Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Play Review: Evil Dead, The Musical

AUGUSTA, GA. - You know you're at a great show when they have to use a shop vac to suck up fake blood at intermission. In the "splatter zone" at the Trustus Theater in Columbia, S.C., audience members at "Evil Dead: The Musical" wiped a crimson mixture of who-knows-what off their arms and legs, while a stage hand dried the boards. Behind them, my date and I grinned stupidly at each other. This was exactly the experience we had anticipated.

"Evil Dead: The Musical" is a stage show based on the 1981 Sam Raimi film, which the director followed with the sequels "Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness." The films starred B-movie demigod Bruce Campbell

Like the film, the stage production follows Ash, the character Campbell originated, as he leads a group of five spring breakers to a cabin in the woods. There, amid the collegiate debauchery, they discover a 13th century book called "The Necronomicon" ("Book of the Dead") and - oopsy! - unleash a hoard of Candarian demons. Each member of the group is possessed by a demon or turned into a zombie at some point, except Ash. He loses a hand, replaces it with a chain saw, uses it to decapitate his girlfriend and... errr, it's a little complicated. Don't think about it too much.

The set of "Evil Dead: The Musical" at the Trustus Theatre in Columbia, S.C.

Designed in the manner of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," with self-referential dialogue and over-the-top plot constructs, the only way this horror comedy musical could get cheesier is if it were staged in Wisconsin at the Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival. This is high camp, played for laughs. And it is idiotically effective in its pursuit.

The songs are - well, this isn't Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Gilbert & Sullivan, or George & Ira Gershwin. It's barely even Tom & Dick Smothers. It's more like Frost and Peg - if they wrote musicals, that is. Please, God, let them write musicals

Anyway... The song listing in the show program, with titles like, "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons" and "Ode to An Accidental Stabbing," were enough to set the audience giggling. During the performances, I could hardly hear the lyrics over the laughter, at times.

The highlight of the show, for me, was the rousing tune called "What the Fuck Was That?" Here's a video of the song from some other production, somewhere else entirely. Thanks, Internets! 

I'm not going to spend time dissecting the quality of the acting and singing. It would be like writing your physics masters thesis on whether or not there was enough room on the floating door for both Rose and Jack in"Titanic." It's just useless. And worrying about it drags down the narrative. They were very entertaining, and that's all that's called for. 

The raked set was perfectly constructed and dressed. As for production values, there were a few small issues with the actors' mics cutting out mid-sentence or mid-song, and not all of the stunts, costumes, makeup and props were as effective as they could be. Eh. It's still bloody hilarious. 

The show runs through July 26. Tickets are $20. Free popcorn is included. Parking is free after 6 p.m. at the metered spaces near the theater.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Every bunny was kung fu fighting

Friday, June 27, 2014 By

Me: "I heard today that a group of bunnies is called a 'fluffle.'"

R.H.: "A fluffle?"

Me: "Yeah. I don't know if that's true, but I love it."

R.H.: "Sounds like kerfuffle. Can you have a fluffle kerfuffle? A kerfuffle fluffle?"

Me: "Most. Adorable. Fight. Ever."

Side note: Do not mention "Watership Down" to me. That movie gave me nightmares.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I shouldn't ask questions first thing in the morning

Thursday, June 26, 2014 By

I was getting on the elevator at work when one of my co-workers caught up just before the door closed. He opened a bottle of VitaminWater.

"Oh, do they have that in the vending machine?" I asked. He nodded.

"Isn't VitaminWater owned by Coke?" I asked. "And Powerade, too?"

He nodded again.

"Do you ever worry that VitaminWater is just Powerade in different packaging?"

He looked at me, then down at his water, and back at me. "Well, now I will. Thanks."


Monday, June 23, 2014

Product Review: Maple Leaf Farms Duck

I love duck. This versatile, bold, fatty bird is rich and delicious, and good for anything from a classic roast to a stew. Oh, it's not particularly popular in the U.S., where we'd rather feed wild fowl bread at parks than use them to feed ourselves. But Maple Leaf Farms would like to change that, and they distribute roast duck through Publix supermarkets.

But... frozen? I was skeptical. I thought it would be bland and tough. So I tried a couple of the frozen half duck with orange sauce. Turns out, I was both wrong and right.

First, the meal I made was quick and easy to prepare. Pop the duck in the oven for 15-20 minutes on 375, toss some rice in a pot, some fresh green beans in a skillet with garlic and olive oil, and boil the orange sauce in a sauce pot during the last five minutes. It's a meal Rachel Ray could showcase.

Turns out, it wasn't half bad. The bird was tender, juicy and gorgeous. So, not tough as I expected - but the flavor was certainly toned down from restaurant-quality small-farm duck. So much that the included orange sauce was a tad overwhelming, since the flavor of the frozen farmed duck is tamer than its wild cousins. 

Connoisseurs of duck won't be particularly enthused about the meal, since it's quite small in size and loses some of its decadence in the freezing process, but it's a great substitute when you can't get your fork into a fresher serving. And it's a lovely introduction to duck for those who might not have tried it. My 9-year-old daughter declared it "delicious!" She loved the orange sauce, but shunned it with the rice. Eh, kids. What can you do?

I really wanted this duck to rival that the Bourbon Street Duck at the French Market West, but they're just not in the same category. Maple Leaf Farms is the largest distributor of duck in North America, so it's kind of like the McDonald's cheesburgers of the exotic poultry world. Flavorful, but hardly the best that can be found. 

Still, for a quick meal with an air of distinction, or for a welcome change of pace, it's worth a try. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Movie Review: 'Earth to Echo'

I was lucky to be among a few folks who were given advance special screening passes to see the new Disney live-action film "Earth to Echo" at the Augusta, Ga., Regal Cinemas on Wednesday evening. The movie officially releases to the public on July 2.

We had four passes, but only three people, and it was surprisingly difficult to interest a fourth person to attend with us. Many had not heard of the movie - even though I'm sure it's probably being promoted all over the Disney channel - or reacted to the title with disinterest. Overall, the advance opinion about this film, among friends, was a resounding, "Meh." But that wasn't going to stop us from enjoying a free first-run movie. So off we went.

In "Earth to Echo," four adolescents adventure to help an alien life form after their phones go nuts and reveal a secret message. Instead of dialing tech support like all normal people, they jump on their bicycles and embark on a 20-mile journey to help an adorably anthropomorphized alien get back into space.

Watch the "Earth to Echo" trailer below.

The plot will feel familiar - even derivative - to adult viewers. It's reminiscent of "E.T.," "Mac and Me," "Super 8" and "Batteries Not Included," with a little bit of "The Goonies" thrown in, as the kids race against time, grown-ups and the government to help the little guy, nicknamed "Echo," get back to the mother ship. But most kids haven't seen these movies (except my kid, who I insisted watch "The Goonies" with me - for educational purposes, of course.)

The movie doesn't explain the much about the alien, and that's slightly disappointing. How do we know he's not an adorable alien mass murderer? What are these kids thinking when they set off to Witch Mountain, or wherever? And where are their parents? Seriously, if my child hopped on her bike to pedal 20 miles with three friends after an alien signal beamed into the smartphone that she does not even have, she would not leave her room until the age of 30 - or until my death, whichever came first.

But I guess coming up with an alien back story is probably more difficult than coming up with a back story for human children.

And the focus is really on them, and their journey. The four leads, plucked from relative obscurity, are capable actors with good chemistry. Teo Halm plays Alex, Brian "Astro" Bradley is Tuck (I wish my nickname was "Astro," for real), Reese C. Hartwig plays Munch ("S.V.U." 4 LYF!), and Ella Wahlestedt is Emma. Side note: Ella Wahledstedt has a brother named Thor. No home improvement projects for him.

Tuck (Astro!) is the film's narrator and biggest personality, and the young actor, best known from "X-Factor," has fun with his character's bravado. Halm makes Alex a subtle character with a rewarding conclusion. Wahledstedt imbues Emma with smarts, social intelligence and the natural tween girl tendency towards dramatics. But Munch (Hartwig) is the real screen-chewer, with instinctive comedic timing. Good luck to this kid.

All of the young actors work well with some slightly stilted dialogue - particularly in the lunchroom scene, doing their best to deliver what feels like an adult's imagining of how kids talk to each other. But I think Disney owes a real apology to Wahlestedt for making her Emma the "token girl" in the movie. The actress is lovely, but the character has little to do, and is rather clumsily crammed into the storyline. The movie could have just as easily been about three adolescent boys on an adventure. There's nothing wrong with a single sex collective, by the way. Witness:  "Now and Then" and "Stand By Me" ('Sup, Wil Wheaton, call me).

The studio decided to use some first person point-of-view camera work and "found footage" from the children's perspectives. It's been done before, but it really works well within this story, particularly for the target audience. Although there are a few suspenseful moments where I was looking for the "Cloverfield" monster. Fair warning: If you suffer from vertigo, this movie is not for you.

Check out the first-person cinematography in this trailer.

And that brings us to the effects. The animated alien, Echo, is an owlish snippit of adorableness, beeping and mewling like a cuddly R2-D2. Outside of the alien, the other effects not obscured by the shaky POV camera work were fine, if uninspired. Except for a scene where Echo takes apart a tractor trailer and puts it back together. That particular sequence felt cartoonish and pulled me back out of the story. It also made me question whether or not the filmmakers should have consulted a physicist to align the alien's abilities with the storyline. But, hey, it's Hollywood, not Harvard.

That scene actually sold me in a different way, because it impressed on me how well the child thespians in this movie reacted to the CG effects and alien - who wasn't even there when they were filming. Honestly, if working in a CG environment could bring Sir Ian McKellon to tears, kudos to the little moppets for getting the job done.

If laughter is any indication, the audience thought this movie was hilarious. The two tween girls I brought with me certainly approved, cackling uproariously at the verbal and visual gags. And most of the movie's appeal comes from the interaction between the adolescents onscreen - even as unevenly scripted as their dialogue was. Their chemistry and banter sparkled in places, failed in others. Personally, I think when adults work with kids, they should allow the kids to paraphrase lines to make them feel more organic. These kids were trying to hit the script just right in certain places.

This is definitely a PG movie, because there are a couple of slightly risque jokes, moments that will scare smaller children - and you don't want your more adventurous 4-year-old to get any ideas... like riding his or her bicycle 20 freaking miles to find a friendly alien. But also because it's directed by first-time feature-length filmmaker Dave Green, whose background includes "Zombie Roadkill." This is not a guy who aspires to direct children's fare.

Overall, I think the film will get run over at the box office after being book-ended by "Transformers: Age of Extinction" the week before, and "Planes: Fire & Rescue" the week after. The only saving grace is that it will be one of the few family-friendly PG movies out for a while, and parents can only see "How to Train Your Dragon 2" so many times.

I'm sure that Green and Disney are hoping that getting the jump on the July 4 weekend will position the film well. He'll get a "Ya did good, kid" from the Disney execs, and they'll keep him in their wheelhouse for his entire career. Here's hoping, Mr. Green. It's not a bad life, as I understand.

"Earth to Echo"
Rating: PG
Run time: 91 minutes
Produced by: Panay Films, Walt Disney Studios

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The best reason to let others go first in line

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 By

I'm locking up the house while Emerson walks to the car, and I hear her irritated voice behind me:

"Well, you're welcome. I just walked through a spider web for you."

*chortle* "Thanks, Doodlebug.

*sigh* "Whatever."

Friday, June 13, 2014

Children and fools speak truth

Friday, June 13, 2014 By

Look what I have.

That's right. SIX BOXES of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.

Oh, sure, I like candy. And Harry Potter. And Harry Potter candy.

But that's not why I'm so excited.

I'm excited because I get to share the wonder of these jelly beans with Emerson, my charming, precocious, intelligent child.

Those sound like really nice words to say about your child. And I mean them. But do you know what those three words, in combination, translate into for her mother?


She's 9 years old, y'all. NINE. And I can already envision the first time she chews out her manager and quits whatever crappy part-time job she gets in high school. That manager will need therapy.

So, it's my responsibility, as her mother, to teach her how to use her words wisely. Prudently. I'm not saying she shouldn't unleash flaming verbal hellfire on the occasional egregious offender. I think I've shared before that I rather enjoy a good Julia-Sugarbaker-ing every once in a while.

But y'all. It is out of control.

What I didn't realize, when I committed to raising Emerson to think for herself, to examine the world around her, and to question what she is told, is that the first thing she would question would be her own mother. But of course it would be. I'm the first authority figure she ever encountered, and I'm the one with whom she has the most familiarity. I am Patient Zero.

While I am delighted to discuss with her the merits of the various My Little Pony characters, the wonders of the natural world, and whether the stories about our founding fathers that her teachers tell her are real or myths, I do not now nor will I ever entertain the notion that I have to explain why vegetables are necessary parts of every meal at every meal. The question has been asked and answered, your honor. Let's move on.

Enter the beans. No, not vegetables. Jelly beans.

If you are unfamiliar with Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, let me tell you the one thing you need to know: These are not candy. These are implements of torture. Flavors include black pepper, grass, and dirt. I don't even want to think about how horrible the taste-testers had it when developing these things. Who taste-tested the vomit flavor? Using what?!

Anyway, when choosing a jelly bean, it's almost impossible to tell the green apple flavor from the grass. That is what makes them so diabolical. Even Dumbledore couldn't tell them apart.

So my plan is to "reward" her with "candy" whenever she smarts off to me.

"Oh, you think you're Little Ms. Funny Britches. Have a jelly bean."

"Thanks, mom!" [A look of horror crosses her face]

"Oooooh, sardines? Yeah. That's tough. Maybe you'll remember that the next time you decide to be rude."

Of course, I'm mostly joking. They'll probably sit around the house until such time as one of us decides to sneak-attack the other. Like we did once with an old clementine that she left in the back seat of the car for a week. We chased each other around the house with it for a while, then began hiding it and randomly chucking it at each other. For about two weeks straight.

Oh, all you sweet, innocent, childless moms are reading this and clutching your bosoms in horror. Adorable. Get back to me after your first child turns a year old.

And if you are thinking of having children, consider: "Are my partner and I so awesome that we need to make another one of us? And, if so, can I tolerate having a pint-sized person, perpetually less well educated and articulate than I am, follow me around and second-guess every decision I ever make?" This is the question you need to be able to answer. "Do I really desire to be shadowed for the rest of my life by a tiny skeptic, engaged ceaselessly in Socratic maieutics?"

If you mostly don't mind answering a barrage of questions as long as the Hundred Years' War, then by all means, criticize me. Judge my creative, slightly uncomfortable, but ultimately harmless discipline tactics. But if you would like - just some days - to ease through life from waking to bedtime without having an existential crisis brought on by the precocious cross-examination of your own personal, miniature Don Rickles, then you need to get yourself a supply of jelly beans.

Or ear plugs.

Of course, if I did bring home a supply of ear plugs, Emerson would just teach herself sign language. But I only know one sign. Using my middle finger.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hockey players scoff at Lebron's cramps

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 By

Seems Lebron James was recently carried off the basketball court with "cramps," which made me cramp with laughter because - seriously? Cramps? Don't make all women everywhere laugh.

Anyway, while watching the Kings v. Rangers game, R.H. (who patiently explains all the hockey things to me) weighed in:

"Hockey players don't get cramps. You would die. They have knives on their feet, and the puck is going 80 to 100 miles an hour! You fall down? Your face would explode! It would be like a Gallagher show!"

After that speech, I couldn't drink anything for a while, for fear of it squirting out of my nose.

But it's true that hockey is one of the toughest athletic pursuits around. Not only do players have to fight their way to the goal, on shoes made of miniature swords, while sliding on frozen water, but they have to handle a puck with the precision of a surgeon, and they can't use their hands. They have to use a stick that looks like a boomerang on Viagra. (There's a joke somewhere in there about wood, but I'll move on. Because I'm a lady.)

Anyway, in hockey, players have to deal with being body-checked into the boards or even just - blammo! No warning! -  in the middle of the rink. They put themselves between an 90-ish mph slap shot and the goal; accept that at some point a game will devolve into fisticuffs; and brace themselves for the fact that they might get a stick to the face.

So I Googled "most badass hockey players" -- while sitting at my desk, wearing mismatched shoes, with an early lunch of cold pasta that I am eating with a folded Post-It note, because I am too lazy to walk down the hall to heat my food and get a fork. Clearly, I am not prepared to play pro hockey. But my very athletic fingers came up with some incredible stories to share:

Seriously, though, people have died for this sport. And weren't always revived. In fact, as recently as 2008, a player almost bled to death on the ice.

I don't know Lebron James, and I don't really care about basketball. Maybe his cramps were serious business. But I just don't buy it. Basketball and hockey players both average about 5 seasons, but hockey is a much more physical sport and hockey players are much less well compensated. I think James could do a little stretching, maybe slap on some Icy Hot. This guy could probably hook him up

I'll just leave you with this question: How would Lebron deal with going headfirst through a backboard?

Full disclosure: I interned as a technical director and director for the Augusta Lynx/Comcast during the 2000-2001 season. I learned very little about hockey, and everything about how other interns don't want to do work. I also must disclose that I lack the athleticism to be justified in passing judgment on a pro athlete. My athletic peak came in fourth grade, when I placed 6th in the state for the 400 meter freestyle. It was all downhill after that.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Misunderstood nursery stories

Thursday, June 05, 2014 By

Emerson was tormenting me with knowledge from her book about bugs.

I hate bugs.

"Mom! Did you know that bedbugs are for real? I thought they were just a myth to get kids to go to sleep!"

"Holy... (guffaw)  I thought the same thing! I didn't even realize bedbugs existed in the real world until about 10 years ago!" I laughed.


"Yes! And now I wonder, 'What other things are real that I didn't know about?' Like, narwhals. I really didn't know they were real until about two years ago. Because they look like unicorn dolphins, and that just sounded crazy to me," I explained.

She laughed. "Yeah, what else is real that we never knowed about?"

"I don't know.... maybe even the Boogieman is real!" I widened my eyes and faked a gasp.

"Maybe he's real but he isn't even trying to scare kids," she said. "Maybe he just really likes to boogie."

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Dad jokes - not just for dads

Tuesday, June 03, 2014 By

So, Emerson and I are finally getting around to watching "The Amazing Spiderman." She's snuggled up on my chest as we watch.

We get to the scene when Peter Parker tests his new-found skills at skateboarding, swinging from chains, and jumping around from one thing to the next. You know. Superhero training-type stuff.

"Heh heh," I laugh. "He's now Peter Parkour."

"Hahaha! Good one, mom!" Emerson laughs and throws up her right hand for a high-five.


That's right. The bad pun doesn't fall far from the .... bad... pun... tree, or something.

Monday, June 02, 2014

College didn't teach me how to file things

Monday, June 02, 2014 By

So, we moved our offices around on Monday, because the work flow and storage issues were greatly improved. Now I'm in an office by myself down the hall from the main office suite, and it's great. Quiet. WARM. Unlike the storage closet/Arctic freezer in which I previously worked.

But there are all these boxes in my office that are leftover from the move. And they're filled with... stuff. Just random stuff from the old office. Papers and other things, and I don't even know what is IN these boxes. Do I need the things in the boxes? All the things? Or does the fact that I cannot name a single item in any of the boxes negate the need for me to retain them? Can I just toss them out all at once?

The fact is that I struggle with maintaining a useful filing system. I can do anything on a computer that you want, but those old "secretarial school" courses like Philosophies of File Maintenance, or whatever - they just aren't taught anymore.

I can b.s. a research paper on the themes of loss in Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse;" I can identify the parts of a cell under a microscope with 90 percent certainty; I can mostly tell you how World War I started and how it relates to current tensions in the Baltic states... maybe? I can at least Google it fast enough so you won't realize I don't know. As long as we're texting about it.

But I never learned how to touch-type properly; how to create and maintain a physical filing system; how to track an office budget; how to handle interoffice politics; or how to take and organize correspondences and meeting notes.

I learned those things via internships and trial and error (except for the filing system, obvs). Unlike my mother. After graduating from Jacksonville State University, and obtaining her teaching certification, my mother taught these skills to adolescents and adults for much of her life.

Who has two thumbs and didn't listen to her mother? THIS GIRL!

Anyhoodle. So I have boxes in my office. Lots of them. If anyone needs me, look for me in one of them. Where I will probably be taking a nap.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Paleontology for beginners

Sunday, June 01, 2014 By

R.H.: "You know, the Thesaurus is the only living dinosaur."