Lots of movies... Ugly Truth, District 9, and Milk

You know it's been a while since I did a 2-fer at the theaters. With ticket prices hovering at $12.50, PNGF and I finally had time to do a 2-fer at the Union Square Regal theater. They've been eating our wallet for months, so I feel very good about it. The movies chosen? Ugly Truth and District 9. And I was a bit sad that we paid to see Ugly Truth and didn't give the brilliant District 9 its deserved money. (Note: PNGF panicked when some theater people came to clear the place for cleaning due to our 2-fer activity... and I remembered the awesome way I had developed to catch people like myself... anyway...)

I also finally watched Milk on DVD. Here goes.

Ugly Truth

Let's start with the romantic comedy. Um... as far as I can remember, everything was kind of funny but totally cliche. Yup, it's a romantic comedy. Sure, I'll recommend it if you are watching it with your gf. At least afterwards you can make fun of each other for 2 hours.

District 9

When I saw the previews, this seemed to be a sci-fi movie with scary aliens jumping around. I had no desire to see it. Then I read somewhere that it had a racial overtone to it. I was sold immediately. DAMN, the first 30 minutes of the movie completely blew me away with its documentary style of filming as well as the vague and cryptic reference to what was about to happen. The rest of the movie proceeded fairly predictably with enough special effects and moral lessons to keep me interested.

Our hero starts off as an officer responsible for evicting alients (against their will of course) due to the inability for both aliens and humans to live together. While polite, he clearly has no intention to let aliens stay. When one of the aliens questions the legality, our hero says "this one is a bit smarter, let me handle it." Yup... in the end, poor people always gets screwed (or killed). Anyway, our hero slowly turns into an alien, and through that process, slowly realizes he cannot go back even though he is human. Other humans immediately turn their back on "something" that is only partially different. The only place to turn was to his now best friend: aliens. Anyway, besides this discussion, there's also the usual angle at gangs taking control of the alien slums, govt agents looking for ways to operate alien weaponry, mass fugitives with no place to go (Ironically, in South Africa!), etc.

Overall, I thought it was an amazing "discussion" on how people discriminate against things that they don't know about - in this case, aliens - and act accordingly. Yeah, so it was a dark movie. And also highly recommended.


I remember when I watched The Wrestler, I commented that I really needed to see how Sean Penn was a better actor in Milk. I think it's a close toss up... with Mickey Rourke coming on top in my opinion. Penn probably got the nod because of the topic of the movie. Anyway, the movie was phenomenal all around even though I know what was going to happen. It's a great depiction of a movement driven by pure passion... not politics, not money, just passion. And eerily similar to the lessons of District 9. Also highly recommended.



A while ago, I saw this billboard in Times Square and complimented HP on a job well done by cross advertising with Vivienne Tam.

Yesterday, I saw another cross advertising by HP on TV. It was one of those many Microsoft Windows "You find it, you keep it" commercials where a regular person goes shopping for a PC and finds one under $1,000. This one features a nice young lady named Megan. The next commercial is where Megan talks with her friend via her newly bought PC, saying how cool it is to see herself on TV. The PC? An HP of course.

Very smart and effective, me thinks.
Here's one way not to split a bill board. The sharpest tongue, huh?

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Food images from Boston

Disclaimer: when I was in Boston, I wasn't really looking for good food. I was looking for restaurants that bring back memories. So... advanced apologies if you are looking for a restaurant guide. (More pictures here)

How could I not go to Bartley's when I am in Harvard Square. I considered High-rise and Darwin's as well, but finally couldn't resist greasy burgers (Charlie's has even more greasier ones). Anyway, this you see is the Tom Werner, i.e. bacon cheddar (looks like Swiss... but it's cheddar) burger. I got it medium rare. Burger was disappointing as expected - Bartley's quality has dropped throughout the years. Closer to medium than medium rare, the burger was only slightly warm and the meat quality was merely average. The vanilla frappe, however, was very very good: smooth yet heavy in flavor.

Ah, Bartley's, I can never escape. I remember driving around Harvard Square for almost an hour looking for parking so we can go eat at Bartley's. Good times.

I can't believe this was my first time to Parish Cafe. Awesome place. They basically take good sandwich recipes from around Boston and adopt it with the original restaurant's permission. This is The Summer Shack (from the restaurant The Summer Shack), a very yummy fried cod sandwich. Light batter, fresh fish, crisp bun. Yum. Definitely coming back to this establishment.

Spicy Fried Chicken from Cafe Mami. For those of you unfamiliar, Cafe Mami is in Porter Exchange and has been the cafeteria for every single Asian student at Tufts University. And the Spicy Fried Chicken is what I got for about half the time (the other half is usually Spicy Beef Bowl and some sort of steak burger dish). The chicken is still good but a bit too big now. They need to get back to smaller chicken pieces with more tender meat. The sauce is a simple combination of mayo and thai chilly sauce, but oh the combo is so good. Cafe Mami, maybe the restaurant that I've been to the most times in my life.

I've raved about Oiishi many times. This time we went to the South End establishment, and it was a complete disaster. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Judge with words, not with pictures:

An interesting make of the Tamago, this one passes

Black Miso was pretty bad... no flavor, not very warm
The bad black miso was one-downed by the tempura rock shrimp. Wasn't fresh and almost cold.

Unintentional side effects...

One of the unintentional side effects of watching The Wire: I can't stand watching Cold Case, CSI, NYPD, NCSI, Bones, Law & Order, etc... Apparently, I've been brainwashed to think that The Wire is the most realistic portrayal of police work. Anything less would be dissatisfying.

Dang it!

Now... should I hit the play button for The Wire Season 4 Episode 1?


Aquavit on Iron Chef

Last night, we caught Iron Chef America on the Food Network. And it's Chef Samuelson from Aquavit. You may recall that my experiences at Aquavit were horrendous last time, so I was quite eager to see how Chef Samuelson would do against the immortal Bobby Flay.

Well, Chef Samuelson scored a 16 out of 30 on tastes. (Flay scored a 27)

Why am I not surprised?

(By the way, why are they called Chef ABC? Are they going to call me Consultant Josekin?)


Employing Michael Vick

So, ESPN is reporting that talk shows in Philly is blasting the Eagles for employing ex-dog-fighting-financer Michael Vick. Meanwhile, the SportsNation survey says that 60% of people think it is a good move by the Eagles.

So, why the vast difference? I think it goes like this:
  1. Vick should still be a great quarterback
  2. Alas, Vick also has some serious moral problems
  3. I love my team; it should be a stand-up team that don't deal with immoral stuff
  4. My team should not employ Vick
  5. Other teams have lesser standards
  6. They can employ Vick
Personally, I think it's wrong for the NFL to further discipline Vick (potentially reinstated by week 6 if the commissioner so pleases) after the court systems already has. Man has wronged and was punished. Seriously punished. Give him a second chance so he can turn around his life. Would you rather see him end up like Maurice Clarett?

I'm excited for Vick and Philadelphia.

(Apparently, so is the president of some animal loving place: says it's a good thing that Vick is heading to Philadelphia because Philly is a city with a big dog-fighting problem. "it is a big boast for us" - I'm shaking my head)


Whoa... he wrote back!

A few weeks ago, I printed a Warren Buffet portrait as part of a photography class. Later on, I actually mailed it to him with a little thank you for hosting us note.

Yesterday, I was shocked to see an email from a Berkshire Hathaway spokeswomen, thanking me for the picture. Okay, so HE didn't write back. But she actually opened and read the letter almost immediately!

Meanwhile, my nostalgic trip in Boston continues... and may include a trip to Oiishi with old friend CP.


Journey to... home?

I can't believe I took the bus from New York to Boston. Even the "premium" greyhound was only $18. How can I not? I agree I am a bit too old for buses between cities, though I can't help but notice that the buses are getting nicer with more value added services (WIFI!). I might still take the bus back to New York. Anyway, point is, it really isn't a bad ride at all, whatever the price.

As the bus passed through Mass Pike towards the city, I start seeing memories. Framingham. Natick. Wellesley. 95. Newton. Brighton. Cambridge. And then we zoomed right pass Fenway Park. The game was about to start, as I saw several people gathering on top of the Green Monster. The bus parked at South Station and I made my way to the T. Red line towards Alewife. E line towards Heath Street. It was clockwork for me (the new "turnstiles" are awesome and a great improvement!). I even got on the "right" door so I would get off at Prudential right at the escalators. Did I say clockework? I got off the train and started up the escalators and it hit me: hey, I went to work like this four years ago! There's Cheesecake Factory... there's the Duck Tour booth... and there's the security guard (Same one!)...

My friend NP has started at AG after graduating fom Sloan. So I met up with her in the AG lobby. We proceeded to the kitchen to grab some free food and drinks, and then I made my rounds around the office, saying hi to all the people I still know from way back.

Ah the memories.


Funny People

It's been a while since I watched a movie... last night, it was a debate between Funny People and The Ugly Truth
  • Funny People sounds pretty funny on the previews. Only problem is that I'm worried that I've seen all the best jokes already
  • The Ugly Truth is clearly a chick flick. But with an R-rated rating, I was hoping for some better jokes and awkward scenes
Well, Funny People won out. And it wasn't all that funny either. It's actually a movie more about life and death and how people react to it, and jokes are inserted in between to keep the mood lighter. I'd rather have it go all the way and just make it dark. Nonetheless, the producers thought using comedians to bring out the point that death makes everybody more vulnerable and forgiving, even though deep inside nothing has changed (proven when death goes away and everything returns to normal). Interesting take. Several points:
  • Adam Sandler is getting really old. How does he not have body guards in the movie is beyond my comprehension
  • Seth Rogen is funny as usual. Rogen is quite a natural comedian and he doesn't even have to pretend (like Sandler and Carrey)
  • Why do comedians have to joke about sex and farts all the time? Aren't there other things that people can laugh about?


More Deli Face Off (3rd version!)

There was Katz vs. Carnegie (Katz wins hands down), there was Katz vs. Millburn (can't really compare... oh, and I'm going to Millburn again today... mmm... Sloppy Joe...), and then there's Katz vs. Carnegie vs. 2nd Ave Deli.

I've been told a few times 2nd Ave Deli is the other version of Katz... here goes:

As you can see, the hot pastrami sandwich is sliced much thinner than Katz's. The meat is just as good in terms of flavoring. However, it is not as moist and tender as the pastrami from Katz. It's also a bit smaller (and cheaper) than the Katz version. I suppose there's some merit to having thin pastrami sandwich, but I am certainly not in that camp. Fat juicy meat please!

Verdict: Katz Deli > 2nd Ave Deli > Carnegie Deli

While I'm working with food... here's a Cambodian sandwich place called Num Pang. Asian sandwiches are making a huge wave in New York City. Vietnamese Bahn Mi... Chinese pork buns... etc etc. Anyway, here's the Veal Meatball with Hoi Sin Sauce (fresh watermelon juice on the side). The meatballs were great and there was a little bit of spicy kick to it, which was nice. The sauce, however, was a bit too salty for my tastes. Next time I go I will try something else.

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The Wire, Season 5

I'm continue to watch The Wire in a torrid pace... Season 5 is yet another excellent show that explores a dying industry with a lot of influence: the media.

(See my review on season 1 on drugs, season 2 on unions, season 3 on politics, season 4 on education)

Unfortunately, it's Season 5, which comes after the absolutely brilliant Season 4. And I love bashing the media (even more so, the people who buy it). So Season 5 was actually a bit of a let down. The story surrounds our usual suspects (cops, drugs, politicians) and adds the media to the center of the story. Quick re-cap: discouraged cop creates a serial killer out of thin air so he can get resources to track his drug target. Morally corrupt reporter finds interests in this story and starts making up shit to sensationalize it and sell papers. Cutting to the end, cop sort of nails his drug target in his last case while reporter wins prizes for his writing.

Season 5 does a good job depicting the pressures the media feels. Take the reporter who spends a few weeks with Bubbles the "homeless" to write a heartfelt story about homelessness. That's a couple of weeks on a story. And a blogger can take that one page story and spin it in all sorts of direction in a few minutes of writing. Who is going to generate more news? Who is going to generate more revenue? (Obviously The Wire is going to be better than Josekin's blog, but you get what I mean...)

And then there's the demand for good reporting, as in reporting on topics that are fun and engaging. In words of the actors, "a blond disappearing from Aruba is more important than inner city drug killings." And editors of the Baltimore Sun is just reacting to that. And the national spotlight on them (due to coverage on the fake serial killer) encouraged them to focus even more on riding the story.

Alas, 10 episodes is too short for a real damning piece on all this. I'd recommend Season 5, but not nearly as much as Season 4.

The Wire, in order of my "recommendability": 4, 1, 3, 5/2.

Just for fun, a quick recap on how the characters did at the end (STOP reading if you still want to see the show...):

  • McNulty: insubordinate cop brings down two drug orgs... then gets laid off from the force
  • Daniels: straight up commander gets fucked over by mayor and resigned for family reasons
  • Greggs and Sydnor: excellent detectives will continue to serve... as detectives
  • Freamon: Good cop forced to fake serial killer so he can get the drug org... and forced to resign
  • Herc and Carver: both are not very good at their jobs... one lands a great paying job as a double spy for both the police and lawyer who helps drug lords; the other continues up the police ladder
  • Prez: inept cop can't handle a gun but can cracks codes by drug gangs; ends up as a teacher at some half hopeless school teaching math
  • Rawls and Burrel: commisioners trying to be politicians succeeds some, fails some, never did much about crime and finally pushed out and onto better jobs
  • Valchek: how this man became the newest commisioner still confuses me...
I guess unless you loved the job (as either detective or higher up)... don't be a cop

  • Dee, Snoop, Bodie, Wee Bay, Bird, etc - all work for the drug organizations and none would make it to the C-level... and all in jail or dead.
  • Chris: Marlo's right hand man kills with or without a conscious; life without parole.
  • Stringer - he tried to walk away at the top; killed.
  • Barksdale - he kept going back to the streets even though he made enough; life without parole.
  • Prop Joe and Butch: I thought the middle man never would be touched; dead.
  • Marlo: ruthless dealer forced out but the street is still in him; Free man.
  • Omar: renegade stick up man tries to enforce his code on Marlo failes; dead.
  • The Greek: Drug supplier remains drug supplier.
The lesson, as usual, don't join gangs... but you can be the supplier apparently

  • Pearlman: always balacing between bringing a good case and her career, it seems that she will do well
  • Levy: lawyer helping drug organizations barely survives... and will continue to serve gangs with a target on his back (from Pearlman)
  • Carcetti: aspiring mayor has nice ideas... but falls to politics and turns out to be the same as his predecessors (less the corruption)
  • Clay Davis and Royce: shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit is now my favorite phrase. Corrupt officials will continue their good lives.
  • Templeton: better at writing fiction than reporting real news, he's headed for news prizes and headlines with his sensational and dishonest reporting
  • Gus and Alma: Good and honest reporters relegated to irrelevance
  • Michael Lee: smartest kid in Prez's class also tries to take care of his friends; he ends up on the street becoming like Omar - stick up man with a code robbing drug dealers
  • Duke & Randy: both pretty smart kids, both end up homeless (one in the streets, one in a group home)
  • Cutty: former gang muscle walks away from the game to run a boxing ring for kids on the brink; he's going to do okay
Finally, I wanted to end with Bubbles, one of my favorite characters on the show. Drug addict/ trash man never got away from drugs. He finally turns up clean after accidentally killing his protege Shorrod.
"Ain't no shame on holding on to grief, as long as you make room for other things too"
Did I forget anyone?

The Wire is one of the best TV dramas I've ever seen. Maybe I will watch it again next week. Highly highly highly recommended.


Deli faceoff 2

Well, I could have picked some better opponents, but the battle between the celebrated Katz Deli and even more celebrated Carnegie Deli is absolutely no contest:

Katz (website, yelp, review here) doesn't disappoint. I've been there two times now and both have ended up with too much pastrami down my throat. Slightly roasted and never too much fat, Katz pastrami indeed deserves the credit. Highly recommended.

Probably the best pastrami sandwich you can find in NY

Carnegie Deli (website, yelp) on the other hand, serves enormous sandwiches that are all meat and no flavor. At least it was big and the pickles were good. Not recommended, unless you want to see a sandwich bigger than your face.

Katz hands down. And I need to try 2nd Ave Deli (website, yelp) at some point.

The Wire, Season 4

My friend HW told me that this was the most spectacular TV series he has ever seen. He might be right.

Season 1 was police vs. drugs. Season 2 was police vs. port. Season 3 was police vs. drugs vs. politics vs. community. And Season 4... this is about how kids become involved with drugs. And it's a damning piece on the education system. Oh, and also the teachers, the parents, the cops, the politicians, the kids, everyone.

Man, I feel a bit depressed for them... there's a focus on the education system this time. And the whole thing is just so in-ept in educating the children that it makes me want to cry. And that's just the most minor offense. It is worse at keeping kids out of trouble because, well, the school's job is to have better test scores. Children be damned, get those numbers right!

I'm a bit conflicted about whether I recommend Season 4. It's makes for a great Michael Moore movie, I'll give The Wire that. For a TV series, man, it's just too real and depressing. Well, with that, I highly highly recommend Season 4 of The Wire. Awesome show.


Public Enemies by Michael Mann

Here's a New York Times time suck on how people spend their day. Thinking and Relaxing. That's the ticket.

Watched Public Enemies last night. Okay movie. The story never really came together for me and none of the characters really developed clearly. Johnny Depp did a decent job as super bank robber, but Christian Bale disappointed with the same serious face throughout the movie.

I had an "ah-ha" moment when Michael Mann's name came up at the credits (yeah, I didn't do the due diligence...). Some of the bank robbery scenes and fire fights felt familiar. Overall, however, Public Enemies is a far far cry from the exhilarating Heat. Not really recommended.

Restaurant Week continues...

AJ Maxwell notwithstanding (see review on their half cheesecake), Restaurant Week is an awesome concept: loads of New York restaurants would bring out their signature dishes and offer it as part of a $25 lunch and/or $35 dinner pre fixe menu. Basically that's a 50% discount for the very best restaurants who participate and a 25% discount for some of the cheaper ones. Since I'm Chinese, I go for the 50% discount:

Nobu (Website, Yelp, Citysearch)

Went with college friend and foodie HW (his review). When I called to get a table during lunch, they told me they were booked through August 3rd. What about a walk-in? "Sir, it's usually quite full unless you come very early or late" Well, we got there at 1:30pm and there was exactly one table open - the worse one in the restaurant right next to the register/kitchen/bathroom. But hey, I don't pay for ambiance, I pay for food. Anyway, the table situation cleared up after we sat down (last order 2:15). On to the food:

Shrimp tempura in creamy spicy sauce - the sauce was a bit too overpowering (acidic, HW says). I could taste the shrimp but I couldn't taste the tempura. The texture was nice and it had a good crunchy finish to it. I think I prefer more old school tempura though.

Black cod in miso sauce - HW went for Nobu's signature dish and I took a bite out of it. This puts Morimoto's version of the black cod to shame (review here). The cod was perfectly cooked - it was tender with a good hint of sweetness to it

Sushi set... to be honest, the Ebi looked very suspect at first. It turned out to be quite good, as you would expect from any top end Japanese restaurant. Good fresh sushi is always to die for

Dessert was blueberry shortcakeish. It was okay. Good looking though... and even better in black and white in my opinion.

The Modern (Website, Yelp)
I'll let the pictures talk this time.

Appetizer 1: Beef tripe - stewed with some sort of curry sauce, this was okay. Cute container though

Appetizer 2: Excellent duck leg. Tender and flavorful, you can't ask more from the chef when it comes to duck

Main course 1: Did I say the chef can make duck? Excellent duck confit.

Main dish 2 was a pork belly. No picture. Was quite nice but no match for the duck...

Two desserts: Dark chocolate dome with pistachio ice cream was lovely though the chocolate dome didn't look pretty at all. This Hazelnut Dacquoise (below) was both beautifully constructed and very yummy with a light milk chocolate cover.

Aquavit (Website, Yelp)
This might be worse than the AJ Maxwell debacle. We arrived on time at 815 for our table at the dining room. We were seated at 915. Though we were comped with drinks and a meatball appetizer, only the cranberry sauce saved the meatballs as a decent dish. The restaurant week appetizer were the very good herring sampler (PNGF is not a fan of the strong seafood flavor)... and the chilled corn soup disappointed as well. I order the grilled chicken as the main course... and the only appropriate discription of it is dry and disgusting. The salmon was actually very good if they didn't leave some barely cooked asparagus on the bottom. Yuck. Dessert was beautiful and a great consolation for the entire meal. Both the arctic circle and the chocolate cake was excellent. Overall, however, it was a disappointing experience given all the great things that has been said about it.

Good salmon, bad asparagus
Artfully made dessert

One if by Land, Two if by Sea (Website, Yelp)

Somewhat non-memorable but decent meal in a very nice restaurant. Candles and all. The appetizers: watermelon salad that I could have made myself. Mushroom tart was well made but a bit too salty for me; at least the cook put in some effort. PNGF ordered the steak and it was very tasty. I loved the flavoring and the meat was well prepared. I ordered the red snapper and I thought it was pretty fresh but a bit overcooked. . Dessert was considerably better... in fact, anything named Nutella cake should always be spectacular. We also shared a blueberry dessert that had custard, jello, sorbet, and despite all the different components, it came together with a very crisp taste. Not bad at all.