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Archive for March, 2012

Thoughts on running, salad, and hummus.

These things are related, I swear.

I hit a little running snag when I got sick and then went on vacation.  Since I’ve got the Pittsburgh half marathon coming up in a little over a month, I need to get back into running shape.  My goal is to finish this half in under 2 hours, which is about a 9:05 pace.  So my runs lately have been at a pace even quicker than that, which may not be smart, but ever since I’ve tried to work on my running form in my minimalist running shoes, I find myself running pretty well at around 8:45 for short runs.  But of course 3 miles is a long way from 13, so I need to get in some longer runs.  Today, I hit the park after work (keep in mind, on my grad student schedule, “after work” means like 4pm) with the goal of running at least 3 miles and then just going until it didn’t seem fun anymore.

So quick note on that last sentence.  After reading “Born to Run” I’ve been trying to have a new outlook on running.  Yes, I’m aiming for a pace goal for Pittsburgh, but I want to have fun running.  I want to lace up my shoes, hit the ground, and enjoy the feeling of running.  I’m mostly a guy who gravitates towards team sports like soccer and hockey, so individual trials are more difficult for me to get into.  But I think that if I can run fast and smooth, then I will get more enjoyment out of running, because I like to do things at a pretty good clip.  So today I knocked out 6 miles at a 8:24 pace.  If I can sustain that for 13 miles, I’m well under 2 hours.  We’ll see.  But this run felt really good.  My feet didn’t hurt, my legs didn’t hurt, I was breathing hard but I liked that.  The reason I stopped at six was well, I had no more energy because I had a salad for lunch.

Not that this salad was just leaves.  It was dark green leaves, topped with yellow pepper, chick peas, carrots, tuna, olive oil and vinegar.  It was solid.  But why salads?  Well, in “Born to Run” the author floats the idea of eating salads for breakfast because you can pack a lot of nutritional punch into one and not feel like you’ve eaten something too heavy.  Now, I’m not going to eat a salad before running in the morning and it’s definitely not my recovery meal of choice, so I was thinking about how to fit them in.  Since I play soccer in the evenings a lot, I don’t want to eat one for dinner, nor do I want to eat one at 10pm after a game.  So, lunch it is.  I’m hoping that by doing this, I can cram a lot of nutrients into a lunch that will also give me energy throughout the day.  It’s going pretty well so far.  They involve a little prep work of chopping and such, but that’s no big deal and I sort of like that I’m controlling everything that goes in it.

So, post run, I was thinking about what to eat.  The experts say that a 4:1 carb/protein ratio within 30 minutes of a workout helps your muscles recover and rebuild.  Chocolate milk is touted as a great recovery drink, but I’m not too much of a milk guy and sometimes, I just really want to eat something.  Enter, hummus.  Check out the back of my tub and I’m in luck.  4 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein.  Perfect.  Eat a few spoonfuls or spread some on toast, perfect light recovery meal.


Wednesday’s What NOT To Watch – The Hunger Games

First, the hiatus from blog posts can be explained by a week long ’bout with bronchitis and a week long vacation in Florida.  Thus, while I was sick, I wasn’t drinking any beer to review or really doing anything fun, and while I was in Florida I was too busy to really type anything.  BUT, I did end up seeing “The Hunger Games” at a midnight showing (not voluntarily) and came away with some thoughts in general about well, how the movie really BLEW IT and basically ruined any hope for the kind of decent movie that the source material (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) really deserves.

A few things first.  I have not read “The Hunger Games” or any of the sequels, nor do I plan to.  Also, I felt really FREAKIN old in the theater because everyone around me was a teenage girl complaining about detention.  Yup, detention.  But given that demographic, it makes total sense that “The Hunger Games” scored an assload of money and is well on its way to being a crazy successful franchise.  But the problem with “The Hunger Games” is that it was made to score an assload of money from high school girls.

What am I talking about?  Well, the plot of “The Hunger Games” is really nothing we haven’t seen/read before.  “Battle Royale” did it with a novel and movie adaptation, Stephen King did it twice with “The Running Man” and “The Long Walk” and there are countless action pics involving Ice-T and Jean Claude Van Damme that involve humans hunting humans for sport.  So it’s not offering anything new.  Example, here’s the IMDB logline for “The Hunger Games”:

Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.

Wow.  On its surface, that sounds like it could be really intense with the potential to be really deep.  Kids, killing each other on live television, at the behest of the government.  A ton of possible social commentary and avenues to explore.  The problem is that “The Hunger Games” takes a “Twilight” approach to it, which not only means that everything is watered down into PG-13 teenybopper format, but no one could really make a similar movie that provides an epic take on the “fight to the death” plot, without being compared to “The Hunger Games.”  The future of the genre has been ruined.  Here’s how “The Hunger Games” really screwed up.

1) It takes place during the 74th or 76th (who really cares) Hunger Games, meaning it’s been going on for years.  I understand that the plot of the series is to watch the fall of the Capitol (probably, seeing as I haven’t read them) but a really intriguing movie would involve the first ever Hunger Games, and chronicle the uprising that LEAD to the games.  I mean, someone had to come up with this as a way to either give money to the districts or keep them in check (it’s never really clear what the fuck the purpose of the games are) or entertain the rich ass populace.  I want to see the first games, how the public reacts, how the contestants react, if it really achieves what the government wants it to.  I mean imagine if someone were to institute that, what would the reactions be?  Protests?  More rebellion?  Which leads me to:

2) The government/capitol doesn’t really seem that oppressive.  Sure, they make allusions to them giving food for participating in the games, which I guess makes them dicks and sure, some of the districts basically look like they’re the setting from “Winter’s Bone,” but they are a pretty lame government for this type of movie.  The guards or police force are dressed in white outfits that make them look as unintimidating as possible, they don’t carry guns, and they never really do anything oppressive on camera.  They are SHITTY VILLAINS.

3) It’s not violent enough.  I understand that in this day and age, we are wary of kids killing kids (see, every school shooting ever).  However, if you’re going to make a movie about that exact subject, I think the best way is to really embrace it and say, if this were to happen, this is what it would look like.  If we DON’T want to eventually get to that point, then we should probably address it in a different way than “The Hunger Games.”  Like 8 kids die in the first minute of the battle.  I don’t even remember what they looked like, there was no blood, no screaming, no pain, and it happened in such quick cuts, you couldn’t really tell what was happening.  If you had a battle in which kids were killing each other with sharp objects, people would be screaming in agony, limbs would be all over the place, it would be hell.  Am I advocating that we really make a “Saving Private Ryan” version of “The Hunger Games”?  I’m not sure, but I feel if you are going to tackle the subject of a televised slaughter of 12-18 year olds, then fuckin man up and face it realistically.  Which leads me to:

4) There is almost no discussion of the televised nature of the games.  Sure, there are cameras placed all over the battlefield, but they seem to be more used for the mission control people to add crazy monsters and fireballs and stuff.  First, if you have 24 kids trying to kill each other, I feel like you don’t need fireballs or giant dogs.  Let the kids go at it.  It felt like “Jurassic Park” or something once they started adding the dogs/beasts.  As if the thought of getting killed by your best friend wasn’t scary enough.  But back to the televised aspect.  There is a commentator sort of in Stanley Tucci, but there are no reaction shots of anyone watching the games, we don’t get any sort of sense of who/how many/where people watch it.  Do people go to bars?   Watch them on their Iphones?  Have viewing parties?  There are references to betting, but no scenes of them.  There are references to sponsors, but so much more could’ve been done with them.  IF they had used the movie to explore the first Hunger Games, then you could really explore the reactions of people watching, like, what the fuck are the parents of these kids doing?  They are dying on national TV apparently, but they die, cannons go off, that’s it.  They missed a HUGE opportunity here for social commentary, but I guess when you’re trying to make money off of a movie about kids killing kids, you can’t really explore the “sick fuck” aspect of the people watching kids killing kids.

5) It doesn’t feel real enough for me to give a shit.  Because of all the stuff I listed above, it’s obvious that the movie really doesn’t take it’s subject matter that seriously.  The games are just a setting for a teenage love story.  The rich populace looks like extras from “The Wizard of Oz” crossed with Lady Gaga and the Oompa Loompas from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  They’re laughable and so they don’t seem human, so therefore, I don’t really care who they are and we never see any reactions of them even watching the games.  One of my favorite moments from “Gladiator” (a movie that I didn’t really enjoy overall) is watching Commodus react to the games, sticking out his tongue in an almost sexual enjoyment of the mayhem in front of him.  That guy enjoyed savagery, these lame asses from the Capitol, they’re just WEIRDOS.  And then we don’t see enough of the poor ass districts to really care that much about them either.

To sum it up, Michael Bay basically ruined the attack on Pearl Harbor by focusing on a love triangle.  “The Hunger Games” does the same fucking thing and ruins a really interesting/promising premise by Twilight-ing it up.  And just like no one is ever going to chance making a great movie about Pearl Harbor, no one is going to chance making a great/epic movie about oppressive governments ruling over televised battles to the death.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but shame on “The Hunger Games” for screwing it up.

Beer #19 – Smuttynose Robust Porter

So it was super warm, now it’s cold again and good weather for a porter.  These days are numbered however, which is why I recently bought a bunch of spring-ish beers, including some nice IPAs that I can’t wait to try.  But that’s getting ahead of myself.  I still have a brew from Smuttynose that I need to review, their Robust Porter from the great state of New Hampshire.

Robust Porter, Smuttynose Brewing CompanyNew Hampshire, United States of A
American Porter, 5.7 % ABV

Aroma: Nice and deep dark malt notes, with rich coffee, hint of chocolate.

Appearance: Poured thick brown, nice head of dark tan foam.

Flavor: Nice coffee bitterness, deep roasted malt, great chocolate on the finish with nice balancing hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full bodied, nice carbonation, nice coating on the mouth.

Overall: Excellent porter.  Nice roasty notes, with good dark flavors, nice finish on this one.  Good mouthfeel and a present hop bitterness that balances the flavors that come before it.

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Attack the Block

The previews and poor box office showing of “John Carter” are pretty good indications that Hollywood does not understand how to make decent films involving aliens, action, and characters.  So when you do find a successful combination of those three (even if it’s from England), it needs to be celebrated.  “Attack the Block” is a fun, funny, and well executed film about a group of juvenile gangsters (or wannabe gangsters rather) who join forces with a nurse they’ve recently robbed, to fend off a bunch of aliens attacking their high-rise apartments.  And I mean high-rise in not the luxury term, but in the public housing term.

This film has a lot going for it.  It’s got a great group of juvenile gangsters, and a charismatic leader in Moses, who provides the perfect tone for the film.  The supporting cast is likeable as well, and they’re just fun and vulnerable enough that we really feel for them when they’re being chased and yes, when some of them die, because well, this is an R-rated movie and sometimes kids get killed.  Another plus is that the film was produced by the same guys who made “Shaun of the Dead“, which is very similar in nature, only that it deals with zombies instead of predatory aliens.

Some people might blast the special effects, but for CGI creatures, in a movie about kids who would rather lock themselves inside their apartments and play FIFA, they are par for the course.  They sort of remind me of the beast from “Brotherhood of the Wolf“, in that they look fake enough, that they almost look good, if that makes any sense.  Basically, I didn’t know what I was really expecting and I got what seemed to fit the movie.  There is also a big of London slang, which may take some getting used to, but it’s perfectly fitting for the characters and I think it gives the movie a lot of charm.

“Attack the Block” isn’t going to win any Oscars.  It’s not the best action movie in years, but it might be the best one involving aliens in a while and the best one made for a budget of $13 million.  If the name “Nick Frost” and the combination of that, aliens and child gangsters appeals to you, this is pretty much the best you could ask for.  See it before some asshole from Universal decides to remake it.

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – The Man From Nowhere

Asian films, particularly Asian horror and action/thrillers have been gaining a reputation for being disgusting (see Three Extremes: Dumplings) and brutal in their violence (see I Saw the Devil).  But what’s often lost in the hype/translation, is that many of these films are actually telling a decent story to go along with their spectacle.  For action/thriller fans, “The Man From Nowhere” has it all.  It’s a smart, sometimes VERY bloody film about a loner who, in his quest to protect an orphaned girl, gets in way over his head with an organized crime syndicate.  Except, he has some special skills from his past that come quite in handy.

I’m not just spewing accolades here.  It was the highest grossing film of 2010 in South Korea and the United States has already picked up the rights to an English language remake.  I’m trying to imagine who I see in the lead role and I’m coming up blank.  Jeremy Renner might be a good choice, but I’m sort of biased there.  Maybe an unknown would fit the title role best, I’m not sure.  But obviously, this film has been loved by executives and audiences and is currently available on Netflix Instant.  You should check it out now.

The beauty of the film really comes from a few things.  First, is the relationship between the man and the orphan he befriends.  Like all movies with this plot, it takes a little while to develop, but it feels quite real.  Of course she disappears and the man decides to track her down.  There is a fantastic montage of him tracking children through the streets, watching as they are used by a drug cartel to deliver goods and pass messages.  Second, there is some interesting double-crossing involving the cartel and the man, that really sets up the action of the third act.  And yeah, wow, the third act.  I don’t know if I have watched a sequence of film more than the ending battle between the man and the thugs from the cartel.  It takes place in a beautiful lobby with stone walls, floors and statues.  The bullets ricochet off of everything, the blood is bright against the white floor and the choreography of the gun battle and ensuing knife fights is flat out amazing.  Some of the best action I’ve ever seen in a film.

If you don’t like subtitles, then I suggest you suck it up for this one.  Much of the story can be deciphered simply through watching how characters behave, so the dialogue is sort of just a bonus.  I’m serious, watch it without subtitles and you will be fine.  The action will remain intact, the story still coherent.  Just do it before they remake the damn thing.

Beer #18 – Gritty’s Best Brown Ale

I’m a sucker for brown ales.  Every brewery and brewpub should have a great example of this style.  It should be a staple in any beer drinkers arsenal.  It’s getting a little warmer out so I’m moving away from the super-heavy winter beers and to me, brown ales are pretty drinkable year round.  I saw one in the store the other day and was intrigued by the name, so here we go.  Here’s Gritty’s Best Brown Ale (which interestingly, is not profiled anywhere on their website). 


Gritty’s Best Brown Ale, Gritty McDuff’s Brewing CompanyMaine, United States of A
Northern English Brown Ale, 4.8 % ABV

Aroma: Caramel malt notes with a hint of hops, nice toffee scents.

Appearance: Pours amber, clear, with a medium head of light tan foam.

Flavor: Opens with malt sweetness, then some faint hop bitterness, finishing with very caramel sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Fairly light bodied, nice carbonation, easily drinkable.

Overall: This has gotten some bad reviews on other sites, but to me this is a great session beer.  It’s got a great complex aroma, great malt flavor with a nice finish.  I think some people might be put off by the sweetness, but it really has a nice caramel profile if you’re into that sort of beer.

Wednesday’s What You Should Watch – Splinter

Splinter is a fun and nasty little movie about a small group of people fighting off a parasitic organism.  It’s an incredibly simple premise, a classic horror movie plot with the usual characters, but the special effects really make this film shine.  If you don’t like blood and gore, and Cronenberg style “body horror” you probably won’t like this movie.  But seeing as I really dig that stuff, I’m recommending this film for all horror fans.  In fact, I’m even a bit sad that it’s not available on Netflix instant anymore because I am really craving this movie.

Small, contained horror movies like this usually involve a small cast of characters who don’t get along from the get-go and are suddenly thrown into a situation where they are trapped and fighting for their lives.  Genre rules say that they must (sort of) work together in order to survive, and someone isn’t going to make it out.  Well this film involves a couple who are carjacked by an escaped con and his girlfriend.  As luck would have it, they end up at a gas station where something VERY BAD happened to the attendant. 

So we start our contained horror story, as the group becomes trapped by a parasitic organism that grows splintery spikes (basically like a porcupine, only a LOT GROSSER) and begins to attack people and take over their dead bodies.  The special effects of the creature are awesome, a lot of make-up and live puppetry going on here in really gross ways.  It reminded me a lot of the effects in John Carpenter‘s “The Thing,” which in my opinion, featured some of the best/grossest creature effects ever recorded on film.  If you haven’t seen it, go rent it or watch it in 10 or so parts on Youtube.  But this creature, well, it’s sort of unclear what it is, but there’s no mistaking what it DOES, which is basically take over your body and contort your bones into ways they shouldn’t, while growing/attaching to other bodies and doing the same thing.  Succumbing to it would be a really BAD way to go, let’s just say that. 

Clocking in at 82 minutes, Splinter is a really enjoyable exercise in horror and tension.  It’s got solid performances from its actors, a really great villian (played by Shea Whigham, who has now gone on to star/support in a bunch of roles), and a really gross, a great homage to the “Evil Dead,” and a gross and scary monster.  There’s implications for a sequel, which I’d take anyday over the next Star Wars…