Tag Archives: culture

Movie Mondays #12: HANNA

As part of our Ultimate Playbill project, each week a faculty member will take the time to extol the virtues of one of the beloved films on this list. This week, I tackle IP’s #3 pick, HANNA (2011, Wright)

On the misty, snow covered tundra, a lump of white reveals itself as a swan. From the air, we see an inlet of deep blue water lazily circulating frozen shoals. An arctic fox pup peaks out over its belly before cutting to a young woman aiming her bow at a grazing deer. She quickly and quietly lets an arrow fly into the deer’s breast, which then hobbles off into an open plain. The young woman pursues the creature as it collapses from its mortal wound. “I just missed your heart,” she states before firing a pistol, mercifully killing her prey. As the loud blast rings out from the silence, it simultaneously cuts to a title card which imposes itself over the entire screen. The young woman and the film are called “Hanna”.

In the first two minutes of this movie, we’re introduced to a grand idea that helps carry the entire film, one that is so deftly illustrated by its execution that it’s hard not to accept as being truthful: the world is a wondrous place, the world is a violent place. Continue reading Movie Mondays #12: HANNA

2nd Annual Sunday, Bloody Sunday

I do enjoy a good Bloody Mary. And while the International Bartenders Association sets specific parameters regarding the composition of Brunch’s Best Friend, its interpretations and modifications are almost as numerous as the bartenders who serve it. No wonder it’s been called the world’s most complex cocktail.

judges table featuring all nine Bloodys

This past Sunday, Scala’s Bistro in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel played host to the 2nd Annual Sunday, Bloody Sunday competition. Bartenders from restaurants and hotels all over San Francisco unveiled their signature twists on this classic recipe in the hopes of claiming the title of this year’s Best Bloody Mary. Convention was thrown out the window as nine very different cocktails were served to an eager crowd of thirsty patrons and a panel of judges. I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve sampled more than my fair share over the years (enough to be in the process of finalizing my Top 5 Bloodys in SF) and was eager to cast my vote (by dropping a Sir Francis Drake bottlecap into the appropriate vase) for a worthy candidate. Here, then, are all nine drinks ranked on my scorecard worst to first.

9. “Indian Summer” by Kate Bolton of Maven

I’m not exactly a purist when it comes to this cocktail, but I do have certain expectations. Like tomato. Like spice. Savory and pickle-y. This strawberry wine cooler that somehow managed to sneak into the contest by virtue of a splash of “tomato water” and perhaps a dash of “aged balsamic vinegar” was about as close to a Bloody Mary as my morning coffee. It was a decent enough summer beverage, and I didn’t mind fishing out the honey-kissed strawberry slices floating around in my plastic cup, but… “not a Bloody” is all I really had to write on my scorecard. Continue reading 2nd Annual Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Procrastinators Alert! California bans Foie Gras in T-Minus sooon!

That’s right…June 31st is coming fast…

You:  Fast to what?

Me: The end of Foie Gras dummy!

If you are not yet out the door with the car keys and an Open Table rez, you are probably torn between the desire of tasting something good and the desire to do good.  But don’t worry, I have to sort out the scuffle between my taste buds and my Mirror Neurons (read: animal empathy) every time I am at the kitchen table.  So allow me discus…

The human battle of the senses between gastronomic euphoria and spiritual purity does not rage on stronger in any other place than right here in The Golden State.  California is the melting pot of the modern world, where foodies and activist coexist in one big, “happy” place.  On July 1st however, when the Foie Gras ban takes place, the balance may shift in dramatic fashion, as one group’s rights will be imposed over another.

The irony here is that by banning Foie Gras, that the activist groups are the ones who are taking rights away from the people.  History has shown that when it comes to food, nothing last forever.  Google: Prohibition, Chicago Foie Gras Ban repeal.  And the people who actually have done something to improve the quality of food and general welfare of animals are the people who embrace good food.  Google: Slow Food movement, Alice Waters.  Yes I must admit being Vegan can be great for the environment and all, but if you think PETA is turning people into vegetarians by stalking and harassing omnivores, think again

I am glad the Foie Gras ban is now coming.  To be honest, I probably didn’t have my first bite of Foie until 2004, when the ban countdown was started.  I don’t think the ban will last forever.  But I am not a gambling man, I invite you to take part in the Foie gras tastyness and decide for yourself if see what all the fuss is about.

Remember June 31st is the last day to get yours in CA, who knows when we might see Foie Gras on a Californian menu again. Below is a short list of restaurants that serves the decadent dish on any given night.

L’Ardoise’s Foie Gras Terraine and buttered toast

L’ArdoiseBistro Central ParcChapeau!

San Francisco, CA

I call this the axis of super nice and awesome French bistros.  They all meet the following requirements; charming neighborhood locations, great chefs and owners, unpretentiously good, classic French restaurants at reasonable prices.  These are all must try’s for any San Franciscan resident, and what’s best all these are for some reason perfectly unattractive to tourists.  They all serve Foie Gras in some fashion; seared, terraine, on a salad, etc.  All good and won’t break the bank.  A perfect place to start your venture into the Foie Gras excitement.

Incanto’s Foie Gras Ice Cream

San Francisco, CA
Chefs Mark Pastore and Chris Cosentino are probably some of the more outspoken chefs for the repeal of the ban, which makes this place good one to try.  Incanto could be described as New Italian, fusing classic Italian flavors with fresh, yet simple dishes.  The buzz around this place Is about the Foie Gras Ice cream!

Animal’s Foie Gras Biscuit and Gravy

Los Angeles, CA

I have been wanting to try this place for a while now.  Popularized by their no animal part goes to waste ideology, Animal has really set a great example on how to appreciate food the right way.   With the Foie ban looming, Animal has been host to 12 course foie extravaganzas, and an equal number of Pro-Geese PETA protests.  No better place to get in on the action in my opinion.

Morimoto’s Duck Duck Goose

Napa, CA

Japanese Fusion brainchild of Iron Chef Morimoto, blends Western Classical cooking techniques with hip intellectual Japanese tastes.  I have had the honor of trying the original Morimoto in Philadelphia (where the city has a Foie Gras week, celebrating the decadent ingredient).  To attest to how good this stuff really is, the best dish at an acclaimed sushi restaurant was the seared Foie Gras, how ‘bout them apples?!

La Folie’s Seared Foie Gras on Toast topped with Caviar and Balsamic reduction

La Folie, Jardiniere, Fleur de Lys
San Francisco, CA

Frenchity French French.  These are the big names in town if you want “real” French cuisine.  I say that because each of these restaurants come with the stereotypical idea that when you go French, you are going big, big names, big flavors, big price tag.  If you have a taste for fatted liver, and have the wallet to back it up, then you can literally put your money where your mouth is. These chefs are known to have multiple dishes of Foie Gras on the menu.  If you are trying to stalk up on Michelin Stars or whittling down that James Beard Award winners to eat list, these restaurants are probably on your menu.

Bad Sports Fans, Shut Up.

I’m getting a little tired of dealing with this. I’ve been analyzing the phenomenon for years now, and have blamed everything from Jim Rome to the internet to fantasy sports (discovery: they’re all partly to blame). But, my friends, it’s time to be more vocal about it: stop tolerating bad sports fans. Facebook is full of them. You know who I’m talking about. The know-it-all ESPN addict who changes his profile picture to a Saints logo hours before the divisional playoff game (and then swiftly changes it back to his grinning mug seconds after The Catch III). The sorority girl whose first sports-related status update in years is “let’s go Packers!!!!!!” (with additional exclamation points) but follows it up with zero admission of an end to her suddenly adopted sports season. The violently curse-laden sports expert who loves nothing better than telling you that your team is going to lose, but whose own allegiances seem to revolve weekly dependent on likelihood of success.

You see them all over the internet, where it’s easy to talk shit or feign expertise. You know where you won’t see them? In the real world, where fans gather to root for favorite teams, or in local stadiums where hometown pride actually means something. It seems to hinge very simply on the difference between who you think is going to win and who you want to win.

Let’s make this clear: there are two types of people for whom the think can take precedence over the want. The first is the professional (or habitual) gambler. This person needs to rely on whatever sports knowledge he or she has gleaned from watching and following sports. This, however, isn’t fandom. The gambler would be the first to admit it. That think  turns into a want solely because of a placed bet, and not because of any kind of genuine interest in the teams or players involved. Continue reading Bad Sports Fans, Shut Up.

Excerpts from the Journal, Shanghai 2011

Sometimes first impressions are all we get. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back in China, let alone Shanghai, so these reflections, formed after just four days, may kick around in my head for quite some time.

October 8

Second-story window view in the Jade Buddha Temple

Striking how much more intimate and compact these areas of devotion are. Western culture has us accustomed to expansive cathedrals and architectural feats to touch the heavens. Shanghai’s glorifying praise is to twenty-first century money — skyscrapers that stream colored lights like a nightly fireworks display, populating the Pudong, an army of freakish sentinels of finance and prosperity. But true temples? Religious devotion? Wooden buildings of two or three stories, a series of rooms holding statuary of no overly imposing size, carpeted in red cushions for brief periods of kneeling, incense burning, or admiration. Beautiful, intricate, but somehow secretive. Perhaps a remnant of private worship before the government made it okay to be spiritual again…

October 9

I joked with Benett this morning that we may have found the cure for his insomnia/involuntary early rising: cigars and alcohol.

My roommate is a fifty-four year old ex-New Yorker who has been living and teaching drama in Los Angeles for over a decade now. He’s enthusiastic, adventurous, and charming. His approachability (or apparent need for female company) had led to dozens of offers for “massage? sex massage? sex?” Always in that order. That, and the ubiquitous pressure by street vendors to sell watches and bags, is all we are ever asked in the streets. Continue reading Excerpts from the Journal, Shanghai 2011

Grant Morrison’s Supergods

It should be an easy question to answer, a simple topic to elaborate upon. I love comics, and I love talking about the medium. And despite the fact that some of the best, most literate expressions of this artform have nothing to do with superheroes, I can’t ever deny the deep-seated passion I’ve had for capes-and-tights adventures since my first Avengers so many decades ago. But – why superheroes? What is it about this mythic cross of science fiction and fantasy that had not only enthralled me from a young age, but has also turned into huge business, dominating popular culture in movies and video games in the twenty-first century? Should be simple to answer. Shouldn’t it?

Grant Morrison, one of the most renowned and respected comics writers of our day, is far more equipped to tackle this subject than I. Thankfully, at least, as his new book Supergods shows us, I wasn’t wrong in thinking that there is no simple answer to the question. I’m just as thankful that the exploration of superhero culture, in his capable hands and guided by a life similarly captivated by the genre (as well as being twisted through years of genuine chaos magic and intense psychedelia), is a tremendously fascinating and rewarding one.

The "demigod" begins his journey to "pop deity"

Supergods explores the history of superheroes, from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman in 1938 through the modern era and the infusion of superheroics into the “real world,” both in Hollywood’s forays into more realistic portrayals, and the advent of real world superheroes, like Portland’s Zetaman and Atlanta’s Crimson Fist. As each decade and each era is explored, Morrison beautifully connects current events with the responses of popular culture, demonstrating how the world of comics, and superheroes specifically, became both accurate reflections of the times as well as prescient oracles of developing fears, dreams, and ideals.

Continue reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods

The Passion of the Thunder God

At the EarthFair Festival in San Diego this past weekend, I was struck by the logo for the San Diego Pagan Pride organization.  All these pagan religions united against discrimination and prejudice, reminding us all the while that crosses and Stars of David are fine as religious symbols, but if you’re really looking for iconography to rally behind, consider the ankh or… the hammer of Thor!

Which then made me wonder whether or not the half-dozen or so people in San Diego who actually claim to be adherents to the Norse faith had any problem with Marvel Studios’ upcoming summer blockbuster. Was Thor being seen as a trivialization of their beliefs? An insulting depiction of their deity dealing with the modern world like, I don’t know… The Book of Mormon or something?  Or was this going to be their Passion of the Christ?  Would Teutonic neopaganists start losing their shit in theaters nationwide (starting at midnight on May 6, naturally) watching their God of Thunder suffer at the hands of the divinely crafted Destroyer armor? Continue reading The Passion of the Thunder God

The Sportsbook Dilemma

When I was a freshman in high school, my social studies teacher, Mr. Stiegler, recounted a story to our class about lifelong sports fandom triumphantly rewarded.  For years, including every pathetic campaign during the 1970’s, he placed a five-dollar bet on the 49ers to win the Super Bowl.  It was a symbolic gesture: he rooted for the team, and naturally wanted to see them win the title, even if in his heart he knew the gesture really only amounted to flushing an Abe Lincoln down the toilet every August.

When Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Dwight Clark stunned the country in 1982, Mr. Stiegler was five hundred dollars richer.

The story was inspiring.  My good friend and classmate Nelson Wong was likewise intrigued, so as soon as we turned twenty-one, one of us, sometimes both, would place five bucks on the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series.  On occasion the bet was a bit more (we were both in possession of five-dollar heartbreaks in 2002, but Pudge Rodriguez’s ’03 fistpump in my face cost me twenty bucks and a shot at two hundred), and the bet location often had a lot to say about the odds.  Most of my money was dropped in Tahoe, but the odds were generally better during Nelson’s formerly regular treks to Las Vegas. Continue reading The Sportsbook Dilemma

T-shirts that Show You Care

Texting “redcross” to 90999 is certainly an easy way to donate ten bucks to the American Red Cross and its relief efforts overseas.  As Stephen Colbert pointed out on his show last night, however, iPhone users need to prevent the overzealous autocorrect function from turning the well-intentioned “redcross” into the somewhat snide rejoinder, “reactors.”  Colbert: “In which case I believe all the money goes directly to the radioactive leaks.”

The community-driven online t-shirt company, Threadless, in addition to being responsible for a good portion of my wardrobe, offers a chance to help the cause and promote awareness at the same time.  Jason Yang’s design, “Rebuild Japan” is just twenty bucks and 100% of the net proceeds goes directly to the Red Cross.

Snag one for yourself and one for your significant other. The only time wearing matching anything isn’t tacky is when it’s all about solidarity.

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 4: Kryptonite and Stomach-Aches

Upon returning to high school for my junior year, I found myself in the unique (to me) position of being something of a known commodity. I had spent two years maneuvering my way up from being a friendless and awkward nobody from a nowhere middle school to rubbing shoulders with folks in letterman jackets and cheerleader skirts. I was by no means a member of the elite, the inside circle, but the elite knew me. I was no longer a cipher. In dramatic moments of adolescent self-pity, I still thought of myself as the neglected outsider, but I could no longer really play that card, even to myself. In the brutal high school social strata, I now outranked the morbidly obese, the harelipped, the bad-skinned. I had bit and clawed my way into the comfortable middle. Enough acceptance to keep me from slitting my wrists or experimenting with auto-erotic asphyxiation, but enough angst to keep my edge and feed my growing cynicism.

I was secure in a fairly tight circle of friends, I had a conspicuous (read: ugly) vehicle that announced my presence with noise and color, and was meticulously putting together some emotional armor thanks to some hard lessons. Shelby? I was one of about fifteen boys that she expressed an interest in that month. Virginia? She liked reform school boys. (May eventually have stopped liking boys altogether, if her mullet and Toyota 4X4 were any indication.) Amanda? Didn’t like me. Never did. Never would. But liked the fact that I liked her, and shamelessly played upon that for over two years whenever she was bored with the thousands of other things she had going for her. She was my Ideal Girl, from the first week of high school when I saw her in Introduction to Physical Science (IPS) to halfway through junior year, when I met…well, wait for song #41 in the next installment.

#36. “Litte Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – The Spin Doctors

We all have our Ideal Girl. The one who epitomizes everything we want in a mate. Physically, at least, I had had an Ideal ever since Christy N. in elementary school. (Wanna get treated like Superman treats kryptonite? Just be me attempting to talk to Christy N. in 6th grade. That girl avoided me like the plague.) Light brown or red hair, perhaps with a bit of permed or ironed curl. A slight dusting of freckles. Pale to the point of luminescence. Blue or green eyes. This was the Ideal. I was young and dumb enough not to let personality or intelligence interfere with the Ideal.

Although The Spin Doctors’ Pocketful of Kryptonite album was released in August of ’91, it had no impact on me (or the general listening public) until almost a year later. When I heard it, I was reminded of my sense of relief and the weight off my shoulders when I finally gave up on Amanda, and simultaneously, the dream of a physical Ideal. Been a whole lot easier since the bitch left town/Been a whole lot happier without her face around…

But there were others. Oh, Lord, there were others. I had girl-fever, and I had it bad. The sheer size of my stainless-steel balls as I introduced myself and chatted up lady after lady is a thing of wonder to me now. Who was that confident guy? Sometimes I was able to play out the string for a few weeks, other times I was cut dead in a moment. No matter. On to the next doomed attempt. If any of you Gentle Readers out there feel I treated Mushroom Girl somewhat shabbily, rest assured, my sins were revisited upon me tenfold. No one can cut you dead like Marla Berry declining your invitation to the Christmas dance. (But I get ahead of myself…)

Much like the new Death Star in Return of the Jedi, the armor I was donning was piecemeal and incomplete. Unlike the new Death Star, it was in no way “fully armed and operational.” In short, under a thin veneer, I was still kind of a needy open sore. But I had learned much, and would continue to learn.

Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 4: Kryptonite and Stomach-Aches