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Category: Reviews (page 1 of 4)

Dreamers in Crisis: Zombie Edition

I wanted to watch the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead despite the lukewarm reviews. I checked and it was available for streaming at the AMC website. They often do full episode streaming but maybe the poor reviews helped. The only hitch was that I would prefer to watch on my TV instead of my laptop. Bookmarked the streaming link for later.

Cut to me firing up my Xbox to watch some Netflix and there on the Xbox home page was a graphic for Fear the Walking Dead. I clicked on it thinking, “Could it be this easy? They’re promoting it. I can watch on my TV.”

But no. It could not be that easy. Through Xbox video they are charging to watch the pilot episode. Screw that. I watched it on my laptop.

And I thought it was pretty good. I’m not sure why people are complaining. The entire rest of the series will be full of zombies. This episode was about life just before the zombies and as the zombies emerged. For me, that transition is the most interesting and creative part of the show anyway. Things falling apart.

What I think they got right is the general cluelessness. If anything they underestimated it. We humans are lousy at recognizing change. Me included. When I first heard about both Facebook and Twitter, I thought, “Sounds like a total waste of time.” And they are. And I have accounts on both. What I failed to understand is that humans are constantly looking for new ways to waste time.

Just like we are always looking for more shows about zombies.

Zombies would sneak up on us like Hitler snuck up on Russia. Even though every ounce of intelligence screamed to Stalin, “HITLER IS GOING TO ATTACK,” he was sure Hitler would never invade. If I encountered a zombie, if I saw someone rise from apparent death, my first thought would be, “Well, I guess he ain’t dead.” Not, “Oh my god a zombie!” If I saw police shoot a guy ten times and watched him fall down and then get up, I would think, “I can’t believe he’s still alive after all that, but humans are resilient.” Not, “He must be a zombie. Only a zombie could survive all that.” If an apparently dead guy got up and started growling at me and gnashing his teeth and chewing on other bodies, I would think, “So he’s alive and he has rabies. I better get out of here because animals with rabies have hulk strength. Plus I don’t want rabies.”

Watching TV as I get older, I feel for the actors in the same way I feel for any player that gets cut from any NFL team. Dreamers in crisis. I imagine a particular actor getting the call from his agent:

AGENT: Good news, buddy, you’ve been cast for a major role in the new Walking Dead!
ACTOR: Holy shit! I can’t believe it! My big break!
AGENT: The bad news is you die in the pilot.
ACTOR: Oh.

You were good [name redacted — spoiler]. I’m sure you’ll get more parts soon.

Here come the zombies.

Tokyo Joe’s

I love me some Tokyo Joe’s. I eat at TJ’s a lot and have for years. When I was waiting for my second transplant, I would often eat at the TJ’s by DU (now Snooze), oxygen and all. Before and since my second transplant, I usually go to the 13th & Grant TJ’s near my work. I typically order a medium chicken bowl with white rice, extra white rice, peanut or curry sauce on the side, and broccoli on the side. They know me at TJ’s so I can say, “The usual with curry sauce.”

Eating out for lunch is not smart. Wiser heads bring lunch from home. But then I would have to eat at my office either at my desk or in the cafeteria. I need to leave the building for an hour each day and lose myself in a book while I eat. So I overpay for a bowl of rice. I make better rice at home but it is not about the rice. It is about escape.

The standard serving of Tokyo Joe’s is like saying, “Would you like some rice with your sauce?” They skimp on the rice, which mystifies me. Asking for extra rice every time has caused some funny moments. I’ve become known as the guy who can never get enough rice. When rice seems to be lacking I ask for more and I get my little bonus bowl. But sometimes they will try to head me off at the pass by giving me a giant, overflowing bowl of rice. They are always very nice about it but it can be funny. I never know how much rice is going to appear and it sometimes feels like a challenge from the kitchen. “Can he eat that much rice?” Yes.

Like I said, they pile on the sauce so I have to ask for it on the side. Yes, I may be the pickiest diner at TJ’s — but it is so good and so simple. I started adding broccoli about five years ago. I needed to start eating some vegetables. I started out asking for it on the side because I didn’t like it and could drown it in a sea of soy sauce and eat it separately. I wonder if they think my broccoli on the side is some scheme to still get my maximum rice and chicken? I have moved from hate to neutral on broccoli but I still like that sea of soy sauce.

Tokyo’s Joe’s main competitor at 13th & Grant is Panera. Panera is the smooth-talking player of fast casual dining. They say all the right words…the food sounds so good. For example:

Chicken Tortellini Alfredo

Tender tortellini pasta filled with a blend of ricotta, Swiss and romano cheeses and tossed in our rich alfredo sauce then topped with smoked, pulled antibiotic-free chicken and asiago-parmesan cheese.

But it is not good. This delectable sounding blend is a little plastic packet that gets heated in the microwave.

Now I don’t claim Tokyo Joe’s is gourmet dining but I think it is under-appreciated relative to its flashier cousin. Simple is good. Don’t fall for the sweet-talker.

UPDATE/CONFESSION 8/28/14: Panera’s isn’t all bad. I often get lattes there.

Review: Grantland.com

I like the idea of Grantland.com. This is the new website that was launched by Bill Simmons (The Sports Guy) on June 8th, 2011. He has assembled a talented group of writers including Chuck Klosterman and Dave Eggers. Simmons, Klosterman and Eggers are among this country’s most interesting writers and it’s great to see them combine forces. I read most of the articles posted in the first few days and they were all well-written and interesting. I feel like this is going to be a great spot to read good writing, which is what many of us want most out of the internet: a handful of places to go for good writing. Grantland.com is already one of my favorite websites though I wonder whether they can maintain their current pace.

However, I cannot help feeling that Simmons and Klosterman whiffed. Grantland.com is an ESPN website. I wish Simmons had left ESPN and started this venture with Klosterman and a handful of others. It would have taken a lot of guts, that’s for sure, especially with families to take care of, and I can’t blame them for going with the security of ESPN backing. But Simmons and Klosterman have juice, they have a fanbase, and they had a chance for something BIG.

Nobody has tried Mark Cuban’s idea to monetize a written word website. The idea is that people register with a credit card and then buy articles piecemeal. Say 25 cents for an article. Or on a site like Grantland.com with longer pieces, maybe 50 cents for an article. You could add all these clicks up and bill monthly. I think this would work better than an annual or monthly membership fee. Really put your money where your pen is, make a living per article you output. (That’s how it works now but the magazines pay authors. Why not eliminate the middleman? Have readers vote with their pocketbooks.) True, it’s risky, and Simmons and Klosterman would quickly test the loyalty of their fan base. But in this (excessively gloomy) review of the site in The Atlantic, Simmons is said to get a million pageviews per column. How many of these million people would pay 50 cents per article? Surely at least one quarter would. That’s a good chunk of change. Then you could have collections of articles for sale on the eReaders for 99 cents. This way Simmons and the others could gauge exactly what their readers want and give them more.

The problem with staying in the ESPN structure is that you maintain all the constrictions of the suits. First you have the censorship, which Simmons has famously fought at ESPN. Here’s another example: the name of the website, which the suits at ESPN apparently forced on Simmons. Grantland.com is named after Grantland Rice, a sportswriter of yore. I imagine naming this website after him was an immense thrill for a handful of 70 year old retired sportswriters, at least it will be after their grandchildren teach them how to use the internets.

But as a name for a 21st century website about sports and pop culture? Grantland Rice died in 1954. His heyday was in the 1920s. I’m all for historical callbacks but this one makes little sense. I can only guess some suit high up at ESPN loves Grantland Rice. Wonderful. But most sportswriting sucks. What makes Bill Simmons successful is that he is one of the few sportswriters who doesn’t suck. And maybe that’s why people loved Grantland Rice so much. He was one of the few sportswriters of his day who didn’t suck. If so, Grantland.com should be a Grantland Rice museum & archive site, because if you need five minutes to explain the name of your website to your average reader*, and an hour of required reading (Rice’s old articles), than you’ve failed. You need suits who know when to get out of the way of the creative people. (*I’m not a sports fanatic so perhaps I underestimate G.R. Awareness. I’d heard of Rice but I remembered nothing about him. I’m guessing most of Simmons’ readers under 50 are in a similar boat.)

On the other hand, the sports blog on the site is named The Triangle, a Boston sports reference that I don’t know and don’t care to know. We get enough Boston with your stuff as it is Simmons! I’m surprised Simmons didn’t call it, “Brady’s Corner.” The suits should have said, “No. This is a national website. You can’t use a local reference. And your readers get enough Boston as it is.” But this is a minor quibble.

We need talented people who have juice to declare their independence from the suits. If Simmons and Klosterman can’t do it, how can the rest of us creative types hope to? We need them to lead the way. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s happening with the Kindle and other eReaders right now. People are bypassing the traditional publishing industry and making very healthy livings. The media in this country is controlled by an elite few publishing houses, radio station conglomerates, TV station conglomerates and movie studios. But more and more, people are finding ways around the suits. It’s happening with eReaders, iTunes (podcasts and music), youtube and various other outlets. Simmons and Klosterman missed a golden opportunity to become leaders of this movement.

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