. It also gives us a few amusing scenes where Captain America fights Hitler single handed, and allows him to respond to the question "Do you know what you're doing?" with "Oh yeah. I've knocked out Adolf Hitler over 200 times."

Other than the humor in some scenes, however, the movie was sadly forgettable. The villain, The Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving, who has apparently made a career around being weird as hell*) was scary looking, and the suspense around revealing his face was drawn out well enough, but he was less of a super villain and more... just a Nazi, really. They don't need anything else to be terrifying.

I was saved from utter boredom by The Girl, Peggy - Hayley Attwell - and Colonel Chester Philips - Tommy Lee Jones. Peggy is suitably badass for a WWII British Agent, at one point standing boldly in front of a speeding car to shoot the driver, and is only once dressed provocatively. She is more of another character than a love interest, and I appreciated that. The Colonel is a lovable cranky man we all know Tommy Lee Jones to be, and most of the more amusing scenes have him to thank for carrying them. Toby Jones, the weird Truman Capote look-alike is the Red Skull's sidekick and is more interesting than his master.

Really, what saved this movie for me was the teaser trailer for The Avengers we were surprised by at the end. The ending of the film is such an unnecessary downer it was fortunate that there was something to pick it up after the credits rolled.

*I just want to make note of the fact that Hugo Weaving has played, in his acting career, a drag queen, a computer program, a burn victim who goes by one letter, an elf, a giant robot, a dog, an owl, and now a Nazi. Also, he is Nigerian.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Relationship with The Boy Who Lived

On May 17th, 1999, I turned twelve. A few weeks later - I was never able to have a party on my birthday, as it fell so close to the end of the school year - my parents allowed me my first sleepover party. I invited a small group of girls, my 'best friends', none of whom I have talked to in many years. One of them, however, gifted me with something I will never forget, and will always thank her for: the first two Harry Potter books. Until that day I had never heard of them. The second had only been published on June 2nd, and it must have been soon after that that I had my sleepover. When she handed me the books she told me not to read the summery (which I promptly did) because it would make the books sound silly. It did. I forgot about them for the rest of the evening and instead decorated crepes my father had made with board game designs - the theme for that party. I did not think about the books again until the next morning when everyone had left and, in a fit of boredom, I started reading.

"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

With that first line, here written from memory, I was hooked. By late afternoon I had finished The Chamber of Secrets and was dying for more. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long, as The Prisoner of Azkaban was published in early September of that year. I went to the midnight release of the book at Barnes and Noble, and I may have even dressed up, though I cannot swear to that. That book, whether because of the excitement of a new-found love or because it really is the best, remains my favorite in the series.

A full year passed before I got to read about Harry again. The Goblet of Fire was released on a Saturday in July and my father had pre-ordered the book for my birthday. Of course, this meant I couldn't go get it at midnight, I had to wait until the mail was delivered. Torture akin to the Cruciatus curse, I tell you. I sat outside in the driveway, waiting for the Fed-Ex man to arrive. When he handed the box to an almost tearful thirteen year old he laughed and told me that was about the hundredth one he had delivered that day. Terrified after Rowling's warnings of a character death I peeked at the end. Seeing that it was a character hitherto unmentioned in the books, it was safe to read. I finished it that night, despite the fact that, at 734 pages, it was by far the longest book I had read up till that point.

The world of Harry Potter kept me sane over the following year. Stuck in a miserable school for the already miserable year of 8th grade, I felt rather like Harry before Hagrid pays him that life changing visit. I followed closely the casting for the first movie and reread the books. I also discovered the wonder that is Jim Dale, who narrated the American version of the audio books. I listened to them on car trips, as I cleaned my room, when I was sick. I have listened to the books more than I have read them, to the point where I hear his voice as I read Rowling's words.

A long three years passed in between the fourth and fifth books and The Order of the Phoenix was published on Saturday, June 21st, 2003, two days before my chemistry final my sophomore year of high school. I had to wait until after the exam to even start the book, because I knew if I did, I'd never study. All anyone could talk about Monday morning was how much they wanted to read that book, not how much they had studies for the exam, which felt like double potions when we finally sat for it. I remember nothing of the exam, but I do remember locking myself in my room to read, and sobbing hysterically when my favorite character (at that point) was killed. I finished the book feeling broken hearted and betrayed - I had waited three years just to have my heart ripped from my chest. As I have gotten older I have less love and respect Sirius, but the memory of the pain I felt at his death is still clear.

The Half Blood Prince was released on July 16th, 2005 - exactly a month after I graduated high school and while I was in England. At the time I was participating in an archaeological dig and the site supervisor had canceled all activities that day in favor of reading the book himself. I had pre-ordered the book, as usual, and had it sent to the bed and breakfast where we were all staying. Unfortunately, all mail was forwarded to the owner, who lived a number of towns away. It took a few hours, many buses and a lot of walking, but I got that book, damn it. The death of Dumbledore shocked me far less than Sirius' had, though it saddened me just as much. The entire team was sworn to silence until everyone who wanted to read the book (all but a few people) had done so, and then it was all we talked about. It was there that I formed my belief, shared by few at the time and swiftly shot down by my family and friends, that Severus Snape was in fact a good guy, and would play a major role in the final book. He had always been my second favorite character and now that Sirius was gone all my hope was in him. I felt that there was more to him than the greasy hair and billowing cloak - though with the number of times Rowling uses those terms, you might find it hard to believe.

On July 21st, 2007, almost 4 years ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. I was halfway through summer vacation after my freshman year of college, and was only just starting to get close with a girl who lived on my floor, now my best friend, Jocelyn. We essentially bonded over our love of Harry and our despondency that it was almost over. We didn't talk at all the day the book came out, both too busy reading to do anything else. I pretty much cried my way through the whole thing. Hannah, my sister, had stopped reading the books after Sirius died, and wanted a death list before she would try it. Dobby was hard enough to relay, and when I told her about Tonks and Lupin (this is honestly making me tear up right now, how pathetic am I?) she didn't want to hear any more. I didn't even get to tell her about Snape. For me, who had long been a defender of Snape, his goodness was not so much a surprise as a triumph. In turn, this is why his death didn't shock me. He and Harry are the two heroes of the books, and they can't both live.

Which brings me to another point. After the death of Sirius, I found Harry to become incredibly annoying. Justified, I'm sure, and I have no doubt that Rowling wrote the 16 year old Harry that way, but he became so obnoxious in the Half Blood Prince that the rumors of Voldemort and Harry both dying in the final book upset me not in the least. He was like Neo - I almost looked forward to him kicking it and letting the more interesting and less whiny characters take the spotlight. The Deathly Hallows changed that. He goes through such a growth period in that book, becomes so much more mature, that when he does die, it rather broke my heart.

Say what you want about Rowling's writing - no, it isn't literature - but she created a world and an enormous cast of characters more thoroughly than most other authors ever have. Tolkien is the only other person that immediately comes to mind, but let's face it (and I love the Lord of the Rings), Harry Potter is far more readable.

These books were such a major part of my life for so long that it kind of boggles my mind when I discover someone my age who hasn't read them. Dave, for instance, had never read a single one, and had only seen some of the movies. With the amount of driving we do it didn't take long to listen to the whole series before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 opened. He is still not nearly as obsessed as I am (despite having the nickname Harry Potter), but I think he did enjoy them. I will just make sure to read them to our children and raise them believing in the power of love and knowing that you don't need to be pretty, or smart, or even particularly nice in order to be a hero.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sterling Renaissance Festival

On Saturday the 9th Dave, Jocelyn, Rachel, Hannah, Kelly, my mother and brother and I went to the Sterling Renaissance Festival.
I'm not certain when my family started going to the fair, but Hannah and I were both quite small, so it's probably been about 18 years.

We all met at my mother's house, some of us having to wait longer than others for our departure. As you can see, Rachel, Kelly and Jocelyn are very social beings.

Sterling, NY is about an hour away from Syracuse, but totally worth the trip. As we were going the first weekend of the festival (it is every weekend from July 9th to August 21st), and it was the 35th Anniversary Family Weekend, ticket were a lot cheaper than normal. It is $25 for adults, $15 for children. This gets you into the fair for the entire day - 10 am to 7 pm - and gets you all of the entertainment. Food, games, clothes and gifts cost extra.

We arrived at around 1:30 in the afternoon, and the first thing we all did was eat. Dave and Hannah split a pork sandwich, then he shared a fish and chips plate with me. The fruit smoothies are excellent - peach being my favorite - as are the fried cheese curds. Jocelyn got a turkey leg - a drumstick the size of your forearm - from the pretty wenches who implore passers-by to "taste our succulent thighs!" Those girls were always my father's favorite part of the fair. Later on we also had teriyaki beef jerky - $3 for a piece the size of printer paper - an apple dumpling with ice cream, peasant bread, an enormous chocolate and peanut butter cookie and a double espresso for Dave. Then we had dinner. Don't judge.

While we ate we were approached by a wandering poet by the name of Arthur Greenleaf Holmes. He claimed to be a poet of the most corrosive nature and asked if we would like to hear something wildly inappropriate. Naturally, we did, so he told us to come to his show. We begged for a poem right then, and he finally assented, asking what, on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, what we wanted. We asked for a seventeen. After he stopped laughing he recited the first part of A Hearthside Conversation, a poem so inappropriate I will not post the link here. If you find it yourself just remember, as Holmes would say, "You bastards asked for it." We promised to go to his show later in the day, as we couldn't think of anything more delightful than filthy poetry read in a fake British accent.

Having been fed, we had just enough time to make it to the Field of Honor for the first joust of the day. They take place at 2 and 5:30 pm, and are the biggest events at the fair. I would guess that there were around 800 spectators for the joust, and each side of the field gets to root for one of the knights. Our knight, Jacob, was the prettier of the two (both fairly pretty) but not the better horseman. I'm not sure if everything is perfectly rehearsed or if it is different every time, but at least this time, we lost.

Immediately after the joust we ran into a squire who had lost his words. He wished to woo a lady of the sea, a pirate lass, if you will, but had no idea how to do it. We, good feminists that we are, decided that crying "Wench!" and taking her roughly was the best course of action. A passing juggler added that, during the taking - which consisted of a dip - he should add hip movement.

So, Wench!, hip, dip, hip. More amusing than effective, but he went on his merry way to woo Consequence the pirate.

Hannah decided that the passing juggler was adorable, so after informing the squire how to woo his fair damsel, we went to see the London Broil show. I was too far back in the audience to hear or see very well, so I left after a few minutes, but Hannah informs me that they were quite spectacular. She wanted a photograph with the one she fancied because... well, for obvious reasons.

While she was getting her giggle on, Kelly and I got our awesome on and did some archery. I used to be very good, and I do miss it. Being in the Hunger Games wouldn't be all bad, I suppose. Archery is both fun and cheap at the fair - $1 to shoot 4 arrows, $2 for 10, and $5 to enter the archery contest, held at 4pm. Kelly and I split 10 arrows and turned a painted dragon into a pincushion.

At 12, 2, 3:30 and 5 pm there are plays at the Ye Mudd Pits, at the very end of the fair grounds. We saw the story of Jerkulese, son of Zeus, and his triumph over the Evil... Doctor Evil... doctor... Dr. E. had taken control of Zeus' latrine in an attempt to take over the world. Things like that work when you live in mud. During the course of the play there was much crude innuendo, downright sillyness, and lots of mud. Seriously lots. If you are wearing good clothes and don't want any mud on them, do not sit in the front half of the audience. We was one kid in the front row take a clod to the forehead, and I thought Dave was going to have an asthma attack, he was laughing so hard.

We raced over to the Grotto Stage after that to see Arthur Greenleaf Holmes at 4:30. We had already missed his 12:30 and 2:30 shows, and were determined to see the last one. I honestly don't remember the last time I have laughed that hard - the poems were crude, but, at least to me, inoffensive. I recorded three, the cleanest of which is below.

Mother, Will My Stones Drop?

Kelly, Jocelyn, Rachel and I sat in the front row and, seeing as he had talked with us earlier, he dedicated one poem to Jocelyn (I Bought A Cheese, And Thought of You) and allowed me to participate in another (An Ode to an Extremely Provocative Knothole, photo below).

We talked with him again after the show and he said we were genuinely the highlight of his day, signed the copy of his CD we bought, took a picture with us and asked that we mention the fact that we liked his show, as this was the first time he had his own stage. So, Sterling Renaissance Festival, bring this man back every year, as he is hands down the best adult entertainment at the fair.

There is a Wench and Bloke auction at 5:30 pm at the Market Cross and Kelly, good sport that she is, participated. You can pick up your winnings outside the gate but don't forget to bring your payments, because they don't take well to welchers. I saw the squire who we taught to woo during the auction, and we went over to speak to him once Kelly had been sold for 1,000 crates of beer and a blindfold.

The young squire had done well for himself, having had his way with a young lady who had stolen the diamond from his cane. We convinced Kelly to steal the diamond from him, and they wooed each other nicely.

The last event of the day is the Final Pub Sing at the Festival Stage. We made our way over there at about 6:45 and said goodbye to everyone we met during the day, sang a few songs, got some good pictures and had one final, hysterical laugh.I assume most of you are aware of the phrase "photo bomb". It is the act of intentionally sabotaging someone else's photograph, usually with the hope that no one notices until later. Until that afternoon, I had been unaware that there are also video bombers. Then we met their master.

It was an amazing conclusion to an amazing day, and I absolutely recommend this place to everyone. You don't even have to be a total nerd to enjoy it - if you like food, laughter and looking at weird people, it is absolutely worth your money.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Midnight in Paris - Movie Review


As much as I hate to admit it - I am a real failure of a film student sometimes - this is only the third Woody Allen movie I have seen. I saw Everybody Says I Love You years ago, and have been sad ever since that it is out of print, it is quite delightful. Hannah and Her Sisters is equally good, though truly depressing. Midnight in Paris, while still undoubtedly a Woody Allen movie, is very different from both.

It is also very different from the trailer. Previews showed the film to be typical Allen fare: a quirky, romantic comedy set in a bohemian city with a sweet but awkward man as the protagonist. Owen Wilson wanders the streets of Paris at night and gets into mischief. Lovely, but not enough to make me go see it. I'm glad I heard good things about the movie from my friends (thanks Jocelyn!) because I loved it.

Yes, Owen Wilson does wander the streets of Paris at night and gets into mischief, but what the trailer gives no hint of, and which is the point of the whole movie, he is time traveling. Owen Wilson's character, Gil, lives in a perpetual state of nostalgia, wishing more than anything that he lives in Paris in the 1920s. His fiance and her parents are visiting the city, and he is having far more fun than the rest of them in the city of his dreams. After a long night of wine tasting he gets lost and is picked up by a group of revelers in an antique car, just as the clock strikes midnight. These revelers happen to include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway. As my fiance Dave said, "wow, that's a lot more interesting!"

As with all Woody Allen movies it is the acting that draws you in more than the plot, at least at first. Wilson plays Gil as a sweet but lost young man, so in love with the idea of being in love that he can't see that his fiancee is a witch. Rachel McAdams, usually so delightful, is an absolute harridan in Midnight in Paris. She treats her fiance like a project, something to be fixed and displayed for viewing, and she seems to relish the opportunity to publicly humiliate him. She is the kind of woman who should raise show dogs rather than children. Her mother, played by the wonderful Mimi Kennedy, is no doubt the source of much of her behavior - this woman's favorite and much used catchphrase, "cheap is cheap", is used to describe everything from furniture to Gil himself. The father, Kurt Fuller, is an image of what Gil will become if he is trapped in this family forever - downtrodden but vile in his own right. Possibly my favorite of the modern day people is Paul, the extremely underrated Michael Sheen. Paul knows everything, and likes telling this to everyone else. The few times Gil rises to the bait are both very real and very funny.

Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, the young French woman that Gil meets in the 1920s. This woman has incredible range, and must be given more work. Anyone who saw her in Inception knows that she can be both sweet and sexy and also horrifyingly psychotic. We see her sweet and sexy side only in this, but we still have the feeling that she wouldn't hesitate to kill someone if she found it necessary. Kathy Bates is a harsh but kind Gertrude Stein and Alison Pill is a charming but very disturbed Zelda Fitzgerald.

My favorite 20s character, and possibly my favorite of the entire movie, is Corey Stoll's Ernest Hemingway. He is a creepy womanizer who speaks in full paragraphs of run-on sentences, which I guess is far more funny if you have actually read his work. Our first introduction to this is almost the first thing he says; when Gil states that he loves Hemingway's work his response is "Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble, but brave." All this uttered in one breath accompanied with a blank stare that gives you the impression not all of him left the trenches of WWI.

The movie is essentially about self discovery and the idea that your ideal place and time is not what you want it to be, but what you make it. Living in a fantasy is all right for a while, but in the end it becomes too problematic. Better to find love and happiness where you belong than chase a dream you can never have.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Moving: A Story of Hell

Dave and I are now residents of Pennsylvania, a fact I take great happiness in. However, given what it took us to get here, there were points where I wished we had just stayed where we were.

The ordeal began on last Saturday, when we drove to Maine for the last time. Dave's mother, with whom we are going to be living, came up with us to help in the moving process. If she hadn't come with, I don't think we would have made it at all.

We got to Springvale at about 9 Saturday evening and packed for a few hours before going to bed. Sunday morning we went to Portland for brunch at Ri Ra, one of our favorite restaurants in Maine. We put off packing for a few more hours before getting down to it, deciding to call it an early night, and crashing.

Monday we realized that we had a ton of stuff left to pack, and not enough boxes to put it in. We went on a box quest, eventually being saved by the Subway cardboard dumpster. We stayed up late and finished almost everything. Our internet, which was supposed to have been shut off that morning, still lingered, and I was able to watch the season premiere of True Blood - the highlight of this miserable ordeal.

Tuesday was when the real fun began. Our internet was still intact, so I called to find out why. My request to cancel our subscription had apparently been entirely lost, despite the long conversation I had with the girl about moving to Allentown. The mistake was rectified, but this was not to be the last, or worst, instance of someone failing at their job we encountered that day.

The previous week I had reserved a Budget truck online. We had used a Uhaul last year and it cost almost $500, so we chose to go cheap and use a different company. I cannot express how big of a mistake this was.


Monday I called the truck pickup location to confirm that the reservation was set. I was assured that we could come get our truck on Tuesday any time after 10am. We arrived at about 11, only to discover that every truck had been taken by a group needing to transport fireworks. Not only was the truck I had reserved and confirmed not there, no one called to tell me. My lack of physical violence was a feat I ought to be congratulated on. The employee I had confirmed the reservation with was as unapologetic as it is possible to be, and the only reason I didn't kill him was that he was not actually there.

We drove to the next closest Budget location, 30 miles away, after being assured that they had a truck and that it would be there when we finally got to it. The employee we talked to at the second location was at least polite, if a bit dim. Unable to perceive my barely controlled rage, he thought it would be a good idea to "mess with me" and act like he didn't know what I was talking about when I identified myself. I came close to slapping him as well.

We finally got our truck, for $350, already not worth saving any money on. Then we started driving the thing. After about 30 seconds on the highway Dave and I began sniffing, and looked oddly at each other.

"Do you smell that?"

"Yea. Is that... cat piss?!"

It was.

We were so happy at finally having a truck that we didn't immediately turn around and take it back, which in retrospect we probably should have done. Maybe we thought the smell would dissipate. Maybe we thought we could ignore it. It didn't, and we couldn't. After a thorough cleaning, Febreze, air fresheners and a few squirts of Dave's precious Armani Code, the smell of feline urine persisted.

We began packing the truck, not at the 11am we had been aiming for, but at 4:30. With the help of Tyler we were able to get everything we had packed into the smelly thing in about an hour and a half. We went to go get a lock for the truck, something that really ought to be complimentary, considering the astronomical cost of renting the damn thing. We found one that can withstand gunfire, but stupidly forgot to check how big a lock we needed, so naturally it was one nanometer too small. My mother saved the day by randomly remembering the combination of the lock we had used the year before and still had.

We said to hell with it after that and went to dinner in Portland, at the amazing Hi Bombay! There didn't look to be that much left to pack, so we weren't worried about finishing it, and cleaning the apartment, the next morning. We aimed for a noon departure. Ha.

As anyone who has ever moved before knows, it never goes quickly. It took far longer than it should have to pack the remaining crap - where did we get so much stuff?! - and cleaning was dreadful. It was about 95 degrees inside and cleaning spots of black mold off the bathroom ceiling was the least offensive thing we did. We better get our damn security deposit back, because that place hasn't been cleaned that well in years.

At 6pm we locked the door to our now hated apartment for the last time, got in the truck, and drove away. We were already feeling a bit crazy, as you can see from the borderline homicidal grin on Dave's face. We hadn't even gotten started.

I don't remember the drive from Syracuse to Springvale last year being that bad. Of course, our truck was smaller, we were driving during daylight hours and the drive itself is pretty easy. Not so going Springvale to Allentown, which involves seven states and a close encounter with New York City.

At 1 in the morning I was deep in an anxiety attack as we drove down a stretch of highway not meant for commercial vehicles, where we had already seen a tractor trailer get a police escort off the road and were there was a tunnel every mile, steadily decreasing in clearance height. Bless Dave for being calm, used to little sleep and able to put up with me, because he let me pass out for about two hours after my heart palpitations stopped. I slept through the Tappan Zee Bridge and the ten miles of unpaved road, and woke somewhere in New Jersey. The first thing that registered upon waking was the smell of cat piss. I considered leaping from the moving vehicle, but I was still too tired. We made it to Allentown at 4am without further incident, and were unconscious in minutes.

Wednesday was devoted entirely to unpacking the truck we had not 36 hours before jammed with all of our worldly possessions. Splitting the boxes between the house and the storage unit (which we filled) we unloaded everything and took the old, unwanted bed to Goodwill. The woman Dave's mother had talked to, who had assured her that Goodwill takes beds, was no longer present, and of course Goodwill doesn't actually take beds. I think murder crossed all of our minds then.

We finally got rid of the evil bed today - truly, I pity whoever ends up sleeping on that thing - and the truck was returned with 5 minutes to spare. My demand that the thing have the shit cleaned out of it before it is unleashed on some other poor, unsuspecting individual fell of deaf ears and, too tired to argue further, we left.

We still have boxes to unpack but I have my desk and my bed, so for the moment, I am happy.

Did I mention that Dave's mother is in the process of selling her house? Yea, we get to do this again in a few months. I can't wait.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Moving Out!

This will be my last blog post from Maine. Our internet will be shut off tomorrow while we finish packing the apartment, we pick up and load the moving truck Tuesday and drive off into the sunset on Wednesday. Then no more Maine except for vacations... maybe.

It has been an interesting year - work instead of school, one male roommate rather than a group of females, the wilderness instead of a city. I have fond memories of this place, but I am eager to leave. There just isn't enough to do, not enough opportunities for work, not enough family and friends. In Allentown we will be no more than 4 hours away from most of our family, and that will be really nice. I have been really lonely this past year, and I hope that will change.

There's not a lot to say, really, that I didn't already say here. I'd say that I would miss the friends Dave and I have made, but they are all moving too, and will be near us, so I can't. There's not a lot about this place that I will miss, other than the lobster.

So yea, that's about it. Pennsylvania, here we come.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Allentown Freak Out!

Friday night brought the opening ceremonies of the Allentown Freak Out, a fringe festival that began last year.

An exhibition of the weird, the festival includes Irish mummers (pictured at the left), fire dancers, gypsy and bluegrass music, sideshow freaks, avant-garde film and burlesque dancers.

The mummers were pretty hilarious - their sole purpose in life seems to be scaring the crap out of little children, which amused Dave more than a little.

The fire dancers were less scary and more sexy, and the music, provided by the West Philly Orchestra, was really awesome.

Dave and I are driving back to Maine tomorrow to finally move out of our stinking apartment, so we will not be able to go to any of the festivities tomorrow. I hope this happens again next year, because I really want to see the Miss Freak Out Pageant.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tucker and Dale vs Evil - Movie Review


I have wanted to see this movie for almost two years now, and I was ecstatic when I saw it listed on the SouthSide Film Festival schedule. It was actually at the festival last year because one of the team saw it at Sundance in 2010 and loved it, and it was so popular last year that they brought it back for a special late night showing. It was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I'm really happy that it seems to finally be getting a wider release. Yay for Magnolia pictures!

Tucker & Dale vs Evil
is a spin on traditional redneck slasher films. Rather than having some terrifying group of inbred mountain people slaughtering hot young college things, we have a pair of (possibly inbred) hicks who only mean well. The hot young college things are the real danger here, to themselves and others, and the results are as funny as they are gory. This movie, like others in the horror and horror/comedy genres, is quite bloody, and those with weak stomachs might want to think twice. For those with a sick sense of humor, like me, you will no doubt find it amusing.

Dale and Tucker are played by, respectively, Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk (of Firefly, the greatest TV show ever made). The have a sweetly idiotic attitude and you can't help but feel sorry for them as you laugh at the horrible situation they are forced into. Seriously, how do you tell a cop that these stupid college kids keep killing themselves all over your property?

As with most horror movies, not a lot can be said about the plot without giving too much away, so I will leave it at that. I found the love story a bit contrived, but cute nonetheless. The chemistry between the protagonists is perfect, and they both seemed to enjoy the filming. This movie is seriously hilarious, and I encourage anyone who liked Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland or Doghouse to check it out.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Africa United - Movie Review


Africa United was the first film I got to see at the SouthSide Film Festival. While it is on one level a fun kid's movie about friendship and football (that's soccer to you Americans), it is also an cross section of African culture and demographics, at least as we know it. Having been a completely African made film (shot in Burundi, directed by a Rwandan, starring children from various countries), I trust that this is not simply America's perception of Africa put on film.

The film opens with the main character, 13 year old Dudu, explaining how to make a football in Africa. First you take a condom, any kind will do. He gets his from the UN. Blow up the condom and tie it off. Surround it with plastic bags to add weight and durability. Finally, wrap it with string. The lesson evolves into a speech on the necessity of condoms. All of the good presidents use them. Maybe if Dudu's parents had, maybe they would still be alive. These first few moments set the tone of the movie. Part documentary, part children's movie - even when you are laughing you never forget the devastation of disease and poverty.

Dudu is our guide and narrator in the movie. He is the 'manager' of Fabrice, his best friend and resident rich boy. Fabrice's mother wants him to be a doctor when all he wants to do is play football. Dudu's sister, Beatrice, who lives with him in a shack, wants nothing more than to be a doctor. The three children live in Rwanda, and this is the summer of 2010. The World Cup is only a month away and no one is thinking about anything else. A scout notices Fabrice's "silky skills" (Dudu's term for his footwork) and invites him to try out for the youth team to open the ceremonies.

The result is a 3,000 mile trek from Rwanda to South Africa. Dudu, Fabrice and Beatrice meet up with Foreman George, a former child soldier, and Celeste, a (possibly) former child sex worker. In addition to disease and poverty, war is never far out of our minds. Celeste is of royal blood, but that means nothing when the monarchy is deposed. The children's quest involves poorly marked buses, big cats, mango crates, mercenaries, HIV testing, elaborate stories told by Dudu (and accompanied by amazing puppetry) and border crossings.

The film is at times hilarious - Dudu's use of the English language is delightful and possibly an improvement on the way we speak it; "The world is our ostrich", and "Keep the prize in your eyes" are two of my favorite phrases of his. It is also shocking and sad - one of the main characters was involved in a massacre, another is not HIV free. In the end we are left with hope for them all, but also the knowledge that that hope may be futile.

I loved this movie, and I hope to see it at least on DVD in the US soon, if not in a limited theatrical release. I must also make note of the fact that the director, Debs Gardner-Paterson, is a woman. This is a rarity that should be acknowledged. I hope to see more from her in the future.

Normally I do not include trailers in my reviews because I assume everyone has seen them already. As that is likely not the case for these films, I will include all the trailers I can.

Impossible is nothing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Philadelphia Chinatown: Tai Lake - Restaurant Review

For dinner on Wednesday we tried a new Chinatown - the one in Philadelphia. One of the servers at a favorite restaurant, who has known Dave's family for years - invited us to eat real Asian seafood with his family. We went to the Tai Lake Seafood Restaurant, a place out friend (also conveniently named Dave) has gone since the 1980's. We met Dave and his wife and son at the restaurant and let him order for the table. The results were diverse and certainly interesting.

The dish on the left was the first to arrive at our table. Baby octopus, shredded jellyfish (that's the white stuff) and pig intestine. I was not a huge fan of that plate. The intestine almost did me in before dinner had really started, but damn it, I tried everything. On the right is rockfish, not to be confused stonefish (or, The Worst Pain Known to Man). The fish wasn't bad - a bit on the bland side, and many little bones to watch out for.

On the left are clams with pork bits and scallions. That one was pretty good, considering I'm not a big mollusk person. On the right we have tofu (that brick in the back), some sort of vegetable that even our friends couldn't identify (tasty though), black mushrooms (undoubtedly the best part of the meal - as meaty as steak and very garlicky) and in the front left: sea cucumber. For those of you who have never seen a sea cucumber in action, here you go:

That's right. We ate something that looks like a poop, that does nothing but... poop.

Dave and his mother have tried chicken feet before (I declined, thank you very much) and weren't fond of it. So here we have goose feet. Not much more than skin and bones. Dave seemed to like it, I only got a few nibbles before it became so cumbersome every time I tried to eat it it would swing around in my chopsticks and kick me in the chin.

On the right is lobster with scallions (just OK - living in Maine has spoiled me for lobster anywhere else) and pork chops in a sweet sauce. That was my favorite dish, I am sad to say. It was nice having a mammal on the table.

Last we has salty soft shell crab - very salty, but very good - and for desert, mung bean soup. It was thick and sweet and rounded off the weirdness nicely.

The two Daves ate everything that was left over, and vowed to enter a hot dog eating contest some day. On the right is my tribute to Jin, our Korean friend, who taught us how to make awesome chopstick holders with the chopstick wrapper.

I must admit, after so much new (and let's face it, strange) food, my stomach was a bit displeased. We were able to find a bakery/bubble tea cafe still open, the Mong Kok Station Bakery and while we bought an insane amount of baked goods I drank a ginger bubble tea that settled my stomach right down. It even had ginger shavings in it. So good.

If you ever plan on trying lots of new things, make sure to go with people who know what to order. Just be prepared for some unexpected flavors and textures.

Oh yea, and all that food? Split 6 ways it was $26 per person. Including tip. Hell yes.