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Much Ado About Nothing

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Finally (finally?), Much Ado About Nothing, which was my last Wisconsin Film Fest Film, on Thursday, April 18. Bout time, no?

Now, tickets went on sale for the 2013 Wisconsin Film Fest Film at noon on Saturday March 16 and I got online and started placing my order right away. By 12:15, I tried to put 4 tickets to Much Ado About Nothing in my cart and was told no. 3, no. 2, no. 1...yes. At 12:15 PM, fifteen minutes after the ticket sales opened, I put the last available ticket into my cart. Color me impressed. That sold out fast.

Unsurprisingly, even when I showed up at the theater rather early, there was already quite a line waiting for the seating to open. By the time I got in, things had rather filled up. The one small advantage to going to see it alone was that I could find a single seat in the upper part of the theater. (I have a hard time watching from the lower seats at Sundance. Too close to the screen.)

Now, this is my favorite Shakespeare comedy/romance and Beatrice is my very favorite of his heroines. I first saw the Kenneth Branagh version, which was pretty great but with some questionable casting/acting choices. (Keanu Reeves made Prince John the most wooden villain since silent films and Michael Keaton made Dogsberry almost unbearable to watch.) I also got to see the 2007 American Player's Theater production, with Tracy Michelle Arnold as Beatrice. (I just missed the 1999 production, since my first APT visit was the next year, but Amy Acker and Emma Bates were both in it.)

I was not disappointed. The casting and the acting were superb, even for roles that had always seemed shaky to me in the past. Sean Maher and Spencer Treat Clark brought subtlety and genuine emotion to the roles of Don John and Borachio. The interplay between Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion (and the rest of the watch) made the clowns amusing, rather than something to be tolerated.

Granted, one problem with fabulous acting is that it does draw your attention a little more to some ridiculous bits of Shakespearean plotting. "Wait, you are going to do what? Why would you think that is a good idea? And you? Why are you going along with him on this?" But that will always be the case in Shakespearean comedies and romances. There tends to be a few doses of "wait, what?!" in order to move the plot along. Ah, Will, we love you anyway.

Needless to say, I highly recommend it. I've seen it three times at this point. Granted, this review and recommendation would have been worth more if I'd written it in April than in August. (I'm working on that. I promise.)

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Computer Chess

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Computer Chess started our Sunday morning Film Fest viewing.

While I knew that it was a mockumentary, when the film began, I thought they were using archival footage to introduce the story. But nope. The whole thing was shot on vintage Sony AVC 3260 tube-powered videocameras which, along with the excellent hair, costumes, and props, give it an "archival footage" look. It's an amazing effect.

The cast seemed like it was full of vaguely familiar faces, yet on perusal I discovered that Wiley Wiggins was the only actual familiar face.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It was awkward and hilarious and both surreal and very real. That it, I really loved it until the last twenty minutes or so, at which point it felt like it totally went off the rails. As has been my opinion on a number of other films, I think a bit more editing throughout would have made for a much stronger film. There were a few scenes that went on too long, or could have been eliminated entirely. Yet, even with it's flaws, I was happy to have seen it, and might watch it again if the opportunity came around. (I wouldn't necessarily seek it out.)

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Approved for Adoption

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Approved for Adoption was our first Saturday night selection. It was preceded by a short called Blood Brothers.

Blood Brothers was...almost good, in a frustrating way. The stories are stories that need to be told and heard. The camerawork was decent in a beginner way. It really, really made me long for summertime in rural Wisconsin. I can tell that Jonathan Quam has great potential as a filmmaker. This film, however, could have used tighter editing to really make the narratives come through. 30 minutes was definitely not too long, but the way the 30 minutes was used was not the best. Hence, almost good in a frustrating way. I do look forward to seeing more work by Mr. Quam in future festivals.

Approved for Adoption (Couleur de peau: Miel) was the first film of the festival weekend that got a 5 on my audience ballot. It was amazingly well done. Jung used a combination of animation, old family films from Belgium the 70s, and modern footage from his first visit to South Korea since his early childhood. The result was a powerful and complex tale of growing up adopted across cultures, the search for identity, and the meaning of family.

There was a moment, near the end of the film, when I found myself profoundly sad at something that happened and was quietly wiping away tears. Glanced to the right: tears were being dabbed. Glanced to the left: same thing. Somewhere behind me, I could hear sniffling. I am usually at least mildly embarrassed when I find myself crying at a movie, but for this I felt like I was in pretty good company, since most of the people around me were doing so, too. Also, it wasn't a particularly manipulative moment, as far as filmmaking goes. I always feel a little angry when I'm crying at something that feels like "ha ha, *this* will have them bawling". This was honestly sad, but not overstated or cynically overplayed.

Couleur de peau: Miel was a beautiful piece of storytelling, and I would watch it again, if given the opportunity.

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Flimmer (Flicker)

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Our second Saturday night film was the Swedish film Flimmer (which was translated to "Flicker" in English). It was very, very Swedish, and also quite darkly (sometimes literally) hilarious.

There were a number of moments in the film when things were balanced on the knife-edge between dark comedy and tragedy, and it would only take the slightest breath to cause the while thing to plunge into deeply sad territory. And yet, it maintained that balance to the very end.

Every time the "what, no?!" was about to become too much, the audience (including myself) would dissolve into a cascade of laughter at some bit of absurdity on the screen. While it wasn't exactly a film I would want to see again, it was definitely a film I was glad I had seen.

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Canning for a New Generation

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Since this spring, I have been working my way through Liana Krissoff's Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry. So far, I have made rhubarb and orange jam, pickled asparagus, kohlrabi and radish refrigerator pickles, brandied cherries with red wine, and peach jam. Everything has been extremely tasty and surprisingly easy.

Krissoff's writing style is clear and easy to follow, infusing a touch of gentle humor with understandable descriptions and directions. Rinne Allen's gorgeous photography also goes a long way towards making the book a delight to hold and read.

One truly wonderful thing about the book is that the recipes are geared towards small batches, which work well for the modern pantry. Most of the preserved fruits I have made have been in quantities about about six half-pint jars. This allows me to make a variety of recipes without becoming overwhelmed by a wall of canned goods.

The book is divided into Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and then subdivided into Fruits and Vegetables for each section. Along with the pickles and preserves, Krissoff includes a few recipes that incorporate the things you have canned. I am particularly looking forward to trying her "Perfect Sidecar" with my brandied cherries.

One cruel thing about summer canning (particularly this summer) is that you end up spending time with a lot of boiling water during the hottest part of the year. (It was in the high 90's when I made my rhubarb orange jam...at that point, I figured I would hardly even notice the extra heat.) However, the occasional cool evening is the perfect time to hit the kitchen.

I don't think I will make every recipe in the book, but I do have hopes for at least one fruit and one vegetable from each seasonal section. I may even start freestyling as my CSA bounty comes in. I do remember having some success with dill pickled summer squash and zucchini a few years back.

The book may be "For a New Generation", but I come from a long line of canners. Shortly after I began my canning journey, in June, my Grandmother died. She was my Dad's mother and, at 92, she was my last remaining grandparent. One of the things I brought back with me from her house after the funeral was the jar lifter that she and Grandpa had used in their canning. It was a step up from my clumsy rubberband-wrapped tongs, and I think of my heritage every time I use it. I have a feeling that, at some point, canning jars from my grandparents (and great-grandparents) may make their way into my kitchen. It turns out that we aren't just preserving produce when we do this.

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Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters was our last film of the festival for the year. Our hopes were high and we were not disappointed.

One worry I had going into the screening was that, as can often be the case with documentaries of this kind, at least some of the subject would be the cringe-inducing type of obsessive, which I find uncomfortable to watch. This was not the case. To be sure, all of the Tetris players had a degree of obsessiveness, which is required to be really good at any skill. You cannot achieve mastery without practice, and you won't get that much practice without at least a little obsession.

But beyond that, all of main folk getting screen time were, for the most part, personable and people with whom I'd happily hang out. I'm not a computer gamer, but they were still my kind of folks. None of them came off as "poorly-socialized gamer geek" or "crazy obsessive". It certainly helped that the filmmaker was not some outsider looking in, but someone who had a love and understanding of the subject.

As a film, it told it's story in a fun and compelling way, and it held my attention and interest for the full time. I'm usually pretty tired by the last film of the weekend, but I was not afflicted by drooping eyes and a nodding head. I really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other children of the 80's who came of age with Super Nintendo.

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Pink Ribbons, Inc.

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My good friend and Film Fest buddy, M., and I disagree quite a bit about Pink Ribbons, Inc., our penultimate film of the weekend. I really liked it. M. liked parts of it, but disagreed with many of their conclusions and with a good deal of their presentation of the issue.

Full disclosure: My mom had a couple rounds of breast cancer when I was young (as was she), and due to that, I've recently started my own ritual of yearly mammograms. I also worked with and for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin for a good portion of the aughts, and while there some of my co-workers when involved in Komen grant work involving breast cancer education and screening.

I have also, for the past few years, started to become more and more bothered by the trend of pink, pink, pink everywhere to raise money "for breast cancer" and to "raise awareness." Breast cancer is very serious, but it is by no means the biggest health risk that women face. It's just the one with the best marketing campaign.

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The Amateur Monster Movie

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I had to be talked into getting tickets for this one. I am not a fan of the monster movie/horror genre, and usually don't even really enjoy the loving send-ups. (Ask me how much I hated Scream. Shaun of the Dead was always the one, notable exception.) But compromise is part of the process in picking out films, so when my longtime film buddy, M. was really excited about The Amateur Monster Movie, I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad that I did.

(Warning: the trailer kind of has spoiler. At the same time, really? It's The Amateur Monster Movie, not Inception. Are you really worried about spoilers? I thought not.)

Hilarious. I laughed harder during this than at any film I've seen in a while. There were a couple of sequences that really didn't work at all, but over all it was spot on. As you can guess from the trailer, it has some...language. I left the theater saying "muther feckin' wer-wolf" at the drop of a hat.

If you are a fan of monster movies or B-movies in general, you ought to get a kick out of this one. And I can attest that you might enjoy it even if you usually can't stand that genre. The Amateur Monster Movie is a winner.

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Before we could go get ourselves some sushi, we were back in line at the Orpheum for Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

It was amazing because of what it was: After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, three 12 year old friends, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, began filming their own shot-by-shot adaptation in the backyards of their Mississippi homes.
Seven years later their film was in the can.

My. God. I have never, in all my 36 years on this earth, undertaken a project even half so grand as what these kids did over the course of their teenage years. Certainly never did anything like it when I was actually a teen. The movie was a love letter to Raiders of the Lost Ark and a love letter to cinema. I was amazed at what they were able to pull off, and was rather bummed that we weren't able to stay for the Q&A after the film.

If you grew up on Indiana Jones and you get a chance to see this film, you should not pass up the opportunity.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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I didn't see any films on Friday night, since I was at the Overture Center singing in Verdi's Requiem for most of the evening. But first thing Saturday morning, we were off to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi at the Orpheum.

During the pre-show announcements, they mentioned how many sushi restaurants there were within a five minutes walk of the theater. Good thing they did, because I'm pretty sure everyone left the theater dreaming of sushi as well.

While the film wasn't quite as meditative as The Meaning of Tea, it was very peaceful and refreshing. I have an admiration for people like Jiro Ono, who thrive on simplicity and order, and who can do the repetitive work needed to achieve excellence at something. I don't work that way myself: I like the idea of simplicity, but I tend towards complexity, variety, and a wee bit of chaos. But the contrast between my way of life and Jiro's made it particularly pleasant to watch.

The visuals were great. If you didn't want sushi by the end of the film, you probably never liked sushi to begin with. Piece after piece of perfect nigiri was lovingly filmed in lingering close-up shots. Mouth watering. Trips to the fish market were slightly less mouthwatering, but far from disgusting. It is easy to forget how crazy huge tuna are. It's rather a shame how divorced we get from what and where the food we eat comes from.

In some tiny way, I was reminded of Great, a webcomic by Ryan Armand (KIWIS BY BEAT!). Jiro doesn't seem to have much in common with Lyle Phipps (who is often an angry sad sack) but I found myself thinking of Lyle's drive to create the greatest ramen in the world. (I also found myself wanting ramen.)

Later in the day we stopped at T. Sushi, to give the newest sushi restaurant a try. It was good, but definitely no Sukiyabashi. I might go there again, but it won't be at the top of my list of Madison sushi restaurants. (I have a hard time taking a sushi restaurant seriously if you order tea and are given a cup of hot water and a generic food-service tea packet.)

Next up: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

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Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night)

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Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night) was the second stop on our festival journey. It was also at Sundance Cinema, so we got to take a brief intermission at the Great Dane Hilldale.

(The trailer lack subtitles, but the subtitled version I found also featured a terrible American movie trailer voice over. Too awful to link.)

The festival write-up describes this as "a thriller with all the boring parts cut out" and they were not lying. My adrenaline was elevated from the first scene to the last, and even though it was very late when I left the movie, I was very keyed up.

There are some very important details that would be spoilers for the very first scene, but I can say that the majority of the film is a tense, high-stakes game of cat and mouse in a loud, crowded nightclub. They skip right over many of the usual cliches that make up the slow moments in action movies and keep you right in the midst of the actual action. I'm sure that they inevitable American remake will have some sort of goofy comic relief and a love interest. I'd recommend seeing this, and not bothering with any Hollywood follow-up.

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"Wisconsin" and "We're Not Broke"

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Our Wisconsin Film Fest journey for 2012 began on Thursday night at Sundance Cinema in Hilldale and a sold out screening of the documentary We're Not Broke and a local short, Wisconsin.

I'd seen Wisconsin when it was first uploaded to YouTube in March of last year, but it was great to see it again. So much has happened since then. Cold, snow, crowds, mud, pizza... Show me what democracy looks like: petitions, boxes and boxes of petitions.

It isn't the best of the little films that came out of the protests (the uncertain focus and camera angles was a bit maddening) but it was great to see and hear a variety of faces and voices.

We're Not Broke was well made, and if there was a person in the theater who didn't find themselves getting furious while watching it, I think they might have been asleep. It detailed the lengths to which American multinational corporations will go to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. and the ways in which they do so. They are literally willing to spend millions of dollars on lobbyists, campaign contributions, lawyers, and accountants in order to reduce or eliminate their tax bills. The things they do *may* be legal at this time, but they are in no way right or ethical.

As is often the case in documentaries like this, there were occasional moments where the protesters came off looking a bit silly, but that was mostly due to the fact that they are not professionals. But it was corporate America that came off looking like jackasses at best.

I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Lee Shephard., who was incredibly droll with a dry and acerbic wit.

I ended up sitting next to two older women, whose sotte voce comments I could overhear during the course of the film. If I was seething internally at the nefarious practices of the corps, they were visibly (and audibly) bristling with indignation.

It was rather a good thing for me that it wasn't the last film of the night, because if it had been, I'd probably have seethed all night long. As it was, I had about an hour after the end to glower about corporate tax dodgers, after which I was plunged into French action sequences, and it was my adrenaline being raised, rather than my blood pressure. It has stayed with me, though, and I will definitely recommend it to other people, if they get the opportunity. This is something we should be made about.

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This year, I am going to try to get them together in a timely manner. Here goes.

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Pina

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Yesterday, I finally got the opportunity to see Pina, which I have been waiting for since December. I was not disappointed in the least.

I saw the 2D version, so I couldn't say whether the 3D aspect was used effectively, but I don't really care for 3d, so that was a feature, rather than a bug.

Overall, I thought it was brilliant. I am not a dance connoisseur, modern or otherwise. I had not heard of Pina Bausch until I first saw the trailer for the film. That being said, it really spoke to me. The dance was a constant juxtaposition of the graceful and the awkward, the beautiful and the homely.

The version of The Rite of Spring that basically opened the film was a violently powerful display of sweat and dirt and fear. It set the tone for obvious effort and exertion.

One thing that struck a chord with me was how many of the movements and gestures reminded me of things I do when I'm feeling a little silly. Pina took that silliness and pushed it to the edge, stretched it, exaggerated it, and it became art.

The soundtrack was also a big winner for me. I think it was the use of Jun Miyake's "Lilies in the Valley" in the trailer that first grabbed my attention. It all really worked.

One more thing: I don't know much about Wuppertal, but man, I really want to ride on their tram now. Wouldn't you?

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Three Things Make a Post

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First off, if you ever have the opportunity to try the cheesy pub fries at Laz Bistro and Bar in Stoughton, WI, do not let the moment pass you by. Those are some amazing, tasty chips. However, unless you plan on making a meal of nothing but them, plan to split them with at least one friend. While it may be found in the "tapas" section of the menu, there was nothing "small" about this plate.

Secondly, the Stoughon Opera House is remarkable beautiful venue, both in terms of looks and in sound quality. Even though it was a bit of a drive to get there, I will gladly go again. (And now I am extra sad that the Carolina Chocolate Drops show there last fall sold out before I got tickets. It must have been an astonishing show in that space.)

Finally, even with a hint of laryngitis roughening up her voice, Dar Williams remains as luminous and buoyant as ever. It was an intimate show, just Dar with her guitar and a piano accompanist on some songs. The last few times I'd seen her she had a band along. As nice as the bands were, I definitely prefer her solo (or almost solo) sound. I have always been fond of the way she interacts with the audience and introduces the songs with little stories. It's that kind of thing that gets me to live shows.

She also looked fantastic, and gave me a great idea for what to do with my hair when it gets a bit longer. I think I've always had a tiny girl-crush on her unassuming hippy-goddess rockstar style. She never goes over to top in any direction, but nails it with confidence. Considering her severe stage fright in her early career, it really inspires me.

It was a great night.

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It taking me ages to post these is becoming a bit of a tradition, sadly. Anyway, without further ado, here is what I saw at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year:

Breaking and Entering was the first film of our weekend. This entertaining documentary followed a number of people who have obtained records for the Guinness Book of World Records for some rather unusual feats: grape catching, "joggling", phone book tearing, etc.

It was well-edited and there was humor without mockery, along side some pathos and a helping of "Holy cow, that's amazing!" It was a good entry to start us off on this year's FIlm Fest journey.

Our second film of the weekend ended up being my favorite: Louder Than a Bomb, which follows a number of schools/students participating in the Chicago-area high school poetry slam of the same name. As was fitting from the title, I was blown away. The passion and talent of the kids was intense, the doc was well-filmed, and the editing was tight. I will watch it again if I get the chance. Watch the trailer and tell me you wouldn't, too.

Soul Boy was charming, particularly when you know the making-of backstory. It screened with The Woman in Purple, during which almost nothing actually happened. Plot kept threatening to break out, but then it never did. It wasn't a bad little film, just extremely uneventful.

Mozart's Sister (Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart) was the last film of the day on Saturday. It was interesting, intriguing, and a little odd. I kept finding myself trying to sort out the true emotions and motivations of the characters, many of whom were behaving in unusual (to me) fashions and/or keeping their cards close to their chests. Marie Féret, as Nannerl, was particularly hard for me to read much of the time. One thing I did get from the film, however, was the correct pronunciation of that name.

Here are things that can be said of Acquainted with the Night
1. It is visually appealing.
2. It's soundtrack could be annoying.
3. It could do with better editing.

Our one shorts program was Sunday at the Monona Terrace. Only three selections, and frankly, only one was what I would call "short."

Mary and Bill (50 minutes), about a 90-year-old triathlete and an 83-year-old high jumper from the Madison area was roughly made, but sweet.

Optimo Hat Company (10 minutes) was an actual short, in my opinion. It was very beautifully filmed. It also could have been a straight-up advertisement for the business.

Style and Grace (40 minutes) was frustrating to me. For one thing, the sound (and lack of sound design, editing, balance, etc) drove me nuts. For another thing, I sensed a lot of potential in the documentary, and bet it could have been truly fascinating in different hands. As it was, probably only interesting to those who were actually involved. And anytime things threatened to get interesting, they would cut away to film out the window as someone got into their car. I think this could have been a goldmine for a better filmmaker.

We closed off the weekend with what is becoming another film fest tradition, British Television Advertising Awards. I don't think this year's batch were necessarily quite as good as in previous years, they were still quite witty and clever, including this Youtube campaign from the London Metro Police, which seems like a remarkably good use of new media.

And so another year, another belated sumary. Here's to next year!

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As is always the case, there was way more to see on Gallery Night than I could reasonably fit in the 5-9 time span. It's like a buffet banquet: you try to get in tiny samples of as many items as you can, but you'll still be stuffed before you can try it all.

This year most of my stops were also in/near studio spaces, which make me happy. Two of the stops involved glass blowing demos, which are always a treat for me.

I started out the night at Studio Paran on Winnebago, which included glass blowing demos by Richard Jones, and "Tables for Two" in the gallery space, a collaboration by Jones and furniture-maker Christopher Ueland. The artistic cafe tables they had built and set up throughout the room really did invite visitors to linger and talk, while examining the work close-up.

Next stop was across the street at the Winnebago Studios. It was still early in the night, and I know that some of the artists were also taking part in shows elsewhere, so some my usual studios were closed. But it was still wonderful to be surrounded not just by the art of art, but by the mess and material of art-making. Even a tidy studio has an energy to it that thrills me.

I have a quick stop at Tandem Press on Dickinson and then across the street to my old digs, Evolution Arts Collective. There was some great new work in the show, and the space was really alive. I you are looking for inexpensive, shared studio space in the Madison area, I high recommend contacting them at evolutionartscollective@gmail.com.

Radiant Glass and reneéglass factory in the Madison Enterprise Center on Baldwin St was next on the list, where there was more wonderful glass blowing demonstrations, and some stunning works of glass on display by all the artists.

Just upstairs in the Common Wealth Gallery, artist Michele Kraft had a series of gorgeous and intriguing oil paintings, based on the tarot. Sadly, I did not get any photos at this stop, but there was one particular installation based on the Lovers that made me stop, look twice, and then smile.

We were running short on time at this point, and decided that looking for parking downtown would eat up too much of what was left, so we had to skip the likes of the UW, Overture, and MMoCA. Instead we hightailed it up Monroe street to the always delightful Macha Tea House and Gallery, for some wonderfully weird paintings on velvet.

The last stop of the night was the most traditional, as we spend the last 10 minutes before nine in the Grace Chosy Gallery. There was some nice work on display, but nothing that knocked my socks off. It was aesthetically and technically sound, but it was also pretty safe. Not a bad thing, but far less memorable than some of the things we'd seen earlier that night.

After 9 bells tolled, we headed up to jacs for a light meal (all that we really needed after a night of gallery reception snacks). I can recommend the spinach salad, and will note that the small is quite substantial.

So, here's to Fall Gallery Night 2010. Now, on to Spring 2011!

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

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N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms rather knocked my socks off. The world she created was rich and interesting, and the style of storytelling had a unique flow.

Check out the sample chapters.

I am eagerly awaiting the next book in the Inheritance Trilogy, The Broken Kingdoms, which comes out in November. (Oh look, a sample chapter!)

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Shades of Milk and Honey

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I just finished reading Mart Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey, and I must say, I enjoyed it greatly. The plot was engaging, the writing flowed well, and nothing jarred me out of the world of the book (as opposed to the clever-idea-but-poorly-executed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

It reminded me Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's magical regency books, though with a very different flavor. Kowal is very careful to make sure that this magic is used for decoration and entertainment, and does not have any military applications, which makes it a suitable "feminine accomplishment" rather than a dangerous weapon.

I recommend the book, and after reading it, I also recommend going to the website and reading the Easter eggs. (They are password protected: just remember the name of the horse Jane rides in Chapter 10.)

In the meantime, here is the delightful book trailer, featuring some of Kowal's shadow puppetry.

And as a bonus...Jane Austen's Fight Club, for some non-period authentic fun:

(Coming soon...my belated thoughts on N. K. Jeminsin's amazing The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms)

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Final Film: Baraboo

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We wanted to like Baraboo, we really did. It was a sold out show with a long rush line, so we weren't the only ones looking forward to it. No by a long shot. Local filmmaker, local actors, local location...there was a lot of buzz leading up to it. Sitting in the theater, I was not at all surprised to notice that APT's Sarah Day was sitting right behind us.

There is no denying that the film had visual appeal. Shot in the rolling hills around Devil's Lake, it made me long to head out and do something in the Wisconsin summer.

The acting had a natural and improvised feeling...perhaps some of it was improvised. Sadly, the actors were not given much to do. Much like the lives of the characters, the plot didn't go anywhere. Things happened. Then there was a shot of the trees. Then more things happened. Then there were more trees. Maybe a tractor. Brief conversation that amounts to nothing. More trees. Wordless shot of character going about their daily activities. More trees. Mildly dramatic interlude that promises to really get things going...then doesn't. More trees. Brief conversation that amounts to nothing.

I don't think I've ever checked the time as often as I did while watching Baraboo. 99 minutes was about 79 minutes too long. I think that this would really have worked for me if it had been trimmed down to a 20 minute short. There was enough plot and character development for that length, but not to sustain a feature.

When I wasn't checking the time or hoping that a moment of conflict I was watching would develop into something more, I was imagining all the things I wanted to do this summer. Hey, they're having a bonfire. Oh, bonfires are great. Hey, that guy is biking. I want to do some real biking this year. Hmm, what a pretty area. I should road trip up and over there some weekend...

As the finale for our Film Fest weekend, it was a bit of an anticlimax. Still, it was a good weekend. Some films were far stronger than others, but even our least favorites were not stinkers. And we couldn't have hoped for better weather.

Here's to next year!

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I was obviously not the only photographer at the Floating Market. Here are some that were actually shot during the market. (And with better lighting, since she was working with more than just the pop-up flash.) It's a very nice set.

Also, here is another excellent write-up of the event, featuring some of those photos.

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At the name of this post would indicate, our second stop on Saturday was another shorts program. This one made no promise as to whether we would be unsettled. What we got was an interesting mixed bag.

(I can't exactly remember the order, but that is not the important part.)

Duck Crossing was a charming little mocumentary. 13 or so minutes of clips and "interviews" on the "duck crossing" scene that appears so often in film. More often than I'd ever realized, that's for certain. My one criticism is that the subtitles were extremely hard to read: a small, white font. It gave me a bit of a headache.

The one minute long My Friend, Larry was extremely strange. However, the brevity helped it, for it was over before it could become annoying.

I'm not normally a fan of experimental, but You Will Like This worked. It was funny and peculiar and just this side of unsettling. The fact that it was 4 minutes also helped. Like My Friend, Larry, the joke would have worn very thin had it continued much longer. In fact, a minute less might have made it stronger.

I can honestly say that I barely remember seeing Floatin', a 1 minute stop-motion animation, beyond the fact that it was cute. It just didn't register in comparison. Perhaps if I'd taken notes, but I don't do that.

The two other animations, Subprime and Mariza were more memorable. Both were digital. Subprime was 3 minutes of ever evolving and collapsing houses; Legos meets the Sims meets something new. Mariza was 5 minutes of a fisherman, a dancing donkey, and a battle of wills.

Sinkhole actually was a little bit unsettling. Shot in Centralia, PA, the coal mining town that has be abandoned for years due to a long-burning coal fire in the seam below the town. To say too much would spoil it (if you ever get an opportunity to see it), but I can say that things don't go as expected for the coal company broker how has come to try to buy out the remaining landowner.

I was a little uncertain at the start of Sign of the Times. I didn't know how much of loud, jerky guy being loud and jerky I could handle, regardless of how funny it was. Fortunately, the tale of the stolen morning papers proved to have more going on than just that. It was funny and kind of sweet.

Chili & Cheese: A Condimental Rift was, to borrow a phrase Meg Hamel used to describe one of the other films, a hoot. Good acting, great cinematography. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though I wasn't always sure of where it was going.

Carjacked was funny in a totally bizarre, barely making sense kind of way. For a project by high school students, it was very well done. The film blurb describes it as "over-the-top" and I have to agree. Kind of funny, very weird.

Only one film to go in my Film Fest Roundup.

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Film Fest, Saturday: A Big Start

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For our first show on Saturday, our group was bigger (M, E, D and I) and the venue was bigger (Orpheum, Main Stage). All appropriate for A Matter of Size, a feature-length narrative about Israeli sumo wrestlers.

Our hero is Herzl (Itzik Cohen), who loses his job as a salad-bar chef because customers complain about his size. He had joined a diet group, but they don't tolerate his weight increases and boot him out. He finds work washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant, where they've tuned in the sumo wrestling match on their satellite TV behind the bar. In this competitive sport, being large brings honor and respect. It's what Herzl craves, and would be good for his buddies, too, for they are all generously sized and have too much free time. Herzl convinces the restaurant's owner, Kitano, to train them in the venerable sport of sumo.

The combination of gentle humor and real conflict made for a funny yet powerful story. It did not rely entirely on slapstick or mockery, as could so often be the case with a plot such as this. It also deals quite deftly with the relationships the men have with each other and with their loved ones. Herzl's mother and his new girlfriend are also characters instead of caricatures.

We all enjoyed the show quite a bit, and afterwards, 3 of us felt compelled to get gyros for lunch, thanks to Gidi's shawarma. (It was that or Japanese--right across the street--but we didn't have too much time before the next show.) Sitting patio in front of Parthenon and watching people walk by in the sunshine, we knew we were off to a good start.

Only two more shows to go.

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Film Fest: Friday Night Part II

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For our second selection on Friday night, M and I had to dash from the Memorial Union Play Circle all the way to the Monona Terrace. Thankfully, resisting the urge to dawdle got us there in time to find some excellent seats. Turns out, the filmmaker and his brother, the subject of the documentary, were sitting right in front of us.

The documentary we saw was Unforgettable, the story of a year in the life of Brad Williams, a La Crosse, WI man who is one of only three known people with hyperthymesia. Which is to say, he has "superior autobiographical memory."

This definitely was the winner for us this year, as far as documentaries went. It was funny and engaging, informative and narrative. There was a voice over giving commentary and explanation where and when it was needed, but it also knew when to show rather than tell.

It was nearing midnight when the film ended, and we had a long walk ahead of us (M was parked at Babcock Hall, at the far end of the UW campus) so we decided not to stay for the Q&A that followed the screening. Under other circumstances, I think we both would have wanted to, but it just wasn't in the cards this time.

Two days down, one to go...

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2010 Film Fest Day 2

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Friday night at the film fest was a challenge at the beginning. Getting there and getting parked in the face of the overwhelming number of people that would be downtown and around campus was tough. Besides the film fest, there was also the UW Varsity Band Concert and the high school State Forensics meet. Lots of people, lots of cars, lots of buses. I biked, in spite of the evening chill. M had to drive, and so parked waaaaaaaaay across campus. But we both made it just it time to take our seats for the first selection.

For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism seems like a very appropriate choice for our slate of films, and we liked what we saw. The documentary was a history of film criticism, as well as a love note to both film and film criticism and an examination of the place and direction of professional film criticism in the time of the internet.

It was interesting and fun to watch, though M described it as "lazy Sunday PBS" material, in other words, something she'd definitely be happy watch on television if it were to air on PBS, but not quite on the level of what she usually expects from the festival. I liked it well enough, but couldn't entirely disagree with that sentiment.

We would have liked to have stuck around for filmaker Gerald Peary's Q&A session, but we had to book it up to the Monona Terrace right away for our next film. (More on that one later...)

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Happy Sunday!

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I'm quoted in Etsy's Storque blog.

Also, more Film Fest write-ups coming soon, but in the meantime, I'm off to Chicago for Lifeline Theater's Floating Market benefit.

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Off to an interesting start

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The first set of films M and I took in last night was at the Monona Terrace. All hail the eyeball-assaulting carpet pattern!

It was not surprising that while this year's pre-film trailer was pretty in interesting, there was no way it could top last year's "We Like It Here!" intro.

Our first selection was a short-film program of 3 documentary films. At 2 minutes, National Anthem Tryouts was also the most interesting and endearing.

The 6 minute-long University of Wisconsin Marching Band was also fun, but the footage and editing was a bit choppy. As someone who had Mike Leckrone as a director (albeit for Concert Band rather than Marching Band) I found it amusing as hell. Still, it seemed more the thing to show at a Band-specific function. Very home-movie.

Ghost Player was the longest, at 54 minutes. It was also the most frustrating. Like University of Wisconsin Marching Band, it was edited in such a way that made it more appropriate to an audience that already knew the group. So many things were reference in passing but never explained. In fact, one item that sounded *extremely* interesting wasn't even mentioned until over the closing credits, and again, without actually telling the story. The most frequently repeated phrase in Ghost Player was something along the lines of "I can't explain it." Well obviously, but if that is the case, maybe find someone who can? I think every person who spoke on camera was one of the team. We hear nothing from their families, co-workers, fans... We just have to take their word that it was special and amazing. I think the topic could have been a great documentary, along the liine of Heart of an Empire. Instead, I kept checking my watch to see if it would be over soon.

Still, if that is our worst pick, it is going to be a great weekend.

For our second program, Slightly Unsettling Spanish Shorts, we were joined by E at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA). The selections lived up to the name. All three of us were definitely unsettled.

The first film, Ya no Puede Caminar (13 min) was also, to us, the most unsettling. I saw the ending coming about halfway through and though, "No, it can't be that. How would that happen?" And then it did, and it was *worse* than I'd thought (by which I mean far creepier). On top of that, the ending is both shockingly horrible *and* unresolved, leaving you with a feeling of "Oh my god, no! What happens next?!" M, E, and I found ourselves discussing the possibilities all the way home.

El Tren de la Bruja (19 min) was more immediately and viscerally disturbing, but carried less of a lasting feeling of unease. It felt much more like a standard modern horror film, of the "torture porn" variety. It did have an interesting twist at the end, and more-or-less resolved. The questions left unanswered did not feel as pressing. In fact, while I wondered was was really going on, I found myself wondering even more what would happen next in the world of the first film.

Tercero BB (19 min) was like Almodovar meets Hitchcock. The most interesting thing about it is the way it set you up with one POV and interpretation on the story and then, halfway through, it takes you back to the beginning and retells it all from a second POV which fills in some gaps and alters the interpretation in a very cool way. Once again, this is a film that goes to the closing credits on an unresolved note: what was that noise off-screen? What did they do to each other? Yet like El Tren de la Bruja, I didn't care quite as much about the ending as I had about Ya no Puede Caminar.

Tras Los Visillos (17 min) was far less unsettling. When pretty much of the characters are horrible people, it is hard to care. Definitely brutal and violent, but even the twist was kind of a shoulder shrug for me.

7:35 de la Mañana (8.5 min) made an excellent bookend with Ya no Puede Caminar, for it also left us scratching our heads and saying, "What just happened here? That was bizarre." In a way, the set-up was like something from an episode of Criminal Minds, if Criminal Minds were in Spanish. And a musical.

All in all, the program did just what it said on the label, leaving us slightly unsettled. Perfect.

On the schedule for tonight: For the Love of Movies: Film Criticism and Unforgettable. I'll write them up on Saturday if I have time.

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Nice to be noticed.

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The Floating market garners a nice mention in this article on the Etsy Recyclers Guild Team (see page 4 for a photo and page 5 for the mention)

What a nice way to start the week!

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Great music, interesting visuals

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I've watched this one a couple of times, and enjoy it more each time.

ETA: In case you don't know all of the paintings.

ETA II: And yes, the blackface in the rendition of "Olympia" is rather troubling. I didn't notice it the first couple of times I watched the video, sad to say.

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Mentioned elseweb...

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A pair of cufflinks from The Floating Market has received a favorable mention on Small talk about big things. Check it out!

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Nominations for the 2010 Hugo Awards close next Sunday. As I am still eligible to nominate (having been to WorldCon last year), I have been giving it some thought. I can nominate up to five in each catagory.

Best Novel, current thoughts are:
The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The City & The City by China Miéville
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Best Novella, Best Novelette...dunno. I don't think I read any new ones from 2009.

Best Short Story is also a dunno, as I can't quite remember which that I read where new in 2009. I'll have to look it up.
ETA:
I'm liking K. Tempest Bradford's "Élan Vital"

Best Related Work is a category that I know very little about.

Best Graphic Story is going to require more thought, and I'd be happy to take recommendations. (Any science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in 2009.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
Coraline
Star Trek
Moon

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
"Epitaph One," Dollhouse

Best Editor, Short Form; Best Editor, Long Form; Best Professional Artist...dunno. I'll have to think on it.

Best Semiprozine
I believe Shadow Unit qualifies.

Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer, Best Fan Artist, John W. Campbell Award...dunno.

I'd welcome any thoughts and input on categories that are blank or incomplete.

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CREATE Studio Lounge

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CREATE blackboard

Yesterday I stopped in at CREATE StudioLounge in Sun Prairie, which is co-located with The Fabric Fairy. I'd been wanting to visit for several months now, but had been unable to make it in during their open hours, which are 2 PM-3 PM Monday through Friday and12 PM-5 PM Saturday.

The store is at 5353 Maly Rd. in Sun Prairie, which is actually a rather undeveloped area (take a look at the Google Street View) and might have put me off if I hadn't double-checked the address and directions first. Its neighbors are industrial warehouses and trees, rather than retail. I imagine this helps keep the rent overhead low, but it may also be an obstacle for customer traffic. (I don't know, but I could imagine so.)

CREATE room view CREATE room view

The space itself is very cheerful and open. It invites you to sit right down and get to work at a sewing machine or table, or on one of the comfy couches. Natural light streams through the plentiful, wide windows around the room.

CREATE room view CREATE room view

When I arrived, the woman working was the only other person there. This made it really easy to get good photos of the place, but I hope that it is not usually like that. They do offer quite a few classes, so I can see those being a draw. The space is so lovely and the layout is excellent, it would be a shame to see it not being used. I love the idea of it regularly being filled with crafters, working on their own projects, but doing so in the company of other like-minded folk, rather than in isolation. (That was the best thing about art school, for me, and also the highlight of my time in as a member of the Evolution Arts Collective.)

As I mentioned at the start, I can see the hours and location being obstacles that need to be overcome, but I really want to see CREATE StudioLounge success. I like the idea, I like the space.

"The Fabric Fairy's CREATE StudioLounge is a drop-in lounge, designed to nurture the creative spirit, provide a space for sewers and crafters to work in a social and inviting atmosphere, and be a community center for the diy and handmaking artists in the Madison area."

Check it out if you get a chance.

CREATE room view

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Pondering the Hugos

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I just read Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld's newest book, and it is definitely going to be one that I nominate for a Hugo this year. It was a great read and the illustrations were gorgeous. I was both disappointed and excited when I realized that it was just the first part of a larger story. On the one hand, I have to wait to find out what happens next. On the other hand, more story!

Also on my list for novels are Lev Grossman's The Magicians and China Miéville's The City & the City

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Yesterday afternoon, I dropped in to the High Noon Saloon to check out the The Valentine's Day Craftacular. It was the earliest in the day I have ever been there, that is for sure. From the moment I walked in, I looked around and thought, "This is pretty neat." The layout and the bustle of activity put me in mind of the actual Floating Market in the BBC version of Neverwhere (from which my shop draws it's name and inspiration).

I counted about nineteen vendors. Five of them were upstairs, which is where I started.

First up was Prettifications by Cynthia a store I'd actually stumbled across in the fall while looking for something to wear to a wedding with my little black dress. I didn't buy anything at the time, but it did add a piece of hers to my favorites list. (I still covet it...may buy it yet if no one snaps it up before me.)

Next was Haley Studio, who had some gorgeous handspun yarn and some truly lovely fabric pocketbook-type bags.

Gub Factory's cellphone holders and coffee cup cozies were neat, but the stuffed creatures were the highlight of their table.

At this point, the upstairs was getting crowded, so I went downstairs to look around for a little while.

Space Oddities had a set-up on the pool table. Very hip, very fun.

Picture Day, who also has some great shots of the day, was looking stylin' by the soundbooth.

Lulu's Stabby's Critters may be stabby, but they are also cute as hell.

Antique Basket Lady's bags were totally charming. I loved the bold fabric prints.

Mindy Kuen had little baby t-shirts with neckties. I am nothing if not all about the necktie fashions.

Glitter Workshop was the organizer of the whole shebang. Two words: button bracelets. Scrumptious! Two more words: crochet cupcakes.

The Bare Tree Apparel had a wide variety of belts, hoodies, and shirts, including these screen printed boneshakers.

Lula and Deedee's display table reminded me of a fireworks display, with funky beaded earrings bursting out in every direction.

Kim's Crafty Apple 'n The Apple was an explosion of bright fabrics and beads, plus tasty-looking jars of preserves.

Dainty Daisies, of Oshkosh had a rack of colorful fabric totes and a table overflowing with cheerful jewelry and hair accessories.

Fat Cat Beads' brick and mortar store is tucked away on Thierer Rd, but the Craftacular display was right at the corner of the bar. Tell me, do you not want one of these earring trees? Yeah, I thought so. Me, too.

orangyporangy was tucked in at the edge of stage right, just by the stairs. So, I am not allowed to buy myself any new skirts until spring, but my resolve wavered a bit at the sight of what have to be the happiest skirts in the world.

Stage left was Christina Ward Creatures and more rockin' plushies. Plush chupacabra? Check. No, seriously: hard rockin'. How about a plushGolem of Prague.

Bernie's Girl had skirts in the deconstructed/reconstructed/recycled style that I dig (but usually can only get away with wearing while LARPing), along with candylike "Word Drop" rings.

The last vendor I checked out before heading back upstairs was Whimsy House: "goodness fashioned from vintage buttons & felted wool." Picture a rainy afternoon spent rummaging around in your grandmother's attic and making crafts. (Well, someone's grandmother, at least.) Now picture those crafts done with exquisite taste and skill. Yup, it's kind of like that.

Back up to the balcony, where I was able to get a better look at Little Dandelion Studios' table. Honestly, I don't know what I'd do with pretty, handpainted clothespins, and yet I find myself wanting them.

Last, but certainly not least, was Sommer with an O who had beautiful photos, an interesting presentation, and great boots.

While I wasn't able to buy anything, it was great to see so many local crafters having a good day. The general consensus was that it was a fantastic turn out for a February, and that sales had been very good. I was happy to be there, and maybe someday will return as a vendor myself. For now, though, I've just stocked up my mental wish list.



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Restaurant week: dinner at Sardine

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Tonight was our second restaurant week outing. Dinner at Sardine was not a disappointment.

We had a party of five, and managed to order all but one of the Restaurant Week offerings. (Well, we did order all of the main, published dishes. They had added a veggie entree, but while we were strongly tempted by the Potato, gruyere and leek croquettes, we had all pretty much made up our minds before we even arrived.)

The Soup du Jour was Butternut Squash puree, and while I was tempted, I decided to try the Apple Salad. I'd made a huge batch of squash soup this fall, and I usually don't make salads for myself. I did not regret the choice, for the salad was light, savory, and well-balanced. Reports from the rest of the table were that the House Salad and the soup were also quite enjoyable.

The Bone in Chicken Breast knocked my socks off. (And if you know the kind of socks I wear, that is quite an accomplishment.) The meat was perfectly juicy and tender, and the Riesling cream sauce was one of the best things I have ever tasted. I had to grab a piece of bread at the end a mop of every last drop.

Oh, how I wanted the Vanilla bean crème brulée. It was actually the deciding factor for me in choosing the restaurant. Alas, it was not to be. A very popular choice, it seems, for they were all out. I had to console myself with the Gateau Victoire. As second choices went, it was pretty choice. The one member of our party who chose the Assorted cookie plate shared bits of it around, so I also got to try nibbles of lavender shortbread, and other delicious tidbits.

There was not a single bite of the meal that was not excellent. We had plenty of room at and around our table. The waitress was friendly and professional. A fine night out, on this cold Wednesday night.

Next restaurant week will be around July. Looking forward to it already.

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Restaurant week has begun!

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I kicked things off yesterday with a small group lunch at Quivey's Grove Stable Grill. (Someday, I need to have a meal in the Stone House, but not this week.)

The restaurant week lunch offerings had something to please everyone in our group. Sadly, though there were 5 of us, we did not sample every offering. We went 2/3 on the tomato bisque and the breaded mushrooms. The soup tempted me, but I went with the mushrooms and was not disappointed. The pretzel coating was light and crispy, and the portion was just the right size for a first course. Reports from the soup eaters was that it was also delicious. It certainly looked great.

No one got the fish fry, though I was strongly tempted. All but one of us had the Kobe beef cheeseburger. I ate about half of my burger there, and saved the rest to take home. It was a satisfying burger, and actually held up to re-heating, thanks to ciabatta roll on which it was served. The "Pork on Pork on Pork Basket" was a little too much pork for most of us, but the person who did order it enjoyed it, though she did disassemble the sandwich, eating the sausage patty separately from the pulled pork and bacon.

We all enjoyed the thick fries, which also came in reasonable portions. Neither skimpy nor overwhelming. I am often very relieved to receive restaurant meals that don't try to give the illusion of "value" by loading the plate with more food than I will ever eat, and which will only end up in the trash. Give me a reasonable portion that will leave me satisfied, but not gorged.

We did end up with all three dessert options, and each one was quite enjoyable. Three of our party got the brownie sundae (which also came in that reasonable portion). One of my tablemates had the bread puuding, which looked so appealing that if my own slice of Turtle Pie wasn't so light and creamy, I might have regretted my choice. As it was, the crust was flaky, the filling was silky, and the caramel and pecans were chewy and toothsome.

The food was everything we could have wanted. The service was a little bit less than impressive, as we were there for about 40 minutes before our order was taken. Our server took our drink order and said she'd get our food orders when she brought the drinks. Given that we were pretty much ready to order at that time, this was a sad choice. It was a good long wait until our drinks appeared, and then we got an "I'll be back in a minute" followed by another long wait before she returned to take our orders. Once our orders were actually placed, the food came promptly. I think they were understaffed for the day. It wasn't super-crowded, but the staff-to-diner ratio was such that she probably ended up in the weeds for a while when a number of orders came up at the same time. Not entirely her fault, but still unimpressive.

Overall, it was a great start to the week. We are all looking forward to our Wednesday night outing to Sardine. (L'Etoile was our first choice, but unsurprisingly, it was booked up for the whole week.)

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Do you know of Elise Matthesen, AKA the Lioness? If not, then it is about time you did, for she is pretty neat and she makes some very cool jewelry.

I own two pieces by her, very simple but rather fun: two pairs of earrings from her Wiscon Haiku Earring parties. (Pick a pair of earrings. Show them to Elise, who will give you a title. Write a haiku to go with the title. Give the poem to Elise, keep the earrings.) This past year, I got to help her out pre-party, by assisting in taking photos of many of the earrings for the party. Doing so was very helpful, for it gave me the confidence that I would, in fact, be able to get decent product shots for my own jewelry when the time came.

earrings, Talking to Water

Talking to Water

Before salt grey cliffs
Whisper to the Autumn sea
Speak my need of you.

Right now she has some of her "current shinies" on sale. Go check them out.


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Crashing Dylan

Tonight (well, technically yesterday now) Bob Dylan and Willy Nelson played a show at the Warner Park Duck Pond--that's the ball park, for the uninitiated. Tickets were $45, which is a wee bit rich for my blood, but I decided to go and sit outside the venue to listen.

Unfortunately, I fell asleep at 6PM, hoping to be up and out by 7, but my nap ended up stretching until 8, so I pretty much missed Willy. That was a damn shame, since he has the better voice by far.

I parked myself at a section of the fence that was being used as an exit, right behind a beer concession table. It was just to the right of the stage, and though I couldn't see anything on the stage, I could hear it all perfectly. I also got to watch the security people nabbing those who tried to actually sneak into the show, and believe me, there were quite a few.

The show itself was ok, although unless the visuals were amazing, I'm glad I didn't buy a ticket. I love Dylan's songs, but no one will argue that his abilities as a songwriter far and away outpace his...er...singing ability. It pretty much sounded like everyone I've ever heard do a parody of him. It even tok me three choruses to recognize that he was performing "Mr. Tamborine Man" at one point.

Still, it was an enjoyable little adventure to freeload an outdoor concert. On the way home, it started to rain just after I crossed Sherman Ave. Great big, splachy drops of rain. Fortunately, my neighborhood is rather tree lined, so as soon as I turned off of Sherman I was able to gain temporary shelter as I moved from tree to tree. There was only one or two spots that were pretty much just open to the downpour. I was glad to make use of a towel when I reached home.

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Thumbnail review:

I really liked F 9/11. I thought it was all round a much stronger film than Bowling for Columbine. Moore usually does at least one thing in every piece that makes me cringe and think"God! Don't be such a jackass." I was totally expecting to find those here, and there were none--there was none of the bullshit that usually makes me cringe at least once in most Moore products. I think he learned a few lessons from the controversy surrounding Bowling: don't give your opponents ammunition to pick you apart.This seemed much more sober and grown-up.


Of course, for me Moore is preaching to the choir, while others wouldn't listen to him in the middle of a rainstorm if he told them it was raining. What will be interesting to see is how the people in the middle ground will react if/when the see it.

I will report in more detail when I am less tired and don't have to wake up early.

Also, Camp Welstone is still great.

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The Review

I was completely blown away by Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As far as I was concerned, it left the first two movies in the dust. I know he isn't directing Goblet of Fire, butAlfonso Cuarn needs to be the one to direct Order of the Phoenix.

I liked the changes that were made to the set and the costuming. The new exterior for Hogwarts looked more like what I pictured Hogwarts to be. The Hogwarts grounds in the first two films was so flat and manicured. It wasn't bad, but the craggier land seems more magical. The wardrobe changes for the students also helped with the tone. There was nothing wrong with the proper, pressed school uniforms in the first two films, but the little changes really helped emphasize the transition into the teen years. Particularly if you look at the rumples shirts and loose neckties of the boys. They just screams "WE'RE THIRTEEN!" It was also nice to see the kids dressed in "muggle clothes" in their off hours.

The new casting choices continued to be brilliant. While Michael Gambon is not Richard Harris' doppleganger, he carried off the role of Dumbledore so well that it actually took me aout twenty seconds to remember that Harris had died and that a change had been made. Another member of our movie watching group, who had just seen the other two movies this week, didn't even realize that it was a different actor, though he knew there was something going on. He thought that a frame had been flipped.

David Thewlis was just what I'd pictured Professor Lupin to be, and we all know how well Gary Oldman can push the envelope.

There was a lot from the book that was left out in the movie, but most of that was simply streamlining. For example, the headless hunt is given a a brief visual reference but no further explanation. Perfectly fine, because though it is an entertaining episode, it doesn't serve to move the main plot along. On the other hand, I wish that Lupin had given Harry the explanation for "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs", it wouldn't have added much to the movie in terms of length, but it would have explained a whole lot of things.

Finally, I have to say that I think all the people who have been saying that the cast of kids is going to have to change because Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, et. al are getting too old to play the characters are full of it. They will be 14, 15, 16, and 17 in the next movies...high schoolers. People much older than they have played convincing high school students. I think the only reasons for casting changes would be the regular sort: someone doesn't want to play the role anymore, is asking too much money, etc.

Anyway, I am definitely going to go see the movie again. Probably going to want it on DVD when it comes out, too. I hope Goblet is at least this good.

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The Prince & Me

Not quite The King and I. Julia Style and a Danish prince. No, not that Danish price, though it does seem that Ms. Styles cannot escape the Bard.

Anyway, it was a fairly standard cute romantic comedy. Set in "Manitowoc, WI" and "the University of Wisconsin". And Denmark. Of course, Wisconsin was all filmed in Canada, and while they got the feel right, that was totally *not* the UW. I mean, why name a specific place and then not even bother to make it resemble that place. They even go so far as to have them working in "the Rat", but that was very much not the Rathskellar. Why not just have it be some random bar, rather than an actual place that a good number of people would expect to recognize? Or a random university for that matter? Or why not shoot in Wisconsin. Also, there is a scene in "Manitowoc" at Thankgiving, and everyone is outside without coats, wearing light jackets or light shirts. Hello? Wis-con-sin. No-vem-ber. Accent on the brrrr. That looked more like late August. But they got enough little details right that it still work for me, in spite of the ETF moments.

What I really liked about it was that while it was still a high concept romantic comedy, the characters were believable and likable for the most part. They also managed to solve a damned if you do, damned if you don't, lose-lose plot point, and resolve it is a very graceful way.

See it with a girlfriend.

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Ella Enchanted

The movie version of Gail Carson Levine's wonderful Ella Enchanted is not exactly enchanting. The movie is cute and fun, but a real disappointment is comparison to the book and to the film that could have been made. Instead of going the Harry Potter route of being faithful to the book, and only changing bits here and there to accomadate the adaptation to a cinematic format, the studio went the typical "Hollywood" route. They dumbed it down a great deal ((because kids can't handle complexity, ya see) added anachronisms, fart jokes, and kung fu fighting. Important characters are changed, eliminated or as good as (what a waste of Parminder K. Nagra!) while a slew of useless new characers are added (a talking snake? an evil uncle? a wannabe lawyer elf?).

Very young children may enjoy the movie, please be sure to then go home and read them the book. OK?

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Eternal Sunshine

Yesterday I saw Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. Intensely strange, yet it all made total sense to me. It was quite dreamlike and surreal, but it didn't make my brain feel like it had been wrapped around a pole like other [Punch Drunk Love] movies have. I found it to be quite satisfying and actually even a bit restful. The acting was great all around, and Jim Carrey should really just stick to drama, because he doesn't annoy me the way he does in comedies. And, as always, Kate Winslet rules.

Go see it.

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The Other Final

The final film in my film fest journey this years was, appropriately, The Other Final, a documentary by Johan Kramer about a soccer match he organized during the 2002 World Cup between Bhutan and Montserrat, the two lowest ranked teams in the FIFA. Truly a game of good will and good sportsmanship, the "Other Final" becomes a love note to the game itself.

Excellent cinematography and editing, a great soundtrack, and a clever visual devices (the traveling white soccer ball and the foosball game) work together with the compelling story and the cheerfully optimistic subjects to provide a strong piece of narrative cinema.

I hope that the sort of attitude displayed by the players and fans of these two countries could be shared by more people throughout the world. Maybe there will be other "other finals" with future World Cups. At the moment, it looks as though if that were to happen, One of the teams would be returning. Bhutan has moved up 14 places in the rankings, but poor Montserrat has actually dropped a place. It is still in last place, but last place is now 204, rather than 203 (Afghanistan has been added to FIFA since 2002).

Seriously, I would see this film again in a heartbeat, and I recommend it to anyone with even the faitnest of interest in soccer/football or sports in general. Or just a love of a good story. This certainly is one.

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Freestyle

Freestyle, is a 26 minute documentary by Elena Elmoznino about "Musical Canine Freestyle"--that is to say, dancing with dogs. Apparently this "sport" is quite popular in Europe and Japan (I'm not surprised that it is big in Japan), but this film focuses on the members of The World Canine Freestyle Organization, a North American group of Freestylers who hope to have Freestyling recognized as an Olympic event someday. Yeah.

Truly a funny piece of film, the folks in it seem sweet and well-meaning, but all a bit kooky. I'd have to say that I'm glad I don't know them personally.

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Jockey

The first film of the last day for me was Jockey, by Kate Davis. It was thrilling and funny, and sad and disturbing. The audience as a whole seemed to react together to many parts, such as the collective gasp when Go For Wand stumbled, sending jockey Randy Romero flying and herself head over hoof, breaking a leg.

The documentary focused on three Kentucky jockeys: Chris Rosier, a young "bug boy" or apprentice jockey, Shane Sellers, an accomplished jockey who had injured his knee and had dropped out of racing to recuperate and was trying to decide whether to get back into the game, and Randy Romero, a retired jockey with serious health problems. It takes a close look at the grueling life of thoroughbred racing, including the punishing steps these atheletes take to meet the weight requirements.

I was a little disappointed that there were no female jockeys among the featured riders, but it did make sense to focus on this group of three men at the begining, middle, and ends of their careers, who also knew each other. Maybe the female riders will get their own documentary some day.

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Chaza Show Choir

Late last night, I attended the second festival screening of Chaza Show Choir, by Milwaukee artist and playwrite Theresa Colummbus, and Didier Leplae. It was not at all what I expected. It was, so far, the strangest film I've seen in this year's festival.

It started off in a funny, so-bad-it's-good sort of way, then wandered into so-bad-it's-bad territory, and then kept on going till it circled right back to so-bad-it's-good.

I don't really know how to describe it. Think cheesy high school show choir meets bizarre avant garde improv-style flim meets...something else.

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Stone Reader

I went to see Stone Reader with very few preconceptions. I knew that Ebert loved it, and that it was about the search for a book/author, and that I sort of remembered hearing about it on NPR sometime.

It was long...a little over two hours, but I rather enjoyed every minute of it. As someone who has been a vocarious reader ever since I learned how to read, it was great to see so many dedicated readers up on screen. Filmmaker Mark Moskowitz's bookshelves reminded me quite a bit of my dad's book shelves, and when Mark and his friend were exploring the shelves of the library going "remember when you read this?"--well, that was me.

After the film, Mark Moskowitz was on hand to take questions, and he admitted that his search for Dow Mossman, author of the out-of-print and forgotten The Stones of Summer was not in the least bit efficient, but he asked the audience, "Do you really think the movie was really about finding Dow?" Truthfully, no. It was about the relationships between readers and books, authors and books, and authors and readers.

Moskowitz also started and organization called The Lost Books Club, for people to try to get other books that are great but "lost" back into print. I think that is a wonderful idea. Dow Mossman isn't the only one who wrote one book, then dropped off the litereary map without publishing another.

I grew up across the street from The Constant Reader Bookshop, which had a big sign painted on the bricks of the side of the building that started off with the words "Out of Print". As a very early reader, I thought that it said "Out of Paint", and that confused me. If you were out of paint, how and why would you paint that on your sign? My mom or dad explained what it said and what that meant. I was saddedn to hear that books went out of print. I thought of books as something that were always around. Once it was published, you could always get one.

Maybe someday that will be true.

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The Fight

Following the Wisconsin Shorts on Friday night, I raced across the Isthmus to see The Fight. The Fight is and American Experience documentary by Barak Goodman and John Maggio, which explores the historic 1938 fight between the black American Joe Louis and the German Max Scheling.

The fight was frought with symbolism: America vs. the Third Riech, Black vs. Aryan, etc. The film does an excellent job of providing ample background on the two men and the world in which they lived, but it captures a picture of how much was riding on this fight, especially in the hearts of black Americans. The photos of the celebrations in Harlem that night are simply amazing.

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Funny Shorts

And no, we aren't talking about those plaid bermudas, either. The Wisconsin's Own (and Other) Shorts II: Comedy selections were certainly sources of high quality laughs.

The Vest by Paul Gutrecht got the show of to a good start. Skye McCole Bartusiak's performance was charmingly straightforward and believable. The comedy was bittersweet, but without becoming either maudlin or uncomfortable (the was *not* Welcome to the Dollhouse). I'm sure that I wasn't the only one in the audience that saw a little bit of my own childhood in the film.

Greeting Card Writer and Death, both by Aaron Yonda of Wis-Kino fame were less polished but full of joyful silliness. I thought that GCW could have been just a bit shorter (for a short) as a couple of the gags ran a little too long. However, Death had me in stitches. Matt Sloan's looming tag-a-long Grim Reaper was hysterical as he slyly pushed packages of chips into a shopping cart with his scythe.

Brain Dehler's The Glass Bottle was truly short and sweet...and made me thirsty. The above link includes a link to a quicktime file of the movie itself.

Gas 'N Fuel Employee Training Video 4-A Makin' It Happen cracked up the entire audience. I imagine that just about every person in the room had been required to watch a cheesy training video at some point, and this parody had them dead to rights. From the bad acting to the cheesy situations and "please pause the video review with your trainer" directions, we had seen it all before, just never in such a delightfully satiric manner as presented by Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett.

The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja by Peter Craig put my in mind of the "making of" stories told to me by assorted friends concerning high school filmmaking (a particular tale of Romeo and Juliet with ketchup blood springs immediately to mind). I really felt like I knew these kids. I can't give away the surprise ending, but...Bwah!

El Dorko, written by Tom Clark and Harrison Brown (directed by Brown, and starring Clark) had us laughing after the credits had rolled. Just as the laughter was fading to a close, someone in the room chuckled like th "villian" in the film and off we went again.

Festival Express. Woo boy, what a ride!

For those of you who have never heard of the Festival Express, and are too unmotivated to click the link, here's the scoop: In the summer of 1970 there was a series of three rock festivals across Canada--Toronto, Winnipeg, and then Calgary. Instead of the typical "fly in, fly out" method of getting everyone to the shows, the promoter arranged to have a train carry everyone from city to city. It became a non-stop party and jam session. (They actually had to make an "emergency" stop in Saskatoon, because they ran out of booze.)

There was some delightful modern-day interviews, as some of those involved reminisced and relayed anecdotes. However, most of the film was simply footage, with occasional voiceovers. The footage was full of jewels. From the joyful comradery of musicians giddily (and sometimes tipsily) jamming together on the train, to the skinny "children" of Canada dancing with abandon in the summer sun, to Janis Joplin flinging her body and soul into "Tell Mama".

I've been at movies where the audience applauded at the end. However, this was the first film that I've ever seen where the audience applauded after the musical numbers. We did, and it felt totally right. There was no way that you could hear The Band smoke their way through "The Weight" like that and *not* burst into cheers along with the original festival crowds. I think it would have felt unnatural to sit in silence after that.

The "cinematography" was that of a guy with a handheld camera in the 70's. Very much a home movie feel. However, the editing was great. There were some great split screen moments, allowing us to see close-ups of different angles at the same time, or near/far juxtapositions.

Some of the thoughts I had while watching:

*How priviledged the "music must be free" kids were that protested the $14 ticket charge. When you demand that you should be able to attend a concert for free, you have an extreme sense of entitlement, and very little idea of how the world works (are you prepared to feed and clothe the musicians and sound techs, since you are demanding their services for no compensation? It's their livelyhood, duded.) When you are ready to get violently up in arms about the price of a rock concert, there are probably not a whole lot of real problems in your little world.

*Janis Joplin was an amazing performer, and yet probably wouldn't have gotten very far in this day and age. Not a pretty face, not a pretty body, not a pretty voice. Given how shallow and obsessive the entertainment business is at the moment, it seems unlikely that a non-petite, husky-voiced woman, with a thick chin and acne would get very far. Which is crazy, because onstage she *was* sex and drugs and rock and roll.

*What was really great was that even with the close quarters, the lack of sleep, the sun, the chemical "additives", etc...there seemed to be very little negative energy. As far as what we were shown, at least, everyone seemed to be genuinely positive and at peace with themselves and each other. Now, it may be that they just left out an petty squabbles, hangovers, and other small upheavals to focus on the good, but even so it looks like it was an absolutely amazing trip.

It was certainly an amazing evening of film. My face started to ache from the grinning. Here's to tomorrow night.

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Giselle 1943

Giselle 1943 featured magnificent dancing, wonderful costumes, and powerful sets. Unfortunately, the story did not work very well with the setting changed.

Rather than just being "a nobleman", Albrecht becomes a Nazi officer. Rather than just "peasants", Giselle and her fellow villagers are the doomed Jews of a European ghetto. No one is spared in this ballet, for instead of a group of Wilis (the spirits of young women who died before their wedding nights) the spirits of the second act are the Jewish community, who are gunned down before our very eyes. In light of this, Albrecht's grief seems more like self-pity than real remorse, and Giselle's forgiveness seems strange. Not only did Albrecht betray her (inadvertently, yet coldly causing her death) but he was a part of the appartatus that was brutally destroying her people. I found myself cheering when Albrecht was gunned down at the very end. "Serves you right, you bastard!"

The other incongruity was that after the Jews are gunned down on stage, and then rise up to dance as spirits (or zombies?) the music had some strangely happy sounding moments, that didn't match the action on stage. Certainly no one looked happy, but rather as though they had been sent to a concentration camp and gunned down in cod blood. So where do the tra-la-la themes come in?

However, when I looked past the troublesome plot points, and looked at the dancing on it's own, divorced from any plot or storyline, it was captivating. Traditional ballet with some modern dance type moves mixed in for spice, it was a satisfying visual spectacle. The ensemble was lithe and graceful to a man. The corps de ballet had plenty to do, beyond supporting the principles. The choreography alone was worth the ticket.

If you want another view on the production, Tom Strini provides it in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal. A pretty good review, although I had to laugh at this line, "Pink has set his "Giselle 1943" in an anonymous central European state occupied by an oppressive foreign army. Of course the army will read as German and the citizens as Jews, but they are not specifically identified as such." Um, gee. Who else could they be?

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Getting to the Pointe

A Midsummernight's Dream at the Madison Ballet was very good. Of course, it rather helped to already be quite familiar with the story. Watching the ballet was somewhat akin to watching a silent movie, but without the helpful title cards to explain the action. Everyone on stage did a valient job of getting the main plot points across, but Shakespeare without the words can be tricky. When Hippolyta and Theseus show up for the wedding, it is the first time we ever see them, and without knowing the play, I imagine it could lead one to ask, "Who are these people? Where did they come from?" (And why is everyone in the woods?)

Comprehension of the plot aside, the dancing was beautiful. The corps of tiny faerie children was sweet and non-annoying, since they were mostly compentent and not just adorable. The adult cast was also a treat to watch. The show, however, was stolen by Elizabeth Schweiger in the role of Puck. And rightly it should be since, hey, it's Puck! She made for an energetic and androgynous sprite, full of mischeif and fun. Granted, in Shakespeare's play Robin Goodfellow is rather a randy little imp, and far from androgynous. However, performing sans dialogue, I think that the slight, sleek physical appearance helped convey the...Puckishness of the character. Had a male been cast in the role, the larger, more muscular physique and the obvious "ballet bulge" would have had him too similar to Oberon, with little to distinguish the two faeries.

The matinee was full of children; many little girls dreaming of becoming ballerinas when they grow up. It also seemed very appropriate to see A Midsummer Night's Dream on the very first day of spring (Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone!).

On question, though. I know it was a matinee, and I know this is Madison, but don't people dress up for anything anymore?

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The Neilds at Luther's

Hurray! Time for another Neild's show. Though I do wish they would play at another venue. Luther's is just not the place for them. Every show I have been to at Luther's has had a constant background rumble of people talking non-stop through the show. You know it's bad when the concert promoter gets on stage before the show to tell the bar patrons to shut the hell up or leave. Plus the cocktail waitresses are kind of distracting. Anywho...

The name of the opening band was oddly familiar, but I just couldn't place it. When they took the stage to start their short set, I fell in love--with the band and with the lead singer. After a bit, it dawned on me that the singer was also oddly familiar. It wasn't until halfway through that first song when it hit me that Common Rotation is Adam Busch's band, and has been mentioned occasionally on Whedonesque. I must say, they were fantastic, and I truly hope they comeback to Madison again (soonish). Go to their site and check out their mp3s if you don't believe me. (Loving the cover of Don't Lets' Start.)

The ladies were also in fine form as they sang old familiar songs as well as new stuff from This Town is Wrong, their most recent release. I am looking forward to getting ahold of Nerissa's young adult novel Plastic Angels. They actually had some of the glow-in-the-dark plastic angels that inspired the title for sale. They are "Computer Goddesses" and are supposed to keep away bugs and crashes, etc. They have little wind-up wings that are supposed to flap. I thought they were cute enough to get one for myself, though alas, the wind-up mechanism seems to have been smashed before I got it, so my angel will not flap. :( Still, she is small and cute and glows in the dark, and with my computer she will stay.

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Miracle

Last Sunday I saw Miracle and found it to be quite enjoyable. I don't watch much hockey (I don't watch much sports in general) but I respect it as an exciting sport.

As far as the Disney underdog sports team genre goes, this was above average. For one thing, there were no heart warming and scrappy misfit children (the fat kid, the nerdy smart kids with glasses, the black kid, the tomboyish girl, the troubled kid, and the sweet average kid), no washed up has-been trying to make a comeback and win the love of a good woman, no court-ordered rehabilitation of a jerk who comes to see the true meaning of sports, and no wicked rich team/team owner/real estate developer who must be defeated. Instead of the cliches we get something a little closer to reality. Certainly to film bears the warm glow of Hollywood, but we never get beaten into submission by the sentiment.

Most of the film is spent on the ice, and the game is the real star of the movie. It really was gorgeous to see the game on the big screen. It is a shame that real hockey games could never be filmed like that (obviously) since I've always thought that it really doesn't translate very well to television. (You either need to see it live or not at all.) The cinematography really works, and by the time we get to see The Big Game, even hockey novices should be able to follow the gist of the action.

I give Miracle my tiny little recommendation. Also, as a little hint: of you stay to the end of the credits, you will get a small extra.

The movie's website, on the other hand, earns the designer time in the penalty box for excessive and gratitous use of Flash. Plus, the little hockey plaer that follows the mouse is cute for the first five secings, and gets progessively more annoying after that.

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Todd Snider at the Club Tavern

Ever the lucky girl, I won two free tickets to see Todd Snider at the Club Tavern in Middleton this past Saturday, courtesy of The Onion. From where I sat (on the edge of the stage) it seemed that a good time was had by all.

Todd performed a long solo and acoustic set. Some songs were sing-along favorites (I still can't get Beer Run out of my head) while others were new. Best of all were the stories that accomplanied the songs. At times, the stories were longer than the songs they explained or introduced, but as they were such gems, I doubt that anyone minded.

The room was full, but not overly crowded. The crowd was lubricated, but not overly intoxicated. The bar staff was friendly, and as always Moose was a gruffly genial host.

It was an evening I'd gladly repeat.

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V-Day

Tonight I went as planned to see Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues for V-Day. It was in turns funny, poingant, and occasionally quite silly. There were a couple of check-your-watch moments, but they were in the minority and quite overshadowed by the rest of it.

The two audience favorites were "My Angry Vagina" and "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy", the second being an all-out showstopper.

Twas a very good way to spend a Hallmark holiday.

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Hawk's

I have eaten at Ella's Deli on State Street. I have eaten at Cafelli's, which took its place when the deli closed. Now I have eaten at the newest restaurant to occupy the space, Hawk's Bar and Grill. Honestly, it rates a solidly apathetic "eh". Nothing was bad, but neither was anything all that great. I ordered a grilled portobella sandwich with rice pilaf. When my order came...after a long wait...there were curly fries on the plate instead of the pilaf. When I mentioned the mistake they happily scooped a small bowl of rice pilaf for me on the side.

The rice was servicable but bland. No noticable seasoning, and the only thing that seemed to seperate it from ordinary rice were the small mushroom slices scattered throughout the dish. The curly fries were fairly standard as far as curly fries go, neither too greasy nor spicy as many of that kind tend to be. The sandwich was the biggest disappointment. "A huge portabella mushroom cap, marinated and baked with provolone cheese, sliced tomato, fresh spinach and roasted red pepper pure." Huge it was not, and though it had been marinated before baking, it managed to be a bit on the dry side. The spinach was somewhat lifeless, but still of the pleasant side of the green spectrum. If the mushroom cap was dry, the cheese and the red pepper pure made up for the fact by draining sloppily out of the bun and onto the plate (and the table). Fortunately, the roll it was served upon was crusty and chewy, and the sum total was a sandwich that was pleasant but difficult to eat and otherwise forgettable.

The atmosphere was comfortable and the staff friendly. Please note that while the grill area accepts credit and debit cards (no checks), the bar area is cash only. Also, neither of the front doors are seperated from the rest of the restaurant by any sort of divider. In the summer this wouldn't be a problem, but at this time of year every time the door opened the place would be filled with a blast of chilly air.

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My Head is Sweetly Buzzing

This afternoon I went to Intensely Chocolate: Chocolate Talk & Tasting at Olbrich Gardens, which was part of their Chocolate: The Bitter & The Sweet exhibit. James Nienhuis, a horticulture professor at the UW gave a (Powerpoint) presentation on chocolate and related anecodotes about a research project he conducted with the Mars chocolate company in Brazil. It was rather interesting and funny. (He declared that eggplant was not really a vegetable, but in fact a sponge. Chocolate, on the other hand, was a vegetable, except for white chocolate, which should be classified as an eggplant.) He discussed the history of chocolate, and the processes involved in making it. I was interested to discover how the cultivation process varies between Africa and South America. I'd heard about the horrifying labor practices used on cacao plantations in Africa. However, in South America cacao is grown by small farmers, and is growth within the rain forest, as it is traditionally a tree that grows best beneath the forest canopy. In that, cacao production is actually rather good from an environmental standpoint, in that it allows the forest to continue to grow, instead of being clearcut, as for the beef industry. Also, since the crop replies on insects for polination, pesticide is not is heavy use. Nurture the rainforest and you will have better cacao production.

Besides the talk, there was also a tasting. It began with our "tickets", which were small packages of M&Ms. He also passed around roasted cacao beans for us to look at during the lecture, as well as cacao "nibs" which we could taste if we chose to. I found it to be rather bitter with only a vague hint of chocolate, but I probably would have tasted more of the flavor if I didn't have a lingering stuffy nose. As another treat, he passed out Dove bars to the audience, though there wasn't enough for everyone. I was sitting at the back, so they ended just ahead of me. However, someone in my row was nice enough to break off a chunk of their bar, and then pass the rest down the row, each member breaking off another small chunk.

Finally, the "real" tasting began. At that point it was advantageous to be in the back, for faster access to the chocolate, which was provided by Orange Tree Imports. That was the best. There was a iced chocolate drink which was actually very refreshing. Then there was a long row of baskets filled to the brim with chunks of different varieties of chocolate, ranging from white to milk to an 87% cocoa dark. There were also little baskets of plain crackers to use as a palate cleanser. Each chocolate had a small printed description, and recommendations for how best to use or accompany the chocolate. It was delicious but rather overwhelming by the end.

Fortunately, I was able to sit in the Bolz Conservatory for an hour or so, to soak up the tropical atmosphere and chill out while I let the chocolate buzz wear off a bit. Needless to say, I'm still experiencing a bit of a sugar high. What a great way to spend a January afternoon!

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Big Fish

Another movie that I have seen recently is Tim Burton's Big Fish. I've always love Tim Burton pictures, but the last one I'd seen, Sleepy Hallow, had left me disappointed. I must say, though not all reviewers that I've read were impressed, I very much enjoyed the film.

The movie's framing devise has Billy Crudup as Will Bloom, an expectant father visiting his own ailing father (Albert Finney) and trying to come to terms with the man he knows but doesn't know while he still can. The majority of the movie is a series of flashback to the story of Ed Bloom's life, or at least the the story as he has always told it. Ed Bloom is a master teller of grandious tall tales, and it is difficult for those around him, particularly his son, to seperate the fact from the fiction.

The movie is much more vivid and alive during the tall tales, with the trademark Burton surreality and whimsy. The colors are brighter, the contrasts are deeper, the hair and costumes more stylized, and the music more...Elfman-y. Ewan McGregor plays Ed Bloom as a younger man, while Alison Lohman is eerily perfect as the younger version of Jessica Lange's Sandra Bloom.

The scenes in the framing section are fairly straight forward and movie-ish. Less enthralling, but just as important, they ground us in the reality from which the tall tales can spring. Being able to see Ed Bloom the way others see him helps us to appreciate it when we get to see Ed Bloom the way he sees himself. The scenes are well-acted in that they convey the emotion and gravity of the family situation without becoming mawkish.

Toward the end of the film, the two worlds come together is a very satisfying way. I don't want to give much away, but if you are at all a crier, bring some kleenex with you when seeing this movie.

To be true, there were a few moments here and there that had me shifting in my seating and waiting for them to be over, but as a whole I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and was happy to see it all on the big screen.

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Mona Lisa Smile

Also seen this weekend was Mona Lisa Smile. Eh. It has a great cast, and they make the movie enjoyable. The story is fair-to-middlin, and rather predictable. Cute, sweet, standard. See it for cheap or free, but don't feel guilty for checking it out.

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Peter Pan

This weekend I went to see the new Peter Pan. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, though I had heard that it hit on some of J. M. Barrie's darker themes. I was hoping and praying that I would like it ever so much more than the 1953 Disney version. I was not disappointed. It was worlds better than 1953. Not complete perfect, but certainly good enough to have me smiling as I left the theater.

To begin with, the casting for most characters was pretty brilliant. Oliva Williams *was* Mrs. Darling; glamourous and sweet at the same time, you could see her being just the sort of mother that children would fly away from Neverland for. Jason Isaacs (recently seen as the despicable Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) played the double casting of Mr. Darling/Captain Hook so well that it took me nearly half the movie to realize that the deliciously wicked pirate was also the nervous and stuttering bank teller. Richard Briers' Smee had me smiling. Not quite the bumbler of Disney's picture, this Smee was truly a rascal with a wee bit of good still in his heart.

None of the children had that grating child-actor cuteness that is so often a risk. Rachel Hurd-Wood was a perfect Wendy Moira Angel Darling, and a blessed antidote to the simpering Wendy of 1953. This Wendy actually told the sort of bloodthristy tales that you could actually see little boys crowding around to hear. (Cinderella encounters pirates at the ball!) She can handle a sword and longs to have pirate adventures herself. God bless progress! Yet isn't made into a tomboy. She is allowed to love sword fighting and fairy dances.

I have heard several complaints about Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan himself. For some, his American accent among the Brits was jarring. For others, they don't think he adequately portrays Pan's feelings. I had neither of those problems. Perhaps he wasn't the very perfect Pan that has been in my mind's eye since childhood, but he conveyed the boyish exuburance, carelessness, confidence, confusion, arrogance, vulnerability, etc. that is everyboy. He wants so very much never to grow up, but when he meets Wendy he has a few stirrings that growing up might not be such a bad thing entirely, and that is an unsettling notion.

The tragedy of the story is that Pan can't win whicheve choice he makes. He can stay in Neverland, a boy forever with all the joy that it entails, but he must leave behind family and love to do so. On the other hand, it is very true that if he returns to the world and allows himself to grow up, he must face school and work and the daily grind of decisions and responsibility that go along with adulthood. (The Mr. Darling/Captain Hook connection really helps to illustrate this.) Yet even with that note of sadnes, the story is not allowed to become bogged down by it, and such is it's brilliance.

As for the movie, I do agree with those who said that the PG rating might not be quite strong enough, and that it probably should be PG-13. I know children, and how bloodthirsty they can be in their imagination and play. However, parents might not want to expose their children to quite to much of it, and very young children might easily become scared at some scenes. I did hear on child start crying at one point in the show.

Overall, I liked it and would go to see it again if given the opportunity.

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Continuing Return of the King

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I've now had more time to absorb the movie, and I've also had a chance to re-watch Two Towers. The biggest plus is that I am no longer doped up on cold medicine.

The movie may have been long, but it carried me through from start to denouement without much in the way of restlessness or exhaustion. Yes, some things from the book were altered or eliminated in the movie, but that is an inevitiblity when adapting a book for the screen. Many have complained that the Scouring of the Shire is left out of the movie entirely (it won't even be in the extended version), yet few complained about the loss of Tom Bombadil. it is important to remember that Peter Jackson had two challenges: to present a faithful account of Tolkien's story and to present an excellent film. It is quite often the case that what works quite well in a book is actually quite awkward when literally interpreted on the screen. Choices must be made, and I respect the choices that Jackson has made.

At this point, I have not seen any of the extended DVD versions. I would very much like to get ahold of FOTR and TTsoon, and look forward to when ROTK comes out as the extended DVD. My curiousity has been peaked in regards to the extra sceens. In the meantime, I am going to head to the theater again for another screening of ROTK. The first time around was quite fun, but now I can watch it with specific things in mind.

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Return of the King

First of all, I'd like to mention how hard I am trying to hold back all the jokes about Elvish and "the King". Also, unlike The Hobbit which I have read several times, I only read The Lord of the RIngs once, and it was almost ten years ago. Hence, my memories of the story are a little on the vague side. Other than the changes to the very beginning of the Fellowship (like the circumstances of the hobbits' departure and the lack of Tom Bombadil) I was not among the people who could say, "Hey! That's not how it happened in the book." So, unlike some, I can only review it on its strengths and weaknesses as a movie, rather than its faithfulness to Tolkien.

I saw it as a midnight movie, sans caffiene, so I take it as a point in favor of the movie that I didn't feel tired or sleepy until after the movie. Other points:

-Too much Arwen. Every single time Liv Tyler was onscreen in all three movies was too much. Double minus point for anytime she talked.

+Sam, Merry, and Pippin kickin' ass and takin' names. Go shortstuff!

-Frodo. Elijah Wood has annoyed me in all three movies. I think it is the lamer-than-lame accent he has been using.

+The battle scenes. Very well choreographed. Also, Theodan's speech to the Rohirrim before they charged at Minas Tirith had me ready to take up a sword.

+The makeup, as usual. In particular, I was happy with the super gross look of Frodo when Sam pulled the spider web off his face.

Ugh, I was going to say more, but the NyQuil I've taken for my brand new cold has started to kick in, and my powers of rational thought are slipping. Best stop while I'm ahead, and say more some other time.

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Hustle and Bustle

I did my very modest Christmas shopping today. As of now all my presents are wrapped and all of my Christmas cards are ready to be stamped and mailed. I even listened to some cheesy (and not-so-cheesy) Christmas tunes. I don't have a tree up yet, nor have I done any baking, but I still have a week and a half before the big day.

Let's see, what else?

I've heard the snow crunch and seen the kids bunch. My only Santa sighting has been the Santa that was driving a pony carriage around the parking lot of the grocery store last Sunday...which is odd considering that I've been in the mall several times.

I did see The Nutcracker on Friday. It was great. To begin with, not only did I see it from a great seatfor free, but I saw it while getting paid. That is to say, the third grade class that I subbed for on Thursday and Friday went to see the youth matinee before opening night. Since I was the teacher I went with, and since they were well-behaved kids I got to watch the show rather than troublemakers. It was beautiful. I'd seen the Madison Nutcracker once before, in 1998, and hadn't been very impressed. I remember that there seemed to be an excessive number of "cute" dance numbers by kids. If I recall correctly, that was around the time that JoJean Retrum was being kicked out of leadership of what was then called the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble. It looks like the Madison Ballet had really gotten it together since then. I was enthralled. (Partly by te dance and spectacle, and partly by my desire to play the percussion parts.)

It really feels like the season has arrived.

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Maharaja East

Went the the east side location of the Maharaja Indian restaurant this afternoon. Oh god, the lunch buffet was so amazing. It lived up to everything I've heard about it. We ate ourself silly on plate after plate of savory rices, curries, and tandoori. They also had the very best bread pudding I have ever had. I never used to like bread pudding, but I would return to the restaurant for the bread pudding alone.

The service was also excellent. At no point were our water glasses allowed to be empty. As soon as the water reached the halfway level, a sever was at our side filling them up with ice water. Empty plates were also wisked away with similar alacrity.

For a mere $6.95, I ate my entire day's worth of food (and then some). I came away more than satisfied, and ready to return...after I've had a few workouts to balance the indulgence of today.

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Follow the bouncing ball.

Ok, there was no bouncing ball. In fact, the Sing-along Sound of Music was more Rocky Horror than Sing-along With Mitch. A PG13, less organized Rocky Horror. With accordians.

Charmaine Carr, who played Leisl in the movie, was present to co-host the event. (I'm pretty sure that the other host was Big Gay Al, from South Park.) As we entered the theater, everyone was handed a small plastic bag filled with props: a couple of picture cards, a square of "curtain" cloth, a sprig of artificial edelweiss, and a party popper. They told us to hold up our props at certain times, given a bit of hand gesture choreography for "Do-Re-Mi", and asked to do things like boo whenever the Nazi's appeared onscreen, and to bark "Rolf, Rolf" when he appeared. The crowd was quite mixed, with many small children, so we were asked to go no further than innuendo in any other comments.

From the beginning of the film, the audience was quite noisy. Unlike Rocky Horror, during which the audience participates with standard responses, many people shouted out whatever came to mind, whenever it came to mind. The 4 year-old girl sitting next to me kept shouting out the most random things. It was extremely difficult to hear dialogue over the collective "cleverness". We also discovered that the audience's idea of the tempo differed slightly than the actual tempo of the recorded music. We could have used the bouncing ball over the subtitles.

As the evening wore on, the crowd settled down a bit. There were still moments of hubbub, but as the novelty wore off, so did the urge to shout. Even when I couldn't hear the soundtrack, it was pretty amazing to see the film up there on the big screen. And, when all is said and done, singing along with a huge crowd of people is always a bit of a rush.

They kicked off the evening with a costume contest. I think, if I ever go to this event again, I may have to go in costume as well. The favorite costume of the evening was the big, bearded Mother Superior. But the "aaaaaaaaaaah" went to the tiny little girl dressed as Maria when she first arrived at the VonTrap villa.

Best audience participation moments:

Cries of "Free Bird!" and "Play Stairway!" everytime the guitar came out.

The waved lighter at the climax of "Climb Every Mountain".

During the escape, when the Captain relates a plan to walk up into the mountains and cross the border out of the country, someone yelled, "Those mountains border Germany!"


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S-P-E-L-L-B-O-U-N-D

I missed it at the Wisconsin Film Festival, having chosen instead to see the excellent yet brutally sad film about Rwanda, 100 Days. I missed it when it was playing at the Hilldale theater, because I'm dumb, and not as fond of that theater as I should be. I saw that it was going to be playing at the Memorial Union Film Circle in a few weeks, and planned to see it then. However, as my luck would have it, it was playing at the local budget cinema while I was in the area looking to see a film. So, yesterday I finally saw Spellbound.

The film is documentary about eight students, male and female, from various areas, backgrounds, and ethnicities, all on their way to the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. At times, it would be very easy for a film such as this to creep into Christopher Guest territory; ordinary people, extreme dedication, nerdiness, parents... Yet though you sometimes cringe at awkward moments caught on film, everyone involved comes out with dignity. During the spelling bee scenes, you could actually hear other people in the theater holding their breath while a tough word was spelled, only to sigh in relief or disappointments at the results. I am sure that I wasn't alone in silently mouthing the spelling of some words along with the students.

The speller who moved me the most was Ashley, the D.C. area participant. When she describes her life as being like a movie, with lots of trials and setbacks to overcome, I found myself really pulling for her; not just in the Bee, but in life. I really hope she suceeds, and manages to overcome the many obstacles placed in her path. I was similarly moved by Angela, yet I found it easier to see a happy ending for her. I think the difference was inner-city poverty vs. rural poverty. Neither are easy, but it seems more likely that violence will play a bigger role in Ashley's life than it will with Angela. God bless the children. Honestly, I liked all of the kids, and their parents all seemed like good people, too. It was difficult to watch everytime someone was eliminated from the competition, even though it was inevitable.

There were also some nice interviews with former winners, including Frank Neuhauser, the very first winner in 1925, with "gladiolus". Dr. Alex J. Cameron, the pronouncer (who died this past February), gave some interesting insights into the reasons behind the earliest spelling bees: the fact that education was a means for success and that the ability to read was seen as a major asset.

If you get a chance to see this charming film, I highly recommend that you take it.

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Biaggi's

Yesterday I had my first meal at Biaggi's, about which I had heard many good things. The restaurant certainly lived up to it's rep, but I was slightly disapointed to discover that it is a corporate (though midwestern)chain. I'm not really against corporate restaurants per se, but the fact is, there are sooooo many excellent, locally owned restaurants in the Madison area that it seems a shame to go the chain route if I don't have to. Still, I was in the neighborhood, and the west side is mostly corporate anyway. When in Rome...

That said, the environment and decor were warm and inviting. The staff was helpful and courteous. I was won over from the first by the generous basket of warm, tasty bread, which came with a plate of olive oil and cheese for dipping. What can I say? Offer me a basket of good bread and I am putty in your restauranteur hands.

For my meal I choose the Portabello Balsamico sandwich, "balsamic marinated grilled portabello
mushroom, eggplant, roasted peppers, red onions and a touch of goat cheese served warm on Asiago ciabatta bread." It came with a serving a homemade potato chips, which were warm, crisp and delightful. For $6.25, it was a decent serving of food. The bread was crisply toasted, though not dry. The portabellos and veggies were piled high, and the "touch of goat cheese" provided just the right accent.

Since the restaurant is corporate, and on the completely opposite end of town from where I live and work, I don't think it is likely to become a regular haunt for me. However, I certainly wouldn't raise too many objections to going again, and would recommend it to others. It strikes me as a decent date spot.

If you are interested in another viewpoint, I was rather amused with Raphael Kadushin's review for the Isthmus shortly after the restaurant opened.

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Pattern Recognition and The Ad Men

I just finished reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. It was my first Gibson, but I daresay it won't be my last. I enjoyed it very much, tearing through most of it in one sitting.

The writing style was not the type to which I am normally attacted, but the story of Cayce Pollard, "coolhunter" was so compelling that it just pulled me along. Not only did the twists and turns of the narrative keep me turning page after page, but the close looks at today's cultures of internet and branding, of fetish and obsession, and the echoes of September 11, 2001 provided me with a way to step back and look that each aspect with a longer view: otaku, Pilates, Starbucks, airport security, and the Michelin Man, together at last.

One thing that made my reading particularly interesting is that I also have Meet Mr. Product: The Art of the Advertising Character by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain, which documents advertising characters from the last century, including Bibendum, a.k.a. The Michelin Man.

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Bring on the Gluttony!

At this moment, I am completely saturated with grease, sugar, and sunshine. I feel so good. Today was day one of the two day Taste of Madison on the Capital Square.

I was up on the square at 11 this morning, to work the Planned Parenthood table at the Farmer's Market. Standing near our table were a couple of anti-choice activists (both men) with rather graphic signs. Closer to our table was Kay, a 76-year old pro-choice activist, and a favorite of the Planned Parenthood tablers. She comes down to the market with a simple, hand-made placard that says only "I'm pro-choice", and stands by our table so long as the protesters are there. Many people passing by greet her by name, and she happily enages them in pleasant conversation. She is also quite deft at handling those who would argue with her or put her down. On man came up to her and asked how old she was (a fairly rude question to begin with). This man, who was about half her age then started quizzing her on what she would be doing now if her mother had aborted her 76 years ago. Yeah. He closed his arguement by telling her that when she died (implying that it would be really soon) she was going to hell, but that he would most assuredly go to heaven, and that those were the only two options. I may be a Christian, but opinionated, in-your-face types really bug me. How unChristlike. Fortunately, Kay held her ground beautifully. When I'm 76, I want to be Kay.

We had another not quite a protestor. He first spent quite a bit of time speaking with the anti-choicers, but I didn't pay him much mind since we were busy. However, after a time he came over to our table and started asking us if our message was so important, would we be out there tabling at the same time on a Tuesday morning? When we said that we wouldn't since no one would be there and as volunteers we would be at work or school. Then he started harranging us about being leeches for using someone else's event to promote our cause. He said that he had no problem with our cause, but with our using the event. We really didn't understand what he wanted, and he wouldn't go away. He just stood there and kept being confrontational, which kept people away. I actually found myself feeling camraderie with the anti-choicers he'd been harranging just before.

No doubt he would have kept it up for quite awhile, and then moved on to the next table...the Tenant Resource Center. However, I had had quite enough. I thanked him for his opinion and asked him if her would please move on (he was directly in front of the table, blocking access to the petitions and freebies). I asked several times and he refused and continued to harrass. So, I did something I never thought I'd do. I went to find security. By the time I returned, he had disappeared, so the other people with info tables were spared his confrontational weirdness. Huzzah. What a jerk, though.

By the time we took down the table, all of the market had been packed up early, to clear the way for the ToM. I missed being able to score my discounted produce, but there will be other weeks.

I strolled across the Capital lawn and found a cozy spot to sit and read while the festival got set up. I also took time to get a copy of the guide and read through the list of restaurants and offerings. Sixty-nine different restaurants had booths, and everything was $1, 2 or 3. (There was a scant few $2.50 and one $1.50 items, but most everything was priced for ease of change-making.)

With so many choices, I knew I had to choose wisely. Not only could my pocketbook take a hit of more than ~$10, but one can only eat so much food in a short time. My gluttony must have its limits. So, eher we go:

I started out with a $1 eggroll from Bluefin. Just what I'd been craving for a while, and it was quite tasty. However, sweet and sour sauce sure does draw the bees.

I took a little time to read the paper and digest, then headed up the street to the Loose Juice booth (try saying that five times fast), where they had frozen fruit dipped in chocolate for $1. The choiced were strawberries, bananas, and pinapple. Strawberries seems awkward, since they weren't on a stick. I'm not the biggest fan of bananas, though they were certainly convenient. In the end, I went with a giant chunk of fresh frozen pineapple on a popsicle stick, dipped in chocolate before my very eyes. Ooooooooo, so yummy and not at all messy. The fruit was cool and sweet, but avoided the drip factor inherent in most frozen treats. I highly recommend this treat.

More reading, more wandering. It wa a great day for people watching, and the obnoxiousness factor of the crowd was super low. There were four stages around the square, and while none of the bands really drew me in, they made for great background noise.

Next stop: Buraka for the Chicken Peanut stew on injera. I was tempted to try the Dorowot or the Misirwot, since I've never had them, but I wasn't sure how spicy they'd be, and wanted to conserve water. Mmmmmm. One thing that makes me sad is that I wasn't eating this stuff years ago. How much of my life has been wasted on burgers, when I could have been having Chicken Peanut Stew with injera?

Catering by Mike Losse had deep-fried cheese curd for $2, best deal on the square for that cheesy manna from heaven. I think fried cheese curds are among my top reasons for staying in Wisconsin. (Though I hear that in some places they fry things like Oreos!)

At this point, I was starting to feel extremely sated, and it was approaching 6, at which point the Taste of Madison winds down for the day. Last stop was at Nutcracker Sweet for a cone of German Roasted Almonds. Heaven!

Drove home with the top down, feeling fat and happy. I am very tempted to take a nap, as I am off to a partay tonight.

Don't worry, I'll work off this gluttony soon enough. (Though I must mention that Brat Fest is also this weekend!!!)

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Prince of Denmark

Tonight's adventure was to drive out to Spring Green to catch American Players Theater's production of Hamlet, with Jim De Vita in the title role.

I drove out with the Jeep top down, cruising in the sunshine. Behind me all the way there was a couple in a convertible, and from the moment I saw them back in the city, I new they'd be going to APT, too. The drive was beautiful and uneventful, and I got there in enough time to eat the picnic lunch that I'd packed. (Mostly stuff from the Farmer's Market yesterday.)

James Ridge was a fabulous Ghost. Properly harrowing. He also played the Player King, which gave a nice continuity to the story. De Vita played Hamlet like he was born for the role. (I know someone else who is born for the role. Maybe someday.) He brooded and stormed, and managed to be quite funny in all of his melancholy. None of the other performances really stood out for me. Not that they were poor, but because Hamlet really stole the show. And, given that the play is called "Hamlet" and that he is rarely not onstage...I'd say that is allowed.

There was a brief interruption...cries of "Is there a doctor in the house?" and "Somebody get an ambulance" came in the middle of Hamlet's soliloquy following the entrance of the Players. Intermission came early, as an old man in one of the front rows had some sort of problem. I never caught what happened, exactly. He was conscious and alert the whole time, but they had him lie down in the aisle until the paramedics arrived. It did look like everything was going to be alright. By the way, there were a lot of doctors in the house.

I was moved to tears by the grief of Hamlet and Laertes over the death of Ophelia. More so knowing that they'd be following her soon.

The drive back was exciting in an "it's very dark and I have the top down, winding country roads at 55 (+) mph in open air, cool wind all around me, warm air coming from the heater by my feet" sort of way, though nothing happened. Wait, I take that back. I did get to see a gigantic moon, rising blood-red over the trees. That was a thrill.

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Bluefin

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Tonight I was craving Chinese. I didn't want delivery, but I didn't want to have to go far, either. So, I decided to check out Bluefin on Sherman (formerly the Imperial Palace). Since I arrived at a little after nine on a Thursday night, I wasn't too surprised to see that the parking lot looked un-busy. I was a wee bit amused to discover that I was the only person in the dining room. Bluefin Nightclub, in the basement, opens at nine, so I got there right as the restuarant was simmering down, but before the club was really stirring.

There was a bit of a funky smell in the air--eau de old carpet or something similar. However, other than the smell (which I ceased to notice after a bit) and the sorry state of the carpeting itself, the interior was rather pleasing.

I ordered the sesame chicken, which came with a bowl of soup and a salad. The soup was a hot and sour that lived up to its name, but the salad was a sad little affair of iceberg lettuce, a single thin slice of tomato, baco-bits, and some flavorless croutons. It hardly seemed worth the effort to eat it, much less to have made it in the first place. The sesame chicken, however, was amazing. Served with rice of appropriate stickiness, it was a plate of chicken battered to a dark golden brown, speckled with sesame seeds, studded with chunks of brocolli, and lying in a pool of sauce.

The brocolli was a little on the tough side, though the flavor was alright. The chicken, oh the chicken. It was delightfully crisp, with an audible crunch when bit, yet it was not dry inside. The crispness and mouth-feel was one of the best I've had in quite awhile. Perhaps not the right entree if one is in the mood for something savory, it was a good dish for a sweethtooth; after a while I was reminded of carmel corn.

My waitress was very attentive, but that goes without saying, as I was her one and only customer at the time. On my way out the door, I picked up a flier for the nightclub, and perhaps I may get back there sometime soon to check it out.

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Last night was Pat McCurdy's annual show at the Terrace. Unlike other years, where I'd take the day off, get there around noon and enjoy a day out in the sun, saving a table up in the front, I took it even easier. I meandered down to the Terrace after work, getting there a little after 6 with a falafel sandwich from Mediterranean Cafe. I ate down by the shore and read the Isthmus.No matter what is going on, it is fun to be at the Terrace on a nice day. West Side Andy and Glen Davis where playing for Jazz at Five. Love those guys.

I also wandered around the Union for a bit, and checked out the new exhibitions in the Gallery. Lucky me, I got there during the opening reception, so I scored some brownies, cranberry bars, and punch. Of the two exhibitions, one caught my interest and the other was kinda meh.

The Porter Butts Gallery was divided into two sections. In the front the gallery, dozens of small silver bells were suspended from wired pulled taut across the ceiling. Each wire was attached to a small stand which also held a small speaker. The speakers were projecting recorded thunderstorm sounds, and from time to time, the vibrations of the sounds would set all of the bells jinggling. Cool, if a little noisy at times.

The back of the gallery was seperated by a wall. In this back section, pieces of old wooden furniture--mostly chest of drawers--were hovering at odd angles, usually with only two legs touching the ground. Strong tensionwires were used to suspend and secure the furniture from the walls and ceiling. In each piece, one drawer had been removed and replaced with a facing of milk plexiglass, behind which glowed a flourescent light. I greatly admired the surreal quality of the grouping.

The Class of 1925 Gallery contained the work of a different artist. There was only one piece, standing on a low table at the center of the room. It was a intricately twisting tower of grey Legos, which stood about two feet high. It was certainly a splendid structure, yet as the one and only object in a show, it was underwhelming.

Back out on the Terrace, the sky was approaching dusk, and boats where moving towards the shore. Some where calling it a night, and others where just settling in to listen to the show. I grabbed a seat on a low wall behind the stage. I had a good view of things, albeit from the back. I was surrounded by families with goofily happy small children, who ran around and got themselves dizzy with joyful abandon.

Shortly before the show, an college-aged couple and an older couple (the young man's parents, it was revealed) sat down next to me on the wall. As luck would have it, they were a great bunch to be sitting near, as the parents had never seen Pat McCurdy before, and they totally loved it. I've discovered that most people either love him or hate him the first time they see him, and it is great fun to watch someone discover the joy of Pat for the first time. Listening to them laugh and being surprised at all the right places helped to make the show new again for me. Granted, I hadn't been to a show in about a year, but I've been to so many that I still know a lot of it by heart. At one point, while the son was off on a beer run with his girlfriend, the dad started asking me about the show...if I'd seen it before. When I told him that I had, he asked me if I knew where to get CDs (I pointed him to the merchandise table) and which one's I'd recommend (I said Pat in Person Vol 1 or 2 would be good choices). He hopped right over to the table and bought a couple of CDs.

After a while, my friends found me, and we all enjoyed the show together. We sang, we danced, we made funny gestures, we laughed and we chatted. We all agreed that we do need to make and effort to get back to the shows more. Maybe not every week, like in college, but at least one a month or so. I'd like that.

Followed up the night with a stroll up and down the length of State St., pretty sure that I might well have been the soberest person on the street (besides those who were working, like the police and the cab drivers).

Have I mentioned that I love summer?

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A Better Sammich

Get thee to the Mediterranean Cafe and try the falafel sandwich. This delightful sandwich is huge, yet easy to eat in its wrap; healthy, yet very savory and flavorful; and under $4. Unless you are weird, you won't regret it.

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Benvenuto's

On the advice of several people I know and restaurant reviews, I decided to try Benvenuto's.

I found it to be very Olive Gardeny and somewhat noisy, though not obnoxiously so. The decor was attatractive, if somewhat given to loud accoustics. The tables were set with cloth (!) napkins, yet the table covering was a sheet of white paper, on which the waitress wrote her name with a crayon. I was impressed that she could write it legibly upside down (she wrote it between us, so that the letters were facing me but away from her). However, when she first started to write, I thought she was writting either "HELP!" or "HELLO". It turned out to be Heidi, rather than a distress call or a greating.

I was given a basket of warm, garlicky bread to dip into olive oil and fresh ground pepper (which, as I learned on Mario Eats Italy, isn't very authentic, though tasty). I am a big fan of baskets of warm bread, so I took advantage of this tasty offering as I awaited my order.

My entree was Portobella Farfalle, with fresh tomatoes and artichoke hearts. It sounded really good, so I was a little disappointed when it arrived. The mushroom and tomato chunks were generous and cooked just right, though the artichoke was hardly in evidence. The seasoning was also appropriate, neither bland nor overpowering. The big let down was the mushy, overcooked farfalle. Nothing kills a pasta dish like soggy pasta.

The portion was quite large, and I was able take home enough for a second meal. The overcooked pasta may has been a fluke (bad things do happen to good kitchens) and I would be willing to return if I were trying to find an eatery for a family or a larger group, but I don't think it will become a regular haunt for me, regardless of its proximity to my home.

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Boys Night Out

Last night I went to the Ben Taylor/Bob Schneider show with my good buddy N, who I decided would probably get a kick out of Bob Schneider.

I'd seen Ben Taylor open for Dar Williams a few months back, at the Barrymore. I thought he was ok. Cute, and he had his dad's voice, but his song were a little ho-hum. Tonight I just found him annoying. His songs were still ho-hum, but the sound balance was off, so I couldn't make out any of the vocals. They came across as a mumble most of the time. Plus, I think he was more...chemically saturated...than at Dar's show. He was drinking a beer onstage, and may have smoked a little something before the show. Nothing too bad. He wasn't extremely out of it, by any standards, but he did come off as the one hot guy at a party who plays the guitar and is into organics and thinks he's hot shit because of these things, consequently coming off as a bit of a prick and an idiot. Mostly I just giggled and checked the clock until his set was done.

Bob Schneider was so much better, though not entirely what I expected. The songs of his that get radio play around here are the more mellow ones: "Big Blue Sea", "Metal and Steel", and "Bullets" (ok, "Bullets" is a little less mellow than the other two.) (I also seem to have gotten him mixed up with Todd Snider, because I was waiting for "Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues" and "My Generation.") His set really rocked. Afterwards I described it to N as "Austin punk", while N said it made him think of early Bush (the band, not the politicians) with a red neck flavor. We both had fun, and N bought the Lonelyland CD.

Luther's, however, is still not my favorite venue.

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Take Two

Down With Love

This movie has been carefully cryogenically frozen in 1963 and lovingly thawed and released forty years later. Well, not quite, but very damn close. I've heard many a comparison to the films which paired Rock Hudson and Doris Day, and I'd have to agree.

Lighthearted and cheery without becoming a piece of fluff, Down With Love won me over right away. From the stylized animation of the credit sequence to the Sinatra-heavy soundtrack, to the extremely cheesy split-screen technique, it all came together into a finished product that was stylish and fun.

I don't think this is the movie for everyone; people who don't like the 60's movie style from which this sprang, for example, will not get much of a kick out of this. Those who can appreciate a clever romantic comedy, however, will be rewarded. Down With Love exploits the classic conventions of sexual comedy, to great effect. Not a "chick flick", but a good date movie.

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Down With Love

This movie has been carefully, cryogenically frozen in 1963 and lovingly thawed and released forty years later. Well, not quite, but very damn close. I've heard many a comparison to the films which paired Rock Hudson and Doris Day, and I'd have to agree.

Lighthearted and cheery without becoming a piece of fluff, Down With Love won me over right away. It.....

Argh it's too late to be writing reviews. I will finish this and add my review of Princess Mononoke at a later date.

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Matrix: Reloaded

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This second Matrix movie didn't have quite the same resonance of the first. Thrilling and engaging, for certain, but not resonant. The Main Idea, rabbit-hole of reality, had already been set out in the first. Yes, there were twists and new developments, but nothing so mind-bending that I had to carry the concept out of the theater and chew on it for awhile.

That having been said, I was gripped by the action from the very first flicker of light to the very last fade to black. The much-hyped freeway car chase had me at the edge of my seat with sweaty palms. Sure, in many ways a car chase is a car chase is a car chase. Never-the-less, I found myself holding my breath at all the right moments. The much-hyped "fight with 100 Smiths" left me less enthused. The fight choreography and film technique were interesting, but I kept thinking, "Dude! You can fly, just go." The Zion "rave" scene goes on far too long, but you certainly won't be getting jipped for nipple displays.

I was a little disappointed to see that Gina Torres only had a few brief moments of screen time, especially since I am still jonesing for Firefly. I was, however, quite happy to see my favorite Mercutio, Harold Perrineau Jr. in a supporting role...and living through the movie. Boo-yah. Sing Ngai aka Collin Chou made a favorable impression as the program "Seraph". To tie in a Madison connection, the amazing

Another word of advice: stay to the very end of the credits for extra fun.

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Reviews

We started the evening in Luther's French Quarter Cafe. I tried the not-so jammin "Jammin Jambalaya", while my companion had a lack-luster helping of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice. Both were accompanied by rather cakey pieces of corn bread. Neither dish was horrible, but certainly nothing to write home about either. I found myself gazing at the po' boy sandwich of another diner, and wishing that I had gone that route as well.

As usual, the club area was cold. I planned ahead this time, and wore a sweater. I must confess that while Luther's is a fairly decent nightclub, it is by no means my favorite venue in town. Audience noise, plus the noise of people buying tickets at the door, were frequent distractions. Add to that the cocktail waitress checking on our drinks, and you can miss quite a bit. I recommend *not* sitting on the side closest to the entrance, as this seems to be the worst area for extraneous chatter. Fortunately, we ended up sharing our table with a very cool couple, who provided a nice counterbalance to the loud, bouncy drunks standing in front of us.

The show started with Joy Dragland, of Smokin' With Superman and Joy and the Boy. I missed the name of the ensemble she was with last night, due to crowd noise. I liked her voice better than I liked their songs, but I enjoyed the set.

After their set came the unannouced second opener, Bob Hillman. He had an husky, unconventional voice and a witty style, but he didn't win over the audience. In fact, he seemed fairly defensive and a bit confronational during his set. According to his posted reviews, he tours with Vega quite a bit and was well-received in Madison at previous shows. It was hard to tell last night whether he was confrontational because the audience wouldn't settle down, or if they wouldn't settle down because he was confrontational. We were amused, and actually tried to get the drunks in front of us to shut up while he played, but overall, it was a very noisy bar throughout his set.

There is no question, though, that Suzanne Vega's portion of the night was the best. I had no idea that I knew so many of her songs. She has a Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega album out now, so most of the songs were off of that. She had great stage presence and her band was solid, particularly the bassist. She wasn't as talkative with the audience as say, Dar Williams, but she gave us enough to build a connection. She really communicated most through her songs, which were sung clearly and with feeling. She joked about the amount of minor key songs she writes, but even with that, we left the show on a very up vibe.

I'd say more, but the sounds of thunder from outside are convincing me of turn off my computer.

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X2

Yesterday I saw X2 or X-Men United, which I think sounds very much like a football team. I can't say after just one viewing as to how it compared to the first movie. I think I'd need to see them together, so that both were fresh in my mind.I can say that I enjoyed myself very much.

I was happy to see all the characters that I enjoyed from the first movie return, and the ones that I didn't either not return (Sabretooth) or else have minimal screen-time (Cyclops). Storm, who I found irritating the first time around was much improved, though I still think it should have been Angela Basset, rather than Halle Berry. As for new characters, Alan Cumming did an excellent turn as Nightcrawler, although the writers chose to make him a little more....hesitant than the Nightcrawler I know from the comics. Pyro was mildly interesting as a bad guy in potentio.

I wish they had done a little bit more with Lady Deathstrike. They set her character up with the potential to rebel against her "master", but she met with a fairly anticlimactic end. I was also frustrated to once again be given teeny-tiny glimpses of Kitty Pryde and nothing more. I don't care if they leave Jubilee in the background. I am perfectly happy to have Rogue be Wolverine's little female sidekick/hanger-on instead of Jubilee, but I want Kitty Pryde, dammit! Still, I guess with such a huge list of available characters from the comic books, they can't use everybody. Nice cameo from Dr. Hank McCoy. (Remy LeBeau is listed in the credits on IMDB but I only remember seeing his name appear in the movie, not the character. Either I missed it or his scene was cut.)

As for plot, I thought it was well-developed and nicely paced. There was balanced tension and action, and though there was a lot going on, it avoided getting lost in sub-plot. Motives and motivations made sense, and there wasn't anything that left me scratching my head in confusion. I also appreciated the ending, which gives a very strong clue as to the plot of X3...I'm sensing some Phoenix coming on.

All in all, I'd say this is a movie to check out at least once, and worth a full price admission. I'll probably see it again, myself.

Coming soon: Identity

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Gallery Night

Spring Gallery Night was last night. I had quite a time. I visited Studio Paran and watched the glass blowing demo, which was enthralling. The molten glass was like a red-hot taffy. They made working it seem so effortless, but you could tell that it took years of training and practice to reach that point.

I also toured the Winnebago Street Studios, which is always fun and makes me really miss being in school. All those artists working in close proximity to each other has it all over my lonely little apartment-based studio.

Finally, I took a walk through the gallery across the street for the Winnebago studios, whose name escapes me. It isn't listed in the Gallery Night material, so that doesn't bring it back, either. It featured more glass work and some hand-colored photographs.

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In my best black dress...

Word of advice for attending shows at Luther's Blues: bring a sweater. I've gone to two shows there and it was freezing both times. Nice atmosphere otherwise.

The Nields were great, as usual. The show was a little shorter than I am accustomed to, but I imagine that was because there was a second show taking place later that night—Marques Bovre and the Evil Twins are playing their last show tonight at 10 (looks at watch....started about 15 minutes ago), featuring the return of Linus. So, the Nields couldn't linger. Neither could their fans, as the staff cleared the room immediately post-show. There was quite a line outside waiting to get in.

I think I'd perfer to see the Nields at the Pres House. It seems a more friendly venue for the folkie crowd.

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Hoppin'

As the weather went from beautiful on Tuesday to absolute crap the rest of the week, I decided to spend the day at the movies. I saw:

Phone Booth, which starred Colin Farrell, Keifer Sutherland's voice, and a NYC phone booth. It was an interesting concept, taking place in real-time, primarily in only one small location. True, it was a little bit ridiculous and"high concept" (especially the "mwa-hah-hah" ending).

Farrell was pretty convincing both as a complete asshole and as a guy frightened out of his mind. Sutherland (recently of the high concept, real-time TV drama 24) was suitably psychotically creepy, yet had me rolling my eyes once or twice (whether it was the script or his delivery is hard to say. The supporting cast was decent, though they neither made nor broke the show.

All and all, fairly gripping, but see it as a matinee.

On a side note, the website seems to have been designed by whomever did theDonnie Darko website. It has the same look and feel, though not nearly as intiguing or compelling (just like the movie itself).

Following Phone Booth, I hopped over to see View from the Top, comedy so lightweight that it would blow away in a stiff wind. There was a degree of cuteness that kept me in the theater, but overall it was a lot of really good actors with not much to do. It streched believability like a Hooters' t-shirt played for cheap laughs. I'd have to say that the "hits of the 80's" soundtrack had me longing for earplugs.

I liked it, because I saw it for free. If you really want to see, might I suggest waiting until it airs on USA, or what ever cable station takes it. Some people need to have a chat with their agents, and maybe consider reading the scripts carefully before signing on.

Incidentally, for fans of The West Wing, both Rob Lowe and Joshua Malina had bit parts. OK, Joshua had a bit part, Rob had a microscopic cameo.

After that, I also went and re-saw Chicago, and liked it just as much the second time around.

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Wisconsin Film Festival....last review

The last film I saw at the festival was The Real Old Testament, which screened with Antiquities Roadshow (another short by Aaron Yonda).

Antiquities... was an amusing little spoof of Antiques Roadshow, though overall, it wasn't as funny as Yonda's Questions had been. The joke started out very funny, but proceeded to grow less so as the short wore on. Never-the-less, anyone who is familiar with the format and style of the original Roadshow would have to at least crack a smile at its spoof.

RTO, by Curtis Hannum and Paul Hannum, similarly riffed on MTV's The Real World and the Biblical Old Testament. "Find out what happens when Biblical patriarchs stop being hallowed religious figures, and start getting real!"

Extremely low budget, and entirely improvised by its cast, RTO did have quite a few moments of hilarity, but I also found it a little long, at almost two hours. The film spanned the Old Testament from Creation to Jacob and his wives. They did stick fairly close to the source material as far as the "what happened", veering off into comedy for the why and how.

The filmmakers were present at the screening, and spoke to the audience while the staff sorted out a numer of problems concerning the projection equipment. They spoke of the sheer amount of material they had to work with going into editing (I think they said something in the neighborhood of 59 hours?). Yet, I think the movie would be improved with a little more trimming. The story skipped from Ambraham's sacrafice to Jacob meeting Laban's daughters. Rebekah and Esau were left out, which was probably for the best, yet the sequences with Abraham streched on for-----ev-----er. They also included a rather extensive scene of Lot and his family fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah including the "sin of Lot's daughters". Granted, it is a story in the Bible, but the whole effect was pretty much one big Faralley brothers' style gross out. It kind of lost me at that point.

I have to say, the best sequence was at the very end when they staged the "Reunion Show". That was a Real World parody in fine form. I especially loved it when "God" became upset at the rest of the cast and stormed off the set. Classic.

That's it. That's all I saw at the festival this year. By the by, it seems to have been a good year for the festival, and a record number of tickets were sold, and most shows sold out early. Festival organizers are talking of further expansion next year. I'm sure it will be great.

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Counting

On Sunday, the first film I saw was Unprecedented: The 2000 Election. As one would gather, it concerns the voting irregularities of the Florida vote, from the purge of "felons" from the voter rolls, to the confusion at the polls on election day, to the turmoil of the recount.

Even though I'd followed those events but a short time ago, the documentary added to my understanding of them by laying out the chronology, and explaining the more obscure detail. It was well made, and though the bias was obviously not for Bush and his people (the audience actually hissed at Katherine Harris) its tone was mostly one of calling things as they were. Gore's camp was not let entirely off the hook, either. They made a big mistake in asking for manual recounts in only four heavily Democratic counties rather than the entire state, and the filmmakers did not hesitate in calling them on it.

I am still outraged at the whole affair, and the way the right is so ready to dismiss any examination of it. This film might go a long way to convince some of the more moderate and broad minded on the right of the legitimacy of these concerns. However, as a member of the audience pointed out, it is mostly preaching to the choir. Those who seek this documentary out will generally be those who are already convinced. Those who really need to see it will probably pass it by...unless we can bring it to them?

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Never Again?

Just after Vote for Me!, I ran to another theater to see 100 Days, a story of the genocide in Rwanda. I knew, even as I'd bought my ticket, that it would be a difficult movie to watch. I was a high school senior when the killings took place in 1994. I knew nothing of the history, or even the geography of the country. Still, what I saw on the news horrified me, and it still does to this day.

The story follows a teenage Tutsi girl, her family, her boyfriend, and his family as they face the horror of the killings. As I watched the UN peacekeeping forces pull out, and the machete bearing Hutus move in for the kill, I kept asking why? Why? Why?

When I got home, I started looking in to why the UN pulled out, and though the articles I read gave me a better insight into other things that were happening at the time, the killing of the 10 Belgians for example, I still get angry at the lack of concern displayed, and the beaureaucratic falling down that allowed this to go on.

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Vote for Me!

Saturday morning I went to see Vote for Me!, which was preceeded by two shorts: Dubya's Big Day.

Questions, by Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan, was incredibly funny. Honestly, it was three minutes of laughter. Even after the credits were rolling, people throughout the theater continued to chuckle. Low-budget and simply made, it demonstrated that quality does not equal budget

Dubya's Big Day, by Paul VanDeCarr, was amusing, but not nearly as much as
Questions had been. It was the same sort of "look what I edited together to make sound funny" clip that circulates the internet at least once a month. Nothing terribly witty or original.

Vote for Me!, by Nelson Antonio Denis, was the feature of the screening. It was both interesting and confusing by turns. There were quite a few things that were never explained (what was with the guy pushing the wheelchair?) or that took longer than they should have to become clear. It definately had it's prize moments (Mme. La Bimboo's smile, for example) but it could have been far stronger if it hadn't relied so heavily on the absurd, or perhaps if it had pushed the absurdity just a little bit farther. As it was, the movie seemed as though it dodn't know where it stood at all times.

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The Fab Four Are in my Living Room

Last night I took in the festival screening of A Hard Day's Night, introduced by Roger Ebert. I've seen that film a number of times, both on the small screen and in the theater, and every time it has put a huge grin on my face. This time was no exception. The sheer energy and joy displayed in the film are contagious. The other Beatles can be fun and silly, but this one is simply a classic. Even forty years after it was made, it really doesn't feel dated. Seeing it with a theater full of people (the Orph was packed) added to the excitement, as did seeing it with a friend who had never seen it before.

Ebert spoke both before and after the film, and his remarks reminded me why I respect him so much as a critic. He was witty and intelligent. You could really tell that he'd given thought to what he was saying, and that he meant every word of it.

Following the movie and the talk, my friend and I attended a festival party in the Orpheum lobby, with an excellent food spread from their restaurant (We're not talking tiny hors d'oeuvres, either. It was an actual buffet with things like quiche, salmon, turkey, green beans, rolls, and chocolate dipped strawberries.) and music (mostly Beatles covers) by the Gomers. I ate way too much food, and stayed as long as the band played. There were cardboard fans on all of the tables, cutouts of the Beatles faces from the HDN photographs glued to colorful popsicle sticks. I managed to collect all four. Go me!

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Brilliant

Thanks to two Harry Potter movies, and now Bend it Like Beckham, that word is soon to replace "cool" in my vocabulary.

I really liked Bend it... and I hope it plays in Madison after the festival, because I'd love to see it again, and get some of the people I know to see it as well. For one thing, it (along with last years World Cup) really make me want to become a soccer...er...football fan. It also gave me a huge craving for samosas.

The story itself was pretty standard: a feel-good coming-of-age, daring to be different, meeting of cultures, plucky sports story. What Billy Elliot (another fun movie) did for boys and ballet, Bend it... does for girls and sports. The story was cute, the acting was fun, and though it was montage-heavy, they weren't the sort of montage that make you roll your eyes in embarrassment. The cast had good chemistry, and it seemed to me that the actors really took on their characters.

I was glad to have seen it, and it made a good start to the festival for me. The audience (a sold out Orpheum Theater) seemed to be just as happy with it as I was, if that's anything to you. If you get the chance, I highly recommend checking it out.

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I got a free movie pass yesterday, so today I finally went to see The Two Towers. I found it somehow more enjoyable than the first. The Ents were nice, but not quite as I envisioned them (and not quite enough to make up for the lack of Tom Bombadil in the FOTR). Gollum/Smeagol, however, was great. Reminded me a wee bit of Dobby from Harry Potter, but in a fun way. I totally loved the scene in which he is working out his inner conflict, pre-betrayal.

I have to admit that it was nice to see Liv Tyler sailing off to parts unknown. The blonde wench is much more Aragorn's type, anyway. I still very much appreciated the attention to detail in the make-up and costuming. The unwashed hair, the cracked and dirty fingernails, the threadbare clothing...excellent. (But my goodness, Legolas' hair always looks great.)

Following that three hour adventure, I got out of the theater in just enough time to partake in an old American tradition: theater hopping. I was able to take in a showing of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which I doubt I would have *ever* paid to see. A cute little chick-flick, see it as a matinee, wait till it gets to a second run theater, or rent the video. Or theater hop.

I saw many really forgettable trailers for movies I'd rather never see (including Bruce Almighty which preceded both filmssave me!). On the up side, I got to see the trailer for X-Men 2 and Down With Love, which looked wierd, funny, and promising.

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And now, the long promised Chicago review:

can it be that the movie musical is really making a comeback? First there was Everbody Says I Love You back in 1996. (Ok, it sucked, but in a fun way.) 2000 brought us Love's Labour's Lost (which I haven't seen). In 2001, Baz Luhrman wowwed us with Moulin Rouge. And now there is Chicago.

I went to the theater expecting to enjoy myself, and I was not disappointed. As many times as I have seen Fosse's A Chorus Line, I was unfamiliar with Chicago.

The casting was solid. I particularly loved Queen Latifah's turn as Matron 'Mama' Morton. I have never thought the term "ample bosom" so appropriate as when she sang "When You're Good to Mama". Even the cameos were fun.

The cinematography was very MTV, but in a positive way. It doesn't hurt the film. In fact, the flashy jumpcuts and sparkling color give it a vitality that the old Hollywood style of stationary, head-on shots (made necessary by the technical limitations of early filmaking) would have lacked. The fact that it covered any shortcomings in anyone's dance skills is also a plus. I'm sure that Richard Gere is not the tap-master that was Gene Kelly.

Also of note, the movie was directed by Rob Marshall, who was born in Madison. Local boy!

All in all, quite fun, and something I'd be tempted to see again.

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Finally saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this weekend. It took quite a while for me to see it, as life has been rather busy of late, but it was worth the wait.

Following the movie, I got into an interesting conversation with my companion on the game of quidditch. On the surface, it does seem that since the game ends when the snitch is caught, and the snitch is worth 150 points, the whole point of the game is to catch the snitch. After all, getting the quaffle throught the hoops only earns 10 points. However, given that there is no time limit for the game, points can certainly rack up. Catching the snitch may not mean much to a team that has been leading, but it can make the difference for a team that is trailing badly. Also, if I recall from the books, the overall point spread makes a difference for long term standing. Still I suppose, the snitch might have been a little more reasonable at, say, 50 points or so......

Good lord, am I really discussing the scoring of quidditch? At this hour?

Off to bed now.

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Spirited Away was amazing. I am considering going back to see it again tonight. I was everything I look for in an animated movie (for children) and so much of what Disney has been failing to provide in recent years: true magic, complexity, and beauty. It made me laugh, it made me wonder, and it made me sit up and take notice of everythig that was happening onscreen. It was an exciting film; one hair-raising moment on a stairway had me clinging to my chair in sympathy. At the same time, I left the movie feeling relaxed, as if I had been meditating.

It would do the movie a great disservice if I tried to sum up the plot. Comparisons to Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass are a little over used these days, but it would work. Really it fits in with a whole spectrum of movies with a "girl goes on quest to rescue lost/enchanted loved one(s), makes friends, influences people" motif. And I must say, I love a tale with a strong heroine at the center. Who says adventure and rescuing are for the boys?

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Bowling for Columbine was, to use a hugely over-used phrase, thought provoking. Some parts were funny, some were sad, some made me angry, and some made me uncomfortable. The mood swung back and forth from minute to minute.

Michael Moore raised more questions that he gave answers , but that is not surprising. The subject of violence in general, and gun violence in particular does not lend itself to pat answers tied up in neat little ribbons. The movie did an excellent job at raising questions, and Moore's earnest concern for those who are hurting propelled his quest for answers.

His deep empathy for the downtrodden, combined with an artful naivete puts him at odds with those in positions of power, be they movie-stars, politicians, or PR managers. I admire the childlike logic about the way the world should work; which sends him into KMarts headquarters to return the bullets lodged in a high school student's body; which send him door to door to see if people in Canada really don't lock their houses; which sends him after celebrities to hold them accountable for their actions. He wants people to play fair, just like we were taught in kindergarten.

Of course, he doesn't play fair, either. Over and over in the movie, we see him putting people on the spot, forcing them into no-win situations where they will either lose outrigth, or win, but look like an asshole. His editing skill with sound bites allows people's own words t play them the fool, leaving them hoist on their own petard. The emotions of the viewer (in this case, me) are made fresh and raw by clip after clip of real life violence. No matter how many times I see the second plane flying into the south tower, the pain of that moment does not lessen. Seeing the actual security and crime scene footage of the Columbine shooting was also unsettling. On the whole, the multiple clips of people shooting themselves and others began to feel like a snuff film. Real death and real pain made larger than life for our viewing pleasure. Even as Moore critiques our culture of violence and voyeurism, he feeds that same beast.

That aside, there were some startlingly good interviews (Marilyn Manson!) and many good points to ponder. I found it as a whole to be brash yet sensitive. I would like to see it again. Perhaps once more on the big screen, and then again as a recording, so that I can stop and jump around, fact check (I'd love to check on some of the stats) and examine some thoughts more thoughroughly.

I recommend this movie for the curious and the open minded, but warn that it is not for the faint of heart.

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which I finally saw this weekend, was worth the watch. It was genuinely funny, with likable characters and realistic, though certainly exaggerated, situations.

I could say more, but as I type this, I realize that everything I want to say about it has already been said in a dozen or so other reviews.

Short version: Good movie, go see it.

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Well the Willy Porter/Sonia Dada show at the Barrymore was excellent.

Willy Porter started the night out. I'd never seen him as an opener before, so his set was much shorter than I am used to. Still, he gave a good show, bantered a bit, and (de rigeur for his shows) made a song up on the spot, based on an audience suggestion.

Sonia Dada, whom I had never seen live before, blew the roof off the place. Their set started a little before 9PM and went on till 11:30. They were a very energetic bunch, and seemed to be having fun. Paris, in particular, kept flirting with the audience. He certainly knew how to make the crowd love him.

Twas fun, and I shall definately have to do it again.

(Ok, as far as review posts go, that was pretty lame....blame it on the turkey. I can't think straight.)

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Went to the They Might Be Giants show at the Orpheum last night. Much fun was had, and many old friends were run into.

I was rather ambivalent about Eyes Adrift, the opening act. Not my kind of music, and I certainly wouldn't seek them out, but neither would I go out of my way to avoid hearing them. (Of course, no opening act has ever surpassed the first TMBG opener I ever saw: Soul Coughing.)

The two Johns and three Dans played a lot of music from their new childrens album (No!), as well as some trusted classics. Nothing from John Henry, so I didn't get to conga to "No One Knows My Plan". Also no "She's An Angel", but they did play "Dead" and "Birdhouse" and tons of others that are garanteed to have me dancing.

The audience demographic was quite varied. Ages ranges from 8 or so to 40's (about the same age as the Johns are now). Hard to believe the band has been around for 20 years now. I first came across them in 1993, while working on the stage crew for my high school production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Flood and Apollo 18 were the albums of choice for the crew, and I still firmly associate those albums with that time.

Y'all can have your Weezer, TMBG are the godfathers of geek-rock.

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Well, a friend loaned me three new CD's to listen to this evening. I've given my reviews for the first two, and now it's time for the third.

Peter Gabriel's Up album was alright. It neither grabbed me nor turned me off. I played it twice, just to be sure, and came to the same conclusion both times. I honestly wish I had more to say about it, but not being a professional album reviewer, I'm not going to bother reviewing an album that didn't impact me very much.

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Aimee Mann also has a very solid album in Lost in Space. More longing and loneliness, this time very much accentuated by the cover art; a mini-comic book by Seth

For me, Mann's voice has always evoked a feeling of late-night confession in a dive bar. On this album,I can almost see her at the corner of the bar, whisky in one hand, cigarette in the other, telling the bartender about Guys Like Me.

I also think I have found my new road trip song in Humpty Dumpty.

Aimee Mann is among the throng of amazing artists that are coming to town in a too short period of time. I'd love to see her, but when it comes time to decision making and ticket buying, I may have to pass. (Doesn't mean I won't try to win tickets.)

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I will now join hoards of other reviewers and state that Beck's new album, Sea Change is a friggin masterpiece. It also sounds so unlike all of the Beck that I had previously known (and liked) that the first time I heard a track, I had to check to see if it was the same guy. (I mean, it isn't as if there isn't already one other Beck-named recording artist out there. There could be room for one more.)

Musically, it has a great deal of subtlety. I think it would make excellent chill-out listening. It certainly has strains of melancholy running through it...actually, it seems to be running through strains of melancholy. However, that sadness isn't the variety that automatically brings the listener down. The music has too much energy for that. It makes me think of the sad songs of Patsy Cline or Hank Williams Sr. The loneliness, longing, and regret are bundled with catharsis, bringing it above the level of the standard "I'm so sad" pop song.

All in all, I think that those who got in to Where It's At back in 1996 will find the same artist, despite the changes. Those who found his earlier work silly or pretenious might wish to consider giving him a second listen. They might be pleasantly surprised.

As an added bonus, the cover art is pretty sweet. All four different versions.

It has my recommendation.

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I saw M. Night


I saw M. Night Shyamalan'sSigns yesterday. A very satisfying movie. (The website's kinda fun, too.) Similar in certain respects to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable but not so much so as to predictable or stale. There was a strong tension throughout the movie that was only marred for me twice; once by an ill-cast cameo decision and once by an unconvincing news bulletin. (Fast breaking news doesn't generally look like a news magazine documentary.) While I don't think it will be up for awards the way Sixth Sense was, I do recommend checking out this movie.

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Review time! I've hit


Review time! I've hit two more sushi places. One of them was a little disappointing. The roll was very ricey, and the rice was a little mushy. There wasn't a whole lot of flavor. However, I am willing to give the place another chance, as it has been recommended to me by several people. (I'll tell where it is after I've eaten there again.)

The second restaurant was Takara, a new Japanese restaurant on State Steet, which scored as Madison's second favorite sushi spot in the Isthmus this year. The atmosphere and the waitstaff were wonderfully pleasant. The decor was quite a contrast to the very servicable yet 70's look of the gyro place that used to be in that location. The bowl of miso soup I was given was as good as any I've ever had, with nice big chunks of tofu. The soup was served quite hot, too. I had to take off my glasses to eat it, as the steam kept them fogged.

I ordered a reverse roll of tuna, cucumber and avacado....my usual. (I've decided to always try the same roll at each new place first, so I have an even basis for comparison.) For me, the perfect size for a piece of sushi roll is large enough to provide a filling mouthful, but not so large as to be awkward. The pieces were a nice size and very attractive. Within the roll, the fish was in generous, juicy chunks. Just the right amount of sesame seeds adorned the outside of the roll. Mmmmmm.

While I ate, I watched some of the other patrons enjoying their meals. A group of three seemed to be having quite a feast. As I was about ready to leave, they were just receiving a boat full of sushi. I couldn't tell how many rolls were involved, but I was impressed.

I would definately go back again, and would also recommend Takara to others. One note: the restaurant does not take checks, and will only accept credit cards for purchases over $19. If you are like me, only having soup, tea and one roll, be sure to have cash on hand! (It doesn't pay to become too dependent on debit cards.)

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I just got done


I just got done watching the DVD of The Sixth Sense. Still very scary, even though I know when not to jump now. The DVD had some very nice bonus footage as well. I really appreciate it when work goes into making an all-around package with a DVD release, rather than just the movie. The deleted scenes and the "rules and clues" were especially fun. I may have to rewatch Unbreakable again this week, too.

I still haven't caught Signs but that will happen eventually. Summer is not so much a movie going time for me, when there is so much to do outside, that you can't do in winter. (Probably why they release so much crap in the summer.)

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Saw Love's Labors Lost


Saw Love's Labors Lost at American Players Theater last night. It was an excellent performance of a mediocre play. (Yes, W.S. wrote some stinkers.) Granted, I knew that going in, so I wasn't disappointed. There was some excellent acting, and even though a great deal of the dialogue deals in puns and references that don't translate well from Elizabethan England to 21st Century US, it was quite funny. (I imagine watching this play now would be similar to watching Disney's Aladdin 100 years from now. It would be funny, but so many of the pop-culture references would be lost.)

James Ridge (Berowne), Jim DeVita (Don Armado), and Matthew Tallman (Boyet) were in top form. Colleen Madden (Princess of France) and Tracy Michelle Arnold (Rosalind) led the women in battle of banter. Newcomers Christopher Marshall (Costard) and Paul Hurley (Moth) added much to the hilarity.

It was a beautiful night for a play, too. Warm yet mild, and not too buggy. The thunderstorms that rolled in last night didn't hit until I was safely home and tucked into in my little beddy-bye. Take that, rain!

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The Dar Williams concert


The Dar Williams concert was fantastic. They always are. Peter Mulvey opened the show, and he has a new fan in me. I've seen his name, as playing the area a lot, but though I'd heard good things about him, I'd never gotten to a show. I will now.

We started off the night with dinner at Weary Traveler Free House, which besides having the most delightful name of any restaurant of which I have ever heard, had good food at a great price.

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The end: How does


The end:

How does one end such a lovely three day weekend? With sushi, of course. We visited Edo Japanese Restaurant on Park Street. It is my new favorite restaurant. For one thing, the atmosphere was supreme. Cloth napkins and wooden chopsticks that did not need to be pulled from a paper wrapper, broken apart and sanded. I've never had restaurant chopsticks that weren't the disposable kind before. The sushi was mouth-watering. (Try the Black Dragon Roll!) Our waitress was friendly and helpful, though at one time I caught her watching us from the kitchen door. She waited and waited until both of us had full mouths to come over and ask how we were doing. Seriously, the second I popped a large piece of roll into my mouth, she headed in our direction. I know that is what *always* happens at restaurants, but I've never seen it done so blatantly.

All I can add it that they are open till 11PM, and midnight on weekends; just right for my late-night sushi cravings.

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Went to the Josh


Went to the Josh Joplin show tonight. The show itself was great. Josh reminds me very much of a young Arlo Guthrie in his presentation, which I'm sure is deliberate. He has great stage presence, and funny between song banter, so I will probably go see him again, when given the opportunity.

The two downsides to the night were being stood up at the last possible moment by the friend who was supposed to go with me, and the extreme air conditioning of the club. (Why do people want it colder in the summer, when people wear less clothing, than in the winter? Bloody freezing!)

A note to any who would care. A sure fire way to piss me off to the extreme is to stand me up or ditch me. Calling to cancel minutes before the show, long after we were supposed to meet, is not cool.

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reviews: Mint 'n Creme


reviews:

Mint 'n Creme Oreos: Come to mama!

Kabul's: Well, shortly after ordering, I developed a headache. (Not related to being in the restaurant...I think it had been brewing for a while.) The headache led to a bit of nausea, so I wasn't at my eating out best.

However, the atmosphere was lovely. The tables were candle-lit (though the dim light made menu reading a challange) and the wait staff was prompt and friendly. I had a great view of State Street, which is always a carnival in summer.

I had beef korma chalow, which came with fluffy white rice, mashawa, and Afghani flat bread. I couldn't do justice to the korma that night, though the presentation was delightful. The portion was large, and I have been working on the leftovers at home. Very tasty, very spicy. For people like me, I recommend a glass of milk to go with it, to cut the spice just a tad. (Yes, I'm a spice wuss.) The soup was satisfying and oddly familiar. I still haven't quite placed the memories it evoked, but I had a great time dipping my bread into the bowl.

I will have to go back sometime for lunch.

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Wonderful afternoon with Tori.


Wonderful afternoon with Tori. We took in the Blooming Butterflies exhibit at Olbrich Gardens, then enjoyed the rest of the park including the new Thai Pavilion. (For some reason, the link to Olbrich's own pages aren't working.)

This put us in a very peaceful mood, and also rather hungry. We saw the Thai Pavilion, how about some Thai food? No luck. Every Thai place we tried was closed, and none of them would be open for another hour and a half. We ended up going to Himal Chuli for Nepalese cuisine. Check one more off my ethnic food adventure list. Twas excellent.

I had a combination platter of samosa, roti, momo, and dal with a mango lassi to drink. The food was all vegetarian, lightly spicy, and very filling. The lassi was the perfect beverage to balance the spice of the food, and the ice water brought to the table had lemon slices and mint adding a subtle flavor that was especially refreshing. The price was reasonable, service was friendly, and the photo of the dalai lama smiling down ate us helped sustain a mood of mellow enjoyment. (Is it just me, or doesn't it look like he knows a lot of good jokes?)

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I went to see


I went to see Goldmember today. It was amusing, though far short of the original. The dance numbers cracked me up, but I could have done without all of the scatalogical humor. Hell, I could have done without *any* of that. Beyonce Knowles did a good job with the character she was given. I wish they had made more use of Seth Green, but then again, you can *always* use more Seth Green

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Here is my Minority


Here is my Minority Report review:

Good, but not so good that I'd rave about it. (Granted, I saw it for free, and that always helps my opinion.) It had some good visual effects, and the plot had some good tension. There were a couple of stomach-turningly gross moments, including one involving ancient fridge leftovers that almost made me lose my sushi.

The acting was unremarkable, for the most part. I was pretty much drawn in by the visuals and the plot. I also realized most of the ending about 3/4 of the way in....which seems to have been a little earlier than they wanted you to get it.

It doesn't give away too much of the plot to mention that a big part of the movie hinges on the stopping crime before it happens vs. punishing people who haven't done anything yet question. (Which is due to become the big media "wag the dog" cliche of the summer, given our "Homeland Security" situation.) What I would like to know is why it never occurs to anyone to combine those two. Find out a murder is going to happen, stop it from happening, and let everyone go. Sure, maybe provide counseling, or charge them with disorderly conduct, or keep an eye on them in the future.....maybe probation or something. Sure, knowing that if you even think about murder will get you put away forever might be a deterent, but wouldn't knowing that you would never be allowed to go through with the act also be a deterent? (Granted, that would still leave the question of ethical treatment of precogs, but that's another story. Just a movie, after all.)

All in all I think you could see this movie at full price without shame. (There were also some great trailers before the feature.)

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Movie review time. The


Movie review time.

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

A much better book than a movie. The book was an excellent piece of literature. The movie was a mildy enjoyable chick-flick that I got to see for free. Not a movie for guys. Take your sister or your girlfriend or your mom. However, I don't quite recommend it as a full price thing, unless money isn't a big deal to you at all. Matinee, second-run budget cinema, or rental. No doubt you will be able to catch it on Lifetime in a year or so.

Panic Room

This movie, on the other hand, I would have seen for full price if I hadn't been so damn broke when it first came out. Very well done. The camera work was impressive, the acting was solid, and the plot was suspenseful and well paced. The time flew by while the movie played, and I had to remind myself to relax. A movie for either gender, though not for the squeamish.

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Dinner was interesting. I


Dinner was interesting. I ate at the Maharajah restaurant. The food was good, though a little confusing. The only Indian food I have ever eaten was a bit of a samosa, and I don't care for food that is hot spicy (mild spicy is more my style). Deciding what to order was a challenge, and due to language and accent difficulties, the waitress who took my order was not able to help make any suggetions. I took a stab at it and ordered chicken tikka, and some poori. The poori came with three dipping sauces, all of which were tasty but spicy enough to burn my mouth. The tikka came with a large serving of rice and a very tasty sauce that was mildly spicy. There was also a plate of hot flat bread, though I didn't catch the name. I did enjoy the tikka, and ate till I was stuffed. Even then, I filled up a large box of leftovers to take home.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was mixed. All of the other patrons seemed to enjoy their meals, and the Indian music was pleasant. There was a shiny red on gold banner hanging on a wall that read "Season's Greetings. Ho Ho Ho." and featured a picture of Santa Claus. The one downside was that the air conditioning was turned down way too low. I wasn't the only one who was uncomfortable, as I heard those around me discussing the intense chill.

Service was not exactly stellar. The restuarant wasn't very busy, yet it took a long time for them to see to me. Other patrons seemed to be having difficulty getting their checks flagged down. Once I had my food, my water glass was refilled once, and then sat empty next to my other empty beverage cup the rest of the night. No one checked up on me. When I finished eating, it took quite a while before anyone came around to notice that I was done and ready to go. For the first time in a long time, I felt compelled to only tip 10%, rather than 15%. I paid almost $20 for the meal, and I don't expect to be neglected by an idle waitstaff for that price.

Amelie, as usual, was great fun. Fourth time seeing it.

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Continued the ethnic food


Continued the ethnic food adventure this afternoon. Today I stopped in to the Mediterranean Caf, which along with many of the other stps on my list, was voted Madison's favorite. Tasty falafel, nummy hummus, a pile of pitas, a stack of rice and a little salad with feta. I ate until I could eat no more. Paid less than $6. The atmosphere was charming and very friendly. I will definitely be back.

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Tonight I saw the


Tonight I saw the film Kandehar. I will discuss it further once I have had more time to reflect on it (and some sleep).

There was a very odd moment in the theater. In the middle of the movie, stuff came raining down from above. At first I though bits of the ceiling were coming down (it is an old theater) but it turned out to be tash that someone was throwing from the balconey. Cups and other detritus bounced off of audience memebers and chairs. What made this especially odd is that, to begin with, it isn't that kind of theater in which you expect stuff to be thrown. Besides that, there wasn't anyone sitting in the balconey at the begining of the film. All of the audience was on the main floor. It might have been a theater ghost? The Orpheum is haunted, after all.

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Followed up Key Largo


Followed up Key Largo with 12 Angry Men(the Sidney Lumet version, not the remake). It is such a compelling film, and should be required viewing for anyone in favor of the death penalty. It certainly throws a light on the ideas of reasonable doubt and the fallibility of the justice system.Besides the ethical issues, the dialogue, acting, and cinematography are superb.

After viewing the movie, I looked at several excellent commentaries on the film. They are worth a look if you have seen the movie. If you haven't seen the movie....well, you should.

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This town is a


This town is a carnival tonight.

I suppose it is the fact that spring is really and truly here. Maybe it is the warmth, maybe it is the pollen,doing funny things to our psyches. Maybe itis the fact that this town is relatively crazy even on a "normal"day. Who knows, but I am having fun.

I was downtown at the Richard Shindell concert. The show was great. Richard is one of those singer/songwriters that is a real storyteller, and he has something amusing to tell between each song. Long ago he was a seminary student, before he realized that he was an atheist, and therefore probably shouldn't be a minister. Nevertheless, many of his songs have a religious theme or feel, and his ancedotes are punctuated by occasional heavenward glances, as if to check on a different audience. There were two encores.

Leaving the show, I wandered out onto Library Mall, which was filled with colored lights. The UW Glass Department's outdoor neon and light exhibition was going in full swing. Pieces ranged from the lame to the amazing. I was mesmerized by a box on a podium containing a few tubes of neon that slowly changed colors. The box had a plexiglass window in the front, and all the other internal walls were mirrors, so the neon appeared to go on for etenity. I was also amused by a guy with a boombox and a huge box of kitchen matches. He would start a song on the boombox (always stadium rock), light a match, and holding it in the air screaming, "Queen! Yeah!" About five seconds of the song would play, then he would cue up a new song, light a new match, and start again."Deep Purple! Yeah!" There was an enormous pile of matches at his feet. There are people of all ages punking out to Irish rock at the student uinon (where I am blogging this now) and all up and down State Street, people in various stages of intoxication are singing and dancing to the street musicians that can usually be found busking there. One man plays flute, another steel guitar. A rather old, almost homeless looking man plays guitar for songs like "Margaritaville" and "Brown Eyed Girl", with the lyrics written in magic marker on large, laminated cards for drunken, happy sorority girls to wail. This isn't a holiday, it is just the town.

Times like this I can see why I haven't moved on yet.

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Review time. So far,


Review time. So far, the Film Festival has been a blast for me. I saw two features and a short last night.

13 Conversations About 1 Thing was excellent. The vignettes were woven together in such a way as to mask the actual chronology at first. Characers in one storyline have brief encounters with characters in other, but it isn't always revealed until the end as to what point in each tale the interaction occurs. There is a satisfying mix of humor and sadness to the writing, and the acting is very strong. This film was directed by Jill and Karen Sprecher, Madison natives who were also responsible for Clockwatchers, another favorite of mine. (Watch it with Office Space sometime.)

Pickup Polka was a comic short that screened with No Sleep till Madison. Basket ball and accordians, who'da thunk it? I laughed my butt off.

No Sleep till Madison was both funny and sad (though more of the funny, thank goodness). I got a kick out off all the local color, and it was an excellent commentary on obsession, growing up, friendship and nostalgia. Oh, and hockey. can't leave out the hockey.

Kandahar is playing at the Orpheum for at least the next week, so I might catch it after the festival. I am considering hitting the 5 PM showing of Promises. However, I am seeing Nerissa and Katryna Nields in concert tonight, so that limits my festival time today.I can see a bit more tomorrow, and then I am road tripping to Minneapolis for a wedding. It is a full weekend for me.

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