Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Last Witch Hunter

is exactly what its trailers make it look like:  a big goofy movie in which Vin Diesel uses all three of his expressions in pursuit of beating bad guys.  You either want to see a Vin with sword flick or you don't, but you should know that going into the theater; you have no one to blame but yourself if you go against your instinct.

Me, I enjoy seeing Vin stomping around and waving a sword, so I generally enjoyed the movie.  Its plot makes just enough sense (don't push its edges or ask too many questions) to be fun.  Its cast is okay, with Michael Caine once again proving he will take any role, and Rose Leslie trying to look tough enough for her character.  Elijah Wood deserves a special Oscar for Most Creepy Looking Man in a Turtleneck.

Having said all this, the movie is certainly no Fast and Furious or Riddick film, and Vin's charms often feel like a poor match for the material.

The Last Witch Hunter is decidedly minor Vin, but for some people on some nights, that's enough reason to hit the theater.  You already know if you're one of those people.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin & the Guilty Ones

played the Cat's Cradle this past Sunday night, and I was lucky enough to be there.  The show was excellent from start to finish.  Dave Alvin (in the cowboy hat below) did most of the talking, some of the singing, and a great deal of excellent guitar playing.  His big brother Phil, from whom he was estranged for a very long time, stood at the center microphone and looked barely alive--until he began to sing.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Then, Phil's tremendous blues voice filled the hall, and the quiet man in the middle became a force to be reckoned with.  I've always preferred Dave's rougher voice, but there's no denying the power in Phil's.

I've been a fan of these guys--as the Blasters and singing separately--for about thirty years.  I've gotten to see Dave in concert previously, but this was the first show I've caught that included them both.  Their new album, Lost Time, is very good, but their live show is better.

Give a listen to a song or two of theirs.  If you like what you hear and their tour brings them near you, do not miss their show.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The 2015 North Carolina State Fair food report

The other night, a group of us headed to the Fair for our usual hours of strolling, snacking, gawking, and chatting.  For a few years now, I've managed the potential caloric onslaught of the Fair by trying anything I wanted--but trying only one bite of most things.  This strategy worked well again this year and enabled me to sample bites of a huge range of Fair foods.

First up was my traditional Fair starter:  the pretzel dog on a stick.

Click an image to see a larger version.

It was everything one could want from a pretzel dog and entirely delicious.

Sarah began with her traditional pretzel--salt and buttery topping this time around--and let me have a bite.

Look at that topping glisten!  Oh, yeah, it was a tasty pretzel indeed.

We then dove into the Fair and only came up for air at one of the bigger sources of fried and dipped foods.  Scott opted for his traditional frozen, dipped cheesecake on a stick.

He also let me have a bite, and it was quite good.

At that point, we hit a streak of serious fried weirdness, and the strangeness took hold.  I sampled single bites of the deep-fried moon pie (which also included more other ingredients than I can remember),

the deep-fried Reese's cup wrapped in bacon,

and the deep-fried oreos.

Each one was good enough that I enjoyed tasting it, but none made me crave a second bite.

At that point, it was time for what passes for health food at the Fair:  a ham biscuit.

Salty, fatty ham in a perfect southern biscuit; what's not to like?  It was delicious.

We hadn't planned our next stop, but the sign advertising bacon fried in maple syrup was too tempting to resist.  Here, Kyle goes in for a bite.

We did not stop for this attraction,

but we were sorely tempted.

Nor did we enter this shop,

though who wouldn't want to live in the House of Swank?

After a quick visit with the bears, a tradition Scott and I practice, the twenty-something men in our group decided turkey legs were the order of the day.

If JJ Abrams had only made the upcoming Star Wars film with glistening turkey legs instead of light sabers, no one would be able to resist the slick turkey force of their assault.

I bet you've never read that phrase before.

Anyway, Scott let me have a bite, and it was quite good.

Fried pickles have become a Fair staple,

and for good reason, because they are delicious.

What's that?  You worry that the noble tube steak has not yet appeared?  Fret no longer.  A bacon cheddar (and I use that term very loosely, as this yellow substance is more polymer than food) dog

slid down our collective gullets next.

No visit to the Fair is complete without some N.C. State ice cream, in this case a bowl of cherry vanilla that Kyle and I shared.

I did eat multiple bites of this frozen goodness.

You might wonder why this weirdly brown, oddly sauced piece of meat has chocolate-covered whipped cream on it,

but you'd wonder only until I told you the disturbing truth:  this is a deep-fried Klondike bar, a surprisingly good concoction.

Should you order deep-fried mac-and-cheese, you might expect that the combination of the already fattening macaroni and cheese with the fry dough would be enough of an artery clogger for any dish, but at the Fair, you'd be wrong.

You obviously need dipping cheese (again, a term I'm using loosely here).

My friend and colleague, Sharon, told me that the one thing I absolutely must not do at the Fair was try what she declared had to be the sickest dish yet on offer:  the pickle wrapped in peanut butter and deep-fried.

If you expected me to do anything other than run straight for that oddity, you don't know me.  The most amazing thing about this dish is that almost everyone who tried it thought it was at least okay, with some declaring it quite good.

For the last shared item of the Fair, we went old-school.

You can't go wrong with a thin-patty bacon cheeseburger.

We walked and walked, admired and bought crafts, watched with the open mouths of children as the fireworks painted the sky, and thoroughly enjoyed another North Carolina State Fair.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I need to see this movie

in part because it looks like all the right kinds of insane, in part because it stars Henry Rollins, and in part because it appears to be made of awesome.

Do be aware that this is a red-band, for mature audiences only, trailer.

Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A radio show about Onward, Drake!

Monday morning, Dave Drake and I joined hosts Sam Montgomery-Blinn and Mur Lafferty on the Carolina Book Beat show on a local radio station, WCOM LPFM, to talk about this tribute anthology, which I edited.  The discussion ran an hour and thirty-eight minutes, and now you can listen to it right here.

We covered a lot of interesting topics, both some directly about the book and some only related to it, the latter group including the first time Dave and I went out to dinner together.  We also messed up and let out a few bad words--and, to my embarrassment, I was responsible for the worst of them.  (Sorry, Sam and Mur.)

If you'd like to learn more about this book, about Dave, or about me, or if you'd like to hear Mur, Dave, or me read from our stories in the collection, or if you just have a little free time, check out the show.  I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it.

And, of course, once you've listened to the broadcast, be sure to pick up your own copy of the anthology.  I'm completely confident that you'll enjoy at least some of the stories, and quite possibly all of the contributions, in the book.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Check out the new Raleigh Grande

When the Raleigh Grande cinema opened, it set new standards for the area.  With stadium seating and a few more refreshment options than most local movie theaters, it felt like the big city had come to Raleigh.

That was a long time ago.  In the intervening years, most theaters have caught up with and in some ways surpassed the Grande, and the Grande has begun to show its age.

When I went there Saturday night to see Bridge of Spies, I learned that the Grande's owner, Carolina Cinemas, had apparently decided to fight back by investing in renovations.  Half the theater was closed.  The half that was open looked all new.  It now features reserved seating and only about half the seats it used to have--but all the seats are leather recliners with movable tray tables.  I have to admit that it's pretty spiffy.  Watching a movie from a comfortable, reclining, adjustable chair is a vastly better experience than viewing the same film from a cramped seat and fighting your neighbors for elbow room.

I'm not sure how the Grande makes money on all these changes, because at least as of last night the ticket prices were the same as in other local theaters, but I have to applaud the Carolina Cinemas folks for doing this.  They've definitely made me want to think first about the Grande when it's time to pick a theater for a movie.

Check out the Grande when you next get the chance.  You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bridge of Spies

is Steven Spielberg at his pseudo-documentary best, with Tom Hanks proving yet again that he is one of the finest film actors ever.  Mark Rylance, playing Russian spy Rudolf Abel, turns in a beautiful, understated performance that is an acting clinic in itself.  Both men inhabit their characters; their every gesture and small expression is picture perfect.  No actor in this movie goes over the top; it was a joy to watch the performances.

The script, two of whose three authors were the Coen brothers, is similarly and to my surprise understated, succumbing rarely to melodrama and often letting much go unspoken, as would happen in these sorts of negotiations.

When the film did feel like it might be overdoing it--did Donovan really see a shooting at the wall?--the scenes moved quickly past and generally came across as reasonable dramatizations of the past.

In 1990, as the wall was coming down, I rode on a train from Florence, Italy to Berlin.  For a little while, the train passed along the border between what was then the two Berlins.  West Berlin was on my left, East Berlin on my right.  To the left, life was technicolor.  To the right, it was black and white, bombed-out and apparently untouched since WWII.  (I doubt that was the case, but it looked that way.)  I was stunned.  Spielberg's rendition of East Germany exactly captured that feeling.

Bridge of Spies is an old-school, understated, excellent film about a very interesting time in our history.  I recommend it highly.


Blog Archive