March 2008


I was only going to do new movie reviews on this blog, but there has not been much worth seeing out there in the theaters, so here is a DVD review of the recently released I am Legend.  I was unable to go see this in the theaters in part because I was seeing other things–possible Oscar flicks– and in part because my wife had no interest in it. As it turns out, to no great surprise, my wife was right on.

I generally like this type of film if it is done well or is meant to be completely frivilous. I suppose that means that I have not seen many movies like this that I have liked. Anyway, I am Legend starts off very well. The first hour or so plays very much like Cast Away once it gets on the island. The lead is a skilled actor who is able to carry a movie with no other person in a single frame. The lead character is a ridiculously gifted survivalist. The lead character goes insane, then comes back from the padded walls of his mind. The lead character carries on a friendship and running dialogue with a non-human (volleyball v. dog). And hey, while we are at–they are both on an island! 

Also like Cast Away, I am Legend completely breaks down in its final act. First, I am Legend completely abandons its very thoughtful pacing and cinematic scope once the absurd CGI zombie-things show up in a major way. Second, it introduces new characters who, unless they can fly, have no business being in New York, and then largely does not explain how they could possibly accomplish some of the things that they accomplish once in the City. Third, and I guess I might as well wrap it up here, after the even pacing is literally blown up, the ending comes at blistering speed; attempts are made to tie up every loose end in mere milliseconds; and the Legend concludes with a sentimentally heroic–and as is normally the case when what happens, happens–and unneccesary action.

Did you see how over the course of my review the sentence structure got blown all to hell, until I was basically writing in unfinished phrasings and numerous asides? Well, that is kind of how I am Legend ends. See it if you have seen everything else. Better yet, watch the first hour and then shut it off. Afterward imagine it had a satisfactory ending. I guarantee you will not be disappointed this way.

my score…51

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The wife and I were vacationing with some friends this past week (who knew there were beaches in Alabama?) and on the way home we decided to stop and have a luxurious night in Nashville. We used Hotwire to find a fancy hotel, and then searched the internet high and low to find the perfect fancy pants restaurant. We finally settled on Radius 10, which looks like it is in a reconfigured small warehouse and is in some part of downtown that seems to be in the early stages of gentrification. Radius 10 did not disappoint.

First, it was half-priced wine night (Mondays); always a plus. We chose a tasty, light, hints of cherry Acacia Pinot Noir. The meal began with a chicken salad amuse bouche. Proving that I may be a terrible food reviewer, I did not eat this amuse bouche because it was lathered in mayonnaise, and there are certain foods that I hate no matter how high the quality, and mayonnaise is one of them. eggs, oil, vinegar. I like all of these things. Together. One of the most disgusting things I can imagine. I can’t explain it. My wife ate both amuse bouche so that I would not look like an idiot at this high end joint; she said they were very good.

For our starter, we ordered a small plate of corn bread and biscuits. There were three of each and were about the size of a half-dollar. Both were slightly sweet, with subtle flavor. A good way to start a meal and the way I prefer biscuits and corn bread. 

For our first course we shared an order of fried calamari. I have this thing. If I have never been to a place before and fried calamari is on the menu, I will order it. If Subway starts making a fried calamari sandwich, I will give it a shot. I am on the search for the perfect fried calamari. I am not ending the search, but from this point forward I am judging all future fried calamari against that which we had at Radius 10.  First of all, they used a much bigger squid that what you generally find in restaurants, making for meatier bites. Second, they were only lightly breaded and seasoned so as not to overpower the flavor of the calamari. Lastly, and always most important with fried calamari, they were not overcooked. Not a hint of rubber in any bite. In fact, they almost melted in your mouth.

For our entrees, the wife ordered filet with roasted potato wedges and a white truffle dipping sauce and I ordered a veal chop-bone in (I know) with a medley of roasted potatoes and sauteed asparagus all in a light balsamicy sauce/au jus. The filet was good, though I am generally not a fan of ordering steaks when eating out because I feel that if I can get a high enough quality of meat, I can season it/grill it up as well as most restaurants. The white truffle dipping sauce for the wedges was quite good. My veal was very good (though I have decided on the ‘best meats scale’ veal is still definitely behind a good steak and duck and probably a couple of other things I have yet to try and is about even with a really nice pork loin). It had a nice balance of fat and protein and was clearly well prepared. The potatoes and asparagus were fine, but a bit overpowered by all the garlic mixed in with the balsamic.

The disappointment of the night came with dessert. I love desserts. I used to run a full-scale bakery and am probably a bit snobby about these things, but I found it difficult to figure out how anyone could have liked my dessert (my wife tried this dessert ‘french toast’ that had a sweet pastery base, with bananas and ice cream and it was decent–certainly better than mine–but nothing special). I forget its clever name, but it was basically a cookie/brownie bar with a liquid middle and some ice cream on top. The ice cream was fair, but everything else was so ridiculously sweet–and I have a sweet tooth–and bathed in cinnamon that it was all too overbearing, and I was unable to even finish half of it. Luckily, there was a finishing amuse bouche of white chocolate mousse with a blueberry on top that left us satisfied. And at this point completely stuffed. There would be no honkytonks for us on this night.

Overall, the meal was very good with the dessert serving as the only blemish. The staff was excellent and the setting was cool-a bit pretentious, but that comes with the fine dining territory, and since no one in Nashville dresses up, it all gets evened out. It was maybe a little overpriced ($145 plus tip) for the quality, but that may just be because we don’t have a ton of money. If you find yourself in Nashville, and can afford it, I would recommend Radius 10.

score…80  

The drinks are way over-priced. The food prices are a little bit high, too. The decor, some of which seems to be new, is hideous. Despite all of this, I like going to Cactus Pear…occasionally. I guess the reasons are that it is a break from the Ludlow regulars (lots of Indian, Thai that is getting progressively worse–with awful sushi, hit and miss burritos, wonderful Dewey’s, etc.), if it is warm enough there is a great little outdoor seating area, and the food is actually pretty decent. I am a fan of the burrito, although it really is not a burrito in the ‘I can pick this up and eat it with my hands’ sense of the word. It is definitely a knife and fork ordeal. It isn’t spicy, which is generally my preference, but the ancho and tomatillo sauces are sweet (not too sweet) and refreshing, and accompany the spanish-style rice, black beans and chicken breast nicely. I would suggest that they cut up the chicken breast a bit more–after cooking–because it is far too large for inside of a soft tortilla.

Other items the wife and I have tried are the tacos (my wife’s standard), which we like, but with the same caveat about the chicken breast, the fried calamari, which is pretty good, but is a little over-coated in batter and is over-cooked half the time making it rubbery, and the chips and salsa, which consists of good salsa and terrible chips. The salsa is very different from your standard salsa. It is not tomato, onion and cilantro-based like most, but instead is based around olive oil and a pureed, roasted (I think) sweet pepper.

I would not recommend going to Cactus Pear with any great frequency, but if you like to go out to eat or like to avoid cooking three or four nights a week, go to Cactus Pear once every two months or so…especially if it is warm out.

score…62

The Story of Carlos Gomez

By the time the plane had cleared the line of mountains surrounding Barquisemeto’s airport, Carlos was already well into his list for the day. Get on the plane (written and then immediately crossed off). Get off the plane. Take cab to work. Check email messages, returning any important ones. Call five clients to check if they need any supplies; do not take no for an answer from at least three. Morning constitutional. Send out order requests from the at least three who purchased supplies. Call five more clients…

And so it was for Carlos and his lists. He made a list for the day, everyday. He also, sometimes at night, always on the weekends, made long term lists. These usually included goal dates. The goal dates often changed. These lists included get married, have a child (a boy), have a second child (a girl), buy own home, take a vacation, retire…These lists, both the long-term and the day-to-day were often made in classic list form with bullet points, but he also built box matrices because it felt good to Carlos to put a big X through some goal he accomplished; even if it was just getting on the plane. Unfortunately for Carlos, he rarely got to make those big X’s. In his daily lists he maybe got through half of his goals, and those mostly in the morning, and he never made big X’s on his long term lists.

Little happened for him in his life beyond his lists. Carlos looked and acted much the way you might imagine. He was thirty-eight years old and he was getting softer and balder by the day. He was miticulous in grooming, but his style was awful and that neat, little mustache he had taken to wearing was the stuff of fodder when Carlos was not in the room. Carlos was still in sales even though he had been with his restaurant supply company for fifteen years. He took his current sales job in Caracas, leaving his job in Barquisemeto, because he thought it was a step up in the company; a step toward management. Of course, what everyone in the Caracas office knew was that these were the accounts of restaurants that were notoriously hard to deal with, were in the worst of neighborhoods, or placed orders that were barely worth the time of the account representative. Carlos still did not see this, even after four years flying back and forth between Barquisemeto and Caracas. He held out hope that with every sale he made he was one step closer to meeting every goal on his long-term lists.

Yes, Carlos was a stereotype. What was sad was that deep down he knew it. He knew he did not fit socially, at work. He knew he did not fit in his life, but he did not know how to leave it. He did not know how to change the way he looked, he did not know how to engage in proper small talk, and every joke he attempted stepped over some line of poor taste. He knew all this, but was helpless against himself. It was almost like a compulsion, his mind running on autopilot during a nosedive. And at other times it was like an out-of-body experience he could see himself doing or saying something, he could see the cringes or the laughs of those around him, but he could not make it stop. Carlos just continued on and on.

This is how it was for the two weeks I knew Carlos. On that Monday, exactly two weeks after the flight from Barquisemeto to Caracas, on December 11, 2006, Carlos was visiting a restaurant that was past due in payment for an order of napkins, straws and the plastic wrapped packs of utensils. Leaving the restaurant without money, but with a stern talking to by the owner to never come down here again, Carlos was grabbed from behind and dragged into the alley where he was stabbed three times in the back and gut by a busboy at the restaurant he had just left. The busboy took his wallet, his watch and a gold-plated cross he wore around his neck, and then went in the back door of the restaurant, returning to work. Carlos died within the hour, but was unconscious from the moment he fell to the ground. No thoughts crossed his mind in that hour. No goals. No lists made. And then I did not see Carlos any more.

The brackets have been released. If I am not mistaken, I got all 65 teams correct (Georgia won, which bumbed out Dayton). Take that ESPN!

I am a big sports fan. My love of literature and film aside; my beard and unkempt hair aside; my everything else that does not a sports fan stereotype make aside. I love sports. I watch even more sports than shows about buying, selling and fixing houses. Even more than all those ‘Top’-type shows. I have been a life-long (disgruntled) Philly fan. I had just turned four the last time any of my teams won anything. But I persist. I have adopted the Cincinnati teams, only fearing those rare occasions when a Philly team plays a Cincinnati team (it would seem only too fitting that if a Philly team were to win a championship they would have to beat a Cincinnati team to get there or in the actual championship game).

Having proclaimed my love of sports, here is what I hate…ESPN. It used to be great. They showed highlights; lots of them. They talked about actual sports, instead of pretending that these failed or former jocks know anything about the penal code. And they used to show sports. Now, with the exception of certain times of the year–like right now, actual sporting events have gone the way of the music video (ok, it is not quite that bad). If you are lucky you get two hours a day out of 24 hours of original programming (you can extrapolate this 1 to 12 ratio out over all of the ESPN channels if you’d like) that are pure, unadulterated sports–well, depending on who is calling the game.

Before going too far I should add that I do not hate all of ESPN. There are a handful of personalities who are not dreadful, one that is good (Bill Simmons) and  two that are great–Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. These guys understand the power of, and the place for, sports; perspective lost on most of the heads on the family of channels. I watch, listen or read them in all of their multimedia forms.

My ire today is toward those bloody bracketologists (this is not a real word). I am sure they are nice people, but their existence is crazy to me, and is symptomatic of what is wrong with ESPN overall. Too much prognostication, not enough…what is the right word…sports.

So here is my response to these people and to ESPN who spends so much time guessing and guessing and guessing. I spent an hour this morning looking at all the teams who might get in or are in the tourney and have made my list of 65–this from a guy who so far on his blog has reviewed food (two more restaurants coming soon), movies, written an essay about Ohio politics and tried to start a novel–and if I even come close to doing as well as all those at ESPN, they should all be fired and ESPN should go back to just showing games and highlights. A guy can dream.

The List:

American

Arizona

Arkansas

Austin Peay

Baylor

Belmont

Boise State

Butler

BYU

Cal State Fullerton

Clemson

Coppin State

Cornell

Davidson

Dayton

Drake

Duke

George Mason

Georgetown

Gonzaga

Indiana

Kansas

Kansas State

Kent State

Kentucky

Louisville

Marquette

Memphis

Miami

Michigan State

Mississippi State

Mississippi Valley State

Mount St. Mary’s

Notre Dame

Oklahoma

Oral Roberts

Oregon

Pittsburgh

Portland State

Purdue

San Diego

Siena

South Alabama

Southland Team

St. Joseph

St. Mary’s

Stanford

Temple

Tennessee

Texas

Texas A&M

UCLA

Uconn

UMBC

UNC

UNLV

USC

Vanderbilt

Villanova

Washington State

West Virginia

Western Kentucky

Winthrop

Wisconsin

Xavier

 

 Note: If Illinois and Georgia win today, then Dayton and Villanova are out, with Dayton being the first out. These two teams will probably not make the tourney anyway, but they should as they have the best resumes amongst many mediocre teams. Plus, I need to give some love to my A10 and Big East-loving friends.

The plane crashed rather matter of factly. No great build up or suspense. No time to pray to God or tell someone you loved them. No crosses kissed, signs made, hands squeezed or knowing glances exchanged. The takeoff was fine; it was very smooth actually. There was no sudden lose in pressure or altitude, no engine failed and there was no human error. When they collected the mangled black box, no cries for help were heard, no concerned voices from the pilots. Indeed, all that could be heard were the very regular numbers and coordinates and checks and whatever else pilots say as a plane takes off.

There was nothing more to it, though everyone wanted there to be more. They wanted to understand something that made no sense. But there was nothing to make sense of. The plane simply took off, flew for a bit and then crashed into the side of a mountain. Everyone on board was simply alive and then they were dead.

I could have easily grabbed a bag of pretzels from where I was sitting. Maybe even have grabbed one of those half-sized sodas, made to look even more odd and misshapen because of the metric system. I sat in a single seat opposite the flight attendant station on a 55-seat plane. Eighteen rows of one seat to the left of the aisle and two to the right, and then me. It was strange, I admit, that I had this seat as there were only 18 passengers, though I doubt as many of my remaining friends and family members and the friends and family members of the others would claim, that it was divine intervention.

18 passengers, two pilots and two flight attendants. It was the early flight, 7:05 am, which is why it was so empty. The 8:05 am flight was always a full ride as many workers made the 45 minute commute from Barquisimeto to Caracas for their jobs in some business or another or in the government. It was the train from Fairfax to DC. If this flight had been a train derailment on that run, it would have been more tragic and received more media coverage. The more people who are negatively effected by something, the more tragic that something becomes. If I am being completely honest, the only reason it was more than a thirty second story on the six o’clock news here in the U.S. was because of us Americans on board. All the news outlets got a good week and a half out of that little, unexplainable crash and then it lingered on in our collective consciousness for decades to come for obvious reasons. It certainly didn’t help matters that the media explained the unexplainable crash anyway, chalking it up to the unsafe nature of third-world travel at first and then speculating that the crash was a terrorist attack, possibly orchestrated by Chavez, himself. Some historians now even go so far as to inversely analogize that senseless plane crash to John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

I was in Venezuela over the long Thanksgiving weekend, flying down on Wednesday and Thursday and flying back on Sunday and Monday. Cincinnati to Miami to Caracas to Barquesimeto and back and back and back. You still can’t fly directly to anywhere out of Cincinnati all these many years later.

I was down there for my childhood friend’s wedding. It was really the second wedding. Same girl; one marriage; second wedding. One for his people up here in the U.S. and one for her people down there in Venezuela, but those who knew both or were particularly close to one went to both weddings. The wedding was as outrageous as one could hope. A remarkable spread, and enough liquor for all involved to forget. After some parading around in masks there was a dancing competition I still wish I had had at my own wedding. I went to both because my friend had been my friend for almost ever, and because I was the only one of his friends who was there to see him fall in love. That is a big thing. You carry those people with you forever; those who were there to see you at your happiest, at your best, at your most true and revealed self.

We grew up together as part of a group of six friends, not in Cincinnati, where I lived at the time of the flight, but in Newark, Delaware where all six of us spent the first eighteen years of our lives. I then left and the rest stayed. Joseph, my marrying friend, would be the only other one to leave, moving with me on a whim when we put the names of a bunch of cities in a hat and pulled out Madison, Wisconsin. This, of course, is where he met the girl he would marry in Barquesmeto a day before the plane flew into the side of a mountain. After meeting her, courting her, and engaging her, he took her back to Delaware. I left Madison a little before they did; walked a couple thousand wooded miles of the Appalachian Trail, found love on the AT, walked with her, laid done with her in fields and high plateaus, and then went to Cincinnati with her. We didn’t have much money so she did not come to Venezuela with me.

When planes take off I like to look out the window and watch things get smaller. My wife, she would always close her eyes and hold my hand; tighter with every shift and lurch. I followed my routine on that flight, only without my wife’s hand. The ground and the town became small quickly and the sky was turning a lighter blue. Then green crept into my view in a way that seemed out of place. I turned to look out the windows on the other side of the aisle. I saw brown and green and then felt the mountain. The plane split open right at the line of the wing and the cabin, hitting with such force that what was back went forward. This included me. I don’t know how my seat was ripped free. No one else’s did. But the metal base ripped free and clean and the angle the plane hit the mountain shot me out head first through the gaping hole in the side of the plane. I kept slowly flipping, while racing forward. By the time I hit the ground I was perfectly angled for landing with my seat back parallel and then touching the dirt of a narrow hiking trail surrounded on either side by massive trees and boulders. I flew perhaps fifty yards and skidded another fifty, finally coming to a stop only seconds after looking out at a light blue sky and thinking about those pretzels and those funny little cans. I wish I could explain it better, but that was all that happened.

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