May 23, 2009

The National - Live at House of Blues, 5/23

The National, famed from South by Southwest 2005, and made recognizable (even if you don't know it), by the instrumental version of their 'Fake Empire', which was adopted by the Obama presidential campaign, played tonight, Saturday, May 23, 2009 at the recently opened House of Blues in Boston.

Trevor & I had seen them before, but before I had any idea how much I loved them. Over the last year, The National has literally been the soundtrack to my life (Each of their songs on my iPod has been played over 300 times), and the show was everything I could have hoped, featuring some new stuff, all the classics, and an amazing encore.

Here's the set list, in somewhat accurate order:

The Runaway (new - formerly called Karamazov)
Start a War
Mistaken for Strangers
Secret Meeting
Baby We'll Be Fine
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Vanderlyle Cry Baby
Apartment Story
Blood Buzz Ohio (new)
Daughters of the Soho Riots
Fake Empire

Green Gloves
Mr. November
About Today

At the Western Conference Finals, Game 3

Jack Nicholson didn't make it to Denver tonight for the Lakers/Nuggets game. But there was an appearance from another famed Batman villain...the Penguin:

(Sorry about the quality/flash - I'm having some photo editing issues. Hopefully it gets the point across!)


May 22, 2009

Movie Review: Drillbit Taylor

Despite all the reviews that told me to run run run away from ‘Drillbit Taylor’ – Owen Wilson’s first post-suicide-scare release about a homeless guy hired to be a bodyguard to some bullied high school freshmen – Owen Wilson can't do much wrong by me (And how much worse could it be than 'Marley & Me'??), so I was willing to give it a shot, especially as a mindless vacation night activity. Imagine my delight that the movie was actually enjoyable, amusing and even occasionally laugh out loud funny.

Sure, the plot was predictable and the kids were over the top in their dorkiness (My favorite touch: the über dork that even the nerds don't want to hang out with often sports t-shirts from Broadway musicals), but they were also pretty endearing. Owen Wilson was self-effacing, sarcastic and just a little bit wounded (the guys a homeless war deserter after all, he clearly has some issues. Whoops! Spoiler alert!) – and his deadpan delivery is a true gift. There were some smart gags, like when Drillbit takes Leslie Mann on a date and busts out the Charles Shaw, and they bond over how much they love Two Buck Chuck, though we know it’s for very different reasons (Get it? Because he's homeless! Oh, Trader Joes jokes.).

I wasn’t a fan of Danny Boyle in ‘Pineapple Express’, and this movie didn’t make me one – his bits just feel really forced to me. Also, the real heart of the story was in the relationship between the kids and Drillbit, so I could have done without the love story, which I think was thrown in to make people think it’s not a “kids” movie (Except, well, it kind of is.). Finally, the bully in the movie reminded me of our favorite bartender, Billy, which made me a little uncomfortable.


Not Billy.

‘Drillbit Taylor’ didn’t revolutionize moviemaking, and it might not be for everyone, but as a ‘School of Rock’ fan with an Owen Wilson soft spot (And I know I’m not the only one out there!), I rooted for the characters and got some good laughs. 6.75 Twix bars!

Don't call it a girl-cation, part 2

Continuing the adventures from Puerto Rico...

By the time we returned from National Salsa Day, it had turned to night. We were sun-worn and full of ridiculous amounts of fried food, but not quite ready to call it a night. Our hotel had a beachfront restaurant – we’d eaten lunch there the first day and taken advantage of the fresh fruit blended rum drinks (hellooo fresh mango!) – but this was more of a wine night. A bottle of wine, three exhausted ladies and an amazing ocean breeze: Yes, the first two days in Puerto Rico treated us all right.

Day 3, we got up bright and early for an epic day. Over the objections of our hotel “concierge” about handling it on our own, we rented a car to go explore south of San Juan, including the El Yunque rain forest and bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. By the recommendation of our guide book, we wanted to get to El Yunque early to avoid the crowds, so by 9AM we were on our way winding through tiny towns along beachfront roads (Most importantly, past the club where they filmed 'Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights'!), and an hour later we were there, in North America’s only rain forest.

One of the economic stimulus programs from FDR’s new deal involved paving the rain forest – because who wants to hike when you can stroll along on concrete? (So don’t worry everyone, if the economy keeps tanking, we can create more jobs by adding sidewalks to our National Parks – Yosemite, here we come!). Despite this strange incongruity, El Yunque is undeniably beautiful.

Here I am, coming around the bend, on our "hike"

We got to the end of the road, and found a trail that would take us past La Anza waterfall. We opted to not go swimming in the waterfall, as it was crawling with traveling teens and their families, in which many of the parents were behaving worse than the kids (I’m talking to you, Dad trying to scale the wall inside the waterfall), but we enjoyed quite a lovely walk from end to end of the path and back (One of my favorite quotes of the weekend, courtesy of the overweight woman gasping for breath on her way down a hill thought we had done the there-and-then-back hike by mistake: “They went the wrong way! Make sure we don’t do that!”)

That was enough exertion for the day, so we made our way out of El Yunque, in search of the perfect Puerto Rican beach. Mission accomplished:

But we didn’t go swimming. Our bodies demanded food, and we’d read about the famous food kiosks that lined a road near our location. Food kiosks? You had me at hello! Because it was a weekday, a number of them were closed. And some of them were really, really closed:

But we eventually settled in at Bubbles, where we enjoyed the patio for a good couple of hours. We chatted with the super friendly cook, bartender and owner, sipped margaritas, enjoyed an amazing view and cried over stray cats. Well, that last part was just me.

With full bellies, we had just enough time for a lazy hour on the beach, so at the recommendation of the chatty Peruvian ex-pat owner of Bubbles, we headed down the street to Luquillo, where it appears we took no photos, so you'll just have to trust me that it was gorgeous and, finally, wind-free!

After the relaxing afternoon, it was time to get back in the car and head to our bioluminescent bay tour. The tours are kayaking excursions from a harbor, through a 10ish-foot wide canal, into a bay where, thanks to the perfect intersection of ecosystem and temperature, hundreds of thousands of single-celled kinda plant, kinda animal organisms "glow" within the water.

We put on our life vests, listened to the safety schpiel, climbed into our 3-person kayak…and promptly went off course. Not just a little off course – like, headed to open ocean off course. I wish one of us had a waterproof camera, so we could share photos of this disaster. Jessica – the “steering wheel” at the back of the boat - overestimated her unpracticed-for-years rowing ability. I – the “motor” at the front” – overestimated my ability to see the boat ahead of us and keep us on track. Sarah – in the middle and oar-free – overestimated her ability to sit between us powerless. It was truly the perfect storm. How bad was it? At one point, we were literally turning in circles. The tour leaders had to go back to shore, grab an extra boat and rower, and split us up into two kayaks. (I'm really trying to resist the urge here to talk about how naturally athletic and coordinated the three of us really are...).

Jessica & Sarah went with one of the tour leaders. I went with the extra employee they’d grabbed, who didn’t want me to row – or talk. Once we settled in, we were able to enjoy beautiful night sky, and the tiny plankton-like creatures glowing in the dark water below. The beginning of the kayak trip had already been so crazy that the giant traffic jam back through the canal – different tour groups passing one another on the wrong sides, colliding, getting turned around or sometimes stuck in the trees that lined the sides – didn’t really phase me. Eventually we made it back to shore in one piece. Here we are with Jessica & Sarah’s boat captain, Señor Jokester:

Water-logged and wholly amused by what had just transpired, we headed back to our hotel, determined to have one final night out – we still had outfits left to wear, afterall!

Unfortunately, Monday nights don’t tend to be the most happening nights around, so our night out mainly meant drinks in a hotel lobby, a quick trip to the hotel casino (I made $7!), and a dinner that finally included plantains.

Our flight was early afternoon on Tuesday, and we decided we had time to squeeze some historical touring of Old San Juan in. So, after returning our rental car, we jumped on the bus one final time and headed straight for Fort San Felipe del Morro. As public transportation is wont to do, it took us a bit longer than we expected to get there – so imagine our dismay when we saw the walkway up to the Fort:

10 minutes later we were inside – with about 20 minutes to see everything there was to see. We rushed up and down mysterious stairways, enjoyed the amazing ocean views, and promised ourselves we’d read up on the importance of all this stuff later (Yeah, that totally happened…).

We did, of course, find enough time to commemorate the trip once more, from atop that long walkway:

And then, just like that, we were off to the airport for one final tropical drink and back to Boston.

This trip was a long-time coming, and absolutely everything I could have hoped for – three days of solid girl time, plenty of sun, delicious food and drinks, and just the right amount of culture and history. Now, time to start planning next year’s trip – perhaps somewhere French speaking, so Jessica can take the lead. Did someone say Monaco?

May 21, 2009

At the Western Conference Finals, Game 2

Guys, like I was saying:

Jack Nicholson & George Karl are best friends for life. (No, I don't know why I find these shots so amusing.)

May 20, 2009

Final thoughts on American Idol

I didn’t vote for an ‘American Idol’ last night. Actually, now that I think about it, in all the years I’ve been watching ‘American Idol,’ I don’t think I’ve ever voted in the final round, either because of apathy (Cook v. Archuleta), anger (Hicks v. McPhee) or honeymoon (Sparks v. Lewis). This year, it’s none of those things (But if you want to go to Costa Rica right now, just let me know). Kris and Adam are the only two contestants I voted for all year, and I really like both of them, but it’s like I spent so much energy as of late lamenting the presence of Danny Gokey that now that he’s finally gone, my passion has subsided.

First, about Kris Allen. With that face, and his ability to knock it out of the park with unexpected takes on well-known songs, he’s like Jason Castro 2.0. Smart choices like ‘Falling Slowly’ got him here, and his music could be insanely popular in the acoustic pop/college rock vein, like a Jason Mraz + Dispatch combo (So, no, I won’t be buying his CD.). I want him to win because all the way up through last night, the judges refuse to acknowledge that he has been a solid front-runner the entire competition. I’m not sure why they refuse to get behind him (even when they’re supportive it’s with some caveat, comparing him to others, or calling him a dark horse, when in reality he was in the bottom three, what, once?), but I think it has something to do with the fact he wasn’t featured excessively in any of the audition or Hollywood Week footage. How did the public know to like him, without being told to do so?? Kris Allen winning proves that voters are in fact in charge here. And, like I said, that face. Come on.

On the other hand, I wholeheartedly believe that Adam Lambert is the most talented contestant that’s ever been on this show. Period. Seriously, enough with the claims that he's somehow "made" it already because he's in the traveling cast of a musical. First off, that's hardly the big-time. And secondly, training and ambition do not make an undeserving contestant. I don’t want to make a habit out of quoting Randy Jackson, but he could literally sing the phone book. He really went on this ‘Idol’ journey, rocking our pants off one week with soaring high notes and crazy glam outfits, and then reeling it way back, and making incredibly soft songs powerful - still in the crazy glam outfits, of course. I have no idea what kind of music he would make, (Trevor thinks he’s like Meatloaf – and that could work. Jessica thinks he’s like Queen - I’m not sure that would.), but Adam Lambert winning proves that America can handle a challenging contestant.

I think what I'm saying here is that we're all winners. What do you think? Do you vote for 'American Idol'? Or, are you just excited that the finale means this blog can go back to talking about other things?

May 19, 2009

At the Western Conference Finals, Game 1

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship:

May 18, 2009

Miss me?

Trevor & I have been out of town for the last 9 days, and I had a choice: Embrace the whole vacation ideal, or strive for editorial integrity and consistency. It should be obvious what won out.

I’m sorry you had to get the short end of the stick, but have no fear – I am back, and boy do I have some opinions to share! Sure, I may have left you hanging with no commentary during an important week of television finales and a not-shocking-to-anyone-who-heard-him 'American Idol' ouster, but don’t worry, not only do you have Part 2 of the Puerto Rico recap to look forward to, you can also expect a Seattle/Portland vacation recap, reflections on 2 years of marriage, and new movie reviews very soon – just as soon as my time-zone confused body and contact-filled eyes have had some recovery time.

Until then, I leave you with this thought: When 2 architects fight over a building design - one who wants to create a tethered balloon, and one who wants to make a flying saucer - we all win:

May 8, 2009

Don't call it a girl-cation.

At the end of March, I went on a trip to Puerto Rico with Jessica & Sarah. We were there for 4 days and had a truly amazing time. Such an amazing time that I lost my camera. Actually, it’s not what you think – No drunken debauchery is to blame; I left Trevor's & my camera in the cab we took to the San Juan airport. So I have none of my own photos to share, and it took me awhile to gather them from the other ladies, but I’m now finally ready to give you the rundown on a long-awaited girl trip.

Where to start? The airport of course. Sarah is a wonderful wonderful woman. She is also always late. (No, like, alllllways. ). And yet, somehow, Jessica & I are the ones who almost missed our flight, due to the longest line ever seen at Logan security (this includes Thanksgiving & Christmas Eve). To kick off the trip of firsts, this marked the first time I've ever been paged over the loud speaker that my flight was about to depart without me. But, we made it. Sarah had gotten us coffee. We were on our way.

We stayed at a boutique hotel in Ocean Park, a strangely gated community, on the outskirts of San Juan (I say "strangely" because it took us two days to figure out that only some of the streets were blocked from through-traffic with locked gates).

We chose to stay outside of San Juan because we wanted to be on the beach. Little did we know how windy our beach would be!

Post-beach the afternoon of our arrival, we made our way into Old San Juan - just three gringas, trying to take the bus. Old San Juan is beautiful, with quiet streets, bright colors and warm architecture (a weird descriptor for architecture, for sure, but apt).

And thus began our bar crawl, in which Jessica demanded we visit at least 5 bars. We intended to take pictures of each to commemorate the occasion, but, well, here's what we've got:

Our first stop, Madre, specialized in margaritas. One lime, one coconut, one...remind me?

We couldn't get a table here without a reservation, but this snack we had at the bar
was one of the mostdelicious things any of us had ever
tasted - fried yuca with an almond mole sauce.Amazing. Yes, that is my hand -
I couldn't stop eating it long enough to stay out of the picture.

So we ate here instead, at a place owned by the brother of a big pop star,
where the menu describes each meal's deliciousness in terms of aphrodisiac-ness (As in: Really delicious is "Ay yay yay!!!")

Here we are in an ex-pat bar we stumbled upon. A ridiculous juke box,
graffiti all over the walls, and 10-oz cans of Medalla Light. We can be hipsters too?

The night ended at a salsa bar that we'd heard about from some folks at the graffiti hipster bar. While both Sarah & Jessica participated in the dancing festivities, I held the purses (have you met me?), and let it be said that I have enjoyed fewer things in life more than watching my best friends dance salsa in a tiny San Juan club. We made our way home, with ambitious intentions for Day 2.

Sunday was Dia Nacional de Salsa in Puerto Rico, and it was our destination for the afternoon. In the morning, we made our way to a more deserted (still windy) beach. It's a good thing we conserved our energy, because the trip to the stadium where the festivities were being held was a doozie. There was walking, there was a bus, there was a train from the bus, and then there was more walking. And then some more. And then there was an oasis that turned out to be an office park. And some more walking, and then a mall parking lot, where from far off, we finally heard the sounds of salsa. It took two hours, but we made it, and boy was it worth it. Good mojitos, great music and amazingly-bad-for-you-and-delicious food.

Here we are, Jessica with some meat on a stick, and me w
ith freshly fried potato chips covered in nacho cheese. That's right.
And then later we had donuts. So...yeah.

It took 2 months, but I've covered Days 1 and 2, and taken enough of your time for the day. Stay tuned for all the goods on Days 3-4, including a kayak trip that will live in infamy.

An eye for an eye

Paula Abdul has a lot of faults. These include, but are certainly not limited to, a penchant for outfits that simultaneously smush yet reveal her breasts, and her willingness to lip-sync through her performance on a “singing competition.” However, she also loved Elliott Yamin so much, she sometimes cried:

I’d like to think that the song on Elliott’s new album called “Cold Heart” is somehow in appreciation of Paula’s devotion & support.

(Dude, did you know that David Fincher directed the “Cold-Hearted Snake” video? Crazy.)

May 5, 2009

I am? Thanks!

Thanks largely to the recommendation of Rainn Wilson (@rainnwilson), I have been using Blip.FM lately - it's an online music service where you get to be your own DJ, create playlists, listen to others', etc. I am extremely pleased with the DJ name that I chose for myself, because everytime I go to play a new song (or "Blip" it, as it were), I get a nice little confidence boost. Please click the below image to enlarge.

Thank heavens I didn't just choose "agrahamwilcox" as my username!

Worlds collide.

There was some messy basketball played last night. I'm not worried about the Lakers. They beat the Rockets in all 4 of their regular season meetings; no way will they lose to them 4 times in the playoffs. I am, however, worried about the Celtics. How do they expect to win with the Temp as their point guard?

Seriously, how did I never notice before how much Rajon Rondo looks like Ryan "The Temp" Howard from 'The Office'? It's especially apparent in interviews - the way they both always seem a little bit worried with those puppy dog eyes, but also a better-than-you attitude? It's almost distracting.

(Dear Google Images: No, when searching for "Rajon Rondo," I did not actually mean to search for "Rajon Rondo girlfriend." I'm good, thanks. Love, Ashley)

Maybe I'm just watching too much TV & basketball. But doesn't JJ Reddick also look weirdly like Penn Badgley from 'Gossip Girl'? (Possibly because Dan Humphrey is constantly making this raised-eyebrow face):

And, finally: Thanks to the Google Ad placed on Rajon Rondo's YouTube channel, I just made the terrifying discovery that you can get NBA-branded Crocs:

Note to everyone, everywhere: I do not want these.

May 4, 2009

Man of the Month: May

Who doesn’t love Neil Patrick Harris? We’ve known him since childhood, he’s the best part of the all-around awesome ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ and he’s apparently really into circus/performing art. These are all great things. Rather than wax on about how likable he is, how much I appreciate his willingness to make fun of himself, and how much he’s doing for gay rights just by being himself, I will let the following clips testify to why NPH is May’s Man of the Month. (Be warned, the clip from ‘Harold and Kumar’ is very NSFW.)