Mmmmm... ovie

Had a Very Simpsons Weekend: saw the movie and went to the 7-11 Kwik-E-Mart on the south side of Chicago. Both were fun, altho neither were the Best. Whatever. Ever.

Movie: Basically an oversized episode, but sort of like the show – still funnier than most of the "regular" movie comedies. Liked that they focused on The Simpsons and told more of a personal story than an overstuffed cameo-athon. I haven't watched the show with any regularity for years, and seeing the movie made me want to tune in again. Which, I suppose, makes the Fox executives very happy. D'oh!

Kwik-e-Mart: They were out of Krusty-Os and Buzz Cola, but I did get a chance to have a Squishee amd eat an "official" Simpsons donut which, shockingly, tasted like... a frosted donut with sprinkles. Still, tho – a really fun (and pretty ballsy) promotion. It's less of a total store takeover, but the signage set it apart and the plastic characters gave the store more... character than normal. Fun. Here are a couple more shots:


Guess the One-Word Review, Vol. I: Epilogue

Valerie wins, but Frank didn't exactly lose. It's kind of a return to the Pumpkins' roots, but it feels like they dug a little deep – I'd've much preferred a Siamese Dream/Mellon Collie mix than this Gish-y/Machina mashup. So I guess it "rocks," but it leaves me totally flat. I can't imagine when I'll listen to a song off this album again. The Pumpkins are better when they wear their power ballad heart on their sleeve.

Overall, tremendously disappointing.
Here's hoping the return of Rage Against the Machine fares much better.


No, no – it’s Café Steamer, not Cleveland…

Given that I’ve crossed The Mendoza Line and I’ve got a wedding to appear in and wanna buy a coolass suit, I’ve started to explore the world of high-sodium, low-calorie frozen meals. The immediate options for food where I work blow, and I’m trying to find an evening balance between regular ol’ weekday dinner and fantabulous nights out on the town.

I suppose I’d do better actually cooking healthy meals for myself, but that ain’t gonna happen. I also suppose that I’m upping my salt intake rather dramatically, but whatev – I’ll start drinking more water. The larger concern is are these even edible?

We’ll see. Given that I’m loosening the reviewer’s shackles a bit with this blog, here’s the first installment of a (potentially) recurring segment...

Dining with Mr. Freeze
Vol. I: Healthy Choice Café Steamers: Cajun Chicken and Shrimp
Who knew they could make a double-boiler of sorts using microwaveable plastic? Why, the R&D guys at Healthy Choice, silly! It is pretty novel, tho – you microwave the whole bowl and then pour the top (food) into the bottom (sauce) to eat it.

Which is not as dirty as it sounds.

Anyway, the chicken didn’t turn to rubber and the shrimp actually cooked thru, so bonus points for both. To top it off (or bottom it, I guess) the sauce featured… flavor! So overall:

Recipe Realization: Good. Sometimes these things suffer from Airplane Food Syndrome (this was when they served food), where instead of just giving you a halfway decent sandwich, they try to microwave haute cuisine at 35,000 feet. But this tasted like the entrée’s title.

Filling Rating: Solid. Ate it while catching up on a bunch of friends’ blogs and didn’t feel like immediately running to the vending machine.

So Mr. Freeze says yes. What do you say? I'm conceivably eating a fairly large handful of these a week, so lemme know if you want to hear more about the aforementioned Cafe Steamers, Lean Cuisine's Paninis and Dinnertime Selects, Smart Ones and more.

Guess the One-Word Review, Vol. I



Worst Book = Best Movie?

Maybe. For the first couple Harry Potter movies, it was enough (barely) to parade the high points of the books on the screen with sort of a “there, see? We built a Hogwarts set!” attitude. Azkaban was the turning point, where Alfonso Cuaron begin filming the movies like, you know, movies as opposed to theme park rides.

Altho, full confession – I’m totally going to the Harry Potter theme park when it opens. First in line.

Back to the recap and review. Goblet of Fire failed to live up to the bar set by Azkaban, much of that blame landing squarely on the disheveled shoulders of Michael Gambon and his horrible “homeless hippie” interpretation of Dumbledore. But good news, Muggles – Order of the Phoenix might just clear the bar altogether.

As the source, the fifth novel is prolly the weakest of the series. I say prolly assuming (desperately hoping) that the soon-to-arrive-seventh tome will send Harry off in style, unlike Revenge of the Sith, Lemony Snicket or The Sopranos. It’s where the series really started to bloat (hundreds of pages building up to the OWL exams where… they pass and everything’s fine) and is dragged down by the jarring characterization of Harry becoming a teenager. Where he spends the first third of the book being angry, stomping around, speaking in ALL CAPS to prove how angry he is, yelling at friends and acting generally, well, angry.

But the necessary exercise of trimming the fat to transition it to film has helped this story immensely. Instead of reading chapter after chapter of ANGRY HARRY, we see it in Daniel Radcliffe’s performance. Instead of drowning in detail over his obsession with Cho, we get the necessary notes that kill that relationship while sowing the seeds of another. And, thankfully, instead of diverting our attention with concern over who’s to be Quidditch Captain, we focus on the fact that, you know, the Dark Lord has returned and there’s war in the air.

Aside from a few iffy matte shots in the broom ride through London sequence, the film looks magnificent. Gone are the awkward CGI moments and flow-killing special effects sequences. Everything is shot beautifully and integrated seamlessly. Not a frame of film is wasted on unnecessary exposition, and what plot points do need to be explained are done so by zooming through dynamic newspaper headlines of the Daily Prophet – a nicely magical update to a traditional storytelling device.

If there’s one criticism to make, it’s that the end feels a little eh, but that’s a problem from the original pages. It’s a bit rushed and some of the big reveals fall slightly flat, but never fear – it’s nowhere near a letdown on the level of, say, Matrix Revolutions. Overall, it’s a well-trimmed tale told terrifically well. Enjoy.


Don't Forget Singing the Bee Lyrics!

We've seen this before. Armageddon vs. Deep Impact. Volcano vs. Dante's Peak. Antz vs. A Bug's Life. Two movies, two studios, one plot. This time, strangely, it's not dueling asteroid or eruption or insect flicks, it's two competing karaoke shows. I guess it's not shocking, given the success of stuff like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, American Idol, etc. What is surprising is that one of them doesn't suck out loud. Read on to find out which one.

The Singing Bee is on NBC, and hosted by former N'Sync-er and Dancer with the Stars, the unfortunately named Joey Fat One. The second he frantically ran-danced through the aisles, randomly picking singers from the crowd, it was as if I could hear the bow of the ship scraping against an iceberg. The show is an abject disaster, highlighted (if only briefly) by the fact that the scantily clad backup dancers are called The Honey Bees and are dressed like... honeybees:
The flow of the show is that several audience members are called up on stage where they, along with Joey Fat One, sort of pseudo-dance to the everpresent music. The house band, featuring a variety of brutal cover singers, launches into a song and the contests must complete the lyrics. The second they make a misstep, a loud buzzer sounds and Joey Fat One smiles. They keep doing this to whittle it down, and the last singer standing wins some incredibly small cash prize. It feels like a particularly bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Don't Forget the Lyrics, while unoriginal on several levels, is actually the better of the two. Altho it feels like a rushed ripoff of Singing Bee's karaoke concept with a title that's, oh, a bit too on the nose, they smartly "borrowed" Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's format. Instead of a cavalcade of hacks, we track the progress of one singer as he or she butchers several songs en route to a million dollar prize. Wayne Brady makes a great Regis, there are three similar lifelines, etc... it's basically the same show, set to music.

But honestly, it's harmless fun. Certainly not high art, not exactly appointment viewing, but worth a watch and worlds better than, well... The Singing Bee ;)


Improved with Age or Just Old?

While I technically grew up in the 70s, that wave of nostalgia meant nothing to me, as I wasn't really into pop culture things at 8, when they ended. I suppose if, instead of flared jeans, people had gotten back into Garanimals, I'd've been all over it. But really, I'm a child of the 80s.

Two relics of that era,
Optimus Prime and John McClane have bashed their way back onto the big screen – how do they hold up? First, Transformers. Unfortunately, this is a bit like discovering a slice of limburger that you left in your toy chest 20 years ago. Full disclosure – I read the script for this a year and a half ago, so some of the issues weren't a big surprise. Also, I saw a screening about a week ago, but didn't want to run afoul of NDAs and such. Because what I would have posted is that this was a mess.

I used to consider myself a shameless
Michael Bay fan, but over time I've realized that it really means I just liked Armageddeon. He puts big robots on the screen pretty well in this one, but everything else is a disaster. The plot has holes you could drive an Optimus Prime-size semi thru, most of the performances (particularly Jons Voight and Tuturro) are abysmal, and the pacing drags on and on. At some point, someone will rip the fight scenes off the DVD – that's worth a watch, but otherwise... not so much. Live Free or Die Hard, however, is a pleasant surprise. It doesn't really feel like "a Die Hard movie," in that he's not trapped alone in a building – it's more like Die Hard with a Vengeance in that Bruce Willis (with sidekick) are thrown together in a sprawling adventure. Full disclosure #2: I saw this movie at the end of what friends and I called "DH-Day," where we watched the first three movies before wrapping up the evening with number four.


But here's the thing – part four is fun. McClane has aged well, and they've acknowledged the fact that he's not twenty years younger.
Justin Long as the hapazard associate is funny without being Richard Pryor in Superman III. The (mostly practical) stunts are spectacular, even tho they start to strain credibility pretty quickly. For sequels like these, much of their job is just to not piss all over the franchise, and never fear – this isn't Blues Brothers 2000 or Phantom Menace. It's a solid shot of old-school adrenaline that's definitely worth a watch.


Best. Five. Seconds. Ever.

I'm not the biggest "check out this funny link" guy in the world, but... check out this funny link.