Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

I'll be watching "24 Hours of 'A Christmas Story'" with my family as per usual, so I hope all my readers have a great Christmas and a happy new year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Politics: H/T to Larry Correia

They will never be happy. In countries where they have already banned guns, now they are banning knives and putting cameras on every street. They talk about compromise, but it is never a compromise. It is never, wow, you offer a quick, easy, inexpensive, viable solution to ending mass shootings in schools, let’s try that. It is always, what can we take from you this time, or what will enable us to grow some federal apparatus?
Then regular criminals will go on still not caring, the next mass shooter will watch the last mass shooter be the most famous person in the world on TV, the media will keep on vilifying the people who actually do the most to defend the innocent, the ignorant will call people like me names and tell us we must like dead babies, and nothing actually changes to protect our kids.
If you are serious about actually stopping school shootings, contact your state representative and tell them to look into allowing someone at your kid’s school to be armed. It is time to install some speed bumps.

RTWT, and link it to your friends on the fence.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Politics: H/T to "The Smallest Minority"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Movies: Antipodean Adventure Double Feature

People in the UK call Australia and New Zealand the "Antipodes," since they're on the other side of the planet. Here are two films that show off the scenery of this fascinating region:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Professional critics have not been kind to Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Hobbit." Most take issue with the pacing: Jackson's stretching a 300-page children's novel into a three-part, nine-hour series of feature films. The first installment, "An Unexpected Journey," follows Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and a crew of dwarves attempting to retake a mountain (and its treasure) from a mighty dragon:

Despite being billed as a big-budget blockbuster, "The Hobbit" is really anchored by a strong cast. Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo, and the many returning actors from LotR (Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, to name a few) do a fine job. Things do sometimes grind to a halt when Jackson deviates from the plot of the book (there's a positively snore-inducing meeting of the White Council), but the movie worked a lot better than I thought it would, considering all the padding in the runtime.

Like the LotR trilogy, "The Hobbit" benefits from being filmed in New Zealand - there are plenty of awe-inspiring, panoramic vistas. If you can swing the exorbitant ticket price, I recommend seeing it in high frame rate 3D. Everything's sharper and less blurry, like an HDTV broadcast, which in turn makes the 3D effect much more convincing.

Rating: 8/10 (6/10 if you're not a fan of the source material)

The Hunter

The cover art for "The Hunter" is pretty misleading. Based on the image - Willem Dafoe staring straight at the viewer, holding a rifle - you might think it's another Dafoe potboiler, in the "Daybreakers"/"Boondock Saints"/"Once Upon A Time in Mexico" mold. If you watch the movie, though, you'll quickly figure out this is no action flick:

Dafoe plays Martin David, a hunter who heads into the wilderness to find a Tasmanian Tiger believed to be extinct. It's a seemingly simple mission, complicated by the tensions between the local townseople, David's attachent to a single mother and her family, and the mysterious military biotech company that hired David in the first place. I think Dafoe gives his best performance in years here, and it's worth a watch if you have a spare night.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Food: Howley's

If you're cruising West Palm Beach for places to eat during the wee hours of the morning, you don't have too many options. There's Havana, a pretty good Cuban restaurant that has a 24-hour walk-up window, and there's Howley's, a pretty good diner that's open till 5 a.m. Friday/Saturday and 2 a.m. every other night.

Patrick J. Howley opened the restaurant in 1950, but Howley's nowadays is anything but old-fashioned. It's basically a hipster '50s diner, delivering earnest takes on American dive-joint standards (onion rings, country-fried steak, turkey sandwiches) alongside more unique fare (spinach and goat cheese salads and jumbo lump crab cakes). The food is good, not great, but where else can you get coffee and a warm brownie à la mode at 1:00 a.m.? 

2/4 stars (3/4 during the witching hours)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Deck the Halls (of Shangrila Towers) 2012 - Christmas Albums Review-o-rama

Putting out a good Christmas album requires a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, you don't want to ape the songs that everyone's already heard on the radio a million times. On the other, there's only so much you can do to a Yuletide standard before it sounds so different that it turns off the listener. How do these titles fare?

Joy to the World, Pink Martini

I was a Pink Martini fan from the start ("Sympathique" includes an awesome version of "Brazil," the inspiration for this blog), and I like their multinational take on the holiday season. The record starts off with a pretty vanilla version of "White Christmas," but veers into Pink Martini territory when the song is immediately followed by a Japanese cover sung by Saori Yuki. From there, you'll hear stuff for Chinese New Year, a Hanukkah song in Ladino, and a neat cover of "Shchedryk" sung in the original Ukrainian.

Christmas Songs, Eddie Higgins Trio

Jazz is such a common choice for holiday music that it sets a trap for the unwary - go too mellow in your jazz Christmas album, and you risk diving into elevator music territory. This excellent collection by the Eddie Higgins Trio (Eddie Higgins, Jay Leonhart, and Joe Ascione) doesn't mess too much with the melodies people have grown accustomed to, but adds just enough ornamentation to keep things interesting.

An Enchanted Christmas, Taylor Davis

Taylor Davis, aka "ViolinTay" on YouTube, became famous for her violin covers of video game music (her Morrowind/Skyrim theme duet with Lara6683 has 4 million views). Here, she does the same thing for 14 holiday favorites. "An Enchanted Christmas" isn't quite as good as her previous album of video game covers: there have undoubtedly been better violin versions of these songs, and Taylor's limited production budget means you ain't getting a full orchestra accompanying her.

A Very She & Him Christmas, She & Him

Your enjoyment of "A Very She & Him Christmas" will depend on your affinity for Zooey Deschanel's voice, which I think is an acquired taste. This is a straight-ahead collection of holiday covers that doesn't stray too much from the source material. Not bad if that's what you're looking for, but there aren't too many surprises here.

Guns: Florida Gun Exchange

It takes a lot for a gun store to merit a separate review here at Shangrila Towers, but it's pretty obvious that Ormond Beach's Florida Gun Exchange is no ordinary gun store. How many gunshops do you see with a minigolf-esque waterfall and lagoon in the parking lot?

Yup, Florida Gun Exchange is a Big Damn Gunstore. Inside, the place is fully-stocked with a wide variety of handguns, rifles, shotguns, and accessories.

They even stock gunsafes.

Now bigger isn't necessarily better. But there were fair prices on most of the guns (e.g., Ruger LCRs for well under $400, and Gunsite Scouts for about $750 IIRC). The service was also really good for a large gun store; the sales clerks let me compare scopes, handed me rifles to shoulder, and were pretty helpful in general. So, if you ever find yourself in the area and want to browse through some guns, Florida Gun Exchange is a fine place to stop.

Music: Take Us Back

Oof - that was a long, holiday and work-induced delay. Back to regular posting...

Alela Diane's sophomore album, "To Be Still," unloads a barrage of indie folk imagery on the listener (running streams, blowing wind, swaying trees, etc.). For me, though, a song from the album called "Take Us Back" will always bring up impressions of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested Savannah, Georgia.

That's because "Take Us Back" was used as the ending credits theme for episode 5 of "The Walking Dead." The spare, haunting instrumentation and vocals were a pretty good complement to one of the most emotionally affecting game endings I've ever played. I recommend both the song and the game.