September 16th, 2006
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryWilly Wonka: But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie Bucket: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

The 2006 Man Booker Prize (Shortlist)

September 15th, 2006

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction represents the very best in contemporary fiction (from the UK, Ireland, and the Commonwealth). One of the world’s most prestigious awards, and one of incomparable influence, it continues to be the pinnacle of ambition for every fiction writer. It has the power to transform the fortunes of authors, and even publishers. In 2004, not only did Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty reach the bestseller lists, but previous winners The Life of Pi (2002) and Vernon God Little (2003) were also amongst the bestselling books of the year. Congratulations to last year's winner John Banville for his novel The Sea.

The winner receives £50,000 with a guaranteed increase in sales and recognition worldwide. Each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, receives £2,500 and a designer bound edition of their own book.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Secret River by Kate Grenville The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
The Complete 2006 Nominee List

Beerfest

September 14th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0486551/

Beerfest is the latest project to hit the theaters from the Broken Lizard team who has been responsible for the rip-roaring comedy Super Troopers and the lesser-known, though still funny (to me), Club Dread and Puddle Cruiser.

My expectations were left at the door and all that I sat down with was the hope that it would be better than Club Dread. As the movie started, I had my reservations. I am never one to shy away from gratuitous nudity, but I have often considered it a last-ditch effort to wrench a laugh from the audience. If they were resorting to that in the first few minutes of the movie, things did not look good. Little did I know at the time that there was a necessary set up for the storyline. There had to be some actual time spent on explaining a thing or two before things could progress. The nudity, reminiscent of comedies from nearly a generation ago, was only something to hold your attention while they warmed the engine. It was as if Broken Lizard said, "We apologize that our plot line is a little far-fetched. We have to jump through a few hoops and clear up some red tape before we can get going. Oh, here are some topless girls to help pass the time and make up for any inconvenience we may have caused." And then the movie took off...

This is such a stupid idea -- getting five guys together to compete in a secret beer-drinking competition in Germany -- that the strength had to be in the writing. And it was. The dialogue was great, the sight gags were great.

Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske are Jan and Todd Wolfhouse, brothers and the descendents of the Germans which lead them to Beerfest. Jay Chandrasekhar plays Barry, a character who was the best at all drinking games in college. Jan and Todd find him a bit down on his luck when they ask him to join the team. Aside from directing the movie, I have to say that Jay is the most talented of the Broken Lizard team. Kevin Heffernan who is most beloved as "Farva" (Super Troopers) plays "Landfill," the team's former competitive eater. (According to the credits, he also painted the portraits of Stolhanske and Soter that appear in the Beerfest arena.) Steve Lemme is single handedly (pun only slightly intended) responsible for the beginning of the hilarity in the movie.

This is the perfect movie for me to want to say, "Hey, remember the part when..." and when you do, we share a laugh. I would love to recite the movie for you quote by quote, but obviously that would ruin it.

The movie was very funny and I loved it. I'm not ashamed to admit when a movie makes me cry. During Beerfest I had tears streaming from my eyes. I have not laughed that hard in a long time. Beerfest had my face contorted in laughter until my cheeks hurt. My hat is off, once again, to the Broken Lizard team. I may have laughed more frequently during Super Troopers, but I laughed harder at Beerfest.

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Lola's - Detroit, MI

September 13th, 2006

Lola's is one of a few places in the Harmonie Park area of Downtown Detroit that features both dining and live jazz. Last night we went for the former, though I could easily see myself going back for the latter. We definitely had a positive experience at Lola's.

The menu does not fit well into any defined genre I know. It seemed to pull from a variety of influences and added depth and variety to the menu as a result. I had a rather difficult time picking what I wanted and I'll go through my thought process before I actually go into how anything tasted.

A few main courses that I considered were: Crawfish Etoufee, Fried Rice (yes, it was a main dish), Lobster B.L.T., Tempura Shrimp, and Lola's Fried Chicken. I was initially leaning most towards the fried chicken, but opted against because of the side dishes. I did not want the black beans or the corn succotash. So I didn't get the Fried Chicken. I was very curious for the fried rice, but couldn't justify getting that as an entree my first time at Lola's when there were so many other appealing menu items. I love lobster meat, though it did not take long for my eyes to gravitate away from the Lobster B.L.T.. The sandwich was listed at $16 and I rationalized that there would hardly be any actual lobster meat on it for that price. I opted against both the Tempura Shrimp and Crawfish Etoufee because of the appetizer menu. I wanted both the BBQ Shrimp and the Crab, Crawfish and Corn Fritters as appetizers for the table and did not want to have the same featured ingredient in both my appetizer and entree. By this point in my selection process the server will be back any minute and I need to make my decision since I have now talked myself out of each dish above. In an item description I see the words "Our famous" and my attention was grabbed enough to order accordingly. Those two words were the only way I could ever justify ordering the Bacon Cheeseburger on a menu like Lola's. And even with that description, I do feel that I kind of took the easy way out. But I'm ok with that.

Both of the appetizers were listed at $10 per. I feel that the Fritters was a better deal since there are more ingredients and at least you got 5 of them, which worked out well since we had 5 people in our party. The BBQ shrimp came as only three shrimp, which makes it hard for me to justify the price.

Both dishes were great. The Fritters were roughly the size of a chocolate truffle, so I would have liked more than one to fully appreciate the flavor. I expected a more New Orleans spin on the Shrimp (based upon some other things on the menu), meaning more spice. They didn't necessarily need the heat, but I think it would have been a nice addition.

My cheeseburger...oh my cheeseburger. It comes with your choice of cheese, I picked cheddar. My juicy cheeseburger came topped with the cheese and applewood smoked bacon on an onion roll. I guess I should also tell you that it came with lettuce, tomato and red onion, though I kept that all off of my burger. Served with a glorified french fry potato chip hybrid for $13, I thought the burger was a steal. Especially since it was one of the best cheeseburgers I have ever had.

I wanted dessert, but my company was too full. The dishes that were responsible were Thai Snapper (x2), Lobster B.L.T. and a Smoked Turkey Reuben. I never get dessert if I am the only one, but last night I was tempted to break that tradition. Lola's offers a Ginger Beer Float that really sounded particularly delicious after my burger. Though I'm still disappointed that one dinner mate opted against dessert after she mentioned that she was considering the Aphrodisiac in place of her meal before we ordered dinner. Two glasses of chocolate Port and Lola's chocolate lava cake (or whatever it was, you get the idea). I think that would have been a little over the top chocolate-wise, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't suffer through it if I had to.

The place was smaller than I would have expected going in. Sitting towards the rear of the restaurant may feel more "out to dinner," but up front the space was too open. I think it would be a great place to watch their live jazz, but I was hoping for a more intimate feeling from the restaurant, which I did not get at our table. I was also briefly disappointed when they did not have the flavored liquor one of my table mates tried to order for her cocktail. I would think they would keep their bar well stocked, but I am not sure lacking orange vodka can really be considered a strike against the place.

I would definitely go back to Lola's.

Lola's Restaurant, 1427 Randolph St Detroit, MI 48226-2213
313-962-0483

East Coast Road Trip Part III - One for the Books "Down the Shore"

September 12th, 2006

Cont'd from East Coast Road Trip Part II - More Friends and Two Nights in NYC

Our last morning in NYC was not very eventful. We gathered our things, cabbed to my car and were on our way. (Not so) Surprisingly, the traffic from NYC to the Jersey Shore is quite horrible on a sunny Saturday late morning/early afternoon. There is a group of some 9 guys who rent a house on the beach every summer. I went to college with a handful of these shady characters. We headed to New Jersey to party with those guys.

We arrived in time to grab some boardwalk food as a snack before our Japanese Steakhouse dinner. The chicken fingers held me over well. The highlight of this small culinary endeavor was the incredible irony and superb timing when Will said he couldn't wait to get some "g*dd*mn cheese sticks" only for us to then all lift our gaze to meet two elderly NUNS coming off the beach. What are the odds!? These poor women came away from the sand in their full-length, blue beach habits and were hopefully out of earshot for Will's vocalization of his craving.

Dinner was great once the waitress conference ended. I have never been to a restaurant before where you have any trouble combining two items which are not listed as options under the "combinations." I have also never been to a Japanese Steakhouse that has questioned an order of a Lobster and Lobster combination. I guess this was a special place, since it was also my first B.Y.O.B. Japanese Steakhouse. The wonders of Manasquan, New Jersey! The three small Japanese women huddled over a menu and later came to me and said I could not have that as a combination, but rather I would have to have the Lobster (she pronounced it Lostibber) dinner and a side of Lobster.

This B.Y.O.B. establishment also happens to be a few doors down from a liquor store. The story goes that the guys typically go in and grab a bottle of wine (per) to enjoy over dinner. Except for Sean (who made a huge effort to come to Manasquan that night) who opted for a case of Miller Lite bottles. There is nothing classier than a guy who walks in to a restaurant in a group of ten people carrying his own case of beer. "Oh, is that for everyone?" "No, just for me. Thanks."

Once dinner was over, we headed back to the beach house so Will and I could give a brief clinic on how to play beer pong. We got through a solid seven games before being unseated. An executive decision was then made that it was time to go to the bar.

The line at the bar was manageable when we found a place only halfway back when joining. Good thing smooth-talking Josh decided to flirt with every bouncer who gave him a hard time for having an expired license. I guess that temporary, paper one they give you takes a lot of the fun out of it, right Josh? All I know is that on our way into the bar, the bouncer commented on the "unruly guys from Michigan" to another patron. I was a little surprised that there were other kids from Michigan in Manasquan that night...

Once inside the bar, which I like to call "Villanova reunion," things actually got pretty tame. The group split up some to canvas the place for fun. I probably bumped into more former classmates than I would have preferred, but I am sure I'll get over that in time. Really was hoping to not have to see Ryan Brown if at all possible, but luck was not on my side. I kid. (I thought I was a mess that night, ok I was a mess that night, but so were you, Ace.)

I lost one of my best friends after the bar. I do not know where he went. I probably should have been more concerned than I was, but over the years I have come to expect him to disappear. I just hope when and if he turns up, he has a good story for me. Besides, we were getting pizza, so I had other things to look forward to besides finding him. You'll all be happy to know that he made it back to the house no worse for the wear. His night ended up somewhat of the stuff of legend.

He managed to get separated from the girl he left the bar with only to be approached by two girls who were concerned if he was lost. They told him to come home with them and he told me something about having a one-on-one Yahtzee tournament with one of the two girls, or something like that. He then managed to make his way back to the house and found all of the beds were occupado. He claimed a couch in the name of the King and tried to sleep. Destiny had other plans. He was awakened a mere two hours later by another guy who brought home two girls. The four of them thought it would be an awesome idea to drink Jack and Coke at 6AM, which led directly to waking (the whole house) me up at about 7:30 with an ancient Incan ritual named something in the Native dialect that translates into "loud-as-hell, drunken 'let's-go-halves-on-a-baby' negotiation." Roughly.

I think he tried to cook her breakfast and simply didn't make enough food. At least that's what I took away from the story when I heard that the four of them went back to the girls' place and apparently he left her so...I believe "unsatisfied" was the word, that she had to go and play golf with the other two, or something like that. But he LOVES golf, I don't know why he would let them play as a threesome without him. Makes perfect sense to me. I'm sure you don't think I'm leaving anything out. (I love to play golf when I'm hungry, who doesn't?)

That just confirms everything you have ever suspected about New Jersey, doesn't it? And to think those guys do that every weekend in the summer.

...but living in Michigan is cool too ya know! (Not really)

Stay tuned for East Coast Road Trip Part IV - All Good Things Must Come To An End

Number of consecutive days eating chicken fingers: 4.

September 9th, 2006
Big FishYoung Ed Bloom: There's a time when a man needs to fight and a time when he needs to accept that his destiny's lost, the ship has sailed and that only a fool will continue. The truth is I've always been a fool.

The Twelfth Card - Jeffery Deaver

September 8th, 2006

The Twelfth Card by Jeffery DeaverUnlocking a cold case with explosive implications for the future of civil rights, forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme and his protegee, Amelia Sachs, must outguess a killer who has targeted a high school girl from Harlem who is digging into the past of one of her ancestors, a former slave. What buried secrets from 140 years ago could have an assassin out for innocent blood? And what chilling message is hidden in his calling card, the hanged man of the tarot deck? Rhyme must anticipate the next strike or become history -- in the bestseller that proves "there is no thriller writer today like Jeffery Deaver" (San Jose Mercury News).

It seems like every Mystery/Suspense author has a serial character, one who appears in nearly all of their books. James Patterson has Alex Cross, Janet Evanovich has Stephanie Plum, Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch...and Jeffery Deaver has Lincoln Rhyme. I dabble in the works of some other Mystery/Suspense writers, but my favorites are the Lincoln Rhyme books. Most Mystery/Suspense novels follow essentially the same outline and only differ in the people and the places. Deaver breaks the mold when writing Lincoln Rhyme, and for that I am grateful.

It had been a long time since I read a book in this series, so it was refreshing to get back to it. It was almost like coming home after a long trip. It's just nice to be back.

The detail into which Deaver goes is noteworthy. The level of his research is evident in his books and he just seems to spend more time learning about the subject matter than another author would. (Sidenote: The one exception to that rule came out in The Twelfth Card where his plot dealt with some young men and women from Harlem. He did not have the best handle on his Ebonics, but I'm sure many of his readers would never know the difference.)

I like the creativity in which Deaver wraps his stories. Instead of starting a new book and just having a different killer, he focuses on a bigger picture and devises elaborate plot lines and intricate motives for his killers. I am sure it is at least somewhat self-serving because without that, he would have no reason to do all of the research for which he is respected.

The Twelfth Card featured a plot that was very involved, including the attempt to get to the bottom of a crime that was 140 years old. For his creative plots, this one was a little far-fetched. I thought he had to scramble a little to make things tie out in the end, but after taking a step back, I did not mind. (Those of you with a mind to pshchoanalyze me will get a kick out of this.) The heart of these books is in the chase. That is what is so great about them. The ending did not take too long, so it was relatively unobtrusive to my overall enjoyment of the book.

If I were asked to recommend to you a Jeffery Deaver, even specifically a Lincoln Rhyme book, I would not pick The Twelfth Card. Of the now 7 Lincoln Rhyme books, this may actually be the worst of the series, but the other books are just that good. I liked it a lot and am glad I read it. My suggestion is to read the entire series; start anywhere you like. You do not need to read them in any order, though I recommend you do.

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Top 5 Movies: From Your Childhood

September 7th, 2006

Mitch Albom

September 6th, 2006

Mitch Albom has captivated readers with his earlier novels Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. At the end of September, 2006 he will begin his book tour for his latest novel, For One More Day. The book is on sale now and will be released on September 26, 2006. For more information about the book, visit ForOneMoreDay.com. There is also a complete list of tour dates available here.

For One More Day by Mitch AlbomAppearances of note:
Friday, October 6
Noon – 1:00 PM
Starbucks
Maple & Lahser
3584 West Maple
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301
Q&A & signing
248-642-6904

Saturday, October 7
Noon
Borders
612 E. Liberty
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
signing
734-668-8124

Little Miss Sunshine

September 6th, 2006

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0449059/

For months I waited in anxious anticipation for Little Miss Sunshine. I all but counted down the days until I would be able to see this cast come together and lend its collective hand to a simple story. The movie has been receiving very favorable reviews from movie lovers and casual viewers alike. Somehow, however, I managed to miss the boat on this one. I may have to reserve judgment somewhat until I can see it again, but who knows when that will be. For now, I will give you my first-impression thoughts.

Some of the things I have read about the movie have praised the character development. I must have been asleep during the part where they added depth to any of the characters. I won't go into too much detail to save the spoilers for a separate conversation, but I only liked what they did with two characters and one of them received about half of the screen time he deserved. The only development given to any character was how he or she contributed to the problem(s) that threatened to pull the family apart.

I was excited for this cast to see how its members would interact on screen. I wanted to see how well they would banter together. The focus of the movie, however, was the story rather than the writing/dialogue. The story did not deserve all of this attention. Each character provided maybe one scene of comedy and that was it.

So many scenes and ideas were run into the ground. Something would be suggested in dialogue and the theater audience would laugh. Those who laughed would see the suggestion play out in their minds and that, in most movies, would be the end of it. Little Miss Sunshine then took it a step further to then act out that suggestion after the laughs had already been received. Too many scenes dragged on with almost no purpose. I think Little Miss Sunshine could have been a short film if only the length of the movie weren't necessary to build the suspense leading to the actual beauty pageant (and even that scene ran too long).

I like the idea of a movie geared towards the importance of family; one that shows us that usually no one understands or accepts our quirks better than our family. We all have problems, and together we can work them out. Each member of the family was different. They thought they were all on their own, isolated island. It was from a last-minute road trip, which forced them into each other's lives, that they began to see that they were there to support each other. I like the message, I just did not care much for the vehicle with which they pushed the message.

Abigail Breslin was adorable. I cannot, and I need not, elaborate much further. She was the bright shining star in this picture that played the young girl, Olive, and she was figuratively the glue that held this movie together. Credit is due, also, to the costume team who dressed her in the most freakishly bizarre yet amazingly precious outfits.

Alan Arkin was the other highlight for me in Little Miss Sunshine. It was his on-screen time that I mentioned above was not what it should have been. He deserved more, alas the part was not written to allow it. He has always been the Police Captain from So I Married An Axe Murderer to me, and now he's Grandpa from Little Miss Sunshine. This was a great part, and I cannot articulate how fantastic he was.

On their contributions alone I wish I were able to suggest you go see this movie. Maybe upon a second viewing I would find the magic everyone else sees in this movie. For whatever reason, I did not really enjoy Little Miss Sunshine.

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