Short Term 12 = Long Term Awesome

The first thing I did when I got my driver’s license was drive to the Castleton Arts movie theatre to see “Kissing Jessica Stein,” and I’ve supported independent film ever since. Movies don’t need budgets big enough to bail out small countries and a year long production schedule to be above and beyond good, and Destin Cretton’s new film “Short Term 12” is proof of that.

Set in a group home for troubled youth, “Short Term 12” tells the stories of Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), a young couple who keep the home running, and care for its young residents. Business is going as usual as it can when working with kids who come from beyond broken homes and occasionally break into frenzied fits while wearing a cape, until Grace finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant, and a newcomer to the home named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) makes the news an even harder pill to swallow. Pun recognized, but not intended.

Jayden brings up unresolved issues in Grace, and the drama evolves from there. I don’t want to give anything away, but it all culminates with a scene involving breaking and entering and a baseball bat that had enough suspense to make me want a whiskey ASAP.  “Short Term 12” gives a realistic view of mental health problems and an environment that is usually overly-dramatized and wrought with inaccuracies. In a post-screening Q&A, John Gallagher Jr. revealed the realism was due to heavy research and shadowing actual group home professionals.

While we’re on the subject of JGJ, his performance as Mason was beyond impressive, and I’m not just saying that as a big fan of his work. (Remember when I wrote about it here and here?) After watching “Short Term 12,” followed by a marathon of “The Newsroom,”  John… Mister Gallagher Jr… or whatever is appropriate for me to call him, got me thinking about acting in a way I never have before. Comparing Mason with Jim Harper isn’t quite like comparing apples and oranges. Both are well-intentioned, self-effacing characters who mask their insecurities with humor, however the subtle differences that JGJ (that’s what I’ll call him) brings to each makes me think that his nuanced approach is possibly way more complex than someone who plays a series of starkly different roles.

But enough of the writer trying to talk about acting… “Short Term 12” is a good investment of time, money, and a solid example of quality independent film. You should probably see it as quickly as possible. And a bonus for those of you still reading… I asked JGJ in the Q&A what he was listening to in a scene where Mason was wearing headphones, and while microphones made it impossible to listen to anything, he was pretending to jam out to The Clash.

 

 

 

 

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Where to eat and drink in Harlem

A list of places that will make you go Brooklyn who? Downtown… why? Welcome to my favorite neighborhood spots.

TRUFA

You could go downtown to get the classic brunch you always dream of, or do it uptown at Trufa and only pay $8. Said brunch includes 2 eggs, homemade home fries, salad, and non-wonder bread toast. And after brunch, you could stay for lunch and dinner as well. Other perks include impeccable customer service, not having to fight anyone for a table or wait four thousand years to sit down, and a ton of other eating options in the event that eggs aren’t your thing. Those options include one of my favorite dinners, the portobello mushroom burger, which comes with hand cut fries (or a salad if you ask nicely) and again only totals $8. On that note, there are plenty of veggie-friendly options, which are a rarity in Harlem. The last thing I want to mention might seem small, but for me sealed the deal on Trufa. The first time I went there to get take out, it was one of those impossibly hot NYC nights where the humidity was tangible and 90 degrees would be a reprieve. Directly after placing my order, they offered me a glass of ice water while I waited. Like I said, small thing, but by taking care like that, they are sure to keep their customers coming back. Especially this one.

CHIPPED CUP

Coffee and sweets. That’s what you go to Chipped Cup for. Oh, and tea… and bagels… and a quiet place to work… and a place where you can sit on antique couches… and open mic nights… and to post up with a friend on a cold winter’s day… Okay, I guess there’s more than just the coffee and sweets. This is one of those coffee shops you can disappear in for hours and enjoy every second of your time. You’d never know you were above 14th street (or 114th street for that matter) by the decor and vibe, other than the fact that you have enough room to spin in a circle with your arms out and not hit anybody. Something I wouldn’t recommend doing with coffee in your hand. The prices are good as well, and when you order to stay, they use real china and mugs, which is always light years more pleasing than the standard paper cup. It’s also right next to Harlem Public, which means it’s a great first date stop in the event you decide to keep things going. And if you end up testing this theory out, obvi let me know how it goes.

TONALLI CAFE & BAR

tonalli

I literally just got back from eating at this pretty new spot from the same people that run the pretty old spot Picante. Tonalli has a full bar and a fully intriguing Italian-slanted menu that still has vestiges of it’s owner’s Latin food. For instance crabmeat avocado dumplings. So good! My hearts of palm/avocado/cucumber salad… overdressed but amazing! This place has some service kinks to work out, but the menu is A-okay! And the tables full of Harlem hipsters seemed to agree. Also, Little Mermaid was playing when I walked in, so consider me sold.

JIN RAMEN

*Featuring the great Anikka 🙂

Authentic, delicious, ramen made with the stuff ramen’s supposed to be made from. For my longer love note to this noodle heaven click here. Also, after you get your slurp on, keep the party going next door at Chokolat for incredible espresso and coffee creations. Their cupcakes are pretty darn good too.

HARLEM PUBLIC

Full disclosure, I haven’t had the chance to enjoy Harlem Public yet, but I did step foot in it once, and that along with countless good reviews from friends secured it’s spot on this list. Word to the wise: meeting for a quick drink on a Saturday night of one of the biggest football games ever doesn’t usually work out. That’s what happened to me. But in the three minutes I stood debating whether my friend and I should stay, I saw an amazing selection of beers and cocktails, a comfortable/cozy decor, and an S ton of people that beat me to the Harlem Public punch. I gotta go back there. Mostly because they have brunch now. Also, we all know my bias towards bars with the word “public” in their name. I rest my case.

COCCOLA

Eep! This is another place I haven’t been, but as soon as I heard about it I emailed all my Harlem friends and have gotten some pretty great feedback. That said,  gourmet+pizza+Harlem leaves little margin for error. Trying this place out ASAP.

TANTO DULCE

Tanto Dulce was the first place I discovered in my old hood that had amazing, non-bodega coffee. They had something that can be pretty hard to find in Harlem, espresso. And while it was the coffee that brought me in, it was the food that kept me coming back. Their teeny-tiny six seat setup might skimp on eating space, but makes up for it in flavor and portions. Any pastry, especially the tres leche cake and chocolate croissants, will hit that special part of your belly, and the sandwiches don’t disappoint either. The bread they use is out of this world, and in true bakery/cafe fashion, you can buy loaves of it to bring home. Another fun detail is the good college indie rock music that plays from an old boom box hidden under one of the booths. Just beware when getting a coffee to go because walking and enjoying a latte at the same time can get tricky for some people… Or maybe just me.

 

Honorable mentions go out to: Picante, La Condesa, and the best bodega ever, Nadal 🙂

A night out in Chelsea

For everyone out there who likes to have drinks, dinner, and dessert all on the same block, this post is for you.

Last night I joined up with Andy and Stacilyn for a two block Tour de Chelsea. We started for a quick drink at Jake’s Saloon on 23rd and 9th. It was quiet, full of wood paneling, and just what the doctor ordered. The actually Irish bartender poured a perfect pint of Guinness, which isn’t an easy find in the isle of Manhattan. (I think I just quoted Death Cab… Deal with it.)

Once sufficiently chilled out, we set off for the main attraction. After reading about Bombay Talkie on Serious Eats, I was left with three words looping endlessly in my brain. Cashew. Jasmine. Rice. And on our one block jaunt to the restaurant, there wasn’t time for too many saliva-inducing repetitions. While most places would seem toasty compared to the 20 degree winter night, when entering Bombay Talkie we were immediately struck by the restaurant’s warmth that was only partly due to the heating system.

The decor was dark and cozy. Tall booths against the etched wood wall allow for privacy, while a long banquet table on the other side would be perfect for a small party. There was also a bar area playing Bollywood films against a neon sign listing signature cocktails like “Truth is Beauty, “A New Phase of Life,” and “Love Story.” Or maybe they were just listing Taylor Swift songs… Regardless, romantic, serene, and inviting are all words that would fit the bill there.

bombayBut enough of that. Let’s talk about the food. Known (by me and maybe other people) for their homemade naan, we ordered the cilantro/red chili flake and onion/sesame  seed options. To go with it, we got the cucumber raita, and the cool cucumber yogurt was the perfect balance to the spice of the bread. You’re gonna notice aside from Chelsea, the other theme for the night was carbs. And speaking of carbs, once we demolished the naan, it was time for the Cashew. Jasmine. Rice. (Which, FYI, is actually called Pulao)

To go along with the Pulao, we got the Biryani, the Baigan Bharta, and the Sukhi Harabara Beans. Each contained a palate boggling burst of flavor that was beyond comprehension and explanation. The dishes’ flavors were even more complex than their names. I feel like despite eating Indian food countless times, last night was the first time I ate Indian food. The combination of spices, texture, and freshness caused a blanket of silence to engulf the table. And believe me, the three of us have NEVER been at a loss for words. The green beans tasted like they had just come from the garden, the eggplant mixture had hints of the Middle Eastern food my dad raised me on, and while I didn’t try the Biryani (stupid vegetarianism), there wasn’t one speck of it left, so I guess it was alright.

bombaymenu

The meal ended and we were full. Full enough for the following exchange:

“Stacilyn: I never want to eat again, which would be bad cause I weigh 95 pounds…

Andy: My cankles weigh 95 pounds.”

So of course from there we took a walk across the street to Billy’s Bakery. The 50 steps totally counted as enough exercise to justify the yellow daisy/chocolate buttercream cupcake that followed. Simple, sweet, delicious. Billy’s always delivers.

billys

Next time you’re hanging out on 9th bt 21st and 23rd, I urge you to go to any of these three places. But if you have to choose just one, go to Bombay Talkie. Stat. And then get a cupcake while you’re at it… And then maybe a beer too… I’m not so good at this whole restraint thing.

Eff yeah, television!

2013 has so far brought me a crazy-ass allergy attack, an all senses-numbing cold, and the stomach flu. Also, somewhere in there I threw out my back while blowing my nose. Sexy, right? Luckily my time under resulted in some major sweet abs and the watching of way too much television. And because I love you all so much, here for you now are some of the gems I found while I was laid up, curled up, and not fit for public viewing.

WARPED ROADIES (Fuse)

Warped Tour! Roadies! Behind the scenes action! All these things were promised in the millions of subway ads for Warped Roadies, and that is exactly what this kick ass Fuse reality show delivers.Viewers get to follow the crew that makes the punk rock summer institution possible and each episode covers a stop on their journey. Between the crazy storm in Toronto and the deathly heat in Vegas, this rag tag group of roadies have to fight tooth and nail to bring their emo kid audience together, while battling demons of their own. Each crew member has a checkered past that only enhances your desire for them to succeed. Also, the inside look into what it takes to make Warped Tour happen is beyond interesting. Little things like managing credentials, coordinating buses, and call times are like candy for my young producer brain. That said, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a spin off show all about stage manager Kenny, as I think his Warped Roadie experience is probs the most interesting of them all.

 

Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)

The fact that I love this show makes me worried on a deep psychiatric level. I don’t watch Housewives, I don’t know who Miss Vanderpump is, and I’m not fully convinced that any of the characters on the show worked at her restaurant Sur before filming. All that said, I was drawn into every single story line right out of the gate. There are no good guys on Vanderpump Rules, an hour-long “reality” show about a group of Maxim/GQ level hotties who spend their time working for a British lady at a Los Angeles restaurant, dating each other, and fighting when the dating doesn’t go well. It’s basically a real-life, almost R-rated version of mean girls, with Queen Bee Stassi as Regina George and Sur new-comer Scheana as Kady. Between the sequins they wear, everyone’s giant eyes, and the copious cutaways of technicolor cocktails, I wouldn’t be surprised if my infatuation with Vanderpump Rules is a result of visual hypnosis… Or maybe it just feels good to see how “the other side” lives. Either way, I’m going to keep watching.

 

GIRLS (HBO)

This one will surely be met by a collective DUH by all of you lovely readers, however I know that the reactions to this HBO comedy are very mixed. My reactions though, couldn’t be more steadfastly positive. This show is so well-written that they have conservative, Ann Taylor-wearing Marni carry a Blackberry. Every. Last. Detail. Is thought out and executed in the best way possible. I watch each episode twice just to catch them all. Hannah and co. are coming of age in a really authentic way full of bad choices, and I love how you spend a lot of time yelling “really” at the tv and being disappointed in them. That level of investment is a sign of good writing/acting/directing/producing/and every last part of Girls.  Based on the guest stars alone… Donald Glover, Miriam Tolan, John Glaser, et al, you can tell Lena has a respect for the comedy world that makes it realistic to assume she probably went to her fair share of 9:30 Asssscats. Probably getting in line at 6pm to do so. This respect makes Girls great, and she is only adding to the canon of what future Lena Dunhams will be watching.

In the end, I feel we are in a golden tv resurgence right now. There are SO MANY great shows, and I’ve never had so much to keep up with. Favs include 30 Rock, Mindy Project, New Normal, Top Chef, and New Girl, but it seems across the board, everyone’s bringing their A-Game. And hopefully, my health will follow suit.

N00b on the Tube

Things I’ve never seen include Back to the Future, The Godfather, Ghostbusters, and up until this week… Friday Night Lights.

The crazy amazing television site Character Grades had me pop my FNL cherry for their N00b on the Tube series, and you can click here to read my review and figure out what the photo means below…

chin

Follow Character Grades on Twitter for more TV fun!

VMA Week wrap up

One of the LC mission statements is to only focus on the positive. There is enough smack talking on the internet and I don’t want to add to that. I’ll make a joke here and there (see below) but it’s all in good fun. That said, I’m faced with an interesting challenge when trying to review the 2012 Video Music Awards. The headlines say it all…

A Hopeless Place: The 2012 MTV VMAs’ Few Highs & Many Lows

MTV to Music: We Are Never Ever Ever Ever Getting Back Together

MTV Awards: Slick if Not Shiny

I’ll leave the panning to the pros and highlight the shows highlights. Clearly a lot of work went into producing the 120 minutes of music mayhem. There were some really cool pre-tapes and live-action elements that were expertly executed without a hitch. It was cool watching Alicia Keys belt out her new single, Taylor Swift’s ode to boyfriends past was irresistible, and I rocked hard to the beginning of Green Day’s set before they got mobbed… But aside from an appreciation of what went into making the show possible and those specific performances, that’s really it. If I had to do it all over again, I’d only tune in to the last half-hour and then pretend that the rest of the show was equally as good.

So while I was excited to write an intense, way too excited gush of last week’s show, I’m going to plead the fifth and focus on the the places my mind wandered while I watched instead. I urge you to do the same.

Rihanna cemented that red is the new black

Louis from One Direction changed it up by looking more like Don Draper than the dude from Spring Awakening

Chris Brown made me google the closest state fair

NYC Restaurant Week – Kin Shop

You know, I’ve always wanted to travel somewhere exotic… Somewhere beachy, where I don’t speak the language and little old ladies cook things more delicious than you could ever imagine right on the street. But as I found out last night, there’s no need to travel halfway across the globe for this. An exotic oasis of Asian food lies right on 12th street. It holds the smells and taste of the pacific without the threat of getting pick pocketed or traveler’s diarrhea. And they have air conditioning! It’s Kin Shop, people. Put away your passport and go there or be square.

Propmaster to the stars Maggie was kind enough to join me for this adventure, and when it comes to restaurant-ing, we mean business. We went for the prix fixe and each chose different things to maximize our tasting options. A crappy iPhone photographic tour of our meal is below and mad props to our waiter who gave us an extra scoop of ice cream. That was super “SWEET” of him… Nailed it!

Highlights included the green curry that the mussels were soaked in, the fresh/sweet/sesame explosion of the kale salad, and the pork belly in the noodles. Growing up, maybe one Sunday every couple months, I’d take a 10am trip with my dad to Costco to buy ribs. They’d be on the stove boiling by 11am, and stay there until dinner time, when he would quickly marinate and grill them on our deck.  Kin Shop’s pork belly brought this memory back after a bagillion years as they tasted just like my dad’s low and slow creation.

Good food, good memories, and good service… Kin Shop will definitely see me again.

Maggie with the Kale and Jackfruit Salad and Steamed Bouchot Mussels

Braised Skate and Calimari and Stir Fried Pork Belly Pad See Ew Noodles and Crispy Roti

Thai Iced Tea, Chocolate Thai Chocolate, and (FREEEEEE) Galangal Ice Cream

What I’m Eating for the Rest of the Week

New Review of an Old Album

The album up for review this week is another one celebrating its 25th year being listened to by  the world and its 3rd month being listened to by me. It’s the album that Billie Joe Armstrong claimed to be the “best debut album in the history of rock and roll” in his speech at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony. It’s sold over 18 million copies. It makes even the squarest of squares wanna do a keg stand on a balance beam over a pit of snakes. It’s Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses.

As a first time listener of Appetite for Destruction, it’d be really easy to think that it is totally cheeseball. With the epic guitar solos, Axl’s insane singing, all the girls/booze/party talk, and songs like “Night Train,” I can’t help but conjure up images of a modern day Spinal Tap. Thing is, Appetite came first. It only seems like a joke because I’ve been listening to 25 years worth of people trying to copy what they did.  Appetite for Destruction is a genius collection of groundbreaking rock and roll, and without this album, a lot of bands simply wouldn’t exist.

In their celebration of the album, Stereogum discussed how they can’t imagine a world without the song “Paradise City” (track six on AFD), and I’m total proof of that. Dookie was my first cassette, and I listened to all subsequent rock that came out after it, however I never took the time to dive into the classics. Despite this, I still know and have known every word and every riff to this famous song. And now, after my buddy Josh was nice enough to burn me a copy of Appetite, I can sing you through a good chunk of the album.

On my first couple spins of this CD I couldn’t pick out which songs were my favorites, as each one built so well upon the masterpiece that preceded. All members of the band are at the top of their game and Slash steers the ship  from stage left as the holy grail of guitar players. I turn into a giggly school girl during “Welcome to the Jungle,” I die for the catchiness of “Mr. Brownstone,” and just straight up melt for everything that “Sweet Child O’ Mine” has got going on. That for me is the song that makes this album.

It starts out with one of the most classic guitar riffs of all time and launches into a  soulful conglomeration of tender lyrics, loud instrumentation, and a damn near perfect sense of pacing. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” takes breaks when it needs to, giving each part of the song the weight and breathing room that it deserves. Slash’s sections aren’t just six-string solos. His guitar sings just as much as Axl, driving you much further than if the song depended on words alone. It’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds where no matter what, you’re gonna get lost in the world. Just try and resist it. Don’t believe me? Think back to any karaoke experience where “Sweet Child…” came on. I rest my case.

I think the karaoke test would stand true over most of the songs on Appetite for Destruction, and that’s part of the reason I give this album an A++. It’d be really easy to just get caught up in the nostalgia and hoopla that has surrounded this album since it’s 1987 release, but it all exists for a reason. Axl may have strayed off path, but AFD remains on point, even after all these years.

If you liked this, check out my review of the Replacements’ “Pleased to Meet Me.”