Saturday, July 31, 2010

Come & Get us Kevin Bacon!!

Day Three

When I first started talking to my family about coming up for a visit, my aunt suggested we "go down to Delaware". My only thought was "why"? What the heck were we going to do in Delaware? Antique shopping? I asked my Mom and she just started laughing at me. As usual, I had misheard my aunt. She said, "float down the Delaware", a reference to the river you can go canoeing or rafting down. Fun!

The trip from the top of the mountain to the river should have taken about 20 minutes. However, an hour later we were totally lost and trapped on the windiest road in the history of roads. I thought for sure we would be flung into space and rolling down the mountain. See, we are all geniuses. No one had been to this particular rafting company in 3 years but we all assumed we knew where it was and what to do. After stopping at a gas station (manned by a really weird and rude woman) we turned around, passed the road curves of doom, and found our drop site- back in town!

Everything worked out all right and we were soon shuttled back up the mountain by the loveliest guy (hello tattoos) and into our rafts. The obvious joke went going down river is to hum banjo music and tell anyone you're with that they "sure have a pretty mouth". Instead, we paid homage to a little film called "The River Wild" starring Meryl Streep, David Stratharin, and Mr Kevin Bacon.

"Come get us Kevin Bacon!!"
"Kevin Bacon!"
"Put Meryl down and come get us Kevin Bacon!"

I was a bit disappointed by the Delaware. It was VERY slow and there not that many rapids. Every time we saw one though we got very excited and paddled our little hearts out. It was a lot more work than I anticipated! Finally, after 5 hours, we were done. I did not have a water proof camera, but will try to get the pics from the raft and post some later. Now, there was only one thing on my mind: Polar Bear.
After our disappointment at the Dairy Bar, I really needed Polar Bear to be the same. They are the place for Hershey's ice cream and amazing shakes.

Once back up the mountain, I felt like I was still in motion. "I'm on a boat!" Maybe I had sunstroke, maybe this is what happens when you float the river. What I do know is the tops of my knees got sunburned (thanks shorts) and now they look bruised and odd.

We ended our day in what is and has become the traditional way: games and hats. I'm sad to be leaving tomorrow but so excited about New York, seeing my friends, and exploring the boroughs!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Holiday: Day Two

I don't know if there is anything more interesting and likely to be hilarious, as shopping in a foreign grocery store. No, I don't mean an ethnic or specialty food store (though we'll get to those), I mean any store that is not your own. You have no idea where anything is and must wander aimlessly looking at new products and brands you've never heard of. In the case of shopping in the Poconos, everything amazes me.
We stopped by Grand Union yesterday, but the place makes me a bit sad. Today, it was Price Chopper to the rescue! Every time I go, it seems to take on the appearance of a metropolitan grocery more and more. I mean, they had kimchi for gods sake! We also stopped at the dreaded Walmart (i.e. the devil) for an aux cable so we could finally listen to music in the car. Thank goodness!

For lunch, we went up the road to the Windy Dog to satisfy my sister's boyfriend's craving for deli sandwiches. The owner was very nice and accomodating with our veggie sandwiches which was overflowing with lettuce, onion, pickles, tomato, mushroom (on hers), and garlic mayonaise (on mine, made in house). It was too much to eat!

Back at the house, we're supposed to get ready for the reunion that Saturday. My attempt to do something useful (clean the kitchen) is met with a resounding "No!" Oh well, at least I tried. Now I can go back to reading my book and enjoying the cooling weather.

[side note: I judged my vacation by how far I read into Stephen King's newest book "Under the Dome". At over 1000 pages, it was seriously heavy so I knew I would read some of it- I had to after lugging it around! I think I made it about 1/4 of the way, so all in all, a successful vacation!]

Here's where it gets hilarious, especially to those of us in the South and Midwest: There was a tornado warning. Seriously. Even better, was the weatherman who looked like he just came off the links and couldn't be bothered to change out of his gold costume. He wore black and white large checked hounds tooth pants with a white polo. He clearly has no idea what he was talking about as he could not tear his eyes away from the STACK of papers in his hands. Probably reports and findings. Poor thing, I don't even think he knew where he was or what part of the world he was reporting on! He gave us the warning at 2:58 PM and it expired at 3. Great.

The entire time, I sit in my chair. The phone rings (it's the calling circle always found in small towns and private lanes) asking if we're watching the weather. "What should we do?" "Nothing," I replied. There was no way a tornado was coming anywhere near us. If there is one thing you know after a lifetime in Texas, it's when to get worried about the weather.

"It's going to rain for 6 minutes, then the sun will come out in 15-20," I predicted. And, wouldn't you know it I was right!

After that everyone went swimming which is totally crazy, not because of the weather but because it was maybe 80 outside. Way too cold!

My sister and I contribute to the festivities by making dinner. This was partially selfish on our parts as it's hard to eat vegetarian when your Gram tries to force ham salad on you, but also as a nice gesture. We debated long and hard and decided on enchilada's. They are a sure fire hit and no one will miss the meat! I made triple cheese enchilada's with roast onion and a red tomato sauce. My sister made roast vegetables (squash and zucchini) with a sour cream sauce. There was also Spanish rice, guacamole, vegetarian refried beans, and salad. In all the hullabaloo, I forgot to take any pictures of our delicious meal. Believe me though, all plates were cleared and 2nds and 3rds ordered. I never felt so good in a long time.

After dinner, as is tradition, we played Trivial Pursuit. My Gram loves auctions and usually comes back from one with some kind of crazy hat. She's built up a real collection! Whenever a game is on the table, you must wear a silly hat. Don't like you luck in the game? Change your hat!

Again, I'm up late reading and talking but I just can't justify going to be early on vacation. Heck, I can't justify it normally! Tomorrow, we're floating the Delaware (or how I originally heard it "going to Delaware").

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holiday! Celebrate!

Day One

From now on, I am only flying Continental. They feed you! Sure there is no choice as to what you get (so us poor veggies have to eat around the middle, so to speak), but still. It is awesome.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time to dig up some breakfast and get a caffeine fix. I haven't been drinking a lot of caffeine recently but I really needed it today. I thought I was being picked up for the airport around 815-830, so imagine my surprise when I am awoken at 7:15 by my sister telling me they are on their way. I think I hung up on her.

The flight was comfortable without any turbulence or other things that might make me grip my seat. We landed on time, picked up the car (with the shuttle driver on crack! He took all turns at about 45 MPH), and then received the call that my sister's boyfriend had landed an hour early. Huzzah!! He is majorly obsessed with diners and deli's claiming that there are no good ones in San Diego. I have never been there but take his word for it. He may also be subject to hyperbole (as am I) so who knows. Urban Spoon sent us in the right direction. We ended up at the Middleleaf Diner in Middleleaf, New Jersey. The town was quaint and picturesque, exactly what you want from any small town in the Northeast. I had the eggs spinach Benedict, he had the regular Benedict, and my sister had challah French toast. Everything was very good!

The drive took longer than I remember it from Newark to the Poconos, but we also stopped to eat (not just drive through at the last McDonald's before the end of the world) and also picked up some supplies that were missing at the house. The funny thing is, I don't think we ate half of them. Hopefully somebody did. The grocery store in the Poconos is Grand Union. I love this place. It's about half the size of your grocery but full of oddly "big-city" things, like fancy cheese spreads and lettuces.

There was only one thing on my mind though- Dairy Bar. Since I was a child, we have visited the Dairy Bar for some of the best soft serve in the history of the world (no exaggeration). A couple years ago they added this machine that made any flavor soft serve you want- total genius. When we walked up to the window, I knew something was wrong immediately. The faded signs were gone and the poorly painted white brick exterior had been done up in pastel polka dots. On none of the signs were my beloved egg creams (I only drink them once a year and they make me complete). NEW OWNERS! Ugh! Is there anything worse? This guy took the greatest dive ice cream place, always doing brisk business, and turned it into a slick city operation. Who the heck in the middle of nowhere wants homemade gelato? I can get that here! I want delicious, creamy yet light, soft serve. He had changed that recipe too. When I commented on the changes and got him talking, I mentioned how much I loved this place growing up.

"Oh, that was a dump! It was awful!"

Sir, you have lost a loyal customer. I hope someone kicks your puppy, or better yet, says something degrading about Sesame Street to you. Ass!

Once up the mountain, things got better. My aunt made her famous Naked Ladies (or Blue Meanies depending on who you ask) and many people, I won't name names- wink wink, knudge knudge- were off the wall after two of them. We had great conversation all night, especially with my Uncle; who as the youngest of the "adults" is more like the "kids" every day. We are night owls, though he is also a morning person; an oxymoron I will never understand. Finally, at about 1 AM I wander upstairs to sleep. I have the newly christened (by me) master suite: the girls dorm (with 3 twin beds) and the sun porch, my favorite room (with 2 twins). Soon I am spread out amongst my space and dead to the world. Did I mention it was a crispy 65 at night? Lovely.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dream Is But A Dream: Inception

***** 5 Stars

On immediately exiting the theatre, I sent the following text:

"Inception is one of the greatest films of all time"

Now, this may be an oversight, but in reality I think it is just another piece of evidence that Christopher Nolan is the new Hitchcock. A man well poised to become the face and name of this generation of film making. Even his lesser works (I'm looking at you "Insomnia") offer something more than the usual Hollywood blockbuster. That he was able to resurrect the Batman franchise with a nod most notably to Tim Burton's original vision as well as the direction the comic has taken under the Frank Miller titles, is nothing short of genius. Basically, if I ever met Mr. Nolan on the street, I would slap him in the face and yell, "Fuck you Christopher Nolan! You've mind fucked me for the last time!" However, unlike when I do the same thing to M. Night Shymalan, I won't actually mean it. Nolan can do anything he wants to my mind and I will happily pay for it.

It's hard to talk about "Inception" without giving anything away. I started hearing about this movie over a year ago, got super excite, watched the first teaser trailer, then instituted a media blackout in the hopes I would not spoil the movie. It worked, but I understand that may not be everyone's cup of tea. With that in mind, if you would like to go into this movie fresh faced and scrubbed clean of any incriminating information, please skip the next paragraph. If you are one of the many who was frustrated by the lack of information given on the plot, keep reading.

"Inception" refers to the act of planting a piece of information or an idea deep into a person's subconscious. The government has developed a formula that allows people to dream share and step into one another's subconscious. This technology has been misappropriated by thieves hoping to gain access to your inner most secrets and thoughts. Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of misfits into the mind of Cillian Murphy, hoping not to steal company secrets, but instead to perform inception and plant the seed of knowledge that will eventually blossom into an idea the mark will assume he had all along. DiCaprio is blackmailed into the employ of Ken Watanabe (I love him. Where has he been?) along with his right-hand man, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (One of the most talented actors of this generation). He is my secret, well not so much anymore, movie crush). Rounding out the gang is: a forger who can mimic and impersonate the dreamers projections (Tom Hardy), a chemist who creates the cocktail they use to enter the mind (Dileep Rao), and an architect who designs the dreams (Ellen Page). The dream becomes the dream becomes the dream and we are left wondering, along with the characters, what is real and what is fantasy?
The film has a lot of things going for it. It is beautifully shot, the FX blend seamlessly (check out the scene in Paris with DiCaprio and Page), the scoring pulls you further into the film instead of trying to overtake your concentration, and it is wonderfully written. I laughed, I cringed, my hands were held up below my chin on more than one occasion. I must have whispered, "That is so cool" at least three times. Many have made Page's narration of events into a negative, but we must realize this always happens in a heist film. Sometimes it's at the end like a "who-done-it?" (see: Scooby Doo) or "how'd-he-do-it?" (see: any Bond Movie), but it happens in the middle, and sometimes it happens throughout (see: any Guy Richie film). Page is the audience; her inexperience lends itself beautifully to our own. I don't think he ever over explained things. There were certainly times when he chose to show you rather than tell you, and I think that is the beauty of the filmmaker- to vary his own style within the film.

There are a lot of dream truths in the film as well, as I call them. Have you ever tried to over take your dream and re-shape it? You wake up right? Have you ever had that sense you were falling only to wake up right before you hit bottom? Of course you have. The reality element to the dream is purposeful when you are trying to get the mark to not know he is dreaming. Otherwise, the dream collapses.

The acting in the film is really good, with DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt, Watanabe, and Marion Cotillard (playing DiCaprio's wife Mal and saboteur) leading the pack. DiCaprio plays a similar character in "Shutter Island", not so much in the architecture as the tone. I cannot for the life of me understand why every guy I know hates him. I have my ideas (jealousy, inadequacy, latent homosexuality) but nothing concrete. For me, the actor before us shows the history of this life ("Growing Pains", "What's Eating Gilbert Grape") while forever reminding us that he is a grown man, an adult, and actor ("Aviator", "The Departed"). His portrait of the tortured artist is understated, raw only when it needs to be, and in control (the major departure from what he did in "Shutter Island"). I cannot say enough things about Gordon-Levitt except to say I hope he continues to make the same interesting, bold, and challenging choices that he has in the past 5 years. I heart him. Watanabe gives good face, as I like to say. Perhaps it is because he got his start in Japanese television, but the man can just stare and you think he's looking through the screen and at you. He is understated, calm, and perfect. I first saw Cotillard in 2003s "Love Me If You Dare/Jeux d'Enfants", a kind of cat and mouse game between two long time friends, though she has been very active in her native France. She then rose to international attention with her amazing turn as Edith Piaf in "Ma Vie en Rose" (seriously, Netflix it). Her Mal is one of the most well drawn characters in the film- at times manic, repressed, funny, scorned, bitter, loved. No one can cry as beautifully or as on queue as Cotillard.

[side note: What's up Pete Postlethwaite!!]

Leaving the theatre, I was quiet and pensive. "I liked it." "I liked it a lot" "It may be the best movie ever" "Say something!" (This last part to word of the day Jennie). I found myself wanting to talk about it but being unable; the ideas where too big or too close to my own personal truth. It's a movie that is staying with me and I cannot wait to see it again, maybe in a couple weeks, and really watch it again as if for the first time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What's up Netflix!

And, I finally go to the movies!

The Last Airbender- 2 stars- Wow, where to start... Based on the hit Nickelodeon animated show, it tells the story of Aang- the last Airbender. It should be noted that people on this world can control the elements: earth, water, fire, air. Every generation the Avatar is born, one who can control all the elements and keep the peace. 100 years before, the Avatar went missing. Now, he's returned still a boy and must immediately bring the warring nations back together. Sounds interesting, right?

This was one of the most annoying, boring, and insulting movies I have ever sat through. First, the writing is atrocious. If we have learned anything from the Harry Potter phenomenon, it's that children don't need to be spoken down to. The characters in this film must have repeated everything they said an average of three times. First there was the pointless voice over, then the actors would say the exact same thing the voice over did, then say it again 5 minutes later. This lead to me wanted to stab my ears with a spork. Second, I couldn't tell if the acting was stiff and forced or if they were making fun of Manga and classic Japanese Sci-fi. I kept expecting their mouths to move and the audio track not to line up. Jackson Rathbone is certainly easy on the eyes, but coming from the "Twilight" school of acting hasn't done him any favors. He has one face and one emotion. The young actors aren't any better, but we can forgive them their age... a bit. Finally, this is movie 1 of a projected 3 movies. All I have to say is, "No!" Has Hollywood not learned anything from The Golden Compass? I could have told all three "books" in one complete and satisfying movie in about 2.5 hours. Instead, we get 2 hours of nothing really happening and repetitive bull.

I will say, I saw it in 3D and the transfer was pretty good. The effects were nice and the creatures (especially Aang's flying/swimming Sendak-esque beaver monster was amazing).
Predators- 3 stars- I couldn't contain my excitement about seeing this movie. It has everything I love: monsters, big guns, Adrien Brody, and Robert Rodriguez (producing). Now, after seeing this movie, I'm left scratching my head. I can't decide if I liked it or not. The acting is great. Anyone who was nervous about Brody as a mercenary will get over that quickly. He looks and acts great. Alice Braga is wonderful as another killer dropped on a mysterious game preserve where humans are the game. Fans of the original "Predator" (myself included) will enjoy the hunt and progress of the film, yet miss the corny one-liners we all love. John McTiernan's ("Die Hard", "Last Action Hero", "The 13th Warrior") original seemed to keep the pace and adrenaline up once the fighting occurred. Here, in Nimrod Antal's version we get rest breaks and time to collect ourselves. Who wants that in an action/horror flick? Antal is a talented upstart with one of my favorite films under his belt ('04s "Kontrol") and is adept at building suspense ("Vacancy"). For whatever reason it feels it be too little too late in this film. Greg Nicotero is a genius (I think I've mentioned that before) and the creatures and effects look great. I loved the infra-red vision of the Predators and its direct link to the previous films. So, what stopped me from giving this the 4 stars I so wanted to bestow? Pacing and story. There's a twist at the end that seems forced and unnecessary (though it does answer the question, "What is he doing here?"). The frequent pauses between action, fighting, running, and gore brought me out of the story every time. I'm not saying they should run for 90 straight minutes, but the tension got lost in the shuffle every time. It didn't help that I was in the most respectful theatre in the world. No one gasped, no one laughed, no one yelled at the screen. What's the point of seeing a horror flick in the theatre if no one else is laughing or yelling out, "Don't go in there girl!" I think that says it all. Rent it and go all MST3K in the privacy of your own home.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men- 3 stars- Based on the David Foster Wallace book and adapted and directed by "The Office" star John Krasinski, "Brief Interviews" is an almost picture. I've never read the source material, but now I want to. Told out of chronological order, it follows a grad student (Julianne Nicholson- whom I love but is TV poison) as she interviews and is interviewed to by men of all walks of life. The question is women: how do they feel, how do they respond to, how they treat them. The interviews are the most interesting aspect of the film, while her personal life (and possible source for her questions) flits in and out. She's followed by two Shakespearean muses who themselves give monologues on women and their interpretation of them, which she cannot hear. Is that the point? That women cannot hear what's right next to them? That it is only in a clinical and sterile setting that we can process men? The question is never answered. I fell asleep a bit during this movie so I subtracted one star- I was tired or it would have been more. The acting is interesting and I would love to see this as a stage play (which is where Krasinski first witnessed it, as an actor in school), but I feel it lacks a bit of something in the transition to film. Recommended for those who miss mid-90s gab fest indies.

Uncertainty- 4 stars- In my mind, Joseph Gordon-Levitt can do no wrong. He is my secret Hollywood boyfriend made all the more appealing for living in New York. Uncertainty is about the choices we make every day. A young couple stands on the Brooklyn Bridge debating how to spend their day. Finally, they decide to flip a coin: heads Manhattan, tales Brooklyn. When the coin lands each speeds off in the opposite direction. Each borough is identified by colour- Manhattan is yellow, Brooklyn green. This colour scheme plays throughout each vignette. In Manhattan, the couple unknowingly becomes involved in a murder and blackmail scheme. In Brooklyn, they spend the day with the girl's parents. Each is set with its own problems, some just more obvious than others. The girl, played by Lynn Collins ("X-Men: Wolverine") takes some warming up. On the bridge in the beginning she is stiff and awkward in her acting. It's made more obvious as she is acting across of Gordon-Levitt who is seamless in his reality, whether playing Cobra Commander (the only good thing in that movie) or a hopeless romantic in "(500) Days of Summer", he is flawless. Therefore, an actor must really up their game to play opposite. In scenes where he is not present, Collins opens up a bit more; but is still the weak link in the film. I really liked this movie and it reminded me of what independent cinema used to be. I'm curious to see what directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee ("The Deep End", "Bee Season") come up with next. Their repertoire is already so diverse. Great for fans of indie, romance, and capers.

Valentine's Day- 3 stars- This is certainly a flawed movie, but what were you expecting? Oscar? I expected to hate this movie, the reviews were horrible and I'm always weary of such large ensemble pieces. Outside of a Robert Altman film they don't always go so well. On the whole though, I had a good time with my bottle of wine and a fit of girlish giggles. Each character interacts in some way, shape, or form with each other over the course of February 14th. Some are in love, some jaded, some not sure what love even is or if they want it. The strongest characters for me was Jennifer Gardner (in love and naïve), Jessica Biel (career gal with no time or patience for love), Anne Hathaway (sex-phone operator in her spare time), and Bradley Cooper (lonely airplane passenger chatting up Julia Roberts). Surprisingly good in this as well was Ashton Kutcher. I completely forget he's an actor and not just Mr. Demi Moore. The script played well into his strengths without regressing into slapstick. Certainly a film only for ladies who want to feel "better" about themselves, and are not worried about the gross stereotypical fashion in which both we, as well as men, are displayed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Gone Fishin'

Man, this has this been one hell storm of a week! Whoever said, "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" should be kicked in the shin hard. I cannot wait for tomorrow to come so I can sleep in, get drunk, and probably get rained on. As long as there are sparklers I don't care what happens! In preparation for what I hope to be happier times (and to help block the realization that there is no such thing for at least two weeks), I have finally uploaded the pictures from my first ever fishing trip. Enjoy!

Every year, a bunch of my friends from the neighborhood bar get together and go fishing for a week on Lake Texoma. I had never been invited before (as I am a fairly new member to the "inner circle" of this bar's life) and was excited to go, even when I found out I could only go for 24 hours. Bummer! As was the story for June, I had double booked myself so I wasn't able to really get going until around 930. Sometime after 1130, I finally found the camp site and the cabin; loaded down with fresh ice from the store. I like arriving at parties like this a bit late. Everyone is drunk and hilarious and I'm not expected to remember any names. The rest of what happened that night remains a mystery.

The next morning found us scarfing down eggs and getting ready to fish. I have never fished (for real) before and had to drive to the Tackle Box (I know! How cliche!) to get my license. I didn't even want to fish, but to get on the boat it was just simpler to have my license in case we got stopped by the game warden (a mythical beast I never saw). No problem! For $12 I can now fish whenever I want to...through the end of the year...and only on this one lake. Oh well.

The best thing about the trip, and I think this may be telling, was the number of sunscreen bottles being passed around with an SPF higher than 30. Most were 50 or 80. My kind of people! The M.O. was to apply sunscreen or OFF! bug spray anytime you walked by a bottle. By the time we got on the boat, I must have had 8 or 9 layers on! For once, I was not the weird girl reapplying her sunscreen like a good little ghosty.

The fish were not biting on our boat which was only annoying because they were swarming to our friends boat that was out with us. Every 5 minutes we would hear a cheer from the other boat and our spirits would dip. Finally, we caught a few. I have no idea what kind of fish this is, sorry. I caught 1 1/2 fish. The first liberated himself because I had no idea what to do when he latched on and the 2nd thrown back as too small. This worked perfectly for me as I would have liberated them myself if I could. Instead, I taught them a valuable lesson about free food (plus, they were cannibals! Our bait was even smaller fish). I felt a kindred connection to my friends girlfriend who was also on the boat and in our cabin. She was the only other vegetarian there and we immediately high-fived upon hearing the news. I hope she comes back to town.

In the end, it was a much needed relaxing day. I hope I can go again next year, but this time I'm taking two days off work. The lake is close (about 1.5 hours each way), but that's a lot of driving for less than a day of camping. All the trip really did was make me even more anxious for my big holiday later this month. I cannot wait to get away!