The Simpsons Movie

Let me preface this by noting that The Simpsons held a pretty prominent place in my childhood, rearing, and subsequent sense of humor formation like so many children of the 80’s can claim. I’m not sure exactly where I fall on the scale of Simpsons obsession, but I can say that I’ve considered this venerable TV show as a third parent to me for as long as I can remember. Indeed, I credit this cartoon program with the none too small accomplishment of affecting more than anything else the formation of my young mind and its resulting comedic outlook. I remember watching the very first episode at its original air time with my whole family in the living room of my childhood home. At the time I was probably more aware that it was cool to be allowed to watch such a show, rather than realizing how culturally and personally relevant this little sitcom could potentially be. As time passed, The Simpsons quickly became the favorite show of my little brother and I, and due to the wonders that were VCR’s at the time, we pretty much viewed nothing but during our time as latchkey kids. Later on in high school, me and the hip crowd I hung with (Laura included) would every day at lunch discuss the previous evening’s episodes, as the show was airing twice a night at that point. This hilarity-driven revelry was another important influence for my budding young mind. Somehow, as a mash up of life experiences such as these, I became what some people might call “Funny.” “Ha ha funny,” not “There’s something not quite right about that Liz” funny.

Anyway, there’s a much-noted shifting point in the comedic styling of America’s favorite off-kilter family, and I am certainly among the many who claim that The Simpsons went notably downhill ‘round about its eighth season. Indiscernible to the devoted every-week watcher, the writing over time changed from astoundingly witty banter coupled with unexpected relevancy, to downright lowbrow shock humor. Our uproarious yet culturally informed masterpieces, involving high-brow type stuff (“A Street Car Named Marge,” “Rosebud”) at some crucial point made way for sickening repeat obsession with gags such as “Ha ha, Homer’s really fat/stupid/a shitty husband” or “Look, the Simpsons are in another wacky location for some lame-ass reason.” This can all perhaps be blamed on the many shifts in writing talents, or simply the exhaustion of ideas and places to take this well-crafted town and its cornucopia of citizenry. Also, once you’ve gotten past the ever-important character development stage and then celebration of that character as the world loves him/her, our beloved heroes are eventually and perhaps unavoidably living as a factor of their own clichéd image. My best bet is that it’s somewhat impossible to have any cast of characters break comedic boundaries and continue to spit out the witty exchanges for a hundred gazillion seasons without faltering at least slightly.

Phew. All that said, I still managed to become a part of the recent Simpsons craze that has swept NYC and I imagine the rest of the country, if not globe. My little bro and I visited the 7-Eleven turned Kwik-E-Mart (they did NOT have Duff Beer!), and I was in attendance on the movie’s opening night. Hey folks, I was curious, and certainly don’t like to be a Negative Nelly. So finally for my assessment of the film…it was OK. The movie definitely embodied exactly what I’ve been complaining about for years, but at the same time it wasn’t nearly as crappy as it could have been. The plotline, actions and dialogue were unquestionably comparable to the “Meh” episodes of recent seasons past, but the writers did not take the material so far in the direction of my distaste so as to trigger my gag reflex. What resulted was not a sad culmination of all which I had found to be unpleasant about my once favorite TV show, but rather achieved the simple pleasure to be gained from sitting in a theatre for two hours and being entertained. I definitely laughed aloud on more than one occasion. So while I was not taken to new heights of comedic ecstasy with mind-blowingly clever humor, I still attended and enjoyed a good motion picture. And hey, if The Simpsons Movie had somehow hearkened back to its former mastery and created a feature-length cartoon film that broke new ground and shattered my expectations, I might not know who I was anymore.

Favorite Simpsons Exchanges (taken from memory)

Marge: There’s something different about Bart today
Homer: New glasses?
Marge: No, I mean he looks upset.
Homer: Probably misses his old glasses
Marge: I’d say something, but I’d be afraid of smothering him.
Homer: Yeah, and then you’d get the chair.
Marge: That’s not what I meant.
Homer: Face it Marge, it was.

Bee Keeper #1: It sure is quiet today.
Bee Keeper #2: A little too quiet, if you know what I mean.
Bee Keeper #1: I’m afraid I don’t.
Bee Keeper #2: You see, bees usually emit a low buzzing sound. No noise indicates no bees.
Bee Keeper #1: Look, there goes one now.
Bee Keeper #2: To the Beemobile!
Bee Keeper #1: You mean your Chevy?
Bee Keeper #2: Yes.

Restaurant Review: Blue Ribbon (Brooklyn)

Usually the words “Blue Ribbon” don’t conjure in my mind a very high-class image.  I think instead of the watery but much-beloved Pabst Blue Ribbon, which kept me and Liz nice and tipsy throughout our college years.  Note that PBR was actually cheap and hickish back in Tucson; in New York, it carries with it a whole other set of hipster connotations, so we stick to beer that’s actually cheap, like our current favorite, the Coors tall boy.  At 99 cents for 24 ounces, you can’t really go wrong.

But that is beside the point.  Upscale restaurant chain Blue Ribbon has done the seemingly impossible — made me think of something other than beer when I hear those two words.  Now I think “mmm, upscale restaurant chain.”  I went to the Park Slope incarnation for an anniversary dinner with my beau, and we both emerged from it pleased to have finally gotten around to trying this old place.

We got there early to beat the lines, which can be pretty brutal (no reservations are taken, except for large parties).  We waltzed right in and got a seat near the wine cellar (perhaps a misnomer, since it was on ground level).  Inspired by the wine, and by our existing interest in all things alcoholic, we decided to order a bottle of the very affordable 2006 Chateau D’orschwihr “Bollenberg” Riesling, which was just lovely, refreshing without being overly sweet.  It made an ideal accompaniment to the humid summer evening and, later, to our food.  While we sipped our wine and snacked on bread and butter, we noted the graceful and polite yet not suffocatingly attentive service provided by the waitstaff, which made the evening even more pleasant.

Blue Ribbon seems to focus on comfort food, as interpreted by a variety of cultures.  Seafood features heavily in their offerings, from the raw bar, which lures passersby from the front window, to the fresh fish of the day, to a number of other fish (including one of my favorites, trout) that reside on the regular menu.  Chris opted for a seafood-rich dish himself, the Paella Basquez ($32), though he was intrigued by the prospect of trying to consume the Paella Royale ($115), which contains, among other delicacies of the sea, a whole lobster.  The Paella Basquez was everything a paella should be: saffron-laden without being overpowering, with flavorful rounds of spicy chicken sausage punctuating the steaming rice along with chicken, shrimp and calamari, all crowned with a layer of succulent clams and mussels.  There were at least two meals to be had from this hefty dish.  Chris was thoroughly impressed, and so was the couple sitting next to us; upon seeing the waiter bring us our food, they swore to order the paella next time.

I opted for what I’d heard was Blue Ribbon’s most popular dish, the Fried Chicken ($25).  A full half chicken in pieces, fried to an impeccable golden brown (and done right, so the skin didn’t fall off once during the eating process), this is no namby-pamby high-class treatment of fried chicken.  A side of honey was provided for this American classic, and for this I was grateful, as the chicken itself was, well, a little bland.  Yes, maybe I’ve been raised on salt-and MSG-laden KFC, but if I’m going to order a plate of fried chicken, subtlety is not something I’m looking for.  The sides, on the other hand, were dead-on.  Mashed potatoes with brown gravy and crispy, salty collard greens provided the perfect backdrop for the chicken while reenforcing the theme of comfort food done right.

Without even ordering appetizers or dessert, we still managed to take home enough leftovers for another meal, something you can rarely say after going out to a fancy dinner.  We left full and happy, and eager to return.  We’re already planning what we’ll order on our next visit (I have my eye on the duck confit and the bone marrow appetizer), but it might be a while, as we are poor.  This is not to say that this is a particularly expensive restaurant — as nice restaurants go, it’s suprisingly affordable.  Still, for someone who thinks PBR has gotten too expensive, this here is fancy eatin’.

An idea to curb drunk driving

Drunk driving is an obvious problem in this country, but so far no perfect solution has presented itself. Of course you can always call a cab, but a lot of people refrain from doing so because they want to get back to their regular life as soon as possible after a night of drinking, and who wants to take another cab to go pick up their car at the bar/party the next morning?

So as a solution, I suggest a system of designated drivers for hire. I’ve heard about a similar system in South Korea, but so far I have yet to see such a service advertised in the states. Basically, you could call a driver, they’d be dropped off at your car, and they’d drive you home in your own car. The car that dropped off the designated-driver-for-hire would follow close behind and pick up the driver at the destination. That way, while nursing your hangover the next morning, you wouldn’t have to worry about where your car is. Perfect for those who like to get sloshed on nights before they have to go to work!

The first potential problem that I can think of is the auto insurance situation. The rent-a-driver companies would have to get special permits or something, a la car rental companies and U-Haul and so forth. It might be complicated, but I don’t see why it can’t be done.

What do you think? Is this a viable business in the making?

Ween – The Friends EP


Those lovable chaps Ween have been tinkering around in the studio for a while now in preparation for their upcoming album, recently reported to be called La Cucaracha (ew!). It’s unclear whether or not the five track The Friends EP represents a sampling of what we can expect from their much anticipated new tunage, or whether they’re just goofing around and spitting out this little EP to assuage our simmering expectations. I’m going to vote (and pray that I’m correct) for the latter, because as the carefree nature of this work suggests, with this here album they seem to have just been fucking around. Not that this is abnormal for those rapscallions Dean and Gene — whose efforts I’d liken to teenage hooligans messing around with expensive equipment and magically ending up with talent-infused gems — but rather the playful tone throughout makes the EP reek of ironic studio fun. The innate cheesyness of the cover further cements this feeling, as we’re presented with formless stick figures brandishing the colors of the Pride rainbow and hanging out casually in a random, deserted field. Ween are masters of what they do, and indeed they’re one of my most favorite bands ever, so I’m content to take this as a blithe afternoon frolic rather than dismiss the material coldly.

The EP is an experiment in five different musical genres, and while this sort of dabbling and mastery of many forms of song is something to be applauded and is indeed definitive of Ween’s output, here it’s all just corny as hell. The first song, “Friends,” is a jumpy techno number that calls out to those playful blokes on the cover, and the audience in general, to come join the crazy fucking around, exclaiming “Do you want me as your special friend? ‘Cause you’re the friend that I’ve been searching for.” This straightforward techno jam certainly tackles a new genre for Ween — if you ask me, I’d say they’ve been listening to a little too much Blümchen, Germany’s pop sensation. The electronic madness continues on “I Got to Put the Hammer Down,” which sounds more like a Ween song I’d expect but is still ripe with synthy and robotic experimentation.

Next we move on to Reggae and then Mambo, with “King Billy” and “Light me Up.” The former again sounds more familiar to the Ween-tuned ear, and playfully evokes a latter day citizen and his dealings with an overlordly king. This “King Billy” and the warped callouts of his name hearken back to the “Billy” of The Mollusk’s “Polka Dot Tail,” which to this day makes me laugh aloud. “Light me Up,” the catchy dance hit with the sounds of a large Latin band providing the backup, seems like themewise it may be a rumination on, gasp, drug use. Those crazy kids!

Winding down with the terribly cheesy ballad “Slow Down Boy,” Ween seem to have had a good bit of fun messing about in the studio, but sadly they’ve not created any smash hits. The somewhat generic and overproduced machine sound of this EP take something away from the experience, but I don’t doubt that in a live setting, some of these tunes might be a good time. Mainly, it seems as if the fellows Ween were simply fiddling around one long afternoon before buckling down and creating their next full-length. While I do praise these dudes for weaving more genres into the eclectic quilt that is their backlog, gee, I really hope that La Cucaracha is a mind blower.

Liz and Laura Go to White Castle

L and L go to WC headline

Having hailed from Tucson, Arizona, where the idea of consuming tiny  burgers and other hilariously small delicacies was but a dream, we were more than pleased to find upon moving to Greenwood Heights that but one block from our humble apartment shone the inviting signs of cuisine-masters White Castle. The awesomeness of a certain film makes this establishment even the more enticing. And so, on one particularly hungry evening, Liz and Laura ventured to this Mecca of tiny dinners.

On the way, what should we pass but the seemingly innocent marquee for the elementary school down the street from us. Gifted elementary school, at that.  Now, we don’t want to be too cheeky here, but jeepers this “lighthouse” looks like something we’ve both encountered on more than one drunken occasion. What designer created this madness and which school official approved its erection (heh) I cannot say, but perhaps they should be fired.

Liz and Laura point at lighthouse

Here’s a closeup for the poor in eyesight. Just look at that “Knowledge” spurting forth from the lighthouse of learning.

Lighthouse close up

After this hilarious, yet disturbing distraction, we were finally on the lot of our palacial dinner spot.

Liz and Laura approaching WC

Once inside, the glaring lights and disgruntled night-shift workers welcomed us into their world and we took a moment to give thanks to the powers that be for offfering so many tantalizing treats at such affordable prices.

Liz and Laura looking around WC

What to order!? Undoubtedly a handful of burgers is essential, but one would also do well not to ignore the wonder that is fried chicken in ring form. And as if that weren’t amazing enough, every few months as a special promotion they’ll add flavored powder to your order. My oh my!

Chicken Rings sign

As we awaited our morsels, what did Liz spy but the very answer to Laura’s recent unemployment, the opportunity to spend hours on end in the very palace where dreams are made.  Unfortunately, Laura wasn’t qualified for the position. They ended up choosing a recent Harved grad who’d interned at In and Out.

Now Hiring sign

No need for tears though, for dream jobs may come and go, but tiny treasures bought on impulse will brighten any man’s sorrow.

Laura and Toy Machines

Pockets loaded with cheap plastic rings and Homies, who even in their tinyness manage to look hardcore, we were finally on our way home to demolish our meal.

Liz and Laura toast with WC

And as we walked proudly toward home, Liz was heard to say “You know Laura, it’s times like these I’m glad to call you my friend. Let’s never not eat burgers again.”

Liz and Laura walking away from WC

The End?