Archive for December, 2011

*Suggested audio accompaniment for this post. Click here.

My year began on the roof of The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas which, if I do say so myself, if a pretty decent way to ring in the new. As I write this, it is unseasonably warm in New York City which is ironic because exactly one year ago it was unseasonably cold in the city of sin. We sat by the side of the pools, enjoying the view of the Strip below, laughing and joking with revelers and huddling together for body warmth.

Six days later I turned 24, which I still have a hard time believing. For the longest time my residual self-image was a geeky 17-year-old kid with acne and while I have admitted to some aging, I still see myself as a 21-year-old in peak physical condition. *Sigh*

I hate birthdays, always have, but love that mine always happened to fall within Christmas Vacation because it allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to do during the day with as minimal human contact as possible. I decided that for 2011 I wanted to go snowboarding, eat Brazilian food and then watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I would post a picture here of me on a snowboard but despite my incessant nagging, Tyler Barlow (who purports to be technologically inclined) has YET to upload them. Fail.

2011, I expect, will be notable in my memory for two reasons: my quarter-life crisis and, similarly, my graduating year at Utah State University. It was the year that saw my transition from rabble-rousing student journalist at The Utah Statesman to starving journalist desperate for work in the daily grind. I went from the editor in chief of a publication, responsible for keeping a steady hand on objectivity while still shining a light on the conversations that the community at large had — and would try to — silence to an intern, scrambling to make any noticeable impression I could between shifts of sorting mail (*note, I never had to sort any mail at The Des, I was extremely well-treated there).

I think I’ll remember 2011 for the stories I wrote, as well. It was the year that I went to Sundance, declared war against the sense of social entitlement at USU, covered the sentencing of Brian David Mitchell, got a statement from the family of a murdered Salt Lake woman and interviewed Bruce Campbell. I stood in crime scenes and red carpets, press conferences and press screenings. I also saw Wood’s Stock hit 1,000 monthly readers, which makes me very proud.

In other student news, I returned to Vegas for to see The Aggies win the WAC championship and lost quite a bit of money on the roulette table (I would say the amount but my mom reads this blog and she hasn’t heard that story yet). No regrets, though. I relayed for life and helped raise thousands of dollars for Cancer research and finally scratched “crowd surf” off of my bucket list at the Hare Krishna festival of light.

Then I graduated, alongside some of my closest friends.

As far as personal growth, I kept my m.o. of falling out of contact with nearly everyone in my life during transitions periods. Admittedly Facebook makes keeping up the appearance of friendship easier, so thanks for that one Zuckie. So, to all of you out there who haven’t heard from me in a while, I’m sorry and just remember that even though I hate phone calls I’m still thinking about you, value our time together and hope you’re doing well.

Also, I’m either maturing — or becoming more introverted, funny how similar that can be sometimes — because most nights after I get home from work I just want to take it easy, read a book, watch some tv and fall asleep before midnight. I’ve managed to compartmentalize my need for diversion to the weekends which is, I think, a healthy thing to do. As a sidenote, I’m halfway through the book I’m writing that I planned on finishing during the summer, then during November, then by January and now by March. Progress, nonetheless.

I lived in 3 different cities this year. Three apartments for a combined total of 8 different roommates. In Logan it was Tony that didn’t wash his dishes, in Salt Lake it was everyone but me, Al and Will and in Queens it’s Jared who, by the way, blew his nose 30 times this morning. Yes, I counted and yes, it was an even 30. I’ve needed a reading lamp since May but I don’t want to buy anything until I’ve “settled.” Right now I don’t care where I live, I just want a reading lamp, a gym membership and some potted plants.

I hate to skim over the last half of the year but it’s too fresh. I’ve seen Broadway shows (best, How To Succeed, worst, Spiderman by a long shot) and concerts, (special shout out to Carbon Leaf, The Decemberists and Ted Leo) gone to world-famous museums (The Met, no contest) and landmarks. I’m working at my “dream” job where I watch endless amounts of movies and tv and interview celebrities but at the cost of my other dream of having enough living space to do pushups in the morning and a front lawn large enough to hose the mud off of my mountain bike (two more items missing from my life, the bike itself and the activity for which it attracts the mud), oh yeah and I really miss driving. And in theory, I’m supposed to meet someone and get married at some point and since my name isn’t Woodstein I’m not sure I’m in the right place. New York has been great, and it will be a fantastic memory looking back after I’ve moved on to whatever comes next.

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And then there were 10. After a painstaking process of whittling, ranking, and more whittling I have finally arrived at what were my favorite movies of 2011. So, without further ado…

1. The Artist

It’s easy to forget just how loud, noxious and busy our world has become. Then something like The Artist comes by and reminds us, with it’s resounding simplicity, how charming and delightful simplicity can be.

Told in a spartan black and white with all the luxuries of the silent film era — dialogue cards, orchestral backgrounds and all — The Artist follows an old-time Hollywood star facing the extinction of his career at the dawn of ‘Talkies’. In lesser hands, the gimmick may have run out, leaving the plot to sputter on fumes but under the loving, sincere direction of Michel Hazanavicius and with the efforts of his superb cast — including veteran character actors John Goodman and James Cromwell as well as the best ‘movie dog’ to ever grace the screen — the story sparkles from end to end filled with beauty, wonder and absolute delight and reminds you what you love about the movies. Most Americans won’t have the opportunity to see this film in theaters, which is a shame, because it is one of the most magical trips to the cinema you’ll ever have.

2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Much like my #1, Tinker Tailor is a tribute to a long-lost form a storytelling. Before Jason Bourne was jumping through windows and James Bond was cracking skulls, international espionage meant men in dark suits, sitting in rooms, speaking in hushed coded language and observing. It’s not flashy but when done right, it’s actually more tense, especially as you find yourself realizing ”This is really how it is, this is going on right now.”

The film, a remake of a revered caper, stars Gary Oldman at his absolute best, trying to unearth a mole in the upper-levels of British Intelligence (a.k.a. “The Circus”). He is enlisted to do his work on the outside of the organization, after he is forced into retirement by meddling colleagues that bring down his former boss (known simply as “Control”).

TTSP will put your powers of observation to the test as almost nothing is explained and what IS explained is done so in veiled spy-speak jargon. The major players are given pseudonyms (hence, the title) and slowly but surely the smoke begins to clear as Oldman meticulously circles his prey. Meanwhile we are treated to one of the best Cold War period pieces ever made and a case study in under-acting by the phenomenal cast. It trades moments of edge-of-your-seat slow burn tension with levity that hits you like a breath of fresh air. The setup is elaborate and the execution is utterly flawless and completely lo-fi. Even without all the glitz and glam, bells and whistles, this movie is, in a word, perfect.

3. The Ides of March

When you hear the word political thriller, what comes to mind? Is it Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, with its assassinations, conspiracies and threat of nuclear war? Is it The Pelican brief with its car bombs and Stanley Tucci with a pillow in his shirt? Those things happen, of course, but more often than not the thrill of politics means manipulation of the press, backdoor promises and the brushing under the rug of a hot new candidates dirty laundry.

Ides of March is a film that revels in the grit and grime of modern politics. George Clooney plays the hot shot candidate for president riding into the election cycle on his white horse and promises of hope and change and Ryan Gosling is the golden boy assistant, helping behind the scenes and poised to inherit a cushy administration job when his man takes the big chair. Gosling believes in his man, but as the election draws near the stakes rise and the water gets murky and bit by bit Gosling trades in his wide-eyed optimist for a bitter cynicist, willing to do whatever it takes.

Gosling is tremendous, showing the slow steady decline that few films are able to master. Phillip Seymore Hoffman and Paul Giammatti provide some welcome muscle as competing chiefs of staff and Clooney fully embodies the poised man-doll who may be a little too good to be true. Each performance is pitch-perfect and the overall portrait is one of American Politics that we hope isn’t — but know to be — completely accurate.

4. Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is a master filmmaker. In his long, celebrated career he has had his hits and misses, but there is no doubt that when he is on, the result is something that begs to be seen. In his latest, Allen enlists Owen Wilson as his stand-in and sends him on a romantic love-letter to nostalgia. While visiting Paris with his fiance’s family, Wilson finds that his midnight strolls through the city carry him to the roaring 20s where he can rub elbows with Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald.

The frosting is the series of bit performances that pepper the film, with stars like Adrian Brody, Kathy Bates and the sensational Marion Cotiliard stopping by to fill a few minutes with their interpretations of the great figures of world artistic history. The cake, however, is a story seeping with charm as Woody says “It’s ok to romanticize the past, just don’t get carried away.” It’s light fare, in the best possible way, and serves as the perfect medicine for those days when you wish you could just disappear and lose yourself to a night of music and cobblestone streets.

5. Drive

A movie about a nameless getaway driver in a bad jam with the mob has no right to be this good. What could have been a simple Jason Statham knockoff is instead a pulpy retro-noir thriller about a mysterious man who finds his humanity as he first loves and then fights for the girl next door. Gosling, clad in a white satin jacket, chewing a toothpick and barely speaking a word gives a riveting performance. He boils over with seething, unpredictable power as a man who cannot be broken from his focused task. The world of Drive is a world where bad mean are bad and living outside of the law is the only life you’ve got and it’s a world that I would love to spend more time in.

6. Moneyball

Sports movies are the masculine equivalent of chick flicks. By and large they involve a team of misfits who triumphantly come together, put aside their differences and emerge victorious. The few that break from the pattern are the ones that stand out and Moneyball is possibly the best of them all.

What we get is a completely un-romantic view of Baseball where players aren’t people, they are a combination of confusing statistics that are, hopefully, maximized for maximum profitability. That is Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) motivation. He is in business to make money, or more specifically to win games, and his team is having trouble doing it but with the help of a sidekick analyst (Jonah Hill in his best performance) he changes the way he looks at the game and utilizes his players like the faceless pawns they truly are.

The beauty here is the interplay between Pitt and Hill. Pitt shows us why he continues to be one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and Jonah throws his hat into the ring as a man capable of serious and mature fare. The result, is one of the freshest takes on a tired genre that I’ve ever seen.

7. Margin Call

There’s something incredibly dynamic about a true ensemble piece and Margin Call is the cream of the crop. It creates a world, populates it and brings the pieces of the puzzle together for one single night. In a way it is the feature-film equivalent of a bottle episode as the movers and shakers of the Big Bank come together to plan a path through the impending financial implosion of 2008.

Quinto shines as the mid-level sharpshooter that raises the red flag but his performance is only bolstered by Stanley Tucci, the fall guy, Demi Moore, the woman in a man’s world, Kevin Spacey, the oldtimer that just wants to make things right, Paul Bettany, the jaded cynic and a host of others. In one night, they grapple with the guilt they feel for the hurt they are about to unleash upon the world and the fear of knowing that come morning they may very well be unemployed. We, the audience, are moved to sympathize at first, only to remember that these men make more in a month than we could dream to in a year. But is it their fault? We make their lives possible by refusing to live within our own means, then demonize them when the party stops.

It’s an eye opening, heady drama. It’s the movie that Wall Street 2 SHOULD have been but failed and as our politics are still being shaped by the choices these men made it’s possibly the most relevant film to hit theaters this year.

8. Like Crazy

Like Crazy won big at this year’s Sundance Film festival, and rightly so. Few filmmakers are able to tell a story about young love with this kind of honesty. Shot with a handheld style as though the viewer were eavesdropping on a private conversation, Like Crazy tells the tale of Jacob and Anna, thrown together by chance and torn apart by circumstance. When she, a English student, overstays her visa she is blocked from the United States, initiating a long-distance relationship that ebbs and flows through good times and bad as the two struggle to reunite, or move on, whichever comes first.

Working off a mostly improvised script, director Drake Doremus’ film, released with Paramount’s backing in a easy-to-swallow PG-13 format, is the rare romance story that makes you both hope for and fear true love.

9. Contagion

Much like Margin Call, Contagion is a spectacular ensemble piece but instead of close quarters Director Steven Spielberg spreads his characters across the world in a series of loosely-connected storylines as civilization grapples with a catastrophic, global epidemic. The film boasts more Oscar nominees than a Weinstein party and Soderbergh makes good use, allowing each room to make their mark in their relatively brief screen times.

In many ways, Contagion is the scariest movie of the year. While the fictional disease is explained to be extremely unlikely, it still shows just how susceptible we are as a race and how our modern international lives, in the wrong hands, can facilitate our demise. No matter how prepared and organized our governments may be, it means little in the face of a bodiless terror that strikes indiscriminately. You’ll leave this film afraid to touch your own face and eyeballing every person on the street as a potential, unwitting, murderer. Also, best use of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head since Se7en.

10. Crazy Stupid Love

It’s getting harder and harder to tell a good story of Boy-meets-Girl. After so many decades and interpretations there’s only so many ways to skin that cat, which leaves you with two options: change the story with a gimmick (I have amnesia and can’t remember my spouse! I met the perfect guy but he thinks I’m blind and Japanese!) or tell the story truer and more sincerely than your predecessors.

Crazy Stupid dips it’s toe in the gimmick-water, but mostly avoids the typical pitfalls of Rom-Com land by serving up a constant stream of believable human characters and laughs that stem from emotion and not situations. Steve Carell is the over-contented man, woken up by his own cuckolding. Julianne Moore is the cheating wife, who blames herself despite knowing that she was unsatisfied in her marriage. Ryan Gosling is the smooth player that takes Carell under his wing (or is it the other way around?) and the gorgeous Emma Stone is the perfect girl that slays the dragon.

It begins to unravel a bit toward the end, but by that point you’re so intoxicated by the charm and invested in the characters that you don’t mind a small detour into cliche-land. When all is said and done you get your message that love is something worth fighting for, worth changing for and that we are all, at times, the heroes and the villains of our own stories.

2011 MVP: Ryan Gosling

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I recently went back and read my last year’s Top 10 picks to get myself into the mindset of my forthcoming 2011 list. The movies that I picked were all well and good but what is sad is how tragically unprepared I was. In a nut shell, the post went like this: “2010 was a crap year for movies and I had to stretch it to get to 10, oh but BTW I haven’t seen anything that came out in December, A.K.A, awards season.”

Amateur hour.

I can proudly say that I am MUCH more prepared this year, and that, combined with an altogether better crop of films in 2011, has made for a harder time narrowing the field down to 10. I recently posted my honorable mentions and I think I’ve finally settled on the final batch (now I just have to rank them, ugh) but there was one more movie that I wanted to give an honorary kudos to.

So, I would like to give you the first of what I hope will be an annual tradition here at Wood’s Stock, the 11th Best Film of the Year Award. Number 11 is more than just “what would have been number 10 if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids,” it is a loving tribute to populist, popcorn cinema; a slot specially reserved for a film that was produced for broad, mass market appeal but still managed to keep things classy, smart, and show us something new. It’s the “fun” movie that is ok to love.

Drumroll please,

The 11th Best Film of 2011 is…

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

While it is true that yes, I am a longtime fan of the franchise AND it’s star Tom Cruise (greatest American action star, ever) the fact remains that M:I is in an exclusive class of multi-installment franchises that not only uphold their quality over time but (arguably) improve. Other such club members include LOTR, Back to the Future, Bourne and Harry Potter. While there are greater and lesser Missions there has never been an outright bomb.

Think of other major American film franchises, can they say the same? Batman? Nope. James Bond? Nope. Rocky? Nope. The Godfather? Maybe. Jurassic Park? Nope. Scream? Nope. The Matrix? Nope. Pirates? No-siree. Indiana Jones? Noooooooope. Star Wars? NOPE! (*sidenote, the word “nope” has already lost all meaning to me. Isn’t that a weird word? Nope. Nope. Nope? What is that?)

And so we arrive at the fourth Mission, once again helmed by a new director per tradition (a brilliant move that has made each mission seem like a stand-alone action piece) this time Pixar alumnus Brad Bird making his live action directorial debut. Apparently the move to real life came easy to the director because Bird packs more seamlessly choreographed sequences into 2 hours than I thought possible and makes you go “did they seriously just DO that?”. The narrative skips around the globe without taking a moment to breath while our team of rag-tag agents fight against time to stop nuclear war. In the hands of a lesser man (cough: Michael Bay) the moving pieces would become blurred and confusing but Brad keeps things quick, clear, and on point.

The film has its weaknesses, namely that the villain is essentially absent and the agents themselves are so good that not only is failure not an option, it doesn’t ever seem like a possibility. I also would have liked to see more Face Masks, since that’s the defining shtick of the franchise. I was also a little irked by some of the creative decisions that the writers took in regards to M:I-3 (my personal favorite of the 4) but I’ll leave that spoiler-filled discussion for another day. Still, if it’s spectacle you want then it is spectacle you get and more. Tom Cruise’s star may have dimmed in recent years but I would hope that he wins some detractors back. He’s surrounded by hipper, younger stars but this is still his show and he makes saving the world look good, and effortless.

Ghost Protocol shows us that a franchise once speculated to be on it’s last leg is still very much alive. Here’s to more missions for year’s to come. B+

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*For optimum viewing pleasure, I recommend listening to this song while reading this post.

Long story short, I’m alone in the city for Christmas this year. Obviously, the temptation to make a slew of Home Alone 2 jokes is great, but sadly my situation is neither by accident nor am I being pursued by the Wet Bandits — actually, since I’m in New York I should say I’m not being pursued by the Sticky bandits.

I’ve had the whole week off and spent it trying to win tickets to The Book of Mormon (unsuccessfully) and seeing every movie that has come out in the last month. I didn’t ration my time, however, because I woke up this morning with nothing to do.

(did you notice the man with the cane? I didn’t at first)

So, after some much-deserved sleeping in I headed into the city for one last try at some BOM tix (fail) and then made my way first to Grand Central station for their holiday fair and then to the 9/11 Memorial to check that spot of my bucket list.

I love Grand Central. It’s an altogether modern building, with (I think) 3 Starbuckses (question, if one store is a Starbucks then what is the plural?), multiple subway lines, an Apple Store (recently constructed and not as garish as I feared it would be) and some very delicious canoli, but it also seeps nostaliga from it’s pores. It’s a relic of the yesteryear of railyards where life came together and moved apart from a single central location. Plus, it’s completely gorgeous.

This picture didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I could get the light/shutter speed right plus, since it’s winter, everyone is wearing drab clothing which makes the blur look muddy.

I really like this picture. I’ve been trying to do more focus-y pictures lately. Plus I always notice when I see payphones because I wonder if kids know what they are and the black sheep just cracked me up.

This was at the World Financial Center and, admitedly, would have been better if I’d waited until nighttime. I thought about going back after the sun set but by then my hands were freezing and all I could think about was getting home and taking a hot shower. I was going to go to a church on Park Avenue for some Christmas music but I — the Utah boy — got freezed out. Not my proudest moment.

I wasn’t going to include this picture but then I noticed that once my eyes left the One World Trade Center building on the left, it took my brain a second to figure out what I was seeing. I like when that happens.

From there it was off to the memorial. I had seen photos of the falls (built in the footprints of the two towers and holding the records for largest man-made waterfalls, at least, that’s what I heard somewhere) but I really wasn’t prepared for the sight. The fountains are gorgeous, brilliantly back-lit so at night the cascading silver water just vanishes into black nothing.

The names of the victims are inscribed around the edges of the pools. Intermittently you’ll see where someone has found their loved one and left flowers or some other such emblem behind.

If I wasn’t a journalist, I think I’d like to be an architect. I’ve always been fascinated by perspective (horizon lines, vanishing points and all that) and I love that way that a good architect can take that knowledge of naturally-occurring sight lines and turn it on its head.

A panoramic lens, a panoramic lens, my kingdom for a panoramic lens.

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*I ate lunch at Five Guys burgers today, this is a sampling of what crossed my mind and a peek at the circus that is my brain.*

  • First off, I love Five Guys. “All the Way” and “Cajun style” are basically what I hoped “Animal Style” would be. Look inside your fridge, do you have thousand island dressing and Kraft singles? If yes, then you are equipped to make a “double double” in the comfort of your own home and yours will probably taste better than In N’ Out’s anyway.
  • At anything resembling fast food, “cheese” means American, even at Five Guys. Since American is to cheese what Ketchup is to sauce, I like to skip the slop and order a basic hamburger, that way I pocket a little extra change and I feel like I’m being health-conscious.
  • The above bullet point should not be taken to mean that I do not put ketchup on my burgers. There are two, and only two, acceptable uses for Ketchup: on a burger with mayo or on a hot dog with mustard.
  • Five Guys at lunchtime isn’t the most organic place to be reading the chapter in Bossypants where Tina Fey talks about breastfeeding.
  • Speaking of breastfeeding, I’m for it but would never suggest that a woman switch off of formula. Unlike male circumcision, I’m for it and if you’re not then you’re a hippie communist.
  • There’s a moment in every Five Guys patron’s life when they learn that the “little” burgers are still enormous. Having already passed through that veil I enjoy watching the light turn on in others. Today it was a cute blonde German girl who unwrapped the foil and nearly screamed, “Woah, this is NOT “little””
  • In a similar vein, a “little” burger and “small” fries at Five Guys is still enough to feed a village of sub-Saharan Africans. I sometimes wish that the dining experience at Five Guys (hereafter referred to as 5G) was more like True Aggie Night at USU. Meaning: if you arrive alone you will be paired up with a complete stranger to share fries with.
  • Speaking of fries, I don’t often eat fries but when I do, I prefer Cajun. And every time, without fail, I forget just how spicy they are after you’ve eaten what would be 5 FDA servings (a small order). Stay hungry my friends.
  • I make a mess out of myself when I eat hand food (hand food = food not eaten with silverware). For that reason I rarely patronize 5G with members of the opposite sex and when I do, it’s only with someone with whom I’ve been married for at least 6 years. Even when alone I try to find a secluded space in the corner where I can comfortably eat my food without worrying about what my face looks like. You know that quintessential image of a baby eating spaghetti? It’s like that. (Sidenote* why is it necessary to feed a baby spaghetti? We’ve all done it, will do it and have seen it done. Why? Spoiler alert, THEY WILL MAKE A MESS!) Where was I, oh yes, my food cave. So after barricading myself in a corner I forget how spicy the fries are (as mentioned above) and have to get up at least 4 times to refill my water and I always, always, always, underestimate how much ketchup I’ll need for my fries (doesn’t count as a 3rd use). What’s more, my water and ketchup never seem to run out at the same time and (as mentioned before) I lack culinary foresight, meaning I have to walk past the cute german tourists at least 8 times covered in sauce and cayenne pepper.
  • Also, after eating Cajun fries I try not to touch anything of remote value until I’ve washed my hands at least 3 times.
  • This quote is brilliant: “One of the best-kept secrets of “country life” is that people accidentally crush their own pets a lot.” — Tina Fey.
  • Also this one: “Trying to force Country Folk to love the Big City is like telling your gay cousin, ‘You just haven’t met the right girl yet.’ They don’t like big cities. It’s okay. It’s natural. They were born that way.” — Tina Fey.
  • Any dining establishment that offers a complimentary snack item gets extra points in my book. When that snack item is peanuts, you get double points. For those of you keeping score at home, 5G is about 349 away from an extra life.
  • I love when prices are set to include all the fixins. I would so much rather pay $6.50 for a burger with everything than $6 plus 50 cents for the add-ons. I feel like going “all the way” at 5G is their way of saying “We appreciate customers who enjoy a good burger, if you’re going to be picky then we just make more money.” After working in the food industry myself, I appreciate squeezing a higher profit-margin out of the culinary challenged.
  • That reminds me of working at Great Harvest, people would say “Hi, can I get a Reuben, but with Turkey?” I would answer, “No, actually you can’t, but if you’d like I can make you a turkey sandwich on Rye.” That look of confusion was worth the wasted 15 seconds. It’s a matter of principle.
  • New York’s Diamond District is essentially one city block, 47th street between 5th and 6th avenues. It’s marked by diamond shaped street lamps at either end of the street. Despite it’s size it’s a no-man’s land and whenever I walk down it I can’t help but feel that if I was shot dead in the middle of street in broad daylight the killer would walk. I get my hair cut there, it’s fantastic.
  • Eu não sei por que, mas comendo um hamburger no 5G me faz pensar em português.
  • Going back to the subject of taking girls out to eat, I have this down to a science. For a first date you either go Chinese or Italian. If Italian, order the short pastas like rigatoni, tortelini or ravioli in lieu of the linguinis and spaghettis. These are easily forkable to avoid unwanted sauce splashing. Chinese is the same reason, everything comes in easy to fork, bite size pieces. For a second date, Indian food. Why? Because if she doesn’t like Indian than you don’t have to bother taking her out on a third date. By the third date it doesn’t really matter because if you’re not knocking on the door of relationship-land then you’re just throwing good money down the drain. “Buying dinner for someone else’s wife” as the boys in the yard liked to say. What yard? I honestly have no idea.
  • I did actually take a girl to 5G once. We bailed out early on a boring wedding reception and let me tell you, there are few things hotter than a girl eating cajun fries in a black dress. I would’ve married her, but she ditched me and left the country instead. I’m sure the boys in the yard would have a thing or two to say about that. She was an annoying-funny feminist, just like Tina Fey. My brain is kind of overloading on the connections right now.

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Best of 2011: Honorable Mentions

Today I began the painful and arduous process of whittling down my favorite films of the year into a top 10. I’m no where near done yet, but as I started striking titles from the list there were just a few which, while not making the Top 10 cut, I couldn’t bear to let go without some sort of asterisk-like mention.

So, here’s a few honorable mentions from that year that, while they weren’t perfect, were pretty darned good.

Best horror film: Insidious

I haven’t audibly screamed in a movie theater since 2002 when the hamburger face in The Ring scared the freaking pants off of me — and I loved it. Imagine, then, my surprise when Insidious made me not once, not twice, but three times the lady as I squirmed in my seat, jumping at every bump and bounce.

In today’s horror market, where ever torture-porn production is trying to upstage and out-gore the next, Insidious is too clever by half, delivering a heavy set of good-natured, well-earned chills and genuine goosebumps. The movie hits a point of diminishing returns toward the end but for two full acts, this trickster will have you completely in its grasp.

Best Superhero movie: X-Men First Class

Yes, I’m biased and yes, First Class would have had a much harder time earning the title if it had premiered in, say, 2012 against the likes of The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel and The Avengers, but still, X-Men was a pretty solid flick. With it’s Cold War, James Bond-noir and it’s meaty performances (provided by personal favorites James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) First Class gave us 2 solid hours of entertainment and eye candy to spare (the submarine raising scene, the quarter of death, Rose Byrne in her underwear, etc.).

I had my qualms with the ending, but prequel’s are tricky and all things considered they stayed (mostly) true to the source material and the previous films. Here’s hoping we see 2nd Class soon.

Best original popcorn film with a heart: Super 8

Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. J.J. Abrams is one of the best storytellers in the business (along with his contemporary, Chris Nolan). One day the two got together and made a baby, the charming and delightful aliens-from-space and coming-of-age opus Super 8. Made with mostly unknown actors with a coparatively low budget, Super 8 made a hefty profit while still providing the soul, proving that you can still make quality original entertainment without cheap tricks, lingerie models, or a built-in brand recognition.

Best head trip: The Tree of Life

It’s about a family living in 1950s Texas, and it’s about the creation of the earth, and there’s dinosaurs. If you have trouble understanding how all of that fits together, you’re not alone. I’ve seen the thing and I still don’t quite know how, or what, or when, or…what?

Still, much like the only other Terrence Mallick film I’ve seen (The New World) Tree of Life is two mostly silent hours with almost no dialogue and a confusingly ambiguous plot structure but also a steady string of hauntingly beautiful images. You’ll have absolutely no idea what is going on, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off of it.

Best movie that tells us something about where we’ve been: The Help

It was hard to strike this from the Top 10. Really hard. But despite the truly great accomplishment that this film is, it’s impact was slightly lessened by the still-burning fire of the book upon which it is based. A great movie based on a great book that everyone has already read doesn’t hit you in the face the same way that something like, Schindler’s List or Hotel Rwanda does.

Still, if you haven’t seen this movie do so at your earliest convenience. We’ve come a long way since the civil rights era, but it’s good to be reminded every once in a while what society is capable of when good people do nothing.

Best comeback: The Muppets

I wanted this to be on the list, badly. I realized though that it was my fanboy brain, and not my critical brain talking. Still, The Muppets is spectacular. If you can remember the old days before cell phones and the internet then this movie will tickle your nostalgia bone in the best possible way. If you can’t, then it will do you some good to see how emotionally engaging non-human characters can be without the use of a computer and a green screen.

True to the heart, spirit, and soul of the long-running television show and the former movies (their version of The Christmas Carol is the best ever made), this movie is a case study in how to introduce an old franchise to a new generation. Apparently, the makers of The Smurfs didn’t get the memo. Consider this my number 11 of the year.

Best “Best Picture” nominee that didn’t make it on my list: The Descendants

Descendants is already raking in the awards nominations and I have no doubt that in addition to multiple acting and directing categories, it will land a spot in the Best Picture Oscar race. In fact, I would not be surprised if it wins the top prize (my vote, for what it’s worth, is on The Artist), but for me it wasn’t quite there.

I like it a heckuva lot, don’t get me wrong. It has the same dark and emotional humor of Alexander Paine’s other awards bate film Sideways. It has a breakout performance by ABC Family star Shaylene Woodley (I didn’t check the spelling, don’t hate). It has a large secondary cast comprised of well written and fully developed character, each of whom get a chance to flex their muscles and do some serious acting (special points to Matthew Lilliard who shows up and steals the scene, welcome back to the show).

Still, as a whole I never quite got the mood of Descendents and the climax in many ways felt like a bit of a cop out. That said, these character are probably the most genuine and human of any I’ve seen in a long time.

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Former Cinedome 70, Riverdale, UT

This should come as no surprise, but I watched a lot of movies growing up. Despite what I often say, it wasn’t EVERY Saturday that my parents would round all 5 of us Wood kids — or at least those of us that were still young enough to not have “better things to do” — and head to Ogden for a show, but just about.

A fairly typical Saturday at the Wood home would consist of completing our chores in the morning — after cartoons of course — a quick lunch, then down to the Newgate mall for a dollar-movie in the afternoon. After the show we’d stop at the Smith’s on 12th street, where each child was given $1 — sometimes $1.50 on special occasions — to purchase whatever they could to take back home and cook for dinner. I was always a sucker for frozen burritos, they came 3 for $1 back then. Or some days I would get a frozen personal pizza (75 cents) and a yogurt, or I’d pool my money with Leah for a more elaborate dish like Ravioli.

Smith’s was good for two reasons. First, there was a video rental store inside the smiths. We had a very democratic system for selecting a movie that would please anywhere from 4 to 7 people, consisting of a piles of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ and multiple rounds of voting and vetoes. Once Mandie and Jake grew up and had friends, Dad and I were often outnumbered by the women but still managed to squeak a Bond or Rocky movie through. Then of course there were mom’s choices; strange, obscure, sometimes disturbing selections that she had ‘heard about somewhere’ and to this day provide our family with converstion points at Thanksgiving.

The second reason? Smith’s on 12th street was right next to the Mini-mart and if we could subliminally remind Dad that he needed to fill up the car (you had to be subtle, or else the jig was up) then he would buy us 3 for $1 corn dogs and tater tots if we were extra lucky. We’d run home and clamber around the kitchen, a din of madness as 4-7 people cooked 4-7 seperate meals, and then we’d head downstairs for our second movie of the day. We didn’t do popcorn, we did ice cream and if you’ve never had to divide a quart into 7 equal portions (yeah, SEVEN!) then you’re luckier than my mother. (Tip: get the box quart, not the bucket)

Like I said before, these were the days before Megaplexes, when actual Moviehouses still reigned supreme. The Newgate was our go-to for the price. Around the time I was 12 they gutted the theater to make way for a new, shiny, 14-screen mall stain that, to this day, is overpriced. When you make a habit out of taking 7 people to the movies, you have to look for a bargain: matinees, discount theaters. Now that I’m older, my friends think I’m crazy when I suggest a Saturday morning movie, but I still believe it’s the only way. Easy on the wallet, less crowds, and when you come outside the sun is shining and you have the whole day ahead of you.

Discount theaters come at a price, however, and for a family of movie buffs sometimes you have to see the new release and sometimes you have to see it right. In the 80s and 90s, in Ogden, Utah, there was one place to really see a movie, and that was at the Cinedome.

In hindsight, the Cinedome was too good for Ogden. It was too good for the lot of us, but for a few years we had it. It was the antithesis of today’s movie market. An independent theater, consisting of only two giant screens housed in arching domes. It was more than a theater, it was a shrine to cinema, a mecca for cinemaphiles. The seats were concave rows of plush at stadium slope (before that was common). The screen was framed by draping red curtains. The roof of the theater towered over you and the circular space seemed to vanish altogether when the lights dimmed and the fanfare began. To this day I have never lost myself better than I did in the Cinedome.

I remember seeing Jumanji there with all of my cousins. When the original Star Wars trilogy was re-released in the late 90s we saw each and every one at the Domes.

The Cinedome shut it’s doors in 2001. It was demolished last year.

Last weekend I found myself thinking about the old Cinedome. I was at the Lincoln Center 13 in New York watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Lincoln Center is one of the finest moviehouses I’ve visited and my experience watching that movie, perched on the front row of the upper mezzanine watching a slow-burn throwback to 1970s British espionage, was one of the best I’ve ever had. After the movie I was so delighted, I found myself running through great movie memories: Inception at Midnight at the University 6 in Logan, Serenity with my freshman roommates at the Providence 8, Alien vs. Predator at midnight with Jesse at the Tinseltown Newgate, Spider-man at Jordan Commons, Fellowship of the Ring at the Cineplex Oedian in Layton, Jurrasic Park with my cousins at the Layton Hills Mall — I remember hearing my sister screaming from the other side of the theater — Hellboy at the Provo Town Centre, sneaking into Blade 2 at The Reel Theater on 12th, Finding Nemo (my first date) with Kelsey at the Northpointe.

It didn’t take long before I got to Jumanji, sitting between my cousins Nick and Tony sharing a giant tub of popcorn — I swear they were bigger back then — and being dazzled by the indoor monsoon scene or the giant spiders (they’ve aged, obviously, but they still look pretty good all things considered).

People often ask me what my “dream” is. They assume that if all barriers were torn down I’d be some hot-shot reporter, a movie reviewer, or maybe even a Hollywood screenwriter. I wouldn’t. If I had a million dollars I would rebuild the domes. I’d operate it at a loss if I had too. We’d show two movies, hand selected for their quality and their ability to make your eyes go wide. I’d boot you for texting, and shine a flashlight in your face if your phone even rang. During the week we’d show vintage classics on one screen: Casablanca, Strangers on a Train, It’s a Wonderful Life. I’d figure out a way to bring the limiteds, like this year’s Tinker, Tailor and The Artist. But most importantly we’d have The Cinedome. We’d have the red curtains. We’d have the magic.

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