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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8th Annual SouthSide Film Festival

Last week Dave's mom sent me an email with suggestions of things to do in the Allentown area, seeing as I would be there for two weeks while Dave studied for his boards. As it turns out, I started work two days later (a month before I originally thought I was going to) and was not desperate for things to do. However, I was so intrigued by the SouthSide Film Festival website that I made a long list of films I wanted to see. At the top of that list is Tucker and Dale vs Evil, a comedy/horror movie starring Alan Tudyk (who I love) that I have wanted to see since I saw a preview of it almost two years ago.

This is the 8th year the film festival has run, and though I'm not sure how it has run in previous years, this year has a theme of African film. There are a number of feature length and short films from and about Africa, ranging from documentary to sci-fi. I am going to try to see two features and two blocks of short films - that seems ambitious enough. Maybe next year I can plan this out better and see more.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Flushing for Dinner: Red Chopstick - Restaurant Review

Dave and I are back in Allentown again, this time for two weeks. He takes his first round of boards (the Osteopathic version) on the 23rd and after that we will go back to Maine to finish moving out of our apartment. I'll be glad to stop driving so much.

This time we decided to stop in New York to meet Jin for dinner. He took us to a Taiwanese restaurant in Flushing called Red Chopstick. They have a really good meal system - you can order a variety of things to split between 2 or 4 people for a relatively cheap price. Of course, there was also complementary tea, which Jin kept waving around.

We got five dishes - the Duck Soup, which was essentially a large bowl of broth with pieces of duck floating in it. Bones and all. Dave liked it so much he ate almost all of it on his own. Second was the drunken chicken, not a huge fan of that one. It's cold and has the skin left on it, and it's a pain to eat. The dungeness crab (which you can see below) was also a pain to eat, but it tasted better than the chicken.

We also got sauteed spinach, which was very good, and, my favorite, beef, celery and either tofu or mushrooms, we couldn't tell. That's the one in the square plate. I couldn't stop eating it.

After dinner we hunted down the bakery we got amazing egg custard from in April. For future reference, it is called the New Flushing Bakery. We got there late so there weren't many custards left, so we bought them out. We really need to start going to the gym again.

On the way back to the car we stopped by a market and bought crazy cheap fruit (apricots fo 69 cents a pound!), lychee candy and an aloe drink. I really love Flushing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class - Movie Review


I have been really impressed with the superhero movies of late. Both Iron Man movie have excelled, Thor was delightful, and the Batman movies almost don't count as "superhero" movies - they are genuinely awesome of their own right. X-Men: First Class continued in the same line.

Leaving X2, 3 and the abysmal Wolverine far behind, it did what the first tried to do, and did it better: it is a movie about the X-Men that ever so slightly makes fun of X-Men. It's self awareness is what made it work for me the way it did. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge X-Men fan. I wore a Rogue style skunk stripe in my hair in high school and I'm one of the 9 people who actually saw Wolverine in theaters - guess which of those two embarrasses me more. Hint, it's not the hair one. As a result, I would have gone to see this movie regardless of how good it was, but I don't think I'd have seen it opening weekend if I hadn't heard such good things about it.

It is really excellent. The casting was great; Jennifer Lawrence, who will soon be gracing theaters as Katniss Everdeen - the heroine of the Hunger Games and one of the greatest role models for young girls ever written - plays Mystique as a vulnerable young woman desperately looking for acceptance and affection. James McAvoy is a charming, if not particularly sexy, Charles Xavier and holds his own, though does not capture the character the way Patrick Stewart did. Michael Fassbender, unlike McAvoy, does make Magneto sexy in addition to very dangerous and slightly unhinged.

January Jones is a *cough* cold Emma Frost - so emotionless and nasty that we almost overlook the fact that she is only partially dressed for the entire movie. The rest of the cast is extremely good - the young mutants are endearing without being annoying, and the adults seem like actual people rather than caricatures. Rade Serbedzija scares the shit out of me, so I was rather distracted during all of his scenes, but that is a personal problem. Really, it's because after watching Mighty Joe Young as a child he haunted my nightmares for months, but you don't really care, do you?

Kevin Bacon, on the other hand, bears some mentioning. Sebastian Shaw is the "Big Bad" of the movie, bent of nuclear war to rid the world of it's pesky humans. At first sight, Bacon is an amusement. "Oh look, Kevin Bacon. Quick, someone sing Footloose!" Soon, however, he becomes tedious and brings absolutely nothing to the movie other than the question of why cast Kevin Bacon? Maybe Christoph Waltz was busy, or didn't want to play a Nazi again so soon, but I feel he would have been a far better Shaw.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 12 minutes, the film was surprisingly long, but never dragged. Start to finish, it was engaging and at times sweet, funny and exciting. Speaking of start, the opening scene of Erik and his family in a concentration camp is shot for shot from the first X-men movie - so much so that I was at times wondering if the editors had simply reused footage.

Personal favorite things:

All of the inside jokes for the benefit of hardcore fans
Excellent cameos - look carefully, they go by fast
Absolute best use of the one allowed "fuck" in a PG-13 rated movie I have ever seen

Less than favorite things:

A number of mistakes, especially math issues: in 1942 Erik and Charles are both 12, but in 1962 Charles is only 24
There is no after the credits scene, so don't wait in the hopes of one

Honestly, I had to think of things to complain about for this one. Definitely go see it, it's really quite good.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Toro Sushi - Restaurant Review

Toro Sushi
1105 South Main St.
Cheshire, CT 06410

Dave and I are still in the long moving process, and drove from Allentown back to Springvale today. We will do this drive three more times by the end of June. Then we are done.

Today was a very sunny day, and as always when I am faced with hours of uninterrupted sunlight on a drive, I got a blinding headache. By Connecticut I was unpleasant enough that Dave suggested we stop for food. I had a craving for sushi (this is an almost constant thing, not brought on by the headache or anything), so I did a quick search on his awesome new tablet and found a highly rated one a few miles away.

At Toro we got edamame and shumai for appetizers as usual - both good, though not extraordinary. Dave and I almost never get separate entrees anymore; we each like so many things we just narrow all the choices down to a few and share. We got five rolls: spicy salmon (because it is always good), peanut avocado roll (honey roasted peanuts and avocado *swoon*), a New York roll (Smoked salmon and apple with sesame seeds, tasty but a bit bland), a sweet potato roll (tempura sweet potato with bonito sweet sauce, my favorite of the bunch) and an Indian roll (yellow tail and banana, Dave's favorite). The service was great (hot towels to wipe your hands with after your food) and the decor tasteful. By the time we were finished my headache was gone (whether it was from the delicious food or the codeine I took beforehand, I can't say) and I was a much more pleasant person. The Dairy Queen we had after that completed my recovery and we were able to continue our trip.

Back to Allentown next Friday.