23 April 2009

Scrapptacular (Or How, when Life gives you Lemons, you Sometimes make Lemon Mush)

One of my guilty little pleasures (read: one of my primary past times) is watching the Food Network. Why, you might ask? Maybe because I always watched it when I was sick in Middle School, back when the show "How To Boil Water" was on. It featured a two-bit internet comedian who pimped is AOL Keyword "LOL" on-air. The internet was still this shocking new idea that was only available from CompuSERV or AOL (we had the former) and I couldn't exactly figure out what the fuck "Elle-Oh-Elle" had to do with Comedy. Oh to be naive again.

Anyway, one of the shows I end up watching a lot of on the Food Network is Ace of Cakes, since the girlfriend loves to muse of Wedding Cakes designed by famous dudes, and I like preposterous ideas. As we've watched more of that show, I've wanted many different cakes: one of the Millennium Falcon, one of a Viking Ship, one of Zombies, and one of a giant Chicago-Style Hot Dog. Now, I wanted a the Millennium Falcon atop a Chicago-style Dog floating in a Viking Ship piloted by Zombies. Dope.

Lead Cake Yogi and total Badass Duff wanted a cake that looked like it was made from Meat, and unitentionally introduced me to a miracle of (not so) modern pork products: Scrapple. According to Ace of Cakes, as well as the Wiki article about it, its mostly a Mid-Atlantic regional food, so I was really surprised when I found it in a Peoria grocerie store a couple weeks ago.

Tonight, I tried it.

After opening the package, it smelled an aweful lot like regular breakfast sausage, although maybe with a hint more sage. The packaging called for 8-10 minutes frying on either side, so I popped it in the pan and worked on the rest of my Breakfast for Dinner Extravoganza.

Plating up the five slabs of meat product, it definately resembled breakfast sausage at this point, as well. The first bite revealed Scrapples true colors. The mealiness, soft texture contrasted sharply with the crispy edges, conjuring up images of men in big rustic hats circled round the chuckwagon, talking about the latest cattle drive and how darn taste this handy pork-n-corn product Cooky had whipped up tasted. If breakfast sausage patties are cordless phones, and Spam is the Communicator from the original Star Trek series, Scrapple is the Old Timey wood box phone that lives on the wall and has a crank.

The only difference? The operator oinks. And probably nobody but Sulu had ever been to Hawaii.

21 April 2009

Revenge of the Sith PIxel (Or why Star Wars III Needs Blu Ray)

So I've been packing all of my shit for the my imminent move to our new apartment, and I decided to put my favorite brain auto-pilot movie on: Star Wars III. I know people really liked the movie... but people like lots of bad movies (Spider Man III anyone?) with bad actors (Will Ferrell much). It's either my 4th or 5th favorite Star Wars movie, since I think that Attack of the Clones was actually fairly well acted, Return of the Jedi is far more important and epic a "Final Chapter" than E3, and that Empire is the best science fiction movie ever created.

What E3 does do for me, however, is provide me with the best produced Star Wars film of the trilogies: excellent effects and sound, well lit and edited, and more richly set than most movies I've ever seen. Its for all these reasons that I love to run this disc when I'm doing things that otherwise require my thoughts; by doing other (in this isntance, packing), I can ignore the part of the movie that ruins the film: the acting (although, McGregor is fucking ridiculous in all of the movies.). Watching this movie on a tv that is only limited by the resolution of the source media, I'm realizing how this movie could end my Quest for the Best Blu-Ray. As I sit here and see all the artifacts that turn up during stable coverage shots, I can't wait for the release of the two trilogies on BD... just as long as Lucas doesn't go and fuck with the ending pf Empire or add Jar-Jar Binks to the cast of characters in the Mos Eisley bar or on Jabba's Sail Barge.

16 April 2009

Your Red World, My Blue One

Chicagoans might remember this thing called "Sunshine" that made a surprise visit to the Windy City. Without a doubt, one of the rarist visitors to our city, I decided to snap a quick photo of the clear blue sky and aggressive rays which beat down on our heads. Like any good citizen, I immediately trecked out to get a headstart on my tan, since a temperature of 57 means you can almost go shirtless in what might be called a "Heatwave" in April. We've simply had too many days of chilly, cloudy days in a row since the endless tundra called Winter was officially over. If March 21 is indeed the first day of Spring in Chicago, I am Mayor Daley himself.

I got a text from two of my favorite Partners In Crime from Evansville last night gloating that they ha
d tickets to the Cubs vs. Cardinals game that took place mid-afternoon. The importance of this match-up is more important to people in Downstate Illinois and Indiana than it is to
Chigoland, mostly because the war of bickering between fans of these teams in those area is harsher than the Perpetual War of Nineteen Eighty-Four... For instance, an "Official Hot Dog of the St. Louis Cardinals" was for sale in a grocerie store in Peoria, Illinois when I was there last weekend, but I couldn't find a proper Chicago brand at all. While this is pretty anecdotal, this was definately a hotly contested game in the sport's bars and beer hauls in the Tri-State area.

Speaking of hot dogs, I had my first Chicago Dog of the baseball season (even though, as far as I'm concerned, its almost always a good time to eat a Chicago Dog) from my favorite vendor of fine all beef products: Flub a Dub Chub's. A very essentric place located in the basement of a bar, or hair salon, or something, FDC perveys some of the tastiest Chicago Dogs in Lincoln Park. Each dog comes with a bag of fries included in the price... the Champaign of Beers was my own addition. Armed with one of the best personal effect's one could have during a great day, I embarked back to the rooftop terrace at my building to consumer and ponder upon an endevor I've been working on for the past two weeks: The Watchman Motion Comic.

This piece of tomfoolery isn't the most scenematic thing I've seen in a long time, but it definately puts a lot of perspective to the Comic Book and the Movie... Think of it as the gap between reading Hamlet in English class and seeing it performed in the mid-nineties version by Mad Max himself. Each disc is about an hour and forty-five minutes long, which isn't much, of course, until you think about the fact that most of the time, there is only a little movement inserted into each panel of the comic book. What movement has been added isn't magnificent watching. You also have to get past the inch at the beginning that all of the characters are voiced by the same narrator. With all that, out of the way, though, its definately an interesting watch.

The Motion Comic puts into sharp perspective the difference between the movie and the comic book... The book alone allows you to voice the characters in your head and add intonations and meaning to the text as you see fit; the Motion Comic adds some "professional" spin on the same idea. If you ever imagined Rorschach to have a gravily voice while masked but monotone and sticato in person, this lends credence to your perspective. If you didn't imagine Dr. Manhatten sounding like a bit of a robot, though, you've apparently missed the mark, at least according to this telling. I can't imagine what the narrator was thinking as he tried to record the Silk Specter II and Night Owl II in mid-coitis, though.

Having gotten through almost all of the Motion Comic, I'm realizing more and more how great a telling the Watchmen Movie is with reference to the original material. The film is well edited to include the most important fascets of the plot and provides a truncated, if not sometimes too well snipped, overview of the major plot elements. It also points out the difference in publishing something in 1985 and something in 2008 about 1985. For instance, putting a Giant Space Squid into a movie is a laughable idea when there was an opportunity to edit in the concept of Superhuman Terrorism (ala Manhatten bombing the world in retrobution) . The nuance in how the plot was pieced together to move the movie forward, however, is what I'm most impressed about. In the book, Rorschach has to retrieve a spare outfit from his house, whereas he steals it back from the police in the movie after killing Big Figure. As he puts his mask on and assumes his real self, he confronts Dr. Long, creating my favorite original quote from the movie: "Your turn, Doctor. Tell me: What do you see?"

The die-hard Watchmen fanboy might always argue that they should have stuck to the absolute original lines from the book, and in the process would prove Alan Moore right that it shouldn't be made into a film. Knowing that it was going to be made into a film, however, some great changes were made to the film. The best: the pan shot recreating the JFK assassination (I guffawed in the theater "That is METAL!") revealing that the Comedian was the rifleman.

08 April 2009

Sky Captain and the High Def Quest

I recently got a really nice Toshiba 40" HD tv at the nice price of $800 at Best Buy. While I was a little leary of purchasing from the Blue Screen Box of Doom, I decided that the option of having the new equipment on credit for the next year and a half was a better plan than gtting something from internet super retailers TigerDirect or New Egg.

To date, I can't find anything about the tv that I've disliked, but I might have a bit of a halo effect from my costly, dope periferal of choice: the PS3 I've had since last June. While I thought playing PS3 was dope before the hd, I now have very little reason to leave the house, except to go to work and appease the girlfriend.

The reason I chose the PS3 over the X-Box 360, however, was my faith that the Blu-Ray player wasn't going to be headed the way of the BetaMax. I'm now gettin to reap the full benefits of the game system that has hindered (but also helped, via Rock Band) my social life.

With our new tv, we picked up a disc I've been pining over for a while, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. I' a huge fan of the movie, since I think its the most elegant attempt at a Rom Com for Men I've ever seen, and it also gives me faith that there is a real actor inside Seth Rogan despite his Stoner comedy attempts to prove otherwise (He was genius in 40 Year Old Virgin and SuperBad, though). That all being said, Kevin Smith can write/direct well enough that even a hack can be cast opposite an indy starlette playing a lesbian and end up with a career in Hollywood. It also ended up being the first Blu-ray I popped in to give me the Holy Shit look after seeing how stunning it looked. For a movie with neither flashy effects nor stunning visually stimulating cinematography, I'm thoroughly impressed with the quality of the movie and the pop of the details.

This made me start to investigate some movies available on Blu-ray that had massive Hollywood hype regarding visual effects. Since I anticipate Star Wars to be on Blu Ray just shy of the next century (after being tweeked by Cyborg George Lucas to its definitive piece d'resistance for that moment), I chose a film I'd botrh never saw and heard good things about: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

As I compulsively check wikipedia about things like film production, budget, casting decisions, and critical response (even though I often don't give two shits about the final topic), I learned that Sky Captain was one of the first movies to be shot on a digital backlot; seeing the Blu-Ray of the movie makes this hugely obvious, since all of the backgrounds where flat and obviously dead relative to the actors in the movie.  In this movie, it both helps and hinders the film: the inanimate backgrounds gives the movie a great feel of homage to film noir and Golden Age comic books, but it simultaniously betrays the movie as a "fake" compared to the original due to the use of such overt special effects.... Kinda like how cool everything in the Matrix franchise felt until you saw something cooler pulled off with real life stunts.  Having recently watched Australia, a boring-as-hell but beautiful movie, Sky Captain constantly reminded me that the awesome Retro-Futurist setting was fake because you could see all the seems that stitched it together.  Theatrically, the gold fleck was rubbing off of the prop laser pistol every time there was a scene change.

I completely enjoyed seeing robots fight WWI dogfighters and the Great Arc re-imagined as a Rocket Ship.  The movie, however, simply felt like an overblown scene from a greater film noir short story, leaving a bad "What, that's it!?" taste in my mouth after all the work had been done to engineer this fantastic alternate history.  The most beautiful part of the Blu-Ray, however, was admiring the hard work that went into coloring the movie, much like you might look at a well inked comic book.  The stark constrats between the gray of New York City and the richness of Shangri-La make this a definate Blu-Ray viewer for cinemagraphic purposes.

That being said (and not to switch genres), I think playing a bit of BioShock or Fallout 3 would fire my imagination nurons a bit excitedly if I wanted a bit more retro-futurism in my life. At least those have opportunity for a sequal... I'm certain Jude Law couldn't carry an audience through another one of the Sky Captain movies. I guess that's what happens when you hire a man with as much machismo as a tampon in the lead role.

07 April 2009

The Great 'Stache Catastrophe

As an introduction, if you didn't already know, I work at a Starbucks in downtown Chicago.  If your friendly neighborhood barista were Spiderman, I would be Rorschach: hardened by a life staring down the spiteful and rioting coffee drinker every morning between 7:30 and 9:30, when we have our heaviest rush of about 450 people. All the people I work with are damn good at their jobs, calloused by a million spilled 200 degree coffees and capable of satisfying the most demanding Decaf Triple Grande Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte Drinkers.

Tomorrow, two of us will be mustachioed.

Oliver (Operative Codename: Doctor Love) suggested that both of us, each in our own stages of bearded brilliance, both shave our beards and roll in with mustaches. I had to admit, though, that I had my reservations... mostly over walking around town looking like a douche bag.

The more I thought about it, though, the better the idea got, mostly because I vary rarely take the time to do something daringly dumb anymore.

I'll post a pic of the 'Stach when the deed is done.

We'll give this a try, although the girlfriend has already asked how long I'm going to keep this up. 

06 April 2009

Prequal to the Sequal of the Epic of Captain Blogbeard

I'm sitting here scoping the Watchmen Motion Comic and thought I might give a little bit of insight into this blog, what it's all about, and the kind of format I'm going for.

A lot of blogs out there tend to focus on one thing or another: reviews of movies, music, events, things, or events; stream of consciousness about everyday events; life in a local or travel to a multitude of places. But its not very often I come across something that has both a breadth of scope as well as a depth of perspective.  The result was for me to come up with a few pet projects and discuss them in this blog so that maybe I have a nice little archive of topics I'm interested in while presenting a single point of view about a bunch of different topics.

I'm guessing that a lot of these posts will have some overlapping subject matter... I don't see the point in discussing, for instance,the Watchmen Motion Comic without also talking about the Watchmen Movie or Comic. A post might, however, focus on one thing or another, like cigars or one of the city's festivals. Or maybe it will be about both, even though they're not necessarily related.

I'm looking forward to commenting on the following:

Media: This would include movies, music, and literature.  I'll probably do a bit of a review about a topic, and bring in some perspective about my viewing, as opposed to just a straight discussion of the product.

Cigars: I've found quite a few excellent cigar blogs out there. StogieReview, for instance, is an excellent source for discussion of excellent brands.  These guys, however, have the luxury of taking as much time and money as they want to smoke a good stogie.  Chicago is a horribly smoking unfriendly town, however, so I always have to make cigar smoking an experience.  Also, I'm not the dude who is going to toss twenty-five dollars down for a single stick.  My mission is to talk about excellent value cigars and venues in which I smoke them.

Food: I've been telling people for years that I'm a fat kid inside.  Any time I have a great meal, I always look at it as a great time to discuss what's tasty, where it was, and why it was awesome.  This will fall into a) places I eat out, b) new and favorite recipes, and c) cooking adventures.

Beer / Spirits: If you want a dedicated resource for everything beer, visit BeerAdvocate.  Its a wonderful place for every beer snob on the internet to discuss why everyone else's beer choices blow.  But if I have a good brew, I'm going to trumpet it to everyone I know.  I'm also going to brag on a good deal at Binny's on Miller High Life.   Any new spirits I come across, I'm also likely to share, as well as any decent pubs/bars that specialize on microbrews, specialty beers, or are just downright dope places to hang out.

Geeky Bullshit: I've been patrolling the internet since chat rooms where giant scrolling frames and "content rich" meant that some guy re-wrote his HTML code twice a day to update his website.  The internet is like the climactic gun fight of a wild west movie that happens to be taking place on a rocket ship traveling near the speed of light.  What's hot today will not be in 3 Years.  Something like YouTube (but on heroine) will replace cable tv one day as the entertainment plane on which the world relies.... In the meantime, I'm going to watch fat guys make fun of things and hot chicks make sexy How To cooking videos. Anytime something interesting comes up, I'm going to post it, and you're going to ridicule my bad taste.

It must also be mentioned that I'm a big fan of video games. I'm not the professional video gamer kind of fan, but I will admit that I had to go through a 12-step program to get over my relationship with Fallout 3. The second step made me write a piece of paper promising I'd never name my Labrador "Dogmeat." Its also a charming good time to have a couple beers and play Rock Band, one of my favorite time wasters. Playing drums on it, though, has probably significantly helped my rhythm though.

Life: Because who doesn't like to talk about weird shit?