Jun 9, 2015

The Big England Post (Days 1-5)

We've been back from the UK for about a week and a half now. Maybe time to post some pics? Sure.

Day Zero

With newly acquired passport in hand (yes...never had one before), a friend of ours was kind enough to drive us to JFK at 7PM on a Wednesday night so that we could catch our 10:50PM flight to London, Gatwick. I had hurt my back a couple of days prior doing yard work, so the thought of an overnight flight to England wasn't exactly thrilling to me. But I soldiered on. That's going to be a theme to for the rest of the trip. Not giving my back the proper time to rest, but soldiering on.

Having a cocktail at the lounge at JFK prior to leaving for England
Day One - London

We landed at Gatwick around 9AM local time. By the time we went through customs, gathered our luggage and took the Gatwick Express over to Victoria Station and our hotel, it was probably a little after Noon. But our room was ready and I was ready for a shower and a long nap since neither of us slept a wink on our overnight flight. Exciting, right? First day in a foreign land and all we could think about was a nap. But I made sure we woke up after a few hours and hit the town. We only had one night in London, and we were still tired. So we decided to just hit a few local pubs and have some food.

First pint of bitter at The Jugged Hare.
A five minute walk from our hotel found us at a joint called The Jugged Hare. We grabbed a couple of quick pints and headed out to the courtyard as it was a beautiful evening. See that wee man over Gia's shoulder? His name was Leigh and we wound up getting pissed with him and his buddy. Great guys and our first found English friends. We had to pry ourselves away from them because we were REALLY hungry and they wanted to keep drinking...hard. Normally, I'd be in, but food and a bed were calling to me.

However...

More pints!
This would be a recurring theme. On our way to find food, we found another glorious pub called The Queen's Arms. Nice place and really nice people. But it was starting to get late, we had to get up early to catch our train to Northampton and we STILL hadn't eaten. It was after 11PM at this point so there wasn't much open in the way of non-fast food, but somehow we did find a nice restaurant (the name escapes me) that was still serving. A wonderful meal of roasted chicken and chips was more than sufficient for these two weary travelers. And I was able to figure out how to get back to the hotel all by my tipsy self.

Day Two-Day Four - Northampton

I woke up early to do a bit of a currency exchange. Took me a while to figure out the exchange rates (ripoff) and the best place to make an exchange. Our hotel clerk told us to go to a bookie, but nope...I've seen that movie too many times. By the time I got back to the hotel, we were ready to hit a cab over to Euston Station to catch our train to Northampton to meet up with our friends. Oh yeah...our friends. That was the reason for our trip in the first place. They had asked Gia to be the godmother of their daughter. Pretty cool.

It was still early and we hadn't had breakfast, and we weren't going to because our train was on the platform. It was a fairly quick ride up to Northampton. An hour...an hour and a half maybe? I do know this...the rail ads in the UK are much harsher than those here in the States.

Yes you are.
Northampton is an old city with lots of interesting history, but you can read about all that crap on your own. The economy of the area doesn't seem great, but several depressed areas seem to be in the midst of an urban renewal period. Our friend Adam met us at the rail station and it was a quick walk to our hotel. Not a real glamorous joint, but it was clean, relatively inexpensive and very central to walking everywhere we needed to go while in town. Gemma and their daughter Daisy met us at the hotel and the five us light out into town for a quick bite to eat. You know what, lemme just hit you with a bunch of pictures that highlight our time in Northampton.

All Saint's Church...it's a church AND a bistro!

Fried gherkins at The Mail Coach

Just a random street shot of estate agents

Gia, representing the Yankees and enjoying an Earl Grey tea

English Breakfast (first version) at some joint.

The gang, post-baptism.

Delicious cuppa

See? It's a bistro too!

The altar at The All Saint's Church

Beautiful domed ceiling at The All Saint's Church

Pipes!

The baptism was in this old church in the center of town. Most of the town burned down in a The Great Fire of Northampton in 1675, so it all had to be rebuilt shortly after that. Still very old by our standards, but it would have been pretty cool to see what it looked like before the fire. We spent three days visiting with our friends, hanging around the local pubs, having cappucino, English Breakfast and generally taking it easy. I even made dinner for the five of us one night and we just had a wonderful time visiting with our friends/new family.

Day Five - Brighton, uh...Northampton again

We had arranged to pick up a rental car on Monday morning and then take the whole gang down to Brighton for a day and night. We had a hotel booked right on the water in Brighton with two rooms and it was going to be an adventure.

It wasn't meant to be. We got to the car rental agency and found that it was closed due to a national holiday that we didn't know about. How could we? We had a reservation to pick up the car! Our friends told us about the holiday, but since we had made a reservation for that day we assumed, falsely, that it would be open. It wasn't. Nor were any other car rental agencies. After trying to figure out the rail situation to get four adults and an infant from Northampton to Brighton for a day...well, we decided to bail and stay in Northampton for another night. It just would have been too complicated to do it any other way. So we lost out on our room fee in Brighton, but we probably broke even considering the car rental and how inexpensive it was to stay in Northampton.

We were bummed, but we decided to turn lemons into lemonade. Gemma told us she would cook dinner for us so the family went out to do some shopping while Gia and I went back to our favorite pub in town called The Wig and Pen.

Representing our local pub, Nicky's, overseas

Me. Everywhere we went.

Emmental and ham sandwich, cheesy chips in background

Bacon, brie and cranberries. The bacon was cooked better than it appears in the shows in the photo

Let me give you my quick Top Three Pubs in Northampton:

1. The Wig and Pen.
2. The Mail Coach
3. The Lamplighter

The Wig and Pen was so much fun and we went back there several times. Great old appearance, even though we aren't sure how old it actually is. But fun at night and quiet during the day. Perfect pub. The Mail Coach was much newer, both in perception and decor. We went there every day as well. And they had a nice garden out back, actually most pubs seemed to have one of those. But it was good for Adam, Gemma and Daisy to meet us there as Daisy could run around a bit. The food there was fantastic too. And one of the bartenders was American! Weird. The Lamplighter was a little solo quest of mine. I had heard great things so I decided to explore one evening when I had an hour to myself. The walk over was bit dodgy through a depressed neighborhood, but the pub was filled with both the well-to-do and what we would call hipsters over here. And they were having a cask ale festival to boot! Nice joint.

As I said, that evening Gemma made us a delicious home cooked meal and we drank whiskey and ales and watched Arthur, because that's Gia's favorite thing to do. Introduce one of her favorite films with a new crowd. We had a blast!

All in all, a wonderful time. But the more hectic portion of our travels would begin the next morning as we would rent a car and head to the English countryside to stay at one of those classic country inns in the Cotswalds and then back to London for several days.

Details to follow soon...

PS - I tried not to post many photos of Gia or myself or our friends/family. I took a bunch, but I've just never been that comfortable with sharing others photos here on this blog. So just a few to let you know we actually were there. Hehehe...

May 10, 2015

Magic Man

Do you ever think of a person and suddenly they text or call you?

Or have a movie on your mind when you are flipping through the channels only to find that it just started on some cable station?

Stuff like this happens to me all the time. Not exactly those things, but stuff like them. In fact, I only have one specific "ability" when it comes to predicting silly, meaningless shit. Songs on the radio. I'll often be thinking of a song when all of a sudden it appears out of nowhere on whatever Sirius XM Radio station that I'm listening to at that moment. That happens to me all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

But something happened the other day that truly freaked me out. I was thinking of a Sonic Youth song from their 1988 album Daydream Nation. The song, Teenage Riot, was the first single and probably the biggest hit for them off of that album. That's not saying much. I probably had never heard the song on the radio at any time, even in the early 90's when Sonic Youth was a bit of an "it" band. And if you are a fan of the band, you would definitely know it as a big moment in their career.

I became a fan of Sonic Youth a year or so later when their album Goo came out, and I immediately went and picked up the earlier albums. That's when I first heard Teenage Riot and I fell in love with it. I was a fan of the band and that scene prior to hearing that song, but I became obsessed shortly thereafter. It shaped my musical taste for the better part of a decade. Hugely important song in my life.

Yet, I had never heard it on the radio. Not even once. Until Friday.

I was thinking about how much the station Lithium on Sirius/XM Radio both rules and sucks at the same time. It rules because they play all that music that I was obsessed with during that decade. It sucks because they only play the mega-hits. If they play Nirvana, it's Heart-Shaped Box when it could be Love Buzz. If they play The Pixies, it's Here Comes Your Man when it could be Cactus. And when they really dig deep and play Sonic Youth, it's always Kool Thing. Always. And that's a great fucking song, but it's literally the only Sonic Youth they ever play.

I was thinking how great it would be if they would play a song like Teenage Riot for once. Just once. And I was thinking about how much I love that song and what it meant to me over the years. I sat there listening to the radio, just getting pissed about all of that.

So I turned the station to Pearl Jam Radio...and Teen Age Riot had just started.

SEE?


How the fuck does something like that happen at that exact moment?

Apr 29, 2015

How could you not?

Hey, kids!

Thought about dusting off the old Verdant Dude (the site, not the actually dude behind the Dude) for a while now. But I haven't really had anything to ramble about. Still don't, but that's not gonna stop me.

So my woman has her celebrity crushes. I have mine as well, so I don't hold it against her. Michael Shannon and Tom Hardy are her latest two guys. I introduced her to the latter, and definitely had a part in her fascination with the former. So I'm a part of this, whether I like it or not.

We received a promo copy of some celeb magazine in the mail yesterday that featured a cover photo of Tom Hardy in the re-boot of the Mad Max series. Normally I move these crap mags directly from the mail box to our garbage bin, but since it was one of Gia's crushes I brought it in for her. When she got home from her latest gig, it was waiting for her on her desk.

Gia: "Wait...what? Tom Hardy? He looks great! Why is he on the cover of this magazine? Why do we have it?"

She blathers on.

I explain why he's on the cover.

Me: "He's Max Rockatansky, from the new Mad Max film...you know that?"
Gia: "That's right! Wait...what's his last name? Rocka..what? How could you know that?"
Me: "How could you not?"

That's something that goes on a lot in our life. A lot. We are the same age. Graduated from High School the same year. Graduated from college...roughly the same year. Lived through this world at just about the exact same time in roughly the same place. Long Island.

Yet we have vastly different experiences in that same time and place. Music, films, friends, North Shore vs South Shore...all that crap. When I don't know something that she knows...the question is always the same. How could you not? Same goes for the stuff I'm aware of that she isn't. How could you not?

The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2 for you fucking foreigners) and it's predecessor where HUGE movies in my circle. I'm guessing not so much with Gia and her crowd. So me knowing the character's last name is nearly equivalent to knowing my own. I don't even think about it. It's there. Yet looking at that conversation from outside my self...yeah, I guess it's weird that I know that. I dunno.

Don't know why I find this whole thing amusing, but I do.

How could you not?

Feb 7, 2015

A quick (not really) word about Bourbon

Hello...Hello...Hello...Hello.

Yup. Been so long since I posted that it's echoing with the emptiness in here. No matter, I'll trudge on. The last time you heard from me here I was reviewing horror films the entire month of October. It was an Internet sensation and it was covered by all the major media outlets (it was not). But now it's time to talk bourbon.

As some of you may know, I'm a bourbon guy. It became my adult beverage of choice roughly 6-7 years ago. Before that it was good craft beer and before that it was tequila. I enjoy gin just as much as the next gentlemen, but I rarely keep any at home. Nope, for me it's bourbon with the occasional side venture to rye. I'll get to that in a moment.

Bourbon is a whiskey (with an "e") made here in the United States. Used to be just Kentucky, but now it's produced in virtually every state that allows the distillation of whiskey. It has to be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn. The other 49% can be more corn, wheat, rye, barley or literally any other grain you can imagine. I had a whiskey that used quinoa once. Healthy whiskey. It has to be aged in new, charred oak barrels. It has to be distilled at no more than 160 proof, entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof and bottled at 80 proof or higher. There is no specific duration that is required for aging in the barrel.

That's it. That's bourbon. Simple, right? Wrong. The variation in bourbon is seemingly endless when you consider the multitude of grains that can be used and the varying lengths of time that it can spend in the barrel. Generally, the longer it spends in the barrel the smoother the whiskey. And pricier because of the duration of the process and the amount of liquid that evaporates (the Angel's Share) during the aging process. But basically there are 3 major types of bourbons on the market today.

  1. Traditional Bourbons. These are what most people think of when they think of bourbon. Made with a mash bill that contains roughly 70% corn with the rest split mostly evenly between rye and barley. Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, Old Crow, etc... These are all traditional bourbons.
  2. High-Rye Bourbons. As the name implies, these bourbons are made with a higher rye content than most. I've found these to be spicier than traditional bourbons. Old Grand-Dad, Bulleit, Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve are all examples of high-rye bourbons.
  3. Wheated Bourbons. These bourbons use a large portion of wheat in their mash bill, resulting in a mild, sweeter bourbon. Maker's Mark, Rip Van Winkle, Old Fitzgerald and W.L. Weller are all really good wheated bourbons. 
Anyway, that's my understanding of bourbon. I'm far from an expert on the matter, so it's possible I got a detail or three wrong in there. There are plenty of places on the Internet where you can delve into the matter more deeply. I highly encourage you to do just that if it interests you.

I'm no bourbon snob. Quite the opposite. I enjoy Jim Beam as I enjoy Budweiser. I usually keep some at home and I'll go to Beam in a pinch when I'm out and about. I enjoy Old Grand-Dad immensely, which is weird to me. It's incredibly inexpensive, but it's tasty as all hell. Uses the same mash bill as Basil Hayden's (who actually IS Old Grand-Dad), but it's aged fewer years and bottled (in bond) at 100 proof. It's a great everyday bourbon. But I also like some of the higher priced bourbons like Bulleit, Wood ford Reserve and Maker's Mark. When I say "higher priced" I mean in the $30-$40 range. Still pretty inexpensive when you consider the cost of many Scotch whiskeys.

One of the tastiest bourbons I've ever enjoyed was Pappy Van Winkle 23-year. That was 4-5 years ago when it was possible to get a bottle without taking a second mortgage on your home. Because of demand, bottles of Pappy Van 23 go for upwards of $2,000 in many markets today. It's great, but not that great. And a friend of mine had a bottle of Old Van Rip Van Winkle 10-year that he bought in 1990 or so. He had one drink and then put it in the closet for 25 years. That was amazing stuff. An unopened bottle of Old Van Rip from back then would be worth a fortune on the brown market today. Still I'm glad that he shared some with me.

I've always leaned toward the high-rye bourbons like Old Grand-Dad and Bulleit, and ignored the wheated bourbons like Maker's Mark. That Pappy Van Winkle bottle I had was a wheated bourbon, but that's a special treat. But I'd been reading about some of the more inexpensive wheated bourbons lately, and I've been interested in trying some. The problem is that they are hard to find in this area. And when you do find them, many stores have marked them up to ridiculous prices due to the demand. Vultures.

But on Thursday I stopped in to one of my local stores and saw that they had a couple of varieties of W.L. Weller for sale. The 12-year old and the Special Reserve. Oddly, the Special Reserve is their lower end product and the 12-year is the one that is more sought after. There is a store about 20 minutes from my house that advertises it for $120 a bottle. The national average is around $59, but the list price is closer to $20. Price gougers like that store I mentioned are the reason the national average is so high.

The bottle I purchased on Thursday was only $22.99! Ridiculously low, especially in this market. When I read up on it on Thursday evening, I knew I had to go back yesterday and buy several more bottles of the 12-year stuff. I hadn't even tried it yet, but I figured I couldn't pass up that price. So I did, and then I told several friends in the area about it so they could get some for themselves.

I tried it last night and it was really good. Not mind-blowing delicious like the Pappy Van Winkle, but really good. Especially for the price. If it is available at a decent price where you live and you enjoy wheated bourbons, you should give it a try.

Cheers!

Nov 3, 2014

31 of 31: The Houses October Built (2014)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.
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Platform: Amazon Rental on Roku
Starring: Some folks I've never seen before

Well, I did it. I started watching this 31st film on Halloween night around 11PM, so it counts. It's taking me a few days to actually get to the review portion of the program. Mostly because I was deeply disappointed in this film. Not that it's inherently a terrible film. On the contrary, it's mostly a FANTASTIC film. But it all fell apart in the last act, especially the final denouement. Which I will leave un-spoiled, because maybe you'll enjoy it more than I did. But it left me scratching my head and wishing for more.

Here's the deal. A group of young adventurers are off to find the most extreme haunts in America. Not haunted houses, but Halloween-themed scare houses. You know the deal. They've heard of "extreme" haunts that blur the violent line between realism and fantasy, even some that have allegedly featured real deaths. Accidental deaths probably, but you never know. They rent an RV and pack their found-footage cameras and head off.

As they travel from town to town, haunt to haunt, they document the lengths that ordinary people go to for a fright or a thrill. They also encounter the dark underbelly of the haunt culture. Angry and/or sad interviews with customers and haunt actors. And they elicit some anger from the haunt community on their insistence to film the frights. Anger turns to danger as they are "led" from tamer haunts to the extreme haunts that they really want to experience. Again...how fare are they willing to go for the ultimate fright or thrill. That's the premise of the film.

Did they bring the scares? Yes. There are some honest-to-God frights in the film. Some of the creeps working at the haunts are truly terrifying. Well, I guess their masks were terrifying. Bottom line, the creeps were creepy. But the film never went to the truly dark places that I thought it was going to go. Don't get me wrong, the ending is dark. Just not the dark that I (or many other reviewers) wanted. It just wasn't satisfying. If the ending had been more in line with what I was hoping for, this would have been my best reviewed film of the year.

As it is? Merely meh.

Verdant Dude Rating: 2.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 31, 2014

30 of 31: The Pact (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.
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Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien

One more day til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. One more day til Halloween, blah blah blah blah!

Our little experiment is winding down here, kids. And I have to tell you, I haven't been overwhelmed. Sure...I've found some diamonds in the rough. The Conspiracy, We Are What We Are, Willow Creek, Evil Dead, The Sacrament and The Taking of Deborah Logan were all top-notch. Four out of the six of those are of the found-footage variety. What ya gonna do. The state of the horror genre in the 2010's. I've got another one coming tomorrow, but I'm already thinking that one is gonna win the top prize. I try to save the best for last with these things, ya know.

The Pact has been cluttering up my Netflix queue for quite a while now. Or "My List" as they call it now for us streaming customers. Which bothers me because my Netflix queue was really the only reason I had to use the word "queue" on a somewhat weekly basis. And I dig that word. Sounds so much more posh than "My List". I picked it because it had a scary poster and it stars Caity Lotz, who is a semi-regular on The Arrow TV show, which I enjoy. Lotz proves to me that I have no specific type with women. I'm usually not a big fan of the freckly-faced, dimple-chinned, red-headed all-American type. But daaaaayum, girl! All that and a bag of freckly chips.

Here she plays Annie, a young woman with polychromatic eyes who has to deal with the funeral of her abusive mother as her older sister goes missing. She goes back to the old homestead, where everything looks like it was vacuum-packed from 1972. Terrible paneling, wallpaper, furniture and wall-to-wall carpeting. Pretty much my worst nightmare. Even the funeral home looks like it belongs in a Brady Bunch episode.

Crazy shit starts happening. Her cousin Liz disappears just like here sister did. Then she is attacked by some unseen force. Like unseen as in nothing was there. But she manages to escape the house with her young niece, Eva. She runs to the police who, of course, see some rather large holes in her story. Speaking of holes, she and the detective in charge of the case find a hidden room in her old home. With little peepholes into the other rooms of the house. Like someone was living there and spying on them while they were growing up. Cree...pee! With the help of a childhood psychic friend, we've all got one of those, she discovers a link to a serial killer named Judas who was never caught.

I managed to make it through the entire film even though I was staring lustily at Caity Lotz like the creepy fucking creep that I am. And even though I was warm to her form (eww), I couldn't help but notice that this was one chilling flick. Well made and often truly scary, at times. Certainly a worthwhile entry into this series.

Verdant Dude Rating: 4* out of 5 pumpkin ales.

*bonus points for this. I'm such a creep.

Oct 29, 2014

29 of 31: Grabbers (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.
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Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: A bunch of Irish folk

A group of villagers on a remote Irish island, including a police officer from the mainland, come under attack by what appears to be a bloodthirsty pack of tentacled sea creatures. Something fell/crashed out of the sky the night before just off the coast, with the sea creatures taking out an entire crew working on a fishing trawler. And then a bunch of mutilated dead whales wash up on the shore. And a local drunk lobsterman catches a small creature in one of his traps that is clearly not a lobster. In the evening, after his usual routine of getting absolutely hammered at the local pub, he is attacked by the small creature. He survives the encounter, kills the creature and dubs them "grabbers".

The local marine biologist, after examining the dead creature, deduces that they subsist on blood. That all they need to survive is blood and water. And he discovers that alcohol is toxic to them. Which is why the old drunk lobsterman was able to survive his encounter with the grabber, they theorize. And this is when the fun begins. Much like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost heading to the pub in Shaun of the Dead, the villagers decide to get their drink on. Makes sense to me. The only defense against these creatures is a solid bender.

I guess you can tell that this is in the comedy/horror genre rather than just straight horror. And what it lacks in actual frights, it more than makes up for in fun. The cast and the writing are both top-notch. I loved how they tested their theory and then deduced the proper amount of beer and whiskey that each of them would need to consume to fight off the beasties. Lots of fun.

Don't take it too seriously because it's not meant to be be taking seriously. If you like your horror with a side of comedy, of your comedy with a side of horror for that matter, then check this one out. And you may as well get pissed in the process. Just in case.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales




28 of 31: Mine Games (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.
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Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Briana Evigan, Julianna Guill, Joseph Cross

I almost said "fuck it" tonight and watched A Cabin in the Woods again. For the 15th time or so. God, I love that movie. But no, I'm trudging on. And in honor of ACitW, I'm watching a "cabin in the woods" kinda flick. An Aussie/American flick called Mine Games from 2012. And it is both exactly what you think it is and nothing what you would expect at all. Intrigued? Nah...me neither.

A bunch of handsome kids head to a remote cabin in the woods for a little party time in their oh-so-sweet rape van. Three girls and four guys. The perfect "three couples and another dude" situation that all these films require. Might be one more couple than necessary, but let's not quibble. In a great series of genre tropes, we see vague warnings of recent murders in the paper, they run off the road briefly by someone flagging them down in the dark, they run out of gas and then someone suggests they split up to find the cabin. They don't actually do that, but you have to admire the gumption for someone to even suggest it.

They make serial killer jokes, one of the guys who seems a bit off forgets his meds, and then the lights go off. But there has to be a generator, right? Right. And then they hear someone outside. Loud noises and bumps that go thing in the night. You know, this is really beginning to feel like A Cabin in the Woods. All we need is a basement full of nerds to run the show. Or a mine shaft full of nerds. Maybe just a mine shaft. Yup...we've got that covered.

What happens next? Well, I believe the famed West Texan philosopher Rustin Cohle said it best. "Someone once told me, 'Time is a flat circle.' Everything we've ever done or will do, we're gonna do over and over and over again."

All right, all right, all right...
All right, all right, all right...
All right, all right, all right....
All right, all right, all right....
All right, all right, all right....
All...

Verdant Dude Rating: 2 out of 5 pumpkin ales