Monday, September 24, 2012

Things to Do in Philly

Just got back from a short vacation in the nation's first capital. I worked there for a couple of summers but this is my first time staying in Center City. It was awesome, and I offer you this List of Things to Do in Philadelphia:

Visit Museums!
The Franklin Institute is a must for children and nerds. There's a Giant Heart exhibit, Machines in Motion, Space!, and all sorts of interactive displays you can get your paws on. This season's special is the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I'm going to spare you the waiting in line with this magical link to the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls, which uses Google mayitliveforever technology.

Meanwhile, the National Constitution Center features tons of super informative multimedia to get you pumped for AMERICA!
America wants YOU! for something.

Eat, Eat, Eat!
Chatting with my coworkers this morning confirmed that I am not alone in planning activities around food. My travel philosophy is: if I ate good food, the trip was a success. Forget the sights. My stomach has eyes, too!

We fed at Morimoto (<--do not click if you hate Flash!) and did the Omakase ("Leave it to me!" in Japanese), meaning the chefs chose our food for us. Thank you, chef-san.

There's also Parc, a chic brasserie in Rittenhouse Square, where coiffed people and tiny dogs gather.

We waited out a thunderstorm in Old City's newly opened Monkey Bar, so new it has no website yet!, where a man versus woman fight broke out outside and the police were there in under two minutes, I kid you not.

Finally, check out Continental, whose retro decoration sadly does not include 1970's prices. Fortunately, the food is delicious and the portions are actually normal human-sized!

Become a Vegetarian (Briefly)!
My college professor quit smoking by finishing two packs of cigarettes in one sitting. Similarly, if delicious meat has been eating away at your resolve to become vegetarian, Fogo de Chão on Chestnut Street is the place for you!

First, wait 45 minutes to be seated. Once parked, your butt will get assaulted by the noise. Then you have to get up and get yourself a salad from the salad bar. Sit down again, graze, then flip over your card to indicate that you're ready to become vegetarian. The harried waitstaff will instantly materialize to dump slabs of meat on your plate, and you'll never want to eat beef ever again!

For extra fun, the servers whisk away your half-eaten side dishes and replace them with (sparkle) brand new side dishes (sparkle), chucking out the perfectly good food you were still working on. I was so...moved...by my experience here. I give it four barf bags out of five.

Enjoy Nature!

Valley Forge National Historic Park is enormous and would be a terrific bicycle ride, but alas, all we had was mom's Panda Pilot. We strolled around Washington's headquarters, wood cabins with little beds, and statues. Fiancé explained how artillery cannons work. I demonstrate the incorrect way below:

cannons pew pew pew

Pennypack Park seems smaller by comparison, but it's so huge that mom and I got lost in there once. We eventually emerged in civilization, so far from where we parked the car that we had to take a bus back. Anyway, here you can run, walk, bike, fish, and feed geese. Yay nature!

In conclusion: Philly is fun.

Now get back to work, you!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Movie Review: Premium Rush (2012)

What's red and black and dead all over? A New York bike messenger with no brakes! Hur hur hur. Ah, Mondays...

Premium Rush brandishes Wilee, a law school graduate who would rather die than wear a suit. He zips around NYC in a steel-frame, single-gear bicycle with no brakes, regularly making split-second decisions to avoid grievous bodily harm as he runs traffic lights to make deliveries. He's the best in the business, which is why Jamie Chung's character chooses him to deliver something important for her. The wrinkle is that a corrupt cop wants what's in the envelope, too. Michael Shannon is in fine form here as an utterly loathsome, barely-in-control psychopath who uses all the resources at his official disposal to stop Wilee and his friends from completing the job. omg!

It's an entertaining film. Anyone who's been to New York understands how nuts the people on the road are, and the bike couriers must be the craziest in the bunch. The stunts are fun to watch, and I hear Joseph Gordon-Levitt needed 31 stitches on his arm after he smashed into a cab. Filming is dangerous, guys!

If you're still not convinced, how's this:


Give it a chance! Think of your poor eyes, starved for the sight of tight, hard bodies!

Obligatory joke, just because it's so easy: Premium Rush delivers!

(groan)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Just Kids (2010)

Stephen Colbert interviewed Patti Smith and she was so intriguing that I had to read her memoir, which won the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction. In Just Kids, the Godmother of Punk tells us about how she moved to New York with no money and barely any clothes. She knew she was an artist, and she wanted to let her talent blossom and be discovered in NYC. By chance, on her first day there she meets Robert Mapplethorpe, future homoerotic photographer extraordinaire. But at this point in time, "they're just kids," as an old man comments. They start out as starving artists, and often have to choose between buying food or art supplies. That eventually changes, but it takes years of hard work and self-discovery, and most importantly, an unbreakable bond between two passionate artists who serve as each other's muse.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe shared an absolute belief in their own and the other's art, and they held together despite doubts and fears and confusion and weirdness and the tumult of the sixties and the seventies. Rampant drug use? Check. Multiple partners? Sure. Angry war protests? Yup. Massacres? You betcha. Patti and Robert lived their youth through violent convulsions in US history--the Kennedy and MLK assassinations; the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia; the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin; and disco.

But the silver lining includes a growing acceptance for forms of art and music that pushed against rigid definitions and all sorts of boundaries. (In particular, Mapplethorpe's work provoked arguments about censorship and what should be considered obscene, especially when his X Portfolio series went on display.) Andy Warhol rose to fame through his pop art, Woodstock happened, and a revolutionary spirit charged the air. Through it all, Patti Smith remained a voracious reader and believed that art should change the times, not just mirror them. She was a woman on a mission.

Just Kids appeals on many levels -- it's a moving story about young, enduring love; a personal account of artistic growth; a reflected history of the country; and an index of must-read authors for the aspiring artist / rebel. Did I get teary-eyed in the last chapter? Does a homo bear poop in the woods?

This book is good.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Buy Your Loved One a PS Vita

Sony knows my heart. Yes, the PlayStation Vita sounds like a new organic yogurt instead of a spectacular handheld gaming device. Sure, Sony Corp. wants to suck you dry by slapping a $250 price tag on the product itself and then making you buy a starter kit with a 4GB proprietary memory card for $40. It's worth it.

Fiancé bought me the PS Vita as a distraction from The Ring of Power, which I was to receive later in the month. He got me Gravity Rush, which I'd raved about after seeing a demo at a GameStop, and he also persuaded the future parents-in-law to get me Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Both games were so gorgeous that I blazed through them faster than a Harvard grad student goes through a stash of extremely wholesome herbal stress remedies.

Gravity Rush features Kat, who falls everywhere.
At first glance, Gravity Rush has all the essentials: a likable lead, mind-blowing gameplay, and mysterious happenings. The game's central feature is the heroine's ability to control where gravity comes from--so if I choose the sky, she "falls" toward the heavens.  NPCs would drop to the ground in fear as my character flew upwards and sideways and slammed gleefully into light poles, hair rippling in defiant resistance to her own gravity manipulation. Like Link in every Legend of Zelda game, Kat hunted precious gems that allowed various upgrades. The story starts with Kat hurtling from the sky and getting right back up. People start calling her a "shifter" and asking for her help. Kat's random acts of good deeds include helping the police capture a master thief, finding lost children, and having utterly bizarre conversations with a scientist and his wife who seem to exist a rift in the time-space continuum. And then there are the "Creators," who change/make reality and I won't even get into it because it's too confusing.

I'm not replaying Gravity Rush, despite my being able to tilt the PS Vita to control my character's movement, which is awesome. See, the combat sucks hard. Kat has to fight off annoying blobs with bright magenta eyes, and as she levels up, these suckers get faster and more frustrating to kick in mid-air. Imagine revving a motorcycle to 85 mph and trying to hit a moving one-inch target with the front wheel. Then you get shot immediately when you miss. Ugh. If I didn't have to fight every single chapter, I'd happily get the DLC just to see Kat's other fabulous outfits, including Ninja, Military, and Cat Girl. Speaking of cat, Kat's powers come from a little kitty with nebula-colored fur. You have to see it to believe it, and being the cat person that I am, I was in ecstasy during the chapter when the cat split into 20 copies of itself and I had to track down every adorable one. So, in conclusion: Dear Project Siren, Please make combat more fun for the sequel.  More cats won't hurt, either. Thank you.

Fun fact: the full Japanese title for Gravity Rush is Gravity Daze: the Physics Generated from the Inner Universe of the Girl who Returned to the Upper Stratum. WHAT. HOW AWESOME IS THAT. (Provided my translation is accurate, of course.) Addendum to conclusion: Dear Project Siren, Please hire me as a localization consultant or translator, you won't regret it. Thank you.

I then moved on to Uncharted: Golden Abyss, part of a series starring Nathan Drake, an affable Indiana Jones/Lara Croft hybrid, but without the hat or the boobs.

This jungle cannot contain Drake's manliness.

Now this game knows what's what. The graphics are jaw-dropping, the sound gets your heart rate up, the combat winsomely kicks ass, and the voice acting and cut scenes deserve awards. In this adventure, Drake's been hired to trek the jungles of South America to find the "golden abyss," which a religious group called the Sete Cidades went looking for ages ago, and then something about the tribes of Mesoamerica. Lots of human sacrifices. Something. Anyway, Drake encounters Marisa Chase, who is so charmed by his rugged manliness that she immediately offers to partner with him. Girl, I hear you. Too bad she refuses to carry a gun, because all of a sudden, Drake has to fend off an army of thugs led by a former general also looking for the golden abyss, more for the gold than for the abyss, obviously. Drake and Chase ("Only my grandfather calls me Marisa!") run like hell, sneak around, swing from vines, leap giant gaps, and do extreme climbing in their quest for precious artifacts, all the while exchanging flirty banter.

I particularly enjoyed the combat system, where Drake shoots at enemies from the cover of a crate or a large rock. In one chapter, I control another character who has a GP32-BND, aka a handheld grenade launcher. I aim right at the bad guys' chests, mwahahaaaa. I'm also pretty good at video game sniping, ever since the NES days of Duck Hunt. And did I mention that in this game, the back of the PS Vita is also a touch screen surface, which you can use to view objects at an angle, or row a canoe? There is so much awesome I can't even.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the game to pick up for the PS Vita. I've finished it in Normal and Hard modes, and might even try Crushing. Yikes. In the meantime, I signed up for the Sony Entertainment Network, where Sony gets more of my money when I download games straight into the Vita. I plan to buy Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky.

The moral of this post is: your gamer loved one deserves a PlayStation Vita.

PlayStation Vita: you can't eat it, but you can tilt it.

Lemme try that again.

PlayStation Vita: hello to fun, goodbye to your savings.

Hmmm.

PlayStation Vita: Sony has the technology. It has the capability to build the world's best handheld gaming device. The PS Vita will be that thing. Better than the PSP. Better, prettier, faster.

By George, I think I've got it. Sony, if you need advertising ideas (YOU DO. YOU REALLY DO.) for older Millenials, I'm your girl. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let's Talk DNC

I was shooting mercenaries on my PS Vita when my mom called me up and breathlessly informed me that she would be staying up to watch Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention. Bill is the reason my mom started watching CNN nonstop in the early nineties. She was enraptured by his dreamy dreaminess, and loved him even through the scandal. Like Hillary, I guess, but without actually having met him.

I trooped to the living room, still glued to my beautiful five-inch OLED multi touch screen, and alternated between more video game heroics and the TV. I half-listened to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law School grad who got shut out of an all-male panel about contraception coverage, quietly state that Barack Obama is a president who "thinks of his daughters, and not his donors or delegates," to the approving roar of the crowd.

Then Elizabeth Warren came on, and I put down my console to clap. She was earnest, assertive, and powerfully communicated her Middle Class First platform. She talked about her and her family's struggles, and how the people she talked to in Massachusetts gained nothing from trickle-down policies. She declared that she wanted to live in an America where billionaires get taxed the same as their secretaries. She said it was an honor to be the warm-up act for Bill Clinton.

When the man himself came onstage, there came an explosion of awesomeness on top of the awesomesauce that is Elizabeth Warren. Together, the former US President and the aspiring US Senator are like the Planeteers:


EARTH! FIRE! WIND! WATER! BRAINS! <-- not to be mistaken for the zombie rallying cry

I was most impressed by Bill Clinton's ability to talk about complex policy-related ideas in a simple, accessible manner. Sure, he boiled down a lot of stuff, but the core of what he said was accurate. He took his turn kicking the RNC speeches in the groin, especially the egregiously non-factual ones, like Paul Ryan's claim that Obama's $716 billion cuts in Medicare weakens the entire system. Ryan, by the way, proposed cuts in the exact same amount in his budget. "It takes a lot of brass to attack a man for something you did!" Bill exclaimed, to hoots and laughter.

The man is such a great orator that I felt like he was talking to us. He was funny, engaging, charismatic, and had a clear grasp of the challenges facing the country. He felt Barack Obama offered better solutions than Mitt Romney. Bill even made a crack about respecting Obama so much more because he "had the good sense to marry Michelle!"

Then he got serious. He told us that he had never seen so much bipartisan hatred. He said he had a one-word answer whenever people ask how he got the budget balanced during his tenure: "Arithmetic!" He followed that up with, "We cannot afford to give the reigns to someone who will double down on trickle down!" It was an impressive performance.

As he talked, the camera showed flashes of the audience reactions. And what an audience -- old people, young people, Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, disabled individuals, grandmas, veterans, you name it, they were probably there cheering and waving banners. DIVERSITY!!!

(In true form, The Daily Show did a hilarious segment about how Democrats think of themselves as tolerant and would let anyone join, except "gun-toting hillbillies" or "redneck freaks." At the end of the segment, a grandma finally realized that tolerance means accepting everyone.)

I had a green card in 2008, when Obama was elected. I watched his inauguration speech and thought to myself that, if ever there was a reason for me to get citizenship here, it would be so I could be a part of Obama's America, or rather an America that I never imagined, where enough people overcame racism and lies and negativity to put a talented man in the top office. "We always come back," Bill Clinton said, and I interpreted that as a proclamation of the United States' tenacity, its unstoppable rebounding from the dark recesses of hardship and war and uncertainty.

Tonight, it's President Obama's turn to speak. This time, the PS Vita stays in the other room.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sheba Turned 12!

Her adoption papers say she was born on September 1, 2000!

To celebrate her latest year alive and purring, Sheba treated herself to an extra two hours of sleep, for a total of 20 hours! Check out her birthday face.

With all that sleep, she naturally didn't get as much food in her, so guess what time she woke me up for feeding? Four o'clock in the morning, of course! I tell ya, this cat is practice for having a baby.

Happy Labor Day!

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)