Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Phoenix + Morimoto = Awesomeness Squared

Last week was my husband's birthday, and a few months ago I bought tickets to see Phoenix. What's funny is that I bought them more for me than for him, but I figured we could make a day out of it as consolation for dragging him along. I suggested that he pick a great restaurant, but he still hadn't made up his mind at the beginning of last week. After a few days of haranguing, he finally settled on Morimoto.

While I was initially super excited about Phoenix, I eventually became ecstatic about Morimoto. Now, let me tell you about the best meal of my life.

The restaurant itself is pretty small. The walls are decorated with cool wave shapes and there is a definite feel of simplicity throughout. We sat at the sushi bar, but we noticed that the tables were decorated elegantly...and strangely. The highlight was watching the waiters prep for the upcoming night by giving all of the lamps a good wipe down. After getting over the hilariousness of the scene, we waited for a few minutes and were taken to our seats at the sushi bar. It was a tight squeeze, but luckily we were the only ones sitting there for quite a while.

Until Saturday, I had never tried sushi. I had always wanted to, but living in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I figured it would only lead to food poisoning and a lawsuit. Since we were going to be at an Iron Chef's restaurant, I figured it was safe, so I tried the rainbow snapper. It was seriously like butter over rice. Delicious.

My husband and I had the 10 Hour Pork Kakuni for an appetizer. A piece of pork belly is cooked for ten hours and then served over some rice porridge. It was a little hard for me to get used to the gelatinous texture of the pork belly, but the taste helped me get over the texture issue pretty quickly. Imagine bacon cooked slowly so that the fat melts instead of getting crisp. So tasty.

As an entree, I had the arctic char over gingered mushrooms and swiss chard. It was cooked medium and absolutely fell apart, and the combination of flavors was incredible. My husband had duck three ways, and after sampling a piece of the duck breast, I can understand why he said he'll never be able to eat it anywhere else again. It was juicy and delicious. The duck egg over fried rice was also excellent.

For dessert, I had the yuzu meringue tart, which was absolutely to die for. It was fruity, light and delicious. My husband had the matras tres leches cake, which he enjoyed very much. I also had a glass of warm sake that I loved, loved, loved. To make a long story short, we both loved it and would love to go back again. Unfortunately my husband is allergic to fish, so the Omakase (8 course chef's special menu) will be out for him, and I'm not sure I would want to try it while he sat there and watched me eat.

After stuffing ourselves, we headed over to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby. What a stark contrast to Morimoto. On the way to the theater we stopped in a little movie complex to use the restroom. When I went into the ladies room, there was a bottle of malt liquor on the back of one of the toilets, and in the next doorless stall, the toilet paper was hanging from the wall by electrical tape. I fixed my hair and got the hell out of there.

We had pretty good seats, as we were only eleven rows back. I was pretty excited once we got inside and saw how close we were to the stage. The theater kind of reminded me of the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre before it was refurbished. The ceiling was dotted with lights in the shapes of constellations. I really liked that.

The first band that played was Wavves. They were kind of a mixture of college punk and indie pop. While I am a fan of the original, old school punk sound, I'm not so much a fan of the more modern iterations. The group is also an interesting mix of a James Hetfield-like dude on guitar, an emo kid on bass and a preppy college kid on drums. Their sound was all right, but they had a lot of energy and while they weren't playing to a huge crowd, they brought all that they had. The drums were miked up very loudly, and by the time they were done my ears were bleeding. Did I love them? No. But I didn't mind them.

Jenny and Johnny were next. I kept looking at Jenny and wondering who she was, and it was only later when I realized it was Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley. Their first song, "Committed," was pretty good, but then they played quite a few very 50s beach rock feeling songs. The East Coast crowd wasn't feeling it so much. Then, they played "Slavedriver," which I really enjoyed, and the finished out their set with "Next Messiah," which they rocked all over the place. Their sound with the electric acoustic was amazing, and if they did more crunchy sounding stuff, I'd be totally on board with their sound.

Then came Phoenix. They opened with "Lizstomania," and it was awesome. Their sound live was much heavier and rockish than on their albums, which wasn't what I expected. They played an amazing version of "Fences," my favorite song from the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album. Rocker versions of "Girlfriend," "Armistice" and "If I Ever Feel Better" were standouts. After a quick intermission, Thomas Mars, the lead singer, came out into the audience and sang "Countdown" accompanied by an acoustic guitar. He also sang a pretty song in French. After going back to the stage, they rounded out the show with a raucous version of "1901," which included another trip into the crowd for Thomas and ended with many members of the audience going up on stage. Pretty cool.

Thomas sounds awesome live, pretty much exactly like he does on their albums. He has a great voice. Their showmanship was excellent, and my only complaint would have to be the light show, which at times was retina burning and nearly seizure inducing. Other than that, they were excellent. I wanted them to play so much more, including my favorite song of theirs, "Everything is Everything." I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to hear it, but I really can't complain.

Needless to say, it was a great night, and my husband actually enjoyed Phoenix live, which made it even better.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network

Ok. I have to admit I was really skeptical about The Social Network despite the across the board good reviews. I was initially turned off by super melodramatic trailer. While I usually take a lot of joy out of hearing choirs of children singing, hearing their rendition of "Creep" by Radiohead almost made me boycott the movie all together. Well, that and the fact that I don't really care about Mark Zuckerberg or what he supposedly did.

I am truly a cinephile, so when my husband said that he wanted to see it, I decided that I should just suck it up and go. From the very first scene I was hooked. A scene of snappy dialouge between Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) really sets the pace for the rest of the film, and it also accomplishes incredible character revelation. It's kind of hard to think of Mark as anything other than a totally self-absorbed obtuse jerk after the way he talks to his girlfriend.

The script is practically flawless. If Aaron Sorkin isn't nominated for an Oscar, I'll be surprised. He expertly crafts a story weaving together the intricate details with the intimacies of Mark and Eduardo Saverin's (Andrew Garfield) friendship. Both Eisenberg and Garfield are incredible on screen. Eisenberg plays the role of Mark as someone so smart he's nearly autistic, and Garfield plays the role of Eduardo as an emotional, thoughtful guy who just wants to help his friend out with his idea. They are polar opposites and if they are portrayed as they are in real life, well it's easy to see how their friendship could have suffered. I think it would have suffered at some point anyway, with or without the creation of Facebook.

The movie moves at a feverish pace, with scenes going back and forth between the events leading up to the creation of Facebook as well as the depositions of Mark, Eduardo, the Winklevoss twins, Carmeron and Tyler (Armie Hammer, who is insanely handsome, by the way) and various others involved in the lawsuit against Mark. It's during the depositions when we see who Mark truly is; he has himself convinced that he has done nothing wrong, and his arrogance and disdain for anyone in his way is apparent.

The question is, "When are you going to make another record, JT?"

We even get a great performance from Justin Timberlake in the role of Sean Parker, also known as the guy who founded Napster. It's obvious to see how Mark would be attracted to Sean. It was almost like a Fight Clubesque relationship - Sean was everything that Mark wasn't, and Sean reinforced how Mark felt about Facebook and what it should and shouldn't do for its users. We can see how Sean's influence began to change Mark, and it wasn't for the better.

I'd also like to add that the soundtrack is pretty incredible. Scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the music really heightens the emotion in a lot of the scenes. It highlighted the darkness that was just underneath the surface in Mark's personality, and it also helped to express the characters' feelings throughout the film. Once again, I'll be surprised if they don't get a nod at the Oscars.

Is this really how it went down? Who knows. Zuckerberg has come out and said that it's a work of fiction, but I can't imagine anyone being portrayed as poorly as he was in this film would have anything else to say. I can't imagine that it's been much fun for him to have his life splayed open in a public forum, but then again, Mark is laughing all the way to the bank. Dude is twenty-six and worth nearly seven billion dollars. While his public image may have taken a hit, I'm sure that he'll get over it.

This is a really great movie. It's well written, thought provoking and emotionally charged. If you like dramas about the human condition, friendship and betrayal, you'll enjoy this film. I feel like you don't even have to know what Facebook is to enjoy it, so if you don't know what to see and are just looking for something good, check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Teeny Tiny Update

So after pysching myself out eleventy billion times, I finally started writing my screenplay. Of course, I kept forcing myself to try to be perfect, and we all know how well that goes when writing. After resigning myself to the fact that it was not going to be a masterpiece the first time out, I've actually been productive. I'm about seven scenes in and it's going pretty well.

I'm a very succinct writer, and while sometimes it's absolutely appropriate to be terse, but with creative writing, it's not always a good thing. I know I'm going to have to go back and lengthen some scenes just like I did when I wrote my novel. I can't let that discourage me from pushing forward, but honestly, it really frustrates me. I just have to remember the words of Dr. Mike Lennon, "Lower your standards."

It gets me through. I can't revise a blank page.

At some point today I'm also going to see The Social Network. Everyone is saying that it's incredible, and even though I wasn't interested at first, I want to see what the deal is. I'm sure it's not going to hurt to watch a well written screenplay up on the big screen either. I'm also reading The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, which I've really been enjoying. Hoping to have reviews up for both the movie and the book very soon!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Comic Book Review: The Walking Dead

I'm not going to lie - I never understood what the big deal was about comic books. Even though I watched the hell out of the Batman TV show with Adam West, I still thought it was all kind of stupid. Pop! Bam! Boom! Pow! WTF? I guess even at the age of seven I understood the concept of guilty pleasures.

I always thought that superheroes were kind of flat as characters. They don't really do anything other than their superhero stuff, and while protecting humankind is cool and important, I'd like to see some kind of character growth somewhere along the way. Yes, Clark loves Lois and it tears him up inside, but it always tears him up inside.  Yeah, it's fun the first few times, but after that, it's nauseating.

And seeing as how I didn't really have exposure to any comics other than the superhero variety, I didn't think there was anything out there for me. The Scott Pilgrim series changed my mind slightly, but The Walking Dead changed it completely. While I am a huge fan of some zombie related things, like Resident Evil video games and Zombieland, I'm not a certified freak like some people are. Geronimo suggested the series to me and reassured me that zombies weren't the main focus, which made me feel slightly better. While I resisted for a while, when I finally gave in I wondered why I had waited so long.

The Walking Dead is a post apocalyptic story concerning a few key characters, but mainly revolves around Rick Grimes, a former police officer. He becomes the unwilling leader and voice of morality and reason. But, as the story progresses, his idea of what is right and wrong begins to change as he fights to survive and protect the people he loves.

This story isn't about zombies. It's about people, and what happens to them when they are faced with unbelievable circumstances. My favorite thing about this series is that it feels absolutely real, like if the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, this is exactly what would go down. The writing is absolutely stellar, with twists, turns and moments that had me muttering under my breath and sometimes shouting, "Oh. My. God," as I read. In some ways, it feels like a soap opera, especially with some of the relationship dynamics. While that might seem like a turn off, don't let it be; soap operas have an amazing way of capturing human drama, and The Walking Dead is second to none in that department.

Characters are full developed, realized and flawed. It's exciting to read and wonder what they're going to do next, because so many times it's completely unexpected. What's also kind of neat is that you begin to understand some of the more cringe inducing choices they have to make as the situation grows more desperate. I really liked this aspect of the story because I'm pretty sure tough choices would be make more often than not.

If you like stories about human nature, you will love this. If you like well developed characters with real motivations who are constantly faced with hard choices, you will love this. If you like character driven plot, you'll love this. Basically, if you love all that is right with the world, you'll love this series. I've only read up to the 68th issue, and I believe there are eight or nine more I need to read to be caught up.

Added bonus: On October 31st, The Walking Dead TV series will be premiering on AMC. If they can preserve the drama and human emotion that's in the comics, I think it will be a hit. So, pick up the comics and set your DVRs. You can thank me later.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Something a Little Different

I haven't been posting here much because I've become involved in another writing venture. A dear friend of mine runs a blog called North Station Sports that covers news for the Boston Celtics, and I've just come on board as a member of the staff.

Any of you who know me know that I love sports, but for the most part I've refrained from writing about it here. I also enjoy being snarky, and I've carried that over to my opinion pieces on NSS. We have something for everyone there, even if you aren't a fan of the Celtics. The pieces are always well written, opinionated and sometimes controversial.

If you're the type of basketball fan who enjoys reading different slants on hot topics, this would be a fun site for you to check out.

So yeah. Hopefully I'll get back to posting soon. I have a half written review of Machete, which I really enjoyed, and I've been working on a review of The Walking Dead comic book series, which I never imagined I'd love so much. So stay tuned. I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cool Places: Woodstock Museum in Bethel Hill, NY

Over this past Labor Day weekend I had the pleasure of spending it with some friends at a lovely lake house in New York. This place was absolutely breathtaking. The night we got there I sat on the dock and looked up at the night sky, drinking in all the stars. There was a fine mist on the water and I felt like I was in an amazing dream. When I woke up the first morning, I went down to the dock and took this photo:

Beautiful, no? The weather was generally nice even if it did get cold at night. We had lots of sunshine and laughs and overall it was a great time. The only bad thing for me was that I had just come back from a vacation and didn't really need any rest, so I was a little antsy. When Sunday afternoon rolled around, a few of us decided that we needed to get out for a bit. After some poking around on my GPS, we decided to hit the Woodstock Museum in Bethel Hill, New York.

I was really excited to check it out because I had grown up with a lot of music from that era. When we were kids my father would always play Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Santana; Credence Clearwater Revival and many others. I have lots of fond memories of rides for ice cream and to Harveys Lake for some Grotto Pizza all set to a sixties soundtrack.

On our way to the museum, we stumbled upon the local Harvest Festival. It was a mixture of arts, crafts, live music and food. There was also an alpaca festival going on so we got to check out some of the lovely clothing made from their wool. The place was jammed and it made me happy because I really like to see local people supporting their community and the arts.

After we hung out there for a while, we headed over to the museum. For some reason I thought the museum was going to be a hole in the wall, but the site is actually a very big place. Check it out here: The museum itself is curated incredibly well; it had all kinds of clothing, albums, tickets and maps that the police used to try to control the crowd of 500,000 who poured into the tiny town of Bethel Hill.

It was cool to see how they used the technology of the 21st century to try to recreate the sixties vibe. They had a Volkswagen bus that you could sit in, which is cool, but what was even more awesome was that the windshield was actually a video screen that showed a short about how people traveled to Woodstock. There was an iMax theater with bean bag chairs that was meant to give the viewer the sense of what it was like to be in the crowd over those three days. They also had some videoes that explained the culture at that time, and they were pretty interesting.

Unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed in the museum, and I didn't get a chance to take pictures of any of the grounds, but I can tell you that it was awe inspiring and breath taking. The museum is super cheap to get in, and even if it were more expensive it's totally worth the trip. I'm already making plans to return because I feel like there's so much more to see.

Book Review: Mockingjay and My Inability to Not be Feminist

Oh Susan Collins, let me count the reasons why I want to punch thee. While I think she had an awesome idea for the Hunger Game Series, I cannot for the life of me figure out why she decided to squander her efforts. The concept is great - children fighting to the death to honor the district from where they came. It features a main female character, Katniss, who is strong willed, not afraid to admit her faults and is accountable for her actions. The backdrop is a post apocalyptic United States, and it is being controlled by a nearly totalitarian government, and Katniss is the key to bringing it all down. Think all of this sounds cool? Yeah?

Well guess what. It's lamesauce. Why, do you ask?

Because it's just another Twilightesque novel where the main female character is basically completely driven by her desires for boys/men. I completely despair over this. Katniss has so many opportunities to do so many wonderful things but yet she is often preoccupied with her friend Gale and Peeta, the boy who fell in love with her for no apparent reason at all. I was hoping that Katniss would kind of grow up in this installment, and while she does in some sense, for the most part she is still the loopy teenage girl who is a slave to her hormones.

I'm not saying that romance or love shouldn't be a part of literature for young readers. That isn't the case. Many of us have learned a lot from our relationships and in some ways it makes us who we are. I object to the unhealthy relationships that are presented in a lot of young adult novels. Love should not hurt. Love should not make you feel as though your life is in danger. Your boyfriend or girlfriend should not look to you to tell them who they are. You shouldn't play games with people's emotions. All of these things are kind of at play here. I actually found myself shaking the book at certain points because it was so frustrating for me to read these things and think about the audience consuming it.

I do like that Katniss, although completely unwillingly, does become a symbol of hope to people who are completely despondent. My only problem with this is that she is absolutely manipulated the entire time by the leaders of the revolution. She bends to their will at almost every turn. Even when she thinks she's tricking them, she isn't; everyone already knows what she's going to do before she does it. I also don't like that she almost never has consequences for her actions. She is driven by her anger to the point where it becomes self-destructive. She is irrational and selfish. At the end of the book, I found myself not really caring what happened to her - the death knell for any main character.

The two main male characters aren't all that great either. Gale and Peeta are both pretty bad examples of men and how they should be. Gale does everything for Katniss and willingly puts up with her abuse because he loves and cares about her. Peeta is the same way in a sense, but he's much more sensitive than Gale. So basically Katniss uses and abuses them as she sees fit because she knows they will both come crawling back to her. Really? Is this appropriate in any sense?

Another thing I took issue with was the absolutely over the top emotional reactions to nearly everything. It was annoying by the time I reached the end. There was also an undercurrent of suicide throughout the entire series, which I thought was highly inappropriate. Oh, life isn't going your way? Why don't you just kill yourself? Absolutely unacceptable.

I read an interview where Collins said that her whole idea behind the book was reality television, and how everything is cut and manipulated to look like something it might not be. She also said that she wanted to show how we are experiencing life differently because of television. I thought this was a cool place for her to write from. I also understand that her audience is a bunch of kids who are going through a lot of physical, emotional and psychological changes and that they love to read this kind of stuff. I just think that she could have done the relationship thing in a different way.