Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Hamlet 2" - spoiler movie review

"Tropic Thunder" and "Hamlet 2" - how perfect a movie summer has it been that both movies came out within weeks of each other?

"Hamlet 2" has been the other movie that I've been dying to see based on the trailer. "Tropic Thunder" was irreverent to a large degree, but I think "Hamlet 2" was even more so. With how much I loved "Tropic Thunder", I was a little concerned about whether or not I would be let down with "Hamlet 2". The concern was completely without basis. Oh, and same advice here - LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME, and if you're easily offended, stay away from this film.

Tucson is the armpit of the United States and is a hellhole of a place to live. That's the message of this movie. OK, it's really only *one* of the messages of this movie, but it was still a pretty funny one. I've actually been to Tucson a couple of times, when I was a little kid - and based on those visits, I'd pretty much agree with the opinion posited in this movie. The husband was wondering how the Tucson tourism board would feel about this movie.

"Hamlet 2" tells the story of Dana Marschz, a small-time actor with a weirdly-pronounced last name who was failing at finding any good parts so then decided to become a teacher and ended up as the drama teacher at a high school in Tucson. He has a penchant for doing adaptations of big-screen movies, productions which are skewered by the critics - ok, we find out that it's really just one critic who is the bane of Dana's existence, and it's the wise-beyond-his-years critic on the high school student paper. Dana has two devoted drama geek students, Rand and Epiphany, but his class gets much more interesting when a bunch of latino students end up taking his class because all of the other good classes have been cancelled, and none of them have any interest or knowledge about drama. Dana references inspirational teacher movies like "Dead Poets Society" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Dangerous Minds" (I was actually surprised he didn't mention "Stand and Deliver", but maybe that was just too obvious.), but the references completely make no impression on his new students. Dana gets even worse news when he finds out that the drama program has been cancelled and this will be his last year. But in true "let's put on a show" fashion, he decides to put on a spectacular last-ditch effort to draw attention to the drama program, and he rallies his students around an original musical that he's written - "Hamlet 2". His wife incredulously points out to him that everyone died at the end of "Hamlet", so how was he going to get around that? Oh, he has a device - a time machine that Jesus uses to bring Hamlet back so that Hamlet can prevent the tragedies - his mother Gertrude's poisoning and his love Ophelia's drowning - from happening. There's also a father/son problematic relationship that both Jesus and Hamlet have to deal with, not to mention Dana himself. Production of the play goes along well until they hit a snag - teacher's pet Rand is not happy with Dana's waning attention or his own lessened part in the play, so he alerts the school principal to exactly what the play is about, and the school forbids him to put on such an offensive play. Adding insult to injury, Dana also finds out that his wife has fallen in love with and is moving to San Diego with their boarder - oh, and the baby that she's pregnant with that they'd been trying so hard for? Yeah, not so much Dana's. Dana is ready to give up on everything, but his students rally behind him, and we get to see the amazing production of "Hamlet 2".

I was trying to figure out if I laughed more at this movie or at "Tropic Thunder", and I couldn't really decide, but I do know that there are parts of this movie that I missed because I or the audience was laughing loud enough to drown out the sound of the movie.

There are so many moments in this film that are just comic brilliance, whether in the writing or the delivery. The various stories that they weave are interesting, and while you pretty much know where the story is going to end up, the journey there is just a riot.

Other than Steve Coogan and irreverent topics (and lots of cursing), this film shares a lot of similar moments with "Tropic Thunder". "Tropic Thunder" opened with three fake movie trailers, and this film opened with three fake commercials/TV clips. I *loved* the manufactured clip from "Xena: Warrior Princess"! "Tropic Thunder" had a sequence about someone's use of the term "you people", so I busted up when Epiphany used the same "you people" when commenting on one of the new student's acting. And, Steve Coogan refers to himself as Jesus in "Tropic Thunder", but he actually plays Jesus in this film!

Minor bits and pieces I just wanted to mention:

What the heck was up with Dana's printer? Who even uses that kind of dot-matrix printer with the holed paper on the sides that you can tear off? Wow, talk about a throwback!

I really want to know what Snoopy did during the first ten minutes of the show.

I loved the Gay Men's Choir of Tucson (which doesn't actually exist under that name, but there is actually a gay men's chorus located in Tucson), and I loved their rendition of "Maniac" from "Flashdance". There seemed to be a lot of references to 80s things, like with "The Karate Kid". Hmmm, maybe that's part of why I liked this movie, because the 80s were my time.

Yolanda was Kenny!

I loved that the security detail for the production was going to be the school football team and some gang friends of the students in the show. I'd love for there to be people to come in and physically haul away someone who makes stupid and too many comments during a show.

And as with "Tropic Thunder", part of what made this movie was the superb ensemble acting.

Steve Coogan was just brilliant in this film, showing so many different assets of his character, and showing even more by way of nudity. His butt scenes were just too funny, and I was so shocked when he had his first "nude" scene that I didn't notice if he was actually completely au naturel when he did the high kick. As far as I could tell, though, they never had a full frontal shot of him, at least one that showed anything, even in the scene when he was found bent over the couch. As he was being taken away by the police officers, the bottom of his shirt was strategically placed. And he even got to play Albert Einstein and Jesus!

Catherine Keener was good as Brie, Dana's supportive-in-the-beginning wife. I loved the dinner scene when she was drinking that humongous margarita, and I was laughing when she was weirdly licking the salt off the rim.

Joseph Julian Soria was spectacular as Octavio aka Heywood, and he's definitely someone to keep an eye on. I loved the twist when you got to meet Octavio's parents!

Skylar Astin is terrific as Rand, though I hope he got combat pay for having to wear all those sweater vests! This is his first big-screen appearance, but he looks so familiar to me, so I'm not sure why that is. He was in the Broadway hit musical "Spring Awakenings", which I haven't seen, but maybe I've just seen enough publicity on that and that's where I'm remembering him from.

Phoebe Strole was good as Epiphany, and I was just laughing when she finally started to talk "street", especially since she'd been previously intimidated by "ethnics". Interestingly, she was also in "Spring Awakenings", so while I wondered during the film whether they did their own singing in this film, I guess that question has been answered.

I kept looking at Gary, Dana's and Brie's border, and I knew he looked like someone I recognized, but I couldn't place him. It was David Arquette! And he only has a couple of lines, but he was still funny.

Elisabeth Shue was just too funny in this film. She supposedly got tired of acting and became a nurse in Tucson (at the Prickly Pear Fertility Clinic - I laughed at the name of the clinic), though they apparently don't pay her much, because she seems to go everywhere in her nurse's uniform, and she even keeps her badge on display.

Amy Poehler was terrific as Cricket Feldstein, the ACLU lawyer (yes, I thought it was hysterical when Dana thought the ACLU was a talent agency like CAA) who's not afraid to flaunt her husband's Jewish heritage.

And then, of course, there was the uncredited narrator. As I listened, I was trying to figure out who it was. It sounded to me like Jeremy Irons, even though I'm not usually very good at figuring out who a particular voice is. The husband thought it might be Christopher Lee. And then there was the reference at the end of the movie when Dana mentions Jeremy Irons, and Steve Coogan does a spot-on impersonation of him. That cemented it - the narrator must have been Jeremy Irons, though I was surprised he wasn't credited, but sometimes, they request that. So I looked around at a bunch of reviews, and they all mentioned Jeremy Irons in an uncredited role. And then I found this article with director Andrew Fleming who says that it was Steve Coogan, "doing his best Jeremy Irons with maybe a little Ian McKellen thrown in". Wow! It was awesome when I thought it actually was Jeremy Irons, but it's just as awesome that it was Steve doing Jeremy Irons!

And then there were the songs. "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" was just awesome, and I loved the "Grease" feel of the production, with the three girls starting off on the daybed, and the cars in the back and the costuming and the dance moves.

I also loved the version of Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" that was sung in the show, supposed by the gay men's choir.

I really want the soundtrack to this film, so I was disappointed to discover that they haven't released one. Individual songs and the soundtrack are only available as downloads through iTunes. And the songs supposedly sung by the gay men's choir are credited to "The Ralph Sall Experience". Ralph Sall is, among other things, president of Bulletproof Entertainment and the writer of the original music for this film. I would really prefer to have an actual CD rather than just buying the downloads, so I've asked to see if they have plans to release a CD. If not, I guess I'll just have to buy the downloads. August 31, 2008, 11:10 am - edited to add: I got an email response from Ralph Sall that the soundtrack will be released on CD on September 30, so that makes me one happy camper!

I think I did find one error in the movie. When the school decides that they won't allow the show to be put on, there's a short scene that shows a stack of copies of the school paper being taken by various people, and then the camera zooms in to show that it's a column by the student critic about the show being rejected. It's only on screen for a few seconds before you cut to the kids reading the article out loud, and the person reading says something like "what is it about this play" that the school is afraid of. I could swear that when they showed the actual paper, it had "about" printed twice, one right after the other. I'm going to have to wait for the DVD to be able to confirm or correct that observation.

I absolutely loved this movie and would highly recommend it, but there aren't apparently enough of the similarly-twisted people in the world, as the film isn't doing very well at the box office. Too bad - people don't know what they're missing out on.

Here's a really good interview with Steve Coogan about the movie.

Here's a terrific review of the film from when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Indy Lego cake

I got a new follower request on Twitter today, and since I have my updates blocked, I have to approve requests. When I've gotten a request from someone I don't actually know, I look to see if they have a website and what their tweets are like and how many people they're following to see if I want to accept. I don't do professional followers. After browsing around, I accepted the request. In browsing the person's blog, I came across this particular post of a cake that the person's wife had made for their son's birthday. The pictures are really cool, though yeah, the gummy snakes still freaked me out. Kudos to AB's wife!

Friday, August 29, 2008

finding a home for my Little Boxes of Joy

So as much as I love my Little Boxes of Joy, one problem I still need to solve is how to display them. At the moment, most of them are still in a shopping bag, separated set-by-set and grouped together by style. I still have one case that I haven't opened yet because I have to be careful as I think the individual boxes can be put together to make that sushi kaiten bar that I was so excitedly looking for, and I haven't had the time to do all of that. But, I don't want them to just be in the shopping bag, and really, I'm not even going to want them separated. During one session when I was opening a bunch of boxes (and the husband was helping me), I had a lot of sets open at once, and it was fun mixing all the stuff together. One set came with four oysters on the half-shell, so I was putting those everywhere - on the barbeque grill, in the cookie jar with the biscotti, in the coffee machine, with ice cream. If I want to be able to put a set back together, I still have the leaflet that comes with each set so I know what pieces came in any particular set.

Some time ago, a friend sent me a link to this article, which has a suggestion with pictures of one way to display miniatures similiar to my Little Boxes of Joy. I like them to some degree, though I do find the look a bit cluttered with them strewn randomly on the wall. The effect of having individual rooms is kind of interesting, but I'm not sure that would work with my current collection, which is all cooked food, and I'd also prefer the rooms to not be quite as deep. Once I eventually expand into some of the other lines (like the grocery store and the nursery, if that's still around at the time), the division of rooms would probably work better. The major problem I would have, though, is that the displays seem very static, especially since most are high up and not easily accessible to change. With my current lines of Little Boxes of Joy, I don't want them to be set and unchanging - I'm going to want to change out different foods and such, so the elevated height would be inconvenient for me.

Ideally, I'd like to just have all of them out on a table or counter or something like that, where I could rearrange stuff whenever the whim hit me. However, the major problem with that would be the Godzilla-wannabe that we have at home, otherwise known as Orkid. She is not allowed anywhere near my Little Boxes of Joy when they're out of the boxes, because at best, she would want to bat them around and chase them, and at worst, she would eat them. And most of the food is small enough that she'd have no problem eating them. She probably wouldn't eat the barbeque grill or the big cakes (though she'd definitely gnaw on them), but the sushi and the tacos and the little pastries would just be bite-sized morsels to her. I've thought about using a higher shelf to put all the sets on, but the problem is still accessibility. Orkid can jump from the floor to a shelf that is at least eye-level to me, so what would be accessible to me as far as being able to see it well and move stuff around would be accessible for her to jump to straight from the floor.

The picture in the article does give me an idea, though. Re-ment does sell a sort of one-room house that you can decorate yourself by putting in whatever you want. I've seen it in person, but I can't remember if it's a fully enclosed box or whether it's open on the side that's supposed to be a window. If it is fully enclosed, that would solve the problem of keeping access away from Orkid, and I could get a couple to stack together. At the moment, the only accessory I have is a pastry display cabinet. I didn't have enough similar food to be able to properly set a table so I didn't allow myself to buy any of the tables yet, but I've got lots of little food now. The bigger dining table is what I really want, but I also like the smaller cafe tables too. The next time I'm at my go-to Re-ment store, I'll have to take a better look at the housing accessory.

If the housing unit ends up not being secure enough to withstand Orkid, the only other solution I can think of is that I do have one small shelf that's a little higher than eye-level to me, but I can get to it easily with a step stool. It should be high enough that she can't jump to it from the ground or from any nearby counter, so as long as I remember not to leave the step stool where she can use it, I should be ok. She hasn't shown any interest in that shelf in a long time. I used to have a fish, and that's where he and his fishbowl sat, away from Orkid's prying paws and teeth, but his swimming around would catch her attention. Since my little sets of food shouldn't be moving on their own, she shouldn't even notice them. The only way they would be moving and subject to her eating them is if they got jostled enough in an earthquake to fall off the shelf, but then I figure if we have an earthquake bad enough to make them fall off the shelf, that means we've got way bigger problems than Orkid eating my miniature sushi.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

888 Seafood Restaurant - restaurant review

A couple of years ago, the husband came across an article in the Los Angeles Times with recommended Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, which is apparently now booming with them. The San Gabriel Valley is turning into the new Monterey Park, which in turn was the new Chinatown. One of the restaurants listed in the article was 888 Seafood Restaurant, and the write-up of that particular restaurant was pretty good, so we decided to try it one day. We've been going back regularly ever since then.

First off, an explanation of the name of the restaurant. "8" is considered a lucky number in the Chinese culture because the word "eight" sounds like the word for "prosperity", so it's common to see a lot of 8s in various store and restaurant names. Guess they thought 3 eights was a good choice. And indeed it was as they seem to have prospered greatly. The restaurant is usually quite crowded. We usually go on a weekend, but I've also been there on a weekday, and there was still a wait, even though it's a fairly large restaurant. I noticed recently that it has even taken over the space of an adjacent business, so it's an even bigger restaurant now. The restaurant is located in a mini-mall that has a number of other businesses, including numerous other restaurants, so parking is usually difficult to find. On several occasions now, we've resorted to parking on a nearby residential side street, which is a short walk away but much less hassle than dealing with looking for a space in the lot.

If there's a wait for a table, they ask for the number of your party, and then they'll give you a slip of paper. When it's your turn, they will call your number in three languages: Cantonese, English and Mandarin. I like the atmosphere of the spacious dining room, which is nicely carpeted, and unlike some other restaurants, everything looks very clean and new, and they even have matching dishware, which is sometimes unlikely. I've only ever been there for dim sum, so that's what all of my comments are based on.

Once you're seated, they'll ask what kind of tea you want - I always ask for Jasmine. For those unfamiliar with dim sum, women (I don't recall ever seeing a male doing this) will push carts around the restaurant with various dishes, and you can choose what dishes you want. Each dish has a particular price, and when they put the dish on your table, they will put a stamp for each dish in the appropriate price point of the ordering ticket, which stays on your table. In addition to the cart pushers, this restaurant also has a large staff who will bring trays of specialty items, and it works the same way with the stamps. If you're unfamiliar with the names (and most of the cart pushers don't speak English, or at least not very much or well), you can just ask to see what they have. Most of the dishes are in metal steamers with lids over them, so they'll just uncover the lids so you can see what's underneath, and you can point to what you want.

Other dishes will be on plates, sometimes covered, sometimes not, and there are also specialty items that need to be further cooked and/or otherwise prepared or ladeled. And yes, the stuff you can't see is generally the "scary food" - tripe, beef stew and tendons and the like. I think they're yummy, but some people are afraid of them. There's also a bigger cart with more big-ticket items like soy sauce chicken and roasted duck and jellyfish, and there's also a dessert cart. We've not usually had a problem with carts going by regularly. The only time I can think of was when we were there later, when they'd have fewer carts out and some of the items will already have sold out. In some cases, if we're waiting for something that hasn't come by, I'll stop a waiter to ask, and they will either send a cart lady over with the item or just bring a plate of it themselves, if the item is still available.

Once you've had your fill and you're ready for your check, you can alert a waiter, and they will calculate your check based on the number of stamps in each price category, as other staff will have been clearing the dishes as you've finished with each. I've found that they're pretty efficient with that. They also tend to be good with refilling water and tea - if your teapot is empty and you want more hot water, just move the lid of the teapot so that it sits on the side of the opening. That's the sign to the wait staff that you need more hot water.

I've generally found the selection of dim sum to be very good here, and they even have some specialty items that are hard to find nowadays. And all of the food is very tasty. I can't think of anything I've had there that I didn't like. My difficulty usually lies in deciding what I want, since it's usually just the husband and me, and each dish usually comes with 4 or so pieces, so there's only so much we can eat and only so many varieties we can have. With a larger group, you can have just one of each item, thereby allowing you to have a wider variety of items, and there are some dishes that the husband doesn't like, so if I were to order it, I'd have to finish the whole dish myself.

One problem I can see would be for vegetarians or those who don't eat shrimp for whatever reason. Quite a number of years ago, I'd noticed that they started to put the little dried shrimp in a lot more things, so some items which would have been vegetarian previously are no longer so. The majority of the meat used in dishes is beef and pork, which would also present a problem for those who don't eat those meats. There are a few dishes that are chicken, but not many. One solution would be that since you can still order off the regular menu, a vegetarian could supplement their dim sum choices with something off the regular menu.

For dim sum, a price is charged per person for tea. For dinner or for people ordering off the regular menu and ordering rice, they would then charge a per person fee for rice and not charge for tea.

As I mentioned, the only real downside to the restaurant is that it's usually very crowded. This past Father's Day, I attempted to go there with my parents, and since we hadn't gone super early, it was already about a 2-hour wait (they don't take reservations for lunch), so we ended up going elsewhere.

I'll have to try dinner there sometime, but in the meantime, it's one of my favorite places to go for dim sum.

888 Seafood Restaurant
8450 Valley Blvd., Suite 121
Rosemead, CA 91770

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

magical memories - Disneyland tickets for May 4, 2005

Disneyland's 50th birthday was on July 17, 2005. In true Disney style, nothing lasts for only a year, so the actual kick-off of the 50th birthday celebration was May 5, 2005, and it had been announced that the park would be closed on May 4, 2005 to prepare for the opening. As May 4 drew closer, it turned out that it would mostly be a media event day with a party in the evening to which celebrities had been invited. Non-media and non-celebrities had a few different ways they could obtain free tickets to attend the daytime festivities. Annual passholders could register on Disneyland's website for a lottery to win tickets for May 4. I really wanted to go, so I dutifully signed up - and I didn't win the ticket lottery. But I had a backup plan.

There were a number of radio stations that were giving away tickets for May 4 as well. At the time, I was a listener of the Mark and Brian radio show, based out of KLOS-FM in Los Angeles, and they were giving away tickets. I had my plan in place. I had been listening to them long enough to know when the best time might be to call and what the best chance of winning tickets would be.

Mark and Brian always had a call-in game at 6:30am which would take up all their phone lines, but after the game was over, many of the calls would drop off, which meant that was the ideal time to call and have the best chance of getting through. The game ended, and I dialed. And the phone rang. And Preva, their call screener, picked up. I told her the game I had made up, and she said that it sounded like fun and that they'd not had anyone do that before. She said for me to be as upbeat with the boys as I was with her. She didn't know that I sounded so excited and upbeat because I was nervous as heck, and when I'm nervous, I tend to talk fast, which actually was going to work in my favor.

What I had made up was a Disney-related trivia game - I would give them the name of a famous actor and they had to name the Disney animated role the actor played and what the animated movie was. I knew that Mark and Brian liked trivia games, but I also knew that their attention would drift quickly, so I picked big-name actors that they'd know and recent well-known movies, not obscure actors in minor films, both of which they'd be disinterested in. If they didn't know the answer, I would wait a second and then just give them the answer. I'd heard other people just press them to guess when it was obvious they didn't know and weren't going to know and didn't care anymore and just wanted to move on in the game. I knew to just jump into the game and keep it moving along.

I ended up getting on the air at about 6:45am.

I started easy, with Craig T. Nelson, and Mark knew that he played Mr. Incredible in the movie "The Incredibles".

Next was Ellen DeGeneres, and Mark got that she was in "Finding Nemo" but couldn't remember her character name. No, Mark, she didn't play Nemo.

Next was Billy Crystal, and Kelli (their news person) got that one, that he played Mike Wazowski in "Monsters, Inc."

Next was Kathleen Turner, which Brian got, that she was Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" I then tried to stump them with Amy Irving, but Brian got that she was Jessica Rabbit's singing voice in the film. Afterward, the husband mentioned to me that Brian *loves* that movie. Oh well.

Next was Robby Benson, which I threw in because there was a running joke about the crush that Frank (their board op) had on Robby. I believe Mark and Brian actually asked Frank to answer that question, that he was Beast in "Beauty and the Beast".

I knew that Brian liked Minnie Driver, so she was next, but they didn't know the movie, so I gave them a big hint - "think Phil Collins". They got that the movie was "Tarzan" and that she obviously played Jane. It was the only question where I had a hint prepared to give them, and I knew they liked Phil, so I figured giving them that hint would be enough for them to guess the film.

And then I ended the game with a Disneyland-related question: where in the park could you hear Patrick Stewart's voice? They were surprised and had no idea, so I told them that in the then-current "Snow White" stage show, he played the voice of the Magic Mirror. Mark seemed to really enjoy the answer to that question, and I even got a signature "huh" out of him. I was quite pleased with myself.

After the game was over, for some reason that I can't remember, they ended up talking to Preva about her hair, so I just remained silently on the line as they had their chat. Then Mark said something like, Cindy, do you know what you'll be doing on May 4, and I said hopefully, "Going to Disneyland?", and he said yes, congratulations, I'd won the tickets. I was so happy!

I have rarely called into a radio show before, but in this case, I knew the reward would be worth it. I think all of the other radio stations' contests were to be the right numbered caller, which is totally random. I also called in about mid-April, still some weeks away from the actual day, when they'd have lots of tickets left. As they got closer to May 4, they had fewer and fewer tickets, so you had to do bigger and bigger things to get them. I also figured that having my trivia question be Disney-related would make sense, especially given the tickets I was trying to win. All in all, it turned out perfectly - I got the tickets I wanted, and I like to think that I amused them for a couple of minutes doing something fun that they liked - trivia.

May 4, 2005 at Disneyland was an amazing day, and it was the start of an amazing weekend at Disneyland, since we were also there all day on the 5th and part of the day on the 6th. Here's my report from that weekend that includes a ton of pictures - and be warned that it's a long report.

I no longer listen to Mark and Brian, but I will always remember fondly the one time I was able to talk to them on the radio, and I will always be thankful that because of them, I was able to go to Disneyland on May 4, 2005.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

it's a Gloomy world

That's Gloomy. He can often be found in a box, waiting for a good home. Isn't he just adorable? Don't you want to take him home and adopt him?

The husband and I were in Japantown about a week ago, and that's when I learned of the existence of Gloomy. The husband brought over a plush of Gloomy. But Gloomy didn't look like the picture above. He looked a bit more like this next picture.

The husband also showed me that you could just buy Gloomy's bloody arm. As you can see, Gloomy comes in many different colors.

OK, so what's the deal with Gloomy? Well, they also had some grab-bag style little boxes (sound familiar?) with Gloomy merchandise - I think they were keychains. On the side of the box were a bunch of pictures that showed the story of Gloomy. I've found a reproduction of the picture story and am including it below.

So, of course, when we got home, I had to find out more information about Gloomy and Pity, the little boy who adopted him.

Here's a blog entry with more information about Gloomy, including the origin of his name. And here's a blog entry that kind of explains the premise behind Gloomy.

This is the home page of the guy who created Gloomy Bear. Love the animation! :) Click on "main" from the home page. They had the Hannibal Lecter-looking design on one of the boxes, and I thought that was too cool. When you get to where the animation stops, you'll notice that the page is interactive if you click on the picture of Gloomy/Pity. I know, it's sick, but it's funny too!

Here's another article about the Gloomy phenomenon.

Well, in browsing around the net, I found all kinds of cute Gloomy merchandise. Wanna see some of them? Yeah, I knew you would.

Gloomy Halloween. He's my favorite. I might have to actually find him before Halloween.

Gloomy reindeer. He's just too cute!

Gloomy mecha. He looks very different from all the others, because he's mecha. Love the Godzilla feel to his look.

Gloomy witch or wizard, whatever you prefer that Gloomy be. I love the outfit.

Gloomy mummy. I think he looks more like Gloomy bandaged. I wonder what he fought that HE got the short end of the stick?

Gloomy with Pity. As you can see, Pity made a terrible mistake. But he still loves Gloomy nonetheless.

This Gloomy is able to stand, and he's poseable as well!

This is a cute stationery set. If it only had notecards, I would totally get it, but since I rarely ever handwrite letters anymore, I don't need letter stationery.

This mug is just too funny for words. Great use of the heat-sensitive technology. Definitely go and read the description.

Here's a Gloomy hoodie that you can order. I would consider getting this as a Halloween costume, but I think it might just be for kids.

Isn't he adorable? I so want one of these. Here's the article that talks about them. I love the following quote from the article.

Maybe someone dressing him up in a bunny costume was the reason he turned so violent? I know that would turn me gloomy.

And then here's a link to a Gloomy action figure. Again, I love the writing.

Look at the cute cuddly bear! Why is his name Gloomy Bear? He’s so soft and cuddly I bet people give him hugs all the time. That should cheer anyone up. Gloomy Bear what is that on your hands and coming out of your mouth? It looks like blood…why do you have blood on your cute little claws Gloomy Bear? Gloomy Bear why are you looking at me like that? Gloomy Bear…Gloomy Bear you look upset. Gloomy Bear would you like a hug? Oh no….aaaiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! gurgle blurg sploosh death ... If you wanted a softer version of Gloomy Bear you might check this version out. Softer as in plush…he will still kill you.

This is Gloomy with mauling action, which includes a Pity doll.

I stopped by a Power Anime store by work tonight to see if they might have any Gloomy merchandise. They didn't, but I did ask the clerk just to be sure. He said that Dark Horse had U.S. distribution rights to Gloomy, and he was expecting a ton of Gloomy merchandise in about three weeks, so I'll definitely be going back to check.

Here's a Gloomy Bear LiveJournal community that I found. I haven't browsed it too much yet, but from what I've read, it's just a riot.

And of course, Gloomy is on YouTube!

Gloomy bear - sick and funny at the same time.

This video tells the story of Gloomy bear and includes a chat with Gloomy's creator, and there's even a live pink Gloomy!

Here's video of a battery-operated pink Gloomy bear toy that walks around.

And speaking of walking around, I so want a Gloomy bear like this!!!!!!!

Look at this video of him as a walk-around character.

This last picture is from I think it perfectly embodies the spirit of Gloomy!

Have a Gloomy day!

Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Big Bang Theory" - television show - thoughts on the end of the first season

This is the second of the three shows from last season that I'm still going to write about even though the season finale was months ago.

There was a show where Howard and the boys had figured out a way to remotely control various devices in Leonard's and Sheldon's apartment via a circuitious route on the internet. I laughed when the experiment worked and the theme music from "2001" blared while the boys jumped around like the monkeys.

The main story was about a conference that wanted Sheldon and Leonard to present a paper on their findings, but Sheldon didn't want to go, so Leonard was going to go without him. Penny was in Leonard's room with him, trying to figure out what he might have that would be appropriate to wear. Penny pulled out something and asked what it was. Leonard said it was an original "Battlestar Galactica" battle suit. Oh my goodness! I think I love Leonard.

The rest of the story was ok, with some good moments, but I love the running joke from the movie "Scanners" about being able to blow up other people's heads just by thinking hard enough. I've never seen the movie, but I like the gesture - I've actually used it a couple of times since.

The next episode was centered around Penny's performance in a "Rent" showcase and how awful she was in it, but Leonard didn't want to tell her the truth and hurt her feelings. The episode started out with a discussion about the new terminator show and how could you possibly have a hot terminator. That all made me laugh, and of course they'd be watching it!

I loved the scene where they'd put the bag of chicken wholesale into the trash, and then they had to decide whether to take it back out.

The episode after that surrounded how horrible Sheldon is when he's sick and how no one wants to be around him. That was pretty funny.

The next episode was about a 15-year-old Korean genius boy (Dennis) who Sheldon felt threatened by. I loved Leonard's comment directed to Sheldon about Dennis that it was "like looking into an obnoxious little mirror".

The next episode was about a physics bowl where Sheldon was being so obnoxious and overbearing that he was kicked off the team and replaced with Leslie. Sheldon then created his own team, but he really just needed warm bodies since he was giving all the answers. In the end, Sheldon lost to Leonard.

In the next episode, Leonard thought he was buying a miniature time machine, and he talked Sheldon, Howard and Raj into chipping in money to buy the piece ($200 each), but when he got it, it turned out to be anything but a miniature - it was actually life size, and they decided to keep it in Leonard's and Sheldon's living room. There were some really funny dream sequences and interaction amongst the boys in that show.

The next episode was stellar, introducing Sheldon's hot twin (fraternal) sister Missy from Texas. I loved that she referred to him as "Shelly" and told that he had imaginary colleagues when he was little. Raj had taken part in a drug experiment that gave him the ability to speak to women, and the side effects with his arm/hand movements were really funny. Raj, Howard and Leonard all fought over Missy, so Penny rescued her, and Leonard tried to manipulate Sheldon to get the other two to back off. At one point, Howard asked why Sheldon objected to him courting Missy - "Is it cause I'm Jewish cause I'd kill a rabbi with a pork chop to be with your sister". Too frickin' funny!

The best line, though, was when Sheldon was razzing Leonard for being lactose intolerant and offered him a date with Missy if he could eat a piece of cheese, the latter part of which Missy overheard, so when she dragged Sheldon into his bedroom, she said, "and I don't even want to know why you're pimping me out for a piece of cheese".

There was a good resolution to the show as well. Leonard ended up winning the right to date Missy, but when he asked, she turned him down. Howard took a try, but he struck out as well. Raj then stepped up, but just as he was about to say something, his meds ran out, rendering him incapable of making more than just unintelligible sounds at her. Shame too, because Missy would have accepted a date with him!

The next episode centered around Leonard's birthday and how he'd never had a party before, and Penny wanted to throw him a surprise party. When Sheldon didn't want to help, she threatened to write on a mint-condition comic of his - Penny's definitely learned what makes them tick. Penny was then surprised that Sheldon wasn't getting a gift for Leonard, but when Howard coached her to tell him that gift-giving was a "non-optional social convention", Sheldon gave in. Penny ended up with the task of taking Sheldon shopping for Leonard's present, but Sheldon ended up pretty much taking over the computer store. Howard also made the ultimate sacrifice in his need to delay Leonard by chomping down on peanuts - which he was allergic to.

The last episode had Sheldon and Howard trying to learn mandarin (with a "billion new people to annoy"), with Sheldon intent on finding out if the tangerine chicken that they were getting was instead actually orange chicken, which was what he suspected. He figured if he could speak the language, then he could catch them in their scam. Hilarity ensued when he thought he was saying the right words but instead was making non-sensical comments to people.

And in the big story, Penny broke up with her boyfriend and ended up agreeing to go out with Leonard. I was a little surprised that this development happened in the first season, and I'm a little concerned about how they're going to further develop that in the second season. For this kind of thing, the chase is usually the fun, and once the chase is over, they fall into a rut. I'd hate for that to happen in this case. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with the show in the new season though.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zen Buffet - restaurant review

We had occasion to be at the Long Beach Town Center last Saturday right around lunchtime and before seeing a movie at the AMC Theatres there, so we looked around at the various restaurants to see where we would be having lunch. The husband saw the sign for Zen Buffet and thought it might be ok, so we decided to check it out. Now, I'll say off the bat that I'm not generally a fan of Chinese buffets. I find the food to be bland at best, over-sauced and over-condimented at worst. They also tend to have what I find to be boring and generic offerings. The appeal for most people seems to be that Chinese buffets tend to be inexpensive, often costing less than $10 per person. For me, the lower cost isn't appeal enough for low-quality food, and low-quality bland and boring food at that, so I'd rather pay a little more to get dishes that I actually like, well made to boot. With my bias set forth, we decided to go into the restaurant and have a look - for me, being able to see the dishes for myself tends to give me a better indication of whether or not it's something I'd like. When we went in, I asked if we could look around the food stations, and the hostess graciously said yes. As I looked around to the various stations, I noticed that everything was very clean and well-kept, and there was a fairly large selection of items available, both in quantity and variety. Both the husband and I decided it was worth trying, so we went back to the hostess, who seated us in a booth.

Here's a list of the various items that were available on this Saturday afternoon. The restaurant charges a particular price for lunch Monday through Friday, a higher price for dinner Monday through Thursday, and a slightly higher price for dinner Friday as well as all day Saturday and Sunday.

hot and sour soup
seafood soup (almost like egg drop soup but with seafood)
Boston clam chowder
miso soup
sui mai (pork dumplings)
clams in black bean sauce
baked oysters
whole fried shrimp (with head on)
braised green beans
beef short ribs
salt and pepper squid
sashimi - salmon and yellowtail
sushi - spicy tuna roll, philadelphia roll, gobo and seaweed roll, ikura
hand rolls - $0.99 extra each
bbq ribs
sweet and sour fish
teriyaki beef
baked salmon
cheese mussels
crab filling
baked mix seafood
steamed crab legs
roast beef (self-service carving)
walnut chicken
broccoli chicken
steamed asparagus
spicy octopus (cold)
cold peel-and-eat shrimp
spicy beef tripe (cold)
white rice
fried rice
cheese wontons
roast lamb (self-service carving)
vegetarian egg rolls
baby back ribs
chicken skewers
french fries
popcorn shrimp
sweet and sour chicken (sauce on the side)
orange chicken
salad fixings
lo mein
cold salads
sesame balls
fruit - cantaloupe, honey dew, watermelon, red grapes, oranges, bananas in red sauce, two kinds of jello
almond cookies
frozen yogurt
other cookies
cake roll (coffee flavored)
fortune cookies come with check

Generally speaking, I found the restaurant to be a good value. The wide variety of entrees makes the buffet appealing for just about any kind of appetite and preference, and the look and taste of the food was that of a more upscale buffet.

The hot and sour soup was actually pretty decent, tastier than you might normally expect at such a high-volume restaurant. I would have preferred it a bit more vinegary and spicy, but I generally feel that way about hot and sour soup anyway. I don't usually order clams in black bean sauce because I find the black bean sauce to be too overpoweringly salty, but most of the sauce was on the bottom of the serving dish, so I managed to fish out a few clams that were just sitting on top, and I enjoyed those. I tried a baked oyster, but it was just ok as it was mostly room temperature. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it was hot. I also tried the whole fried shrimp, but I tend to be very snobbish when it comes to shrimp. I could tell that the shrimp was previously frozen and thawed, so I didn't enjoy that too much.

The beef short ribs were very tasty with very nice seasoning. The braised green beans were quite good, and the salt and pepper squid was very tasty as well, though not as crisp as you'd find in a regular restaurant, but that's to be expected since they sit in a serving dish rather than being served freshly made. The sashimi and sushi weren't nearly as good as you'd expect from a good sushi restaurant (the husband, who very quickly turned into a sushi snob once he started eating it, had a bite of one piece of sashimi and then refused any more), but it was actually pretty decent for a buffet place, so I had a couple of pieces. The steamed asparagus was cooked a bit more than I generally like them, so I didn't have as many as I might normally have. I did, however, really enjoy the cold spicy octopus and the cold spicy beef tripe.

I would have tried the mussels, but I don't like cheese or mayonnaise on them. I looked at the crab legs, which seem to be a major reason why people like Chinese buffets, but they didn't look too meaty, and I didn't want to hassle with trying to pry little bits of meat out of the shells, so I skipped them. The various ribs and chicken skewers and orange chicken all looked really good, but I was too full to even try them.

For dessert, I had some of the fruit (but not the bananas because I like my bananas just plain, not in various sauces), an almond cookie, a couple of sesame balls and a slice of the mocha-flavored cake roll, which was delicious.

The only caution I'd have is that I don't know how well the buffet would work for vegetarians. There weren't too many dishes that were completely meatless. There would be the asparagus and green beans and white rice. The fried rice is usually meatless, though I didn't particularly note the fried rice there - sometimes, fried rice does contain egg, which might be an issue for some vegetarians. There were vegetarian egg rolls and miso soup. The gobo and seaweed roll would be meatless, and then there were the edamame and the various salad fixin's. I'm just not sure that would be enough to make a satisfying meal or to justify the price for someone who's a vegetarian. I was a little surprised that there weren't more vegetables-only dishes, and I was rather surprised that they didn't have baby bok choy at all.

There were signs on the food stations asking people not to waste food - that is, take as much food as you're going to eat, but don't take a ton of food and then just leave it on your plate to throw away. Some buffet restaurants actually charge extra if you leave too much food to be thrown away. I personally solve that problem by taking just a bit of something if I'm not sure about it. If I don't like it, no big deal. If I do, I can always go back for more.

There were also signs stating that kids under 10 must be accompanied by an adult at the food stations. I think that's a good idea as kids under that age are probably more likely to make a mess, take more than they really want, or just not be able to navigate well amongst the food stations.

One other thing to note - please don't pick food out of the serving dishes by hand. As I was helping myself to something out of one of the stations, I noticed a woman walk by the station on her way out. I'd noticed her earlier because of her fairly-pink-colored hair - well, what she had of hair as she was an older lady. As she walked by the food station, she reached in and snatched a piece of popcorn shrimp and tossed it into her mouth and continued on her way out of the restaurant. It didn't look like she touched any of the other pieces, but still, ewww, lady, if you want more food, feel free, but not like that.

The only things not included in the price of the buffet were the hand rolls and any beverages other than regular water.

It's a fairly large restaurant with lots of seating space, and the entrees, sushi, salads and dessert items were in different serving stations so even if it's busy, it wouldn't be as crowded as if all the food was bunched together. The seating area had both tables and booths, and the dining area was nicely air conditioned and generally had a nice environment. The service was generally good, with our used plates promptly taken away and our water glasses refilled. All of that, combined with the decent quality of the food, I'd recommend the restaurant.

Here are the prices for adults and children:

lunch Monday through Friday 11am-3:30pm
adults - $8.69; kids 2-10 $0.79 x year

dinner Monday through Thursday
adults - $12.69; kids 2-10 $0.99 x year

dinner Friday
adults - $13.99; kids 2-10 $1.19 x year

adults - $13.99; kids 2-10 $1.19 x year

adults - $13.99; kids 2-10 $1.19 x year

Zen Buffet
(in Long Beach Town Center)
7503 Carson Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90808
(562) 496-3888
(562) 496-3688

Saturday, August 23, 2008

it's a contact sport, but not that kind of contact

OK, so I'd said previously that I wasn't planning on watching any Olympics coverage, but I've ended up actually watching quite a bit, relatively speaking. I watched some of the gymnastics coverage, some of the swimming coverage, some of the beach volleyball coverage and random bits of things that have just been on TV during NBC's mega-Olympics broadcasts. And the men's basketball final is tonight, starting at 11:30pm, which I'm planning to stay up for.

I have not seen any coverage of the taekwondo competition, but I found out about this story. Angel Matos from Cuba was disqualified in a bronze-medal match for taking more time than allotted while he was waiting for medical attention. They are allowed one minute of injury time, and he was disqualified when his time ran out.

I suppose I could see how he could be upset to lose a medal because of a technicality. I don't know the specifics of what happened, though I would assume that the medical attention would be coming from his own people, since it wouldn't make sense to me that a contender could be penalized for taking too much time when it's the official medical people who aren't responsive in the time allotted.

So, was he in fact upset? Yes. Did he object to the disqualification? Yes. What else did he do? Well, he showed his dissatisfaction with the results by kicking the Swedish referee in the face. Yep, you read that correctly. He took his objection to the physical attack level. The judge will require stitches in his lip.

The World Taekwondo Federation (Derail for a second - can I just say that I'm giggling a little bit about the abbreviation they're using for their website? OK, back to the story.) has recommended that Matos be banned for life. I would certainly agree with that course of action. It sounds like there were very set rules, which he violated, so therefore, he was disqualified. Even if he did have a legitimate argument against the disqualification, the solution was NOT TO KICK THE JUDGE IN THE FACE. What if it was a baseball game, and the umpire made a bad call on the batter? Would it be ok for the batter to turn around and hit the umpire with the bat? What if it was a bad call on the pitcher? Would it be ok for the pitcher to throw a ball at the umpire's face? What if it was a basketball game, and the referee made a bad call? Would it be ok for the player to throw the basketball at the referee? What if it was a football game? Would it be ok for the player to tackle the referee? Matos' action went way above and beyond bad sportsmanship. I don't know what the laws are like there, but I would imagine that in the States, Matos could potentially be prosecuted for assault.

There was also mention in the article that a recommendation had been made to ban Matos' coach as well. I thought that was a bit odd since he couldn't control what Matos did at that time. And then I read what the coach said.

Matos' coach was unapologetic.

"He was too strict," Leudis Gonzalez said, referring to the decision to disqualify Matos. Afterward, he charged the match was fixed, accusing the Kazakhs of offering him money.
Too strict. As in, "he followed the rules too closely"? What the hell does that mean? Aren't rules set forth to be followed, the ages of the Chinese gymnasts notwithstanding? Was the coach expecting that the judge should have let Matos go a little bit over the time limit allotted? How much over? 5 seconds? 10 seconds? 4 minutes? I can see that the coach might want to be supportive of his fighter, but it seems to me that he could have done that without condoning the unnecessary violence that Matos exhibited. If he's ok with what Matos did, does that mean that he's going to teach any other fighters under his watch the same kinds of principles? And isn't it a little too convenient that after his fighter was disqualified, he *then* was crying "fixed match"?

Years ago, for reasons too stupid to go into, I took a taekwondo class for a couple of weeks. I will admit that I don't recall too much of what they told us, and I don't remember getting too much on the philosophy, though I wasn't in there long enough to find out, but the kind of behaviour exhibited by Matos seems to go against the teachings associated with taekwondo.

I would expect that any serious student of taekwondo would be appalled at Matos' actions. It will be interesting to see what happens to Matos and his coach.

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Back To You" - television show

OK, so there came a time several months ago when I apparently became completely unable to write about television shows. There are some shows that I don't think I even got around to starting and others where I just stopped writing about them, whether the show had just started, whether it was in the middle, or whether it was almost at the end. For the longest time, I was still taking notes and planning on writing synopses. And then I was just going to write a few thoughts. And then, I finally decided that for some of the shows (like "Big Brother", "Celebrity Apprentice", "Survivor" and "Hell's Kitchen"), I wasn't even going to bother, so I've actually deleted all of those notes. There are three shows that I've kept the notes on and that I will be writing some kind of comments on, for various reasons. This is the first of the three shows.

When "Back To You" came back after the writers' strike, there was one very noticeable difference. Chuck and Kelly had given away their daughter and instead adopted another daughter, also named her Gracie, and then were passing her off as 10 when she so did not look 10 but instead looked much younger. In actuality, the first actress was 12/13 when she was filming the show, about two and a half years older than the barely-10-year-old who replaced her, but in film and on TV, it's fairly common for kids to play younger than they really are. I have no idea why the other actress got the boot, since I thought she was fine. I didn't really care for the re-cast. I think that the attitude and smarminess was ok coming from an older child, but coming from someone that young, it just seemed annoying. Enough with the precocious little kids for now.

Gracie (Laura Marano) at the beginning of the season.

Gracie (Lily Jackson) after she went away to soap opera camp and then came back for the rest of the season.

I also didn't much care for the introduction of Marsh's wife Peg and the whole story that was built around Marsh and Peg and their apparently weird pictures/paintings of themselves naked in their house. It seemed as if Peg was going to become a regular and more emphasis was going to be put on Marsh's personal life, neither of which interested me. There was also a new girl at the studio, but Montana, the weather girl, was surprisingly absent. Were they trading in Montana for the new studio chick and Peg? After the initial let's-play-up-her-latina-heritage bit, they never seemed to know what else to do with her. Montana did show up in a subsequent episode, though only long enough to be fired. There was this whole story about how Chuck and Kelly felt bad about her being fired since they felt it was partially their fault, and then Chuck threatened to bring La Raza into the matter - only to find out that Montana Diaz Herrera was really Sally Lerner from Nebraska and was not hispanic at all - she just adopted that name. Well, at least she got to go out on a laugh.

The "big" story, of course, surrounded the secret of Gracie's parentage, that she was the result of a one-night-stand between Chuck and Kelly. Chuck finally convinced Kelly to tell Gracie that he was her father, a secret that Gracie was not happy to hear, but then, by the end of the episode, Chuck got her a puppy, so all was well. Yeah, I know it's a sitcom, but I wasn't too happy about that quick fix. The next crisis came about when they decided to tell the world about the relationship just as a new ad campaign for the news show was being launched - with the tag line that Chuck and Kelly were "doing it again", with Kelly posed suggestively bending over in front of Chuck. Another character was introduced in the form of new station manager Ginger, who was a bit of a schizoid - one minute, she was all business and tough, and the next, she had her feet kicked up on the sofa and was laughing and joking. Ummm, ok. Ginger threatened to banish Chuck and Kelly to the Siberia of news broadcasting if they told the secret immediately rather than waiting a year as she wanted, and Chuck had to decide between doing as he was told or not further disappointing Gracie by making her keep the secret for that much longer. Of course, in the end, Chuck decided to reveal the secret, and Chuck and Kelly were indeed banished to the early morning, there's-not-even-heat-in-the-building-yet-and-no-staff-to-speak-of-not-to-mention-no-one-is-watching news shift.

There was a funny side story at the end about Marsh, where he had this weird quirk that if anyone commented on how nice something was that he had, he had to give it to that person.

However, while I thought the show started off really good, it was kind of dragging by the end, so I wasn't terribly sad to see it go.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

ask a celebrity

Many people are star-struck and would love to meet their favorite celebrity. I don't necessarily have that same compulsion, mostly because I'd have no idea what to say and wouldn't want to come off sounding stupid, and I'm not really into the autograph thing. I've also been involved in a number of activities where I've had the opportunity to be around some levels of celebrity, so I'm not as fazed about it.

The first celebrity I recall ever seeing in person was Ted Lange. Our family was just leaving a restaurant after dinner, and we noticed him at a table with a lady. We couldn't help being excited, and he noticed us and smiled, but none of us approached him. Quite some time ago, I had the opportunity to meet Harrison Ford, and that was pretty exciting. I shook his hand and didn't really say much else to him, just being content with standing there and listening to him talk to the other people. He was very nice. I also had the opportunity at one point to spend a little bit of time hanging out with Ernie Hudson while he was shooting a movie, and he was really nice, with a great sense of humour.

There are a few celebrities that I can think of that I'd like to meet and have some time to talk to, but that's really because I actually have things I'd like to talk to them about, though they're probably not what most people would be interested in.

Cady McClain - Yeah, I loved watching her as Dixie, and she's got a very funny sense of humour, and she's brash and sassy when she writes, so I'm sure she'd have a lot of funny and interesting things to say anyway. But, she's also apparently a huge fan of "24". I'd totally want to talk "24" and Jack Bauer with her!

Billy Crystal - I want to know if he knew who was supposed to get custody of the baby, Jodie or Carol? Stupid ABC were totally wusses and gave in to pressure and cancelled the show, never even giving them the opportunity to wrap up the season-ending cliffhangers. It's always bugged me, all these years, wanting to know whether gay Jodie and his football-player boyfriend would get custody or whether lesbian Carol would get custody.

John Lasseter - I would want to know who came up with the "Feed the Kitty" homage segment in "Monsters, Inc." and discuss the whole Pussyfoot thing as much as he wanted to. And then I'd want to talk to him about Robert (Bob) Olzewski, since I know he's a fan of his work as well. I'd want to know how he got into it, what he likes about it, the same conversations I have with other Olszewski collectors.

Greg Grunberg - Yeah, ok, I like him in "Heroes", but whatever with that. When I saw Genesis on tour last year, on the last night of the tour at the Hollywood Bowl, I noticed him as I was leaving at the end of the concert. I then learned recently that he's in a band called Band From TV, and he's the drummer. The drummer? Dude, I *love* drummers! I heard an interview with him on Kevin and Bean where he talked about being very young and loving drumming, so he pulled out a Rush album and tried to drum along with Neil Peart. Wow, aim low to start with, why don't you! He was asked how that went, and he said not very well! So I would *love* to discuss drumming and Genesis with him. OK, it's not like I know how to drum, but I love to hear drummer stories, and yeah, I wanna talk Genesis with him!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I happened upon this story last week. Most people know my affinity for Disney parks and so will know why this article caught my attention. I've never been to Disneyland Paris, which is what the new Rome-themed theme park is supposed to be modeled after, but I don't recall hearing that Disneyland Paris is all that much different in concept than Disneyland or the parks at Walt Disney World. What caught my attention is that they're planning on showing what life was like in Rome 2,000 years ago. I'll admit that I'm not a very good student of history, but I wasn't under the impression that the Rome of 2,000 years ago was necessarily fun and laughs and games or family-friendly, like the attractions they want to build. I find it a bit odd that they're figuring they need some kind of theme park to attract more tourists, never mind all the history and splendor that is in Rome that would be amazing to see and experience.

But then, rather than seeing Vatican City, who wouldn't instead enjoy a nice boat ride through It's a Lions Eat Christians World? Or maybe a nice spin on Who Framed Julius Caesar? Or maybe even taking a raft to Gladiator Island to explore a bit. The possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

King's Hawaiian Restaurant and Bakery - restaurant review

I've known about King's Hawaiian for some time because of their yummy rolls, and when I found out they had a restaurant, a good one at that, I'd meant to try it, but for various reasons, it had never worked out until Sunday night, when I joined a large group of friends for dinner there to celebrate a friend's birthday.

The restaurant has a fairly large parking lot in the back, so that was very convenient. We got there a bit early, and while some people had already arrived, we waited for the rest of our group. Eventually, we were seated at a long table in one of their private rooms - no closed door or anything, just offset from the rest of the restaurant.

I had perused the online menu weeks before but hadn't decided what I would actually be having for dinner. In looking through all the choices, I finally decided on the kalbi ribs - popular Korean style beef ribs marinated in garlic, ginger and onion seasoning, served with kim chee. The dish also came with steamed rice and potato macaroni salad. I also added a side salad. The husband ordered the kahlua pork, also with a side salad. The mix plate seemed to be very popular, as a number of people at the table ordered that.

The side salad was a good mix of ingredients, but I think I ended up ordering the wrong dressing. I've started asking for non-creamy Italian, since I like Italian dressing, just not so much the creamy kind, which some restaurants offer. The server seemed a bit confused and said they only had regular Italian. She said they had a raspberry vinaigrette and a simple oil and vinegar, so I went with the raspberry vinaigrette. When it arrived, it was a fairly bright pink, and it was actually rather sweet and not vinaigrette-tasting at all. It would have actually tasted quite good on a pastry or ice cream but didn't really go well on a salad. I should probably have stuck with just the regular Italian or the oil and vinegar - good to know for next time. I just ended up having most of my salad dry.

The kalbi ribs were delicious, just the right flavoring on them that I like, with a fairly generous portion of meat as well as rice and macaroni salad. I also happen to love kim chee, so it was nice having a little side of that - very tasty. The husband really enjoyed his kahlua pork, and everyone seemed to enjoy their meals.

For dessert, we ended up with a Hawaiian Paradise birthday cake - three layers (guava, passion, lime) chiffon cake with whipped cream filling and the three fruit nectar glaze on top. I loved the cake. I'm not a fan of the usually heavier cake that most restaurants serve, but I tend to like the lighter, fluffier ones more, the kind you'd normally get from a Chinese bakery, and that's the kind this cake was. I'm also not a fan of buttercream frosting - I prefer whipped cream because it's not as sweet, and that's what this cake had as well. The multiple flavors made for a nice colorful and yummy cake.

Our server was very nice, and service was generally ok, though we sometimes had to wait a bit for drink refills. The restaurant was quite busy that night, including another large party in a different room, and it actually took some time before our server came back so we could pay our check, but none of that would deter me from returning or recommending the restaurant. I'm not likely to go to the restaurant much because I'm not generally in the area, but if I am, I'd definitely go back.

And it might be a good thing that it's not readily accessible to me because the bakery portion of the restaurant is amazing, with a wide array of cakes and breads and cookies and tarts and other baked goods. I had time to peruse the choices while we were waiting for everyone else to arrive and also after dinner, as people were making purchases. I managed to be good and walk away without buying anything, having at least had two yummy rolls with dinner and the cake for dessert.

Oh, and that thing at the very entrance to the dining room? That orange thing stuck into the ground? That is *so* not a pineapple. Pineapples aren't that shade of orange. Actually, pineapples shouldn't be *any* shade of orange. Why a Hawaiian restaurant would have a giant carrot on premises is beyond me. :)

King's Hawaiian Restaurant and Bakery
2808 W. Sepulveda Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90505
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Monday, August 18, 2008

"Tropic Thunder" - spoiler movie review

From the first time I saw the trailer for "Tropic Thunder", I was hooked. The film in total didn't grab me completely - it was Robert Downey, Jr., "the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude". He was the hook that reeled me in. Wait, does that metaphor work? Well, if not, you still get my drift. If not for that character, and if not for Robert Downey, Jr. playing that character, I don't think I would have been interested in seeing the movie. And I would have missed out on the frickin' funniest movie I've seen in a long time. It was irreverent and offensive - and it left me, the husband, the friends we were with, the other people in the theatre, all roaring and applauding with laughter throughout much of the film. This is definitely not a movie for the faint of heart, the easily offended or the prudish, and PLEASE LEAVE YOUR KIDS AT HOME. This is so much incredibly an adult film.

The film is the story of the making of a film about a group of soldiers in the Vietnam War. Thrown together are fading-action-hero-megastar Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), drug-addicted fart-comedy star Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) and uber-acclaimed multiple-Oscar-award-winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) who has taken method acting to the utmost level by having undergone a highly controversial pigmentation surgery so that the Australian actor can play the squad's black leader. The squad has another black member, mega-millionaire energy-drink-hawking rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), who takes some issue with Lazarus' presence. Shooting goes horribly wrong, falling behind by a month only five days into production, plagued with problems from the prima donna cast as well as the ineffective director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan). When the foul-mouthed studio head threatens to take Cockburn off the film, Cockburn gets advice from the Vet upon whose book the film is based - Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) - to make it real: take the actors into the jungles of Vietnam, not the cushy parts where they're filming, and make them survive for real. Cockburn takes up the idea, but one after another, things turn out to be not what they appear, and the actors are forced to step into their roles much more than they ever intended.

Let me tell you how much that synopsis tells you nothing about what to expect from the film. What you should expect from the entire film is what the first 10 minutes of the film sets you up for.

After the advertising and trailers are over, another ad comes on screen, but it's unlike anything you've ever seen. It's an ad for Booty Sweat, an energy drink created by Alpa Chino - you have *got* to read the biography on his site. Following that are "trailers" for three other films - Tugg Speedman's "Scorcher VI: Global Meltdown" (here's the official site of that movie itself), Jeff Portnoy's "Fatties: Fart 2" (here's the official site of that movie itself), and Kirk Lazarus' "Satan's Alley" (here's the official site of that movie itself).

The action movie trailer was preceded by Universal Pictures' logo, the comedy movie trailer was preceded by New Line's logo, and the art house movie trailer was preceded by Fox Searchlight's logo. The tie-in to the studios was perfect given the genre of each film, and it's great that the three studios agreed to let their logos be used. I am particularly happy about Searchlight's inclusion since I've loved a number of their films, and the film depicted in the trailer is definitely right up their alley. I also thought it was great that near the end of the film, during the Oscar awards, you can tell that Tobey Maguire was a nominee for the last film. I got so distracted after seeing and recognizing his picture in the brown hood that I didn't really pay attention to who the other two nominees (other than Tugg Speedman and Jon Voight) were. If you go to the movie links I included above, you may notice that Dreamworks/Paramount is listed as the studio for each of the films, not the ones used in the movie itself. I suspect that while the studios were ok with their names being used in the movie itself, where people would know those were not real movies, they might not have given permission for their studio names to be attached out of context of the film. Each website has a synopsis for each movie as well as links to downloads. The trailer links are empty - not sure if they'll actually put the trailers up later.

I don't even know really what to say about the film, because mostly, I'd just want to recount all the funny parts. That would take forever. And it would be boring, for those who've seen the movie and those who haven't. The film has such a mix of moments, some that are completely outrageous, some that are admittedly a little slow (but then, when you've got so much going on otherwise, it's probably inevitable that you'll have slow parts too), great action sequences, amazing pyro (while the $4 million napalm explosion that wasn't actually caught on film was fairly spectacular, my favorite was the bridge that was blown up towards the end as Speedman was running across it), and then in the middle of all that craziness, there's that rivetting scene when the studio head details how they're just going to let Speedman die, and they'll be remorseful in the press, and they'll wait a respectable amount of time before filing the insurance claim, because in the end, the fading star is really worth more dead than alive at that point, and all Speedman's agent has to do is keep quiet, and he'll be rewarded with a spiffy plane and lots of money. And it wouldn't surprise me a bit if some semblance of that actual conversation has happened in real life somewhere.

This film is also a treasure trove for film buffs, spoofing war movies, stereotypes, conventions of plot and a whole lot more. The highlight for me was Lazarus' dissertation to Speedman about the history of portrayals in films of retarded people, from Peter Sellers in "Being There", to Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man", to Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump", to Sean Penn in "I Am Sam". Having actually seen all of those movies, it was a dead-on observation.

The acting performances - ensemble at its finest.

I am not a particular fan of Ben Stiller - I can generally pretty much take him or leave him, but I have liked the few of the things he's done that I've actually seen. I liked "The Royal Tenenbaums", and I loved "Dodgeball". I meant to see "Night at the Museum" but haven't gotten around to it yet. I don't think he has any particular stand-out performances in this film, though he is very good throughout, and I think his biggest contributions to the film aren't really as an actor, but rather, as the film's director, co-writer and as a producer as well.

Jack Black is definitely not someone whose films I would normally be seeing. In fact, this is the first film I've seen of his where he's a major character. His credits indicate that he's been in some films that I've seen, but I have no recollection of him in them. He pretty much did in this film what I expect he normally does in his films (based on the trailers of them that I've seen), but he was very funny in this film, particularly in the scene where he's tied to the tree, and he makes Alpa Chino an offer if Chino will untie him. Just too frickin' funny. I credit the writers with the lines themselves, but Black did have a great delivery.

And then there's the man, Robert Downey, Jr. himself, the actor who I apparently am watching in a film every few months this year. My only criticism, if you want to call it that, is that I had a really hard time understanding him some of the time because of how thick he was laying on the accent and almost mumbling his lines at times, though I figure that was completely intentional. Under the makeup and mannerisms and prosthetics, he about disappeared under that character. He was actually hard to recognize as the black soldier. However, the instant he pulled off the wig (and presumably the prosthetic) - there he was. He really was just a joy to watch in this film, especially his interactions with the other characters. I will save my additional gushing over him in general for another time.

Brandon T. Jackson is not a name I'm familiar with, but he was terrific in this film. He has an especially good monologue in a diatribe against Lazarus' portrayal of a black man. He was also hysterical in the scene when he reveals his secret longing for "Lance".

Steve Coogan wasn't in this movie nearly as much as I thought he'd be. It was nice that the trailer didn't tell you that he would be blown to smithereens early into the film. I did enjoy seeing him, though my anticipation of seeing the film "Hamlet 2", which Coogan stars in, made me laugh a bit more in this film. When they've first been stranded in the jungle, Cockburn likens himself to Jesus Christ since he has the only walkie talkie that will call the helicopter ("God") to come pick them up. Well, in "Hamlet 2", Coogan's character writes a musical that includes the song "Rock Me Sexy Jesus".

Nick Nolte is not someone I've seen much of lately. The thing I remember him most in is a movie called "The Deep", which I loved. However, in recent years, he's probably better known for his real-life antics, including his infamous mug shot when he was arrested. This film plays off that image to a great extent, with Nolte playing the grizzled Vet, but it's an absolute riot when it's revealed that he made up the whole story.

Matthew McConaughey does a terrific job in the role of Rick Peck, Speedman's agent and long-time friend, who is so obsessed with the fact that the contractually-guaranteed TiVo has not in fact been provided to Speedman in the middle of the jungles of Vietnam. I still want to know how Peck got out of the jungle, though, after his TiVo saved the day.

Danny McBride is awesome as Cody, the pyro. Hey, how could I not like him?

Bill Hader was very funny as a studio executive. I enjoyed Hader's work in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" too.

And then we get to the biggest secret in the film, a secret that was almost spoiled for me, but which played perfectly in the film. About a week prior, I had read the headline of some story about Tom Cruise being in "Tropic Thunder". I'd not heard that previously, so I figured he was doing some kind of cameo, maybe even as himself since it was a movie about making a movie. I was disappointed that I'd heard about his appearance, but I made it a point of not reading the stories themselves so I wouldn't find out anything more. I was so not expecting anything that when foul-mouthed, every-other-word-is-a-swear-word-and-not-just-the-f-one studio head Les Grossman showed up on screen (I think he showed up a bit earlier in some magazine covers or on the Access Hollywood story, but those went by pretty quickly), it took me a few minutes to realize that *THAT* was Tom Cruise. OH. MY. HECK. I've liked his work on-and-off, but his antics of the past couple years since his relationship with Katie Holmes started have turned him pretty much into a joke and not someone to be taken seriously, certainly not as an actor anymore. Well, this was THE PERFECT role for him to make a statement, and it's a fairly-colorful-words-laden statement as well. Tom Cruise, with a balding wig and fat suit and appliances that make him old and wrinkled beyond his years, not to mention his amazingly inventive ways of degrading people verbally, has a tour-de-force performance in this film. Yes, I know, that's a cliche, but in this case, it's a cliche that also happens to be true. Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller are reportedly friends, and Stiller approached Cruise about doing this role. As far as I'm concerned, Cruise owes Stiller *for life*, he needs to be at Stiller's beck and call, no matter what he wants because Stiller is Cruise's saviour by offering him this role. Cruise easily moves from the profanity-laden diatribes to the scene I mentioned above where he coldly and calculatingly plans how his studio will profit from Speedman's death. And then, there's the dancing. Oh my goodness, the dancing. The scene where he's dancing with the studio exec and Peck in the room is one thing, but his dance that covers the entire closing credits sequence is just indescribably amazing. Yes, all the lines and the dance itself would be scripted and choreographed. But it's in the execution, the movements, the facial expressions (or lack thereof) that make the dances, which is probably funnier for those who might remember Cruise's dance in his underwear from "Risky Business". No, I don't normally gush over Tom Cruise. As a matter of fact, as much as I've liked him in films, I don't think I've *ever* gushed over Tom Cruise. But for this film? I'm gushing! I think he might be the best bet at an Oscar nomination for this film, Best Supporting Actor. And the nomination (and even win) would be well deserved.

The end credits include mention of Jon Voight, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Bateman, Lance Bass and Alicia Silverstone. I recognized Jon Voight sitting in front of Speedman as a fellow nominee, and Jennifer Love Hewitt was sitting next to the other young member of the squad who apparently has a thing for her. I didn't recognize Lance Bass at first since I don't know him too well, but when Chino turned to him, it occurred to me that he was the "Lance" that Chino had previously mentioned, and then I kind of realized that I sort of recognized him, and apparently, Lance Bass is the only gay "Lance" that I know of, so that's how I figured it out. I don't recall seeing Jason Bateman or Alicia Silverstone, but I'm assuming they're in the crowd - maybe Alicia was who was on the other side of Chino that I didn't pay any attention to? I did notice that Tobey Maguire was not formally credited in the end titles for his appearance in the movie trailer, but since he was credited in the trailer himself, I guess there was no need for the repetition.

Just a few things to mention randomly:

I laughed hard at the sequence with the countdown of the number of soldiers who survived the battle, to the number of books that were written, to the number of books that were published, to the number that were offered a movie deal.

During several parts with lots of gore (the guy in the beginning getting shot in the head which then spurts blood endlessly, to the guy being gutted and his insides all falling out and looking like sausage links, to Speedman's hands having been blown off and all that are left are bloody streamers, to the director's severed head after he's blown to pieces), I initially didn't look because I'm into gore, but once each scene got completely ridiculous, then I did look because then, it was just funny. Except for the severed head part. When Speedman was poking at it and licking it, I still couldn't look.

I laughed at the naming of Speedman's "adopted" son as Half-Squat - it made me think of Short Round. He was the cutest thing, and wasn't it awesome that he gave Speedman a twig Oscar? When Speedman came running back over the bridge with Half-Squat on his shoulder, I thought he was just taking him with him, so I completely didn't understand when Speedman flung him over the side of the bridge. A friend later told me that Half-Squat was stabbing Speedman with the twig Oscar. I did think it was funny that they showed that Half-Squat was still ok, and then he sat down and had the cutest pout ever.

Ben Stiller is apparently a fan of "Star Trek", but out of all the classic Trek episodes at his disposal (the film was released by Dreamworks/Paramount after all), he had to pick the one with the Gorn?

I laughed that "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill was Peck's ringtone for when Speedman called. I *love* that song!

At one point, Chino refers to Lazarus as "Benson". Do people even still know who Benson is anymore?

I loved that the end of the fight sequence was a duplicate of the earlier fake fight sequence, but with twists. "I'm cold," says Freedman. "That's because your feet are in a puddle of water," says Lazarus. And when Lazarus had jumped off the copter yelling "cover me", you could see the physical reaction of the people behind him before you head the line of "cover him with what?" (or whatever the line was). It was just too funny.

OK, so why is a giant panda wandering around Vietnam or Laos or wherever the heck they ended up?

And then we get to "Simple Jack". Yes, there's a group protesting the use of "retard" or some variation thereof in the film. Frankly, I'm figuring if they were going to be offended, there's a whole lot more for them to be offended about than just the use of that word. The retarded title character of the film gets a lot of play in the movie. But hey, you know what? Don't see the movie. I heard some quote about how children shouldn't be taught that sort of thing. Ummm, ok, well, children shouldn't be seeing this movie, so that shouldn't be an issue. And really, there are all kinds of things and people being made fun of in this film. Do they know that Robert Downey, Jr. plays an Australian pretending to be a black guy pretending to be Chinese? I mean, how offensive is that? As a matter of fact, I am so incredibly offended that I'm going to have to see this movie again to keep my offendedness quotient up.

Here's the official website for the movie which has a lot of fun things to play with.