Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wild About 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

Coincidentally, the last two films I went to see at the movie theater have been adaptations of children's books. [Being the astute and well-read bibliophile that I am...] I had read both
'Where the Wild Things Are,' written by Maurice Sendak, and 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' authored by Roald Dahl, before I saw their respective adaptations.

Both movies make use of contemporary cinematic technologies. Fantastic Mr. Fox is filmed in stop-motion animation, and Where the Wild Things Are was supposedly years in the making, so that Spike Jonze could figure out exactly how to effectively combine the bodysuits worn by the live actors, with CGI'ed movements.

And, arguably, both movies are directed toward a composite child-adult audience, attempting to successfully provide entertainment on both levels of sophistication.

I waited in eager anticipation for Where the Wild Things Are, and while I did enjoy the movie, it was not commensurate with my level of expectation. After seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox, I realized just how disappointing Where the Wild Things actually was.

First, Fantastic Mr. Fox has a smart and witty narrative. The story is simple, yet compelling, and the characters are developed to a level where you distinguish their personalities and idiosyncrasies. The dialogue is sensibly and cleverly written, to be enjoyed by children and adults. [instead of swearing, the characters would say "cuss"... for example, "you scared the 'cuss' out of me..." or "well, this is a real cluster-'cuss'..."]. Where the Wild Things Are is certainly written to elevate the story beyond the simply tale presented in the book, but it seems to lack a degree of candor and purpose. I never felt attached to the characters, I had a hard time distinguishing between the various 'Wild Things,' and I never felt as though I cared about what happened to them.

Second, Fantastic Mr. Fox is laugh-out-loud hilarious. The film uses visual pranks, musical humor and witty dialogue to create a genuinely funny overtone. Where the Wild Things Are has its 'funnier' moments, but the dramatic/serious aspect to the story overpowers throughout the entire film, and seems to detract and preempt any attempt at humor.

Most telling, perhaps, is that Fantastic Mr. Fox recaptures the childhood magic of reading; it delivers the feeling I expected to experience during Where the Wild Things Are. The trailer for the latter film promised this feeling, with those sunlit scenes where Max is sailing and the forest shots where the camera spies on the "Wild Things." [all with the killer Arcade Fire tune, 'Wake Up,' adding to the sense of wonder...] Yet, the execution of the film simply falls flat. It is stale, tired and drags on for too long, revisiting the same themes over again and again.

Overall, Fantastic Mr. Fox excites the imagination, and reclaims that 'magical' feeling of childhood, whereas Where the Wild Things Are simply does not. Director Wes Anderson captures the essence of Roald Dahl's whimsical tale, and presents it in an endearing, humorous and engaging medium.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Beer Review, Week of Dec. 6: Chicory Stout

The decision to pick up a six-pack of Dogfish's Chicory Stout was a relatively impulsive one. I wanted to review a darker beer this week, and I have been hearing great things lately about Dogfish. I spotted this seasonal release on-sale while unsuccessfully searching for Life & Limb (the highly-touted collaboration from Dogfish and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.), and decided to give it a try.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales is a brewery based in Milton, Delaware, but maintains a coast-to-coast distribution and enjoys a nationwide reputation. They brew eight beers year round, and are probably most well-known for their IPA's, which come in both the 60min and 90min "flavors." Dogfish also puts out four seasonal offerings; their winter release being the Chicory Stout.

Most people are familiar with Guinness as the paradigmatic stout, and it certainly would be considered the classic, most accessible 'dark beer.' The thing people love about Guinness is the sweetness, and of course, the foamy/creamy head (it is a veritable beer milkshake). Yet, stouts have the potential to be so much more interesting and flavorful. Many brewers incorporate dark earthy flavors(chocolate, coffee, chocolate and coffee) into stouts, thereby increasing the complexity, and often the alcoholic content, of the brew.

Chicory Stout is an example of a stout that ups the ante. It includes flavorful ingredients such as organic Mexican coffee, St. John's Wort, licorice root, and naturally, chicory. [yeah, what exactly is chicory?... apparently, it is a root cultivated throughout Europe for use as a coffee substitute, and according to Wikipedia, "[s]ome beer brewers used roasted chicory to add flavor to their stouts."]

The beer pours dark and smooth, releasing its carbonation and aroma quickly. Although the bottled touts a "bone white head," the beer pours more of an earthy-brown head, that dissipates rather quickly.

Dark brown in color, this stout also has a deep-reddish hue, that is only perceptible holding the glass up to a light source. Given the carbonation of the beer, its overall appearance is comparable to a root-beer (now that I think about it...Chicory Stout is a root-beer, a beer made with root). The smell was surprisingly mild. I was expecting a full-on olfactory blast of coffee scent, something that turns me off of other coffee-beers, but this stout smells slightly alcoholic with just barely discernible earthy/coffee undertones.

When it comes to flavor, Chicory Stout fires on all cylinders. It is rich and creamy, quite drinkable, yet has several competing flavors that push through the beer to finish crisp and clean. The brew is not overpowering on any level, and the slight alcoholic scent did not come through during tasting. I definitely enjoyed this beer, and as my glass quickly emptied, I found myself reaching for another.

5.2 % ABV
21 IBUs
Glassware: Pint Glass

Overall, Chicory Stout is a surprisingly polished and complete seasonal beer. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Guinness, and might be looking to try something with a bit more sophisticated flavor then a generic dark beer. Further, as this was my first time sampling a Dogfish product, I have to say I was impressed with their product, and am eager to taste some of their other brews.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2010: The Year of the E-Reader?

I was an early adopter of the Amazon Kindle 2 platform. Since its eagerly anticipated February 2009 launch date, I have absolutely loved the device. As of this point, I am significantly and definitively invested within, and tied into, the Amazon e-book/reader platform. [thank you DRM, but that is another story altogether...]

Since February, the e-Reader marketplace has been impacted by myriad levels of development and innovation. Some advances and improvements have proven to be just that. For example, the release of "Kindle-for-PC" last month is an example of an excellent supplementary program built off of the platform. But other developments have remained stagnant, or have simply failed. Here, it is easy to cite the Kindle DX as a bust, or for that matter, write off the entire concept of newspapers delivered via e-readers as having been a relative nonstarter.

Yet as the holidays near, the e-reader has been a predominant story in the tech news.

The competing platforms, Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Nobles' Nook, have both made the tech headlines over the past few weeks. Amazon has been boasting about tremendous sales and have been touting the continued availability of their device, while the Nook's elusive launch date appears to continue to be recurrently pushed back, as supply levels cannot match pace with demand.

Additionally, there are several other e-readers already on the market, and we have been hearing many stories/rumors about planned future devices (the e-reader is predicted to be a featured gadget at the Consumer Electronics Show, taking place in January of next year).

The e-Reader is poised to potentially become the device of 2010.

All that being said, I have still only observed three Kindles "in the wild," and I am the (unwelcome) recipient of quizzical and curious looks whenever I read in public [and I live just south of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where one could expect a greater level of e-reader market penetration].

General concern remains over the complaints originally lobbied against electronic readers... that they cannot replace real, physical books...that they are not capable of enabling the social, sharing aspects of reading.

Sure, the tech world may recognize the promise of the e-reader as a platform. Reality remains that most people have no clue what an e-reader is, or why they might even want one.

But, maybe the writing is on the wall; the e-reader could rapidly see widespread, universal adoption. The market for the e-reader is at a crossroads, possibly ready to explode. We will find out sooner, rather than later, whether mainstream America is ready for electronic readers and digital media.

[an additional note: if you are looking for an e-reader this holiday season, be sure to check out Wired Magazine's informative e-reader Gift]