Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Republic of Tea Stir Fry Spice

Anyone who knows me knows that cooking ain't my thing. My motto: "Why waste time cooking when you can eat it right out of the box?" Fewer dishes to wash that way as well.

That's one of the reasons I was so eager to try out the new Stir Fry Tea Spice from Republic of Tea. A mix of ginger, lemongrass, organic gunpowder tea, parsley, white pepper, garlic powder and a touch of sugar, the Stir Fry Tea Spice is a quick and easy way to add a bit of pizazz to a meal.

I sprinkled a bit in a chicken stir fry to zest things up a bit, but it works just as well sprinkled on a chicken breast or piece of salmon and then baked in the oven. A little more work than just opening up a box, but not much more. The spice mix is also good for you as green tea helps to lower cholesterol and is high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

A little tin of Stir Fry Spice equals instant gourmet. If it came in a box, it'd be perfect...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good-bye Solo on DVD Today

With a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.8 stars out of 10 on IMDB and laudatory reviews from top critics, I was primed for some indie movie magic courtesy of Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo.

I was disappointed.

The movie takes the slight premise of a Senegalese cabbie named Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) in North Carolina whose path crosses with a suicidal redneck named William (Red West) changing the lives of both men as they form an unlikely alliance. Solo is cheerful, chatty, charming while William is dour, dreary and downbeat. He hires Solo to drive him to a place known as Blowing Rock where he plans to end his life by jumping.

Given that the date is some time in the near but not immediate future, Solo attempts to cajole the recalcitrant curmudgeon from his plan. What follows is a classic example of what happens when an immovable object meets an irresistible force. It's not much of a spoiler to let you know that the immovable object remains immovable.

The film sets up the story in the first minute or so, but by giving William (and by extension, Solo) an extended time line, the film loses its urgency from the get-go. In addition, Solo's charms are not nearly as persuasive as William's depression. Well before the film's end I found myself wanting to drive him to Blowing Rock myself. And helping him with a good swift kick over the edge...

The film meanders aimlessly with scenes depicting Solo's love for life juxtaposed against William's inexorable march towards death. Lacking a sense of urgency, solid trajectory and saddled with stilted dialogue, it ends up being a string of vignettes which ultimately add up to not much. In other words, it's no Driving Miss Daisy. In fact, my friend Hollie wrote and filmed a short with a similar storyline that had much more emotional resonance.

But don't take my word for it. A. O. Scott loved it. As did Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan.

Or rent it, watch it and decide for yourself. The DVD complete with theatrical trailer and director's commentary is available today.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

When I first saw the trailer for the virally-hyped sci-fi flick, my heart sank. The promo featured a Transformer-esque alien wreaking havoc. Oh no--not another Michael Bay bombastic "blow @#$% up" fest! Fortunately, the trailer gives absolutely no indication of the terrifically nifty District 9 has in store for viewers.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film features no famous names--other than producer Peter Jackson. The location is fitting given that District 9 recalls the specter of apartheid, along with the inhuman and inhumane conditions of refugee camps and a bit of genocidal violence to boot.

Actually there's more than a bit of violence: those who chose to see Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds most likely got their fill of sadistic and twisted gore, but District 9 provides bullets, bombs and @#$% blowing up along with a tense and suspenseful story.

The aliens are not a warm and cuddly bunch ala Spielberg's E.T. In fact, they're a thoroughly unattractive lot. There is a mini alien who offers what could be construed as "cute," but kudos to writer/director Neill Blomkamp for letting the finely crafted story lure us into rooting for the opposed bug-like beings. The story is told via Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) a bureaucratic buffoon who eventually becomes our hero protagonist.

There's a bit of Greek Mythology (watch for the Trojan Horse!), nods to The Fly, Independence Day and Iron Man--and a little bit of Beauty and the Beast as well. But truth be told, District 9 is really its own beast--and very different from most sci-fi action thrillers I've seen. While there is no preachiness or heavy-handed message, District 9 evokes the shantytowns and slums of India and South America, African refuge camps and even World War II interment and concentration camps.

The film doesn't get bogged down in political, but rather enables the viewer to get caught up in the action, story and characters by allowing us to empathize--and perhaps walk a mile in another's chelae.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Baader Meinhof Complex

This Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language film is opens theatrically in New York on August 21st, in L.A. on August 28th, San Francisco on September 4th and expanding from there. Set in West Germany in the tumultuous 70s, the film explores the terrorist group known as the Red Army Faction, or RAF.

Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) plays Andreas Baader and Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others) portrays Ulrike Meinhof, the title characters and leaders of the radical group. The film, directed by Uli Edel, captured the verisimilitude of the period with a grainy documentary style.

Of course I was aware of the societal upheaval in America during the late sixties/early seventies, but as The Baader Meinhof Complex depicts, that upheaval was happening worldwide. In West Germany, the still fresh scars from the Nazi era created an environment that made the civil unrest of the United States look tame in comparison.

The film doesn't shy away from portray the violence and anarchy. At two and a half hours, it painstakingly outlines the ten year reign of the RAF. I could deal with the butt-achingly long running time, the English subtitles and German language, and even the excessive violence. But what was lacking in the film for me was a sense of character development, motivation and empathy. Although creating a sense of empathy for a group of terrorists would be a difficult task under any circumstances, I really had no sense of why these people needed to do what they did. After being caught, arrested and put on trial, they had the audacity to whine about being mistreated due to being put in isolation.

Seriously? You blow up people and what do you expect? Fluffy pillows and pudding pops? Maybe post-9/11 makes it difficult to see terrorists and bombers as anything but heroic, so I was more caught up rooting for the Fascists to take the RAF down than anything else. But as a historical documentation of an intriguing period of time, The Baader Meinhof Complex makes for compelling viewing. If you're a history buff or political junkie unafraid of subtitles, I suggest checking it out when it hits your town or is released on DVD.

Monday, August 17, 2009

derma e Very Clear

My skin's been acting up lately, so I was excited to try derma e's latest offering--the Very Clear Skincare collection.

The line of products blends herbs like Tea Tree, Willow Bark, Rosewood, Lavender and Chamomile to soothe and heal breakouts. I tried the spot treatment to see if it could tame my blemishes.

I love tea tree oil as an acne treatment, but it's way too harsh to use undiluted. Even my go-to tea tree treatment, Desert Essence Blemish Touch stick, can be drying to sensitive skin. The derma e Very Clear Spot Blemish Treatment is formulated in a base of water and glycerin rather than alcohol so it doesn't dry out or irritate skin. The cream is non-greasy and absorbs quickly and did a great job of clearing up my breakouts.

The Very Clear line also includes a cleanser, scrub and moisturizer. I tried some samples of the cleanser as well and found its creamy formula an effective way to cleanse my skin without stripping or drying. It's also good to know that the Very Clear Blemish Spot Treatment scores as a low hazard on the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. And as always, derma e products are free of parabens, pthalates, sodium lauryl sulfates, petrolatum, mineral oil, artificial colors and are pH balanced, 100% vegetarian and cruelty-free.

Looks like I found a new favorite skincare treatment item!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Funny People

Judd Apatow's latest movie is probably his most incestuous venture to date. Not only does it feature Apatow regulars Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, but also his wife, Leslie Mann and two daughters, Iris and Maude have major roles as well. In addition, Apatow's former roommate Adam Sandler has the lead and the movie opens with home videos of a much younger Sandler as he egged on by Apatow who tapes him making prank phone calls.

If that weren't enough, Jason Schwartzman not only has a role in the film but composed the soundtrack and Eric Bana makes an appearance--an inside joke and nod to Apatow's Knocked Up where Rogen's character snarks, "If any of us get laid tonight, it's because of Eric Bana in Munich."

The film is a hybrid incorporating Apatow's classic testosterone-laced raunch with darker, deeper moments of introspection. Sandler does a fabulous job portraying the terminally-ill successful sellout George Simmons. Gone is the typical Sandlerisms of over the top shtick and silly voices and braying anger. Sandler plays a perfect Pagliacci here--his eyes welling up with pain at the news of his diagnosis, his numbness as he assimilates the news, unable to escape fans who hound him to pose for pictures.

Sandler's pain and regret are palpable and yet he is admirably understated. In addition to the opening prank call sequence, footage of the young Sandler is featured as George reviews his life and career. It's amazing to see Sandler as a youngster and to see how far he's come in his career.

Although Leslie Mann plays Laura, "the one who got away," the film is yet another "bromance" exploring the relationship between George, the successful movie star, and Ira (Seth Rogen), an up-and-coming comic. Rogen is far more earnest and winning in this role than in his other appearances. Sandler and Rogen play off each other with ease and make the somewhat meandering plot watchable.

Although it doesn't have the non-stop hilarity of Superbad, Funny People definitely mixes a lot of laughs in with the serious.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Google Cubes

Just got back from a business trip. Won't bore you with the details except to recount some of the highlights and--ahem, interesting folks I met along the way:

1. TSA Screeners: The last time I flew, the liquid limitations and shoe inspection hadn't been in force (which gives you an inkling of how freaking long it's been...), so I was dreading the whole TSA process. I also hadn't been diagnosed with diabetes and was worried about what issues I might have transporting insulin and needles.

Turns out I had every reason to be concerned. The TSA screeners were completely horrible. Snapping at anyone who was confused or who made the egregious error of putting a laptop case in a plastic bin (Quelle horreur!), I decided "TSA" stood for "Totally Sucky Attitude."

The morons insisted on me subjecting my insulin to x-ray, despite my request for a visual inspection. They insisted those were the rules and if I didn't put my insulin through the x-ray, I would not be able to board the plane. Two supervisors adamantly assured me that I had no recourse other to not fly. Not surprisingly, they were wrong. TSA Guidelines explicitly state:

"Medication and related supplies are normally X-rayed. However, as a customer service, TSA now allows you the option of requesting a visual inspection of your medication and associated supplies.

  • You must request a visual inspection before the screening process begins; otherwise your medications and supplies will undergo X-ray inspection.
  • If you would like to take advantage of this option, please have your medication and associated supplies separated from your other property in a separate pouch/bag when you approach the Security Officer at the walk-through metal detector.
  • Request the visual inspection and hand your medication pouch/bag to the Security Officer.
  • In order to prevent contamination or damage to medication and associated supplies and/or fragile medical materials, you will be asked at the security checkpoint to display, handle, and repack your own medication and associated supplies during the visual inspection process.
  • Any medication and/or associated supplies that cannot be cleared visually must be submitted for X-ray screening. If you refuse, you will not be permitted to carry your medications and related supplies into the sterile area."
Well, well--imagine that! The TSA workers don't even know their own rules.

Quelle surprise!

2. My San Jose flight seatmates: An older British couple. The man was seated in the middle seat and his long limbs kept creeping into my seat space. After rubbing elbows for several minutes, he finally placed his hands in his lap. He was reading some sort of legal document, but my surreptitious glances couldn't figure out what it was. His very proper wife was talking about one woman, who "had a good head on her shoulders" and another woman of whom she said, "She's a bitch. I'd like to put a hit out on her."

Unfortunately he decided to take a nap so she stopped talking after that. Too bad--the conversation was getting interesting.

3. The Google Party: This was a fairly small affair, but totally awesome. Open bar, lots of yummy food (including SUSHI!) and signature drinks that were adorned with LED ice cubes (see pic above). I collected a set (actually I had only three drinks, but snatched the fourth from an unsuspecting coworker).

4. Meeting up with David and Crystal: My brother and his fiancee drove down from San Francisco to have dinner with me on Wednesday night. It was great to see them.

5. The automated itinerary system on Southwest: Just as we were about to cut our post-conference happy hour short and get our asses in gear for the airport, I get an automated message from Southwest on my cellphone alerting me to the fact our flight had been delayed by an hour. Making lemonade out of lemons, we had another drink--or two.

6. My seatmate on the flight back to L.A.: As I took the empty aisle seat next to a young woman, she turned and held out her hand and said something. Initially, I thought she was telling me she was holding the seat for someone, but it turned out she was introducing herself. Unusual, but a nice change from most airline interactions. After I sat down and settled in, she pulled a barf bag from the seat pocket and laid in down on the seat between us. Looking at me she patted it saying, "Just in case. I had a little bit too much to drink."


Fortunately Tiffany did not lose her lunch (or dinner) during the flight. At least not in close proximity to me. She did excuse herself while the flight attendant was taking drink orders to use the bathroom. Perhaps she had the good grace to confine her vomiting to the lavatory.

7. My shuttle mates on the ride home: Why I didn't just take a cab, I don't know. It was 10 pm when we landed. I could just expense it to the company. I wasn't worried about economizing with the cab ride to the airport or the shuttle from the airport to the hotel. Instead, I turned what should have been a 20 minute cab ride into an hour long ordeal. First there was hippy dippy trippy lady, who hummed and warbled along to the music on her iPod along with snapping her fingers. Then there was annoying Amazon woman, who tripped getting into the van because she was too busy talking on her cell phone to watch where she was going.

I suffered while hippy dippy trippy hummed and snapped and the annoying Amazon continued to chat on her cell. Fortunately the other two riders were quiet like me. The good news is that annoying Amazon and hippy dippy trippy were the first two riders to get dropped off. The bad news is that I was second to last. Note to self: If someone else will be footing the bill, take a damn cab!

So that's my story. Not surprisingly there are annoying morons wherever you go. Might as well just stay home...

Monday, August 10, 2009

She's Baaaack (cont'd)!

After the whirlwind visit from Laurie and Dennis, it was basically work, work and more work. The revamped website for was launched around the 28th and puts a more visible link to the blog. I haven't been doing as much blogging there either--but a lot of my time is spent managing content, the other bloggers, editing, formatting, etc. I think the blog looks great and I'm really proud of it.

On Friday, we had a company party to celebrate the relaunch. To match the website's new red and white color scheme, we had red velvet mini cupcakes with white buttercream icing, ginger and pomegranate martinis, red and white flowers, etc. It was a pretty impressive party. I left before the wildness kicked in. I'm sure I'll hear stories next week...

Saturday, my friend John had a birthday party. Actually, he called it a "I'm Glad to Be Here" party since he recently pulled through a major health scare. It was great to see him and hang out with him and his awesome girlfriend, Cindy. I had a good time, but got home and into bed way too late. I'm too old for all this excitement!

Now I'm getting ready to head to San Jose tomorrow evening for a three day conference for work. I'll get to see David and Crystal Wednesday night--so I'm looking forward to that. I get back home Thursday night and I'm working from home on Friday to recover.

See--this is why I haven't had time for blogging!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

She's Baaaack!

Wow--it sure is easy to get out of the habit of blogging. It's been a busy couple of weeks, so let me catch y'all up on what I've been doing:

Thursday, July 30th, my sister Laurie and brother-in-law Dennis got into town to visit me for a couple of days after finishing the load-in of Wicked in San Diego. Laurie brought me a t-shirt from Heavenly Cupcake. It's got the store logo on the front and says, "I'm so frosted!" on the back. Very cute. Looks great with my white linen shorts.

After we chatted for a bit, we went to grab a bite to eat. I wanted to take them to Violet which is located right down the street from me. We trekked there on foot, but when we arrived the restaurant was closed. As in no longer in business. Their website was up when we headed there, but as of today it's been pulled down.

Plan B was to trek back, get in the car and drive north to Fig. When we figured out where Fig was located, it turned out to be in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. Laurie and Dennis weren't sure how they felt about a restaurant in a fancy-schmancy hotel so we went to Plan C, Manchego. Although it was after 8 pm by the time we got there, and the tiny little restaurant doesn't have a liquor license which necessitated a run to the liquor store to get a bottle of wine, Manchego turned out to be a great selection.

We tried almost everything on the Tapas menu and just about all of it was excellent. Stand-outs were the grilled zucchini, feta cheese and caramelized pecans and the lamb lollipops chops.

Friday, July 31st, Dennis and Laurie showed up about 1:30 pm and did some laundry. A stagehand friend who was living in Beverly Hills with his wife and kids invited us over for a cook-out so after laundry we spent time running to Whole Foods, a wine store and the Santa Monica Seafood company to get stuff to bring to the cookout. Andy and Amy had two adorable rugrats named Eli and Sydney, a sweet dog named Emma and a very friendly cat named Monkey. I spent most of the evening petting Monkey 'cuz Laurie, Dennis and Andy went off on a four hour long riff on stagehand stuff and between the wingnuts and winches I had no idea what the hell they were talking about.

Saturday, we went down to Venice to House of Ink where I've gotten five out of six of my tattoos done. My regular tattoo artist was no longer there, but Dennis and I forged ahead with our tattoo plans. Number seven for me, number one for Dennis.

Laurie wussed out.

I got a phoenix on my lower left abdomen. I thought that given how much "cushioning" I have in that region, the tattoo would be the least painful of all.

I was so wrong.

It was pretty excruciating, but it looked great when it was done. It's going through the itchy, scabby, scaly phase right now, but will be fully healed soon.

Dennis got a Grateful Dead logo with the words, "Don't Look Back..." underneath on his upper arm. The tattoo is a reference to the Don Henley song "Boys of Summer":

"Out on the road today
I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.
A little voice inside my head said,
"Don't look back. You can never look back."

Pretty cool, eh?

That evening we met up with my friends Dave and Kat in Silverlake. They took us to their favorite Italian restaurant, Aroma. When we finally were seated, I spotted my co-worker Pete having dinner with his lovely wife.

Small world!

Dinner was excellent. I had the filet mignon in red wine and herb sauce. So delicious! Before being seated, I had taken the waiter aside and told him to make sure to bring me the bill. Laurie and Dennis had picked up the tab Thursday night and last time Dave and Kat visited me they paid for dinner, so it was my turn. Unfortunately, Dennis also told the waiter to bring HIM the bill, but Dave beat us all and picked up the tab.

I told the waiter I was really pissed at him, but he said, "What can I say? He threatened to kill me if I didn't give him the bill. I have three kids..."

Sunday, we went up to Sherman Oaks to see my friend Danny in a series of one acts. Afterward we drove to Venice and checked out Gjelina, the latest Los Angeles "it" spot. It was good and we had the good fortune of sitting next to a very friendly couple, but I wasn't as impressed with it as I was with Aroma and Manchego.

That brings us up-to-date through August 2nd. I'll post more to catch up later, plus I've got a movie review for an upcoming release, skin care product review, some Republic of Tea stuff and more. So stick around and thanks for hanging in there!