Thursday, January 31, 2019

Vice (a movie review post)

I wanted to see Vice as soon as I saw the trailers for it, and I'm not going to lie: That was mostly because of Sam Rockwell. Rockwell as W.? I'm in! Despite Rockwell's Oscar win last year, he tends to be pretty underrated in Hollywood. And, since we're on the subject of Rockwell, he was great. I'd say he nailed W. and was very enjoyable to watch; however, his performance pales in comparison to Bale's.

I feel compelled to point out here that I am not a Christian Bale fan. On a personal level, and I say this without ever having met the man, he seems to be an asshole. One of the flaming types. And he was a pretty crappy Batman, though that may have been more Nolan's fault than his. In fact, based on Bale's apparent level of skill, I'm going to have to say that his failing at being Bruce Wayne has to have been bad directing, because Bale is an acting genius.

People always talk about Daniel Day-Lewis and his ability to disappear into a role, which is not not true, but he has nothing on Bale, and Bale doesn't take three to four years between roles because he has to recover from being someone else. Look, knowing that Bale is playing Cheney doesn't help you to see him in his performance of Cheney. For all intents and purposes, Bale was Cheney. It was pretty amazing and, at this point from what I've seen, he deserves the Best Actor Oscar. As much as I'd rather see Bradley Cooper get it.

Then there's Adam McKay, the writer/director. Also the writer/director of The Big Short, which also starred Bale and Steve Carell. McKay's origins doing goofy comedies with Will Ferrell is evident in these more serious movies, but I think it makes them more accessible. Or maybe it doesn't. I don't know. What I do know is that I loved The Big Short. I don't think Vice is quite as good or enjoyable, but I think it's vastly more important.

So, yeah, I don't think Vice is quite Best Picture material -- though it deserves the nomination -- but it may be the most important film of last year. If you want to know how and why we got to where we are today, especially the part where Trump (#fakepresident) got elected, you can see an awful lot of that road in this movie. Now, if McKay will do a movie on Newt Gingrich, you'd be able to see the other part of that road.

Of course, that brings up the question of whether the movie is credible or not and all of the accusations that the movie has a liberal bias. I'm actually not going to get into that. For one reason, McKay closes the movie by... well, not dealing with that question exactly but, certainly, bringing it up. For another, it doesn't matter. Which is the sad thing and part of what the movie is about. The facts don't matter. Just saying the word "facts" at this point is confirming that you have a liberal bias. Like facts are some construct of liberalism while conservatives live in the real world of "truth," or whatever it is that they think of it as, where science is evil (of the Devil) and the destroyer of all that really matters. At any rate, we don't have the whole picture because so much of what Cheney did was in secret. You want to talk about emails...

Oh, no, you really don't, because the email thing was just an excuse.

One way or the other, though, if you want a peek, a tiny brief peek, behind the curtain of subterfuge, you should see this movie, whichever side of the divide you're on.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The State of the... Something

It probably seems as if I've been quiet on the political front lately, but that would just be the blog. Here. It's not that I've wanted to be, I just haven't had time, lately, to construct political posts. They take a lot of work and research and, when everything changes as quickly as it has been, well before I could finish with whatever it was I was writing, it would no longer be exactly relevant.

But this is relevant and, barring Trump's (#fakepresident) resignation or assassination, isn't likely to change soon: We have an Abuser in the White House. A liar. A gaslighter. A destroyer. An anti-Christ (because he certainly is an anti-Christ no matter what you believe about the actual existence or relevance of "Christ" or whether there is or will ever be the Anti-Christ). Someone incapable of any good deed except by accident.

But let's get back to this abuser thing, which is something I've mentioned before, somewhere, but I'm not going to go back and look for it now. However, this current situation with the shutdown of the government over this fucking-wall-shit (which I'm just assuming is still going on, today, on the 29th, as I write this, last week, on the 23rd) is a perfect example of what an abuser in a relationship looks like. And, well, no matter whether you want to be or not, we are all in a relationship with this total piece of shit in the White House.

So, see, jump now to the 28th -- because I wasn't able to finish this piece on the 23rd as I'd intended -- and the shutdown is on hiatus because Trump (#fakepresident) wants to give his fucking speech so fucking bad that he turned the government back on so that he can give it. But not till February 5! LOL Because Nancy (whom he calls... wait for it... Nancy) has his number, and is treating him like the toddler he is.

And it's about fucking time, too, that someone stood up to that asshole. Because that's how you deal with a terrorist -- and he is a terrorist -- you don't negotiate. The same as with toddlers. You don't negotiate. And do you know why? Because they are fucking stupid little whiny kids, and you can't negotiate with stupid. You can only set the boundaries and hold firm to them. Any good parent will know what I'm talking about. Sure, the first time or two or three, there will be tantrums but, once the presidential-brat figures out that that wall is real, he'll quit throwing tantrums and just stay on his side. You just wait; if Nancy keeps dealing with diaper-boy this way, he'll start doing whatever she says pretty soon, because he'll know there's no point in pouting or pitching a fit.

But, anyway, back to this abuser stuff...

This whole thing where he shuts down the government over the wall was never over the wall; if he was concerned with the wall, he would have done this sooner. It was all about punishing the Democrats for taking over the House. He wanted to hurt someone over the devastating losses he suffered in November, so he took it out on the only people he could: government employees. And, of course, despite the fact that he said he would take all the responsibility for shutting down the government, as soon as he did it, he tried to gaslight everyone by trying to pin it on the Democrats. Classic Abuser behavior.

It reminds me of when I was a kid and my dad would ask me a question, I would answer, and he would yell at me, "Don't you talk back to me!" then smack me in the face and tell me how it was my fault for "talking back" when all I was doing was answering the question put to me.

So here we are, on a three-week hiatus of the government shutdown before we return to the new normal of the government being shutdown because the Toddler-in-Chief has Putin's arm up his ass and some Russian agent is wearing an ill-fitting McConnell skin-suit.

What's the State of the Union?
Not good, Sir. Not good.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Cheese Board Collective (a food review)

This all began several years ago. There was this list of the top 100 pizza restaurants in the country, and I decided to check it out, in no small part because my middle child would subsist off of pizza alone if we would let him. Which I get, I was the same way when I was his age. As it turned out, many of the top pizza places are right here in California -- no surprise, actually -- and three of them are (or were at the time) right here in the Bay Area. I added a couple of them to the list my wife and I keep of things we want to do or try. Yes, we do actually keep a list for that because we, or at least I, would forget them if we didn't keep a list.

Some of the things on the list, especially the restaurants (because we don't go out to eat all the often), we will never get to, and we probably wouldn't have gotten to The Cheese Board except that my wife had an overnight event (that we may discuss later but not right now) down in Oakland a few years ago and we had to eat out a few times. We decided to drive through Berkeley on our way home and have dinner at The Cheese Board because it was the place off our list that my wife most wanted to try.

There are a few unique things about The Cheese Board:
1. It's a collective, meaning that it's owned by the employees. On top of that, all of the employees, no matter what they do, make the same wage. It's all pretty cool.
2. It's not just a pizza place. Actually, it's a cheese shop, or that's what it started out as. Or something. The pizza came later.
3. The pizza only comes in one size. You can buy a whole pizza or a half pizza. Or, hey, even two whole pizzas!
4. They only make one kind of pizza per day, so, if you want a pizza, you get what they made not what you choose.
5. All the pizzas are vegetarian. Not in the traditional sense of pizzas; these pizzas are... creative. Both in the veggies used and the kinds of cheeses.
Remember that line in Inside Out? You know, it went something like, "Thanks, San Francisco! You ruined pizza!" Well, The Cheese Board would be a perfect example of what Mr. Anger was talking about... except that it's SO GOOD.

I don't remember what was on that first pizza we had, but I'll admit to being a bit wary of it. I like some veggies on my pizza, but I've always been more of a meat pizza person. Though, actually, now that we make pizza at home, I've come to realize that, when done correctly, the veggies add much more flavor than the meat. It's just that you're never going to get more than token flavor from veggies, or even the meat, from any chain pizza place. They don't do the right prepping to bring the flavor out of things. Red bell pepper, when properly grilled, is a flavor explosion on your pizza.
But I digress...

So, yeah, I don't remember what went on that first pizza, but it was nothing less than amazing. What I remember most about it was the incredible cheese. And, again, I'm not really a fan of "cheese pizza," because what's the point? Except, again, I've come to realize that my feeling about that has more to do with the failure of chain joints to provide anything more than melted cardboard on their cardboard crusts. The pizza we got at The Cheese Board was enough to rocket that place to my pick for pizza place ever.

And I'm not alone in that. There was recently an article (and, yes, I should have saved the link, but I didn't, and I'm not going to go look for it) about how The Cheese Board is one of the top three restaurants -- not pizza places, restaurants -- in the nation. It's certainly one of our favorite places to go... when we're anywhere near it. Last week, when returning from Monterey, we made a very deliberate detour through Berkeley just to stop for pizza.

Look, even my younger son loves it, and he doesn't eat vegetables unless we make him.

That first visit aside, since then we've had pizza with corn on it... Yes, I said corn! And, yeah, I was like, "What...?" when I saw that on the menu for their pizza that day, but it was... Unbelievable. I mean, it was corn! On pizza! But it added this bit of flavor that really worked.
And, yes, we've had pizza with broccoli.
This last time we stopped, it was bell pepper and olives.
I think that's it, just the four visits over about three years
I'd go more if I could, but my wife is convinced, no matter how good it is, that a two-three hour round trip is too far to go for pizza.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bumblebee (a movie review post)

I haven't made it a secret on here that I have a Transformers bias but, then, I also haven't made it a secret that I thought at least the last two Transformer movies were trash. Though I can't seem to find those reviews now (I'm sure I did them?) through a keyword search, and I don't have time to dig back through my posts individually to find them. Let's just say that the cancellation of the two planned sequels to The Last Knight was well deserved. I'm still kind of boggled that Bumblebee survived the crushing failure of Last Knight.

But it did survive, and I'm so glad it did because it is easily the best movie of the franchise, and I really liked the first Transformers movie a lot, though I have to say that the opening sequence in Bumblebee, the last defense of Cybertron and its fall, is by far the best scene in any of the movies. By far. They managed to perfectly capture the feel of the generation one Transformers in basically every way. And my son nearly exploded in geeky happiness when Soundwave popped up onscreen. The opening scene is worth the movie, and that's saying a lot because the movie is good. I'm very glad I made it to the theater to see it rather than having to watch the DVD release. It's worth the big screen.

All of that said, the movie does have some issues, small ones, but some of them are worth noting. Primarily, the family dynamic in Bumblebee is very similar to the one with Sam in the first Transformers movie, the only deference here is that the dad is a stepdad and Charlie is having issues because the rest of her family seems to have moved on since the death of her father. So, yeah, the protagonist has orphan syndrome, which I could have done without. And, honestly, I'm ready for Hailee Steinfeld to move on to some role other than out-of-sorts orphan. She plays it well, but it seems to be the only role she gets cast in.

Not that I was bothered by the orphan thing during the movie. I didn't think about that until after. Which means the movie did its job and let me suspend my disbelief. I'm sure in no small part due to Steinfeld's expertise in that role.

John Cena was a lot of fun, too, even as the misguided villain. Jorge Lendeborg was also great and played the lovestruck companion pretty well. And, now that I'm thinking of all of this, I'm kind of bummed that this was a one-shot movie (at least at the moment) because I would like to see a lot of these characters again. Even Jason Drucker as Otis, Charlie's younger brother. He was appropriately annoying and oh so 80s with his fixation on martial arts.

But I digress... I was talking about issues with the movie.
I think the biggest one is the plot hole it opened in the series. In one of the previous movies -- Last Knight, I think -- there is a photo of Bumblebee during World War II (or maybe WWI?), but this movie heavily implies that Bumblebee has never been to Earth prior to this trip. It's not explicit, though, so maybe it's not a plot hole at all. Still, it's been bothering me.

Yep, okay, that's about it. Well, other than the movie being pretty standard in terms of plot. But they pulled it off with style, and I'm okay with it. It was a lot of fun, and I'm ready to see it again.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Favourite (a movie review post)

To say that The Favourite is an odd movie, especially one coming out of Hollywood, and especially one that has Oscar hopes, would be an understatement. It is, in fact, a very odd movie. And extremely brilliant. And, amazingly, historically accurate, at least in the broad strokes. It's historical fiction, so the details have been filled in, but there are amazing bits in the movie that we were surprised to find were actual things that happened. Because, after watching the movie, I think you'd be surprised to find that any of it happened. My initial reaction -- because I didn't know anymore about the history other than that there was a Queen Anne and, vaguely, how she became queen -- was that this was more historical fantasy than historical fiction, so I'm just going to say it again: It is surprisingly historical.

The acting from the three primaries is amazing. I'm not overly familiar with Olivia Colman, but she was great. And she's going to be playing Queen Elizabeth in the new season of The Crown so, now, I'm really looking forward to that. Anne suffered a great many ailments, and Colman made them very believable, including what may have been a stroke at some point during the movie. They never make a thing of it but after a certain point in the film, one side of Anne's face becomes droopy, and I'm so curious as to how they pull that off. Even if it's just a shot of something, the actor still has to perform that way, so it's impressive.

Rachel Weisz was great but, then, she really is always great. She knows how to command a room, and she was the center of virtually every scene she was in. But, then, she is the protagonist. And she knows how to deliver a line. There's one point in particular where she says to Emma Stone's character something along the lines of, "I don't think we're playing the same game." It's brilliant. It's brilliant because Weisz controls that scene even though she could easily have handed that control over to Stone without ever meaning to.

Speaking of Emma Stone, and I like Emma Stone; I think she's great. But, in this, she's surprisingly great. It's one of those moments where you see an actor rise above the level of anything she's done previously, and Stone certainly does that in this movie.

So, yeah, great movie. I actually want to see it again, I think, which is a bit odd for me because, on  the surface, it's not the kind of movie I'm usually interested in. Period pieces and stuff about royalty are not, as they say, my jam. But this movie is intricate and puzzling, and I think there are things I will see on a re-watch that I didn't see the first time through.

Now, having said that, I'm not guaranteeing that you'll like it. It's not your standard fare, and I know a lot of people are put off by things that are even a little bit different, and this one is a lot different. But, you know, if different is your thing, your jam, you should check this out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Roma (a movie review post)

I'm not even sure where to begin talking about this movie. It's one of those movies that seems meaningful, yet it is unclear what that meaning is. It is tragic and, yet, ends full of hope. It's black and white, so it must be important.
Okay, so that last bit is kind of a joke and, yet, not quite. I'm not sure this movie would have worked in color.

What I can say for sure is that Alfonso Cuaron is a writer that I like. At least, he is based on the movies I've seen by him. I loved Gravity (and there is a great in-joke in Roma about Gravity). The Best Director Oscar was very deserved (and I still feel like Sandra Bullock got robbed of Best Actress for that movie (and, no, I didn't see Blue Jasmine, so I don't know if Blanchett deserved the award or not)). Children of Men was also really good. Cuaron writes complex stories that don't always have clear meanings, and I can support that. A story should be engaging and leave the audience thinking. My wife and I have continued to bring Roma up in the weeks since we watched it.

There are really three levels to the movie... Well, there are three levels to the movie that I'm seeing. Maybe there are more, and I'm just missing them.

There's the level of the movie that deals with Cleo and what it's like to be a house servant, one of the lowest people in society. The movie opens with her cleaning up dog shit, which is, of course, a metaphor for her place in society.

Then, there is the family she works for and the lives they live. He's a rich doctor and his wife used to be a biochemist but, of course, she no longer needs to work so doesn't. The contrast between Cleo and the family is, frankly, astounding. The family lives in a huge house which Cleo is constantly cleaning, especially picking up after the children, while Cleo lives in a small room which she shares with the other servant.

All of this against the backdrop of society in general. The movie is set against the drama of a student protest movement that was going on in the early 70s and lead to... well, that would be telling.

On the surface, it seems like a "boring" movie, but it's actually quite fascinating.

Yalitza Aparicio, in her debut, is quite good as Cleo. And Marina de Tavira, as the woman of the household, is good opposite her. The weight of the film rests on the two of them, and they carry it admirably.

It's a good movie. I say that with the full knowledge that the fact that it's in black and white will put many people off of it right from the start, compounded with the fact that it's a personal drama and fairly slow moving most of the time. But for those of you who can sit through it, it's well worth the watch.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Burger Review (a food review post)

As I mentioned last weekend, my daughter has a thing for hamburgers. For her next older brother up, it's pizza but, for her, it's hamburgers. And let me just say, it's a lot easier to find decent burgers in the wild than it is to find decent pizza. Not that there's a lot of decent burgers, but there is much more upward variation. And because it's my daughter who plays softball, we've tried a lot of burger joints, most of which are unrememberable. Just to clarify, we basically never stop at chain joints for burgers. The last chain joint we went to was Burger King (for reasons I can't remember), and that was... that was... hmm... more than three years ago. Maybe more than four years ago. It reminded me why we don't go to there.

Having said that, let me further clarify by saying that I don't consider Five Guys a chain joint. Probably, it is, but in my head it's not. Still, it's been almost a year since we went to Five Guys, and that was because my wife was out of town and the kids wanted to go there. Anyway...

So Five Guys...
We like Five Guys. I mean, if you want a burger on the cheaper side that is still pretty good, Five Guys is the place to go. One thing about burgers is that no good burger is not messy, and Five Guys has nailed the messy part of burger making. You'll have "sandwich hands" for days after eating at Five Guys. Plus, their fries are good. Really good, actually, in comparison to other burger places. Unfortunately, you're getting fries or you're getting their other kind of fries and, for an onion ring guy, that's a downside no matter how good the fries actually are.

Don't believe the hype. Okay, well, actually, if your experience with burgers doesn't extend beyond the big three (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's), you can probably believe the hype. From that standpoint, I can understand why non-Californians get so worked up over In-and-Out (even John Scalzi!). When I first moved here 20 years ago -- 20 years ago! -- and my experience with burgers mostly didn't extend past the burger chains, I thought In-and-Out was great. I was blown away by it the first time I had it, in fact. But that was 20 years ago, and they haven't changed any. They have the worst fries of any burger place I've ever been, and their menu, also, is pretty limited. So, sure, they're probably better (maybe) than BK or McDonald's, but they don't stand up to Five Guys. Oh, and I'd probably go to In-and-Out over ever going to Habit again, so there's that, too, I guess.

Barney's is probably the best burger I've had that was made outside of my own kitchen (other than that one I had in D.C. when I was 15, but I have no way to legitimately grade that against any other burger ever, because that one has achieved Legendary status in my brain (I have a post where I talk about that somewhere, but I'm not going to pull the link up right now (too busy)))). Barney's is a place we stopped on the way back from a softball tournament many years ago, and my daughter immediately fell in love with them. According to her, they are the pinnacle of burger making. I suppose mine come close, or maybe she's just being nice. Who knows? Unfortunately, we don't have one close enough to us to make it a place we can just decide to go to on short notice. Going to Barney's is an event or, actually, gets rolled into some other event.

As far as burger places go, burger places we can just decide to go to if we decide we want burgers (because making burgers at home is a multi-day process, so we have to plan to make burgers at home ahead of time, days ahead of time), Superburger is the best place around. Period. I actually think their burgers are comparable to Barney's, but you'll never get my daughter to agree with that. However, they don't have good fries. They do have onion rings which are pretty tolerable, and they also make yam fries. They don't have anything close to the menu offerings that Barney's has, though, so Barney's has the edge, overall, as a place to go eat. Superburger does make some awesome shakes and, if shakes were a thing I partook of, that would definitely be my choice of places to go. Look, these shakes are better than any shake I've ever had from any ice cream place, which is kind of like if the best burger you could get came from KFC or Taco Bell.

Superburger does have one pretty huge drawback at this point: the cost. [And I'm looking at their menu online, right now, and I'm pretty sure those prices are not accurate to the last time we went there.] When we first started going there, I would say their prices were pretty reasonable, but, now, taking the whole family to Superburger is much more expensive than a family night out at the movies. In other words, I think we went to Superburger, like, twice in all of 2018. Not that we get food out all that often, anyway, but Superburger is not a part of the normal conversation of places to go if we are going to get food out. It just costs too much. It's become a "special occasion" place, which is unfortunate.

There are some other burger places in the area that we've tried that aren't worth mentioning, so I'll go ahead and mention them as places to never ever go, the first of which I'm seeing has actually gone out of business:
Bibi's Burger Bar: Very expensive but with fast food level food. I'm not surprised they had to close their doors.
Phyllis' Giant Burgers: Frozen burger patties at their finest. Seriously, these are the kind of burgers you can make at home by buying frozen patties at the grocery store and picking up some tasteless white bread buns.
Ozzie's Grill: The only reason they stay open is that they are supported by the middle school and high school that they're halfway in between. Comparable to Phyllis' above.

It's possible that there are some restaurants that have better burgers than Superburger and Barney's, but I haven't had them and, when you think of getting a burger, you think of going to a burger place. Of course, when you think of getting a shake, you'd probably think of going to an ice cream shop, but I think of a burger joint.

So there's your burger rundown to go along with last week's review of Habit Burger.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Complete Collection of H. P. Lovecraft (a book review post)

Okay... I'm finally finished with this collection...
That doesn't mean I read everything in it; it means I'm finished with it. And finished with Lovecraft.
But I'll get to that somewhere towards the end of this.

The book is divided into sections covering different types of Lovecraft's writings. Of course, what I was interested in was his "mainstream" fiction, not that anything Lovecraft wrote could have been considered mainstream, though it would come much closer to that today. Many of these I reviewed individually as I read through the collection, but some were too terrible to bother with, which is saying a lot because I reviewed some pretty horrible stories. However, I felt like if all I had to say about it was, "This story was shit," that I could probably skip saying anything about it. There were a few reviews toward the end that I just didn't get to, though, mostly because I didn't feel like it. Like The Shadow Out of Time, which was essentially the same story as At the Mountains of Madness but set in Australia rather than Antarctica. [The review would be helpful in explaining why they're the same story (because they don't seem so on the surface), but I'm super tired of Lovecraft and am not going to do it.]

My final evaluation of Lovecraft's fiction, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it's not worth bothering with. Out of the 60+ stories he wrote, he has maybe, maybe, half a dozen worth looking at, and none of them were amazing. Or even great. They just weren't bad. He only had three or four different stories, and, basically, everything he wrote is some variation of one of those. The only story that really stands out amongst his work is "The Unnamable," a semi-autobiographical short story in which he defends his lack of descriptions of the monsters in his stories.

Speaking of which, Lovecraft is a lazy writer, rarely offering any kind of real descriptions for the monsters he imagined. He falls back on things like "unimaginable" and "too horrific for words." Doing that once or twice may have been okay, but it's every fucking story. Not to mention the fact that his descriptions of places and buildings are nearly always the same. If I never see the word "Cyclopean" again (other than in Magic), it will be too soon. Of course, then I look at his race of cone beings from The Shadow Out of Time (possibly the most ridiculous fictional creature ever imagined) and think it's probably better that he didn't try to give his jello monsters form; it would have turned every one of his stories into comedies.

Probably the most disappointing aspect to reading Lovecraft is that his writing never improved. In fact, I would say that the work he did early in his "career" was significantly better than what he did toward the end of his 20-year body of work. I suppose that's what happens when you only have a few stories that you keep recycling.

The collection also contains some his juvenile fiction, meaning things he wrote while he was a juvenile, not things he wrote for juveniles. I tried a few of these and... well... I tried them so that you don't have to. Being someone who has taught creative writing to middle schoolers, there's not one of these I wouldn't have handed back to a young Lovecraft and told him it needed more work.

I tried to read some of his essays, but they were worse then his fiction: long winded, blathering, pieces of trite.
And let's not even talk about the poetry.

Then there's the unexpectedly large body of works that he coauthored. I flipped through some of these and decided I didn't feel up to trying any of them out. These are the pieces I may come back to at some point, just to see how they compare to his own stories. The one I'm most intrigued by is the one that is supposedly coauthored by Houdini. I say supposedly because I find the idea that he co-wrote with Houdini to be somewhat unbelievable and will need to do some research to verify this. Some other time. I just don't feel like I can do any kind of further reading of anything to do with Lovecraft at the moment.

All of which still begs the question: How did such a no-talent, no-account writer have such a huge impact on current popular culture? Intellectually, I understand the string of events that made this possible, but... wow, I just don't get it. Nor do I get his current fan base. Maybe none of them have actually read his larger body of work? I don't know. It's weird... Weirder than fiction.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Bad Habit (a food review)

Doing food reviews is not a thing I've spent a lot of time doing, for no other reason than that I haven't spent a lot of time doing it. Any time I've had an urge to review a restaurant, I've always fallen back on "That's not a thing I do." I guess that's changing.

Mostly, I've had the urge to do reviews on places that I've enjoyed. Actually, that's completely true... until today, but I'll work my way back through the restaurants I think are really worthy of being visited.

However, today, I'm going to warn you away from a place, and I'm starting here because this is a chain place, whereas most of the places I'll be talking about are local spots. Which may not be the most helpful for most of you out there, but we don't (1) eat out all that much and (2), when we do, we don't visit many chain establishments.

But we went to Habit Burger, which is supposed to be a big deal; I was sorely disappointed.

See, my daughter is a bit of a burger fan, a thing that is somewhat related to softball and going to tournaments and getting her burgers on the road. It's only natural that she wanted to try Habit Burger when it moved into our area. As it happened, New Year's Day turned out to be a great time to do that because we'd been off doing other things, and I wasn't going to be able to cook dinner in any kind of reasonable time frame. Since we'd just been talking about Habit, like, the day before, I decided it would be a good time to give them a try.

Obvious disappointment #1:
They messed up the order. Despite the fact that the guy taking the order read the order back to me correctly and despite the fact that the girl who gave me our order when it was ready read off the order correctly, when we got home with the food, the order was not correct.

Less obvious disappointment #1:
Nothing was labeled, so I had to open every fucking burger wrapper to figure out who was supposed to get what, which is how I discovered the above disappointment because pickles had been left off of all  of the burgers rather than off of just one of them.

Obvious disappointment #2:
The food was soggy. All of it. We don't live very far from where Habit Burger is located and ate as soon as we got home and, yet, all of the food was soggy when I took it out of the bag. If this is going to be a problem with your food, you should warn customers, like the "microwave not recommended" warnings on some frozen foods. Soggy burgers are just not pleasant. Neither are soggy onion rings.

Less obvious disappointment #2:
The onion rings and tempura green beans weren't quite cooked all the way. Both had a doughy flavor which is common when the dough doesn't cook through. Not that the onion rings would have been that much better if they had been all the way cooked, because the batter was ill-spiced.

Less obvious disappointment #3:
The buns were common white bread buns that you can pick up in any grocery store. Don't offer me something that I can just as easily buy at Safeway. Including the American cheese that passed for cheese on the burgers. If I want to add American cheese to my burger, I'll buy a pack at the grocery store and do it myself, because why the fuck do I want to pay $0.60 for a single slice of fucking American cheese? So tell me upfront that your cheese option is only American.

Less obvious disappointment #4:
My kids got shakes because, you know, shakes, and the shakes didn't even meet approval. The shakes got shrugs of okayness. How hard is it to make a decent shake? Too difficult for Habit Burger, I guess. It made me want to drive them over to McDonald's and have them compare for me. Not that would have been any real help since I didn't try the shakes and I haven't had a McDonald's shake in... um... I don't think my fingers go that high.

At this point, the only thing I can say that Habit Burger has going for it is their pricing which, I think, isn't bad? I don't really know since fast food establishments are not places I frequently visit. All I know is that they were cheaper than Five Guys (but I'll get to them some other time).

On the one hand, some of these issues were specific to the particular Habit Burger we went to (like the order being incorrect); however, assuming all of those issues had been fixed, it still wasn't a very good burger, so I'm not sure what all of the hype is about. They didn't rise to the level of McDonald's or Burger King and, let's face it, those are pretty low bars.

Needless to say, we won't be returning to Habit Burger. As I said on FaceBook, they don't even rise to the level of emergency food.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Mary Poppins Returns (a movie review post)

Where even to begin with this one? I mean, Mary Poppins Returns should have been... Man, I hate going to sports analogies, but it should have been a grand slam. At least a home run. It's the kind of movie that parents should have been swarming to with their kids, not so much because their kids wanted to see it but because they wanted to see it. Mary Poppins is one of the most beloved of Disney characters and has been for decades. But, yet, it's been drowned out by Aquaman. Aquaman!

Which is not unjustified, as it turns out. Not that I've seen Aquaman (and probably won't bother to, either, or at least not in the theater), but Poppins never managed to rise above mediocre. And mediocre is very difficult at more than two hours.

So let's deal with the most glaring problem first: the music. In a word, boring. In two? Unmemorable. And to add insult to that: They had Lin-Manuel Miranda right there! He's in the freaking movie, man; use him for what he's really great at: writing music, not singing it. Which is not to say that he's not a fine singer, he is, but it's not his gift. When you have one of the greatest living song writers on hand, why would you settle for lackluster crap? It's a musical, for crying out loud, the music is the most important element. Come on, Disney, you're better than this!
Now I have to go listen to the Moana soundtrack so that I can experience a bit of what Poppins should have been like.

Moving on to the story, we fare no better. Stories in musicals tend to be a bit simpler than your general movie plots because you have to spend time on musical numbers rather than telling story, and that's okay... when the music is good, because the music should be carrying the story. But, when the music isn't great, you better have a solid story to fall back on. In Poppins, not so much. The plot is simple and predictable, predictable almost to the point of unbelievability.

Unbelievable in what ways? Well, the villain is the villain because he's the villain. He just likes to win. Or he doesn't like to lose. On of the two. He seems to have no motivation other than that. Every time they hint at anything beyond that, they back off of it and leave it at, "I must take all the houses from all the people!" And Colin Firth just isn't adept enough as an actor to pull any of this off.

Michael Banks is also completely unbelievable as the asshole father, something which is constantly undermined by the script. He gets mad at his kids and yells or whatever but breaks down in tears over it moments later. He's lost his wife and is losing his house as a result of his grief, so we can't even see him as incompetent, just vaguely hapless. It really destroys the dynamic of the first Poppins where Michael's father is an asshole. It's like the writers wanted to retain that dynamic in the household but couldn't bring themselves to have Michael have grown up to become an asshole. Which, granted, would have been hard to swallow, but it would also have been a great reason for Poppins to return, "Michael! I'm ashamed of what you've become!" But, no, instead they just kind of wallow around in being wishy-washy.

It makes the movie a mess.

Then there's Emily Mortimer, and I like Emily Mortimer, but her role is a mess, too. I'm blaming it more on the directing than on her, but she's constantly spunky and upbeat through the whole movie which makes the threat of losing the house seem like a non-threat. And you know that that's true, anyway, because you know that there's no way they're going to lose the house, but the viewer needs to believe that the characters believe that the threat is real and Mortimer's character more than any other undermines that tension.

So not only is the music boring, but the movie is too.

However, the animation sequences were beautiful.

And, actually, Emily Blunt was fantastic as Mary Poppins. So good in fact that I wish there was going to be another Mary Poppins movie just to see her return to the role; however, I doubt the box office will be good enough on this for Disney to want to risk another one anytime soon. Which is a shame because, like I said, this should have been an easy win for Disney rather than the snoozefest it turned into.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse (a movie review post)

It's been a long time since I was actively collecting and reading comics -- the 90s, in fact -- so I missed out on Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen and all of that. I keep up enough with the comics world to have a vague idea of what's going on, so I knew of their existence, but I've never read any of their comics. Spider-Ham, on the other hand... Well, I'm sure I have some Spider-Ham issues around somewhere. All of that to say that I really had no special knowledge going into this movie. All you need is the basic Spider-Man origin of a teenager being bitten by a radioactive spider (and the movie will fill you in on that much) to be able to sit down and enjoy this movie.

And there's no good reason for you not to enjoy this movie. It's full of humor and warmth and action and danger and humor. It will touch your heart. Unless your heart is full of gristle and is three sizes too small.

This includes those of you out there saying, "Not another Spider-Man movie!" because this is not just another Spider-Man movie. Sure, "Spider-Man" is in this movie, but the movie is about Mile Morales, not just another Spider-Man. Which is not to say that Miles is not a Spider-Man, because he is, but this isn't just another movie about Peter Parker, though it's that, too.

The thing I find most curious about Spider-verse is the choice of the Kingpin as the main villain. He's not a character you see much around Spider-Man anymore, despite his origin in The Amazing Spider-Man #50. Well, okay, as I already said, I don't read comics much anymore, so what do I know? Well, what I know is that Kingpin made a major shift over to Daredevil in the late 80s/early 90s and has supposedly been tormenting Murdock since then. And maybe the Punisher.

None of which is to say that Kingpin is a bad choice. He works well as the villain here, for reasons I won't say because they're a bit spoilery.

In fact, the whole movie works well, so much so that I want to see it again. And so do my kids, so that was a triple win.

There are a lot of... I suppose people would call them Easter eggs, but I think they're more like "in-jokes." Whatever you call them, I did notice that there were things that I laughed at that my kids didn't because they don't have the Spider-history that I have. Also, they didn't notice that they missed anything, so it's not impactful on the movie watching experience if you don't know anything about Spider-Man.

All of which is to say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is a great film and a must-see for any Spider-Man fan. And, if you're not a Spider-Man fan, you should probably see it anyway, because it really is a very good movie. Touching and heartwarming and all of that.