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Coven

covenSeveral friends tried to talk me out of watching the third installment of American Horror Story – Coven. They whined and moaned about how the series had become muddled in focus and the constant recycling of actors had brought an unsavoury homogeneity to the characters.

I listened. I considered. I ignored. I finished it last night.

Since the series started I’ve been a huge fan, partially due to my love of the horror genre. Also, I found it a bold move for FX to take on a horror series, particularly at a time when viewers are choking on pseudo-horror vampire and werewolf themed shows networks are shoveling into the media trough.

I’m happy to report Coven, while not topping AHS’s excellent second season, Asylum, for me, it came close.

I did understand some of the complaints, however I think they were misdirected. The writing did seem a little repetitive and some of the story arcs took way too long to conclude. Several recurring characters were underdeveloped to the point of being superfluous. This isn’t due to recycling actors, as my friends suggested, its just a writing impasse. The acting is actually very good and I did notice a substantial increase in well-delivered dark humour.

Acting is good from the entire cast but it is anchored by three veteran actresses: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett.

Lange is hugely successful as the ‘Supreme’ witch who is filled with equal parts of venom and regret; that she morphs so easily and convincingly between the two is reason enough to watch the season.

Pairing beautifully with Lange is Bates, who blazes every scene as the sadistic and racist upper crust matron with a penchant for torturing her staff. Bates’ consistently well-timed and subtle delivery of dark humour was nothing short of perfect. 

For me the overwhelming show-stealer was Bassett, as the  vindictive voodoo priestess and chief nemesis of both Bates and Lange.  Bassett is larger than life in every scene, her character exacting revenge and verbally bitchslapping the witches to point of humiliation. But Bassett, despite her gravitational pull, is a polished actress and knows how to balance her performance so that other characters build the story with her rather than for her. The chemistry between Lange, Bates and Bassett is so palpable and beautifully adversarial, you hope they will be in every scene.

I was surprised by the addition of voodoo into the story line, which creates the tension and one of the main story arcs for the season – voodoo magic vs. witch magic, which force will prevail?  I loved that the season was filmed in New Orleans; a perfect spot to project a distorted, paradoxical mixture of magnolias and sweat, old-world sophistication meets urban sinister.

I was a little disappointed in the final episode, it seemed a bit obvious and cliche, but that doesn’t detract from Coven’s net effect for me, a very entertaining season with some magnificent acting and atmospheric production style.

And now on to season 4 – Freakshow.

Kennebunkport, Maine

To round out the first day in Maine, Kennebunkport.

Originally I was interested in walking the 5 miles from the Bush compound to the adjacent city north but I made a stop in Kennebunk to see the grounds at the Franciscan Monastery. It was a beautiful, fascinating place and by the time I left it was dark.

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I saw the rest of Kennebunkport the next morning, it was cute but next time in Maine I will skip it.

Manchester, NH

Manchester? New Hampshire?

Yes, exactly. When planning Maine trip I took a lot of criticism about my decision to fly into Manchester, NH rather than Portland or Bangor. ME. But the naysayers did not have all the facts and like most people armed with opinion only, they were unceremoniously ignored.

  • Flight to Manchester $249, Flight to Portland/Bangor $540
  • Car rental Manchester $240, Car rental Portland/Bangor $525

QED

I didn’t have much time in Manchester since I arrived late evening and was leaving early morning but I like the little of downtown I saw walking to dinner; narrow streets, typical New England architecture, everyone walks, the nightlife is dominated by students from several small colleges. I asked a gaggle of college kids where would be the best place to have dinner at 11pm. Answer, emphatically and unanimously was Red Arrow Diner.

Atmosphere
Diner extraordinaire. Built in 1922, it really hasn’t changed much except a little makeover when RedArrowit changed hands in the 80’s. Booths, Formica. Red vinyl swivel stools anchored at the long bar which takes up most of the space. Odd music from the 50’s through the 90’s blurts out over the rather animated crowd. There was an interesting situation two stools down when I arrived; it seems a patron refused to sign his credit card bill and would only initial it because some government people were tracking him through his signature. He was serious, loud and probably schizophrenic;  he was finally asked to leave after a 10 minute rant that made absolutely no sense.

The place has character.

Food
With 8 pages of menu, I punted and went with one of their “specialties”; Crabcake Bene. Its CrabBeneexactly that, Eggs Benedict with two rather generously sized crab cakes, which were mostly crab. Definitely fresh and definitely one of the best Benedicts I’ve had in a long time. Crispy English giving way to loads of fresh crab with a good dose of well-prepared, homemade Hollandaise. I like breakfast for dinner and since it was almost the next morning, it was serving a dual purpose as breakfast.

Service
I was impressed with the young man at the counter who was seating, taking orders, ringing out and trying to get the schizophrenic out before he went ballistic, all the while joking with me and giving me the history of the diner. My order was in and up in 20. Excellent.

Price
Crabcake Bene, side hash $9.50. I left a $5 tip for reasons already covered.

Dinner: 5 Oct 2013

Red Arrow Diner | 61 Lowell | Manchester NH 03101

Cinesnob Recommends

I’ve known my friend Cinesnob for a long, long time; that’s why I can call him that and he won’t be offended. Oh, also he’s a Teflon-coated New Yorker and they don’t much care about other people’s silly opinions.

Cinesnob usually recommends films, without fail they are introspective, intellectual, abstract or surreal. Sometimes its all of the above. He has never recommended a TV series, so I was surprised when he recommended this one to me over the summer.

The series is ongoing but started in 2008, so luckily most of the previous seasons are free to stream on Amazon Prime. I finished watching the first season tonight and I have to say I like. Not for the same reasons as Cinesnob but that’s to be expected given our different perspectives.

While I was a little bored with the first two episodes, in retrospect, I see that these were necessary for character and plot development. Given the show is a Hell’s Angels version of the Sopranos, I was not entirely sold on the casting choice for the protagonist; he initially came off as more tortured surfer dude than cast-iron biker but that facade melted away.  The casting for the central characters is near perfect which must have been challenging given these characters are large and formidable. The story line after the first two episodes is compelling, if only because there are so many insinuations to darker pasts for the main characters. Action is balanced with introspection,  dilemmas are tilted and skewed for the moral distribution of outlaw psychology,  brutality coexists with equal compassion, often I find myself laughing out loud at the pitch-black humor.

While there are many reasons to watch, the biggest reason so far is the outstanding performance from Katey Sagal. I did not recognize the 80’s Married With Children star at all, so I was intrigued when I followed the IMDB links to her other works. Her character is the polar opposite to Peg Bundy – bold, calculating, unchallenged. I would say Sagal will be remembered as Gemma Morrow, the hard-boiled queen of mythical Charming, Ca.

The last two episodes of Season 1 are a daisy cutter of misinformation, poor decisions, cover ups and unresolved family implosion. So much so that I will likely tune in to see what happens next for the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Originals.

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Bistro 7

Today my inner New Yorker refused to be contained so I headed to downtown Houston. Make no mistake, downtown Houston is not a busy place on a Sunday but its the only area of the city that feels urban to me. Urban kids know exactly what I mean. I’ve grown to like downtown Houston. During the week the energy and law industries keep it insanely busy; when you consider that 70% of the world’s oil transactions go through Houston, it shouldn’t surprise. Shiny, happy skyscrapers seem to materialize overnight. New restaurants, lounges and residential follow. The new sports arenas and park anchoring the east end have spawned the EaDo neighbourhood, which seems to be the destination residential corridor for the early career set.

If only they could do something about the rental prices downtown. Its fine to charge Manhattan prices. In Manhattan that is.

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Bistro 7 is a satellite of the Table 7 brand located in the Club Quarters Hotel. Table 7 restaurants  have replicated a bit recently, from one location to four, all in the downtown area. Its been on my (growing) list of places to try for a year now.

Atmosphere
I find hotel restaurants outside of Las Vegas and NYC rarely depart from a vaguely, pleasant IMG_1271middle of the distribution curve feel and Bistro 7 is no different. However, the contrast of bright yellow and red colors against the dark woods combined with the sunlight streaming in from the glass front facing Rusk St gave it a much more vibrant feeling. For the hour or so I was there I heard almost exclusively Spanish language and South American themed music. Its not often I hear the group Otros Aires outside of Argentina. I noticed during lunch that all the other patrons were Spanish speaking, on the way out I heard only Spanish in the lobby and while exiting,  a gaggle of 20-something girls waiting for a taxi were deep into superficial boy chat. In Spanish.

Was there a Latin American convention in town?  Or is this a new, fun demographic reality previously unknown to me?

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Food
Wins, all.

District 7 Side Salad. Side? Really? This is more on par with a meal salad and it was only a $2 add on. Volume bonus, definitely. The salad foundation itself is ubiquitous – romaine, chopped tomato, purple cabbage but with some roasted pecans, newly minted Parmesan and spears of jicama. Dressing was trying to decide if it wanted to be ranch or caesar.

Teriyaki Mahi Mahi “Burger”. Seriously, a big slab of Mahi Mahi for $11? The construction is simple and meant to enhance the fish. Have to respect that since Mahi Mahi deserves to take center stage but it is light and slightly sweet so its easy to clobber it unrecognizable with sauces and over preparation. Grilled medium, assembled with some purple cabbage and cilantro, bolted together with a creamy red pepper sauce on a big ass bun. The bun itself looks intimidating but its airy and compresses nicely; I liked the slightly crisp outer shell of the bun contrasted with the pillowy internals.

The drink selection here is limited to a few wines and beers; there are more local beers than otherwise. They do have a full bar and it seemed well stocked.

Service
Great, however there were only 6 people here on Sunday afternoon so its probably not a good litmus test for what it would be like on Tuesday noon when the pushy, hyper aggressive oil execs descend.

Price
The prices are extremely reasonable for a hotel restaurant and on par or less expensive than other venues serving comparable fare. I think this is why the Table 7 brand is gaining momentum in downtown Houston.

I’ll definitely be back to Bistro 7; good food, reasonable prices and only 2 blocks from the Main St. Square subway stop.

Perot Museum

IMG_1239After hearing about how difficult it was to get into Dallas’ Perot Museum but how extraordinary an experience it was, I finally decided to go. I bought tickets on the internet about a week out and found that there were 400 available and they let in 400, so not so hard to get in at all. Actually quite a bit easier to get in than the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

About the experience, I had mixed feelings.

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First, the Perot Museum is a beautiful building and it is architecturally fascinating, somewhat presenting itself as the Borg having landed to assimilate downtown Dallas. You can see most of architectural aspects from the outside. And aside from some interesting views of downtown Dallas, there isn’t much of a reason to go inside, unless you are a kid or have them in tow.

That’s the rub here, the content is geared for those about 14 or younger. I would imagine even a high school student would find the exhibits trite since most of the content is taught in primary school; oil industry and Texas wildlife displays notwithstanding. That said, if you have kids in the tween or younger range, they are going to find it engaging if only for the plethora of hands-on, interactive displays. The interactive displays are extraordinary, however the problem with them is the ridiculously long lines that queue up for each experience. I didn’t wait in any lines since I wasn’t interested, however I did find the constant long lines of children forming a road block an irritating aspect of navigating the interior. Maybe its better during the week?

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One of the more interesting hands-on activities was the bio labs. Kids are queued up for their white lab coats, goggles and gloves then they travel from station to station inside the fishbowl area performing experiments and looking at results through microscopes. There is a focus here on DNA, so I’m thrilled that single digit kids are being exposed to the fundamentals of biotechnology, there is no reason they shouldn’t.

If you do have kids, this is a great stop for 2-3 hours, otherwise I would do a 1-2 stop about the exterior, snaps some shots, then move on to something more interesting.

Glad I went, won’t be back.

12 July 2013

Perot Museum | 2201 N Field St | Dallas, TX 75201

Bullet Point Friend

Law Girl is a attorney in Los Angeles, 50’s but the body of a 25 year old with a mind and wit that leaves her younger doppelgangers scratching their heads long after she’s moved on to the next challenge.  We met in San Francisco, me an undergrad at Cal, she a retread student at Stanford Law  after an unsatisfying career in finance. Our paths crossed  while suffering through a battery of tests to qualify as a volunteer at an AIDS hospice. Yes, tests – psychological tests. This particular hospice had an eastern philosophy about end-life care and volunteers had to be screened to determine if they would “survive” in the environment. As you may know, people in end-life develop quirky behavior, namely,  whatever irritating personality traits they developed in their lives becoming alarmingly amplified. The philosophy was to be able to identify but not emotionally respond to anything other than physical needs. Tougher than it sounds, Law Girl and I were the lone candidates out of a group of 100.

When we were brought in for our “training” we both looked at each other with WTF eyes, as if we were no longer certain we wanted this on our resumes. We “survived” a whole year, the maximum allowed by the hospice and really, it was a huge learning experience,  more so than my undergrad at Cal.

Since, we’ve had a long distance friendship with the occasional in-person visits but those are challenging; shes busy, I’m busy, life occurs. However infrequent, I can always rely on Law Girl to give a summarized, bullet point list of what has happened in her life.

This was the case when she filed for divorce some years ago. No hysterical phone call, no solicitation of advice, no crying, no mean-spirited revenge plots. Just an ex post facto email

  • New home – Willshire Blvd, lovely
  • Kid – Graduated HS – UCLA in fall, proud
  • New car – Hippie chick hybrid, shut it.
  • Divorced – cheated, caught, served and processed.

Right, of course I called – “About the last bullet point,  elaborate”. She did but it was in lawyer speak and devoid of any emotion; it was clear, she had processed and she had moved on. PERIOD. Good on her. Since, she has remarried, a nice guy 16 years her junior who “puppied” her around after giving a series of lectures at his university. At least shes sticking to that story, so is he.  He is also a lawyer, at a different firm, in a different area of law. Her son graduated UCLA then went to law school. This is seriously a family you don’t want on your bad side unless you can afford a hefty retainer fee.

I rather admire and appreciate Law Girl’s communication style. I realize its somewhat of an occupational hazard for her but I’m constantly saturated with information on all fronts, so her important life strokes summarized and distributed in low frequency work for me. I also like her youthful and often snarky tone, a testimony that while you may be obliged to act age-appropriate at work,  you can be young at heart otherwise.

I got another bullet point update this month.

  • Anniversary – Istanbul, loved it
  • Kid  – Lawyer now, hopeful
  • Breast cancer – Treated, new boobs
  • New car – SUV, bigger boobs = bigger car

Right, about that third bullet point,  apparently its time for our annual phone call.