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Archive for August, 2009

I found myself in the city on Friday for a night of food and the theatre—dinner at Five Napkin Burger and then Avenue Q at 8pm. As I was walking from Penn up to Michael’s office on 39th and 8th, I passed by a unique individual. He was a man, middle-aged, who was obviously on his way back from the Hershey’s Times Square Store, since he was carrying a yellow M&Ms gift bag, ostensibly filled with chocolately goodness. He was also sporting a gray sweatshirt…with all of the M&M characters on it. Something about this guy immediately made me feel sad. Did he really get so excited about the newly-purchased sweatshirt that he put it on over the collared shirt he was already wearing? It reminded me of going shoe shopping with my mom as a child and wearing my brand new Buster Browns home straight from the store, along with a handy dandy balloon tied to my wrist. But this guy was not six years old, and it wasn’t a sweet new pair of shoes. It was a sweatshirt with M&Ms on it.

Maybe I didn’t have to feel bad for him. Maybe he had splattered ketchup or steak sauce on his shirt when he was having lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, and just wanted to cover it up. Maybe he was cold. Maybe his wife bought it for him and guilted him into wearing it the minute they left the store. Maybe he just really loves M&Ms, and who am I to judge?

I can rarely go to the city without finding at least one person to feel sorry for. Last time, it was the homeless person who was using an orange traffic cone as a prosthetic leg. This time, it was the Candy Man. I wonder who will be next.

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Moron-Mart

I hate Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons. I’m going to stay away from the economic arguments and the general Wal-Mart debate, because I’m not educated enough to fully make that argument. One of the OTHER reasons I hate Wal-Mart, however, is the fact that on the rare occasions I find myself there, I can never find my way around. I can’t see any of the signs designating specific areas, because they’re either up too high or I’m too short. No matter what I’m looking for, I always wind up walking in circles around the store for at least 20-30 minutes. It’s exasperating.

I found myself at the Mart on Tuesday because I needed some random things for the new apartment, and wanted to spend the least amount of money possible (yes, I realize this makes me a hypocrite). Anyway, what I got in addition to plastic storage shelves and Swiffers was a new reason to hate Wal-Mart, as well as Wal-Mart patrons themselves. I had gotten a call from Michael telling me to pick up one other item while I was out—Batman: Arkham Asulym, a new game for Xbox360. When I went up to the electronics station to ask someone to open the case, there were three guys standing there, all looking kind of confused. One guy was at the register, on the phone, and looking for something in that way you look for things you know aren’t there, but you want to look busy anyway. The other guy was just kind of staring into space, but avoiding eye contact with everyone around him. The last guy was walking around like he had a real purpose—and it must have been pretty important, because when I said, “Excuse me, can you help me?” he rolled his eyes and held up his index finger, as if to say, “I don’t have time for your silly questions right now.” I was there with my friend Sarah, and she was as surprised as I was by this behavior. We stood around for at least 10 minutes, until finally I flagged down another woman who happened to be walking by—she couldn’t do anything to help me since she didn’t have the key to the game case, but at least she spoke to the rude guy until he begrudgingly walked over to the game and retrieved it.

Then, we had to stand in line to buy it. This also proved to be a hassle because some woman thought it would be a good idea to check out all of her items—none of which were electronics—at the electronics register. So, shockingly, that took quite a long time. Why would you think that it would be quicker to bring pants and throw pillows to a cashier who only knows the ins and outs of cameras, phones, and the like? I wanted to slap this woman in the face. But, I guess I was asking for it by entering the store in the first place. I may have gotten a cheap shelf, but it came at the cost of dealing with idiocy at every turn. Damn you, Wal-Mart.

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Those Basterds…

Inglourious Basterds has once again proven that Quentin Tarantino is one of the best directors of our generation. It was a phenomenal movie, surpassing Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 2, and perhaps Death Proof (By a hair, in my opinion. I loved Death Proof.). I think Pulp Fiction still wins out as his best film, although I will have to watch IB a few more times to have an educated opinion.

Tarantino delivered in all the areas that you would expect him to. The dialogue was great (the vast majority of it being in other languages), albeit different from the other films since this movie was set in the 1940s—no conversations about Quarter Pounders or Superman mythology this time around. Brad Pitt provided wonderful comic relief as Aldo Raine, with that hilarious Tennessee accent that everyone’s been talking about. In my opinion, though, Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa) totally stole the show. His performance of Tarantino dialogue is up there with that of Samuel L. Jackon. He’ll get an Oscar nomination, and has a pretty good shot of winning.

There was a lot of buzz about the “tavern scene,” whose dialogue and subsequent action sequence was supposed to rival the diner and ending scenes of Reservior Dogs. As of the first viewing, I think Reservior Dogs still wins out. But, like I said, I will be watching this movie many more times in the coming months (although I’ll have to wait for the DVD…I can’t afford to see movies in the theater more than once anymore).

There was a healthy mix of action/violence and down time. And when the action did ensue, it was pretty awesome. The Basterds’ combat tactics were badass, although the scalping of Nazis did get a bit graphic, along with a few other choice scenes. Aside from that, the movie wasn’t really filled with gratuitous violence. Another thing to note is the filmmaking in general—lots of great camera movements, including an aerial shot spanning multiple rooms a la Kill Bill.

The music was pretty good, although I prefer the soundtracks to both Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. A lot of the score came from Ennio Morricone, and certain snippets were lifted straight from Kill Bill. Michael wasn’t a fan of the David Bowie song used at the end (Cat People [Putting out the Fire]); I didn’t really have a strong opinion on that, but the title is pretty applicable to say the least.

I wish I was enough of a film buff to see the relationship between this movie and Sergio Leone’s brand of spaghetti westerns. Tarantino’s movies are always paying homage to other genres and sub-genres of film (martial arts, exploitation films, crime films, etc.), although most of this film was over my head in that regard.

Any critic who said that the climax didn’t deliver is out of his mind. The climax was ridiculous, and I guarantee no one has ever written an ending like that to a WWII movie. One of my favorite scenes was definitely the face projected through the smoke, for anyone else who saw the movie.

All in all, I loved this movie, and I’ve probably only absorbed about 60% of its greatness so far. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the DVD release, which will probably make a great birthday or Christmas present!

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Children’s Book Review

For those of you who are not aware of my recent change of job, I just started working in the Children’s Department of the Montclair Public Library. Things are going pretty well so far; it’s really not much of a change from my old job at the Bloomfield Library (which I left about a year ago). Anyway, I was sitting at the desk the other day and overheard a woman reading a book to her kid. Before she started it, I heard her say that it was Jerry Seinfeld’s book, Halloween. I had no idea that Jerry Seinfeld had ever written a children’s book, so I was interested to hear what it was all about.

As I continued to listen to her read, it turned out that the content of the book was actually the Halloween bit from his old act—pretty much word for word. How do I know? When he did his Broadway show, I’m Telling You for the Last Time, in 1999, I ended up getting the CD and listened to it many, many times. I guess it’s still stored up in my subconscious somewhere.

Needless to say, I was pretty surprised that Seinfeld would just regurgitate an old act and market it as a children’s book. Aside from the lackluster effort and absence of any creativity, kids can’t even find the humor in it. The bit is funny when you’re telling it to an adult audience who lived through all of their childhood Halloweens and can now appreciate the jokes in retrospect. But when you’re talking about the Superman costume that fits more like pajamas than a superhero outfit and the cheap rubber band stapled to the back of the mask, it’s just going to go over kids’ heads. They don’t yet realize how cheap and silly the costumes are; to them, it’s all still pretty cool. It seems pretty logical to me—Seinfeld does stand-up for an adult audience, so what makes him think he can use the same jokes and get the same reaction from kids?

Maybe he’s trying to broaden his demographic and the book was just the first step. Soon he’ll be playing day care centers across the country. “So, what’s the deal with naptime?”

That said, I think people should stick to the classics when it comes to children’s books and take the celebrity-authored ones with a grain of salt.

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The Great Yogurt Experiment

Michael has been reading Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I’d like to read it eventually, but for now I’m getting the second-hand, abridged version. Pollan provides a lot of interesting information, which has led us to start thinking about making more of a switch to organic food. I like to think I eat pretty healthy foods already, but one of my weak points is my Yoplait Light yogurt. During the summer, I initiated some pretty big changes in my diet—the biggest one being that I stopped bringing sandwiches for lunch and switched to yogurt, fruit, carrots, and other healthier options. Since I’ve started eating yogurt every day, I’ve been a little more concerned about my go-to brand and the fact that I’m eating the stuff with the artificial sweeteners and other various chemicals. So, last week I found myself in Stop & Shop and decided to buy a variety of new brands, all organic, and see which one would be the best replacement. These are my findings.

1. Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt (Chocolate Underground) – 170 cal, 0g fat, 35g sugar. This was a pretty tasty yogurt. I’ve never had any sort of chocolate flavoring in yogurt before, but it was enjoyable. It’s wasn’t until after I ate it that I noticed the 6 oz. cup contained 35 grams of sugar, which I wasn’t too crazy about. I’ll have to check other flavors to see if the sugar content varies. I also wanted to compare prices on each yogurt but, unfortunately, I accidentally threw out the receipt. I believe this brand was on sale for $1.00.

2. Nature’s Promise (Stop & Shop brand) Organic Fat-Free Yogurt (Peach) – 120 cal, 0g fat, 23g sugar. This was your basic, Plain Jane, fruit on the bottom yogurt. Not to say this is a bad thing; I consider myself quite the Plain Jane. It had a good consistency (a little less runny than the Stonyfield) and less sugar than the previous contender. This was one of the more affordable brands, and rang up at approximately $.89.

3. Chobani Nonfat Greek Yogurt (Vanilla) – 120 cal, 0g fat, 13g sugar. This was the yogurt I was most curious about, as I have never eaten Greek yogurt before. It has the thickest consistency of all four, since it is strained. I found the taste to be a little bland—it probably would have been better with some fresh fruit or granola thrown in—but it’s something I could definitely get used to. After all, it has the lowest sugar content out of all the new brands, which is a plus. I’d also like to experiment with other flavors. Of course, the downside of this yogurt is that it was the most expensive one in the mix. I think the 6 oz. cup was $1.25 (if that’s incorrect, it was at least over a dollar).

4. Yoplait Light (Key Lime Pie) – 110 cal, 0g fat, 15g sugar. I decided to leave this brand in as the control. I love all of the flavors, but I think Key Lime Pie is my favorite (it’s a toss up between that, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, and Apple Turnover). I know! These flavors of yogurt shouldn’t exist! But they’re so good! The consistency is pretty average; not too runny, not too thick. This brand is in the $.89 price range. I also love the neon green color. 😉 Despite all of these great qualities, I can definitely still taste the artificial sweeteners (although there are many light/low-cal yogurts that are a lot worse), which didn’t used to bother me too much. But, like I said, now that I’m eating it every day, I think I need to be a little more conscientious with my yogurt.

In summary, I’d like to keep experimenting with Chobani, but I can’t start buying it regularly just yet. I also enjoyed the Stonyfield but will have to watch the sugar content. I think, for now, I’m going to mainly get the Nature’s Promise—the cheapest organic option. Hopefully one day I’ll finally get a good paying, full-time job and will be able to afford all of the “high brow” yogurt on a daily basis. One day.

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Top Chef: Season 6

Well, another season of Top Chef is upon us. I’m hoping for a little improvement over last season, which seemed to be losing some steam by incorporating many lame, product placement-ridden challenges over the course of the show. Although I can’t yet tell if things are on the up and up, here are some things I did notice.

1. Was anyone else distracted by the fact that the vast majority of contestants were full of tattoos? Odd.
2. I predict there will be no ridiculous flings, like the one between Leah and Hosea (another thing I hated about last season), mostly because none of the women are even remotely attractive. There are a few good looking guys, but seriously—male viewers definitely don’t have anyone to oggle.
3. Ashley. I went the entirety of the show not being able to figure out if this person was a man or a woman. I just had to check her bio to see that the pronoun associated with her is, in fact, she.
4. Michael is going to be the token A-hole, who will probably end up making it pretty far, but will not win. He will most likely clash with Jennifer, who people will also dislike but I predict will also make it pretty far.
5. My picks for the top three: Kevin (who I like to call Beardy), Martin, (Already my favorite. Who doesn’t love a cute French guy who wears a little French scarf, or whatever that thing is?), and I’ll also go with Jennifer because they have to have a girl in there. Although, I think one of the two brothers may also be a wildcard. We shall see!

In other news, Inglourious Basterds comes out tomorrow. The question: will it, or will it not, trump Pulp Fiction?

Entertainment Weekly – B (Gave the DVD release of Pulp Fiction an A in 2002)
Miami Herald – “With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino repeats the feat he first achieved 15 years ago with Pulp Fiction…”
The Hollywood Reporter – “While his ‘Pulp Fiction’ arrived late at the Festival de Cannes and swept away the Palme d’Or in 1994, his World War II action movie ‘Inglourious Basterds’ merely continues the string of disappointments in this year’s competition.”
Associated Press – 2.5 stars out of 4. “If only Quentin Tarantino the director weren’t so completely in love with Quentin Tarantino the writer, this might have been a great movie rather than a good movie with moments of greatness.”
Mr. Moviefone (not a real critic, but I always listen to his reviews on Z100’s Elvis Duran & The Morning Show and trust him implicitly) – he’s in!

Based on what I’ve read and the degree to which I love Tarantino, if it’s not his best movie, it’s going to at least be in the top three, my top three being Pulp Fiction, Death Proof, and Kill Bill (in that order). Regardless, I’ll be there Friday night. Check back Monday for a full review.

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Get out of my way.

An open letter to all girls who attend Rutgers University and ever find themselves walking down College Avenue:

Please, for the love of Uggs (you still like those, right?), do your best to refrain from taking up the entire sidewalk when you’re walking around New Brunswick with your stupid friends. I know how important it is to have your little posse, or whatever you kids are calling it these days, but you need to learn how to function in situations that do not allow you to travel in packs everywhere you go. I can’t tell you how many times I have been face to face with three or four of you, all walking side by side, who absolutely refuse to break your formation for anyone walking in the opposite direction. Why must I be the one that always has to divert onto the grass?! Where do you get this false sense of entitlement that all others must yield to YOU?

I get it. You’re cool and in college. You have lots of friends (probably about 600 on Facebook alone!). Life is just the best right now, and what better way to express your carefree lifestyle than parading around town with a squadron of BFFs? Regardless, let me tell you this. I have run out of patience. The last time I encountered some of you, I stared down the one who was directly in my way, stood my ground, and she wound up moving just enough so that our shoulders brushed as I passed. She’s lucky I didn’t knock her back into high school, which is what I had to keep myself from doing during that infuriating incident. Be advised. If (read: when) this happens again, watch out. Starting now, I move for no one.

I hate you.

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