Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Available from Amazon
Given the success of the TV series, "Justified," it's no surprise that Grand Master Elmore Leonard has revisited the character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens for his new novel, Raylan. The publisher even put a picture of Timothy Olyphant (who plays Raylan in the show) on the cover of the hardback.

And Leonard's done this before, getting inspired by Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Out of Sight to bring back bank-robber Jack Foley for the novel, Road Dogs (which I wrote about here).

But Raylan, as a novel, is something of a disappointment. Its plot is baggy & episodic, involving 3 major arcs: an organ-napping/extortion arc, a coal-mining/extortion arc, and a bank-robbery arc that includes a sexy young female poker player. And the lead character, Raylan himself, saunters through it all, barely breaking a sweat.

Maybe I was expecting too much. After all, Raylan still features the same wry dialog & lean, muscular writing that has made Elmore Leonard a living legend of American fiction. And I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy reading Raylan. I really did. Elmore Leonard could write a book-length grocery list, and I'd probably enjoy it.

But up against Leonard's best (like, say,  Freaky Deaky or Glitz or Bandits or Rum Punch) Raylan just doesn't stand up.

I give it a C+.

written by Elmore Leonard

Snapshot of the Day: SACRILEGE!

Honestly, judge, it was my wife's caramel frappucino, and I didn't even swallow!

How am I ever going to be elected President with this photo floating around the interweb?!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snapshot of the Day: Grouchy John's At Grouchy John's

The Trailer at the Shop

Notice the nifty new t-shirts? We just got them in yesterday, and they're $17 each (and include a free drink, natch!). More colors & styles (hopefully) coming soon.

The shop itself (at 8520 S. Maryland Parkway, at the corner of Wigwam & Maryland Parkway) is still slated to open by the end of February, but we set the trailer up there on certain days just to introduce everyone to the location. We'll be there every Monday & Tuesday morning, as well as other times as our mobile schedule permits.

Follow Grouchy John's Coffee on Facebook and/or Twitter for more updates, or check the weekly schedule at the website.

8520 S. Maryland Parkway 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Haywire - directed by Steven Soderbergh & starring Gina Carano

So, my wife took me to see Haywire a couple of days ago.

It was a matinee, and I wasn't expecting much, even though this movie is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose stylish visuals can make even the most predictable storyline interesting (e.g., the Ocean's Eleven sequels).

Haywire wasn't bad, its plot reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah's The Killer Elite, with murderous operatives plying their tricks and double-crosses under the auspices of secret agencies in an underground market for illicit activities. Indeed, the most imaginatively sublime moment of Haywire comes as the character played by Michael Douglas negotiates with the character played by Ewan McGregor, referring to the movie's heroine as "value-added." It's the only moment where the movie opens up into a full-fledged universe rather than being just a sequence of set-pieces.

But, hey, we're talking about an action-movie here, not The Godfather. It's just that Haywire is one of those genre exercises that's so cool it's ice-cold. As I watched, I started looking forward one of those totally nihilistic endings from the 1970's, where the insignificance of everything is underscored. But don't worry. Soderbergh is commercially-sensitive enough to avoid that. Haywire is like a rollercoaster: it has some fun twists & turns, but its ends up in a place that's comforting and all-too-familiar.

Gina looks great and kicks a lot of butt.
One of Haywire's many bright spots: The movie's lead is played by Gina Carano, an MMA veteran who acquits herself nicely as an operative who finds herself betrayed and on the run. Soderbergh clearly loves her dark eyes and amazing jawline, composing shot-after-shot centered just on her face, perhaps to emphasize that Haywire is the story of a girl beating up a bunch of boys. I foresee more movies in Carano's future, especially ones that showcase her athleticism. (Need I dare speculate on a sequel?)

Another bright spot: the soundtrack by David Holmes. It was interesting without being intrusive, and it contributed greatly to the mood of the movie.

Something to quibble over: the fight scenes. Maybe I'm nitpicking, but I'm starting to hate fight sequences that are so obviously choreographed that they boil down to a kind of dance where one actor does something then the other actor does something and so on. Fights should be messy, brutal confrontations where both combatants are doing everything they can to survive and win. But that's just me, as they say.

In all, I give Haywire a B, maybe a B-minus. When Gina Carano's character puts her hair into cornrows and covers her face in war-paint, I just had to laugh.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Snapshot of the Day: A Fiery Sunset

I was sitting in my living room about an hour ago when I noticed that my backyard seemed bathed in red light.

When I went outside to see what was going on, I was greeted by this incredible sunset.

Unfortunately, my camera is too feeble and my photographic skills are too weak to do this justice. BUT THE SKY WAS ON FIRE!

Trust me. It was...emotional.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snapshot of the Day: New Belgium Cocoa Mole Ale at Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits

Available at Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits
(for a limited time)
This little glass of goodness is New Belgium's Cocoa Mole Ale, made with cocoa and spices, including ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers. It's a perfect combination of sweetness and bite, and it's utterly refreshing.

I downed 2 glasses of this deliciousness at tonight's weekly beer-tasting at Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits, which is perhaps the best wine & beer shop in all of Las Vegas.

Located at 9915 S. Eastern Avenue, near Eastern & St. Rose Parkway, this shop boasts an impressive selection, an extremely knowledgeable staff, and super-friendly service. And, on Wednesdays & Thursdays, they host wonderful tastings that are often accompanied by a food truck or some sort of catering.

I try to make it to as many of these tastings as possible, and tonight's offerings were well worth the trip. Besides New Belgium's Cocoa Mole Ale, tonight's tasting also featured food from Charlie's Lunch, a relatively new truck on the Las Vegas scene that offers a nice selection of paninis, burgers, and salads.

I paired New Belgium's Cocoa Mole Ale with a tasty fried eggplant panini. Normally, I would never order something made with eggplant, but Brad from Charlie's Lunch talked me into being a little adventurous, and it really paid off.

Hopefully, I'll see you at Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits one of these Wednesday or Thursday nights. If so, we'll raise a glass together and enjoy some great food. What could be better?

9915 S. Eastern Ave #110

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jonathan Coulton on Piracy & Art

Jonathan Coulton, from an interview in Joystiq

So if you know me, you should know that I'm a big fan of Jonathan Coulton. His catchy, irreverent songs have a permanent place on my personal playlist, and I've written about my fandom of him in the past.

(Currently, his song "Nemeses" is infecting my brain and I can't stop humming it to myself.)

Now, in the wake of the MegaUpload arrests, Coulton has written a well-reasoned and passionate blog post about online piracy, copyright infringement, and being an artist in the age of the internet.

I agree with every word of it.

The most salient quote:
Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan. The big content companies are TERRIBLE at doing both of these things, so it’s no wonder they’re not doing so well in the current environment. And right now everyone’s fighting to control distribution channels, which is why I can’t watch Star Wars on Netflix or iTunes. It’s fine if you want to have that fight, but don’t yell and scream about how you’re losing business to piracy when your stuff isn’t even available in the box I have on top of my TV.
If this is stuff you care about, you should read Coulton's blog post.


Then buy his music. It totally rocks (softly).


Feynman by Ottaviani & Myrick

Available from Amazon
Richard Feynman, for those of you who don't know, was a physics badass. He helped on the Manhattan Project, won a Nobel Prize, created something called "Feynman Diagrams," and served on the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger Disaster. This is a guy, who, even before he earned his Ph.D at Princeton, gave a seminar that was attended by Albert Einstein & John Von Neumann!

He was also an avid amateur percussionist and, while at Caltech, liked to work on physics equations while sitting in a nearby topless bar. He even testified on behalf of the bar when county officials tried to close the place.

In other words, Richard Feynman was a really interesting guy.

Now, the story of Feynman's life has been distilled into graphic-novel form, simply entitled Feynman, by writer Jim Ottaviani & artist Leland Myrick (assisted by colorist Hilary Sycamore), and it's a fascinating, enjoyable read.

An example:
Like most actual geniuses, Feynman didn't think or act like the rest of us, and it's illuminating to a half-wit like me to see such a mind in action. Indeed, it's inspirational.

See, Feynman didn't just apply his big brain to physics. He also applied it to his everyday life, and this book excels at portraying the famous scientist's mischievous spirit, quirky sense of humor, and essential decency. His devotion to his first wife, Arline, is especially touching, as is his unexpectedly emotional reaction to the first successful atomic bomb test at Los Alamos.

Lives such as Richard Feynman's give me hope. As surrounded as I am by the utterly mundane, petty & trivial interactions that make up a normal life, it's good to know that there are better minds out there, tackling larger issues and making their mark.

So reading  Feynman serves as a kind of antidote to the news of the day. It reminds me that history isn't just made by jerks.

written by Jim Ottaviani
art by Leland Myrick
coloring by Hilary Sycamore

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snapshot of the Day: My Wife's Post-Physical-Therapy Therapy

Add fruit juice and chunks of fruit to cheap wine --
voila! Sangria!

What can I say? She's a sucker for sangria (or whatever bastardized form of sangria they're serving at this chain restaurant we find ourselves in).

And, as anyone who knows her can attest, a drunk Princess is a happy Princess (which makes her sound like a lush when in truth she's a total lightweight).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Morning Snapshot: Grouchy John's at Bread & Butter

Grouchy John's Coffee is popping up at Bread & Butter this morning to serve up the caffeinated happiness!

Bread & Butter is also setting up a Donut Peddler right in front of us, so I imagine I'll be ingesting lots of calories as I hand out drinks.

Aren't these things beautiful? Drenched in strawberry jam and topped with fresh strawberries, they're the perfect accompaniment to a large, hot latte.

Join us! We'll be here until 11am.

10940 S. Eastern Ave.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today's Snapshot - The Flame from TastyBunz

"The Flame" Slider from TastyBunz
Take a bacon cheeseburger slider, add tempura-fried jalapeƱos & chili aioli, and you have a slider called "The Flame" -- created and served by E.J., the mastermind behind TastyBunz, perhaps the most reliably delicious food truck in Las Vegas.

I devoured this luscious stack of awesomeness, savoring every bite. It was so good, I didn't need to take a siesta this afternoon. That's right: delicious AND refreshing -- that's The Flame.

"The Flame" Slider
available for a limited time
from TastyBunz

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Dream With Ray

Had a dream last night that I was in a therapy session with my old friend Ray, with me on a couch while Ray sat in an armchair, writing on one of those giant sketchpads people use in art classes.

I was talking about my happy childhood when I realized that Ray wasn’t listening to me. He was staring out the window at an ice cream truck passing by on the street.

I lifted my head from the couch to look out the window. I could hear the pied-piper music of the ice cream truck as it slowly rolled down the block, but it didn’t seem to have anyone sitting in its driver’s seat. And it wasn’t stopping, even though it was being followed by a long, shuffling parade of zombie-like children, each holding out a dollar bill and waving it back and forth.

I asked Ray if he wanted some ice cream, but he shushed me with a motion of his hand, which I noticed wasn’t holding a pen or a pencil. Instead, it was holding a long, thin needle, as long as a knitting needle but thinner and with a very sharp point from which a single drop of blood hung but never fell, no matter how much Ray gestured with it.

The ice cream truck was already moving slowly, but it slowed down even more as Ray and I watched, allowing the parade of children to catch up to it and kind of swarm around it. But it didn’t stop, even as the children slapped their hands against its sides, and the pied-piper music shifted ominously into a minor key which also seemed to make the daylight get dimmer so that everything turned a little gray.

I asked Ray again if he wanted some ice cream, and he shook his head and, using the needle as a pointer, indicated that I should lie back down and resume talking about my happy childhood.

“But you clearly want ice cream,” I said. “It’s okay, Ray. I can wait.”

Ray suddenly stood. The sketchpad slid out of his lap onto the floor, and I saw that he’d been using the blood-tipped needle to draw row-after-row of happy faces on the pad that, because of his subtle use of shading, formed a giant sad face when I looked at the page while tilting my head.

Ray spoke without taking his eyes off of the ice-cream truck.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “That truck never stops. It never, ever stops.”

I got up and stood next to Ray as the ice-cream truck rounded a corner out of sight. We could hear the music shift back into a happier key, and the trailing crowd of children seemed to speed up their shuffling, as if whatever was driving that truck had suddenly hit the gas.

The light brightened as if a cloud had passed from in front of the sun, and I turned to Ray, who was still looking towards where the ice-cream truck had gone.

“What now?” I asked.

Ray shrugged and bent over to pick up his sketchpad. I saw him wipe tears from his eyes as he sat back in his chair. He looked up at me and said, “You were talking about your childhood.”

I nodded and lay back down on the couch. Ray waited until I began speaking before he resumed scratching at his pad with that needle, drawing smiley faces with his own blood.

(NOTE: I'm not sure whether this is the actual dream I had or the product of my imagination several hours after waking up. In any case, Ray is a real friend of mine who is a psychiatrist.)


Today's Snapshot: Buddy Bear Flaunting His Business

He's a proud, happy dog!

(Little does he know he's sporting a radically-altered package...)


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman star in Sherlock
While Guy Ritchie & Robert Downey Jr. do their level best to turn the iconic sleuth Sherlock Holmes into a kind of foppish Victorian Bruce Willis, a far better adaptation has been flying a bit lower under the radar.

Created by Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss for BBC television, Sherlock is a thorough updating of the stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, complete with state-of-the-art forensics, ever-present smartphones, and neighbors who are all-too-knowing about the perceived relationship between the two main characters. (After all, what would anyone assume nowadays of two bachelors living together?)

While I've always been a fan of the original stories (as well as the earlier television adaptations starring Jeremy Brett), I am completely smitten with this new series.

The title character is still the cerebral superhero, able to deduce volumes of information from the tiniest clues, but he's also a fully-fleshed human being (prickly & impatient with everyone for not being able to keep up with him but also deeply vulnerable & flawed), played with manic energy by Benedict Cumberbatch. And Martin Freeman is wonderful as the loyal, resourceful Dr. Watson, a veteran of Afghanistan whose blog makes Sherlock, the "consulting detective," an internet sensation.

The Game Is Afoot!
(a scene from "A Study In Pink")
So far, there have been six episodes of this Sherlock, and it's been interesting for an old fan like me to see how Moffat & Gatiss have taken tried-and-true Holmesian tropes and reworked them for contemporary circumstances. But, even if you weren't already an aficionado of all things Sherlockian, you'll still enjoy these episodes as fully-contained mysteries. Each is a roughly 90-minute whodunit, although there is a larger arc involving Sherlock's nemesis Moriarty, a delectably creepy villain who matches our hero wit-for-wit.

I've heard rumblings of another batch of Sherlock episodes coming down the pike. I can only hope they're as good as what's already come.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Penn & Teller at the Rio

Even now, days after I took a friend to see the Penn & Teller show at the Rio, I'm still high from it.

Yeah, it's that good.

Penn is a born showman, with a polished, consistently hilarious patter that really keeps things moving along. Teller is grace incarnate, a trickster whose every move is executed with exquisite grace. And their show is more than just a grab-bag collection of gasp-inducing magic tricks. It's a 90-minute master class by two expert showman who want to gird you against trickery by rubbing your nose in it.

There's a not-so-subtle libertarian streak in Penn's patois that's made incarnate by their creative use of metal-detectors and an engraved-steel version of the Bill of Rights. A constant theme of their work, be it onstage at the Rio or in one of their many television shows, is that we are surrounded by hypocrisy & lies and only by becoming intimately familiar with the mechanics of deception can we protect ourselves from it.

As heavy as that sounds, I kind of agree with it, and the lessons of Penn & Teller are nothing if not entertaining. There's the ball-and-cup trick which Penn & Teller execute with a neat & informative twist: they use transparent cups, which serves only to highlight their amazing skills. There's also the opening of the show, which involves a box on wheels that literally everyone in the theater inspects personally. And I'd pay real money to anyone who can explain to me exactly how the "Magic Bullets" trick works. I've seen it performed twice now, and, while I have my theories, I'm still flabbergasted by it.

Bottom Line: The Penn & Teller Show at the Rio is what I consider a must-see for anyone coming to Las Vegas.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Grouchy John at VegasStreats

Our faithful yellow trailer!

It was a cool, clear night, and we basically killed it at this month's Vegas Streats event.

If you look closely, you can see the nose of TastyBunz behind us, between us and the El Cortez, whose Jackie Gaughan plaza serves as the setting for one of the city's best recurring festivals.

Should you ever find yourself at loose ends on the second Saturday of the month in Las Vegas, all you have to do is head downtown for some great local food and unique local entertainment.

See you next month!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What a Pierced Tongue Says

A pierced tongue says, "I'm willing to go through any amount of agony & discomfort for negligible cosmetic effect -- which means there's basically nothing I'm not willing to do with my mouth."


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Coming Soon: Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

This is how the empire begins...
So, yeah, we've signed the lease and started renovations. The only things slowing us down are the wheels of bureaucracy, which turn at a glacial pace.

Right now, we're looking at an opening date near the end of February. In the meantime, we'll still be serving caffeinated happiness out of our trailer. And on Mondays, Tuesdays, and selected other days, we'll even have the trailer set up in front of our upcoming shop!

So check your Twitter feeds and Facebook newsfeeds for updates on Grouchy John's Coffee Shop (that is, if you follow & like us), and wish us luck!

Better yet, come get a drink. You won't regret it.


Friday, January 6, 2012

I Want My Two Dollars!

So, the other day, I ran into the grocery store to pick up a couple of items for the Princess. When I say a couple, I mean three: a sandwich, a drink, and a toiletry item that I promised the Princess I wouldn't share with the general public.

Now, this particular establishment did not have any of those self-check stations that I like, so I had to get into the express lane. The line wasn't long, and it appeared to move swimmingly, when, of course, the woman ahead of me made it grind to a frustrating halt.

Her problem was this: she had a coupon that the cashier couldn't honor. A $2 coupon. For a product she wasn't buying. And the coupon was expired.

Now, at this point, the frustration began to rise like bile in my throat. This woman was adamant that the cashier take her coupon. The cashier pointed out that there were rules for this kind of thing, to which the woman replied that she had meant to use the coupon on an earlier visit but had forgotten it was in her purse.

Meanwhile, I just stood there and stewed. I toyed with the idea of offering this customer the $2 myself. I'd make the offer in all earnestness, but my voice would be dripping with sarcasm because, after all, we'd be talking about two freaking dollars here.

Then, as the manager came over to haggle about this coupon even more, I remembered something. I remembered the late David Foster Wallace's excellent essay, "This is Water," in which he argues that a truly consciously-lived life is about how you act in moments exactly like this.

See, I could easily just lose my mud over the delay this customer was causing, and I'm absolutely sure that most of you would sympathize with me. If I'd tweeted out something like, "Being held up in the Express Lane by an argument over a $2 coupon," I'd get dozens of digital nods & fist-bumps. We all know what it's like.

But, taking Wallace's advice, I began to imagine this woman's circumstances to see if I could come up with some explanation that would make her current behavior not just sensible, but sympathetic.

What if she needed that two bucks? Or what if she really, really needed everything else she was buying and was only $2 short? And what if the reason she needed what she was buying was because it was for someone she was taking care of, like an invalid? What if she'd just spent a long night taking care of someone who was ill or incapacitated and then needed to buy these things to take back to them and was only $2 short but found this coupon in her purse as she fished around for extra change to try to pay for her purchases?

Or, more dramatically, what if she was being watched, and whoever was watching her was making her try to get the coupon honored or something bad would happen? What if these imaginary kidnappers were holding her invalid home-care patient hostage and threatened to kill them if this woman didn't come back with these exact items, for which she was only $2 short?

As I engaged in this flight of sympathetic fancy, the manager and the customer worked things out -- by which I mean the manager just gave the woman a $2 credit on her purchase and threw the coupon in the trash.

In the meantime, I now regarded this spendthrift crusader in a new light. Of course, I'm no idiot. Chances are, she really was just an obstinate miser who wanted her two dollars for no better reason than she wanted it, other people's inconvenience be damned. But I had made the effort to see things from her point of view.

And that, my friends, is the point of all this. Sorry it took so long to get to it.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Skin I Live In - directed by Pedro Almodovar

directed by Pedro Almodovar
In a sense, every story is a game of "What If" -- a game in which a reader or viewer becomes like a spectator at a sporting event. As the story progresses before us -- be it on a page or on a screen -- we witness the choices its creator made. This is how many of us judge whether or not we enjoy a particular tale. If we agree or respect those choices, we enjoy the story. If we don't, then the story has failed us.

Pedro Almodovar has made a career of making surprising, even shocking, choices. Using a color-saturated palette, he has created melodramatic stories, such as Volver, Talk To Her, and All About My Mother, that highlight issues of sexuality, gender, and individual choice. They are highly moral stories, but they achieve their effects by wallowing in what most of us would consider immorality. Naturally, they are chock-full of incidents of violence and sexual predation, betrayal and emotional pettiness.

As such, they are not movies that I recommend for prudes (that is, people whose aesthetics and sympathies are too rigid to entertain even the slightest bit of strangeness).

But I think Almodovar's movies are fascinating. Not only does he create characters who face profound existential questions, they do so in ways that strike me as both incredibly entertaining and credible. This, I think, is why his actors tend to speak of working with him in adoring tones. Penelope Cruz has famously said  that she would do anything he asked without question, a relationship that led to her transcendent performance in Volver.

In The Skin I Live In, Almodovar has once again fashioned a melodramatic thriller that touches on his favorite themes. And its plot is audaciously weird, skipping back and forth in time, incorporating elements of science fiction, horror & crime drama, and featuring visually stunning set pieces, such as an opening that places our story on an estate in the pastoral outskirts of Toledo, Spain, before settling on a provocatively-dressed woman in a yoga pose.

Elena Anaya inhabits the center of The Skin I Live In

Played by Elena Anaya (one of several Almodovar alums in the film), she literally embodies the crux of this story, and it's a role that few actresses are strong enough -- or limber enough -- to pull off. How she came to be doing yoga in that room (and what happens afterward) will require every second of running time to portray. Her foil is Antonio Banderas, giving a deliciously reptilian performance as a surgeon with, shall we say, issues.

An example of Almodovar's love of visual composition.

Since The Skin I Live In is so dependent on the revelations of its plot, I won't divulge too many of its juicy details, except to say that this movie sits squarely in the corpus of Almodovar's career. But it's also perhaps the most tightly-controlled story he has ever created, a chinese box of flashbacks and twists, which gives the movie a kind of jigsaw-puzzle coldness that some people may find off-putting. Though it has none of the emotional smolder & flash of Volver, The Skin I Live In earns its sad & provocative closing line.

I've said too much. See it for yourself. It's a story that won't fail you.

written & directed by Pedro Almodovar