Cinema of the North

January 31st, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Reviews

I wrote this with a friend as a precursor for a new movie that was coming out which was set in Alaska. We framed it that way and used it to take a look back at many  previous movies filmed or set in the great North. All the Alaskan newspapers rejected it for some reason – both of them!

Movies are often an escape. So, here in my state of Alaska, we might be more likely than most to watch a movie set on the beach. Or during daylight. Or anywhere where the threat of being eaten by a bear is negligible. On the other hand, any opinions the rest of the country has about us are mostly shaped by films and Sarah Palin… we’ll focus on the movies in this article.  From the paranormal to the ordinary, they try and capture the unique beauty of our state with varying degrees of realization.

30 Days of Night or Vampires in Alaska – While this one makes effective use of its setting, it never reaches the claustrophobic tension of the ultimate “monster in the arctic” story, 1982’s The Thing (which was actually filmed here). In this case, the cold landscape’s main business is to symbolize the similarly unsympathetic and lifeless antagonists. What it lacks in suspense, it makes up for in decapitations and the startling amount of bright red, blood spattering the snow. The arterial gushers continue in the redundant sequel, and its equally redundant title, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. Hardcore horror geeks will probably love both. For those who just appreciate the occasional scare and can stomach the carnage, the first is recommended. On a scale of 1 to 5, 30 Days of Night scores 3.5… frozen heads.

The Edge or Spoiled Rich Men in Alaska – While stars Alec Baldwin and Sir Anthony Hopkins have aged well, this movie has not. Baldwin plays a fatuous city dandy trapped in the woods. Hopkins plays an educated city billionaire trapped in the same woods. They must outlast the elements and each other (one suspects the other of wanting to murder him for his wife). Of course, they also must survive the bear – the bear, whose arrival is always signaled by creepy “serial killer music”.  Despite an impressive performance by the land itself (sweeping backdrops, exacting pitfalls, those hyper-intelligent man-killing bears) the whole thing comes off as a bit silly. On a scale of 1 to 5, The Edge scores 2… wasted signal flares.

Into the Wild or One Bad Roadtrip in Alaska – Based on the non-fiction book by Jon Krakaeur, Into the Wild follows recent college-graduate Christopher McCandless wandering across America in search of meaning and as many quirky characters he can find. He finally ends up in an abandoned bus perched on the outskirts of Fairbanks. How one feels about the movie will be largely influenced by what one thinks of Chris. Was he a spiritual investigator rebelling against the middle-class malaise of his parents to find truth in nature? Or was he just an idiot who’d read On The Road too many times? Regardless, there is plenty else to enjoy here.  The countryside is shot with both a magnificent luster and a persistent dustiness. The aching soundtrack, original compositions by Eddie Vedder, is quite worthy of the film’s tone. In the end, it seems Chris may have been a good-hearted but naïve kid who just didn’t want to grow up in a world where you have to grow up to survive. On a scale of 1 to 5, Into The Wild scores 3.5… hitchhiking thumbs up.

Insomnia or Sleepless in Alaska—Two L.A. detectives are sent to investigate the murder of a teen in the fictional Alaska town of Nightmute.  The cast is as star-studded as our state flag (Robin Williams, Hillary Swank, Al Pacino) but the plot of this thriller relies a little too heavily on some bizarre facets of the setting.  Instant fog! Tunnels that appear out of nowhere! Log roll! A town so empty no one notices someone firing a gun into a dead dog on Main Street! This is a town, incidentally, that must not have a grocery store since one roll of tinfoil taped to the windows might have alleviated a lot of the drama for the sleepless Al Pacino, who plays a famous detective growing more fatigued as the movie goes on.  So do the viewers.  There’s even a scene where he gets confused by the endless daylight and doesn’t realize it’s 10 p.m.  Yes, he can solve a murder mystery with nothing more than a torn photograph, and yet he has no idea what time it is. On a scale of 1 to 5, Insomnia earns 1… sleeping pill that could have solved all Pacino’s problems.

The Fourth Kind or Aliens in Alaska – Milla Jovovich made her name fighting the undead in the Resident Evil series.  Here, she takes on extraterrestrials in encounters of the fourth kind (that’s X-Files-speak for being abducted). In a jarring open scene, Jovovich looks into the camera and explains what character she will be playing and that much of the film uses authentic archival footage!  After a few minutes, it becomes clear that the sequence might as well have been used in her zombie oeuvre, where it would have been much more amusing and believable.  This movie suggests numerous people in the town of Nome, Alaska have been abducted and probed and possessed by something that speaks ancient, evil Sumerian. Nome, it seems, is an extremely hot spot for alien kidnapping, not to mention sheriff bumbling.  Dismissing the annoyance of the pseudo-reality segments for a moment, the movie is still dragged down by bad plotting, bad acting, and bad pacing. By the end, it is almost as if the audience has been treated to an hour-and-a-half long PSA for tourists to stay away from this town… but who is vacationing in Nome, anyway? On a scale of 1to 5, The Fourth Kind earns half… a demonic Martian.

Runaway Train or Runaway Train in Alaska – Many say the western is the genre that will not die. In reality, the out-of-control-vehicle genre is just as enduring. In the 70’s it was The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.  In the 80’s it was this movie. In the 90’s it was Money Train. Last year it was Unstoppable. That’s not even mentioning other forms of transportation (Speed) or the closely related genre, “criminal-takeover-of-a-vehicle” (Con Air).  Here, Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, both hamming it up as prisoners, one maniacal and one dim-witted, are on the run and a hop a train with no engineer.  The cinematography of the wilderness is oppressive as the convicts try to escape the despotic, crazy prison warden. Everything drags far too long, however, and lacks the snap of modern movies. It doesn’t lack another unfortunate staple of contemporary action flicks – the unwarranted inclusion of a female lead. Rebecca De Mornay shows up more than half way through the movie to do a whole lot of nothing. On a score of 1 to 5, Runaway Train scores 2.5… emergency brakes.

The Proposal or Rom-Com in Alaska – Sandra Bullock plays a bitchy publishing house exec who blackmails her assistant, Ryan Reynolds, into marrying her so she won’t be deported back to Canada.  But first they have to travel to his hometown of Sitka for his grandmother’s 90th birthday! Rolling Stone called The Proposal “a watery stew” of a movie, but it is really more like New England clam chowder, (which is where this was filmed by the way – in Massachusetts). It has all the good things about chowder like the steaming spoonfuls of potatoes, bacon, and garlic. Those would be the charming Sandra Bullock, Betty White, and Mary Steenburgen.  The clams? Well, there’s Ryan Reynolds – funny for the men and, at one point, naked for the ladies.  Biting down on disturbing specks of shell?  Those would be Oscar Nunez’s random appearances as a stripper with an unnerving accent.  They all come together to form a methodic romantic comedy – a couple goes from hating each other to falling in love. If one watches it with the same leniency  that comes with watching most Alaska movies (that is to say, putting up with the scenes of dog-snatching eagles and hacking at a log to make a canoe and become one with nature), it is quite enjoyable in spite of itself.  On a scale of 1 to 5, The Proposal scores 3… pleasurably guilty bonbons.

Alaska or Teen Adventure Twins in Alaska – Dirk Benedict’s plane goes down in the mountains. Somehow, he spent all those years as Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck on the A-Team and never learned decent piloting skills. So his kids have to rescue him, and even they need help from a trusty polar bear cub to beat the odds. The odds include just about every stereotype possible of our great state: bad weather, canoes, native Indians, rapids, northern lights, panoramic country, and why not… Charlton Heston. He is a malevolent poacher, playing up the role so much he is essentially doing a parody of himself. That’s not say that any of the acting could be qualified as “good”. Both Thora Birch and Vincent Kartheiser went on to bigger and much better accomplishments in American Beauty and Mad Men, respectively.  The entire movie is pretty inane, but after all, it is a children’s movie that seems to have been marketed as an adventure flick. And as a children’s movie, one could do worse. One has to imagine if this debuted on Nickelodeon, it would have been more of a success and immediately been spun off into a series featuring the remarkable polar bear who helps new kids every week with their problems. On a scale of 1 to 5, Alaska scores 2.5… carnivorous sidekicks.

Snow Dogs or Misleading Facts in Alaska – This movie is so bad it was a relief when my modem shut down and the online rental stopped loading about 10 minutes into the movie. I felt guilty about being so happy since this was about the same time the Egypt government cut off all internet access to its protesting citizens, but they were clearly not being forced to watch this movie.  I was tempted to scrap this review, but the internet finally returned, and I hadn’t even seen any dogs yet.  Snow Dogs is a Disney movie, so I tried to pretend I was a seven year old boy who still liked burp humor and I hadn’t read Gary Paulsen’s lovely book Winterdance, which this movie was supposedly based on.  I’ll never again trust the phrase “based on.”  Winterdance is the story of a guy from Minnesota running the Iditarod. This movie is about a dentist (Cuba Gooding Junior) from Miami who falls for a bartender (Filipino Joanna Bacalso as an alleged Alaska Native). Then he learns he’s adopted and inherits his birth-mother’s sled dog team.  The only overlap with the book is a scene with sled dogs pulling an old car, but the movie adds a hilarious skunk… an animal we actually don’t have in Alaska.  The movie did get better, or at least cuter, when the huskies showed up, but it sends the dangerous message that the only danger a pack of sled dogs poses is ripping up jackets.  Children should know those dogs have been known to tear the hands off their owners.  Also, kids – it isn’t possible to outrun a brown bear. On a scale of 1 to 5, Snow Dogs scores half…  a lost skunk.

The Guardian or Rescue Team Alaska - The army has Stripes, the navy has Top Gun, the marine core has Full Metal Jacket, and The Coast Guard has The Guardian. Renowned rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) mentors a troubled high schooler (Ashton Kutcher)… and both learn some lessons about life.  I’d like to be critical of a recruitment ad disguised as a film.  I’d like to tear apart this movie which was probably responsible for a lot of Coasties getting some action from adoring girlfriends, and as a result, a bunch of poor kids who have to move every 4 years.  But The Guardian was actually pretty good.  It was the most authentically Alaskan movie I’ve seen yet, partly filmed on the Coast Guard base in Kodiak. On the other hand, Ashton’s attraction to Costner was more convincing than the love story between him and Sela Ward. But that’s OK, because it was kind of nice to vicariously fall for Kevin Costner again twenty long years after Bull Durham.  The ending was cheesy, but not bad enough to negate the hope it instills for all the fishermen shipwrecked in the Bering Sea.  Not a lot of hope, but maybe just enough to keep someone from giving up.  On a scale of 1 to 5,  The Guardian scores 4… survival suits.

Salmonberries or Crapberries in Alaska – This movie is, thankfully, very hard to find. So this will just be a review of the trailer located on its Internet Movie Database page. It features a shirtless K.D. Lang. The camera circles her as she stands among the clouds and howls like a wolf.  Then she starts singing about walking through the snow without any shoes on. The movie is about an orphan teaming up with a German immigrant to discover their roots or something. Huh? On a scale of 1 to 5, the Salmonberries trailer scores 0… jars of jam.

Out Cold or The Screwball 80’s Come to Alaska – This is about a group of beer-happy dudes trying to save their beloved skiing mountain from being taken over a corporate shill (played by Lee Majors for some reason).  For some other reason apparent to only the writers, the romantic subplot is filled with references to Casablanca. Along the way there’s bouncing boobs, dumb jokes, and punk pop music playing over way too many skiing montages.  The most entertaining aspect of it all is playing the game of, “Hey, I recognize that guy from…” whatever much better TV show or movie he went on to act in (the list here includes The Office, Sex and the City, The Hangover, Bad Santa, and Anchorman). Naturally, the climax is a race down the mountain that saves the day… for reasons that, to put it kindly, again defy any sort of logic. On a scale of 1 to 5, Out Cold scores… an empty beer keg.

Mystery, Alaska or Mystery, Canada - Russell Crowe plays the sheriff of Mystery, Alaska, a hockey-loving village which hosts the New York Rangers after an article about the small town hockey team appears in Sports Illustrated.  The entire town of Mystery must have been built on a lake, because even in the summer people are skating along main street, skating in their yards, skating at night, skating in the morning… the only time they don’t skate is when they are sharpening their skates or watching other people skate. The thing is this: hockey isn’t really that popular in most of Alaska (though Levi Johnston’s hockey stick spread for Playgirl and Sarah Palin’s identification as a “hockey mom” helped further this inaccuracy).  Alaskans certainly do not have Canadian accents, say “godsakes,” or have mullets… at least not in the ratio presented here. Like all sports movies, this one ends with the big game. Unlike most sports movies, the good guys lose, but they’re heroes anyway. Then Little Richard and Mike Meyers show up!  Meyers was the perfect choice, as all jokes reference Canadian hockey trivia, Mike Meyers is Canadian, and the movie was filmed in Alberta.  The only bit of Alaska in this movie is the title. On a scale of 1 to 5, Mystery, Alaska scores 2… maple leaves, eh?

North to Alaska or The Duke of AlaskaSet in Nome but clearly filmed in California, North To Alaska is the story of gold miner, Sam McCord (played by John Wayne), who travels to Seattle to fetch his partner’s fiancé.  When Sam learns that she’s married to someone else, he brings a saloon girl named Angel back instead.  Naturally, they all fall for Angel. In the end the Duke wins the girl, though not before some claim jumping, shootouts, and bar fights. North to Alaska was filmed over 50 years ago, a time when entire novellas were written on movie posters. Here is it’s tagline: When Big Sam wanted somethin’ he got it—the best!  When he did somethin’, he did it big.  Like taming a woman the way you tame the land! Or fighting until the last man was down! Now Big Sam was set. He and the Seattle pleasure palace doll were on their way—to the top of the world! It sets up expectations for a pretty exciting adventure… which it largely delivers! And John Wayne is timeless.  It’s impossible not to hum along to the Johnny Horton’s catchy theme song and pretty hard not to enjoy this lighthearted western. On a scale of 1 to 5, North to Alaska scores 3.5… singing cowboys.

Review #1: Subway’s BBQ Pulled Pork

July 28th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Reviews

Some website out there is assessing the 100 best foods in Phoenix, Arizona, day by day.  It’s inspired me to begin my own 100 best food items I’ve found here in town. Except it probably won’t be limited to food, more like reviews of anything I encounter on a daily basis. And if I manage to do it every day, then that would be a minor miracle, an increase of my writing schedule by an exponent of hundreds.

For the first day, I’ll stick to food since I don’t want you giving the other website any traffic, especially when my item would rank among the top ten, anyway. It’s the new BBQ pork pulled sandwich from Subway! I imagine people in other parts of the country may be able to enjoy this, too. If it is only some sort of regional promotion then I would highly recommend making a trip.

To fully understand the historical lineage of this sandwich, we must travel back roughly 8 years to when Subway offered a shredded BBQ chicken sandwich. It was made from Lloyd’s meat – the most delicious chicken you can by in a small tub for less than 5 dollars at a grocery store. The loose meat swam in an ocean of bright red BBQ sauce – it was a challenge to hand-eat;  a fork and in some cases, a bowl, would have been more appropriate for the soup of black olives and green peppers (the best toppings if you were doing it right). This new hoagie does not have nearly as much sauce – it is squirted on. Sure, the pork is a perfect level of loose and chunky, but certainly would have been better had it been left to marinate.

Other than that minor imperfection, the sandwich is a total meat dream –  succulent and  flavorsome. Of course, you are bound to be wondering if, like everything else at Subway, it is a natural diarrhetic. The answer is, unfortunately, yes. Maybe even more so.  But once you get past that small inconvenience, it’s truly a great meal.

My Life as a Swinger

February 1st, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted in Diaries

I was skeptical at first that this place even existed. Is there really a business model that can keep a juggling and trapeze university on the outskirts of Phoenix solvent? Apparently so, as the place was still open for class on the Saturday morning I went. Granted, the term “university” has to be applied loosely – the “campus” is just a house, a dirt lot with the trapeze apparatus, and a dog named Bentley barking at intruders.  Although the experience was quite fun, I’m still not sure why there is a year-round demand by the citizens of Arizona for this kind of thing.

Furthermore, from the random sampling I took, the ratio of females to males was 20-1. Everyone including the trainers were quite nice though, so I can say with some certainty that the operation is gay-friendly. I am not counting the one other dude who looked like he had grudgingly taken an hour off from the internet to learn how to juggle over in the corner. Other than him, it was just me, the ladies (my friend Kristen and a group of mothers celebrating one’s 50th birthday), and a few shirtless instructors. The fact they all eventually out-peezed me would not bother me (much).

I jumped right in with the rest of them – there was no preparation video or much instruction, really. Dylan the trapeze professor just gave a quick speech and did a quick demonstration of the tricks – leg hangs and back flips! The hardest part was climbing the tiny, steel ladder up to the platform (the rungs hurt my feet). The easiest part was crawling off the net (even though the rope hurt my feet). Indeed, swinging through the air was quite exhilarating and easy to pick up. I never got caught by one of the instructors, and I did not earn the diploma at the end of the session. Luckily, Kristen did, and thus we avoided the double shaming we would have suffered.

Of course, at the beginning of the day, visions of joining the circus were running through our heads. By the end, I was at having second thoughts. By the next day, sore and hungover, I was ready to return to normal life (note: being hungover was probably more related to a bender the night before than the trapeze). My friend, intoxicated by the weightless freedom of flying, or perhaps just convinced by the hunky teachers, wanted to continue. She is ready to drop out of school and hit the road! If I ever join her, though, it will probably be as a juggler… assuming I can find some time off from the internet.

Alaska Vacation Diary: Putting The AK Back in Hanakkah

January 5th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in Diaries

I am not travelling to Alaska on assignment to experience Christmas with people who use the term “Baby Jesus” without irony or sarcasm. Or people who line their staircases with nutcrackers. I am here to spend it with friends, though I am surprised to find that I could easily write that piece. If anyone is reading this who is in the position to handout “assignments” please contact me, especially if it is paid.

One of my friends here is named Sara and she named her first baby after me – or, at least, the middle name. She swears it wasn’t a coincidence. Strange, since my only accomplishments of note I can think of are this blog and acing the “All The Countries in the World” test in 8th grade. I cannot get advertising for either.

The plane ride is good – I spend most of my time watching the season finale of Survivor on my phone. The older gentleman two seats away asks if I am watching Lost. His daughter in between us sighs that they are totally different, dad. I point out that they do both take place on an island and capture the human endeavor in the face of communal isolation… and in the case of Survivor’s season 19, Russell might equally embody corporeal evil as well as Lost’s Man in Black. This is the worst conversation starter ever.

The last plane hop from Anchorage to Kodiak is in something called a Turboprop and has no security procedure, no TSA, no body scanners. I post a status update that it would be incredibly easy to hijack this thing so the jihadists should look into it. Apparently the FBI Facebook word flagger has a serious delay because I am not pulled off the tarmac. I make it to Kodiak on the shaking, tiny plane, even though one friend, unlike others who pretended to envy my vacation, had only two words for me: Ted Stevens!

I don’t want to magnify the prosaic existence of everyone else but me, but it’s the first morning here and I’m about to hot tub outside while watching the snow drift down lazily and the deer eat soy nuts from my hand. UPDATE: The hot tub was still cold and there were no deer. Maybe their frozen carcasses are hidden just out of view. There is a blizzard warning.

Having never done any research on the subject, circumstances demand an entire day to be spent pondering, “Why the hell, when a baby is tired, why don’t they fall asleep instead of cry up in your ear?” It seems like once they finally fall asleep the first time the most basic of synaptic connections should have been sewn, and they should know the element of tiredness should be met with the element of sleep from there on out in life. Instead, the opposite seems to happen.

The big event happening in town right now is the city league basketball tournament. The local paper reports the statistics right above the NBA numbers. My friend Pete plays the position of Monster Forward on one team, the prohibitive favorite, at least for the games their Fleet-Footed Point Guard is in town visiting family. I am present for their first game, which pits them against members of the Coastguard, which is entirely confusing, as every person is hairy, overweight, and wears goggles. Things are cleared up when I’m told they all work at a place called Coastguard Computers.

I am sledding for the first time I can remember.  It is in a small playground instead of places called “Cocaine Hill” and “Gravel Pit”, which is where the high schoolers go. I am also wishing I was a high schooler for the first time I can remember. I am guessing there would be a lot more booze and a lot less small children to keep avoiding at the end of a run.

Near the place where I am staying, there is a sign beneath the speed limit advising motorists to “Keep a Kid Alive. Slow down when you drive”. I am informed that it is placed, unintentionally, in front of a house where a 5-year old was killed while sledding by a driver. Apparently, the father will drink out on the patio at nights, sometimes shooting a rifle into the air. I am a little sad no one even came close to dying while we were sledding.

It is day 5 and I have contracted the Kodiak Stomach Flu. Everyone in the family I’m visiting has had it the past month. By extension, the entire town has had it too. Why I was not told of this or why the town had not been quarantined I am not sure.  It is one of my biggest fears in life to be aboard an airplane with the stomach flu. So, I hole up until my flight back watching movies. My friend rents “Some Like it Hot” from the video store because she knows I liked “Tootsie”… and you know… the whole cross-dressing thing.

I make it home with only mild discomfort and 2 hours of total delays on the trip home. I wish the main thing I took from the whole affair was something more than a mundane observation of how cold it was… but it was goddamn cold. I promise if this was a paid assignment, I would come up with something more.

Observations From An Hour in the Seattle Airport Bookstore

December 21st, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted in Commentary, Diaries

I guess the Seattle airport is one of the best to spend three hours. Not  because my phone failed to update its time display, thus fooling me to believe I only had two hours left, right up until I was standing quite alone in gate N3. That could have happened in any airport. The Seattle airport had a violinist in the lunch court and a hundred retailers!

But 90% of them were restaurants which would only have serviced about 20% of my time, even if I ate slowly. I had been reading David Foster Wallace on the flight there…  one of his essays that makes me feel dumber and smarter for reading it, but mostly  dumber. There was also a good looking guy across the aisle reading Atlas Shrugged (I got it, asshole, you’ve got the brain and the look!). No – it was time for some easy reading. Time for the airport book store:

I know more than one stand-up comedian has riffed tiredly on this, but I am still amazed they sell pornography in these places… Yet I am still disappointed / relieved I have never seen any on the airplane… Do other people think like this? Should I buy some to make/ break someone  else’s day sitting next to me? this would be the only reason for such a purchase… Regardless, this book store redeems itself by offering six Kurt Vonnegut books on sale…

There are way more heavy metal bands/ lead singers from the eighties with autobiographies than I ever could have realized or wanted… the fifteen I’ve read tell the same story and I haven’t scratched the lacquered surface…

There are a shit load of good books I will never read… This makes me sad… It makes me happy there is a whole stanchion of Tom Clancy books I will never even pick up…

Enough people have read about “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat to Change the World” to make it a bestseller…

It is still hard to type on a phone… TE.

December 13th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Commentary

“High Registering” – it is a bit like drunk registering, but instead of creating a website based on the drunk registration of a domain name, you take some Percocet and buy a domain name for a website you only created for educational purposes while following an HTML tutorial. Then you make it something that needs to updated weekly, so you can abandon it in one month, and that’s assuming you even remember making it the morning after.

Positive Feedback

December 13th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Mail

I am usually not one to be overly effusive or wordy in my E-Bay feedback, but I just had to write you a personal note and let you know how much I enjoyed my lime-green bathrobe. Despite the fact the internet has multiple places to buy used medical equipment or funny Chia mohawks for bald people, it is virtually impossible to find this exact shade of robe. The only other one I could find, also on E-Bay, was used and looked like it was still damp in the picture.

As you probably guessed, I needed it for a Lance costume (Eric Stolz in Pulp Fiction… the drug dealer… he was in the movie for 5 minutes). Why you didn’t advertise your green robe “as worn by Lance” is beyond me, although I am thankful since that surely would have driven the price up. The party, at which everyone dressed as a Quentin Tarantino character, was a huge success and almost every person recognized me once I told them who I was supposed to be.

The robe does not even to suffer from the many ailments other robes in this price range (under $20) do. I am just judging by comments made on many other retailer sites. This did not come apart in the dryer, smell like chemicals, give me a rash on my bottom, or have a toothbrush in the pocket (which might have suggested it was actually a used item).

Without your help and fast shipping, none of this would have been possible. And I think I am going to wear it out nights often, if not every night. Thank you wny_liquidators7841!


Crock Rockin’ Beets: French-Berry Turkey Breast

December 1st, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Recipes


1 Turkey Breast – I recommend getting one of these at least 6 days after Thanksgiving. They will be really cheap and mostly thawed out anyway from being moved around from the front of the store to the middle to the back.

1 Pack of Onion Soup Mix – Most similar recipes on the internet will recommend this. But if you skim over the specificity of this ingredient, go ahead and buy any box with the word “Onion” on it. I ended up with a box of French Onion Broth and it tasted great.

2 Cans of Cranberry Sauce – Up to 10 if you really like the taste of cranberries.

1 Bottle of Hopeful Saffron – Not just any saffron will do. It has to be the kind your friend sends you because it cures depression, surely much more effective then Prozac, Effexor, or Lexapro could ever be. The touch of tartness and naiveté this adds to the dish is essential.

2 Tablespoons of Other Herbs In Your Cabinet – I used garlic powder and sea salt.

1 Pound of Beets

Directions: Put the turkey into the crock pot. If it is a bit too large, just smash it in there with a cooking hammer (the same as a normal hammer). In a separate bowl mix all the other ingredients (unless you got the broth) and then rub it all over the turkey real good. Dump the rest of your baste in the pot. If you ended up buying the broth, or maybe even onion fig sauce, pour it in there. Cook on high for 2 hours and then on low for an additional 7.  Enjoy!

Notice, the beets are optional. I only include them in all my recipes so the clever title of these columns make sense – and the eventual name of the book as well, Crock Rockin’ Beets: 102 Recipes to Improve Your Health with a Crock Pot and Beets. The first 100 are not posted here – you’ll have to buy the book.

Theme Party Games

November 30th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Diaries

Theme parties and party games have been around forever, or at least as long as humans didn’t have to worry about where the next meal would come from. So with the rise of convenience stores came inventive new ways for people to amuse themselves by gathering together and dressing up in 80’s spandex. I’ve been to a few of these in the past, and when I had three in three consecutive weekends, I felt that I should try to add a little to the festivities – but not by doing an especially good job of representing the premise. I’m too lazy at costumes – be it a Rock Star Party or Death Party – I don’t make a very good Fred Durst (please no e-mails… I know he’s not dead –  it was a “Dress As Someone You Would Beat to Death Party”).  So I thought I would make some party games based on the party themes.  And since none of them got used, I also thought I would share them on the internet.

At the Pimps & Ho’s Party, everyone got too drunk to play Pimp & Madam Boticelli. Considering this is a game that “requires the players to have a good knowledge of biographical details of famous people,” proceed with caution. If you don’t know that Sally Stanford was a 1940’s San Franciscan madam, then this may not be the game for you.

Despite the flannel, it was too cold to play Grunge Charades. Also, everyone got too drunk. And someone threw the paper slips in the fire pit.

At the Quentin Tarantino Character Party, no one was really in the mood to play Tarantino Celebrity after everyone showed up as The Gimp.  Reasonably, everyone got too drunk. Things kind of went down hill from there…

The Good   Nest ??

November 15th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Reviews

A haunted house touted as featuring “$250,000 of props and special effects” has got to be somewhat impressive, right? This is the inevitable question that most visitors would be asking themselves before forking over the admission price of $100 (or something in there), right? Based on the appearance of most people there, I would say they would more likely be asking when they might be eating next or how they will be getting to the mall on Saturday. But this is not a review of fat people or annoying teenagers – it is a review of the sights (and curious smells) of the biggest haunted house in Phoenix, The Nest.

My thoughts on haunted houses are largely this – they are pretty dumb. Walking through a hastily constructed maze filled with rubber gargoyles and overly-enthusiastic actor-zombies is not scary. The soundtrack pumped in of screams and lightning are usually more grating than frightening. Luckily, only one-third of The Nest follows this formula. It does try to add an extra dimension with a plot revealed on the website involving a retarded serial killer who has a brother named Otis – “Evil finds a new home” it tells us (Evil now lives just off the interstate south of Ahwatukee). Sadly, this story is not even referenced at the actual place as far as I could tell, leaving me to wonder if the web developers had any contact with the haunted house developers.

The first parts of the The Nest fare much better. After walking in through the main area of Rawhide, the faux wild west town where it is located, visitors walk into a large warehouse, where by the smell of it, usually contains the horses (and perhaps a colony of wet dogs). 3D glasses are given out for the first portion. Creepy clown walls and a sick-inducing bridge are the highlights. It is a definite treat for the eyes, but not very menacing.

The second part tries to correct this with a maze darkened to the point of blindness. People have to use only their sense of touch to make their way through (or their cell phones if they hate Halloween and want to ruin everyone’s fun). This would be a great area to hold hands with a first date and test your hand-holding compatibility. By hands, of course, I mean private parts. Just be sure to act confused and apologetic when he or she screams. While this area is a kick, it doesn’t even come close to fulfilling its potential. None of the walls are slimy, there is only one brief space where you have to contort to squeeze through, and no one jumps out at you. That would actually be effective here, unlike the final area, where the superfluity of idiots trying to startle you becomes tedious quickly.

I have only been to three haunted houses in the past ten years, and this was, by far, the best, even though I did not see anyone wet themselves (my thoughts on the implications of wetting yourself during Halloween can be found here). The key, I think, is to keep your expectations low and accept that the scariest thing will be… the ticket prices!