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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Return of Indiana Jones

The wait is over, we have our Indy back!

My wife and I went to see the new movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on Friday, the day after it opened. The wait was excruciating and I read every article I could find to "keep up with the Joneses". The premiere date was announced and I watched the calendar slowly crawl to the date with the excitement pouring out of me, usually met with my wife's rolling eyes.

The original trilogy of Indiana Jones is my favorite collection of action/adventure movies ever made and the idea of getting another one after such a long passing of time is like getting a lifetime of Christmas presents all at once. I kept up with every step of the process, starting with the first introduction of an idea for the fourth film. That came when George Lucas was visiting Harrison Ford when he was going to do a cameo on "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles." Once Harrison agreed to go forward on the project, they were waiting on a script to get started and that's what caused a lot of the delay. George declined several scripts, including one from M. Night Shyamalan (Signs, The Sixth Sense) and Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption). He was very specific about what he wanted the film to be and would not be involved if he didn't have his way.

Lucas and director Spielberg went to great lengths to have the new cinematographer capture the same "feel" of the original films on this new installment, but after 19 years of improvements in technology the film looks as though it's the first in a new series without any resemblance of originals. As much as I love Indiana Jones and am very glad that he has returned to bring us a new adventure, I have to wonder if this new installment is worthy of the trilogy that made Indy the franchise that he is. The storyline revolves around a crystal skull, which is rumored to be engineered by aliens, and the person who returns it to a mythical location controls the world. Instead of a greedy Nazi, Russian agent Spalko (played miserably by Cate Blanchett) is on the quest for ultimate power.

Overall, it's a good movie with plenty of action and the fans love having Marion back in the mix. Harrison is still Indy just as we remember him, despite a lackluster script to work with. I think Shia was a good addition to the film and it's already being said that he may continue the legacy. Personally, I feel that if this movie is the springboard for two more Indy films, the current formula of Harrison as Indy needs to stay in place and Shia be the sidekick a la Marcus Brody and Sallah. Furthermore, Spielberg as the director needs to be the one calling the shots on scripts because I'm betting there was a better one for this movie that got passed up due to the stubborn nature of Lucas.

This may be the Indy film we've all been waiting for, but it's not the one we expected to see.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ribs, Ribs, and more Ribs

The results are in! I survived my first rib cook-off as a competitor (see previous post) and came back with the 2nd place trophy. My cousin Patrick won again, even while admitting that his ribs were not up to par this year so one has to wonder how he pulled off another victory. I didn't get to try his ribs this year so I can't say I know if he should have won or not. Maybe I should start my own rib cook-off so I can win every year.......just kidding Pat!

One thing is for sure.....the ribs were all really good this year. There was a great variety from all those who participated, and I got to try many different entries. I tried one that had a strong taste of rosemary and other herbs which is unusual for ribs in this kind of setting but was a refreshing change from the expected.

My brother-in-law Joe took 3rd behind me and I think my sister is done talking for a while, at least until next year. After taking my trophy, Michelle asked me in all humility, "you'll never let me live this down, will you?" For her sake, as well as Joe's bruised ego, I hope next year they'll be cooking some ribs with a side of humble pie. I may have talked big but I was actually surprised that I placed among the top; in all honesty, my only plan was to beat Joe. I was in the back of the house changing Gavin when I started hearing the yelling and then was summoned to come out and claim my 2nd place trophy.

I know I surprised a lot of people with my ribs, which is a good thing. On the other hand, it's also confusing because I'm known to be a good cook at most things but I was treated like the ultimate underdog. Everything I did, from the grill I was using to the low heat of the coals, was ridiculed by nearly all of the others as if I had no idea what I was doing. The ultimate revenge was knowing what fools they all must have felt like as I accepted my trophy.

They say "second place is the first loser" but it's hard to feel like a loser when your ribs are picked second best from a pool of about 15 entries and they're all really good. If this was the Rib Olympics, I'd be taking home a Silver Medal.

Michelle made a good point afterwards by telling my dad that Joe and I learned everything from him and now we've beaten him, to which he replied "they learned from the best." I may have learned a lot about cooking from my dad, but these ribs are my sole creation and they will continue to evolve every year. I know what I need to do in order to take the first place trophy next year and now I've proven myself a worth contender. However, for the sake of my wife's sanity there will be no rib talk until next May.

Above all, this rib cook-off is really more about having a great time with family and friends than it is about winning. Everyone who comes to enjoy the day is a winner whether they leave with a trophy in their hands, or just a bunch of stuff to clean.

Cell Phone Madness

After two unimpressive and frustrating years of T-Mobile cell phone service, we have changed to Verizon and got shiny new phones to enjoy on our new plan. I could say that the process of changing over and choosing phones was painless and simple, but that would be a huge lie.

Since we signed up at Costco last time, we tried to give them some repeat business and Kacy's mom had already talked to the rep there. Aside from the poor selection of phones, the rep turned out to be the loser boyfriend to a friend of ours who has wandering eyes and unfaithful intentions and we couldn't support that so we moved on.

That took us to a local shop which is a dealer for all services. We liked the phones they had but took a while trying to decide on which phones we'd be taking. Kacy is known for her texting to cousin Kayla and her friend Amy and all I really care about is a good working phone with rockin' ringtones. We all had a few specific things we needed out of the phones and after choosing a few different options we had them picked out. The rep there needed to get an answer for us regarding activation fees. The fees were being waived at other locations so we knew that it could be done there if they wanted our business. We left to go visit some family and I called the shop back and basically explained to her that we liked the phones and would be coming back to sign up if she got back to me that day.

We decided to go check out an actual Verizon store (well, a booth in Circuit City) just to check out all options while we waited for the response from the other place. The call never came, but we didn't need it anyhow. Kacy hung out in the car with Gavin while her mom and I went over all of our options and which phones would be best. I called her and just as she and I started talking I heard the girl helping us lean over to Kacy's mom and say "those are the biggest calves I've ever seen". I started laughing and so did Kacy's mom and Kacy was confused while she heard this going on and wasn't sure what we were talking about. It's not an uncommon conversation in my world and if you know me, you know why. It was a pretty funny moment in the midst of all of the chaos involved in signing up for a new cell phone service and choosing the right phone.

There are just too many options that come on phones these days and most people don't know what the options do or why they need them. Kacy got the ENV2 which has the normal phone panel but flips open to a full keyboard to make her texting easier. I got a brand new model Motorola phone which looks similar to a RAZR when opened, but works much better. I can store music on it and use it as a player, even though I probably won't. It has a camera, as pretty much every new phone does now. Before we had Gavin there was no need for a camera on our phone, but it is handy now and then to get a cute shot for the screen.

The whole experience reminded me of why so many people avoid all of this technology, which is unfortunate. These things make life easier but the trouble we have to go through to make the right choice is not worth it to most people, especially for fear of being taken advantage of. That's why there are us geeks around with our tech savvy to help you get through it all unscathed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Saints of Los Angeles

This year marks the official return of Motley Crue, despite the fact that they reunited back in 2004 to record new tracks for their compilation "Red White and Crue". A promoter in England got things started in 2004 for the gang to come together after a five-year hiatus and they toured in support of the hits collection for most of 2005 and then again, co-headlining with Aerosmith in 2006, on the "Route Of All Evil" tour.

Following the wrap of their last tour, the guys hit the studio to record their first studio album involving the original lineup since 1997's "Generation Swine". I don't really consider that a true Crue album being that the majority was written during the lackluster period featuring John Corabi on vocals while Vince worked on his solo career. The only thing good that came of that period was a track called "Hooligan's Holiday" which is a great track and hopefully Vince will do it justice on their tour.

"Saints Of Los Angeles" is due to be released June 24th of this year, after being pushed back so the guys could add a track to the album after being inspired by the bands they're hauling on tour for "CrueFest" this summer. The title track is their first single off the album and if you ask me, it's the tightest they've ever sounded. This is a true return to their signature glam-rock sound, taking us back to the Dr. Feelgood era before things fell apart.

"I want my babyback, babyback, babyback ribs"

I love ribs, and even more than I love eating them I love making them. I think ribs, aside from a prime cut of beef, are the best vehicle for the most imaginative rubs and sauces you can conjure up. I'm not a culinary master by any measure but I feel confident enough to put my ribs up against those who dare to challenge me, which is what will be happening this weekend.

My cousin Patrick, who lives in Bakersfield, has hosted a rib cook-off for a few years now and last year I attended. I did not participate in the competition but I did have a chair at the judges' table so I was able to size up my competition. My cousin won and my dad came in a close second, from what I remember. Something about the host winning his own competition seems a bit too easy for me to wrap my brain around. This year, the competition is hotter than the grills we'll be using as my brother in law Joe is coming to play as well. My sister Michelle has been taunting me, even going so far as advising me not to bother entering because she's "certain" that he'll win. That, along with a lifelong quest to beat my dad at something, is all the ammunition I need to put my recipe over the top. I paid attention enough last year to know what the judges look for and what I need to do in order to get their attention and unanimous vote. There is no cash prize, but I think there is a trophy and of course huge bragging rights which is all I'm after.

I will openly admit that I've put a ton of hype on my ribs, but I really feel that I have a great shot to win this. After all, it's not like I'm on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay, at which point there's be a bigger chance of Jimmy Hoffa's body turning up than my victory. The mutual attempts at psyching each other out on the part of my sister and me are driving my wife crazy, to the point of a gag order regarding any "rib talk" until next May. It's all in good fun though, and I know Joe is a decent cook and my sister knows that I'm very good also. I doubt that the intimidation factor will work on either of us so all we can do is put everything we've got into our entries and get the final word from the judges.

One thing I do know is that there will be some great food and lots of fun for everyone involved, and win or lose it will be a great weekend. I think I'll even do my best to accept my trophy with all modesty, just to be a good sport and not rub it in anyone's face.....after all, they'll already be covered with my sauce anyhow.

"you have chosen.......wisely"

In the spirit of the new Indiana Jones film, released today, I have stolen a quote from the knight guarding the Holy Grail in "Last Crusade" after Indy chooses the correct goblet. However, this post is not about the new Indy movie; I will be talking about that soon after I see it tomorrow night. This post is about the crowing of our new American Idol, David Cook.

I was checking my messages on MySpace earlier and noticed a bulletin expressing disapproval of America's choice in picking Cook over Archuleta in the battle of the Davids. It got me thinking, "I wonder how many people were surprised by this." I was certainly one of them, as I felt that Archuleta's likability was off the charts and he sang very well (for his age). I have to mention his age because the trophy has been given to a few youngsters out there who I feel will not achieve their true critical peak for several years. I think timing was the only thing that was not in young David's favor.

American Idol is about choosing the next great recording artist, as Simon Cowell has informed us on more than one occasion. As much as I love Taylor Hicks, who won the Season 5 crown, his style is far too specific to attract a large enough crowd of buyers. His Joe Cocker style and motown-esque delivery is excellent and I really do like his album but that year I feel that America got it wrong. It's pretty obvious that Chris Daughtry is the one people wanted to hear, as his debut album became the best-selling album of the year.

To follow that same pattern, I think David Cook is the right choice as his music will appeal to a far greater audience who will actually purchase his album (or download it as most do these days). The purpose of American Idol, from my point of view, is to help revive the music industry after a devastating slump of poor sales. The only way that can happen is to put an artist out there that people would pay to hear (or see live). Archuleta was probably the most consistently solid performers on Idol, possibly across the entire history of the show. Every single week, he came out and did his thing and America ate it up like apple pie and root beer floats. Many of the other contestants even started calling it "The David Archuleta Show", and winner David Cook said of Archuleta on the finale "I"m just trying to keep up with this kid."

Overall, I've actually been less interested in this season than any previous one, despite the judges' attempts at garnering improved interest by saying that this is the best group so far. I felt that many of the performers were way out of their league. The real shocker for me was the ousting of Carly Smithson, who definitely can sing. She actually had a record deal before Idol but she was dropped after her debut album sold only a couple hundred copies despite a rumored multi-million dollar promotional campaign. I feel that she will probably get a new deal and this time someone will know how to market her properly. I feel that if you have millions of dollars and fail to get the attention of the music-buying population, you are not the marketing whiz you give yourself credit for.

One of the contestants I feel had no place in this competition is Amanda Overmyer, and it was painfully obvious during last night's finale in which she danced awkwardly among the other girls and looking completely bored and out of place. She is the token "rocker chick" with a southern-fried, Janis Joplin approach which she layers over every performance, unsuccessfully. She's a good enough singer in her own right, but far too awkward to fit in with the shiny, happy bunch she was contending with.

In summary I feel America got it right, which is typical with the exception of Taylor Hicks who fell through the cracks despite a great voice and huge following, known as the "Soul Patrol". Nearly every crowned Idol has become a multi-platinum selling artist and two have become Grammy winners (Clarkson has 2, Underwood has 3). The machine that is American Idol continues to introduce fresh new talent and cause the kind of voter turnout that our presidential nominations still have yet to garner.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Drive Thru, Please (Part 3)

I'm going to open this blog by announcing that I am in no way racist and I mean no disrespect to the foreigners who come to America to live and work among our society. I embrace diversity with open arms and feel that the future of the world depends on it.

To expand on that idea, let me share with my latest drive thru frustration. Last night, my wife and I took a short detour from our new diet plan as it was getting late and cooking would have just had us eating even later. We pulled into the drive thru and were met with a quick and indecipherable greeting by the employee working the section. I gave him my order and I was asked a few questions, none of which I understood clearly. I pulled through and was quoted a total that I also didn't understand but the change was 59 cents. I was given 4 dollars and a dime for change. I'm not a rocket scientist but I know that out of a dollar, 41 cents is the remainder from 59 cents so I'm not sure why I was given a dime. We pulled forward and thoroughly checked our order and by some miraculous event, it was right.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I have visited this establishment before and have perfectly understood other employees so this was not a simple case of a broken intercom. The problem here is very simple: the manager is an idiot. Why would you put someone in a position where they are taking orders and reading them back to people if their native tongue isn't yet capable? It's one thing to put someone new in that position even if they speak the most perfect English you've ever heard; that won't matter if they don't know what buttons to push to create the order as it was called out. Even worse, putting someone who speaks very incoherent English in a position where communication is the most important factor is just irresponsible. Therefore, before you accuse me of calling out a foreigner for making my drive thru experience unfavorable I'm declaring that I place the blame not on the man who did his best to take my order but to the lame manager who put him there.

I have been a manager for food service, as you may have read about in previous posts. I know how important it is for the customer to feel like his or her order was taken properly and they can simply receive their order and enjoy it. If you look at the requirements for management these days, you'll see the expectation of degrees and experience, unless of course an employee has worked up the ladder and been internally promoted, as I was. Either way, you would think that some level of intelligence would be displayed by the person who is running the place. Even if the teenage idiot employees don't know what the hell they're doing or most likely don't care, the manager needs to be the equalizer to ensure that the customers are taken care of.

You'll notice I mentioned in the beginning that I embrace diversity and I support the people who come to our great country to live and work. This is true, but I think it's the responsibility of the managers and those in charge of hiring these people to make sure we integrate them wisely. To put them in a position that will highlight their early stages of adjustment will only fuel the debate that they should not be allowed to come here in the first place and that's not that America is all bout. So, if you're placing an order at a food establishment, either by drive thru or the counter, and you're faced with someone who is difficult to communicate with, give them a break and then call for the manager and let them know how much they suck for making both parties feel uncomfortable. If you think these foreigners enjoy the fact that people ask them to repeat what they've said because their accent is too strong, you are mistaken.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Everyone has a guilty pleasure, whether we admit it or not. It could be something small, maybe a TV show that all of your friends think is the dumbest program ever but you can't fathom missing an episode. Typically, a guilty pleasure is anything that you know you shouldn't enjoy either because of what's considered "right" or because it's out of your normal preference. However, what if you don't really feel guilty about what it is you enjoy? Should you feel guilty just because others may question just how reasonable it may be?

I bring this up because I saw the cast of Sex and the City on Oprah yesterday and there were several men in the crowd. I'm betting that none of those guys would openly admit to watching, or even loving, the show when they're huddled around a big screen on Super Bowl Sunday. For me, any of the "elimination" type shows could be considered guilty pleasures but I still watch them, and I love watching them. A show like "Hell's Kitchen" appeals to the closet aspiring chef in me and "America's Next Top Model" is fun to watch so you can see the claws come out. Another favorite in the elimination genre is "Project Runway" although the last season was my least favorite of the series. I think the whole elimination concept has improved over time, and the shows' producers have learned how to create the tension and anticipation necessary to keep people watching.

I'm not a fan of the early shows that started this trend, such as "Survivor". Who cares about a bunch of people on an island and how they are as a leader? I'd rather see Chef Gordon Ramsay fire off expletives at people whose bloated egos are deflated as they're reduced to whining wannabes. Everyone cries on "Hells Kitchen" and the funny thing is that they all announce to the viewers "I'm not weak" one or two episodes before their sobbing breakdown. This is easily my favorite show in which a contestant is sent packing, having been screamed at by Ramsay whose standards put him leap years ahead of any of the hopefuls.

Of course, I got bit by the American Idol bug long ago but the show quickly turned into a popularity contest, rather than a singing competition which it started out as. Judge Simon Cowell pointed this out during the current season when addressing one of the strongest contenders, David Cook. He told David "if this continues to be a singing competition and NOT a popularity contest, you could win." Unfortunately, great singers have been sent home while mediocre talent has remained on the show and this year's "talent" does not compare to that of previous seasons despite the judges claiming that this bunch is the best yet.

Now, back to the Sex and the City topic that got this whole thing started. Kacy got me started on this series because she has the whole series on DVD and I watched it, reluctantly at first. Somewhere around the second season, I was not only enjoying it but I was the one saying "let's watch another season". I admit that I wrote this off as a "chick flick" type of show right from the start but I was proved wrong as I saw that there was plenty to keep the guys watching as well, whether it was eye candy or clever writing. I think what I love most about the Sex and the City series is how they manage to seamlessly blend the separate lives of the four main characters. You know enough about who they are when they're not together that, when they do come together, it all makes sense.

With the release of the Sex and the City Movie approaching, I find myself excited to see the story continue. We might even have to break out the DVD's once again to run through the series and bring us up to speed, and I won't feel guilty about it......not even a little bit.