Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Year of Firsts

Totally not exciting here in the least, but just to keep the record going...

- Had a bite of a Reuben sandwich which is cause for two firsts -- first time I've ever had corned beef (which is what, exactly?) and the first time I've ever had sauerkraut -- shockingly not bad!

- Tasted matzo ball soup for the first time -- cornmealy, but surprisingly tasty

- Drove home from New York City --now that I know I can do it (it was a breeze), I'm hoping to head up there more often

Friday, January 30, 2009

Movie Review - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, and Julia Ormand
directed by David Fincher
screenplay by Eric Roth


That's the only thing I could think of when this movie was finished. Who knew that a movie nominated for 13 Oscars could be so flippin' boring?

The story is simple and it's spread out over three painfully dull hours. Benjamin is born old knowing nothing and grows young while gaining knowledge. There are many, many vignettes that you would think lead up to some defining moment in his life, but they all end up being inconsequential. (There's that word again)

That's the problem with the film. There are scenes that are good by themselves (particularly his affair with Tilda Swinton), but Pitt's portrayal of Benjamin is so one-note that you never get the sense that he learned a thing from his journeys...and there are many journeys.

It's not just Pitt that's one-note...the whole movie is kinda flat. Washed out colors and monotone line readings just made the flick a drag both visually and aurally.

Taraji P. Henson's Oscar-nominated role as Benjamin's adopted mother is okay, but I always got the sense that she was "acting." She never embodied the role.

The special effects were certainly admirable and should probably win the Oscar. There was never a moment when I felt like I was watching a digitalized face of Brad Pitt on an old man. The make-up was also stellar. There were a few shots cinematography-wise that were good as well.

My main problem with the film is that I sat through three hours of it and I have no idea what it was trying to say. Love is everlasting? Age shouldn't hold us back? Age is nothing but a number? Don't judge a book by its cover? I have no clue because there really was no point to anything in this film.

It was simply inconsequential.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Book a Week - Hocus Pocus

Book Five of the Book a Week Quest

Hocus Pocus
by Kurt Vonnegut, 1990

I'm not really gonna waste too much time on this one.

I had read two previous Vonnegut novels (Slaughterhouse-Five and Slapstick) when I was in high school and I remember liking them...this one, though, I didn't like one bit.

The forward to the book states that Vonnegut found thousands of numbered scraps of paper of different sizes written by the "author" of the book Eugene Hartke. Vonnegut organized Hartke's thoughts in order and published the book.

But that's the's just random thoughts. There was no cohesion here...names were thrown about here and there, were forgotten about for a hundred pages, and then mentioned again as if I was supposed to remember them.

I really didn't care a bit for the "author" or his family or his job or his friends or his tales of Vietnam or his too numerous to mention trysts with ladies...

This one was a bust.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What I'm Listening To - "Home" by Marc Broussard

A meld of rock, country, pop, soul, and blues, New Orleans native Marc Broussard is a new favorite of mine. Full disclosure -- I discovered him while flicking through the channels and stopping on Country Music Television. But don't let that fool you. If he is country (which isn't how I would classify him at all), he's definitely different than any country I've ever listened to (of course, the only embeddable video of his first single I could find was from Country Music Television's website).

"Home" is from his 2004 album Carencro, and it's definitely Broussard at his best.

The pulsing drumbeat leads to one of my favorite bridges in music which starts at 2:20 in the video above ("Hot damn" as Marc himself says).

Trying to provide you with another song by Marc proved difficult. He's only made three music videos and the other two were for songs that were just okay. There's a ton of live stuff on youtube, but the quality isn't the greatest.

But, below is another favorite of mine and the sound quality is actually not bad. Here he is performing a cover of Marvin Gaye's "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" off of his soul covers album S.O.S. Save Our Soul.

I've never heard of this Toby Lightman who he sings with here, but a quick iTunes search brought up the song "NASCAR Love (Let's Go Racing)" and I realized that I never want to hear from her again, regardless of whether she's any good or not.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Year of Firsts

The year of firsts continues...

- Ate smoked salmon and an edible flower - went to a "fancy" champagne brunch for my grandmother's 80th birthday and had some smoked salmon...I mean, I think it was raw (but if it's smoked, is it raw?), I guess, but it tasted much better than the sushi I had earlier in the year. My little cousin convinced me to eat the flower that garnished my plate as well. My first foray in edible botanicals (well, I guess all plants are botanicals, but you get what I mean...this one had petals and stems and stuff). By the way, I'm 100% sure that 90% of this "year of first" stuff is gonna be related to food...I led a very sheltered life...

- Saw our new Vice President in person - I'll relay the story to those that want to hear it when I see you, but suffice it to say that the 5 SUVs and numerous Secret Service guys kinda make you nervous (which I guess is kinda their job, so they do it well). But, I can now say that I've been steps away from a Vice President...I mean, that's kinda cool even if I didn't vote for him...

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Book a Week - Of Mice and Men

Book Four of the Book a Week Quest

Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck, 1937

Short, sweet, and to the point. Clocking in at less than 100 pages, Of Mice and Men is certainly a simple story, but a touching (and shocking) one, detailing the lengths one will go to in order to protect a friend.

My first venture into Steinbeck, I truly appreciated the writing style and the seemingly "real" dialogue. It was a breeze to read, and out of the four books so far, it was definitely the one that had me most wanting to know what happened next. I really knew nothing about the book and I was certainly surprised (although when they started to talk about the need to kill an old dog, I kind of guessed where it was going to go...I just really didn't think it was going to go there).

Anyway, I was thoroughly impressed that such a simple writing style could depict settings and characters so vividly.

I'm definitely picking up another Steinbeck in the near future.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Book a Week - Pride and Prejudice

Book Three of the Book a Week Quest

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen, 1813

I must admit that this one started out extremely rough. I was 25 pages in and I was telling myself, "This is supposed to be a fun thing you're doing here. A book a week. This is only Week Three...Are you gonna let Jane Austen be your downfall?"

Sixty pages in and I was demanding wit...I was told this was witty, so give me the wit!

However, about a third of the way through, it all kind of came together for me. I don't know if it's just because I got used to the writing style or that the story actually picked up a bit, but I zoomed through the last two-thirds of the book within the last 36 hours.

Now, I didn't love it. And I'm not psyched to read another book by Austen, but it ended up a bit better than I expected from the horrid beginning for me. I will say, though, that it felt like "school" reading this...even though it picked up, I still can't say it was a "fun" read.

I don't know if it's Austen in general or this book in particular, but I think that if you're born with a 'Y' chromosome, you're just not going to enjoy it as much as those missing that gene.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What I'm Listening To - "Spiralling" - Keane

Possibly a weekly thing, I figured why not post some of what I'm listening to on my iPod...not that these songs will necessarily be current...they'll simply be my favorite song "of the moment." Music's much more subjective to me than visual media (I don't know why I feel that way, but I do), so no reviews here...

Keane's previous albums (what am I supposed to call them now? Albums still sounds right...) have been low key affairs with the piano as the focal instrument (their use of guitars is minimal -- it's pretty much just a piano, drums, and vocals). With "Spiralling" off of their newest cd, Perfect Symmetry, Keane definitely is moving in a different direction adding a definite 80s British pop sound to their repertoire.

Old style Keane is below -- "Somewhere Only We Know" -- just as good, but definitely different...

Monday, January 19, 2009


Don't get me wrong...I get the cultural significance of this election without a doubt...

...but is anyone else sick and tired of the nonstop love for a man who has done nothing except speak incredibly eloquently yet?  I mean, he's a smooth talker, but the concerts, Oprah screaming "in-aug-ur-ATION!" and telling me that "you can practically feel the whole country vibrating," the comparisons to Lincoln, Ruby Tuesdays staying open until midnight on Inauguration Day to "celebrate," and David Foster writing songs about "a brand new day in America" that will be "beautiful"(which really is just saying that the last eight years were like living in a trash dump)...

My immediate family knows that I haven't been a fan of W., but all the "buzz" surrounding the new guy makes me more conservative than ever before...

The New Hope hasn't done anything yet, people!  

The Eagles Suck...

McNabb and pressure don't mix...

Oh well, at least we have the Phillies...

Movie Review -- Doubt (2008)

starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis
written and directed by John Patrick Shanley

Having read the play this movie is based on a few years ago and greatly enjoying it, this was my most anticipated movie of the holiday season. Unfortunately (as seen previously in my Slumdog Millionaire review), high expectations don't always yield the best results. And Doubt was no exception.

It's the 1960s and Father Flynn (Hoffman) is trying all he can to keep his parish (which is adjacent to a Catholic school) "with the times," so to speak, providing intriguing sermons for the adults and being down to earth with the students. This doesn't necessarily sit well with Sister Aloysius (Streep) who is none too fond of Flynn. When young Sister James (Adams) has a tiny suspicion of Flynn sexually abusing the school's only black student, Aloysius takes the chance and runs with it in order to get Flynn out of the parish...whether or not the allegations are true doesn't seem to matter.

It's an incredibly simple story. That's it. As a play, there were only four characters (the supposed victim's mother played by Davis appears in only one critical scene). As a play, I would've imagined this thing would've worked.

As a movie, not so much, and I think that mostly has to do with Shanley's direction and additions to his script (he also wrote the original play). There were incredibly odd shots -- at crooked angles, looking upwards or downwards onto the actors...really just stupid shots. I found myself laughing at some of them. As for the script add-ons, they really just made Streep's character almost a the beginning of the film, her character almost seemed like she was in a comedy when she was interacting with the children in her school.

That being said, the acting in this thing was mostly top-notch, my favorite being Amy Adams. Adams has the "innocent" role down pat, after a star-making turn in Enchanted, but she was great here. Viola Davis was also excellent in her one powerful scene. Hoffman was serviceable, but he was nothing to write home about. And as for was a hoot to watch her, but I couldn't help but think that her portrayal was all over the place. It ran the gamut from humorous to downright nasty and she never really found the right balance to me.

No doubt (no pun intended there) that my experience was slightly hampered due to some poor sound issues throughout the movie (making it seem as if I was hearing things from behind a closed door), but I think I'd much rather see this as a play rather than as a movie. However, despite the grade I'm giving it below, it was an interesting that I would definitely recommend seeing (on dvd).

The RyMickey Rating: C

Friday, January 16, 2009

Movie Review - Revolutionary Road (2008)

starring Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, and Kathryn Hahn
directed by Sam Mendes
screenplay by Justin Haythe

Revolutionary Road is not a happy movie. You're not going to walk out of the theater skipping and whistling. It's intense, it's emotional, it's shocking at times, and it's one of the best movies of 2008.

Set in the mid-50s, DiCaprio and Winslet are married couple Frank and April Wheeler. From the outset, it's obvious that things aren't perfect in their relationship. With Frank languishing in a job he hates and April stuck in the home with their two children, neither is satisfied in their day-to-day life. With the hope of getting them out of their respective ruts, April devises a plan to make a big move with the whole family -- creating a new life and traveling away from their life on Revolutionary Road.

It wouldn't be a movie (or at least as nearly as an intriguing one) if everything went perfectly. And things definitely do not go perfectly.

Elevating the story to a whole new level is the excellent work by DiCaprio and Winslet. Both really deliver pitch-perfect performances. With the help of director (and Winslet's hubby) Mendes, I truly felt transported into the 1950s setting. Corny as that sounds, between the dialogue, the set design, and the costuming, it didn't feel like a movie made in this decade.

Jumping back to Winslet and DiCaprio for a minute, both were just stellar. Despite the fact that his recent films (The Departed, The Aviator) actually showcased his talent, I wasn't expecting much from DiCaprio. But his tone was perfect in this film...not many people can say "swell" and make it sound believable, but DiCaprio eases right into the 1950s setting. As good as DiCaprio is, Winslet is better. Talk about talent, Winslet never seems to disappoint. She was stunningly gorgeous, and can say so much with just her facial expressions.

There is a particular scene towards the end of the movie shared by only Winslet and DiCaprio as they sit at a kitchen table and it was just heartachingly beautiful...and the scenes that follow that one just make it resonate even more.

I also don't want to forget the great supporting turn by Kathryn Hahn as the Wheeler's next door neighbor. While initially providing some much needed comic relief, she makes the most out of what could've been a throwaway role. Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon are also serviceable in their roles, although if I had anything to pick at, Bates seemed a tad over the top, making her role of the elderly, slightly nosy, neighbor a little cliché.

It's a shame this seems to be only getting buzz for Kate Winslet's role (she received a well-deserved Golden Globe for this role), as I truly think it's one of the best films of '08.

The RyMickey Rating: A-

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Book a Week - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Book Two of the Book a Week Quest

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005

This one started out a little shaky, to be sure.  Nine year-old Oskar Schell lost his father on 9/11, and -- this is going to sound really harsh here for a minute -- the way Foer chooses to depict this kid, I really could've cared less.  Oskar is much too wise for his age, talking about atheism, astrophysics, sexual positions -- I mean, come on...a nine year-old?  No matter how liberal his New York City parents raised him, I can't imagine the mindset of a nine year-old including those thoughts.  Bluntly, the kid was simply obnoxious and annoying.

Added to that, the author strangely changes writing styles from chapter to chapter.  Chapter One may be told by Oskar in the first person, but then Chapter Two may appear to be a letter written by an unknown person addressed to an unknown person.

Admittedly, I was about 100 pages in and I was ready to toss in the towel.

I'm glad I didn't.  

As the book progressed and the various writing styles begin to make sense and fall into place, Oskar becomes much more childlike in his mission to find out more information about his deceased father.  Along the way, he meets a variety of odd characters and it's partly through the way others view Oskar that we, the reader, come to care about this nine year-old boy.  

By the end, I really did come to care for this odd little kid, and I was genuinely moved by this story of loss and love.  Now, it's still a weird read, and it's definitely not for all, but it was certainly interesting...definitely the most "experimental" book I've ever read...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Movie Review -- Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

starring Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, and Freida Pinto
directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan (co-director: India)
screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

I can't deny that expectations for this one were high.  With a co-worker telling me it was the best movie he had seen in three years, I couldn't help but think that I was going to be watching something special.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of young Jamal Malik who, as the film opens, is being tortured in an Indian jail.  Believed to have cheated while a contestant on India's version of "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire," Jamal gradually tells his life story to a police interrogator in hopes of proving that he genuinely knew the answers to the game show.

The joy of the film, for me anyway, was in the direction.  I'm a big fan of British director Danny Boyle even though I haven't seen the film that gave him his big break -- Trainspotting.  Despite (and I'm sure because of) quick cuts and the significant use of flashbacks, Boyle creates a beautiful looking movie...stylistically anyway.  A.R. Rahman's score is superb, and I found that it was probably the biggest key in pulling me into this Indian slum world.

Unfortunately, the film just didn't click with me until the final reel, and even then, it kind of left me a little cold.  I will say that this film still has me thinking about it to this day (I saw it over a week ago), but I find myself wavering in terms of how much I liked or disliked it.  The storyline dealing with Jamal's slimier brother is what I keep coming back to...I didn't really enjoy where that story went, and I found myself not caring at all about this substantial section of the film.  Plus, during Jamal's search for his childhood sweetheart, everything seems too coincidental (and, thus, unbelievable) leading up to their initial reunion (no spoiler there, really...I promise).

All that said, the tone that Boyle set for the film was perfect and his work alone knocks the film up a notch or two.  However, I can't understand why this film is winning everything in its path this awards season.  Was there really no better film? (I know the answer to that...and these better films will be reviewed in upcoming posts.)

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie Review -- Valkyrie (2008)

starring Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, and Terence Stamp
written by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander
directed by Bryan Singer

I made the Valkyrie poster above especially big because I think it's kind of intriguing artistically. I mean, the way that the red line leads you right to Tom Cruise without even realizing that it's forming a half-Swastika symbol. I mean, it's kind of cool in terms of design...

If only the movie could've followed suit.

I was actually looking forward to seeing this flick. I mean, the premise is kinda cool -- a rogue group of men in Nazi Germany attempt to overthrow Hitler. Unfortunately that general premise is all you get.

There's the aforementioned group of never get an opportunity to learn their names or why they hate Hitler (I mean, it's obvious why one now would hate Hitler, but why would these Germans back then...I still don't know). Men in this group come and go...Kenneth Branagh in fact plays a big role in the first reel and then literally disappears until the final scenes where they wrap things up.

There's a plot to overthrow him, that's for sure, but there's never any tension there at all. Anyone who knows anything about history knows that this attempt to kill Hitler didn't work and it would be easy to say that the tension isn't there because we (the viewer) already know they failed. But, I love to watch someone fail...don't we all? So, it was just the inability of the writers and directors to drum up any sense of excitement.

The actors were all serviceable, although the variety of accents (ranging from American to British to German) was odd considering everyone was playing a German soldier. Cruise was decent, and although his character had at least some background, the scenes with his family were laughable.

No doubt, this assassination attempt on Hitler was a piece of history that I had no idea ever happened. Unfortunately, I'm thinking a documentary would've been more exciting than this dreck.

The RyMickey Rating: D

A Book A Week - To Kill a Mockingbird

Week 1 - Book 1 of the Book a Week Quest

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

These book reviews are gonna be short and sweet...reminds me too much of book reports...

I really think I'm the only person my age to have never read To Kill a Mockingbird.  To be honest, I was a little worried that the "classicness" of the book would turn me off of this whole "book a week" thing...

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  No summary needed for this one, but I will say that I don't quite get the allure of it in terms of every teenager needing to read it in high school.  Still, it was a good read.  Characters were well developed and interesting, the writing style was easy-to-read, and the story was fine, though a little dated (to be expected, however).  

The only thing I'll criticize is that I felt like the end dragged a bit.  Once the court case was over, I thought the book would be done...but it went on for significantly longer than I expected...dragging its feet as it did.  I was honestly ready for it to be over.

That being said, I'm happy I can check this classic off the list...

Week 2's book: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Yeah, "reviews" aren't so much fun to write... 

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Year of Firsts

"There's nothing wrong with being afraid at all." -- Norman Schwarzkopf

Oh, General Schwarzkopf, that's what I was repeating over and over in my head when I lifted that piece of sushi precariously toward my mouth with the wavering chopsticks in my hand last Saturday night. Sure, you were talking about war...but there was definitely a battle going on in my mind about downing that raw piece of tuna.

I've decided that there's no need to be scared of things anymore...not that sushi is something to be "scared of," but I think there's a need on my behalf to be open to trying new things. To stop living so sheltered.

So, 2009 will be a year of firsts for me, and I'll keep track of them here. Sure, they're gonna be tiny things for the most part, but I'll view them all as big steps at expanding my horizon.

I realize this won't be the least bit exciting to most, but it's the best way to keep a record for me...

January 1, 2009
- Going to a casino
- I went to our local casino on New Year's Day and was by far one of the youngest people there. I played a little electronic roulette (lost $2.00 -- big spender, I know). Then, I ventured to the $5 video blackjack tables. I put in $10 and walked away $22.50 richer. So, I came out with $20.50 in my pocket that I didn't have before. I say that they knew it was my first time in the casino and they let me win so I'd have the urge to go back...It was kinda fun, honestly. I wouldn't mind stopping in every few months with a $20 bill and seeing how I do.

January 2, 2009
- Eating at a "mom-and-pop" Chinese restaurant
-- I was never raised on Chinese food. We never ever had the little white take-out boxes in our house -- my parents never ever ordered Chinese food when I was growing up, so I never even ate Chinese food until my mid-20s, a few years ago.
- Eating Sushi -- it was ok...the tuna "roll" which was probably seaweed, rice, and tuna which I dipped in a wasabi (another first)/soy sauce blend was "blech", but the simple piece of tuna over a bed of rice was actually ok. I can say I did it now...but I won't be rushing back to eat sushi again.
- Eating a variety of Chinese foods, including mu shu pork, pork lo mein, seaweed, miso soup (which contained tofu...another first), shrimp rolls - I enjoyed the mu shu pork and shrimp rolls, but didn't care for the pork lo mein and miso soup.
- Took a sip of Sapporo (Japanese) beer -- hated it...tasted kind of sweet to me.

A Book a Week

"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." - Coolio

Really, Coolio? As you walked through your "Gangsta's Paradise" your nose was in a book? I find that hard to believe. Of course, since I found that quote on the web, who knows if it is properly credited.

Last year, I read a whopping one novel. Granted, it was a doozy -- Cormac McCarthy's The Road -- but it was still only one. Nothing can numb your mind like reality television. While I'm not gonna give up the reality tv (American Idol starts in mere days), I can't live with not reading anymore, so a few of my work colleagues and I decided to pledge to read a book a week for a year. Why not, right?

First up, one that seemingly every single other American other than myself has already read -- Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

So, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss -- "The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

Movie Review -- Marley and Me (2008)

starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
directed by David Frankel
screenplay by Scott Frank and Don Roos


Let me first state that I am by no means a dog person...or a cat person...or an animal person, in general. It's not that I hate animals, but I never grew up with one in my house, so I never felt that connection with "man's best friend." So, I walked into Marley and Me expecting nothing, and walked out moderately impressed.

Based on a true story, there's no fancy storytelling's a simple story about a man, his dog Marley, his family, and his newspaper job at which he writes about his normal life. That's it. It's two hours of a dog drinking out of a toilet, running rampant through a new house, and pooping in a yard. Yeah, nothing too exciting there. That being said, there was something here, in large part due to a winning lead performance by Owen Wilson. I've never been the biggest fan of the troubled actor, but Wilson was onscreen in nearly every scene and definitely held my interest. His chemistry with Aniston was surprisingly palpable...and his chemistry with Marley was even stronger. And that's what a movie like this needs in order to make it be watchable.

The movie isn't perfect by any means. Aniston struggles in her early scenes with her newborn children (she was still a joy to look at...see picture to the right for proof of that statement); as the kids grow they're played by cloying child actors; and Wilson's workplace scenes with co-star Eric Dane are completely and utterly pointless.

Yet, I can see why this movie's a big hit. It's perfectly acceptable middle-of-the-road fare that appeals to a broad population of dog-lovers. And even though I wasn't "ooh"ing and "aww"ing as Marley tore up the sofa and knocked down dog trainer Kathleen Turner (who is looking mighty scary, by the way), and even though I wasn't crying at the end (fair warning...this movie gives Old Yeller a run for it's money), and even though I sat through two hours of this movie and still can't tell you the breed of the titular character, Marley and Me was perfectly acceptable. While that's not a rousing endorsement, I'm certainly not "dogging" the movie either.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Blog Attempt #3

Ok, then. Here we go...Attempt Number Three at this blog thing. It's a new year, so why not give it another shot.

I'm just going to keep this thing simple...a little glimpse at movies, tv, and books that I'm watching/reading this year. No doubt, it'll end up being read by only me...but a blog sounds better than keeping a journal, right? Infinitely geekier, but better...