Goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire

The Wall of Flame at Salvador Molly's

Those who know me know of my abiding love for the Utah Jazz. I grew up in Eastern Idaho and they were the only professional sports team in a 500 mile radius, and my boyhood was during the heyday of Stockton and Malone. While I rarely visit Salt Lake City, I make it a point to see the Jazz play whenever and wherever I can. When I moved here I could see them play the Sonics twice a year, but since the Sonics have been cruelly ripped from the bosom of Mother Seattle, I’ve had to make the pilgrimage to Portland periodically.

The plan for this week was to drive down to Portland with several friends, and to meet some friends of mine who live in Oregon for dinner and the game. However, one by one, everyone cancelled. One friend had to return home for a family emergency, another’s wife threw out her back. Eventually it was down to just myself and my stalwart roommate, Chris. We should have seen these cancellations as omens that the trip was ill-starred. Yet we decided to press on!

The first order of business as we drove to Portland was to find an interesting place to eat. As much as I love the Jazz, I love pig-out spots and eating challenges even more. Hence, when I head to a new city I always check the website of the Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food” for restaurant recommendations. This time the MVF site steered us to a place called Salvador Molly’s. The restaurant was excellent – great decor, fine service, intriguing culinary options. But most importantly, they had a big wall covered with photos of people who had completed the “Great Balls of Fire Challenge”. If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s getting my picture on the wall of a restaurant.

Photo of fritters from the Wandering Chopsticks blog.

There are generally three types of eating challenges: eat something huge, eat something quickly, or eat something spicy. While I’ve done plenty of the first two, I have never attempted a “spicy challenge”, so this was new to me. But I figured, how bad could it be? All I had to do was eat five habanero cheese fritter balls and the salsa that came with them. I’ve eaten extremely spicy foods before, it hurts for a while but then it goes away. I knew that I could handle this.

And I was right! I quickly downed the fritters, my mouth and throat burned something fierce, but I endured and it subsided. We then ate a delicious meal, I got my picture on the wall, and I left Salvador Molly’s triumphant and sated. As we headed to the Rose Garden for the game, I commented on how I should take spicy food challenges more often.

Then, as we took our seats and the game started, I got my comeuppance.

It started like regular indigestion but quickly became an explosion of fiery acid in the depths of my stomach. It’s tough to describe this pain without sounding like a wuss, but you’ll have to trust me that I’m not a particularly pain-sensitive person. This was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, worse than any migraine headache or post-dental-surgery throbbing. I felt like John Hurt in Alien.

After several minutes of clutching my stomach and groaning, I dragged myself to the arena’s first aid station, where two paramedics asked me lots of questions, tested my blood pressure, and pricked my finger to test my blood sugar. In their words I looked “pale, sweating, and wobbly”. Despite my certainty that this was some kind of ulcer bomb detonating in my vitals, they diagnosed “indigestion caused by spicy foods” and told me there wasn’t anything they could do. At that point I commenced staggering around the Rose Garden looking for a place to purchase antacids.

I should mention that I was wearing my Deron Williams jersey and was decked out in Jazz blue, one of only a handful of Jazz fans in a crowd of 20,000 screaming, red-clad Blazers fanatics. At halftime they all spilled out into the halls and my jersey was like a magnet for every drunken Blazer fan to come and heckle me about how my team was losing. Normally, I enjoy this – mixing it up with the home crowd is the best part of coming to the game! But in my current excruciating state, I was in no condition to react well to drunks getting in my face. Luckily, I looked like the Black Death incarnate, so not many got too close. Whenever anyone did come up to me to make some comment, I would grab them by the shirt and scream at them, “DO YOU HAVE TUMS? PEPTO BISMOL?”. This proved to be a good way to deal with hecklers but did not result in obtaining any Pepto Bismol.

I managed to tough it out. I got back to my seat eventually and we stayed until the end of the game, and although the game went poorly for the Jazzmen, I felt a kind of triumph in staying for the final buzzer and never removing my jersey. We decamped the stadium, and soon antacids were acquired and we were heading back to Seattle. My stomach slowly returned to normalcy.

There is a terrifying coda to this tale however, which has caused me to rethink everything I know about human digestion and the way our bodies process food:

The fritters burned on the way out.

The moral of this story is that there is always a price to be paid when placing fiery balls in your mouth. If you don’t pay the price now, you’re sure to pay it later!

My favorite films of 2010

OK Mila Kunis, I put your movie at #1. Will you be my girlfriend now?

I watched a scary number of movies this year so (unlike with my music list) I feel like I have a pretty deep pool to draw from here. The challenge with lists like these is striking the balance between entertainment and artistic merit. For instance, I felt like “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” was a flawed film and I could point at several things wrong with it. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve had more fun in a theater this year. By contrast a film like “The Kids are All Right” is less entertaining to me but ultimately seems more deserving of respect. Good thing I don’t do this for a living, so I don’t actually have to come up with a real answer to that.

On to the list!

  1. Black Swan. I would not have wagered that my favorite film of 2010 would be about ballerinas. That’s the beauty of cinema – its endless capacity to surprise you. Black Swan is over-the-top, ridiculous, suspenseful, bold, entrancing, full of clichés, and yet completely unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. I had to sit in the theater for several minutes after it ended in order to shake off the spell it put me under. Hats off to director Darren Aronofsky for the way he uses the visual grammar of horror movies to tell a story about the price that must be paid to produce truly great art.
  2. Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s tough to describe this hilarious documentary by street artist Banksy without spoiling it. It’s nominally about graffiti art, but takes some unexpected turns and makes viewers question what they are actually seeing.  This would make a terrific double feature with another wonderful documentary about art, 2007’s My Kid Could Paint That. Both movies question the commercialism of art and ask – how much of a work’s value derives from the art itself, and how much from the marketing around it?
  3. Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Maybe it’s only fun for GenY video gamers and indie rock nerds, but I fall in that category and there was no film more fun to see in a crowded theater than Scott Pilgrim. Unfortunately it bombed at the box office, but I have a feeling it will live on as a cult film as long as there are people who get the 8 bit references. Frenetic energy, great jokes, and a surprisingly tolerable Michael Cera. It’s the kind of film you want to see again as soon as it’s over.
  4. Winter’s Bone. On the opposite side of the fun spectrum, here’s a miserablist Ozarks drama about a young girl trying to find her meth-cooking father in order to save her young siblings from being homeless. Jennifer Lawrence delivers the performance of the year (better than Natalie Portman in Black Swan). This is the kind of film I wish conservatives would watch so they can see how hard it is to be poor in America.
  5. Inception. I think everyone on the planet has seen this, so let’s move on, shall we?
  6. The Social Network. It’s strange how minor factual errors in this film bothered me a lot, even though it’s a fictional account, while I’m not bothered that a documentary like Exit Through The Gift Shop might be a giant hoax. I guess I just feel that this movie may end up being the definitive record of one of the most interesting stories of our time, and Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher just didn’t give Mark Zuckerberg a fair shake. That said, how about that wonderful dialogue? I could listen to Jesse Eisenberg deliver the “you’re getting the minimal amount of my attention” speech a hundred times.
  7. The Kids Are All Right. I’m a supporter of gay marriage but if I really thought that two lesbians might name their son “Laser”, I might jump to the other side.
  8. The King’s Speech. Middlebrow and predictable, yet it brought a tear to my eye. Definitely recommended but the best scenes are in the trailer. Also, does it mean I’m juvenile if my favorite part of the movie was when Colin Firth yells “tits”?
  9. True Grit. I’ll admit a slight disappointment here as my love for the Coen brothers knows no bounds. Instead of making a transcendent Western they merely made a great Western. Oh well!

I’m leaving the tenth spot open because I have some films left to see and none of the Honorable Mentions really feels like a top ten film to me.

Honorable Mentions: A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes, Unstoppable, The Town, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, Mother, The Ghost Writer, RED, Fair Game, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter 7.0, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Kick-Ass, Green Zone, 127 Hours

Still in the Netflix Queue: Blue Valentine, Toy Story 3, Dogtooth, Enter the Void, Carlos, Catfish, I Love You Philip Morris, The Fighter, Four Lions, Waiting for Superman

Disappointing: Machete, Robin Hood, Iron Man 2, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Hot Tub Time Machine

Worst Movies I Saw: Legion, Daybreakers, The Bounty Hunter, Clash of the Titans, Jonah Hex

My favorite albums of 2010

Janelle Monae believes she is some kind of robot.

I have even less credibility as an amateur music critic than I do as an amateur TV/movie critic, so I won’t pretend like I even heard a fraction of all the music that came out in 2010.  Here’s my favorites anyway!

  1. The Walkmen, Lisbon
  2. The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
  3. Janelle Monae, Archandroid
  4. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening
  5. The Roots, How I Got Over
  6. Band of Horses, Infinite Arms
  7. Sufjan Stevens, Age of Adz
  8. Broken Bells, Broken Bells
  9. The New Pornographers, Together
  10. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach

Honorable Mentions: Kanye West, Frightened Rabbit, Josh Ritter, Nicki Minaj (more for her scorching guest verses than her album), MGMT, Vampire Weekend.

Best Concert I Attended: Josh Ritter at the Showbox

Best Comedy Albums:

  • Anthony Jeselnik, Shakespeare
  • Hannibal Buress, My Name is Hannibal
  • Aziz Ansari, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening

    My favorite TV shows of 2010

    Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James from TERRIERS

    I’m definitely a television geek so it’s strange that I’ve been making best movies/music lists all these years but have never done a best TV list. Probably because in the days before I had DVR, I caught up with everything on DVD and never watched shows week to week. Well, in 2010, I watched a lot of shows as they aired. I probably don’t watch more TV than your average American but I’m efficient about it – I try lots of shows and only stick around with the ones that are very good. We’re in a golden age of American television – if all you can find to watch are crappy reality shows and Law and Order spinoffs, you’re not looking hard enough!

    Here are my personal favorites. Usual disclaimer – I’m an amateur critic only and don’t watch everything, so if your favorite 2010 show isn’t listed I probably just haven’t seen it. Or maybe I think it’s shit. Find out by posting your favorites in the comments!

    1. Mad Men. The fourth season of everyone’s favorite 60’s nostalgia series was the best one yet. The show’s amazingly talented writing staff made a smart decision to keep most of the action in the office of SCDP. Jon Hamm’s work as Don Draper was incredible as always (hopefully Emmy voters watch the best episode of the year, “The Suitcase”, where Don and Peggy work all night and Don copes with a personal loss). Mad Men is also one of the funniest shows on television – no other show can swing between tragedy and comedy as deftly. RIP Mrs Blankenship!
    2. Terriers. Never heard of it? Not surprising, seeing as how this scruffy private-eye show never got more than 800,000 viewers on the FX channel before being cancelled. I choose to focus on the positive and be thankful that we got 13 incredible episodes full of humor, pathos, and great dialogue. We also got a pitch-perfect series finale, which is more than most brilliant-but-cancelled shows get. In the immortal words of Hank Dolworth, “this may be more complicated than I thought”.
    3. Justified. FX also premiered this little gem of a show about a trigger-happy US marshal returning home to rural Kentucky. Luckily for us, it avoided Terriers’ fate and will be airing a second season in January 2011. Do yourself a favor and watch, and don’t forget that if Raylen Givens has to pull his weapon, he shoots to kill.
    4. Boardwalk Empire. HBO spent a fortune producing this Prohibition crime drama and it shows. Incredible production values and sterling performances from Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt elevate the uneven plotting. I ain’t making no bookshelves.
    5. Rubicon. Also from the brilliant-but-cancelled file is this AMC conspiracy thriller. It had a slow start and a rather stupid finale, but in between were some excellent episodes and unforgettable characters. The show was at it’s best when getting away from the silly conspiracy storyline and focusing on the lives of the people who analyze intelligence for a living, and the immense human cost of the War on Terror. Also, Truxton Spangler taught us something about ties.
    6. Community. The best new sitcom of 2009 was the best overall sitcom of 2010. Highlights include the paintball episode from last spring and this fall’s brilliant bottle episode where the gang tries to figure out who stole Annie’s pen. Don’t get chloroformed!
    7. Venture Bros. Here’s a show that probably isn’t on many top 10 lists, but I have fierce love for the Venture family and the rich world they inhabit. We had to wait many many months for the show’s creators to finally finish season 4 but it was worth it to hear Brock and Col. Gathers discuss the world’s saddest tits.
    8. Fringe. This mad-science show was good-but-not-great in 2009, but towards the end of season 2 made the leap to greatness as the show ditched most of the Freak-of-the-Weeks and revved up the alternate universe storyline. Let’s make some labels and smoke some Brown Betty.
    9. Archer. Yet another stellar new show from FX (what a year for basic cable!). At first this animated spy comedy seemed completely unnecessary. Did the world really need another James Bond spoof? After watching this show, the answer is clearly “yes!”. Also, I learned about online pregnancy tests.
    10. The Pacific. HBO’s newest WWII miniseries was lethargic in it’s early installments and probably had a few too many characters. Still, the unrelentingly grim portrayal of soldiers being pushed to the limit and beyond had me riveted. War is mean, and you better get mean too boo.

    Honorable Mentions: Daily Show, Sons of Anarchy, Lost, Chuck, Childrens Hospital, Treme, 30 Rock, and of course Jeopardy!

    Great Shows from 2010 I Still Need to Catch Up With: Breaking Bad, Party Down, Parks and Recreation, The Good Wife, Louie, Friday Night Lights.

    Guilty Pleasures: Hellcats, True Blood.