My first vacation in very nearly a year took me to Albuquerque, NM, primarily for Balloon Fiesta, but also to visit with Becca's friend Janelle and her boyfriend Jordan. They graciously opened up their home to us for five days and saved us the hassle and expense of finding a hotel in Albuquerque during Balloon Fiesta.
Before our flight, Becca and I agreed to use only sign language with each other on the plane. Becca is trying to learn it and I have been negligent with my practice. I want to be able to talk with Heather in her own language. I love her; she makes my best friend the happiest he’s ever been, and I feel awful that I can’t communicate with her as well as I should. I’ve known her for years and my (lame) excuse was that I didn’t see them very often when they lived in California and Colorado, but they’ve been back here for 2 years and I still can’t understand her as well as I should. I struggle to have basic conversation and it’s embarrassing to me. Becca and I knew that it would be difficult, but we want to get better. Practice is the only way that happens. We did pretty well, but instead of using only sign language, we soon found ourselves talking while signing. We ended up studying more than actually conversing. I think the only way I’m going to get better is to 1: spend more time with Heather one-on-one, and 2: take a sign class. But, I digress.
We landed Wednesday in Albuquerque at 9pm MT after 10 hours of travel time, 2 stops and 2 planes. At our layover in Chicago (Mid-Way…wah-waaaaah), we grabbed some Potbelly to eat on the plane. Janelle and Jordan picked us up at Albuquerque Sunport (it’s not an airport…it’s a sunport) and we headed back to their place. Becca and Janelle caught up and the four of us shared wine and cheese and some awesome spicy Thai flavored Kettle Chips while we talked. The night ended at 1:00am MT, which for those of you who aren’t well versed in time zones, is 3:00am ET. Tired!
Thursday, we decided to skip Balloon Fiesta and slept in. Or at least I did, waking up around 11:00am or so. It was a lazy day. I read on the balcony, Becca and Janelle made delicious pancakes with an outstanding blackberry syrup. Janelle – I need the recipe. Blackberry is my favorite. Breakfast was delicious and filling. Janelle had a test, so we headed over to UNM around 2:00. She headed off to class and we headed over to Frontier for some good New Mexican food. Green chile, all the way baby! After having our fill of burritos and enchiladas, we wandered around campus a bit before settling in by a pond and reading while we waited for Janelle to finish her test. We met up again and headed over to Old Town to find some Flaming Two Arrows hot sauce for Jared and hominy for posole. We headed back home and the girls went to Jordan’s yoga class while I relaxed on the sofa and watched the Phils beat the Dodgers in game 1 of the NLCS. The three of them got home and Brad Lidge recorded the final out, with perfect timing, and we rushed out to get sushi before the restaurant closed.
Friday, we headed up to Bandelier National Park for a hike and to explore the ruins. I had been to Bandelier in the summer after 7th grade and I really wanted to get back and experience it as an adult, with the hope that I would have a greater appreciation for it. Even as a precocious 12 year old I was in awe of it, but I wanted to see it with eyes 18 years older. It was incredible. It is fascinating to consider how people lived in the rock face as recently as 500 years ago. We took the main loop up to Alcove House, the remnants of what was home to approximately 35 people. It’s 140 feet above the canyon floor and you climb 4 wooden ladders to get to it. Once up in the Alcove House, there is a Kiva you can climb into and an area you can sit and relax while you take in the view 12 stories above the canyon floor. I took my one and only Bronica photo up here. Can’t wait to see how it turns out; fingers are crossed.
After Bandelier, we stopped home for a hot minute before heading over to a local winery, Casa Rondeña, for a wine tasting. We bought a bottle of the 2005 Founder’s Reserve. My senses were working and I caught strong cherry flavors. After tasting all of the wines they had on hand, we all bought a glass of wine to enjoy on the back patio as the sun set. I had the 2005 Meritage Red, Becca and Janelle had the 2007 Serenade and Jordan had the delicious 2004 Animante port. The back patio resembled a Mexican villa and as it turned out, there was no reason to rush to the Balloon Fiesta’s Evening Glow. After the wine, we headed over to the Balloon Fiesta, but were diverted away from the parking lot because the Glow was cancelled due to high wind. Instead we went to El Pinto, quite possibly the most massive restaurant I have ever been in and enjoyed a fantastic New Mexican meal and margaritas. I had my first sopapilla of the trip and it was great. On the way home, we were passing a casino and suddenly I was inside losing money. Jordan made out the best, winning $30 at the blackjack table. Once home, we played a couple games of Cranium while starting and finishing a bottle of wine and each of us a bottle of beer. We headed off to bed around 11:30pm with the plan to roll out of the house at 5:00am to get to the Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension.
We did indeed manage to wake up and get ourselves to the Balloon Fiesta, the girls chipper and awake, while Jordan and I grumbled and moaned. We were hanging out, eating mini sticky buns in a cone and drinking hot chocolate when we found out that they cancelled the Mass Ascension, again due to high winds. Frustrated and disappointed, we headed back to the house and napped for a few hours, before waking up to Becca’s parents calling at 9:45am and letting us know that they’d be there to pick us up in 15 minutes. Her parents were on a separate vacation and were coming to Albuquerque for dinner with friends and we decided to take the Turquoise trail up to Santa Fe for the day. Becca’s father was a park ranger for the Sandia district while they lived in Albuquerque, so on the way we stopped at the ranger station and went up to Sandia Crest. In spite of the stormy weather, we made it to the top took in the view of dense fog and then drove back down. Becca’s father was responsible for many of the improvements to the Sandia district and on the way down we stopped at different points he explained some of the work they had done while he was the district manager. It was a great way to learn about the mountain.
At the base, we stopped at the Tinkertown museum and explored Ross Ward’s hand carved creations. The museum is a testament to hard work and living a full and honest life. Sadly, Ross Ward passed away in November of 2002 due to complications related to Alzheimer’s. His legacy lives on at Tinkertown.
One of our goals for the day was to eat at Tecolote Café in Santa Fe. It had been featured on the Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, we had taken too long getting to Santa Fe and we arrived half an hour after they closed. As we drove around looking for a place to eat we were hit by a sudden downpour and hail storm. Seeking shelter under a gas station canopy, we decided on Harry’s Roadhouse while we waited out the hail. At Harry’s we learned of the Chocolate Maven, which apparently is the best bakery in all of Santa Fe, which was perfect since we were looking for dessert to bring to that night’s dinner. Again, unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes too late at 4:15pm. It closed at 4:00pm. Frustrated, but laughing at the hilarity of everything being closed, we picked up dessert at a supermarket and headed back to Albuquerque for dinner with Becca’s parents and their friends. They call it the Round Robin and for the past 25 years, they’ve been getting together for dinner once a month.
After dinner, we headed home and lamented that our vacation was coming to an end. But, there was still one more Mass Ascension at the Balloon Fiesta to go to. This time, however, we decided to wait until they confirmed the balloons would go up. Around 7:00am, they confirmed that they would not fly. The lower, ground level winds were calm enough, but the higher level winds were borderline too strong and blowing towards downtown, which presented (very) limited landing spots for the balloons. Amazingly, all of the Balloon Fiesta events we tried to go to were cancelled due to the weather and we were leaving Albuquerque with seeing a single balloon up close. (We did see one lone balloon from a distance on Thursday.) There’s always next year, although I suggested we combine the Balloon Fiesta with the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. We’ll see.
All in all, while we were disappointed that we didn’t get to experience Balloon Fiesta, the vacation was great. It was wonderful getting to meet Janelle and Jordan and I can’t wait until the next time we can see them. I also headed to work Monday morning with the thought that I hadn’t taken long enough off and wondering when my next vacation would be.
The entire Albuquerque trip in pictures: On Flickr
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
My first vacation in very nearly a year took me to Albuquerque, NM, primarily for Balloon Fiesta, but also to visit with Becca's friend Janelle and her boyfriend Jordan. They graciously opened up their home to us for five days and saved us the hassle and expense of finding a hotel in Albuquerque during Balloon Fiesta.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I'm not going to lie, nor mince words here. I was genuinely excited to try out Table 31, the latest offering from Georges Perrier and Chris Scarduzio, especially after reading Craig LaBan's three bell review in the Philadelphia Inquirer. And yes, I know that you should not take a food critic's review at face value. But the timing of review could not have been any better for Table 31. And yes, I understand that Restaurant Week is a chance for people to try out restaurants that they might not otherwise visit. And that's exactly why Restaurant Week is important for restaurants; in particular, new restaurants that have been open for less than 4 months and is brought to you by the most famous chef in Philadelphia. They are a new restaurant and their goal should be to impress their potential clientele enough that guests are willing to come back and buy that $105 porterhouse or that $68 tomahawk.
Essentially, this dining experience can be summed up in one word:
I am aware that a restaurant may not be inclined to show off their best work during Restaurant Week. But they should at least put some effort into it. When you go to a restaurant ranked up there with the best steakhouses in the city, the steak you order should be cooked to order. But that's getting ahead of things, because before you even get the menu, you should be seated at a table for your party and not sharing a space with another group of people in the Private Dining Room (or PDR as the hostess said, trying to make it more impressive). I know that during Restaurant Week, you are cramming as many people into the place as possible. But don't force people to share a space if you aren't a family- or hibachi-style restaurant.
Second, as a steakhouse, you should be able to cook a slab of meat as ordered, most definitely when it costs extra on top of the fixed Restaurant Week menu. And certainly if you get it wrong the first time, you should get it right the second time, even if you do bring out a sad excuse for a NY strip steak and fail to provide a knife to cut into the steak to check it. And if by some chance you manage to get that sad excuse for a NY strip wrong again, you most definitely should not bring back the same sad excuse for a NY strip back out after cooking it a little bit longer while still managing to leave it undercooked.
Third, you also should be able to bring out wine listed on the menu as the suggested entree wine with the entree and not after the entree and certainly not after asking for it three times, while eating said entree slowly with the hope of being able to enjoy the wine with said entree.
Fourth, as a sad attempt to make things right, you should positively not bring out a drink at the end of the meal that tastes like Robitussin with cocoa on top of it.
And not to completely pan Table 31: the desserts were outstanding. The PBJ was delicious and tasted exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The Ultimate Chocolate Cake was delightful; rich but light and smooth.
There is no excuse for a top steakhouse, Restaurant Week or not, to prove an inability to cook a steak to order - first obviously overcooked without cutting into it and second drastically undercooked. No fine restaurant should have such service as not to bring serve wine ordered with the entree after the entree was finished. Just about the only thing that was handled properly was the check, which the manager kindly amended down approximately two-thirds of the total. What Table 31 failed to do was, in any way, make us return during regular dining. Which means they completely missed the point of Restaurant Week.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Here's a crazy idea...go to three different burger joints and compare their cheeseburgers in a taste test. That is just what Duane and I did over 2 and 1/2 hours. We hit up three places in Delaware County to do a taste comparison. I had a biased opinion heading into it because I had been to all three places before. Duane had never been to any of them, so he was going into the taste test without any preconceptions.
We decided to visit Zac's in Media, Charlie's in Folsom, and Five Guys in Clifton Heights, in that order.
We walked into Zac's with great anticipation, for several reasons. First, it was our first destination. Second, Duane was ridiculously excited for this, evidenced by the research he had done online about reviewing hamburgers, his notebook with tasting criteria and the huge smile on his face. I also was excited, but was able to contain said excitement a little better. No matter, because it turns out that other people were nearly as excited as we were to be doing this. Once they brought our burgers to us, a few people noticed that we were taking pictures of the food, writing notes and generally discussing what was in front of us. One person asked if we were food photographers. Another guy heard us mention that we were doing a burger comparison and looked as though he was ready to ditch his (young) children and join us. Duane made the astute observation that he didn't really have much of anything constructive to say, but it seemed he really wanted to stand near us as we were discussing the food.
Once the burgers came out, we got down to business. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomatoes and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger with everything and then added mayo and lettuce for good measure. He likes his toppings. In fact, he was scoring each place on their toppings selection. I chose not to do that. The burger fit the toasted bun well. Zac's burgers are relatively not greasy. They're clean and simple to eat and go down way too easily. The beef is fresh and not frozen and they cook it up for you when you order. My burger and bun stayed together very well, but Duane and his overloaded burger had a little trouble. I suppose you can't complain when you've got 8 or so toppings crammed between a soft, toasted bun.
In our excitement, we decided to pick up some extra burgers since Zac's offers 10 burgers for $12 on Saturdays. Later on, we realized the folly of our ways and couldn't quite figure out why we thought this would be a good idea. Anyway, with extra burgers in hand, we headed onto our next stop, Charlie's.
Charlie's in Folsom is a pretty simple place. They offer burgers and hot dogs. That's it. No fries. They don't have bacon. They've got a counter that looks at the flattop and a counter that looks out the windows. They tell you to stay in line after you order because it's easier for them to figure out who gets what.
The first thing Duane notices when we walk in is the plate full of thickly cut Velveeta cheese that is waiting to get placed on the burgers. It pretty much looks like what I imagine our arteries are going to look like after our third stop. But it gives the burger a little something extra. I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles. Duane got one with everything, which was onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Like I said...it's a simple place.
The meat is already cooked and waiting for an order. The buns are pre-toasted. Everything gets heated up on the flattop when you order. These burgers are remarkably greasy. I suspect this is because of the Velveeta. You can feel the grease congealing on your hand as you eat it. Again, visions of clogged arteries dance through my head. Because there isn't much to the burger, it stays together nicely while you eat it. Overall, the burger isn't bad, but it's lagging behind Zac's from the start.
We finished up at Charlie's and moved onto Five Guys, our final destination.
Five Guys has a bit of advantage over the little guys. They've spread from their original locations in the Washington, D.C. area and they know what they're doing. That isn't to say that Zac's and Charlie's don't, but Five Guys is a bigger operation and their offering shows it. It's a different thing they've got going on. Their burgers are a bit more refined, though not necessarily better.
Once again, in striving for consistency for an easier comparison, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomato and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger "all the way" which is most of the toppings they offer, including mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, lettuce, and mustard. He threw in jalapeños for kicks. I forgot that a regular Five Guys burger is a double. The single patty burgers are called "little." The quality of the meat at Five Guys is definitely the best of the three places, but just barely ahead of Zac's. The burgers are pretty much right in the middle of Zac's (less) and Charlie's (more) in terms of grease. They wrap their burgers in aluminum foil, which squishes the sesame seed bun quite a bit. It also keeps the moisture in, which makes them a little soggy, especially when they sit a while, like when you do take out and drive home before eating them. Once again, my burger held up to the stresses of being eaten and stayed relatively intact during consumption. Duane's burger, on the other hand, had quite a bit of trouble. For some reason, his meat was crumbling and with so many toppings he had trouble keeping the burgers from sliding around. He decided in the end that the mushrooms were the culprit.
As we slowly finished the last few bites of our Five Guys burgers, the day was settling in our stomachs. We finished up tallying the scores from all three places as we sat in Five Guys, letting our food digest a bit before got back in the car and drove home.
The final score
Duane scored the toppings in his reviews and I chose not to. In order to make an easier comparison, Duane's scores are totaled both without the toppings and with the toppings (in parentheses).
Duane says it was a toss up between Five Guys and Zac's for him. His observation was that it is difficult to compare these two burgers because they are so different. He would return to either place depending on what type of burger he wanted. For me, it was Zac's all the way.
We had a great time doing this and we're already planning our next food comparison. Will it be cheesesteaks? Or pizza? Or hoagies? Stay tuned for more.
Complete set of my photos
Monday, May 5, 2008
From 39th and Chestnut to 2nd and Pine, City Chase Philadelphia made sure to spread the challenges out all over the city. Starting out at Love Park at 16th, we hoofed it 10 miles from challenge to challenge, not including the time spent on the bus and the subway. Needless to say, certain body parts were/are sore. But it was totally worth it. City Chase was tons of fun.
Our first challenge took us to the Schuylkill River for kayaking. This was something we were both hoping to do during the event and it turned out to be our favorite of the day. One of us had to kayak about two blocks down the river and then come back before returning and having our partner do the same. It was a lot harder that it seemed like it was going to be; the current around the bridge pylons tried to pull you into the concrete rather than let you go straight. From that first, tiring event we ran and fast walked to 39th and Chestnut for our next challenge.
The second challenge took us to the Boston Market at 39th and Chestnut. There we were met with stilts and the requirement to walk along a line about 25 feet long. Once we made it to the other end, we needed to give the stilts to our partner to go back to the other end. I was up first and after quite a few falls, that including banging my knee and cutting my thumb (battle scars! haha), I finally made it to the end of the line. There, I handed the stilts off to Becca and she mastered the challenge much faster than I did.
From there we headed off to the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia to, we presumed, fence. When we got there, we had to wait for 5 minutes or so before we even found out what the challenge was. It turned out that one team member had to take a fencing class (about 10 minutes) and then had to fence another team's participant. The catch was that you wouldn't get credit for the challenge until you won. So if it turned out that whoever was fencing sucked and kept losing, you could potentially be there for a long time. We decided against fencing although we both thought it would be fun. Later, after the race, Jared and Heather said they were there about 30 minutes, which was the class and two matches. We were glad we skipped it.
From the Academy at 36th and Lancaster we walked back to 22nd and Arch, via Market. We rode the bus to 22nd and Fairmount for our third challenge, a scavenger hunt at Eastern State Penitentiary. Given a Palm Treo (thank you Sponsors!), we had to find seven items on the list (out of 9, I believe) and take pictures using the phone. Neither of us had been to ESP and it was nice to get to see it, but we couldn't enjoy the tour because we had other challenges to complete. This is also where we filled up our orange balloons that we needed when we crossed the finish line.
With our balloons secured to our bags, we headed to our next challenge at the Urban Saloon at 21st and Fairmount. There one team member had to try and win a Wii bowling match against another team. If that team member lost, the other team member was busy building a house of cards to get credit for the challenge. See picture of the house of cards to figure out which we needed. It's tough making a house of cards and getting it to stay standing when the floor vibrates every time someone walks buy. Necessary steps were taken to make sure the table remained standing. We also turned in our Mensa challenge and walked out of the Urban Saloon with our day half finished.
Next, we tried to find Franklin Town Park, which Google put at 18th and Spring Garden to play SpikeBall, but we couldn't find it. Turns out the park is at 18th and Callowhill and we didn't walk down that far. Instead we walked back to Broad and Fairmount to catch the Broad Street Line down to South Street. At least that was the plan...instead, as we pulled into the Walnut-Locust stop, I had the brilliant idea to get off there and go a different route through the challenges. Which was idiotic and possibly a symptom of temporary insanity. Once we were off the subway, Becca kindly pointed out that we still had to go to South for two challenges regardless of where we got off. So...we trudged to 9th and Bainbridge for our sixth challenge at Expressive Hand.
When we talked to Jared after our fifth challenge, he and Heather had already completed 7 challenges. We felt slow, but this changed after we got to South Street and Old City. We walked into Expressive Hand for the challenge, which turned out to be finger spelling a word on a card that we randomly selected. The word turned out to be "City Chase" and we were finished our sixth challenge in about 3 minutes.
From Expressive Hand we headed up to the Whole Foods at 9th and South for another challenge that we were looking forward to. There we had to raise $30 for a great charity, Back on My Feet. Back on My Feet helps the homeless get cleaned up and get interviews to get themselves back on track. It started when Anne Mahlum would run past a homeless shelter every day on her run. She organized a running club with the homeless shelter and through running, got them the help they needed to turn their lives around. The challenge required us to solicit strangers on the street to donate money to the organization. As incentives we had shirts and wristbands which could be bought for $25 and $5, respectively. We didn't sell a shirt, but we did sell a bunch of bracelets. For me, the thing that stood out the most about asking for donations was that the kids we talked to donated more than the adults. We would talk to a group of teenagers and they'd all donate $1 or so. But the adults who could, theoretically, afford to donate more were harder to get the money from. It was a good feeling knowing that the kids were doing to donating. I suppose there's hope for today's youth, after all. After we raised our $30, we headed off to our 8th challenge at Society Hill Dance Academy.
We walked down to 2nd and Pine and found the Academy. There we found a pile of tutus and knew what lay ahead for us. After I squeezed into the pink tutu, we quickly learned a short routine. Then we did it 3 times, practicing twice and the third time to music. I am not the most graceful person on the face of the planet. But it was fun.
After earning our 7th challenge point, we trucked it over to 3rd and Market to Doggie Style. There we tried miserably to identify 8 dog breeds. After failing, I got to eat dog food. It wasn't so bad, actually. Luckily it was a "natural" dog food. It had turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes and other stuff. It tasted kind of like a cold stew and didn't go down too badly. Also, I had smartly brought gum along for the day, so I was able to chase the dog food with a stick of minty fresh gum.
A block down Market was our 10th and final challenge. We had to put a snake down our shirt. This was probably the easiest challenge of the day, but apparently there were girls that were crying while they had the snake slithering through their shirts.
After the 10th challenge we hustled back to Love Park to the finish line. After crossing, we learned that we finished in 110th place. Our friends Blake and Patrick finished 18th and Jared and Heather finished 75th. We figure that if we hadn't followed my excellent advice to get off early on the subway, we would have finished at about the same time as Jared and Heather. Regardless, we had a great time and it was a fantastic experience. I'm willing to bet that next year's Chase will be even better.
City Chase USA
Back on My Feet
Society Hill Dance Academy
Eastern State Penitentiary
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Mayor Michael Nutter came to the opening "ceremony" for City Chase USA Philadelphia and started getting down with all of the participants. He said that the city was campaigning to be the City Chase USA Host City next year. He expects participation in the event to at least double.
I truly believe that Mayor Nutter is going to turn around Philadelphia and make it a city people are proud to live in. He loves life and this city and he's not afraid to show it. More importantly, he wants to share that love with everyone who lives in, near or visits Philadelphia. He wants to clean it up. He wants to make it safer. He wants to get people involved with the community. And he wants to groove.
City Chase USA
Mayor Michael Nutter
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Nada Surf. They hit it big in the mid 90's with the single "Popular" from High/Low and then essentially faded from the mainstream. Luckily for them. People think they're one hit wonders and those people are wrong. They continue to put out quality albums that are for them and their fans and not the executives at a record company. In fact, they felt so strongly about their second album The Proximity Effect that they ended up breaking their contract with the company they were with and then fought a protracted court battle to win the right to release it in the United States. Over the years they have become a quiet favorite of mine.
Small venues are my favorite places to see bands. They're more intimate, obviously, and the band often interacts with the crowd much more. For bands with small followings, the people at the show are often passionate fans that really groove with the music. It all just lends itself to a better performance. Nada Surf was no exception. The crowd was singing along, people were dancing to the tunes and the band, especially Matthew Caws and to a lesser extent Daniel Lorca, was talking to the crowd. Caws called out some kids that were on the balcony at the front and said it was great that they were at the show. He told the guy with them that he was a great dad for bringing them to a rock show.
They played a lot of music from their new album, Lucky, in the beginning of the show. The new album sounds great and I plan on buying it...from a record store at the plea of Caws. Their newer music is a little less hard and heavy. My thought is that they're mellowing out a bit as the get older. This is fine, good bands change as they grow as musicians. The effect was that the first two-thirds of the concert was a little less "rock" and a little more "roll." They played some really great songs, including the haunting "See These Bones" and my favorite "Weightless" from Lucky.
They came back for the encore - I use this term lightly...it was more of a shortened second set - and proclaimed that they had 25 minutes left to play and they had 4 songs left they had planned to play, which wouldn't take 25 minutes. The crowd shouted out some requests and "Hyperspace" (which could/should have been the single the record company was looking for from The Proximity Effect)was added to the set list. Caws said it had been a while since they played it, so we'd have to see how it went. Well, they rocked it and I think Caws and Lorca had the best time with that song in the entire concert. The encore had a different tone to it, they played all older songs and they really turned the intensity up. The concert would have been great if they hadn't, but it was incredible because they did. I left the Troc pumped and wishing they would have played for another hour.
After waiting so long to see them for the first time, I can't wait until they come around again.
Monday, April 14, 2008
At the beginning of the film festival, I had no intention of going to see What We Do is Secret. When it was suggested, I was ambivalent and expecting it to sell out, figured that I didn't really need to see it. Saturday came around and when it wasn't sold out and I had plans to be in the city later anyway, I decided that part of what the film festival is about is to see movies you wouldn't normally see. All I can say is that I would have been upset and kicking myself if I didn't see this film. For me, it was easily the best of what I had seen so far.
What We Do is Secret is the dramatized, biographical film about Darby Crash (played phenomenally by Shane West) and his late 70's punk band The Germs. The film uses a mix of interviews, live performances and everyday life to tell Crash's story. The movie benefited from input from band members - Pat Smear was on the set for 80 - 90% of the filming according to the director. It is a hauntingly realistic view of Crash's life from his teens to his death in his early twenties.
The seriousness of the film is intense. There are light moments, but usually they last only a few seconds. The one notable exception is a band interview at KROQ in LA. The scene is light, laugh out loud funny and most remarkably, actually what happened. The transcript from the interview was used for the movie. During the Q&A after the film, the director, Rodger Grossman, noted that he had to fight tooth and nail to include this scene in the movie.
Funding for the film was limited; according to Grossman, it took over ten years to secure funding and when they finally nailed it down, they filmed 80% of the movie in 15 days. It's a shame it took so long to tell this story, but it's great that it was finally told.
What We Do is Secret
Philadelphia Film Festival
This cute film set in the Australian desert in 1990 teams up the unlikely combination of a Cambodian, an Indonesian and an Iraqi who have been brought together by a series of deception and mishaps, which continue to plaque them as they wander seemingly aimlessly. Their final destinations are different, one wants to go to Broome, one to Perth and the third simply wants asylum and none of them know how to achieve their respective goal.
The best scenes in the movie are those that involve the army reservists that are tracking the trio through the desert. Not quite a bumbling set, they spend their day punting the football or grilling shrimp on the engine of their truck. On the chase, they find the water hole that the trio their tracking found two days before. While taking a swim, the truck rolls into the pond. In a classic scene, the reservist responsible for the truck simply drops his head and lets out a sigh in admission of his failure.
The film suffers from a tad too much comedic fantasy. One character falls off the side of a cliff as he is being chased and the grunts he emits as he falls, unseen while the camera remains fixed at the point where he went over the edge, are laughter inducing because they last for so long and continue long after they should. But in his next scene, this man is seen without torn clothing, cuts, limps or any indication that he had just fallen hundreds of feet. The same goes for a pickup truck that is repaired from an utterly destroyed state in a matter of days. The repaired truck allows for humorous scenes, including the fact that it can only go in reverse, but it is unlikely it would ever actually be able to be restored to running condition.
Overall, Lucky Miles is a funny movie that doesn't make you think too hard, which can certainly be appreciated on the final weekend of the film festival. The audience laughed out loud on more than a few occasions and I think that should count as a successful comedy.
Philadelphia Film Festival
Friday, April 11, 2008
Heading into this movie, expecting a dark comedy, I was prepared for uncomfortable situations that aim for uncomfortable laughter. Surprisingly, the only dark part of the film was its setting, Communist East Germany. It seemed almost lighthearted. Laughs came easily and the somber scenes in the movie were short-lived.
The movie is based loosely on a true story. A quick search on Google didn't turn up anything more than stories on the movie and not the actual events, so how loosely based it is remains a mystery to me. I'm guessing it's pretty loose, but I know very little about East Germany.
I wish I had more to write about this movie. I liked it. It was good. But truth be told, we ended up discussing Lovely By Surprise over dinner after this movie.
I wonder what that says about each of the movies?
Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution
Bryn Mawr Film Institute
Philadelphia Film Festival
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Frankly, I walked away from this movie disappointed. As the credits rolled, the story seemed incomplete, full of holes and questions left unanswered. The Q&A session with one of the producers wasn't very helpful, with the response, "That's a good question," leading off most of his answers. To be fair, he was filling in for the director and writer (Kirt Gunn), who had a family emergency. He only came on board the project after shooting was complete, but it seems to me that for someone in a position that can heavily influence the final product, perhaps less so in an indie flick, he knew very little about the actual substance and background of the film.
A few of the actors were terrible (Dallas Roberts as Mopekey comes to mind). Others were outstanding, perfect for the role in which they were cast (Kate Burton as Helen, Reg Rogers as Bob). There are scenes that don't seem to quite sit right within the movie. There are scenes in the film that are excellent and these are the scenes that stay with you after the movie ends.
I didn't think I had as much trouble wrapping my head around the movie as other people, but the more I think about it and discuss it with friends, the less secure I am in that thought.
As disappointing as the film was initially, two days later we were still talking about it, trying to work it out. Movies that stay with you for days afterward have done their job. They make you think, contemplate the story, dissect the scenes, search out clues to what the director or writer had in mind. They may even draw you in to watch it again and try and pick up on those little nuances that you missed the first time around.
I have the benefit of having friends to whom music is like second nature. I know what I like when I hear it, can recall lyrics and tunes from years past, but struggle to remember song and artist names. While I often feel and even see music - particularly at live shows - I am envious of my friends who can recall songs and names of small indie artists, connect familiar sounding songs with other, different artists, or generally know more about music itself than I do. I try to learn from them as much as possible. As it is, music in movies is often a background element for me, unless it's really a horrible selection. I tend to concentrate on the dialogue and settings. As the musical selections for Lovely by Surprise were discussed, I realized how well it fit in with the movie. When I think back on the film, I can remember the music, but it doesn't stand out in a glaring, obvious way. This to me is a good thing, because it didn't take away from the movie in anyway. On the other hand, I wish I could admit that it added to the film for me. I feel like I missed an important character in the film.
In the end, I'm glad that I saw this movie. And I've decided that I actually would like to see it again, this time trying to pick up on the things missed in the first viewing. I'd also like to really hear the music and connect it to the film. I wonder if I'd be as disappointed with the movie the second time around and I suspect that I won't be.
Lovely by Surprise
Philadelphia Film Festival
Sunday, April 6, 2008
With a friend of Jared's in town from California, we hit up a few of the best areas of Philadelphia.
We started the day in Northern Liberties, heading to Honey's for breakfast. Honey's has an interesting Southern Jewish style menu. There was 30 minute wait for a table, which I always take as a good sign for a breakfast place.
Walking in the door, I wanted pancakes, but as soon as I sat down and saw the words French, Toast, Stuffed, Peanut Butter, and Bananas on the same line of the menu, I knew that I had to try it. I wasn't prepared to forget my desire for a pancake and Jared said the latkes were really good. So along with the Peanut Butter and Banana Stuffed French Toast, I ordered a buttermilk pancake and a latke. Too much food, I know, but I had to do it. I was not disappointed in the least. The peanut butter was homemade, the pancake was thick and perfect and the latke was plain looking, but so tasty.
From Honey's and Northern Liberties, we headed off to Chinatown for a little adventure. First up was the Shanghai Bazaar, where we learned how to use an abacus (sort of) and played with Chinese brain teasers, one of which was purchased and brought home.
Afterward, we ventured into a Chinese market that was below ground and the funk of fish hit you as soon as you opened the door. With no fear and a bit of anticipation, we headed down the steps to the market. We wandered around, looked at the live fish and crabs, marveled at the boneless duck feet and were astounded by the dried sea cucumbers ($89.99/lb!) but left basically empty handed. With the meter running out, we headed off to our next neighborhood, the fantastic Italian Market.
The Italian Market is filled with food, colors, culture, people, smells, tastes, and sounds and there is nowhere else like it.
The highlight of our visit was DiBruno Brothers, where we sampled Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor, a goat cheese with black truffle. Purchased. Next we sampled the Midnight Moon Goat Gouda. Also purchased. And finally, we decided that we absolutely could not pass up a chance to try a prune that had been soaked in cognac and then stuffed with foie gras. If ever a perfect food was created, this might be it. So rich, just one is more than enough, but so, so succulent. We also picked up a baguette before leaving. Moving down the block, we picked up some fresh mozzarella before heading off to South Street.
We decided to walk from the Italian Market to South Street since we had free parking and weren't really all that far. They're doing construction on South Street to freshen the look. They've pulled out all the trees, including the gum covered one, which is a little disappointing, but supposedly the "new" South Street is going to be worth it. Anyway, the goal on South Street was to get Jim a cheese steak. We passed up Jim's and moved down to Steaks on South, under appreciated and not nearly as busy as Jim's, the steaks are great. Plus they take a shot right at Geno's, which always makes me happy. We wandered around a bit more before heading back to the car we left at the Italian Market.
From there, we took Jim on a driving tour of University City and Manayunk and then headed back to the house, stopping at ACME to see if we could find some Hank's Root Beer for Jim to try. We failed at that, but decided to have a taste comparison of Virgil's Root Beer and Natural Brew Root Beer. While picking those out, it was decided that a Key Lime pie would be made for dessert. Jim's family was instrumental in the history of Key Lime pie and he insisted on making it right. With true Key Limes - the yellow ones that come from the Florida Keys and not the green ones that come from Mexico - in short supply, the only acceptable substitute is Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Juice. Luckily ACME carries it, so we were in business. We picked up some eggs, sweetened condensed milk and a pre-made pie crust (it was a long day), ice cream and milk and headed back to the house. Jim took control, prepped the filling and stuck it in the oven for 15 minutes, at which point we decided to tackle the cheese we had purchased earlier in the day. When we sampled the Truffle Tremor at DiBruno's, we didn't get a whole lot of the truffle flavor, but it really stood out when we ate it now.
Jared pulled out some dark chocolate chips and suddenly chocolate and cheese was being enjoyed. A little olive oil was put into a dish and we had a gourmet cheese plate on our hands. We busted out the root beers and decided that the Virgil's was better of the two, but the Natural Brew was made into a root beer float to be enjoyed.
A game of Kalooki while we waited for the pie to set in the fridge passed the time and before we knew it, we were finishing our day off with Key Lime pie at 12:30 am.