Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of Puppets, Bad Movies, and Actors

I found myself watching "The International" the other night, I stumbled across it mid-way through and decided to watch it On Demand from the beginning. The movie was not that great, the writing was poor and the acting seemed forced. The shots were often really beautiful, lots of cool locations to shoot in, and that's what really kept me tuned in. I began to think about how terrible a job the actors did, I mean very few of the emotions were believable, the lines were delivered over the top or way way under the top (if that makes sense), but then I wondered if it was their fault. The dialogue was atrocious (cliché, cliché, cliché, predictable response, cliché), the plot wasn't really that great either, and actors are really not much more than puppets, needing a master puppeteer (great director) to get the best out of them. Some actors are better than others (See Daniel Day-Lewis), able to adapt to different roles and make you forget that they are Joe Hollywood making millions of dollars and not the starving artist/drug addict trying to care for his two children with music and bread stealing as he wins the heart of a beautiful heiress to a fortune (etc. etc.). Matched up against Paris Hilton, this is no contest, though to be fair I think Paris is only rarely considered an actor. In the same way some puppets are better than others. Take off your sock, insert hand, draw eyes, boom goes the dynamite you've got the Paris Hilton of Puppets. With some great direction and incredible lines your sock puppet can probably captivate an audience of a few kindergarteners for a while, but no adult is going to forget that you are merely a wierd, possible perverted, man with his sock on his hand and only one shoe on standing a little to close to their child. On the other end of the spectrum are the Muppets. Watch a Muppet's Christmas Carol sometime. Shortly into the film you begin to forget that Kermit is a puppet, the dude is articulate, shows feeling, and moves fluidly. Keep watching and you begin to forget that he's a walking talking frog married to a walking talking pig, he's Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine turns in his greatest acting performance of all time working and interacting with these puppets. Is this because Kermit is a great actor, no he's a great puppet, but the people pulling the string are some of the best in the world, and the adaptation of Charles Dickens's masterpiece is a masterpiece in itself. So I'll put the blame on the writers and the director for The International, for now.

Got in a good ride last weekend as the weather finally turned for the better, and found a nice little loop to ride on. I have been critical of riding in the city of Houston (the drivers are dangerous, the roads are awful, the bike lanes are narrow and laughably maintained) but biking in the Heights is pretty awesome. The 2.5 mile stretch of road on Heights Boulevard between Washington and 20th street, is lovely, and then from 20th back to Washington on Studewood/mont is also a treat. This loop is only about 5.75 miles, but it's the most enjoyable 5.75 miles I've biked in Houston yet.

Miles Covered So Far:

Biking: 303.7
Running: 84.85
Swimming: 23.2

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mardi Gras leads to Len-(ien)-t training

Went to Mardi Gras last weekend, which was great fun, but a terrible blow to my internal organs and training. The weekend before, Superbowl weekend, I had a pretty good training weekend despite the festivities (mini-tri, good miles on the road bike, and a swimming Sunday). Watching the game knowing I was headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras the next weekend I had to cheer for the Saints, and the greatest Mardi Gras ever, despite the fact that I was pretty sure they were destined to lose. But after the first quarter they got their legs under them and didn't look back. The following week was full of pretty lax training, dreams of Mardi Gras dancing in my mind, picking up folks from the airport, and then Mardi Gras (which did not disappoint). So I'm dedicating this post to helping those thinking of hitting up their first Mardi Gras to do it, and do it right.

Dear Mardi Gras Virgins,

Everyone needs to experience New Orleans at least once before they die. The architecture, culture, cuisine, music, laissez le bon temps rouler attitude can be described (poorly) second-hand but there is nothing like seeing the city for yourself. I first saw New Orleans during Jazz Fest (A music and heritage festival spanning two weekends that is a total blast 3 years ago, and immediately fell in love. Any weekend with decent weather (Spring or Fall would be best, it can get stifling hot and sticky there in the summer) is a good weekend to go, but to truly appreciate the heartbeat of the city is to participate in one of its festivals (Jazzfest, VoodooFest, and Mardi Gras to name a few).

There are some great cities across America, and some great places to celebrate life, but none of them can touch NOLA. You're not celebrating until you celebrate in New Orleans. Vegas is a great town to party in, but Vegas lacks something that is prevalent in every restaurant, every bar, every street corner in New Orleans. Soul. You'll leave Vegas with more or, most likely, less money and you'll judge your trip upon that. Friends will ask, "How'd you do?" you'll reply with your winnings or losing and maybe a tale of one kind of debauchery or another, but the trip will have left you empty. A trip to New Orleans will only leave you richer, no matter what you spend, with memories that come to life when you close your eyes. Having said that Mardi Gras is when the true heart and soul of a city that is back from the brink is on display, so here are some tips to enjoying your stay.

Plan early, get your shit together and just do it, the less you have to worry about leading up to the trip the better. That will allow you to get into the proper frame of mind, let the good times roll. Pack accordingly, get the weather reports and bring whatever you need to be comfortable, the more time outside in NOLA the better. Also, bring shoes that you wouldn't mind throwing away, all the revelry causes quite a bit of refuse and I wouldn't want you losing a pair of blue suede shoes over a Mardi Gras puddle.

I advise getting in Friday morning and staying until Monday, at the very least Saturday morning to Monday, that is if you can't stay through Fat Tuesday. If you're driving leave as early as possible, if flying grab a few drinks on the way in. Stay near the quarter, and spend whatever time you have on Friday seeing the city, Bourbon street, The riverfront, Garden District homes, and cemetery tours. Immerse yourself in the music, food, and fun of the city. Friday night, Bourbon street, just do it. Find a bar out of the multitude of places that suits your style and enjoy yourself, or bounce around the street looking for buxom lasses that will bare their chests for you with a hand-grenade or hurricane in your hand. Get to bed eventually. Saturday morning/afternoon grab some grub at any of the amazing restaurants around the city Mother's Cafe, Elizabeth's Cafe, and Cafe Du Mond have some pretty good breakfasts. Get whatever you need to refuel the party machine and hit up Harrah's, or the Quarter for some afternoon distraction, but keep close eye on the clock. Find some place to watch Endymion (Saturday's big parade) by 5, I suggest getting a little out of the city. Have a cab take you up to Carrollton and Orleans, and find a hospitable group of tailgaters to make friends with. CCR said it right "People on the river are happy to give" tell them it's your first Mardi Gras and you will be shown the time of your life. Just remember to try to catch some beads as the parade rolls by. Afterwards getting back to the Quarter will be difficult/impossible so find a neighborhood bar to throw a few back in before making the trek back to Bourbon street. If you don't mind crowds of epic proportions, "walk" bourbon, otherwise use the side streets to get to a bar down there (Laffite, Pat O'Brien's, Gold Mine, etc. etc.) and party until you can't. Or, head to the Warehouse district and hit one of the bars down there (the Red Eye is one of my favorites). Wake up Sunday, recover, grub, gamble, and find a place to watch Bacchus (the coolest of the weekend parades). I'd stay closer to downtown for this one, but anywhere really where you can see it go by is good. Repeat Saturday night's performance and get yourself to bed eventually. Monday, if you have to leave, try to make sure someone else is in charge of getting you from A to B, the trip is much more enjoyable that way.

Hopefully you make it one of these days, and if you do, call me, I'll probably be there.



Miles covered thus far:

Running: 84.85
Biking: 250.2
Swimming: 17.5

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Movie Review - February

The weather in Houston recently has been uncooperative as of late, and after I found out my game was cancelled yesterday evening I couldn't bring myself to do anything. Which hopefully is not a recurring theme, but in any case I got to check out a decent sushi joint and a terrible movie. Which makes two terrible movies in as many weeks, so if you're thinking of seeing a movie this month. Don't.

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington as a bad ass, Gary Oldman as a bad guy, Mila Kunis as a cast member, what else needed to said. I was in, and excited even for the somewhat ridiculous premise (Denzel as Eli protecting the last copy of the bible from falling into the wrong hands ,Oldman as Carnegie, in post nuclear-apocalypse America) I was excited on the way to the theater, getting the tickets, finding a seat, excited. Then the movie started, and lost me immediately. I'll give you the movie in a nutshell, Eli has the last bible on earth and is on a journey with the protection of God to go somewhere with it, Carnegie runs a town but dreams of more and wants the bible to control people (most of whom seem to be illiterate) through religion (the oldest trick in the book). They cross paths, Eli gets the best of Carnegie, then Carnegie gets the best of Eli and the book, but Eli continues on and completes his journey.

Glossed over a lot there, here are the more ridiculous parts of the movie. Eli basically killing people at will if they attack him, despite being absurdly outnumbered (becoming even more ridiculous with the twist at the end). Being able to cover an amount of ground on foot that motorized vehicles couldn't cover in the same day (really the part of the movie that I lost all hope, they can't track him down in their cars despite the fact that he's travelling on roads and through areas they know well). The cannibals not just devouring Eli and Mila Kunis once they are trapped, but inviting them in for tea, and then the arsenal they keep under their couch cushions. Then Eli, after evading Carnegie and his men for two days and having an epic standoff against them with the help of the cannibals gives up the bible to save Kunis's life. Turns out he's been reading it long enough to have it memorized (why didn't he just give it up earlier? I don't know). He continues on his path after being shot in the stomach with no medical care around and makes it from a Desert to San Francisco on a single tank of gas. This goes along with him being able to cover immense distances in too short a period of time throughout the entire movie, ridiculous. Continues surviving the abdomen bullet wound, and finds a rowboat (miraculously) and rows to Alcatraz (on a whim and against some very strong currents in the San Francisco Bay) to find the cradle of civilization (a group of folks trying to restart civilization one work of art and book at a time). Then the twist of the movie (skip down or stop reading if you don't want to know) Eli is blind, and the bible that Carnegie got his hands on is in Braille and is therefore worthless to him. Which just opens up more questions like, how is Eli such a good fighter/hunter (don't give me that echolocation bullshit), why didn't he give up the bible sooner if he knew it was worthless to Carnegie, how had he survived initially following the blast, how did he find the guy to recharge his battery, how had he not fallen into a hole walking around for 30 years, how did it take him 30 years to find San Francisco. Stupid. I don't care if you think it's a good message about how faith and religion can be used for good or evil depending on how you use it, this movie was bad, waste 2+ hours of your life doing something else.


Going in I had really low expectations for this movie, really low, but I thought it would be entertaining. Rogue angel defies God and tries to save humanity from the apocalypse by ensuring the safety of an unborn unwanted child of a relative loser in the middle of nowhere. Sounds like it could be fun. I'll save you my analysis and give you Jackie's. "I wish I had lit my $20 on fire." You've been warned.

Miles travelled so far:

Biking: 173.7

Running: 58.85

Swim: 13.25