This Great Evil

Month: April, 2012

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Chinese Restaurants #2: The Menu

So, pretty much all restaurants have menus, and Chinese restaurants are no exception. Most of the time, they’ll have done a half-assed job translating dishes into English, beyond your standard Orange Chicken, Lemon Chicken, General Fuckface’s Special Sauced Chicken, etc.

If you want General Fuckface’s Special Sauced Chicken, etc., you’ll have an easy go at it. Naming conventions for American Chinese dishes are surprisingly well standardized across most of the country. There are some regional variations (e.g. General Tso’s versus General Tao’s), but, for the most part, Lemon Chicken is Lemon Chicken in Mississippi and Maryland.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to get authentic dishes, but are not able to read Chinese, you’re in a bit of a pickle. The easy solution for this (and many other problems) is to bring a (Chinese) person who frequents that restaurant with you to your meal. He/she will probably know what that particular restaurant does well, and guide your selection process.

If this isn’t an option, you’ll have to pull some more advance level maneuvering. Checking Yelp is a good idea, though not all Yelp pages are commented equally. Looking at the “Chef’s Specials” or equivalent portion of the menu is also a good, general rule of thumb. Probably don’t give too much credence to Daily Specials. Some restaurants use these specials to highlight fresh ingredients unique to that day. Others use them to dump shit that they need to get rid of before it really starts rotting.

Another good idea is to probably Google/Wikipedia the variety of Chinese cuisine served at the restaurant (i.e. look up Sichuan food if you’re going to a Sichuan restaurant). This isn’t foolproof – many times restaurants are just named Hunan [noun] or Sichuan [noun] on a whim rather than because of the food served – but it’s a decent starting point, and, perhaps, you’ll learn more about Chinese food in general.

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Looking at summer

For all the crap that 2011 got towards Oscar season, I felt that last year was a pretty damn great year for movies. We got not just a new Terrence Malick film, but the Terrence Malick film (i.e. the one that started that whole exile thing), a new Lars von Trier flick, Soderbergh returning to the Traffic style of filmmaking, two new Spielberg films, a new Cronenberg film, etc.

I will, however, concede this to the naysayers: 2011 was a pretty piss poor year for the blockbuster. We didn’t really have any great summer spectacle movies except (with many qualifications) Thor. There were  some great summer movies (Attack the Block, Hanna, Tree of Life), but no great, massive ode to the imagination and expansive budget of Hollywood cinema. 2012 looks set to make up for that.

May:

  • The Avengers
  • Dark Shadows
  • Battleship (a.k.a. the Michael Bay movie of the summer)

June:

  • Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Prometheus
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

July:

  • Savages
  • The Amazing Spider Man
  • The Dark Knight Rises

August:

  • Total Recall
  • The Bourne Legacy
  • The Expendables 2

There’s a chance that all of these movies will be good. There’s an equal or maybe slightly higher chance that all of these movies will be bad. Except, of course, for Prometheus because I believe in you, Ridley Scott. As always, it pays to carefully moderate enthusiasm lest you get disappointed by any of these films. However, I’m cautiously optimistic (based on the admittedly poor indicators that are marketing/trailers) that this crop of films will contain many winners.

What it means to be a successful deconstruction

By the way, spoilers (kind of).

Cabin in the Woods is a fine movie, but I didn’t quite think it was extraordinary.

The issue, I think, is that, for all its clever formalism, Cabin in the Woods doesn’t successfully deconstruct a horror movie nor does it fully understand what it means to be a horror film. There’s never a point in the movie in which you get the feeling that Goddard actually likes the kind of schlocky trash Cabin in the Woods makes fun of.

I understand, to a large extent, why – 99% of horror films are formulaic, campy, trashy, exploitative, pedantic, etc. Yet, there’s a lot to admire and learn from horror films. Crucially, even really shitty horror films offer some scary moments. Cabin in the Woods never manages to eek even a jump scare out of me. A good deconstruction should be able to extract the essence of what makes something work and transplant it into something else. For all of Goddard’s pointed and appropriate commentary, he never seems to figure out what makes horror tick.

Additionally, even though Goddard makes fun of rote stock characterization in horror films, his characters are bland. When he subverts stereotype, he does so at the expense of any personality. So the slutty girl is slutty because of some chemicals in the hair dye. Who the fuck is this person then? Why should I care if she lives or dies?

Director Cage Fight – Round 4

Round 4: Michael Bay vs. James Cameron

The set up: You ask Michael Bay and James Cameron to help you run your day care for a day. The rationale behind this is that both directors make movies that are enjoyed by a wide range of children and man-children alike.

Michael Bay: He starts the day as he means to go on by slapping the ass of one of the day care assistants. She’s a bit, y’know, pissed off but cools off once Bay promises her a role in his new movie.

For lunch, he orders some McDonalds for the kids and the workers of the day care.  Most of the kids are happy, excluding some of the hipster children who wanted Ethiopian food from that pop up restaurant around the corner. The workers don’t mind the food, though some people are happier than others.

After day care is nap time. Bay decides to punch up naptime by transforming the napping area into a nightclub, bringing in some DJs, a bartender and paying some Victoria’s Secret models to start gyrating on the dance floor. Some of the kids start crying, but Bay appeases the upset children by giving them free toy robot figurines.

About an hour into the rave, Bay disappears with the assistant from earlier this morning into one of the supply closets. Ten minutes later, she leaves the room calling Bay an asshole, quitting from her job and posting about Bay on her blog. Bay remains in the supply closet for another hour, jerking off to some footage from Transformers 3.

After nap time, Bay lines up all the girls and all the boys in the day care. He hands out business cards to half the girls and a few of the boys, telling them to call him once they’re legal.

James Cameron: James Cameron enters the day care and immediately asks all of the day care assistants to turn off their cell phones, and to memorize his newly drafted schedules. Cameron has carefully divided the day into regimented blocks of time allotted for fun, learning and physical activity.

During the block of time set aside for learning, one of the kids ask Cameron if they could go outside to play. Cameron screams that this kid for about 15 minutes, before ripping up his backpack and kicking him out of the day care. One of the assistants’ cell phone rings, and Cameron takes a sledge hammer to the phone.

For lunch, Cameron brings in a noted molecular gastronomy chef to prepare some dishes. The children and workers are all dazzled by the display of cool shit, though some of them later agree that the meal wasn’t very substantial or filling.

During lunch, Cameron fingers a member of the chef’s team. During nap time, he files for divorce from his current wife and proposes to the person he fingered. When the parents arrive to pick up their children, Cameron insists that they wait for the lessons on astronomy to end. Most of the parents wind up tipping Cameron, who keeps all of the money even though he blew your money on the chefs.

Winner: Cameron, because several instances of assault are easier to deal with than the pedophilia and sexual harassment suits. The real loser, however, is your wallet.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Chinese Restaurants #1: Rice

Pro tip: never get fried rice at a Chinese restaurant. Never, ever, ever, ever. There are some exceptions. For instance, if the fried rice constitutes the entirety of an entree dish, you’re probably safe. If the fried rice is jazzed up with very expensive (relatively speaking here) items, you can probably order it without much concern.

On the other hand, if a restaurant’s giving the choice between fried rice and white rice along with your entree, always go white (or maybe brown) rice. Why? Well, there’re two reasons – one pretentious reason and one legitimate reason.

The pretentious argument: the chef made his dishes to pair with white rice. White rice has certain properties that fried rice does not. White rice is more absorbent than fried rice, which has already been saturated with oil and that soy sauce crap.  White rice is also largely tasteless. It exists as a textural accouterment to the dish and as a sponge for excess sauce/oils. Fried rice introduces its own flavor (a mix of salty and greasy) to the fray. It serves as a distraction to the main dish, pulling your attention away from the flavors that the chef wanted.

The other reason is a far more cogent one: fried rice is usually shit rice. 99% of the places that offer fried rice in lieu of white rice will use the shittiest cooked rice they have on hand to cook it. You’re delusional if you think a Chinese restaurant would use freshly cooked rice. My mother wouldn’t even do that. No effort’s really put in to make the dish. Toss in some stale, leftover white rice, add some soy sauce and some poorly thawed frozen veggies. Call it a day. God help if you if you get the special fried rice, i.e. the rice with added nubbins of crap. Be fucking ware of char siu fried rice. A generous dollop of soy sauce hides almost infinite amounts of spoiled food.