Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: “Fury” 

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   Brad Pitt has been a consistent actor that always delivers a stellar performance. In this film, his portrayal of Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier is gritty and hard-nosed, but not without a touch of compassion to connect us to the fact he still retains some humanity while dealing with inhumane circumstances. Pitt also conveys just how heavy the head is that wears the crown as defined by being that person in command that is forced to make the hard decisions when nobody els can…or will.
   Shia LaBeouf has been struggling with his public image recently but his acting ability is not. He delivers an excellent performance as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, the gunner of the tank. LaBeouf captures the essence of a man slowly losing his grip on sanity from constantly living the horrors of war.
   Michael Pena is a very capable actor and delivers a great performance as Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia, the tank’s driver. Like Swan he is adversely effected by a life of war and struggles to maintain his human connection while carrying out his function to ensure the survival of the crew.

The Plot: 
   With the Allied final push into Nazi Germany, the five man crew of a Sherman tank, Fury, are tasked with being one of the spearheads of the push. After the crew loses their gunner, he is replaced by the new and inexperienced Army typist, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).
   Naturally Ellison goes through a period of harsh treatment by is crew, both due to is newness, and his reluctance to acclimate to the reality of war. On one such occasion of reluctance, his inaction cases the death of their platoon leader which infuriates Collier and prompts  him to force Ellison to kill a German prisoner.
Later the crew of the Fury partake in the capturing of a small German town and come upon a pair of German women. Collier coaxes Ellison to spend some intimate time with one of them, further strengthening the bond between these two men as Collier has reminded Ellison why they are fighting and that life can be more than just war again. The moment doesn’t last as the rest of the crew, particularly Grady ‘Coon-ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), disrupt the setting, further exacerbated by a German attack on the town that kills both women.
   The crew of Fury then receives orders to hold a strategic position along with other tanks. What follows is the summation of all the experience and horrible lessons of war as the crew of Fury must do the impossible.

The Verdict: 

   I very much enjoy war films and have always felt that “Saving Private Ryan” has set the bar. Of course it’s too much to ask of any film to compare to that, and I try not to do so, but it’s always in the back of my mind anyway.
   That said, this film stacks up pretty well in terms if both entertainment and impact. While the central point of the film differers, the theater (WW2) remains the same. What is very unique about the setting within the context of the larger event is the tank itself. The battlefield looks very different from inside a tank…especially one that is in no way invulnerable either to other soldiers and certainly not to enemy tanks.

      Of course the acting and action kept me enthralled as did the expectation I had watching a war film (that there would be plenty of death by gratuitous violence). Although the film delivered this, the pace slowed a bit in some parts, but the story never faltered so it wasn’t an issue for me. 

   Although not the absolute best war film I have ever seen, it still had me riveted to the screen in anticipation of what was going to happen next. I was interested in the fate of the characters and intrigued by their circumstances. This movie steadily rolled over me and blasted three and a half cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.

Rating 3.5 /5

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Weapons of Mass Discussion

   Without a doubt there are certain subjects that incite an emotional reaction and invigorate some deep seeded passion within us. No matter how calm and reasonable we can be, or even start out to be…there are just some things that we feel so strongly about that we digress and revert to something a little less than reasonable…or calm. We have all heard (or at least I hope we all have) to not bring up certain subjects in social gatherings…to ensure those gatherings remain amicable. Fortunately on this blog, we can bring these subjects up and discuss them without breaking up a party or throwing a single punch.

   Sports is one of those touchy subjects…especially depending on the teams being discussed. Walking around New York wearing Boston Red Sox gear might get you in bit of trouble. So will getting into a discussion wherein your prevailing opinion is that the Yankees suck, and Boston rules. Now…I’m not saying that mind you, I’m just saying that such a conversation would be a very tough one to have with Yankees fan. Personally, I don’t see what all the hubbub is about. I have never found sports to be an overly important subject, not even newsworthy really, and think the fact professional athletes get paid so much just contributes to making the world the topsy-turvy place it is. That said, my opinion is not shared by the millions of sports fanatics and all the bar room brawls, wagered money, and overturned cars in celebration make this subject one of the weapons of mass discussion.

   Politics is another touchy subject…probably on a more profound level than sports. I have never heard of someone attempting to kill their spouse over a game, but can never forget how politics divided this country so much that a woman ran her husband over and people actually petitioned to secede from the union. This is how polarizing and passionate people become over politics…and I think it’s utterly ridiculous. Politics is not rocket science and with some applied common sense, it can be easily figured out that most of our politicians engage in political monkey business and some serious reform is needed to either make them honest…or make them gone. There are very few politicians that will talk straight and I’m flabbergasted that the ones that do are not supported more…by everyone. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised…the system (with the help of media propaganda)  ensures that so many people either see red or blue, donkey or elephant, right or left…without realizing both are colors, both are animals, and both sides are needed for a strong embrace. Proper etiquette in serene social settings says to stay away from the subject of politics…it is, after all, a weapon of mass discussion. I have to admit though that I relish when it comes up (especially when it shouldn’t) because it’s just another opportunity to declare my independence…and smack both sides around. 

   Religion is another touchy subject…so much so that this post marks the very first time I have ever discussed it in the three years of doing this blog. I have purposely stayed away from the subject as I feel it should be a private and personal matter…but that’s just not how it plays out in reality. Some people are very vocal and public with their faith (and in all fairness, many beliefs call for just that kind of attention in the service of bringing others closer to God) and use every opportunity to share it. Some of the nicest and spiritual people become very visceral when their faith is challenged. In a country where there is a separation of church and state, they become very intertwined when you try to burn the wrong book as your freedom of expression. You would think in a civilized world that killing someone because they choose to worship differently than you would be a thing of the past…but if by past you mean just the other day, then you’re right. I think beyond the fandom of sports, the polarizing effect of politics…religion is probably the most dangerous weapon of mass discussion. Anything can be justified in the mind that thinks it has been chosen by the almighty to carry out actions not meant to be questioned or understood. In this we can have calm…but still without reason.

   The touchy subjects of the weapons of mass discussion have been laid out before you for consumption and digestion. Indulge yourself and let social etiquette give way to base emotions. After all…it’s better you do it here than at the next social function you will be attending…and possibly disrupting. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eating Well in Boston

   I don’t think it’s a big secret that I love to eat good food. I think that it’s an improvement from my previous position of just loving to eat…nearly any food. As I age and grow wiser, I try to make better decisions on how I treat my body and that starts with what I put in it. That said, when I’m at home I follow a strict diet and try to give myself a fighting chance to enjoy my later years. This also has the benefit of make those times when I indulge purely for the joy of taste less detrimental to my overall plan.

   I don’t eat out too often, but when I do I’m very selective in where I go and what I eat. I look for places that can present healthy choices  (relatively speaking considering how I eat at home) without sacrificing extraordinary taste. Once I find such a place, they gain a loyal customer…and I gain weight (LOL!). 

   I have decided to showcase my top five favorite places to eat. If you live in the Boston area, treat yourself and check these places out. If you don’t live here but find yourself visiting for a bit, treat yourself and check these places out. I present them in alphabetical order…because that’s just how my OCD works.

1.) Al Wadi Lebanese Restaurant - West Roxbury, MA

   If you don’t like Lebanese food, stop now. I happen to LOVE Mediterranean food with a particular emphasis on the Lebanese flavor. The price range is moderate, especially for the amount of food you get. In fact, if I have one complaint, it’s the amount of food you get. After ordering a bunch of small appetizers before the main course (because there are so many I wanted to try that I couldn’t settle on just one), I found myself completely stuffed by the time the main dish arrived! Understand, this is not a real complaint, but a testament to the fact that you can walk in this place, order a few appetizers, and be completely satisfied…stuffed in fact. My favorite combination of “appetizer” dinner is: Warak Enab - A tasty mix of parsley, onions, tomatoes, rice and a hint of lemon wrapped in grape leaves. Fatayer Sabenegh - Mini pies prepared with fresh dough stuffed with spinach, lemon and sumac. Arnabeet Mekleh - Hand cut Cauliflowers lightly fried and served with tahini sauce. On top of that, the atmosphere is relaxing, the staff is courteous and personable, and the food is phenomenal.

2.) Fairmount Grille - Hyde Park, MA

   This place has quickly become the only place to be in Hyde Park if you’re hungry. After the space went through a few eateries, the current owner struck gold with the combination of talent he has brought together. Without a doubt, Chef Jako is one of the best in the business. Claiming that the spirits of all the great chefs of the past speak to him while cooking, I’m inclined not to argue since the culinary euphoria is real. I don’t want it to become a recurring theme (nor do I want to reveal my greed) but portion sizes is again an issue…that’s not really an issue. I have to be absolutely starving to actually finish a plate here, otherwise…I’m bringing something home. On top of all this, the drinks are among the best in the entire city. My usual delight is the Baked Atlantic Haddock - baked with lemon, white wine, butter, topped with seasoned bread crumbs with pesto rice and broccolini. Yes…I have tried to duplicate the pesto rice at home. No…I have not been successful. I’m quickly becoming a regular, and loving every bite.

UPDATE: This restaurant has closed.

3.) In House Cafe - Allston, MA

   Just mentioning this place is making my mouth water…and I’m not even hungry as I write this. They tout themselves as serving the freshest food…and you can certainly taste the difference. I usually frequent this place for a better breakfast than you are going to get anywhere else. Really…if you’re going to one of those other chain restaurants and thinking you’re having a good breakfast, this place will make you realize that eating garbage is not a good breakfast. Of course they serve lunch and dinner as well, but I’m never in the area for dinner and only periodically in the area for lunch. The larger point though is that when I’m in the area, this is where I’ll be eating at. The staff is very appreciative of recurring customers and remember who you are to the point of anticipating what you will be eating when you arrive. They already know when they see me that I’m probably going to order the Mediterranean Omelette - Spinach, fresh tomato, feta cheese and a hint of roasted garlic or the Falafel Wrap (with hummus) - Lettuce or parsley with tomato, turnips or pickles and tahini sauce. I always leave here looking forward to returning.

UPDATE: This restaurant has closed.

4.) Sophia Italian Steakhouse - West Roxbury, MA

   A little bit on the pricey side, it’s totally understandable for the atmosphere they provide and incredible food they serve. Everyone should treat themselves to this type of restaurant every now and then and just enjoy the experience. The menu has been through a recent change, but this hasn’t changed the fact that this one of the best places to eat in the city. The staff is downright fun, which might come as a surprise given the elegance of the place, but not too surprising as this is a common occurrence with all the restaurants in this post. I should also note that they make the best Clear Chocolate Martini…period. My usual indulgence is either the Graham Crusted Cod - With beurre blanc, red bliss parmesan mashed potato and asparagus or the Grilled Atlantic Salmon - With a grilled asparagus pesto, roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach. Most of my time is spent deciding which one to get. One day I’m just going to order both…then explode.

UPDATE: This restaurant has drastically changed the menu.
5.) Stone Hearth Pizza - Needham, MA

   First let me say that this restaurant has six locations and this review is exclusive to the one in Needham. I can say without a doubt that not all of them are the same…having been to the Allston location, and finding this out the hard way. That said the Needham location makes the best pizza…on the planet! Granted, I have not eaten pizza all over the globe, but just the fact the pizza makes you feel this way says something about their dedication to making great food. Their modus operandi is “sustainable, organic and local” and you can certainly taste the difference! In fact, this restaurant is single-handily responsible for my refusal to eat pizza from anywhere else. I just can’t stomach the difference. It’s like having the opportunity to commute via a Bentley, and taking up an offer instead to commute by tricycle. It’s just not gonna happen. The variety of awesome food on the menu is vast so please appreciate my efforts when I limit this list to just my three favorite pizzas (in order from least to best) .The Bean - Garlic oil, white bean spread, fresh mozzarella and sautéed red onion, topped with a salad of spinach, shaved red onion and pesto. Roasted Garden - Garlic-infused olive oil, spinach, fontina and parmesan cheese over a sauce consisting of braised red/yellow peppers, onions, rosemary, tomatoes. The Divine Goddess  - Garlic oil, topped with a mixture of fresh spinach, broccoli, local ricotta cheese, garlic, then finished with our cheese blend and a pinch of parmesan. Although I have tried, words do not adequately describe the joy the food here brings.

UPDATE: The cook bought this location from the chain and t
his restaurant in now called Hearth Pizzeria.
   So there you have it…my definitive list of the best places to eat in Boston, and as an added bonus, if you are ever in
Arizona…check out the Pita Jungle. My experience at their Arcadia location remains one of the best…ever.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Good Guys Don’t Wear Badges (Part 3)

   The fact that I had to write a “Part 3” to this topic is extremely disheartening. I have always known, and spoke about, an element that exists within the police departments of America that has eroded trust and garnered fear when dealing with the public. To say the police are out of control is becoming an understatement. They seem to be operating by an entirely different set of standards, sanctioned by the powers that be, to enforce their will…regardless of the law.

   The narrative now is that they care nothing for the lives of young Black men. The truth is even worse…they care nothing about the lives of anyone under their authority. To frame this problem as solely a race issue is fallacious. Are there racist cops enforcing the law by their own worldview? Of course. The recent outing of two Florida cops revealed to be members of the Ku Klux Klan is proof enough that this element still exists. So I really can’t blame anyone of color when they see the recent rash of deadly incompetence as merely an extension of a racist agenda carried out behind the badge. But we can also never forget Kelly Thomas and all the other non-Black victims of a police force gone wild.

   That said, the dominating stories of recent discussion are painting a picture that is tragic and inexcusable by nearly everyone’s standards (except, of course, the police).

   The death of Michael Brown is mired in controversy, even though there are people that refuse to acknowledge it. The basis of the controversy is the conflicting eyewitness testimony. The assumption of one side or the other being true is just that. Could there have been witnesses coerced into or racially motivated to supporting testimony of Darren Wilson? Sure. Could there have been witnesses willing to incriminate Wilson because he was not liked within the neighborhood he patrolled? Sure. While answers still come to light, one thing remains clear…the death of Brown and process that followed after, has not helped the public mistrust of police or the system that seemingly refuses to hold them accountable.

   The death of Eric Garner is a lot less controversial thanks to the reliable eyewitness testimony of video. Although people will still look at it and see different things (it’s just the nature of people), there is simply no question, in my mind, that a jury should have been deciding the issue…especially with a coroner’s ruling of death by homicide. In the current climate sweeping the country where the people wearing the badges are not seen as the good guys, I just don’t understand the blatant disregard for human life and equitable distribution of due process.

   The death of John Crawford III is another example of the blatant disregard law enforcement has for the lives taken under questionable circumstances. In this case there is a clear misrepresentation of Crawford from the very 911 call that brought the police into action. Video shows he was not threatening anyone with the gun. Further, if he had been the menace as described by the caller, with so many people in the store in periodic proximity to Crawford, there would likely have been multiple calls to 911. Where is the prosecution of Ronald Ritchie for this? Why is there no accounting for the difference in testimony with the video evidence by both Ritchie and the police? In an open carry state, why was this situation not handled in a manner that reflects this law? Too many questions without adequate answers can only serve to inflame the unpopular narrative representing law enforcement. 

   The death of twelve year old Tamir Rice, again caught on video, is probably the most heinous of these incidents given the age of the victim and manner in which he was killed. Now that there is some back story to the cops involved (they were incompetent), it makes sense, but is no less tragic or excusable, the way it all unfolded. No lights and sirens from the cruiser. No warning by police from a safe distance to give Tamir a chance to comply. No common sense used at all by the police or by those charged with regulating them.

   Speaking of regulation, take note…then take action, against any legislature outlawing the filming of the police. There is absolutely no sane reason to prohibit the filming of police except to hide those instances where they abuse their authority. While some politicians might think prohibiting the gathering of evidence “solves” the problem, intelligent people know better.

   The question of racial motivation inducing the above referenced deaths is really not the issue. The issue is the “good guys” don’t seem to be all that good anymore and when their actions are questionable, nobody in a position of power is holding them accountable for the answers. If this is going to be the modus operandi of those charged with our safety, then it’s time to exercise some people power and make sure we are safe from those in charge.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Movie Review: “John Wick” 

    I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

    I wouldn’t call this a comeback for Keanu Reeves (I’m not even of the opinion he needs one) but this is certainly a great start. His portrayal of John Wick brought me back to his “Matrix” days, sort of, with a touch of “Equilibrium” but without any of the science-fiction, just the guns blazing. There isn’t much range in the role, but there doesn’t need to be for what it was meant to deliver. From the beginning his character is revered as the most dangerous of the dangerous and Reeves makes sure he delivers every bit of this.

   Michael Nyqvist plays Viggo Tarasov, the local Russian (it’s always Russians these days) crime boss, enjoying the title because of the past efforts of Wick. Nyqvist does well in the role, although nothing outstanding revolves around his character, he plays the role well enough as far as Russian crime bosses go. He struck me more as being a man that simply had to do what was expected because of his position…and the fact he wanted his idiot son to keep living.

   The relationship between the two seemed more like predator versus prey…with the prey being much more powerful and dangerous than what one would expect of the station. In the end, neither actor detracted from the film and delivered good performances.

The Plot: 
   John Wick is an ex-hitman/enforcer that has gotten himself out of the life and into normal life like the rest of us. Either by fate or happenstance, his wife falls terminally ill and passes away, leaving Wick to ponder the empty hole her passing has left in his heart and grieve, ironically, with her help via the parting gift of a puppy.

   Just days after her passing, Wick is accosted by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen, the perfect person for this role), Viggo’s son, over a car (1969 Mustang 429 Boss to be exact) he initially wanted to purchase from Wick, but after being denied a sale, decides to take it. No big deal, it’s just a car. The problem starts (for Iosef) when he decides to also kill the puppy (what idiot does this?). 

   After the deed is done, Iosef quickly learns he has made a huge mistake (culminating in leaving Wick alive). He has given Wick a focus to unleash all his rage revolving around his current circumstances while simultaneously taking away his only avenue to grieve his wife.

      Viggo, understanding exactly who Wick is and what he is capable of reaches out to try to divert the coming storm, but finds that some things just can’t be avoided. Pulling out all the stops and calling on all his resources, he prepares (as best he can) for the carnage that is sure to happen, all the while hoping that somehow Wick has lost his edge.

   What follows is an intense and insane display of focus and carnage through raging determination from the barrel of many guns.

The Verdict: 

   Understand, this is not a film designed to compete for the Oscars. This is a film designed to drop your jaw and say “holy crap” at all the different and efficient ways one man can kill many other men.

      That said, the script was simplistic and the film moved along very quickly and sustained a strong pace throughout. I personally would have enjoyed it a bit more if Wick really was as invincible as everyone believes he is, but I understand this small human element the writers injected in having him not be totally invincible and needing to improvise to reach his goals.

      Taking all that into account, this film still delivers the action it was supposed to and although the melee combat is not over-the-top like many other films similar to this, the gun choreography is absolutely top notch and had my eyes wide open. 

      The film boasts the talents of Willem Dafoe (as a friend of Wick and fellow hitman) and John Leguizamo (as the owner of a chop shop and the first to let everyone know what a mistake it was to rouse the sleeping Wick). Adrianne Palicki is, yet another, hitman…er hitwoman, trying to make a name for herself by eliminating Wick (she was surprisingly good in this role). Lastly we are treated to an appearance of Ian McShane as the owner of a hotel that is secretly (or publicly depending on what circles you run in) a safe haven for hitmen.

   Despite the simplistic script and story, this film had me riveted to the screen at all times in anticipation of what was going to happen next. I’m very glad I didn’t blink as this film killed four cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.

“Everyone keeps asking me if I’m back…yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!” - John Wick

Rating 4/5

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Together Forever: The Ultimate Relationship Question

   The very foundation of human existence hinges on our ability to pair off and procreate. However, that which sits foremost in our minds is not the scientific fact of perpetuating the species…that’s going to happen anyway. No, the burning question remains “Is there anybody out there…for me?”
   The answer of course is yes (I’m an optimist) but the question isn’t as simple as previously stated. Anybody can find someone for themselves…for a night (at the very least), but how many can find someone that will be with them for a lifetime? Call it the perfect person or soul mate if you must, but the absolute truth of what it really is…is work. I say that with absolute conviction and many reading this already know it to be true, regardless of the length of time you are with someone…if you’re serious about it, it’s work.
   We all hear the stories of couples that are together for 20, 30, 40, and 50 (or more) years, and think to ourselves how great that is while wondering how the heck they did it. After 26 years of being with the same woman (19 years of marriage), I’m not wondering anymore…I’m being asked to shed some light on how it’s done. Before I get into it though, let’s all understand that every relationship site, forum, and show will give you the exact same answers when it comes to maintaining a healthy and productive marriage (well, maybe not exactly the same, but close enough)…and all of them true. So then what really separates a couple for life from everyone else?

   I don’t know…when I get there, I’ll write another post, for now all I can say that doesn’t seem to be highlighted anywhere is that I have no doubt that every couple to see so many years of marriage till death does them part…has been through every relationship problem-issue-situation under the sun.
   I chuckle when I see these shows and they talk about spouses like clothes on an assembly line. If one doesn’t work out, just go out and get another one. I chuckle because that simply makes no sense to me to have that kind of attitude, but still be wondering why you can’t have a marriage that lasts a lifetime. It’s not simple, but understanding that people will always defer to their humanity, and thus make mistakes, is (imo) the first step in the right direction of a lasting marriage. If you’re going out to the “spouse rack” to change up every time something happens then you’re going to have a lasting relationship with that rack…or yourself when you finally get tired of the fitting room.

   Now would be a great time for me to shed some light on having a lasting relationship based off my personal experience…except, my personal experience isn’t going to help you in the slightest. This is always my answer and advice because what has worked for me is absolutely unique to who I am, who my spouse is…and how we have grown together.
   If I said there weren’t times that we didn’t want to be together, I’d be lying (and I won’t do that to you). However, it was in those times (note the plurality) we realized that more than not wanting to be together, we didn’t want to be apart. It seems today that kind of bond is getting lost within a generation that wants perfection now (not realizing that it’s a journey, not a destination) and sees the strong emotional attachment that energizes this bond as nothing more than a “thirst” that should be frowned on and ridiculed. Ok…but now tell me how your tenth relationship (this month) is working out for you?

   “Together forever” isn’t candy out of the sky, but if it were, it would include black licorice…and you would have to eat it along with all the other candy. The ultimate relationship question doesn’t have an answer, it has a commitment from you to do better everyday while understanding everyday is not going to be better.
   Is there a line you need to recognize that shouldn’t be crossed? Sure…you need to accept and understand when the one your with isn’t going to be with you. It’s not always easy to do that, especially considering you might be turning away from the very thing you have been searching for. Kirk Douglas has just celebrated sixty years of marriage…to his second wife. When asked how he did it he replied "I just told my wife, if you ever leave me, I'm going with you!" That’s cute, but trust me when I say there was much more to it than that.

   Trust me when I also say that his abbreviated answer is absolutely on the money…hitting the nail on the head. Now…marinate on that!