Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Film Fest (With Updates)

Lately, Dave and I have taken a break from regular television, and decided to catch up on our film viewing. Personally, I love movies, and I will watch just about anything. Below are some we've seen lately.

The Fall: (*****) Simply stunning. Highly recommended, one of the best films I've seen in a while. For a more in depth review visit the critic here. After reading this review, Dave and I both wanted to see this one, and we were not disappointed. The visual imagery in this film is stunning and breathtaking, and the story and depth of characters is spectacular. Please read the review and rent this one. You will not be disappointed.

*Side note* after watching The Fall, I kept talking about an older film, The Cell. I continually compared the visual images, and repeatedly told Dave ( who has never seen The Cell) that it is the only other film I can think of off hand with equal visual interest. But then, I looked it up and of course... same director.

Changling.(****) It was decent. Better than I was really expecting as I have been mostly let down by Ms. Jolie. However, this one gave us an in depth view into the difficulties of being a woman in the 1920's. It is emotionally intense, and while it is a long film, it captures your attention and hope.

The Darjeeling Limited.(*****) Oh how I love Wes Anderson. He brought us some of my all time favs.(Bottle Rocket, Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic) Perhaps I am biased, but I just can't seem to be disappointed with these interestingly weird films. The characters draw me in, and somehow I become a part of the off-hand world they create. LOVE IT. Highly recommend all Wes Anderson films. Keep them coming Wes, everything you touch is golden!

MILK.(****) Sean Penn won best actor, and I agree, he deserved it. His depiction of Harvey Milk was dead on. The film was overly interesting to both Dave and I as it is based on a true story and the "re-enactment" portions of the film were laced with actual pictures and scenes. Regardless of your political views or stance on homosexuality, you get to know the characters on a personal level and therefore become attached to them, and cheer or cry for them as they progress. The cinematography in this film reminds me of All the President's Men, which was released in the 70's and obviously it also dealt with political issues. (Another one of my fav's in both film and reading genres, simply because I used to be a Journalism student)

Choke.(** )Having recently finished reading all the Palahnuik novels, I felt I needed to watch this one. I wasn't impressed, this wasn't Fight Club. The book was interesting and entertaining and of course provided the classic Palahnuik twists, the film left a lot out, changed some of the characters and well, it was sort of boring. My suggestion: read the book.

Pineapple Express.(***) Yet another movie about weed, that I can't explain why I (of all people) enjoy. Does anyone remember how funny Half Baked was? I loved that one too, again, oddly as I am not at all associated with the drug culture. Pineapple Express is laugh out loud funny, and I couldn't help but "love the drug dealer dude" as I kept saying throughout the film. It's a funny treat, even if you aren't a drug kid.

Role Models.(* )To follow up the comedy in Pineapple Express we opted for a couple of other comedies. Role Models was sort of funny once in a while, but mostly we noticed how irritating the woman was, how ridiculous the plot was and how unlikeable Sean William Scott is (as usual).

Tropic Thunder.(***) Funnier than I expected. I actually enjoyed it. And, I was insanely proud of myself for recognizing Tom Cruise. It is of course meant to be simple comedy, so don't expect deep insight or intellectual character development.

BOLT.(****) The animated dog movie. I admit we got this one to check and see if Wellstone would react to an animated dog as he does other dogs he sees on television. He did. One bark from the dog, one squeak of the toy and Wellstone was off the couch, staring at the screen barking and growling. He eventually sat down, watched it intently then fell asleep. Dave and I enjoyed the film. It's cute and the hamster is hilarious (and for those of you knew Shortcake, something reminded me of her..)

The Village Barbershop (***) Dave chose this one based on the cover. He did a good job. It was entertaining and much better than I had expected. It has an independent-air about it, which is probably why we liked it so much. If you like quirky little indie films, you might like this one.

Quantum of Solace
(****) I love Bond. I have seen every Bond movie. I like this new guy. I am clearly biased. The worst Bond film I can think of is Die Another Day. The best, well that's a little more difficult. Some things in this film are very similar to Casino Royale, which may turn off a few fans, but what you need to understand is, we are getting back the beginning of Bond, finding out why he is the womanizer he has become. It's a decent movie, it's Bond, enjoy it for what it is, and hey, that Aston Martin isn't bad either.

The Water Horse
( *) I often admit that I will watch any movie no matter how horrible, so long as I catch it at the beginning. This movie proves it. It was ridiculous, the acting was bad and it didn't flow very well. But, sometimes the monster made faces that reminded us of Wellstone, so we kept watching until the bitter end.

Twilight (**) Ok, we we had to see what all the fuss was about. It wasn't my cup of tea. I like my vampires dark and scary and well, vampires. I admit that I got sucked into the story and by the end I was wondering what it would be like to fall in love with a vampire. But, in my mind vampires are more: VAMPIRE-Y I like my Shadow of the Vampire, Interview with the Vampire, The Lost Boys, The Blade Trilogy, Underworld and you know, Dracula versions better.

88 Minutes
( **) Al Pacino, how can you go wrong? Psychologically thrilling, again, where can you go wrong? Make it too predictable, that's how. Oh, the car exploded, surprise! Dave and I watched and enjoyed the overall story, but were struck by how quickly we figured out most of the plot, despite the attempts to make it seem confusing.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan
(**) " meow meow meow meow" was the best lined uttered throughout this entire movie mess. Sandler is one of my all time favs ( Billy Madison) and while some portions were hilarious based on the fact that it was Sandler being Sandler.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Brit Lit

I have always enjoyed British Literature, and have found some of my most enjoyable undergrad experiences included my Brit Lit classes. Granted, in that formal setting, we studied formal authors, some of whom I love, others I hate with a passion. Seriously, how many Norton Anthology of English Literature Volumes do you have on your shelf, and more importantly, how often do you pick them up? I admit that I probably have too many volumes, and I only refer to them once every 6 months or so, but this is not to say that British Literature has not remained a part of my everyday reading lifestyle. In fact, recently, quite the opposite is true.

This is not to imply that I have been spending my nights reading classics by Shakespeare and Dickens, but instead suggests that I have found some more modern, pop culture authors to absorb myself in. Namely, Nick Hornby.

I have always enjoyed Hornby's works, and admit that I have been guilty of enjoying the movies made from his novels as well, enough so that they rank in my top 20. ( High Fidelity) and maybe About a Boy makes it into my top 100 films, where as the book scores much higher.

Recently, I have made the goal to read ALL of Hornby's books (since reading ALL the Palaniuk works turned out so well). Therefore I have immersed myself in popular British Culture. His settings are always England, London usually, and his writing style includes typical non-American slang. I have been reading so much lately, that my emails have started including sayings like, " Brilliant!" or on a rare occasion, "Cheers", and I have caught myself saying, "Yeah, course" instead of the typical, " Of course". But these a simply part of what I enjoy about reading, escaping into a world of a novel and living it for the duration of that story.

And, the British invasion doesn't end there. After finishing, A Long Way Down, High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to be Good and beginning Fever Pitch I needed a little break. So, I took this opportunity to make good on a promise.

I had made a deal with a friend that I would read anything he suggested, and he would do the same. I have yet to give him my recommendation, but took the challenge anyway. In one afternoon I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

What you need to understand, is that my "friend" gave me this particular book due to my protests against it. I just do not understand adults reading literature designed for children, turning it into a craze and making the author one of the wealthiest women in the world. It annoys me. I find that I do not typically enjoy things quite this well liked by the majority, especially when it comes to literature. I assumed this book to be childish, and doubted that it was worth all the attention it has received.

And, I took this challenge head on, not only agreeing to read it, but actually to let go of my prior bias, to read the work as objectively as possible. Forgetting, as well as I could the movies, the candy, the money the hype and the sheer lunacy of the whole Harry Potter craze. As it turns out, I wasn't completely right in my initial feelings.. but I wasn't completely wrong either.

My observations are as follows: It is a classic Cinderella story re-developed to include a highly imaginative and detailed fantasy world of magic. Classic good vs. evil themes throughout and good character development (remember, I only read the first one!) I was impressed with Rowling's imaginative detail, especially in the part where she describes the rules and play of the fictional magical game of Quidditch. The detail of the imagery of the entire Hogwart's castle and world, down to the temperature, texture and smell of the rooms is just plain great writing. I can see why this became so popular.

However, I also noticed that as I had suspected, this is meant to be read by a different reading level than I consider most well-read adults. The vocabulary is geared towards a younger reader and the length of chapters, and overall writing style appeals to a pre-adolescent age group. I probably would have loved these books when I was 8-11. As I also suspected, while there are well developed characters and story lines, it doesn't do much for my "deeper thinking" sense. I read it quickly, and superficially, the story remained on the surface, I was not challenged by my moral code, nor was I forced to look at something differently. My world view has not been altered, nor even challenged. It was a good break from my usual reading, but it was just that, a break. I doubt I read the rest of the series anytime soon.

I finished the book with the feeling that it would be a good Chapter book story to read to young children. Interesting enough to capture their childlike imagination, short enough chapters to hold their attention and overall a fun story. I will keep it in mind for the future.

Now, I can peacefully go back to my Hornby and whatever ends up next on my never ending reading list. And, lest we forget, find something truly horrible for my friend to read... I'm open to suggestions...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Elitist in Me Speaks

A little something I had to research myself after hearing about it this morning on A.M.
Fans of Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Jay-Z are lowest in IQ as compared to fans of Radiohead, U2, and Bob Dylan who rank the highest. Fans of Lil' Wayne rank the least intelligent of all. A study was done by researchers who compared students SAT exam scores to their favourite music acts. And I quote "Those who prefer indie music are most intelligent, while pop, rock and gospel fans were all ranked at the lower end of the scale." Dave 1 - Majority 0. The article can be found here (source), here, here, and various other places after a google search.
So.. all you corporate pop rock, hip-hop loving brainless drones out there, for instrumental indie I recommend:
Explosions in the Sky, God Speed You Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Mono, Pelican, A Silver Mt. Zion, Unwed Sailor, Russian Circles, Saxon Shore, Sigur Rós.. for vocal indie, you're on your own as there are so many good bands out there my recommendations would go on forever.. so if you like any of it.. uhmm what does Beyonce say? Put a ring on it? yeah.. that makes sense..

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Places I Remember: Columbus, Cleveland and Chicago

A post I decided to write in response to Flaky Genius's comment referring to Cleveland...

One could easily deduce that I have an affinity for cities whose names begin with "C". And, perhaps they would be correct, but the debate lies in the fact that I grew up in Ohio and all the decent cities are named with "C"'s for whatever reason. While I never made it to Cincinnati to do more than eat some Skyline Chili, I hear it's a great town as well, but our story begins in Columbus.


The closest city to my hometown. I moved there after suffering 22 years worth of youth, high school, and college in a small town a little south. It was my first taste at life on my own, and therefore it cannot be left out of the list even though I originally intended to only write about Cleveland and Chicago.

Columbus for me was a starting point, a place full of OSU fans and strip malls. Decent restaurants and short North Arts District kept me entertained, for the most part. The problem was ( no offense to anyone there now) I just kept running into the same person in different form over and over again, and I got bored. Everyone seemed to be a carbon copy of each other and while I ended up with a job I enjoyed and an apartment I loved, I knew if I didn't leave, I never would. Despite the shopping choices and a few choice restaurants (The Columbus Brewing Company) Columbus was just too much like home.


I loved, and will always love Cleveland. It has worked its way into my heart where it will always remain. Cleveland is one of those great art cities, which happen to be the type I adore. They offer a world class art museum, which, though i hate to admit it, out-ranks the Chicago Institute. Their symphony is spectacular, and the Fourth of July show outside is a can't miss occasion. My experiences in Coventry remain some of my favorite memories. The (old) Grog Shop, Euclid Tavern and Peabody's some of my favorite venues. The architecture of the city is wonderful, though admittedly dirty. I used to feel a sense of pure peace when driving past that skyline. The people I met and loved and admire who lived in or still reside in Cleveland are among my favorite people. Real people, with heart and soul and an unshakable moral sense. Music is a part of the culture, Art a part of it's heart, History a part of the everyday life. Where else can you find such loyal baseball fans, block parties and fantastic dining? As mentioned before Sushi Rock is delicious, but lets not forget Little Italy and the feast of the Assumption, or really any local establishment. ( the Rush Inn, the Mad Greek ( not the chain, may not exist anymore), The Winking Lizard etc...)

So, why did I leave? Cleveland is great, but it is having a hard time sustaining itself and the livelihood of it's citizens. It is dirty, and poor and Lake Erie may be a bio hazard. And, I just knew, in my heart that I had already done almost everything I was ever going to do there. I needed to move on to a place where I could find what I loved about Cleveland, but also offered me additional choices and more experiences, enough that I couldn't run out for the rest of my life. And, that is why I ended up in Chicago.


The things I love about Cleveland are still here. Music, restaurants, art, the lake (a cleaner one), good people with heart and character, crazy baseball fans, historical reference and, a better opportunity to grow, and explore professionally, educationally and personally. I haven't experienced it all, and I know I will never be able to, and that is why I finally feel at home. Chicago isn't better necessarily, it's just a better fit for me. And, to be perfectly honest, I have always known I was meant to be here. I talked Dave into moving here knowing that he too enjoyed the same qualities of Cleveland I did, and that together we could forge a life here with a better opportunity for both of us to sustain ourselves, each other and family. So far, so good I think. Both of us have grown so much in the past 2 years ( yes, it's almost 2 years here already!) Thank you Chicago!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Final Project

So, the time has come to apply all that I have learned thus far from my technical training in a final project. Most are opting to work in groups to complete their projects, but I will not be taking this route. Throughout my time in school, I have not been in a single group where all have contributed equally, in fact, I have carried several students through the last few classes I've taken with them. Most of the fresh high school grads just text on their cell phones and rely on copying everyone, while the older adult students always show up late (if at all) and use their offspring as reasons for their tardiness or absence. I'm done playing stupid games, and being the one to do all the work. I can do it alone if that's the way it's going to be.
I've decided to make a web controlled surveillance camera. The biggest concern for this project is going to be the interfacing between internet and hardware (the micro controller specifically) . The second biggest nightmare is going to be the coding for the micro controller and working out the communication links between the hardware devices. The idea is quite similar to this, but fortunately, I wont have to construct my micro controller like this guy. This brings up another concern of mine. I'm not sure if the PINK (Parallax Internet Netburner) will be able to communicate with the hardware we have used in our labs such as the ESOC (Cyclone II) board and eBlocks programmable board. Most companies out there make their components proprietary to their own specs, which makes developing your own projects a bitch. God bless the free enterprise system. Only our country could dissuade technological advances because a few don't want to conform to an open standard which all could embrace and build upon, but what do I know with my socialist ranting? And Linux/Unix is for communists too!
Anyways, instead of purchasing a camera that moves up and down, left and right like some upper end models of 'pan and scan' cameras, I will make mine very similar to the previous link I posted. This is where my electronic know-how will come into play. I've read that the step motors in old pc scanner/printers work well to control the direction of the camera. Programmable logic controllers will be used to send these instructions to a hardwired circuit (probably on a bread board) where the motors will work in conjuntion. Limit sensor/switches (which will also be controlled by PLC) will be used to contain the range of motion for the camera structure.
Hopefully the eBlocks programmable board can communicate with all other hardware devices because I would hate to have to code in a language that I am unfamiliar with. eBlocks uses a simple, turbo easy basic programming method that allows one to essentially make a flow chart, and compile it, where it is then interpreted and programmed to the chip. All other coding looks like absolute jibberish to me. The eBlocks programmable board may be used to interface the hand controller to the program that will send instruction over the internet to the PINK to another microcontroller to a PLC to the circuit to the camera. Something like that. . . Like I said, there are some kinks that need to be thought out and worked out.
This is all up in the air at this point because I may be overlooking the complexity of a project like this, but I feel that if the interfacing between the network/internet can be accomplished, then it should be a good project.
*In another note*
Andrea and I went out this past weekend and I had my first real experience with sushi (previously, I had a failed attempt with some poorly made, soggy store bought sushi) at Tank Sushi. It was delicious. I also finally got to see Slumdog Millionaire, and was highly impressed. The music from the film was excellent. See Andreas experience with Tank Sushi, her trip to Vegas, and Slumdog Millionaire below.

Sushi, Slumdog (part II) & Sin City

Sin City:
I went to Vegas, for the first time last week. I had to attend a conference for work, which I have attended two years in a row now. I may be the outcast, but I genuinely enjoy conferences. Great hotels, travel, food and meeting many people. I have a great time, I enjoy the part of my job that means setting up and manning a trade show booth, meeting and greeting prospective clients, chatting and generally having a great time while being professional. We had casino night, where I honed my roulette skills (having learned in Atlantic City this past January). I even won a blackjack game in a raffle (which Dave hasn't put down since I brought it home). The second night, I snuck out.. I mean, I had to, right? I had never been there before and NEEDED to see the Bellagio fountain. ( AT LEAST)

I forgot my camera however. So, I did the most logical thing, and purchased one of those fun saver cameras from the hotel gift shop ( $15!! can you believe that!?) and headed to the fountain. I enjoyed the show tremendously, and could have stood there all night, but being on a limited ( and lest we forget, work) time schedule I used the rest of my time to wander the Bellagio, a little of Caesers Palace, and Paris. And, boy did I make the most of my fun saver camera.

Apparently whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and if using an overpriced plastic camera from a casino/hotel gift shop... even your pictures will not make it home with you. NONE of my pictures came out. NONE. But at least I have the memory. I want Dave and I to go there sometime soon for a couple of days and really get to experience the city. It looks like a lot of fun.

( I did end up winning about $100 at a roulette table in the end, which isn't too bad!)

While at the conference, I had some great sushi and my colleague taught me how to (finally) use chopsticks correctly. Once I made it home, with my new found love of chopstick eating, I decided to introduce Dave to sushi. I'm pretty sure he was convinced that he would hate it. But, we found a cute little place near us, called Tank Sushi. We had amazing chopstick appetisers, and we tried one of my standby favorites and Dave chose a new one ( Latin Heat) which was GREAT! All in all, great picks and great dinner. This sushi place comes in a close second to the number one on my list, and also my #1 pick for best calamari appetiser Sushi Rock in Cleveland. DELISH!

Slumdog (part II):
After dinner, we headed to see Slumdog, since Dave had yet to see it. You'll have to ask him for his review! I was once again impressed with the music and cinematography.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


It was only a matter of time before I posted something about the latest film phenom "Slumdog Millionaire". I have been meaning to write something for weeks, but have been too busy flying to Vegas ( look forward to that post soon..)

I went with a friend to see the "Slumdog" the Sunday of the Oscars. I went into the theater with extremely high expectations. At this point, I had already had the film suggested to me by several friends who found it to be excellent. Everyone I had talked to had described the film as being superb. This is rare, in my circle of diverse friends especially, that everyone said it was amazing, no one said it was " just ok" or " watchable" or gods ( as in greek) forbid " horrible and boring and only for old people" ( As was the case of other critically praised films out now " Benjamin Button" anyone?)

I was also armed with the ammunition that this film was nominated for several academy awards, which I realize is not always indicative of a good film, but sometimes they get it right. In this case, I completely expected to be let down.

And, I was. Ok, so I was only let down by the fact that the theater was PACKED and we had to sit in the second row. I was let down by my unforgiving bend less spine, and watering eyes, I was not however at all let down by the film. In fact, the brilliance of the film made the uncomfortableness of my aging spine worth it. I would like to see it again, though, from a more comfortable vantage point.

"Slumdog Millionaire", the British film directed by Danny Boyle, is an adaptation of the book "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup. ( which I have yet to read). It has become something of a pop culture icon recently with it's award success. The film has won 8 Academy awards, including Best Picture, 5 Critic's Choice, 4 Golden Globes and 7 BAFTA awards. And, this time, those hokey award celebrations actually got it right.

What impressed me the most was the use of music and cinematography in conjunction with the storyline. The film is kept light and enjoyable, with bold color and an intense musical score despite it's depiction of Indian slums, and the children that inhabit them. As you watch, you are drawn into the overall power of the film.

In addition to seeing the film I have also read an interesting article in the February 23rd edition of the New Yorker entitled "Opening Night". This was an article that described the very real situation in the slums of Mumbai during the night when the film was released. It shows an interesting perspective of the children collecting bits of aluminum to sell for profit, in order to eat, while simultaneously the elite walk the red carpet to watch a film depicting the reality. It is an interesting dichotomy and sad reality. Most of us, as middle class Americans, can not imagine living without running water, in constant persecution for our beliefs, and in fear of our lives and the lives of our families. We cannot relate to the character Jamal Malik ( protagonist in "Slumdog") who is raised in poverty and must run for his life, only to be trapped into a life of being controlled by a gangster who "trains" children to make money by various means. We cannot relate, yet this film makes these issues come into sharp focus. However, in many cases such as these, we view these disturbing scenes and situations as pure entertainment, and give out awards for showing us the truth, yet, do nothing to correct the real problem in areas such as the one depicted. For example, don't major cities in our own country boast some of the highest poverty levels? ( 1. Cleveland, OH with 31.3% living below the poverty level (which pains me personally) 2. Newark, NJ at 30.4 % and 3. Detroit, MI at 30.1 %)

But, I've gotten off topic. The film is a must see, if not for the artistic brilliance, or the musical showcase, or even the controversial topics, at least for the entertainment value and humor in the "outhouse scene".

I urge you to go see this film if you haven't already. This is the best I have seen since "Dark Knight" which is a completely different genre, but one of the best summer blockbusters/artistic visions into the underworld lifestyle of ( arguably) one of the best super heroes of all time. I have seen in recent years, therefore making it a benchmark for truly good films. "Slumdog" is at the top of my list. It will encourage you to volunteer in your community ( at least it did for me) while at the same time inspire you artistically.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For Mary

You're right. After rereading my post, I realized...
What? What am I talking about?
I can't just post random inspiring youtube videos.
I don't really have anything going on worth mentioning.
My mind has gone numb.
Give me a month or two.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hermit, Recluse, Etc..

I can recall times that my mother would go on trips to Georgia to visit my Aunt Jill and Uncle Howard. During these trips, she would be gone for only a week at most. My pop's would start to go weird with worry and separation anxiety. In fact, it got to the point that whenever mom would leave, she would tell my brother and I to keep him company. This is odd because he would keep himself busy and distance himself from all of us while everyone was at home. I don't know if it were some sort of loner mentality, or the need to have privacy, however, when she would leave he would change and one could tell that he really missed her.
Andrea has been gone now for seven hours, and I'm experiencing the same things I'm sure he felt. I've already accomplished the things she wants done before she returns from her business in Las Vegas. I'm bored and lonely, and have no one to talk to. How pitiful am I? On the drive back from the airport the wave of snow that has since accumulated into about an inch and a half, was just beginning to fall. Even if I wanted to go outside to keep my mind from weirding itself out, I would have to face twenty degree gusts of bitterly cold lake effect Chicago snow. At least I have Wellstone, Gizmo, and this. I guess that what I'm really trying to say is that phone calls are more than welcome.
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