Saturday, May 31, 2008

flopping - they're going to have to pay the price

I have previously touched on the concept of "flopping" in the National Basketball Association. Well, coincidentally enough, the NBA has apparently been thinking about it a lot as well. This week, they announced that starting next season, the NBA will start levying fines against those who are obviously flopping. They haven't made a determination of what the fines will be yet, and apparently, the fines are going to be assigned much after the fact, upon review of tapes and such, rather than at the time that the offense happens. They may also consider more serious punishments, like a one-day suspension, for players who accrue a certain number of flopping violations.

I think it's a good thing in theory, but I'm wondering how they're going to implement it in practice. What I might consider flopping isn't necessarily going to be what someone else considers flopping. It's a completely subjective thing. But they're going to have to try to impose some kind of consistency to this subjectivity. It will be interesting to see what the first couple cases of this are like.

The only people who can still flop for free this year are players for the Lakers and Celtics.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wall-E does Philly and D.C.'s daily news letter today included a link to this entry on Geekadelphia about Wall-E recently visiting the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The video seems to be an edit of two different videos shot from different angles during the presentation, but it's pretty cool to watch.

Wall-E is going to be at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, Saturday, May 31, 2008 from 11am to 1:30pm.

Wonder when he'll get to the left coast and where he'll be.

maybe my second "X" is missing part of a limb

Movies often depict little girls trying on their mother's clothes and putting on makeup and playing with dolls. This was so not me. Instead, I grew up playing with little cars and learning to watch and play (though not very well) sports and being good enough in elementary school at playing marbles that I won a really pretty marble from a schoolyard boy, which really pissed him off because he thought he was going to beat me easy and end up with my spiffy marble.

In high school, our library had a copy of The Los Angeles Times, separated into sections. Not surprisingly, the most popular were the Calendar and Sports sections. After a particularly significant sports day (I can't remember now exactly why), I managed to get to the library first just as lunch started, so I grabbed the Sports section to read for a bit. As people wandered into the library, I noticed a guy wander over to where the newspaper sections were and search through. Not finding what he wanted, he looked around to see who had it - and he found me. He looked particularly irritated that a *girl* currently had custody of the precious Sports section. What the heck was I doing reading it? Sorry, dude, get in line, you can read it after I'm done.

As I got older, the stereotypical female genetic traits never really kicked in, and with rare exceptions, I've never gotten into girlie stuff. I don't really do that much clothes shopping, and I don't have a hundred purses or shoes, and I don't do makeup or perfume at all.

There's a Monopoly Junior game themed to Disney Princesses, which I do not and would not have had any interest in having. I'd find that completely boring, but instead, I'd love to have a villains version of the game.

Maybe that's why this weekend, while millions of other women are organizing and/or attending screening parties for the "Sex and the City" movie being released this weekend, I have absolutely zero interest in seeing the film. Being cably-challenged, I never watched the television show, so I suppose that could explain some of my disinterest in the film, but I never wished I had cable so that I could watch it, and I have no interest in getting the series on DVD. There's nothing else being released this weekend that I'm interested in seeing, so I probably won't see anything at all, but if I were to, I would either see for the second time either "Iron Man" or "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". And "The Incredible Hulk" is coming out June 13.

One of the few exceptions I mentioned: I do think diamonds and blue sapphires are pretty.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

the Grim Reaper must need to hit a quota

The end of May is only days away, and there seems to be a lot of high-profile losses to the entertainment world in just a short time.

It's being reported today that Harvey Korman has died after having suffered an aneurysm four months ago. Like most people, I remember him best from "The Carol Burnett Show". I always laughed at him because he had such a hard time keeping a straight face, which can't have been that easy a task given Tim Conway's penchant for ad-libbing.

It's also being reported today that Alexander Courage has died. I'll admit that while his name sounded familiar, I had to look up who he was. Bad Trekkie. While he's got a long list of prestigious credits, his best-known work is probably the theme music to the original "Star Trek" television show.

On Tuesday, the death of Sydney Pollack was being reported. He was a director that I admired a lot and whose films I really liked, but I also thought he turned in good acting performances in "Tootsie" and "Eyes Wide Shut".

And on Sunday, it was reported that Dick Martin had died. I'll admit that I never really watched him much, but I of course knew who he was, and he was watched and loved by millions of "Laugh-In" viewers.

And even though Earle Hagen isn't a name that I know, his death is also worth mentioning since he had a very prolific career, including composing, and whistling, the theme song to "The Andy Griffith Show".

Thoughts go to all their families and friends.

TofuYa - restaurant review

I discovered Korean tofu restaurants a couple of years ago when one of my favorite ramen places turned into a tofu restaurant. The first time I was there, I wasn't quite sure how things worked because it was a different kind of food than I was used to, but I've since learned to (mostly) get the hang of it. Obviously, it helps because I really like tofu.

I noticed a second Korean tofu place pop up not too long ago, so that's what made me decide to try TofuYa.

The restaurant is on busy Sawtelle Boulevard, so of course, parking is an issue. There are only spaces along a few of the neighboring streets, and it's often difficult to find an open space. I've found that it's a little easier during lunchtime. I've driven by at night before and given up because I couldn't find a place to park.

The restaurant itself is fairly small and has fairly generic decor. But then, you're not there for the decorations - you're there for the food. When I got there at 1:25pm, the place was packed, and I had to wait a few minutes for a table. During the first part of my meal, there was the nice steady buzz of conversation in the restaurant from the other patrons. However, by about 1:45pm, half the people were gone - it seems that people frequent the restaurant earlier in the lunch period rather than later.

The menu is pretty limited, but understandably so for a niche restaurant. The majority of the menu contains different varieties of "soon tofu", a spicy Korean soup. The soup comes in a bubbling hot pot, with soft tofu at the bottom of the pot as the base. You can choose a number of different versions of the soup that has different ingredients (e.g., seafood [clam, shrimp, oyster], seafood and beef, kimchee, pork, chicken). You can also pick the flavoring of your soup among mild, medium, spicy and extra spicy.

On this occasion, I decided to try the mushroom soon tofu, which actually comes with mushrooms and beef. I also generally choose medium spicyness.

In addition to soon tofu, they also offer three kinds of salad, and five kinds of barbeque, for those not tofu-inclined. While I've not had anything at this place other than the tofu yet, I have enjoyed the galbi - bbq beef ribs - at the other Korean tofu place, and I've already discovered that I love the flavoring of Korean bbq beef ribs. It's usually less sweet and more flavorful than traditional American bbq. They also offer a few combinations where you get the soon tofu with a smaller portion of one of the other entrees.

The soon tofu comes with five side dishes, which can change depending on what the restaurant has made on a particular day. At least one of them is some kind of kimchee dish. On this day, the side dishes were cucumber kim chee, cabbage kim chee, cooked sprouts, cold sesame glass noodles and fish cakes. They also bring you a small bowl of rice, and that all comes before you get your tofu. Since I've only ever ordered soon tofu, I've always gotten the side dishes. I don't know if you get all of them if you order the bbq as well. I noticed a woman at another table who had not gotten the tofu, and she only had 3 of the side dishes.

With the soon tofu order, they also bring an uncracked raw egg in a bowl. You have the choice of cracking the egg into your hot pot once it arrives, or you can choose to leave it off. Sometimes, they just let you do it yourself, and sometimes, they will ask if you want the egg, and if you say yes, they'll crack it for you.

This is from another restaurant, but here's what the bubbling soon tofu hot pot looks like, with the egg cracked in it.

For me, if the egg doesn't go under the surface of the soup, I will generally spoon soup and other ingredients over the egg to cover it so that it cooks better. I like my yolk cooked intact, but you could also stir it and break the yolk for cooking if you prefer. You have to put the egg in fairly immediately as the bubbling subsides within a minute or so.

I thought the mushroom soon tofu was ok, but it wasn't as good as at the other place, though I can't exactly pinpoint why. I do love soon tofu because I like the plentiful tofu, and there's also generally a good portion of whatever other ingredients you've ordered, and the broth is very tasty as well. It's a particularly good meal for cold weather. It only really works in warmer weather if it's air conditioned well in the restaurant - otherwise, a bubbling hot soup probably doesn't sound very appetizing in sweltering weather.

The service is generally good, appropropriate for a no-frills place. They're always rushing around taking care of things, so they're available if you need to request something. They will also stop by periodically to make sure everything's ok, and they kept my water glass filled. They're not overly friendly, but nicely pleasant.

The only "mistake" that I encountered this day is that when I paid my bill, and they brought the change, they brought me a single $10 bill rather than loose change. Luckily, I had a couple spare singles to leave a tip.

2021 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 473-2627

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Prince Caspian" - movie review (full spoilers)

I've not read any of "The Chronicles of Narnia" books and don't know anything about the stories themselves, so all I've known so far is what was presented in the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". I enjoyed the movie, but I've only see the film once, when it was first released theatrically, so I don't remember all that much about it. I had been hoping to see the film again before seeing the sequel, but unfortunately, circumstances and timing did not allow, so I was a bit concerned that I'd have a hard time following the story. I was in the same position when "The Two Towers" came out, except that I *did* have a chance to see "The Fellowship of the Ring" again about a week before, which really helped since I understood so much more about the first film, things I didn't pick up the first time around, and it got me re-situated in that world. I'm sure I would have been hopelessly lost (more so, I guess I should say) otherwise.

As it turns out, if there was anything I missed by not remembering much of the first movie, it sure didn't dampen my enjoyment of the second film. Because there were characters in the film who weren't much aware of the prior events, it gave them the ability to do a little bit of recap, but it was nicely done in a way that didn't seem forced, like it can sometimes be in some films. And they didn't recount all the events - just the ones you really needed to know. The film stands quite well on its own, though of course it is enhanced if you know some of the backstory from the first film. Since I'm coming into these films blind, relying only on what the film presents me to understand the story, I have been quite impressed that they've done a really good job of it. I feel that I understand the situations and the characters quite well, and I'm not feeling lost about who someone is or whose side they're on or what's going on, and with as complicated a story as this, that's quite a feat.

A year has passed since the events of the first film, and it's apparent that at least one of the kids has had a hard time readjusting to normal life. However, just as they're all about resigned to living out the rest of their days in boring old England, they are again magically whisked away to Narnia. But they soon discover that it's a very different land from the one that they left. More than a thousand years has passed, and they have not passed peacefully. The people of a neighboring land have taken over Narnia and made Narnians all but extinct, but they're having their own internal strife. The rightful heir, Prince Caspian, has just barely managed to escape being assassinated by his uncle, who wants the throne for himself and his newborn son. Prince Caspian ends up enlisting the help of the Narnias, and the four English children, to regain his throne and bring peace to both lands.

The story of the ousted heir fighting to regain his throne is definitely not a new one, but there were a few additional twists to the story. Even when the uncle was defeated by Peter in one-on-one battle, I didn't see coming the betrayal by the other member of the council which led to the onset of the battle anyway. Except for Lucy, who really is still too young, I liked that the three older children are engaged in actual battle, just like the adults. The conflict between Prince Caspian and Peter was a little predicable, and you knew that it was going to resolve by the end, but the journey was fun to watch.

I really enjoyed the main battle sequence when the enemy has come to destroy their castle. I didn't understand why Peter and Edmund were just standing there. I knew they were waiting for something, but I didn't know what, and when Prince Caspian went to lead the Narnias, I wasn't entirely sure what that relatively small group was going to do against the enemy army. And then they were running and running and running, but they never appeared on the battlefield. But as soon as I realized that they were travelling *underneath* the battlefield and then taking out the supports so that the ground literally collapsed underneath the enemy (I didn't feel bad for the horses because I knew they weren't actually getting hurt), I was really excited. That was an awesome idea!

The trees coming to life was pretty awesome too (I liked these trees much better than the ones in "The Lord of the Rings" because these didn't talk - talking trees are weird and creepy), but I don't remember them doing that in the first film, which I'm led to believe they did because they reference the fact that the trees stopped moving and Lucy is stunned that they no longer dance when they used to. But there is one lesson you definitely learn from this movie: don't piss off the trees. As soon as the cannonball took out one of the trees, you knew that one of the other trees was going to take out that device, and it was cool watching the roots quickly tunnel through to destroy it.

I also loved the sequence after that, when the enemy army is trapped on the bridge when the water monster summoned by Aslan attacks. Oh, and right before that, I did think it was funny that a little girl with a tiny knife stops the army in its tracks.

There was a lot of humour in this film, mostly provided by the mouse warrior, voiced by Eddie Izzard. I was laughing hard when Lucy says, "he's so cute!" to the offended mouse, not to mention the mouse's ongoing frustration at people pointing out the obvious. He's not the only source of laughter, though. There is a fair amount of humour spread throughout the film and among many characters, including Lucy mocking her older sister's behaviour toward Prince Caspian, and the humour is a nice break from the tension generated by the pervading story.

I liked the cameo by Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, and it didn't bother me that they didn't explain her whole backstory, because even without the knowledge of the first film, you got the sense that she was not someone whose help should be accepted, and I liked that it was Edmund who shattered her image. The point is especially significant if you know from the first movie that he was the one she had enticed to help her, so he definitely knows the power she can hold over someone, and he in some small way can atone for the damage he caused by being mesmerized by her.

I thought all four of the kids did a terrific job, as they'd done in the first film. I'm ok with Peter not being in it anymore, but I'm sad that Susan won't be. I really like her, so I hope I'm able to see her in other movies.

I loved seeing Peter Dinklage in this film. I've been a fan of his since "The Station Agent", and I've seen him getting more and more prominent roles, so I'm glad to see that he'll get even more exposure from a big-name film like this one.

And it was interesting that Warwick Davis, probably best known for portraying an Ewok in the "Star Wars" series, ended up portraying one of the bad guys. He was terrific as well.

While the films still haven't convinced me to make the time to try reading any of the books yet, they do make me look forward to seeing more of the films.

But there is one part I really hated - the popcorn. No, there was no popcorn in the movie. It was actually all over me. The movie had already started for 5 or 10 minutes when people came into the theatre, and they sat behind us. I was a little irritated because they were talking as they were finding a seat, but I figured once they got settled, they'd stop talking. And then I felt half a box of popcorn pour down my back, some of it bouncing onto the husband. And the bitch behind me said nothing, not sorry, not a single frickin' word. And I was so pissed off from having the popcorn dumped on me and having her not say anything that I grabbed handfuls of the stuff from my seat and flung them back at her, and I also stood up for a couple seconds to angrily say to her that she couldn't even be bothered to apologize. And the whole time, she just stared at the screen, completely refusing to acknowledge my existence. So I sat down and flung a few more handfuls of popcorn at her. I was pretty pissed off, but the movie had just started, and I really did want to enjoy the movie, so after brushing off as much popcorn from my seat as possible, I tried to focus on the movie. The husband noted that it would have been the popcorn at the top of the box that landed on me, the part that the butter was most on, so I also had to deal with buttery smell and feel on parts of me as well. I'm going to assume that she didn't spend the money on popcorn for the purpose of pouring it on someone in general and me specifically. I can understand if accidents happen, and I'll admit that I would have still been irritated if she had apologized, but at least that would have been an admission of her error, and I probably would have let it go faster. But to do something like that, and then knowingly not even take any responsibility or apologize for it? BITCH!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

use of language - a dissection

WARNING - This is an entry that I'm figuring the majority of people who read my blog will want to skip because it's a topic that most people generally care not a whit about and find completely boring. "Who could possibly spend so much time thinking about something so stupid and trivial and mundane?" Yep, one of my idiosyncracies.

I have noticed a few peculiarities with my language that have struck me as being odd or that other people have brought up. I have recently come to realize that English is a fairly inconsistent language, but apparently, my use of it can be even more inconsistent.


I use the word "behaviour", which is actually the British spelling of the word, whereas most people probably use "behavior". OK, this is really weird - I'm so not used to writing the American spelling of the word that even in typing it above, I had to double-check to make sure that I spelled it correctly. I don't have a problem recognizing the word when it's printed, and it doesn't look weird with the American spelling, but my brain cells and finger muscles are just conditioned to add the extra "u". I'm not sure why I use the British spelling. I don't think I was taught to spell the word that way. Maybe it's a lingering remnant of my prior British citizenship.

The British connection does not, however, extend to my use of "color". In this case, I do use the American spelling, not the British spelling ("colour") which adds the extra "u" as well.

Though there doesn't appear to be an easy explanation for why there are two equal spellings of the word, I use the "theatre" version rather than the "theater" version. I have always thought it's another case of the British gene coming through, but my cursory search does not designate "theatre" as the specifically British spelling of the word. Both spellings seem to be used equally and interchangeably. It's possible that my choice of spelling is influenced by the fact that the spelling of the word (minus the various accents) in French (which I have taken) is "theatre", whereas for instance the spelling of the word in German (which I have not taken) is "theater". I think I do find that "theater" is the more common spelling used, and for some completely unsubstantiated reason, it seems to me that "theater" is used more for things like movies whereas "theatre" is used more for live performance venues.

No matter how many memory techniques I've used or tricks and helpful hints that people have tried to impart to me, I cannot for the life of me ever remember whether I'm supposed to use "stationery" or "stationary", so if I ever have occasion to need to use either of those words, I have to look up the spelling to make sure I'm using the right one. Or, as might be more often the case, I avoid usage of the word altogether and find some other equally appropriate word to use instead.

And yes, as much of a stickler as I can be about language, I am certainly not above making up words if the situation and need arise. I had a text conversation recently with a friend over some products that I had found and wanted to buy. The friend asked if I was going to limit myself to one of each. Well, there were a number of different individual products, so even if I was going to only buy one of each, that would still total a fairly large number. To convey that thought, I responded with "Yes, one of each, but there lots of eaches." So I had to ponder and try for a little bit to figure out how to spell the plural of "each" - was it "eachs" or "eaches"? Of course, that's an absurdity in and of itself since there is no such thing as the plural of the word, but the plurality was in fact what I needed to express, so I decided that the extra "e" made the word look better.

My most spectacular made-up word was "anti-religionism", which I used in a paper (not my thesis, I don't think, but I'm not entirely sure) in college. It may not be as made-up a word as I had previously thought since apparently, "religionism" is in fact a word, so wouldn't it also be a word to be against that? I had a friend at the time who was incredibly angry at me when I told him about it because he couldn't believe that 1) with my whole card-carrying spelling-and-grammar-police status, I would stoop to make up a word and 2) that I would use said made-up word in a paper that I was going to turn in for a class. I do not believe, if my memory serves, that my professor made any remark about my inclusion of that word.

Oh, and can I tell you that "pronounciation" is NOT a word?


There are two accepted pronunciations of the word "either" - you can pronounce it with either a long "I" or a long "E". There isn't one that's more correct or acceptable than the other, though I have encountered people who have insisted that the pronunciation they don't use is "wrong". I've always used the long "I" pronunciation of the word.

So what about its companion word "neither", which has the same two pronunciation variations? You'd figure that if you pronounced one word one way, you'd pronounce the other word the same way as well, right? Perhaps, except when it comes to me. Inexplicably, while I pronounce "either" with a long "I", I generally pronounce "neither" with a long "E" (though I do on occasion instead use the long "I" pronunciation, but not with any forethought or decision to do that). Go figure.

I know that there's an "m" and two "p"'s in "pumpkin", but oftentimes, I will pronounce the word "punkin". I think I use that pronunciation more for slang purposes when talking to friends, whereas I will use the correct pronunciation if talking in more formal terms, though admittedly, I rarely have occasion to use "pumpkin" in formal discussions.

One major pronunciation error that I am completely aware I make and am wholly ok with concerns the word "picture". If I want to see someone's photo, I will ask to see their "pitcher". If I want someone to take a photo for me, I will ask them to take a "pitcher". And no, I'm not referring to the baseball player on the mound throwing the ball or what you might pour a liquid like iced tea from. For some reason, I'm just not willing to correctly pronounce "picture", and it doesn't seem to matter if I'm just talking informally to friends or more formally at work or otherwise. I know I haven't always pronounced it that way - I know I used to pronounce it correctly. And I have no idea when or why my pronunciation changed. I don't think I picked it up from anyone else. Maybe I'm just lazy, and it requires less effort to say "pitcher" than "picture". So in case I ever ask to see your "pitcher", please don't offer to show me one member of your baseball team or a glass container - unless, of course, in the context of what I'm saying, it's apparent that I actually *do* mean one of those.

One pronunciation issue that has come up repeatedly has to do with the dessert item "sherbet". Though I'd never had occasion to either spell the word or really see it in writing, I'd always pronounced the word as "sherbert". It was then pointed out to me that there was only one "r" in the word and that I was pronouncing the word wrong. I'd been pronouncing the word that way because that's what I'd always heard it pronounced, and the correct pronunciation of the word just sounds weird to me. However, I'm now finding evidence that "sherbert" is acknowledged as an alternate spelling/pronunciation of the word, and the alternate spelling/pronunciation might have British roots, so there goes my British genetic heritage making its presence known again. Of course, the regular spelling of the word begs the question of why it's pronounced the way it is and not pronounced "sher-bay" since "sorbet" is spelled and pronounced similarly.

I happen to love the Broadway musical "The Phantom of the Opera", but I was particularly tickled by one word - "written". The Vicomte has received a letter that he believes has come from the owners of the opera house and asks "Isn't this the letter you wrote?". One of the owners responds with "And what is it, that we're meant to have wrote?", to which the other owner corrects him with "written". For rhyming value, the word needed to be "wrote", but the grammatical correction is thrown in there right afterward, which sent me into a fit of giggles.

trivia question

I heard this play on words on a radio program that I regularly listen to, and it did take me a second to figure it out, but I was intrigued and amused once I did. Obviously, it's much more an audio joke, so it wouldn't work nearly as well if I just spelled everything out, so I'm going to do this a little differently than I heard it. In the sentence below, the words/phrases in quotes each represent a word that means the same thing as the sentiment in quotes. Both words are spelled exactly the same except that one word has one additional letter at the beginning. What are the two words? (I hope that makes sense. Again, once you figure out what the words are and say them out loud without thinking of their spellings, I think the peculiarity comes through much better if you mistakenly take the meaning of the sentence on face value rather than for its grammatical qualities.)

You can't "massacre" someone without "an expression or appearance of merriment or amusement".

Monday, May 26, 2008

got MILK?


As I mentioned previously, MILK has entered into a partnership with the "got milk?" folks, and to kick off the introduction of the partnership, food bloggers and media were invited to an open house held at MILK on May 20 to sample some of the treats available at MILK as well as to learn more about the partnership in general and the "got milk?" campaign specifically. I was fortunate to have been one of those invited.

the event begins

We arrived just before the 5pm start time, and everything was already set up. MILK was closed to regular customers for the duration of the two-hour event, and a sign-in table was in place at the restaurant's entrance.

We checked in and were given name badges and a little packet that had a "got milk?" logoed pencil as well as an electronic press kit. We were invited inside, and we saw that the restaurant was decorated with balloons labeled for the event.

We had also each been given a raffle ticket, and there was a table displaying some of the prizes to be raffled off later in the evening.

As more invitees arrived, the restaurant was filled with people mingling and chatting and enjoying the treats.

Shortly thereafter, our attention was called by Tatum Wan, a representative of RL Public Relations, who welcomed us to the event.

She also introduced the two special guests for the evening, Chef Bret Thompson, owner of MILK, and Steve James, Executive Director of the CMPB (California Milk Processor Board).

Both Bret and Steve welcomed us to the event, with Bret talking a little about MILK (all of the treats are hand-made there, but Bret joked that they did not grow the fruit that was available on the counter) as well as his love of milk, and Steve talked about his involvement with the "got milk?" program.

After the introductions, the rest of the evening was spent sampling the goodies and getting a chance to talk to Bret and Steve.

the treats

A menu of seven items had been prepared for the evening for everyone to sample, all of the items with milk as an ingredient, of course.

Each of the items was brought around on trays by MILK employees, and people were able to help themselves.

My first treat was the cornbread with raspberry jelly.

I'm not a particular fan of cornbread, mostly because I generally find it to be very hard, crunchy and chalky. I have only on rare occasions found cornbread that I like, that's of the right consistency and flavor to suit my tastes. This version was like a cornbread muffin with raspberry filling. Whereas cornbread muffins can be very hard, I found this to be very light and fluffy and moist, thanks partly to the fact that the muffin was very fresh and still warm. I actually liked the muffin a lot. I did find that the added raspberry jelly made it sweeter than I would normally prefer, but others seemed to like it.

As I was enjoying the cornbread (yes, my friends who know me well have just fallen over because they never thought they'd ever see me write such a thing), I was thinking that having some liquid with it would be very nice. And what should come along but little glasses of milk on a tray!

Well, how perfect was that! (Yes, there was bottled water available as well.)

Next up was the savory butternut squash soup. While I have friends who adore butternut squash, it's never been something I've particularly been interested in or cared much for when I have tried it, but hey, I'm at MILK, so of course I'm going to try it. It was nicely presented as well, in a little champagne glass.

Wow! I can't tell you how much I loved that soup. It was really smooth and had a really nice flavor. I can't tell you what specific taste got to me, but I think it was a similiar kind of spice that you might find in pumpkin pie, which I love. I told the husband and a friend that if this is what butternut squash soup always tasted like, then I was now a fan. Sadly, they informed me that this was not typical for butternut squash soup. I have decided to have a taste the next time the husband or a friend orders it, but I have a feeling that I am going to be sorely disappointed because it won't begin to be as delicious as this was. Yes, I had a second glass of the soup later in the evening. This was one of my favorite items of the evening.

By the way, there was no particular order that I chose to try any particular item. It was really a matter of what was next available if I wasn't talking to someone or doing something else.

Next was the banana dulce de leche ice cream. They had made cute little ice cream cones and they were being served from glass dishes nestled on top of what looked like white chocolate and caramel chips.

The ice cream was quite tasty as you'd imagine, and the little cone was just the right tasting size.

Next up was the arroz con leche ice cream sandwich.

This was the only item that I had which I didn't really care about. It was cute and kind of crunchy, but otherwise, it didn't make much of an impression on me. It may be that because of the small size, the cookie overpowered the ice cream, so in a regular portion, the flavors might be more distinctive.

My other favorite item of the evening was the milkie way malt.

It was just incredibly delicious. The funny thing is that after I took a glass and had a sip and tasted how amazing it was, I noticed that the server had gone over to Steve James, and I watched as he picked up a glass and sipped himself - and then this look of total bliss just came over him as he closed his eyes for a second, savoring the flavor. I had spoken to him a bit earlier in the evening, so we shared a laugh about how you just can't help physically reacting to something so delicious.

Last up for me was the ice-blended green tea.

It was tasty and refreshing.

The only thing on the menu that I didn't have was the berry tres leches. I had seen it on a tray going by, but by then, I'd had plenty of sugar, and while it looked nice, it wasn't appealing enough to me to want to have any more. There was plenty of everything to go around, so there was definitely enough for seconds for anyone who wanted them. People were also arriving at different times during the two-hour event, so it was nice that the different items kept rotating around so people coming a bit later didn't miss out on anything.

the special guests

In between tasting all the wonderful various treats, I had a chance to speak to both Bret and Steve individually.

Bret Thompson

I've been acquainted with Bret for some time now, since I first met him when he was executive chef of Catal Restaurant. We've had the pleasure of seeing him at various events as well as when visiting MILK. When I asked him how he came to be partnered with "got milk?", he said that they had actually approached him. RL Public Relations, which is one of the firms that represent "got milk?", was made aware of MILK, and upon further investigation and a meeting, it seemed like the perfect partnership. Bret is also going to be appearing in a few media shows in various places in California as well as some possible television spots to further promote the partnership.

In addition, there is information on the "got milk?" website about the new partnership, from which there is also a link to a recipe book, which includes recipes for everything available for tasting this night (including the delicious butternut squash soup) as well as a few other treats.

Here's a picture and short bio of Bret.

Steve James

Steve James is the Executive Director of the California Milk Processor Board, and Steve explained that the CMPB was established in 1993, and in the last 15 years, the Board has worked to "promote the consumption of milk", as described on the got milk? website, as well as to educate the public about the benefits of milk.

I asked Steve about the various companies that comprise CMPB, and while he obviously couldn't tell me if one brand of milk was better than another, I asked him if there really was a difference between brands. He explained that the processing of milk is pretty much uniform across the board, but while there are minimum requirements for what must be done to pasteurize milk with regard to time and temperature, different companies choose to tweak their product in slightly minute ways. One company might like the taste of the milk better if it's heated for a few degrees above minimum or for a few seconds longer than minimum, both of which can vary the taste of the finished milk. It's not really a matter of "better", but more a matter of preference.

We also discussed the different containers that milk can come in (glass, plastic, carton), and how that can also affect the taste of milk. I'm one of those who prefers my milk to be ice cold. Just "cold" isn't nearly as good, and tepid/room temperature is nasty. I've never been a fan of warm milk, but I understand the appeal it might have for some.

I also mentioned to Steve that I was finding that even with as successful as the "got milk?" campaign has been and how many people positively react to the humour in the ads, there still seems to be a strong feeling in the public that milk is for kids, that once you're an adult, you don't really drink milk anymore. Sure, lots of adults use milk for their cereal or in their coffee, but I actually find it rare for adults to just drink milk as a beverage. On the occasions that I've had milk at a restaurant, or when I've purchased milk at the store and it happens to come out that I'm not buying it for any children, just myself or the husband, I sometimes come across odd reactions of people who don't understand why I would be drinking milk as an adult, especially if I'm not pregnant. I've heard people talk about how they've not had milk in 10 or 20 years since they're adults, and they almost treat milk like baby food. Personally, I find this to be an extremely odd viewpoint. Oh, yeah, I know, they tell you milk is good for you growing up, so once you're grown up, you don't need it anymore, right? Wrong. As an adult, you still have bones that need calcium, moreso if you're a woman. I take a daily calcium supplement, but having the extra calcium from having milk on a regular basis is good too. And the calcium benefits aside, I really just like the taste of milk - cold, of course. I asked Steve if the milk mustache and other campaigns had had an effect on the adult population, and he said that while they didn't necessarily have hard numbers or percentages since it's hard to measure the direct correlation between ad awareness and actual product use, they have charted a marked increase in consumption attributable to certain specific campaigns.


As the event was nearing a close, we were thanked for attending that evening, and raffle numbers were chosen to award various prizes, including gift certificates to MILK. Overall, I thought it was a very nice event, and to me, appealing to food bloggers was a great idea. Sure, the regular media is a definite necessary outlet, but nowadays, many people are avid followers of certain blogs, and you get the personal opinion from blogs that you don't necessarily get from a corporate media company. I know that some of the people there had already been previously aware of MILK, but I'm glad that new people were introduced to the place as well.

press release

Here is the press release issued to announce the partnership.

Chef Bret Thompson Partners with GOT MILK?;
Reveals Secret for Velvety Shakes and Creamy Comfort Foods

San Clemente, Calif., May 20, 2008 – MILK, the way-hot ice cream parlor and cafe in Los Angeles, brings food lovers and plenty of enamored critics to the Archie and Veronica days when diners and neighborhood parlors dominated American society. MILK's homemade ice cream, malts, breads, cakes and soups bring delight (not to mention the inner child!) to those who enjoy nothing but the best. Bret Thompson, former Corporate Executive Chef of the Patina Restaurant Group and now owner and executive chef of MILK, relies on his talent and expertise to create delicious recipes, while staying true to the star of his shop: good old-fashioned milk. Taking his passion for milk to another level, Thompson has partnered with GOT MILK? to show food enthusiasts at home his secrets. Everyone can use a simple ingredient like milk to create out-of-this-world gourmet treats.

"Milk is just one of the best ingredients out there," says Thompson. "What better way to create velvety shakes, silky summer ice cream flavors or rich, buttery autumn breads! It's an honor to partner with GOT MILK? and share some of my recipes with food aficionados everywhere."

Distributed exclusively by GOT MILK? online on starting today, Thompson adapts some of his signature dishes and treats at MILK for food enthusiasts to recreate: from his mouth-watering MILKIE Way Malt to his kernel-popping cornbread to his pan-Latin inspired Berry Tres Leches.

"Thompson’s MILK recipes are just amazing," says Steve James, Executive Director of the California Milk Processor Board, the creators of GOT MILK?. "You can taste his passion for cooking in his food. And the line out his MILK shop is testament that many more people think so!"

About Bret Thompson & MILK
Before opening MILK in Los Angeles in 2007, Bret Thompson was the corporate executive chef of the Patina Restaurant Group. In the United States, he worked with renowned chefs like Roy Yamaguchi. In Europe, he trained under Michelin starred chefs like Martin Berasategui as well as Alain Passard of L’Arp├Ęge and Bernard Loiseau. MILK is located on 7290 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles, where Thompson can be found delighting his clients daily.

About the CMPB
The California Milk Processor Board was established in 1993 to make milk more competitive and increase milk consumption in California. Awareness of GOT MILK? is over 90% nationally and it is considered one of the most successful campaigns in history. GOT MILK? is a federally registered trademark that has been licensed by the national dairy boards since 1995. GOT MILK? gifts and recipes can be viewed at The CMPB is funded by all California milk processors and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.


There were a number of items that we saw at MILK that we had not seen on a prior visit, but the item I noticed most were the cupcakes.

I am not a particular cupcake fan, but I'd heard that MILK was now offering cupcakes. I found out that they've had them for several months now, and at first, they had the traditionally shaped cupcakes, but they then switched to their present incarnation, which they thought made much more sense and fit in much better given the focus on ice cream products in the restaurant.

We also noticed that MILK now has a gift card available, something that's very popular in many establishments, but we were amused by what the gift card was called.

The husband made a comment to Bret about the gift card, and Bret said that it just made sense, that he remembered getting milk money for school from his parents, a memory that I'm sure a lot of people have regarding their own parents, so this was just perfect. I know that if you've been reading my blog and website, you'll have gotten that I'm a huge fan of Bret's, but that kind of comment illustrates just one of the reasons for that.

We also had an opportunity to talk to pastry chef David, who joined MILK several months ago, and he expresses the same enthusiasm and passion for food and his creations that Bret does. In our interactions with other employees at MILK, they all seem to be excited to be working there and dedicated to their jobs, which definitely shows through in your dealings with them.

"got milk?"

One of the comments that Steve James made to me is that there are now generations of people growing up never knowing a world without "got milk?". More than just a branding for milk, the phrase has become a part of the public vernacular for all kinds of uses with minor tweaks. To me, a lot of why the campaign has worked so well is the appeal to humour of the ads. The "Who Shot Alexander Hamilton?" ad has been one of the most memorable and one of my favorites.

I also remember one where a dog is given some peanut butter, and he just continues to lick and lick and lick. Of course, everyone is aware of the multitude of celebrities who have sported milk mustaches over the years.

Well, they've recently launched a new campaign centered around White Gold, a fictitious rock band. Here is their official website. I have to say that this campaign does absolutely zero for me and to me, doesn't nearly have the appeal of prior campaigns, but then, since this campaign is apparently targeting the teen crowd, and I'm not in their demographic, maybe that's why it's not working on me. Also, I'm already a milk lover, so I don't really need more campaigns to entice me to drink more.

Here's an interesting article detailing the conception and development of the "got milk?" brand.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" - movie review (full spoilers)

In case you missed it in the title, this review of the fourth Indiana Jones movie is going to be chock full of spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film yet and don't want spoilers, why are you here?

A fourth Indiana Jones movie was something that I never thought I'd see. They've been talking about one for *years*, but it's never materialized because the script has never been right, a script that had to be approved by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford, with Ford apparently the hardest to sell on the idea. And without him, you have no movie. You can't do an Indiana Jones movie without Indiana Jones, and at this point in time, Indiana Jones can't be anyone other than Harrison Ford - at least not an adult Indiana Jones.

As the persistent rumours of a fourth film finally became reality, I was both excited and concerned. Indiana Jones is one of those iconic characters now - were they going to be able to live up to its history and reputation? The hardest part for me was avoiding as much information about the film as possible, which is seriously difficult given how much press this kind of film would generate. But I wanted to go into the film knowing as little as possible.

The little bits I learned because of casting were ok. Shia LaBeouf was going to play Indy's son. OK, the fact that Indy has a son isn't that big a deal, and I wasn't familiar with Shia at the time the announcement came out, but when I saw him in "Transformers", I really liked him, so I was happy he'd be Indy's son. I was most happy when it was announced that Karen Allen was coming back as Marion. I loved her in the first film, and I was decidedly, seriously, overwhelmingly irritated with Kate Capshaw in the second film (OK, yeah, so Steven married her - maybe she's a good wife and mother, and she might even be a decent actress [I did like her in "Windy City"], but her character was awful in the film - she was a shrill, screaming, helpless bitch, about as much the exact opposite of Marion as you could possibly get.), and I didn't care for Nazi bitch in the third film, so to see Marion back was going to be awesome.

There aren't too many films that we go to see within the first 24 hours of opening. The only films we've done that with lately are the new "Star Wars" films and "Alien vs. Predator" (awesome movie, btw). In most cases, we've gone the night of opening day, but with Indy, I didn't want to wait that long because 1) I was too excited to see this film and didn't want to wait longer than I had to and 2) avoiding spoilers on this kind of movie is extremely difficult, so an extra added few hours of trying to avoid spoilers, especially after it has already been released to the general public, was going to be even more difficult. (The film was shown at Cannes on the Sunday before opening, so all the media movie reviews were out by that night, and I had avoided any newspapers and didn't listen to any radio from Monday through Thursday morning.) By the time we had decided to go and figured that it wouldn't be showing at Mann's Chinese, we decided to go to the Arclight in Hollywood, and the 12:01am screening in the Cinerama Dome was already sold out, so we decided on the 12:30 screening in one of the other theatres. There were a few other showings between midnight and 12:30, but they seemed to be in smaller theatres, so I decided to opt for what appeared to be a bigger theatre. I do miss the experience of seeing an event movie like this at the Chinese, given the Chinese's history, but I do like the trade-off of not having to stand in line for hours and running to find a seat but rather, being able to show up just before the movie starts and have an assigned seat.

We got to the Arclight at about 11:40pm, and the place was packed, from all the people entering the parking structure and looking for a parking space to everyone milling about outside the theatres and in the lobby areas. I know that some people think going to these kinds of screenings is crazy, but part of the appeal of them to me is the event value - these are people so dedicated and interested in the film that they're willing to see it in the middle of the night, and that usually makes for a great crowd to watch a film with because there's so much energy and excitement there. I can't tell you how many people I saw there wearing the signature Indy fedora or even the entire Indy outfit.

OK, so I've talked about everything but the movie itself, so get to it, won't I? Well, I figured that would be plenty of spoiler space there for anyone who accidentally missed the spoiler warning above.

Generally, I liked the film. I had a fun time, there was some really nice dialogue, and the action sequences were kick-ass as you'd expect. Sure, there were things I didn't like as well, but that's true of both "Temple of Doom" and "Last Crusade". (I can't think of anything in "Raiders" that I really didn't like.) I think my perception of the film both suffers and benefits from my historical attachment to the series and the characters. Nostalgia value certainly plays into a lot of the things I liked about the film, but the film also had a hell of a lot to live up to.

Speaking of nostalgia value, I thought it was terrific that they used the old Paramount logo. At first, I thought it looked weird but couldn't pinpoint what was "wrong" until I realized what they'd done. And I absolutely *loved* the traditional morph of the Paramount logo into a mountain in the movie, but this time, it morphed into a prairie dog's mound! That was just too awesome.

I thought the story itself was decent. It was pretty complicated so that you had to pay attention to follow it, but that was true of "Raiders" as well. I think Harrison Ford did a good job of managing to convey the details that you needed to be invested in the finding of the crystal skull without making it tedious.

One thing I really didn't like was that the lost civilization turned out to be aliens, and I *really* didn't care for the spaceship scene (which reminded me of the end of "The Abyss"). I could have lived with the alien story a bit more if they had found some other way for them to leave, maybe just mystically flying away or something, but the regular spaceship shape just seemed too pedestrian for an Indy film, even if they are supposed to be multi-dimensional beings. Oh, and I didn't care for the whole "Tarzan" sequence with Mutt - that was just too weird, even though the monkeys were funny. There were also some fairly preposterous things that happen in the film - like Indy surviving the nuclear blast by hiding in the refrigerator, which gets thrown miles away and bounces around, and he comes out with just a few bruises, but it's not really any more preposterous than a lot of things that have happened in previous Indy films, and there is a certain level of preposterousness and unbelievability that I allow for in these kinds of films.

One problem I think I did have was placing myself in the timezone of the film to be able to understand some of the points being made. It took me a while to realize that they were smack dab in the middle of the worst of McCarthyism, which accounted for the treatment that Indy got from both the FBI and the university. That period was also rife with tales of alien visitation (I was quite proud of myself for noticing the "51" on the inside of the warehouse door since I'm usually oblivious to that kind of thing), not to mention the testing of the nuclear bomb, so it did make sense to some degree to have all those elements in the film.

Once I'd seen the trailer and saw them in the warehouse full of crates, I did expect some kind of mention of the Ark of the Covenant, and I was not disappointed - I loved the shot of the Ark in the partially-destroyed crate. I liked the nod to "Star Wars" with Indy's line of "I've got a bad feeling about this". I didn't expect any reference to Henry, Sr. since Sean Connery could not be convinced to be in the film (I'm curious as to what they were going to have him do. I thought I remembered that he wouldn't have been in the film much anyway, that it was mostly a cameo role, so I'll have to do some research to see if I can find out what that part of the story was supposed to have been.), so I was happy to see his picture on Indy's desk at the office as well as the reference to him near the end of the film. I really didn't expect any reference to Marcus Brody, so it was nice to see his picture on Indy's desk as well as the bronze statue of him on the grounds - I hope they fix his severed head though.

The college where Indy teaches (Marshall) is a nod to long-time friend and fellow producer/director Frank Marshall. I wonder if Mutt's last name is a tribute to Steven's long-time musical collaborator John Williams?

Can I tell you how taken aforward (ok, not really, but I've never finished that particular homework assignment) I was when Indy and Marion were sinking in the not-quicksand (I loved Indy launching into his explanation of that, btw.), and Mutt finds something to help them - by heaving this gigantic snake at them to pull them out. I am TERRIFIED of snakes, and not just by live ones. I'm pretty much terrified of almost every representation of a snake with very, very few exceptions, this being one of them. So when I realized what Mutt had thrown at them, I don't know if Indy was more scared or if I was. Indy didn't have anyone to hide behind, but I did. I only watched that scene peripherally, because what's more scary than just a snake? A HUMONGOID ONE. Hmmm, given the same predicament Indy had - do I grab onto the snake to pull myself out or succumb to certain death by drowning/suffocation? - I'm not sure I could do what he did, and calling it a "rope" wasn't going to make a damn bit of difference to me. Two intellectual brain cells in my head were able to pull themselves away and wonder for a second whether it would actually be possible to use a snake for that purpose or whether the snake would snap first, but then the other billion scared-out-of-their-mind brain cells pulled them back into the fold, and the question wandered off into thin air.

I also wasn't too enamoured of the ant sequences. I didn't watch much of those when someone would fall into the ant pile, and the ants would presumably devour them - I don't know for sure because I wasn't looking. I did see a bit of the final ant sequence when they dragged an entire person into their ant hill. That was both cool and too disgusting to think about too hard.

Harrison Ford was terrific as usual as Indy. There had been a lot of speculation about whether he was too old to be doing that sort of thing, but he showed that he wasn't, doing his own stunts in the film. I did like that they didn't ignore his age and pretend that he was as spry as he used to be (I laughed when Mutt said to him something like "what are you, 80?"), but it's obvious from his actions and the stories he told that he had continued on his global jaunts since the last time we'd seen him and he hadn't just been a classroom professor.

As I mentioned, I was thrilled to see Karen Allen in this film, and I thought she did an awesome job. I *loved*, *loved*, *LOVED* her first line - "Indiana Jones" - done with the same inflection as in "Raiders". And I know I wasn't the only one that thought she was going to hit Indy, just like in "Raiders", when she was actually going to hug Mutt. I loved the back-and-forth between her and Indy and all the sassing she gave back to him when he commented about her getting kidnapped and her retort that he hadn't fared much better. She still had the same spunk as before, and I also loved that she drove off the cliff to get them out of trouble - she's no wilting flower. I did laugh along with everyone else when the camera panned to reveal the silly grin on her face after Indy told her that while there had been other women, none of them were her. I wasn't particularly thrilled about the wedding at the end - it's just not the Indy that I'm used to, and I didn't think they needed to be married to be together, but I suppose that's an acknowledgement of a progression on Indy's part - married man and Associate Dean, but the hat at the end contained at least the hope that he wouldn't just become a boring old guy now.

I thought Shia LaBeouf was pretty good in the film, though he really didn't have that much to do. The whole thing with his hair was pretty funny though. (Incidentally, I was laughing at the early part of the film when Mutt and Indy are in the soda fountain, and that whole scene just made me think that Steven Spielberg got to do his own "American Graffiti" segment.) He was really good during the entire car chase sequence as they're all exchanging possession of the crystal skull, and I loved his sword fight with Cate Blanchett's character. I did keep expecting them to explain his character name. I mean, Marion named him Henry, but instead of that name, he goes by "Mutt". Is this another case where a "Henry" decided to go by the pet's name instead? "We named the *dog* 'Indiana'." - one of the best lines *ever*. It was funny that Indy was referring to him as "Junior". Ummm, not so much since he's not a junior - he's Henry Jones, III, though calling someone "Third" is probably too weird. After the wedding, Mutt picks up the hat that's been blown to him, and he's just about to put it on his head when Indy walks by and snatches it away. You could have speculated that they wanted to continue the series with Indy's son, but I think that particular scene and the fact that Mutt never actually got to wear the hat shows that you can't replace Indy, even with his own son, and the filmmakers are well aware of and acknowledge that.

I thought John Hurt was excellent, as was Ray Winstone as Indy's sidekick/nemesis, I thought Cate Blanchett was ok (I'm not usually a fan of hers, except in "Notes on a Scandal"), and while I liked Jim Broadbent, I didn't know he was only going to be in so little of the film.

Now that the shock value of seeing an Indy film that I'd never seen before has worn off, I want to see it again, where I might be able to appreciate it more for itself. In the grand scheme of things, I'd put this in a tie for second - nothing tops "Raiders", so that's obviously first. Given a choice between this film and "Last Crusade", I can't decide. I like this for Marion being in it and the other things I've mentioned, but having Sean Connery and Harrison Ford play father and son was just too awesome. Pulling up the rear is, of course, "Temple of Doom". I didn't have the problems with the violence in the film that others did, and I would actually like to see the film again, but I'd be happier and more inclined to do so if someone would do me the favor of rotoscoping Willie Scott out of the entire film because I just can't deal with her.

Hmmm, I've read some stuff that there were originally planned to be five films in the series - does that mean there might actually be another one forthcoming?

OK, last bit - apparently, this film has pissed off the communists. OK, whatever.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, part 5

Situation 1

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a place for lunch that was sort of cafeteria style. There were different stations for salad, pasta and pizza, and you're supposed to just go to each station to get what you want without having to wait through each station even if you didn't want stuff from that particular station. Well, on this day, the pasta line was backed up, so people waiting to get pasta were lined up in front of and past where the salad station was. I wanted to get a salad from the salad station, so since the people were just stopped in front of it, I approached in between two people and asked if I could just step in and get a salad. The lady who was facing me stepped back a step to let me in, so I thanked her. The lady who had her back to me because she was ahead turned to her friend and commented about how rude people were to be cutting in line. WTF?!?!?!? She was already past the salad station that I wanted something from, and she didn't get salad, and even if she had wanted salad, she would already have been able to get it. It wasn't like she had to stop her movement to let me in - the line was at a stop and had been for about a minute and wasn't about to start moving anytime soon, so she was just standing there. And, she didn't end up having to do anything because the lady behind her moved back a step to let me in to grab a salad. What if someone else had been standing further back in that line and only wanted a salad? Well, I'm sorry they didn't figure out that they didn't have to wait in line with the pasta folk to get their pasta before this person could get their salad if they didn't also want pasta. I've been in other situations where I've been stopped in a line and happened to be in front of a drink station, and if someone just wants to come in and get a refill, it's customary to make room to let them since I'm just standing there anyway. On the flip side, when I've been the one wanting the refill, I've never had a problem with people allowing me in while they're waiting in line.

Situation 2

There is a particular intersection that I'm at every day on my way to work. There are three lanes total, with the left lane turning left, and the middle and right lanes turning right. If I get to the intersection when there's a green light or a green arrow to go right, it works fine. When there's a red light, you obviously have to stop, and then if the traffic is clear coming from the left, then you can make the right turn. After I initially come to a stop, I then creep forward a little to be able to see past the car on my left to see if there's traffic coming down the street or if I can turn. So what happens on more than one occasion? THE CAR ON MY LEFT CREEPS FORWARD AS WELL!!!!! WTF!?!?!?!?!? They can't turn until their left arrow light comes on, and when that light comes on is not really dependent on traffic coming from down the street. There could be not a car in sight coming from that way, but if their light is still red, they can't go anywhere. So what the hell good does it do for them to creep up? Where does it get them? All they're doing is blocking my view so that I have to creep up even further to see past them!

Situation 3

There is another intersection in a residential neighborhood that I run into on the way to work if I'm taking a particular detour because traffic on the freeway is bad. It's a bit of an odd intersection because the streets don't all come together neatly, like in a plus sign that's normal. Instead, it looks more like this:

It's almost a regular four-way stop, except that the street with the A and B cars is slightly curved, and the C and D cars are technically on the same street, but the two parts of the street are slightly off from each other. I always come to the intersection from the D position, and I need to turn left, past the A position. Let's say a car at position B goes straight, and then a car at position C goes forward so they're driving past me. If there was a second car at position B, they now go forward without having given me the chance to go, even though I've waited past both cars that got there before or at the same time as me, but now this second "B" car is going before me even though I got to the intersection before it. Similarly, if there are just 2 cars at the C position, the first car will go forward to drive past me, but before I can make my turn, the second car at the C position has already started going, driving past me as well. Because the two halves of the street are off-set the way they are, I cannot even move forward a little until a car from B or C completely passes me, because otherwise, our cars would hit. But in the time it takes that car to completely pass me, the next car at B or C has had time to stop and then apparently the driver decides that the stop sign just means that as long as you've actually stopped, you can then go, regardless of who else might be at the other stop signs or what else might be going on. The streets aren't off-set enough that a car in the second place of any of the other positions can't see me there, and there's really no way they can't plainly see that I can't begin to move until the car is past me, so it's not like I'm just sitting at the intersection for no reason not taking my turn. When people have not been allowing me my turn, I've taken to honking my horn at them, and most of the time, they either don't even look at me or appear completely confused as to why I'm irritated at them, because after all, they did stop at the stop sign!

Situation 4

I had occasion to be at a business, and my total came to $5.00, so I handed the cashier a $20 bill. The cashier told me that he only had $1 bills so would need to give me 15 $1 bills and wanted to know if that was ok. Ummm, do I have a choice? What if I say no? Is he going to magically find $5 bills or a $10 bill? Is he going to refuse to give me any change whatsoever? Is he going to give me change in all quarters instead? Is he going to refuse to sell me what I wanted to buy? I've been at cashiers before where for whatever reason, they're running low on change, and if I bring out a $20 bill, they might ask if I have anything smaller because otherwise, I'm getting change in all $1 bills. If I was just trying to break my $20, I would fish around for something smaller. On occasion, I've really had nothing but a $20 so couldn't do anything about it. In this case, I might have been able to scrape together $5 between a couple of $1 bills and lots of loose change. It was pretty early in the morning, so it seemed odd to me that he didn't have any $5 or $10 bills at all, but maybe someone just didn't provide correctly for him. I can understand if he just said, hey, sorry, I only have $1 bills, so I'll have to give you 15 of them in change, but I think it was the asking me if that was ok that struck me as being weird since whether or not I was ok with that was going to have no bearing on the outcome.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fred Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza - venue review

I have previously talked about my fascination with the Broadway musical "Mamma Mia". The running joke has now been that we have to see the show in as many different venues as possible, but we're running out of places locally. I think we've been everywhere in Los Angeles and Orange County where it could possibly play, and we've even gone down to San Diego, so when we found out that the touring company would be coming to Thousand Oaks, we decided that was next on the list.

The show was performed at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. I hadn't known what the theatre seating looked like, so I was surprised upon entering the theatre to see that it wasn't very big. It wasn't as deep as many of the theatres I'm used to but was rather more shallow, like the theatres we'd been to in New York, so that even if you're towards the back of the theatre (which we were - row Q near the control booth), you still had a good view. The theatre does have a mezzanine and a balcony, both of which started further back than I expected.

Generally, I thought it was a very nice theatre. One downside that we didn't encounter because of the row we were in but people in almost all of the other rows would have is that like the Orange County Performing Arts Center, it's just one big section, with aisles only on the end seats, so if your seat is anywhere in the middle, you have to step past a whole lot of people to get to and from your seat.

All in all, I was very satisfied with our visit, and though because of the distance, it's not somewhere we'd go to on a regular basis, I could certainly see going again if they had a show I wanted to see badly enough.

The Civic Arts Center is conveniently located in that there are a number of places nearby to have dinner before or after a show, with the added benefit that you can comfortably walk between the restaurant and the venue.

As for the show itself, we did enjoy it, but it was probably my least favorite cast overall. According to the playbill, many were newcomers to the show, and I wasn't necessarily happy with how some of them performed. In particular, the actress who played the lead of Donna didn't really quite have the voice to pull it off. There are a few songs where Donna has to hit and carry a number of fairly strong notes, and on many of those points, the actress pitched it differently so she didn't have to. In particular, on "The Winner Takes It All", she didn't carry the song like she should have, only hitting the longer, stronger notes on the last verse rather than throughout the entire song. She also made some interpretation choices in the character that I didn't care for. "Sophie" was a very good singer, but she also had some characterizations that I didn't like. "Sam" was quite good overall and had a great voice for his solos and duets. "Tanya" was a bit more non-descript than I'm used to, and "Rosie" bothered me for reasons I can't really explain. "Harry" was good, though a quite different type than I'm used to for that character, but he did have a few blocking changes that I liked. I really enjoyed "Bill", who brought more humour to the role than I've seen from previous actors.

BTW, the "Mamma Mia" count is now at an even dozen: the Shubert Theatre (formerly in Los Angeles), The Ahmanson (in Los Angeles), Mandalay Bay (in Las Vegas), the Pantages Theatre (in Los Angeles), Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Long Beach Civic Auditorium, the Cadillac Winter Garden (in New York), Orange County Performing Arts Center again, the San Diego Civic Theatre, Mandalay Bay (in Las Vegas) again and the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks.

The show will be at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert in March of 2009, so we may be going to that to add yet another venue to our list. We were at that theatre earlier this year to see Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone in concert together, and I liked the venue quite a bit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cafe Provencal - restaurant review

We had plans to be in Thousand Oaks on a Saturday evening, so the husband was looking for a place nearby for us to have dinner and happened upon Cafe Provencal. The menu looked good, so we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is a tiny little place in a mini-mall next to The Lakes mall which is next to the Civic Arts Plaza. The seating area is about the size of a boutique, with two additional tables outside the front door with a view of the plentiful parking for that mini-mall. We arrived a bit early for our reservation and were seated promptly.

The decor of the restaurant was fairly interesting. They had white-linen-covered tables, and the waiters were dressed as you might expect in a fancier restaurant, but they also had a piece of paper taped to a wall at the back of the restaurant that advertised their Monday wine specials. A sort of billowing canopy covered the ceiling, softening the lights, but there was also a disco ball (yes, that kind) in the middle of the ceiling. There was a vase with a flower on the table, and there was a candle as well, but I was surprised and amused to see that it was one of the electric kind made to look and flicker like a real candle. I understand the appeal of flameless candles, and I have one myself, but I did find it odd in a nice restaurant like that. Oh, and yes, they had salt and pepper on the table, but at last they were the tiny cute kind.

After we had perused the menu for a while, the server came by to take our order. I decided to start with the escargots (cooked in garlic, butter and parsley). I've never actually had escargot before, though I've had their relatives, so I was interested in trying it, especially in a French restaurant. From what I understand, what most people object to is its texture, which I knew wouldn't be a problem for me. The husband decided to start with the sweetbreads, something we've both liked since the first time we tried it several years ago. As an entree, I decided on the poached salmon with leek, fennel carrot, anis, clam, mussel and shrimp, and the husband decided to try the bison with a bourbon sauce. I had thought about trying the bison, but I've tried new meats (elk, for instance) at new restaurants, and while they haven't been bad experiences, I haven't been completely enamoured, so I've decided that if I'm going to try a new meat, I'm going to stick to doing so at restaurants that I know well. The entrees each came with soup of the day or house salad, and we both decided to upgrade to the onion soup.

We were brought bread, but instead of it being in a basket, it was actually wrapped in what would have otherwise looked like a square potholder tied a bit closed. I'd never seen that before, so I thought it was interesting. We were also brought olive tapenade with little crostini, and the tapenade was delicious.

Our appetizers were brought shortly thereafter. My escargots was brought in a plate (similiar to the one pictured here, but it didn't have the long handle) with little compartments for each one, and the butter was still bubbling hot on the plate. With the garlic flavoring, there wasn't much other flavor to the escargot itself. I enjoyed the dish, but it's probably not something I would order again because it wasn't that interesting to me. The husband's serving of sweetbreads was more generously portioned than he had expected, but he did enjoy it. I had a taste of some of it, and it had really good flavor and was very tender.

After we were done with our appetizers, we were then brought our onion soups, coincidentally enough in the same kind of earthenware crocks that we'd had minestrone soup in the night before at another restaurant. The broth and onions were very flavorful, and the soup was also plentiful in cheese.

After having some bread and some tapenade and the appetizer and soup, I wasn't very hungry by the time my salmon arrived. I realized then that I should have foregone the appetizer and had the house salad instead of the filling onion soup - I think I'm just not used to soup or salad being included in nicer restaurants like that. I liked the salmon ok, but I think I prefer salmon to be somewhat crispy instead of being poached. I also had not realized until I had a taste of the salmon that I had actually had salmon the night before for dinner. I enjoyed the various seafoods in the dish, so knowing they wouldn't really keep, I finished those and had a bit of the salmon and then decided to just take the rest with me. The husband had also run into the same problem - though he enjoyed the bison, and it was cooked perfectly at medium, he wasn't able to finish his entree and took the rest to go as well.

To go on a slight tangent, it had been a very hot afternoon, so we had been looking forward to cooling off a bit during dinner. That turned out not to work very well. The longer we sat in the restaurant, the warmer we got, which of course wasn't helped by the hot appetizers and onion soup that we had. At one point, the overhead lights were turned off, making the restaurant fairly dark and causing all the patrons to wonder what was happening. A man (who we later deduced was the proprietor) asked over a loudspeaker if we had all noticed how warm it had gotten. We all said yes. He said he could think of only two solutions - either turn the lights off or we all take our clothes off, which elicited a lot of laughter. He then announced that two people at separate tables were celebrating graduations and then a sort of disco multi-light was turned on for a while. Eventually, that was turned off and the regular lights turned back on. I'm not sure if the air conditioning wasn't working or at least wasn't working well enough to combat the heat outside, but I at least give the staff credit for continually keeping people's water glasses filled.

Even though we weren't able to finish our entrees, a nice cool glass of sorbet sounded good, so we shared that for dessert. It was mostly lemon with a small scoop of raspberry on top, both of which I enjoyed. The husband is not a fan of raspberry, so he just had some of the lemon.

We had finished our dessert, which was mostly gone, and then we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. The large party at the tables next to us left, and we sat and watched as our server helped to clear the table and completely re-set it. All the while, we sat there, obviously done with our dinner. Luckily, we had time to spare before needing to be at our show for the night, so the 20 minute wait while all that happened didn't make us late, but I was fairly annoyed at having to wait while he did all that work with the adjacent tables before offering us our check. I'm not saying he ignored us on purpose - but given that we were at the next table, it wouldn't have been that hard for him to notice us just sitting there for that long, our dessert finished. And it wasn't like there were people waiting for those tables, but even if there were, it wouldn't have taken 30 seconds to at least give us our checks before he finished helping with the tables. I also noted that a nearby party had their table crumbed before dessert, but we didn't - even though we had the same server. The server was polite, so I'm not sure what the deal was with the lapses at the end of our meal, but he finally brought our check, and we were able to settle out and leave.

The restaurant has apparently been there for about 11 years, and they seem to have gotten many rave reviews, and while I generally enjoyed my meal there, the few lapses in service and particularly the problems with regard to the temperature make it unlikely that I'd return if I were in the area, given the plethora of other restaurants available.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wall-E would *never* do this

I've only seen Asimo once, at a demo in Innoventions in Disneyland. (BTW, that's almost the only reason to go into Innoventions, IMO.) It was pretty cool, and I'd actually like to see it again. Our demo went well, but apparently, that's not always the case when demos are being done elsewhere.

Down Goes Asimo
It looks like this Asimo had a bit too much to drink before he took the stage for this exhibition. When they get it back on its feet they should make it walk a straight line and do the alphabet backwards.

Down Goes Asimo - Watch more free videos

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Speed Racer" - non-spoiler movie review

There are times when I look at the box office results for a movie, and I don't understand or don't agree when a film fails to capture an audience. "Charlie Bartlett" is a good example of this - great little film, but to date, the domestic box office gross is just under $4 million. This film should be right up there with the likes of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". But for some reason, it just didn't find an audience.

And then other times, the box office is the perfect manifestation of a film. "Speed Racer" was released a little over a week ago, and the big-budget mega-movie with the full power of Warner Bros.' marketing team and money has so far managed a domestic gross of ... slightly over $30 million. Its opening weekend gross was a whopping $18.5 million, down from the $20 million that Warner Bros. had purposely over-estimated for the weekend, putting the film third behind fellow new release "What Happens in Vegas", which came in second that same weekend with a gross of $20.1 million. Well, it was Mother's Day weekend, and people didn't want to go to the movies. Ummm, that might be an excuse except that "Iron Man" raked in another $51.1 million in its second week of release that same non-movie-going weekend.

Having finally seen the film this past weekend, I completely understand why the public stayed away in droves.

The story wasn't bad - except for a few bits, it was actually decently thought out and interesting. (One part I hated is towards the end of the film when Speed is remembering some of the things that various people have said to him, all of which prove to be the inspiration to do his best. Having the audio playing of the other people while you show his face soaking it in is fine. But we really didn't need to actually *see* those scenes again. Yeah, umm, some of those were scenes that we just saw a few minutes ago. Was the repeat of the scenes for the benefit of those with really short attention spans? Because otherwise, it was entirely a "beat you over the head with a really big hammer to get the point across" moment.) The acting wasn't bad - as a matter of fact, Susan Sarandon gave a wonderful performance as Speed Racer's mother, and she had a couple of really stand-out scenes. The special effects weren't bad - I'm presuming the forty million effects houses (including ILM) did exactly what they were contracted to do, and you can see their handiwork in just about every second of the film.

Now, I am familiar with the original television show - I remember watching it in the afternoon all the time, though I can't tell you that I remember much about it now. I remember the car, and I remember it could jump and do cool stuff. Can't tell you a thing about what the story was or anything else about the show. Given that I haven't seen the show in many, many, many, and I mean *LOTS* of years, it's possible that I wouldn't enjoy the show now. Maybe it had something to do with my being a kid when I watched it. Maybe it had something to do with it being animated, so I would allow for more things from an animated product than I do a live-action one. Maybe it has to do with the fact that with technology and special effects being what they are now, I think it was entirely possible to pull off all the cool action sequences and still have it look great, instead of having it be a mishmash and cartoony. Whatever the reason, there were many aspects of the film which really bugged me, though I'm told they're true to the television show. I guess having a monkey in the family in an animated show when I was a kid was one thing, but I could not get over it in the film. (And yeah, gotta throw in that obligatory poop joke for those with an IQ of 4.) And the little brother was just entirely too annoying, too "posing" and campy and obvious.

I think the thing that annoyed me the most about the film, though, was that the filmmakers (and really, I blame the directors - both of them) decided to go for style over substance. Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did exaggerated primary colors and made everything specifically look fake so that you can point out all the special effects layered shots? Sorry, it didn't work for me AT ALL. And what makes me most angry about that is that I could have really gotten into the movie, really gotten invested in the characters and the story they were telling, but every time they pulled a stylistic move, it just ripped me out of the story, and to me, it really destroyed the performances being given by the actors. As I mentioned, Susan Sarandon comes off pretty well because her important scenes are done straight without the "look what I can do with the camera and editing and CGI" crap. Matthew Fox as mysterious Racer X has a few of those moments as well. I can't really tell you how I feel about Emile Hirsch as Speed. His performance was so chopped up that I can't give an opinion on it. I've not seen the other things he's done, so maybe he'll be in something that I'll see sometime where I can actually tell what kind of performance he put in. I generally liked Christina Ricci in this film, though there were a couple of tiny bits that I thought were entirely too cutesy.

About the only thing I couldn't decide was whether I was more annoyed at the movie or at the stupid woman sitting in the front section who had decided to bring her two small children to this film, including a little boy who was hyper and wanted to talk and scream and laugh and run around in the theatre. And he did. And what did supermom do? Shush him loudly. (Yeah, that helps.) And watch him run around in front of the first row of seats, laughing. Both of the kids were both too old to be sleeping through the movie and too young to be sitting patiently and quietly through the movie. This is not a children's movie where you expect a lot of little kids in the theatre, being restless and making noise. I don't care if you can't find a babysitter. Then you don't get to see this film in the theatre. Your kids don't belong here, so NEITHER DO YOU. Take your rude selfish self out of the theatre and take the kids with you. Nice that you're so frickin' important that you figure it's ok to ruin other people's movie-going experience if that's what works best for you.

Maybe I should have hired ILM to rotoscope her and the kids out of the theatre.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Villa Italia Ristorante - restaurant review

When people ask us about our favorite Italian restaurant, we tell them it's a little hole-in-the-wall in the Target mini-mall in Duarte. And then they stare at us like we've each grown two heads. But those who have been to this place will attest to the fact that it is indeed a fabulous Italian restaurant, an oasis that you don't expect.

We happened upon this fabulous place in a most peculiar way. We'd been driving by some years ago when the husband saw the sign. He has some inexplicable fixation on "ristorantes", so he wanted to try it some time. Time went by, and we never got around to going, but finally one day about a year later, he decided he really wanted to go. It turns out that the wait ended up being a good thing. We found out that when he had first seen the sign, it had been owned by another party, and in the interim, it had been sold and was now owned by an Italian couple, Rosetta and Bernardo. They'd only been open for a short time under the new management, and we immediately fell in love with the place. Rosetta is the main greeter/hostess, and there are usually one or two waiters. Bernardo does the books for the restaurant, and at the time the restaurant opened, their son was the executive chef, though I don't know if he still is, so it was a real family operation.

The restaurant is charmingly decorated, with painted "windows" that look outside, and the tables are draped in linen with a candle and a small flower in a vase on the table. The dishware and glassware are what you might expect in a fancier place, and the little touch of using doilies under various things really adds to the ambience. It really is unexpected to find a gem like this in a mini-mall. They do have a few outside tables, but since the view looks out on the parking lot, we've never sat out there, though there are flowerbox dividers separating the little seating area.

They have an excellent homemade minestrone soup which I usually get as a starter. We've also had the antipasto platter appetizer once, and it's plentiful enough for two with a good selection of different items.

There are a couple of pastas that I generally get and like. One of my favorites is the Mammamia - chicken with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers and black olives with a white wine garlic sauce. It's got really good flavor, and unlike some places that advertise sundried tomatoes and actually just give you regular chopped tomatoes, they use the real thing. The bolognese (old Italian-feast meat sauce) and the del nonno (a meat sauce with homemade meatballs) are both quite good, and I really enjoy the allo-scoglio (pasta with clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari and garlic) when I'm in the mood for seafood. I've tried their arrabbiata (spicy tomato sauce with garlic and black olives), but it's sweeter and not as spicy as I normally like.

They offer pizza as well, and I've never gotten around to trying it, though I keep saying I want to. One of these days!

On this particular night, I had been perusing the pizza menu when our waiter came up to tell us the specials of the day. They were offering a salmon with capers and artichokes with a little bit of pasta and vegetables, and that sounded so good that I was sold and put off pizza for yet another day. One of the other specials was osso bucco on risotto, and the husband ended up ordering that.

Instead of just ordinary bread for the table, they offer a complimentary bruschetta with tomato and basil, which also has wonderful garlic flavor.

The minestrone soup was as good as usual, but we noticed that since our last visit, the soup was no longer being served in a regular bowl, but rather, in a brown crock of sorts, very cute.

I loved my salmon, and the flavor of the capers and artichokes with the salmon was perfect. The husband really enjoyed the osso bucco as well, which was a very generous serving.

We did not have dessert on this evening, but they have a couple of desserts that are delicious. The tiramisu is homemade and amazing. They have a sort of toffee ice cream thing (yeah, I know, I suck at the description) that is just incredible. The first time they offered it on the menu, we loved it and asked how they had come up with it. Turns out that on Rosetta's recent trip back to Italy, she'd picked it up there and brought it back, along with the cute little shovel spoons that they have for you to enjoy the dish.

The service is always good, pleasant, friendly and helpful, and our water glasses are always kept filled.

All of the tables are square tables - except one, to the side of the front of the restaurant. We have affectionately named that table the "Italian table" as the first few times we visited, there always seemed to be an Italian family sitting at that table, and Rosetta would be conversing with them in Italian. The first time we were there when the table was occupied *not* by an Italian family, we tried not to look at them askance! :) You will actually quite often hear Rosetta either on the phone or in person speaking to someone in Italian - it's almost like an Italian enclave in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley, so we've been really happy about discovering this little secret.

They tend to be generally busy, though not packed, and we've never had to wait for a table. It sounds weird at first to recommend this Italian restaurant given its location, but no one that we've referred there has ever been disappointed.

Here's their official website.

Villa Italia Ristorante
1028 Huntington Drive
Duarte, CA 91010
(626) 357-3938