Song of the Day: Night on the Sun by Modest Mouse

There is really nothing quite like old Modest Mouse. The rawness of it is almost overpowering, and some of their newer stuff, while being more refined, seems overproduced and lacks some of the rough almost desperation you hear in some of the early tracks. “Night on the Sun” is the title track of Modest Mouse’s 1999 EP, which was released only in Japan. It’s a lengthy track, over 9 minutes long, but once again Isaac Brock proves his poetic prowess and as all the instruments seem to flow together so perfectly, the resulting instrumental segments are truly enthralling.

Despite a ridiculously expansive discography, Modest Mouse never quite gained the full notoriety they deserved. I’ve heard them compared to The Velvet Underground, as they seem to expand guitar-centric rock music to levels most have never heard of and frankly, most aren’t ready for. Like The Velvet Underground, I think Modest Mouse will come to be appreciated much more in retrospect. The Lonesome Crowded West to me is one of the best and most ambitious albums released in the last 20 years. It represented the band’s breakthrough, a creative masterpiece and was so incredibly diverse. The emotional shift from one song to the next is remarkable as the conveyance of sentiments from assured to susceptible is seamless and as such, breathtaking.”Night on the Sun” was just one of a handful I could have chosen which is a true testament of the depth of Modest Mouse’s arsenal.

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Close Scene Analysis: Trainspotting

Trainspotting, the 1996 British satirical drama film, is one of the most realistic and honest portrayals of illicit drug abuse in film. While there isn’t a very well defined plot, the movie follows a group of Scottish youths in Edinburgh who turn to heroin to escape the dreary monotony of everyday life. The protagonist, Marc Renton, is portrayed by Ewen McGregor and decides to give up heroin and the movies illustrates how this decision affects his relationships with his former using buddies. Danny Boyle, who garnered an Academy Award win for his direction of Slumdog Millionaire, directs the movie and the script, based on Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name, is adapted by John Hodge. The scene that is being analyzed is called “Cold Turkey” and portrays the aforementioned Renton in his bedroom alone withdrawing from heroin. Very rarely will you find a scene that communicates so much to the viewer with so little dialogue. To understand this scene it should be put in some context. Up until this point we see Renton struggling to kick his addiction. He gets arrested and is spared of jail time as long as he agrees to go to a methadone clinic and try to get clean. He attempts to get one more hit and in another unbelievable scene, which utilizes music perfectly, Renton overdoses. Boyle uses Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” a song etched with irony as the somber tone doesn’t match the rather the nostalgic and sometimes menacing lyrics. His parents pick him up from the hospital with hopes of cleaning out his system and the scene “Cold Turkey” begins at 49’ 59”. This scene is important because for the first time, we see some genuine regret from Renton for his actions and its one of the most truthful portrayals of drug withdrawal ever shot.

The scene begins with Renton’s father carrying him into his bedroom. This is the first in a series of actions carefully planned by Boyle to portray Renton as helpless as a young child. We hear “Perfect Day” in the background, which is just a carryover from the previous scene, and it quickly fades.  His father removes his shoes while his mother removes his jacket and unbuttons his shirt, again reinforcing just how vulnerable he is at this point. His mother then tucks him in, continuing with the theme of depicting Renton as a child. The staging of the scene perpetuates the theme as the wallpaper in the room is of trains, something that most would associate with a child. The viewer then takes on Renton’s subjective point of view as he watches his parents leave the room. The next shot is a close-up of the lock on Renton’s door, which his father pulls and the sound is exaggerated and amplified to emphasize the feeling of being trapped.

Right after his parents leave, instrumental music begins with short staccato beats. Music plays a vital role in the scene. The music continues and Renton’s voiceover is added to the mix. Voiceover is utilized throughout the film to guide the viewer. The camera slowly zooms in on his face and McGregor does a really terrific job at not just conveying fear, but rather a combination of the anticipation of the oncoming sickness coupled with fear. The camera then moves to behind Renton’s head and a wide-angle lens is employed, giving the room a distorted sense. His bed then appears to be moving backwards, making the room appear larger and Renton smaller in comparison. Slowly more sounds are added to the cacophony and the beat begins to speed up, alerting the viewer that something is going to happen. The camera returns to a close-up of Renton’s face, slightly off center in the field of view, sweating and twitching and once again another sound is heard, this one the voice of a girl Renton had slept with earlier in the film. We are now on Renton’s subjective point of view as his dad enters the room. Again, a wide-angle lens is utilized to make the distance from Renton’s bed to the door seem longer, to make the room and impending sickness feel inescapable.

His mother brings him food and Renton turns away, unable to even look at it as the first dialogue of the scene is heard. Renton says that “maybe I should go back to the clinic” and the desperation is so palpable. After the dialogue, which switches off in subjective point of view camera work, we experience a close up of Renton with the camera under the covers. The viewer now sees a number of Renton’s imaginings started with his pal Begbie. The close-up continues and follows Renton very intently, employing rapid zoom-ins and zoom-outs, which make the camera unsteady, adding to the chaos of the scene. The viewer now hears the sound of a baby crying softly and as Renton turns his head we take on his implied subjective point of view and see the baby crawling on the ceiling. For some background, earlier in the movie, Renton was awoken to the sound of screaming at Mother Superior’s, his drug dealer’s house, and found that the baby of one of his friends had died. The camera flashes back to Renton, visibly disturbed, zooming in and out sporadically and as his level of panic slowly increases, we hear the sound of a cymbal crashing three times, another effective use of sound as the cymbals work with McGregor’s expression to increase the tension.

As this montage continues, the viewer now sees a game show being played with Renton’s parents as the contestants answering questions about HIV. This was the 1980s when the HIV epidemic was at its height especially among intravenous drug users. This also helped foreshadow the next scene where Renton is tested. It flashes back to the Renton, the camera once again under his covers with him, the wide-angle lens creating a visually striking image. The acting by McGregor towards the end of this scene is absolutely fantastic as he truly illustrates the feeling of wanting to jump out of his own skin, an incredibly difficult emotion to portray. The babies crying returns and now a tracking shot is used but the camera actually appears to be on the ceiling and it gives the impression that the baby is moving closer to Renton which allows the audience to connect the growing fear and guilt with the baby. Once more we are returned to Renton, enlarged in the frame, the camera following him around shakily complementing the utter chaos of the scene. Another figment of Renton’s imagination appears and again sound is employed as we see Spud, Renton’s friend who is in jail for committing the same crime as him, banging his shackles against a door. Once again the sound allows us to connect Spud with Renton’s dormant guilt. The game show reappears and another question is asked about HIV.

Another figment appears and it is Tommy, another one of Renton’s friends, who is looking pale and much like an addict. Tommy was one of Renton’s friends who didn’t take part in heroin until left by his girlfriend and the juxtaposition between his muscular body at the beginning, and his thin frail look now help to illustrate the effects of the drug. Fill light is used here to cast a shadow behind Tommy to make him appear menacing. As has been evident through the scene, the theme of guilt is once again prevalent as Renton’s reaction illustrates. As if the images didn’t depict the theme of guilt enough, we are brought back to the game show host who asks “is he guilty or not guilty?” The final shot is a worm’s eye view shot of the baby on the ceiling in Renton’s subjective point of view as the babies head rotates and we now see its face for the first time, which makes the experience more personable and the guilt more real.

This scene was chosen because it has an unbelievable ability to express a powerful message to the audience without the use of dialogue. The camera work was extremely influential in reinforcing the disorder and the chaos of the scene and the use of sound, both diegetic and non-diegetic, was vital as it complemented the lighting, powerful acting and cinematography. Boyle and his cinematographer Brian Tufano staged a masterful scene that accurately illustrates the horrors of withdrawal and vividly expresses the extreme guilt Renton feels due to his past actions.

Song of the Day: Furr by Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper is a Portland, Oregon based band comprised of five talented musicians. ”Furr” was one of their two singles from their 2008 album entitled Furr. This was the band’s fourth album, but first album released under the Sub Pop Records label. Blitzen Trapper reached a high point in their career with the release of the album, which earned itself a two-page feature in Rolling Stone, and sat at number thirteen on Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of 2008 list, while the title track and Song of the Day, “Furr,” was ranked at number four on the magazine’s Best Singles of 2008 list.

Despite the media boom Blitzen Trapper experienced for this track and album, the band started out by self-releasing their first three albums, and Furr really held onto the eclectic personal, alternative style that was heard in those albums. The band’s leader, Eric Early, wrote every song on Furr, infusing the band’s genuine passion for music into each track.

Blitzen Trapper’s strong country and folk style is heard from the very beginning of their track, “Furr.” Early’s defined voice tells a story through his lyrics, as the guitars and harmonica, which comes in around the first chorus, bring his words to life. “Furr” has an upbeat tempo and the swift pace of this song keeps the listener attentive from start to finish. This band’s sound has a very refreshing feel to it; no matter what kind of mood I am in, I can always listen to Blitzen Trapper’s, “Furr.” Take a listen for yourself through the video above, hope you enjoy.

Movie of the Day: In Bruges

One of the surprise movies of 2008 was the dark comedy In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh. This was his first full-length feature although in 2006, he won an Academy Award for Best Short Film for his movie Six Shooter. In Bruges chronicles two London hitmen who seek shelter in Bruges, Belgium following a hit gone wrong and await instructions from their ruthless boss. It stars Ralph Fiennes as the aforementioned ruthless boss in an effective albeit absurd role with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell starring as the hitmen. Farrell plays Ray, who’s guilt-stricken and would rather be anywhere else in the world but Bruges. It’s the best I’ve Farrell in any role by a fair margin and prior to this I never really took him seriously as an actor. Brendan Gleeson, one of the better actors who seem to have flown under the radar, portrays the other hitman, Ken. He has depicted Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter series but his list of credits is quite impressive and includes roles in Braveheart, Troy, and Martin Scorsese’s epic Gangs of New York. His depiction of Winston Churchill in the TV movie Into the Storm garnered him an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe nomination. Gleeson’s character was the more experienced hitman but at the same time, a more optimistic and romantic character than Farrell’s Ray. Despite killing people for a living he is able to sell the audience on the idea that he is a good guy who reluctantly does bad things. Gleeson starred in the lead role of the The Guard alongside Don Cheadle in one of my 5 favorite movies of 2011 and was particularly effective. The Guard was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of Martin.

Gleeson, left, and Farrell

In Bruges had a pretty good box-office showing in the UK and a mediocre showing at the U.S. box office but I’d argue that was due to poor advertising. If you watch the trailer you’d think that this was a light crime film in the mold of a Guy Ritchie movie and thus lacking any sort of significant depth. On the contrary In Bruges is far from shallow, and with an extremely witty script, explores issues of racism and views on life and death. I think it is a bit similar to Adventureland in terms of marketing failures. After viewing the trailer, you’d think Adventureland was a film akin to Superbad, but in truth Adventureland is only moderately funny and that humor is in the end superseded by a coming of age story and Jesse Eisenberg’s search for identity.

As I mentioned prior, the script was fantastically witty and clever, the dialogue especially poignant, and McDonagh received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He does a good job as he navigates seamless shifts from light to heavy and silly to sincere. There are some truly stunning and eloquently beautiful shots in the film but more of that is due to Bruges picturesque natural beauty than any cinematic technique McDonagh employs although there is one truly brilliant nearly 5 minute tracking shot of Ken on the phone that McDonagh directs with supreme confidence. The score was also particular effective and helped cue the audience on which parts are light and which are serious and also aided in the effortless transitions between these phases. In Bruges was really a surprisingly great movie, truly unique and a prime example of the genre of dramadies, utilizing dark wit and an astute screenplay. In Bruges represents an extremely successful foray into feature films for playwright-cum-screenwriter and director, Martin McDonagh.

Close Scene Analysis: Man on Wire

In 2008, James Marsh’s Man on Wire took the festival circuit by storm winning the Special Jury Award and Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and then capturing the Jury Prize and Audience Award in the World Cinema: Documentary category at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. A few months later, it took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 81st Academy Awards. Man on Wire chronicles Philippe Petit’s wire-walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in August of 1974. Constructed like a classic heist film and utilizing interviews, blow-by-blow re-creation and re-enactments as well as archival footage even including Super 8 footage from Petit’s personal camera, Man on Wire transcends the label of documentary. With this strong underlying narrative, Man on Wire comes to a head during a fantastic climax scene that mixes together still photographs, interviews and archival footage to simultaneously tell parallel stories and leave the audience in awe.

A still-photo of Petit

In order to comprehend how this scene serves the filmmakers goals, it’s important to first examine what the filmmaker’s goals are. Given that the film is not advocating a social cause, the goal reverts to telling a great story. Marsh sets out to tell a story about a man, but more importantly about an attitude towards life that refuses to acknowledge limits and boundaries and to tell it a nostalgic way as opposed to sentimental. Marsh wants to introduce the audience to a world where anything is possible and uses the film as his medium. With the prevalent theme of the consequences of human relationships, Marsh crafts parallel stories that trigger excitement, suspense and sweaty palms for the audience.

To fully understand the scene in question, its vital to briefly put the scene in context within the larger story. Up until this point, Marsh chronicled Philippe Petit, a French wirewalker and street performer who had previously performed a high-wire walk between the towers of the Notre Dame in Paris as well as between two pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Having seen a picture of the Twin Towers in a magazine, Petit became obsessed with wire walking between them and begins to plan his strategy, which included numerous trips to New York. Following a tumultuous build-up, Petit and his crew finally set up the wire, which leads to this scene.

A still photograph of Philippe Petit, as seen in Man on Wire

The scene begins with a still photograph of Petit’s first step out onto the wire, accompanied by the sounds of nature and Petit’s voiceover, “death is very close.” The frame remains on the still photograph for a long time, which becomes a theme throughout and we slowly zoom out to gain perspective of a small man against the massive backdrop of the building. While Marsh is not present in the movie, you could still tell his stance towards Petit is one of awe and marvel. He keeps the still frames of Petit on the screen for what most would consider far too long to give the audience the feel that something is happening and we need to pay close attention. No live footage of his walk exists and while re-enactment worked in other times of the movie, in this instance it would seem unsatisfactory so the montage of still images seemed to be the way to go. The photographs helped to capture how ephemeral this moment was and how dream like it was and watching it, it almost conjures up visions of some sort of miracle.

The score also complements the scene perfectly as the gentle piano seems both menacing but jubilant, evoking either a foreboding feeling or a triumphant feeling. Marsh effortlessly mixes in an interview with Petit as he recalls his experience and then an interview with his companion who set up the cable. The companion breaks into tears and it is now apparent that Marsh successfully transmitted a classic story of a hero going on an impossible quest with all the setbacks and impediments along the way and succeeding nonetheless. The still frames continue and he includes a shot from the ground of a microscopic Petit in between the two towers and slowly zooms in. It was a perfect juxtaposition between Petit’s idealist artistry and the towers, which represented the financial and capitalist center of the world.

One in a series of still photographs that Marsh employs so sucessfully

One of Marsh’s goals was to not romanticize the event but rather tell stories from many different perspectives and use the overlapping accounts and parallel stories to make the story dynamic. The editing here really lends itself to that as we now move on to an interview of his then-girlfriend who was at the base of towers as she recalls her experience. The amazement in her voice helps illustrate how incredible this moment was. We revert back to still photographs while still hearing her interview and now Marsh edits in a still photo of people at the base of the towers looking up in wonderment and then another interview from a different companion so he presents the audience with 4 distinct accounts from that day.

The score becomes more intense and Marsh zooms out on one of the still photographs and the audience sees in the corner a pair of Port Authority policemen watching Petit from the roof. Marsh edits in archival footage of the media interviewing Charles Daniels, one of the policemen who witnessed Petit. Marsh wanted to tell a story, one that is part of New York City folklore but wanted to give an honest all-encompassing tale of the event and he succeeded admirably. By effortlessly splicing present-day interviews, complementary sound editing, still photographs and archival footage, Marsh not only presents 5 distinct accounts of the events that transpired that day, he makes the audience feel present at an event that occurred over 30 years prior with no live footage available and does it in such a way that there is massive poetic undertones.

The climactic scene of Man on Wire is one of the more memorable scenes in recent documentary history. Combining a flawless use of still photographs, a fabulous score and perfectly edited archival footage, Marsh is able to recount these iconic moments from multiple perspectives. The scene comes together perfectly as he seamlessly blends the content and beautifully serves his goals. It is the perfect conclusion to a free-flowing story that built excitement, suspense and anticipation and like Marsh wanted, makes the audience feel like anything is possible.

Levon Helm, The Band and The Last Waltz

With the passing of legendary drummer Levon Helm, I began to reflect on one of my first true obsessions in music, The Band. Helm succumbed to throat cancer two weeks ago leaving Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson the only two remaining members of The Band left. Helm was known for his country-accented voice and creative drumming style and he remains one of my top 5 favorite drummers along with Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell and of course, the timeless Keith Moon. My earliest memory of The Band was on a family trip to Canada coincidentally, given that four-fifths of The Band was Canadian. Also ironic was that a band made up almost entirely of Canadians can so perfectly embody the idea of “Americana,” although admittedly that has so much to do with the sole American Helm, his presence and his Soulful-Southern voice.

From left to right, Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson

I heard the song “The Weight” on a CD and every time it finished I just kept asking my dad to play it again and again until everyone else in the car wanted to kill me. The simple but soulful track almost overwhelmed me and from there I was hooked. When I got home, I bought their Greatest Hits and I just kept uncovering more gems. The Band remain one of the most underrated performance artists of all-time and despite a number of accolades including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, a Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award and being named the 50th greatest artists of all-time by Rolling Stone, it seems like they are remembered more as Dylan’s backing band on the legendary Dylan goes electric European tour. There was something incredibly admirable about the band and their simple roots and uncomplicated lifestyle living in upstate New York. They didn’t live the excessively lavish lifestyle of many of their contemporaries although it should be said, they did indeed party and party hard. According to Helm, the multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel was consuming eight bottles of Grand Marnier per day in conjunction with an exceptional cocaine addiction.

Levon Helm during The Last Waltz

In truth, I wasn’t aware of The Last Waltz until a friend’s dad introduced me to it. For those who are unaware, The Last Waltz is a music documentary directed by Martin Scorsese that chronicles the final concert of The Band at Winterland in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. The movie tagline, which so perfectly captures the essence of the night, is “It started as a Concert. It Became a Celebration. Now it’s a Legend.” The concert, while fantastic musically, sticks out to me for its almost unfathomable collection of legendary talent on one stage. When The Band performed “I Shall Be Released” as its closing number, on stage was all five members of The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Ronnie Hawkins and Neil Diamond who always seemed out of place to me. Think about that, try to get your head around it and let that sink in for a little. While Rolling Stone is obviously not the end all-be all, if you take their 100 Greatest Artists of All-Time list just as a matter of reference, on the stage was the 60th (Joni Mitchell), the 53rd (Clapton), the 50th (The Band), the 42nd (Van Morrison), the 34th (Neil Young), the 17th (Muddy Waters), the guitarist of the 4th (Wood, The Rolling Stones), the 2nd (Dylan) and the drummer of the 1st (Starr, The Beatles). As they all join together singing “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released,” you can’t help but get chills as it perfectly captures that end of an era feeling. This night was a once in a generation kind of thing and one that I feel lucky that someone recorded so at least I can feel a bit part of it. A fitting final performance from one of the more underappreciated groups of all-time and the special guests complemented The Band perfectly, but never overshadowed them.

Comparative Book Review: Obama’s Dreams from My Father and Colin Powell’s My American Journey

Colin Powell and Barack Obama are two African-Americans who despite a number of obstacles, displayed perseverance and reached the pinnacle of American politics. While they both obtained extremely prestigious positions in government with Powell serving as Secretary of State under George W. Bush and Obama becoming the first African-American President, the journeys they took differed greatly. Obama chronicles this journey in his 1995 self-penned autobiography Dreams from My Father, while Powell recounts his life with help from Joseph E. Persico in the 1995 book My American Journey. I believe it is important to note that both of these books were written before massive events in each of their lives. Dreams from My Father was written when Obama was still only a state Senator in Illinois, long before he even contemplated running for President. My American Journey was written prior to Powell’s appointment as Secretary of State, the first African-American to hold the position and his infamous speech in front on the United Nations regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which undoubtedly altered the public’s perception of him. While the themes of these books are different, Powell and Obama share refreshingly honest tales, especially for politicians, that give the reader an insight to the making of two great American politicians.

Obama and Powell took different approaches to telling their story and as such, the styles are slightly contrasting. Obama’s story had a more compelling narrative and is more about life, a coming of age story of a man in search of his true identity while Powell’s reads almost like an insider book, delving into the inner workings of the United States militant politics. When these were both written, Obama was merely a state senator while Powell was already a 4-star general and had first-hand experience with the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. Due to this, Powell’s story was far more historical than Obama’s and focused on what happened once he arrived at the higher reaches of American politics while Obama illustrated a deep exploration into how he became who he is or was at the time and how he formed his identity.

While they were both well written, Dreams from My Father was definitely more of a page-turner as Obama displayed an infallible command of the English language and it read more like a novel than an autobiography. While My American Journey certainly wasn’t poorly written, I would describe it as more interesting and informative than gripping. Because both Obama and Powell were active in politics when these biographies were written, there is definitely neutrality that is reflected in the books. I thought Obama seemed a bit cautious and made a conscious effort to stay unbiased, while Powell, despite making clear his belief in the role of government, also seemed too even-handed almost to a fault. Far too often, Powell simply presented the reader with the facts on a number of events including the U.S. rescue mission in Somalia, the Persian Gulf War and the Iran-Contra affair, but refused to insert his own opinion on the situation, which I thought could have provided very interesting insight. With that being said, both My American Journey and Dreams from My Father were extremely honest portraits, especially compared to other political biographies I have read in the past.

As mentioned prior, the themes of Dreams from My Father and My American Journey differ but there are certainly parallels in the content of both books. The overwhelming theme in Dreams from My Father is the search of identity and a sense of belonging as well as the theme of family. Coming from a mixed marriage, Obama never quite felt like he belonged in a white American community, even at a young age. He leads the reader through his search to find his identity and in turn a feeling of acceptance. For Powell his identity was never in question. He was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrant parents who were both Black and he grew up in the South Bronx in an almost predominantly Black neighborhood, far different than Obama’s upbringing in Hawaii. In spite of this, Powell makes a very clear insistence throughout the book that he identifies himself as an American first, rather than a member of a racial subgroup.

The most prevalent themes of My American Journey are leadership, family, personal responsibility and undoubtedly the premier theme, the American Dream. Powell’s story is an embodiment of the opportunities America affords as he grew up relatively poor, got into trouble as a child, struggled through college with a C average, only to join the ROTC and later attain the greatest honor in the military. Like Obama’s mother and grandparents, Powell’s parents stressed the important of personal achievement and education. Like Powell, Obama also got into a bit of trouble in what he describes as a “party” lifestyle at Occidental College before getting his act together. Both My American Journey and Dreams from My Father share the theme of unbridled optimism towards the future.

Dreams from My Father conclusion is almost like a beginning, a beginning of Obama’s new life with his bride and it is just dripping with themes of family as his older brother Abongo helps guide him on an anxiety-filled wedding day. Powell concludes My American Journey with a much more general declaration, filled with optimism regarding the future of this country, his fervent patriotism, his love for America and his unwavering belief in the opportunities it has granted for people like himself. As continued evidence of Dreams from My Father being the stronger narrative and transcending the autobiography label, Obama’s conclusion has clear poetic undertones while Powell, as he was throughout his book, remained practical and re-assuring.

Both Colin Powell and Barack Obama had to overcome hurdles to achieve success and they made history as Obama became the first African-American President and Powell became the first African-American appointed as Secretary of State and as a result the first to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. My American Journey and Dreams from My Father are both fascinating biographies that cover themes ranging from the search for identity, the American Dream, family and optimism. While there were certainly differences in themes, style and conclusions, there were many similarities in the content and the approach of both books.

Food Review: The Stanton Social

Tapas/Small Plates is a style that has really grown in popularity over the past years.  The Stanton Social, as you may presume, a tapas style restaurant, was one of my finest eating experiences with this type of cuisine.  Located in the Lower East Side on 99 Stanton Street in New York, New York, this chicly decorated hot spot left a lasting impression on me.

Old School Meatballs

When I first arrived, I was a little intimidated by the looks of this place.  It was still early on a Friday night, but the large, dimly lit dining room was already filled a generous amount with a posh looking crowd.  When I dine out, I really don’t care about the reputation of the place nor the crowd it attracts; all I’m looking for is great food and service, and wherever I can find that is great in my book.

Chicken n’ Waffles

I was excited to crack open the oversized menu. The Stanton Social has a unique layout of their menu; although all of their dinner selections are created in the small plate style, they still group certain dishes based on their qualities, making subtle distinctions between appetizers, lite entrées, main courses, sides and snacks, and dessert.

Crabcake Corn Dogs

I dined with one other person, and man can we eat.  We didn’t want to go overboard though to the point where we felt like we never wanted to eat again.  We also followed the mentality that since the restaurant operates in the tapas way, you can always order more dishes if you would like.  After lots of back and forth, we finally decided on the nori spiced tuna tartare roll, beef carpaccio, Maryland jumbo lump crabcake ‘corn dogs,’ ‘chicken n’ waffles,’ old school meatballs, and chipotle grilled shrimp.  What was great about Stanton Social was that every dish had such complexity and was different than anything you would find at any other restaurant.

I would have to say that the ‘chicken n’ waffles,’ the crabcake ‘corn dogs,’ and the tuna tartare were my three favorite dishes that we ordered.  Each one had such a distinct taste and was a wonderful combination of flavors.  The ‘chicken n’ waffles’ and the crabcake ‘corn dogs’ were the most exotic dishes that we ordered.  They were both extremely tasty and fresh.  The ‘chicken n’ waffles’ was definitely the hardiest dish, and one that I strongly recommend if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods.  Dinner selections were a 10, now on to dessert..

Warm and airy donuts

Let me preface this by saying that dessert makes my world go round.  I must have something sweet after every meal, and after my dinner at The Stanton Social, all I crave is their dessert creations.  We selected the warm doughnuts – which sits tall at the top of their dessert menu and is the acclaimed house special – and the red velvet twinkle.  The doughnuts were the perfect culmination to this innovative, inventive meal.  The balls of warm dough came coated in a cinnamon and sugar mixture, on a plate with three different dipping sauces.  The doughnuts were really one of the best desserts I have had in NYC.  The red velvet twinkle was a classic Twinkie, but red velvet flavored cake with a vanilla cream cheese filling.  This was also a great choice, but those doughnuts were the clear standout as far as dessert went.

Red Velvet Twinkies

The service was great and overall, for the amount of food ordered, the check was not exorbitant as it very easily can become at any New York City eatery, most of which do not even come close to The Stanton Social’s level.  This meal was really something special because of the uniqueness of each dish.  It was also a memorable meal, which to me, shows just how much I truly enjoyed it.  I am greatly looking forward to my next visit to The Stanton Social.

Song of the Day: The Girl by City and Colour

Dallas Green, a Canadian singer-songwriter, goes by the alias City and Colour, which comes from his own name; Dallas being a city, and Green being a color.  Green is proficient on the guitar and combined with his smooth, melodic vocals, he creates a dramatic acoustic sound.  His talents have been recognized by the Juno Awards, where he has been nominated seven times, and has won three – one win going to “The Girl” in 2009.  This song, “The Girl,” from the album, Bring Me Love, is one of my favorites because of its unique “layout,” so to speak.

The song begins with slow, yet upbeat guitar chords and soft lyrics about his affection for a girl who spreads herself thin to keep their relationship going.   He recognizes and appreciated her outward portrayal of affection and the efforts she puts into the relationship. At around the halfway mark of this song, the pace really speeds up, and the song goes through a transition of sorts.  City and Colour really let’s his folk roots emerge after his second count off, while harmonizing beautifully with the various instruments in the background.  The last minute of this song takes on a more somber tone driven by the bold piano in the background.  The diversity of sound in Green’s “The Girl,” forms such a catchy and unique piece of music. With all of its appealing attributes, it has rightfully earned itself the title of Song of the Day.

Top 5: The Best Episodes of The Office

In my post entitled “Arrested Development and Party Down: Better off Dead?” I came off very harsh regarding The Office, and that is not a fair assessment of my true feelings towards the show. I love the early seasons of the show, finding them a perfect balance between comedy and light-drama and I believe season 2 and season 3 are the best back to back seasons of any comedy show ever. So without further ado, here are my 5 favorite episodes of The Office.

“You down with the Dundies?”

5. “The Dundies” (Season 2, Episode 1) While there were certainly high spots in season 1, such as “Diversity Day” and “Basketball”, to me it didn’t seem like the office truly found its footing until the premier of season 2, “The Dundies.” Drunk Pam was hilarious and a nice departure from her usual reserved, mild-mannered self. The Jim and Pam story line also takes an interesting twist when Pam kisses Jim after winning her Dundie. Michael was both hilarious and horrible as the host of The Dundies with his song parodies and it was the last time “Ping” has surfaced. It could be argued that this was the episode that saved the show as they needed a strong showing after rather lackluster ratings in Season 1

Memorable Quote:

Michael: So I, you know, an employee will go home, and he’ll tell his neighbor, “Hey, did you get an award?” And the neighbor will say, “No man. I mean I slave all day and nobody notices me.” Next thing you know, employee smells something terrible coming from the neighbor’s house. Neighbor’s hanged himself, due to lack of recognition.

“Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game, and it’s called, “let’s see how uncomfortable we can make our guests.” And they’re both winning”

4. “Dinner Party” (Season 4, episode 13) Directed by Paul Feig who later directed Bridesmaids, this inside look at Michael’s home life is equal parts hilarity and awkwardness. At some parts, I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or just squirm. Michael’s obsession with his plasma TV kills me and by being exposed to Jan’s crazy side, you feel a new sense of sympathy for Michael. This is a true classic episode of The Office, as it’s difficult to watch but you can’t not due its hilariousness.

Memorable Quote:

Michael: That is sort of an oaky afterbirth

“I just wanna lie on the beach and eat hotdogs. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

3. “Beach Games” (Season 3, Episode 23) “Beach Games” stands out to me because it’s so incredibly layered and has a little bit of everything. There is so many funny parts and at the same time, this episode takes a serious turn towards the end. Michael’s phone call with David Wallace, the bus ride, Toby’s disappointment, Andy floating away in his sumo suit and Michael’s frustrations due to the staff’s indifference are highlights of this episode. But no part stands out to me more than Pam’s coal walk and discovered confidence. Just like in the “The Dundies,” this represents a large contrast of Pam’s passive behavior and it was quite refreshing to see.

Memorable Quote:

Michael: If you don’t like it, Stanley, you can go to the back of the bus.

Stanley: Excuse me?

Michael: Or the front of the bus. Or drive the bus

“I burned my foot very badly on my Foreman Grill”

2. “The Injury” (Season 2, Episode 12) Penned by Mindy Kalin who also plays Kelly Kapoor, “The Injury” is the episode that truly turned me into a fan. Up until that point I had certainly enjoyed the show, but I was far from a diehard. After this episode I was hooked. The entire premise was great and I couldn’t figure out which sub-plot I liked more, Michael’s desire for special treatment or Dwight’s concussion symptoms. The scene on the way to the hospital where Jim is spraying both Dwight and Michael with a mister remains one of my favorites. A truly hysterical episode.

Memorable Quote:

Michael: Let me ask you something. How longs it take for you to do something simple, everyday, like, like brush your teeth in the morning.

Billy Merchant: I don’t know, like thirty seconds?

Michael: Oh my god. That’s three times as long as it takes me

“Two queens on casino night… I am going to drop a deuce on everybody”

1. “Casino Night” (Season 2, Episode 22)

Widely recognized as one of the best episodes of the series, the season 2 finale “Casino Night” was important because it represented the culmination (for now) and climax of the Jim and Pam story arc and much like other early episodes of The Office found a nice balance between comedy and drama. The first episode of the series to be written by Steve Carell, “Casino Night” further developed the minor characters Creed and Kevin and tied up almost all of the story lines from the first two seasons and did it brilliantly while also maintaining its humor as Michael tries to juggle two dates and Dwight comically tries to be his wing man. It also included one of my favorite moments in the series history when Michael asks Toby “Why are you the way that you are? Honestly, every time I try to do something fun or exciting, you make it not that way. I hate so much about the things that you choose to be.”

Memorable Quote:

Creed: Thanks, I’ve never owned a refrigerator before.

Honorable mention: “Gay Witch Hunt” (Season 3, Episode 1), “The Return” (Season 3, Episode 14), “Conflict Resolution” (Season 2, Episode 21), “Local Ad” (Season 4, Episode 9), “The Deposition” (Season 4, Episode 12), “Business School” (Season 3, Episode 17), “Niagara” (Season 6, Episode 4/5), “Goodbye Toby” (Season 4, Episode 18/19)  and “Product Recall” (Season 3, Episode 21)

Did I forget any? Please feel free to share your top 5 in the comment section.

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