Boardwalk Empire (Review)

The other day, I picked up the DVD box set of Season One of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

(When alcohol was outlawed, outlaws became kings)

I’ve been a huge fan of HBO television shows for many years and I have to say that Boardwalk Empire is at the top in terms of its look and style, along with Deadwood and the The Sopranos. It captures the early 1920’s in a way that is more than authentic. These are the Twenties the way we want to remember them. Beautiful, stylish, elegant… but a thin veneer over the desperation of life in those days. The Roaring Twenties was that mad, wild time in between the monstrous repugnancy of World War One and the heart-wrenching desperation that was the Great Depression, all three of which lead up to and in fact paved the way for the unspeakable horror that was to become World War Two.

Episode One takes place on New Years Eve, 1919, just before Prohibition takes effect. The setting is Atlantic City, New Jersey. America’s seaside playground.

(Steve Buscemi as ‘Nucky’ Thompson)

The main character is corrupt county treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi) who is, in effect, both the political and, soon to be, criminal boss of Atlantic City. Alcohol is about to become illegal and Nucky and his group of equally corrupt politicians are about to make a killing in the bootlegging business, illegally importing Canadian whiskey and selling it to local establishments.

The show is visually stunning. The cinematography, music, sets, costumes, props, vintage automobiles… all are perfect and all evoke a by-gone era the way we wish it looked. We almost want to be a part of that hard, brutal life during those times.

I just finished watching the first episode, directed by Martin Scorsese. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it for a second. I’ve rarely seen such technical perfection in a television show. And the writing, casting and acting were just as flawless. The bar has definitely been lifted when it comes to television production standards.

I cannot wait to finish watching the rest of the episodes.

If you haven’t seen the series on HBO, treat yourself to the DVD box set and watch a season’s worth of episodes back to back.

You won’t regret it.

12 Hour Stomach Bug (Yeuch!)

Well, my little geeks and nerdlings, it is the time of year when the stomach bug [1] spreads like jam on toast and your friendly neighbourhood Vampyre Fangs is no exception, I am afraid to say.

It is said that no good deed goes unpunished. Well, no sooner had the Stealth Hasid ran all the good deed errands on the mitzvah list, than the Dreaded Illness struck.

(No, not THAT kind of stomach bug!)

I must say, I was feeling pretty chipper when the Jewish Sabbath arrived. I attended services at a tiny synagogue in The Baycrest Terrace retirement home in The Heart of the Old World, ran into several old acquaintances and colleagues, walked over to the home of my generous and hospitable hosts and sat down to a wonderful Shabbes dinner with beloved friends. The atmosphere was warm and convivial, the conversation sparkling, the mood both spiritual and festive.

Halfway through a fabulous meal, I could not escape the feeling that something was amiss. A few minutes later, there was no mistaking the warning signs. Not wanting to spoil the evening for the other guests, I excused myself and made my way to the downstairs bathroom. I arrived in the nick of time.

I will spare you all the ghastly details. Suffice it to say that I felt like a frog losing its lunch. [2]

Once I composed myself, I returned to dinner. Fortunately for me, with all the Sabbath songs being sung round the table, no one heard me downstairs. Phew! Needless to say, I experienced a certain loss of appetite.

(I’m sorry, but this girl looks good even when sick!)

About ten minutes later, a return visit downstairs was needed. I tried to get there as speedily as possible. As close as my timing was on the last visit, this one was even closer.

I did feel a bit better afterwards. I returned once again to the dining room, enjoyed the company and the conversation and, in time, bade my farewells to the hosts and fellow guests. On the walk back to Château Burke (the spacious manse at which I stay when I am in Toronto), I felt quite good. I went to bed, confident that the worst had passed and that the unpleasantness was over.

My confidence was misplaced. Twice more throughout the night, I skipped to the loo, my darlings. A most disagreeable night, indeed.

I had originally hoped to attend a bar mitzvah Saturday morning. That was now more or less out of the question. Although I felt much better (by comparison), I was still a teeny bit queasy and felt it would be best if I just lay in bed for the morning, hoping for the best. I was out like a light until about 1:00 pm.

(Sorry. She still looks good!)

I woke up a new person. It was as if nothing had occurred the night before. Albeit tired and a bit sore (my stomach muscled ached from all the exercise they’d recently been put through), I felt great.

I wasn’t going to take any chances. At lunch, all I had was a small bowl of soup and some ginger ale. So far, so good. By evening, I was 120% my old self!

The next day (Sunday), I once again limited my food intake to soup. Through an abundance of caution, I did not go to a dear friend’s birthday party that afternoon. Sorry, MP. 😦

This morning (Monday), I awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, fit as a fiddle and ready to fly. Still playing things cautiously, I will not immediately tuck into the hearty repasts. Steady as she goes, Sulu!

I am nothing if not a Fraidy Cat.

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[1] Stomach bug: aka Stomach Flu, aka Gastroenteritis.

[2] A frog has the ability to empty the contents of its stomach by everting its stomach all the way up to and even out of its mouth. As gross as this is to imagine (or watch), you’ve not lived until you’ve experienced it yourself!

The Cross-Border Stealth Hasid!

In one of my blog articles last month, I set out my theory of the Stealth Hasidim.

Since then, I have been developing and expanding this theory with the help of my dear friend and fellow stealth hasid, SB.

Well, it was time to put theory into an even more extended practice and see just how stealthy and hasidish I could be!

The perfect opportunity provided itself the other day when my friends, D&RB, were in short supply of kosher baby food. Apparently, in Toronto, there is now a dearth of baby food with an acceptable hechsher (kosher certification mark). Baby food brands such as Gerber and Heinz don’t make the grade. They have either cut or lost their COR kosher certification in Canada. [1]

(A small sample of various kosher certification symbols)

Bottom line… the only brand of baby food that my friends would accept were those produced under the name Beech-Nut, manufactured under strict rabbinical supervision and bearing the ‘Circle-U’ hechsher of the Orthodox Union.

Now while many kosher food retailers do carry the Beach-Nut brand, the selection of flavours in Toronto is somewhat limited. My dear friends were, in a word, distraught. Running low on supplies, their options limited, D&RB were in a tight spot, and no mistake.

(Note the ‘Circle-U hechsher’ to the right of the word ‘Bananas’)

This looked like a job for… The Stealth Hasid!

Living, as I do, a mere hop and a skip from the Canada-U.S. border, I hatched a plan whereby I, with the assistance of my not-so-stealthy hasidic cohort (i.e. the local Chabad rabbi), would slip across the border, infiltrate a certain supermarket in a largish western New York State city (which store carries a wide variety of kosher foods including Beech-Nut baby food), obtain about 50 jars in a variety of flavours, make our way back across the river to The Great White North whereupon I would personally transport the goods to my dear friends in Toronto in time for Shabbes.

I arranged a rendezvous in scenic Niagara-Falls. My cohort suggested I meet him across the street from the Jewish cemetery at 5:45 yesterday morning, which totally appealed to my Orthodox Goth (OrthoGoth?) side!. Now while I am usually an early riser, the thought of me standing in the snow in the pre-dawn hours waiting for my cohort to arrive did not help me leap to the task with my usual alacrity.

(Looks nice, eh? Try standing in this kind of weather at 5:45 am and see how much you like it!)

However, a stealth hasid must be made of stern stuff. “Suck it up, princess!” I said to myself, peering into the night as I held my Tim Hortons coffee cup in both hands. “A baby’s health and nutrition is at stake! And you are helping fellow frummies in their hour of need. Stealth Hasid to the rescue!”

OK, so… I drove up to the Canada-U.S. border by 6:00 am. The process was uneventful. While my cohort was an old hand at crossing into the States and back, I was a bit nervous as this was my first foray into the U.S. since the Passover before 9-11. A lot’s happened since then, homeland-security-wise. Notwithstanding the fact that I had my brand-new spiffy enhanced drivers licence which permits me to drive into the U.S. without a passport, I didn’t know what to expect. I need not have worried. Things went smoothly with the border guard asking only a few questions. Before I knew it, we were in The Great Republic to the South. [1]  A quick in-and-out and we’d be back in the land of Mounties and maple syrup, beavers and butter tarts before you could say, “How’s it goin’ eh?”

Did I mention that my cohort goes into the States every day? No? Well, he does. Why? He attends morning services at the holy Young Israel of Greater Buffalo orthodox congregation. I had never been there before and I must say, it was quite enjoyable. As it was Rosh Chodesh, we had a Torah reading and, after services, my cohort did a little one-on-one learning with an extremely UN-stealth hasid. Not exactly the quick in-and-out I originally imagined but you have to learn to roll with the proverbial punches in this line of work.

(Young Israel of Greater Buffalo orthodox congregation)

Eventually, we made it to the supermarket. I stocked up on Beech-Nut sweet carrots, sweet peas, squash and sweet potato, getting about a dozen of each. I found out, to my chagrin, that not all Beech-Nut flavours were kosher. We cleared the shelves of all kosher flavours D&RB needed but we fell a bit short of the 50 jars I was hoping to get and there was no time to drive to the other supermarket around the corner (my cohort was already late for a meeting on the Canadian side). I cashed out and before long, we were heading back home. Crossing into Canada was smooth. All went according to plan.

All Stealth. All Hasidic. No Sweat!

Sadly, a snow storm in Toronto today and tomorrow has prevented me from coming in this weekend. Luckily, D&RB have enough food to last them until next weekend.

This coming Friday, I hope to arrive in Toronto on the eve of the Sabbath and deliver the much-needed supplies to my dear friends. D&RB will, I am sure, be quite relieved and happy. As far as baby food is concerned, they will be flush until my next foray into the wilds of western New York.

Yesterday morning’s jaunt taught me several things. Crossing the border at 6:00 am isn’t all that rough, really. I enjoy the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo congregation and intend to continue going there at least twice a week (tentatively Tuesdays and Thursdays) when I am not either in court or in Toronto. Food prices, even kosher food prices, are much lower in the States. Aside from pain in the tush of getting up so early (4:00 am!!), it is nice to share a couple of hours chatting with my cohort, the local Chabad rabbi.

Tentatively, our next cross-border raid is this coming Tuesday. Time permitting, I am hoping to hit that other supermarket in search of more Beech-Nut baby food and maybe even a few provisions for myself.

UPDATE: (As of 9:40 am Friday Feb. 24/12)

It turns out that the bad weather has been averted! The snowfall anticipated for this weekend is not nearly as bad as originally predicted and that I am indeed heading off to Toronto after all. I will be leaving as soon as possible, dropping off the baby food for D&RB, picking up some provisions for dinner tonight and enjoying the Sabbath with friends and loved ones! Yay! The Stealth Hasid scores again!

A good, restful, peaceful and spirit-filled Sabbath to all.

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[1] COR is the kosher certification trademark used by the Kashruth Council of Canada, the largest kosher certification agency in Canada.  COR has been servicing the Canadian food industry for over 65 years and now certifies over 45,000 products at over 1000 facilities across Canada and around the world.

[2] Technically, where I live, The Great Republic is to the East… but that’s another story.

The Shrine (Movie Review)

As is my custom on occasion, I ventured forth into The Zombie Serengeti the other day to pick me up a movie. This is one that caught my eye.

The Shrine DVD cover art alone got my attention. And yay! A Canadian horror movie, to boot!! Woohoo!

OK, here’s the deal… A group of young journalists looking for the ‘big break’ investigate the disappearances of a number of travellers in rural Poland, but their ambitious ways may lead them to becoming the next victims of a sacrifice practising cult who may be behind the mystery.

Mayhem ensues when… the journalists, two women and a photographer, follow an unusual dark, dense fog in the forest. The two women discover a strange statue in the woods. A shrine, of sorts (hence the title)! The Polish villagers, members of a bizarre cult of human sacrifice, capture the journalists and take them to their paganesque priests for ritual execution/sacrifice.

My two cents… I like the feel of this movie a lot. Today’s western culture bangs up against an old world spirit religion so intense and so visceral, it is sometimes difficult for the modern mind to understand. It is a relatively medium-low budget movie ($1.5 million) but not cheesy and chintzy. Well, the priest costumes are a bit ‘renaissance fair’, but so what? It is a chilling survival horror story with the journalists only beginning to discover the terrible secrets the village hides from the world. And, like any good horror movie, sometimes things are not always what they appear to be! The acting isn’t the best in the world, especially the two women (Cindy Sampson and Meghan Heffern), but the photographer (Aaron Ashmore) does a pretty good job. The ending has a nice twist and it’s dramatically satisfying as well.

Bottom line… Definitely worth a look! All in all, a very entertaining horror movie. Paul Scott at The Horror Hotel [1] describes it as The Wicker Man‘ meets ‘Hostel‘ and I can’t say I disagree with that characterization.

One and a quarter human sacrifice thumbs up!

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[1] For an insightful article on this movie, check out Paul Scott’s review at The Horror Hotel. One such insight is his delightful observation that “this whole mess could be solved with the use of a fence…….that’s right, a fence.” I love it!

The Dead (Movie Review)

I wouldn’t be caught dead – or living dead, for that matter – in sub-Saharan Africa. When it comes to Places I Want to See Before I Peg Out, most of Africa is not at the bottom of the list… it’s not even ON the list. [1]

(Colour me ‘could not care less’)

And this, to me, is what makes the 2010 zombie film The Dead so intriguing. It is set in what is basically a hell-hole… and then makes it even hell-holier!

The usual format for a modern apocalyptic zombie movie is ‘the zombies rise and civilization falls.’ So… what happens in a place where modern civilization has already collapsed long before the zombies arrive… or has never really taken hold in the first place?

(A hell-hole has just become even more hell-holish!)

Imagine living in a village of mud huts and thatched roofs in a land of grinding poverty and chronic malnutrition, where government, law and order simply do not exist, where one tribal group hacks another tribal group to death with machetes, where HIV/AIDS runs rampant, where the ebola virus  kills its victims in the grossest possible way imaginable within hours of infection. And then add into the mix wandering hordes of the living dead, hungry as can be. And they’re looking for you… ’cause you’re what’s on the menu!

That, in a nutshell, is why I like The Dead. Things don’t go from blissfully unaware suburban barbecue heaven to ‘WTF?!’ (à la Dawn of the Dead). Things go from bloody awful to truly effen horrific!

OK, here’s the deal…When the last evacuation flight out of war-torn Africa crashes off the coast, an American Air Force Engineer washes up on the shore as the sole survivor. He meets up with a young soldier. They are simple men with a simple mission… to get back to whatever family they may or may not have left. That’s it. That’s the plot. And as George A. Romero knows full well, that’s all the plot you need, really.

(Two guys about to embark on the world’s most depressing road-trip)

Mayhem ensues when… the dead are returning to life and attacking the living, turning a little corner of hell into an even darker, more horrible corner of hell. But unlike the ‘normal’ western urban or suburban landscape of malls and city streets, The Dead is set against the stark and bleak beauty of Africa. And that is what makes this zombie apocalypse truly scary. There are no stores were you can ransack a month’s worth of food and supplies. There are no local police stations or gun shops were you can stock up on arms and ammo. There are no cars or trucks or highways to effect your escape as you ride off into the sunset, watching zombies eat your dust in the rear-view mirror. You’re stuck out in the middle of Baboon Butt, Africa and you ain’t got squat with which to defend yourself against the shambling zombies.

Oh and by the way, these are the old-school Romero-style slow zombies, thank goodness! Zombies the way the Almighty intended them to be. And they are scary… I mean genuinely scary. Not just gross and disgusting the way many zombie movies portray them. People these days are revolted by zombies and hate zombies… but zombies haven’t been truly scary in a very long time. The Dead brings that all back.

(R0b Freeman as Lt. Brian Murphy)

My two cents… the scenery is breathtaking in what sometimes can be a very forbidding way. The budget is very low but in a movie like this, that can be (and is) a wonderful thing. The acting is marvelously underplayed.  Rob Freeman as the U.S. Army Engineer and Prince David Osei as the soldier are to be commended for never once going over the top. The plot is bare bones straight-forward and uncomplicated. And… no one tries to explain why there is a zombie apocalypse going on. It’s happening. It’s hit the fan. Deal with it, try to focus on what you have to do and don’t be distracted by the details. The movie, like all good zombie movies… and like the AMC television program The Walking Dead… isn’t about the zombies. It’s about survival.

(Prince David Osei as Sgt. Daniel Dembele)

Bottom line… The Dead is a truly good zombie movies. One of the best I’ve seen in many years. This film gives you a whole new and different take on the classic modern zombie apocalypse movie. It is definitely worth a look… if you can find it. This excellent Ford Brothers movie (as of the date of this article) doesn’t appear on either a Wikipedia search or on RottenTomatoes.com.

If you long for the days of simple basic zombie lore, then this is the movie for you.

One and three-quarters rotting African zombie thumbs up!

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[1] My dearly beloved friend, Chelsea Dagger (far and away the world’s coolest name), will no doubt differ with me, and loudly at that. Tall, young, slender, blonde, charming and beautiful, Chelsea has been spending what, to me, is an interminably long time in Kenya working with some NGO or other, trying to make the world a better place. (Yeah… she blends right in when she’s in Nairobi!)

(Chelsea & Moms with hell-hole in background)

 COME HOME, CHELSEA! We need you back up here in The Frozen North!

[2] Why is it that the armpits of the world are also some of the most beautiful places on Earth?

For a thoughtful and insightful piece on this movie, read the article at The Horror Hotel: Review: The Dead (2010)!

16-Pound Babies Born in Texas and China!

I heard they grow them big down in Texas, but… DANG!!

Janet Johnson gave birth to a baby boy, JaMichael Brown, at Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview, Texas. He entered the world at sixteen pounds and was two feet tall (long?)!

But wait… there’s more!

A mother in China gave birth to a nearly 16-lb. boy, possibly setting the all-time record for the country’s biggest baby. Chun Chun, weighing in at 15.5 lbs., was born Saturday in the city of Xinxiang, in Henan province.

Just to give you darling little geeks and nerdlings a bit of perspective here… both of these titanic tots tipped the scales at over twice the weight of an average baby (about 7.5 lbs)! Put another way, these bundles of joy are about the size of an average 5-month-old baby.

The articles (Google ’16 pound baby’ and you’ll find dozens of media reports) usually go on to talk about gestational diabetes and macrosomia and other such disorders being contributing factors, among other things.

But what arrests the attention… what really grips the imagination of the average reader, listener and viewer… is the pure unvarnished mass of these kiddie-winkers.

One can’t help but imagine what it must be like having these bouncing bruisers as one of your own. A relatively simple task such as changing diapers becomes a logistical problem of, quite literally, huge proportions.

And these brogdingnagian bambinos are by no means the biggest on record!

(Indonesian baby Muhammad Akbar Risuddin. FYI: ‘Akbar’ means ‘big’)

Most recently, a woman in Indonesia gave birth to a baby weighing 19.2 pounds!

And notwithstanding even that baby’s size, he is not the largest baby ever born.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s heaviest baby was born to Anna Bates of Canada in 1879. The baby weighed 23.12 lbs and died eleven hours after birth.

The largest baby to ever survive was a boy weighing 10.2 kg (22 lb 8 oz) who was born to Carmelina Fedele at Aversa, Italy, in September 1955.

I swear… it’s enough to make your eyes water!

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Why I Hate Almost Everyone (Part 10): PDA

Lord knows, I’m no prude. Trust me on this one. Really. [1]

I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional hug and kiss in public along with the best of them. [2]

HOWEVER…

There is a time and a place for everything, people.

Aside from a hug and an air-smooch when greeting a dear or long-lost friend, can we please knock off the Public Displays of Affection (aka PDA)?

Truth be told, PDA is a bit of a misnomer, actually. It is not the ‘affection’ to which I object. Not really.

Mind you, depending on the people involved, even the occasional goo-goo eyes and blushing smirk can be a bit stomach-turning… but I tolerate it. I look away. I suddenly become engrossed in the cocoa design sprinkled on the foam of a nearby latte.

(Alleged latte art. What I won’t do for ‘romance!’)

In the interest of love and the continuation of the species, I employ a bit of wilful blindness now and again, I admit.

If that was all there was to it, I would not have any strenuous objections to how most right-thinking members of society choose to comport themselves in public when bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

Alas, that is not all there is to it. Not by a long shot, I can assure you.

(There’s plenty of time for that later, people!)

Most people can take the hand-holding. The cutesy-baby talk… that’s harder to handle.

But it’s the making out in public that really gets to me and, I suspect, everyone else except the people making out.

You’ve all seen them. The guy on the street corner who looks like he’s trying to suck his girlfriend’s ribs up through her neck. The couple who seem to believe that the back seat of a bus is some kind of public transportation love nest. The pair who have not quite figured out that unless there is a rather generous piece of gingham in front of them, the entire Italian restaurant, including the children, can see exactly who is grabbing what under the table!

It’s the obscene osculation and grotesque groping that makes one want to woof one’s cookies. The ‘oh lord he’s chucking his tongue down her throat’ horror that makes one want to wash out the old eyeballs. The silent scream as a crass hand disappears down someone else’s pants.

And spare me the ‘you’re just jealous’ shtick, OK, because most of the people I see engaging in PDA are not exactly fashion model types. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of PDA and the repellent aspect of those engaged therein. They are, in fact, just the type of people who simple-mindedly chalk all negative reaction up to either ‘envy’ or ‘fear.’

Let us draw our line in the cappuccino foam, people!

Let us promulgate the Anti-PDA message loudly and clearly!

When you see PDA happen… wherever, whenever…do not stand idly by! Take action! Make loud retching sounds! Shout, “Oh, the humanity!” Turn a hose on the offending (and offensive) parties. Do something!

Only by direct and forceful intervention can we make our little slice of the world a better place.

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[1] Full Disclosure: I am still somewhat queasy from the Valentine’s Day fallout and this year’s detonation has been particularly hard on my system. I’m afraid it may have, in some tiny way, coloured my usual stalwart objectivity.

[2] Full Confession: I have in the past also engaged in some wildly inappropriate PDA with my dear friend, CFD, who must be asking, “Who are you? And what have you done with Vampyre Fangs!!??”