Thursday, May 28, 2015

Movie Review – Max Max : Fury Road

  I went to see 'Mad Max: Fury Road' at the Marshalltown movie theatre with Kathy and Ben, joining 22 other moviegoers for the Sunday matinee. This movie was the fourth installment in the ‘Mad Max’ series and the first new episode in 30 years with a youthful Thomas Hardy taking the place of Mel Gibson in the title role.

  The movie is a part reboot (because of Hardy) and part continuation of the post-apocalyptic society that has evolved in the Australian desert. This meant that there was no time wasted in how Mad Max got that way since it was explained in Max’s flashbacks of his wife and daughter’s death and the visions and conversations he has with his daughter throughout the movie.

  The first part of the movie has a good pace as Max is captured by a society of chalk white warriors and after a failed escape attempt is pressed into service as a human transfusion device called a ‘blood bag’ for one of the sicker warriors. We are then introduced to the realm of ‘Immortan Joe’, who rules the area by virtue of his control of a massive assemblage of chains, pulleys, and levers that pump water out of an underground aquifer which Joe dispenses to the thousands of scavengers that live nearby. Joe has everything his own way – he and his leaders live on top of a mountain that is accessible by a manually operated elevator lift, Joe has a set of young ‘breeder wives’, and he and his crew drink milk that is expressed from a group of lactating female slaves.

  After Max is established as prisoner ‘blood bag’ to one of Immortan Joe’s soldiers, the story’s main plot is revealed. While on a gas for water run to ‘Gastown’ Joe’s commander Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has kidnapped his five breeder wives (two of whom are pregnant). Joe leads his entire army of soldiers and war machine vehicles in a chase across the desert to reclaim his wives.

  The chase has all kinds of wild machines with all kinds of freakish attachments like pole vaults that allow one of the many freakish soldiers to swing over the top of another vehicle and ‘drop in’ for a visit or knives that pop out of the sides of a war machine to slash the tires of the adjoining vehicle or giant spiked platforms that are dropped to flatten the tires of the trailing vehicle. One of the vehicles is nothing but a wall of rock concert speakers that blare out steel guitar noise from the ever-present steel guitarist who performs solos during all the car chases while flames shoot from the guitar during particularly noisy riffs. When the guitarist is on break the chases through the desert are accompanied by operatic music and breathtaking overhead shots that show the vastness of the desert which provide quite a contrast to the immediate violence of the chase.

  After the initial chase Max gets free from his prisoner status and he joins Furiosa in trying to outrun Immortan Joe and his allies in order to deliver the breeder wives to Furiosa’s original home known as ‘The Green Place’. There is a chase through a sand/lightning storm, a chase through a muddy quagmire, and a few more desert chases. In the middle of all the chases, each character gets a small amount of character development – Furiosa reveals that she was kidnapped as a young girl and that is her motivation to free the breeder wives, Max’s blood bag partner defects from Immortan Joe, even Immortan Joe is moved to tears when he recaptures one of his breeder wives who dies along with her unborn child.

  After the climactic desert chase the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and Max disappears into the desert, leaving Furiosa as the presumed keeper of Immortan Joe’s former kingdom. The only things I understood about this post-apocalyptic world as that the most valuable things were water, gasoline, and bullets. I didn’t understand how all these complex war vehicles, water pumps, and elevators could remain functioning or how the hundreds of soldiers and slaves in Immortan Joe’s kingdom were able to not only survive but look pretty well-fed while doing it.

   I liked the first chase through the desert a lot - it looked like a video game come to life. The rest of the chases all seemed kind of the same with weird looking vehicles, the operatic music mixed in with the guy playing the flame shooting guitar, and high overhead shots during the chases mixed with hand to hand combat as Furiosa’s tanker would get periodically ‘boarded’, frenetic violence intermixed with the anxious looking around at pursuers, etc… There were plenty of soap opera aspects to the chases as our heroes had to deal with a fuel trailer getting off its moorings and slowing the vehicle down, various engine failures, getting stuck in a mud pit, etc.., etc… The action was non-stop but it seemed like a loop of the same action. Hardy and Theron were fine as leads in an action movie which is not exactly the most demanding of roles. The movie's minimal plot reminded me a lot of ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales’ with Max Max in the Clint Eastwood role of a stranger in a strange land banding with a group of misfits (as if there is anything but misfits in this post-apocalyptic world) who gain their freedom despite all odds.

  I had a choice of seeing ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ or ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ this past weekend and I think I made the wrong choice. I chose the Mad Max movie because I heard nothing but great things about it. I didn't realize it was a ‘the car chase is the star’ movie and the special effects all seemed the same after a while. Each leg of the adventure brought a few more freaks but after a while they all just looked the same to me. If you like freaky people and freaky vehicles chasing each other over a freaky landscape this is the movie for you but if you have a good TV at home I'd just wait for Redbox.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

NBA Conference Finals Prediction - Game 5

  Just when I thought I was getting the hang of the NBA conference finals I was given a rude awakening in Game 4 when the Warriors and Rockets combined for almost 70 points in the first quarter alone on the way to their combined 243 points in the Rockers 128-113 victory which made my pick of under 213.5 points the biggest loser of the playoffs so far. I picked over 193.5 for last night's Cavaliers-Hawks game which was touch and go with 145 points scored through three quarters with the Cavaliers leading by 25. I was holding my breath as both teams cleared their benches and rooted as hard as I could for scrubs like Joe Harris, Jeff Jenkins, Mike Muscala, and Kendrick Perkins to get some points on the board and make me a winner. Luckily inept defense won the day over inept offense to get the teams over 200 points and get me a game four split. Still in sports gambling splits are losses and my mythical playoff ledger has shrunk from $75 to $65 with only one series left to go before the NBA Finals. As usual I'll be getting my lines from for entertainment purposes only.

Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors – Game 5
Yes Rocket superstar guard James Harden put up 45 points and the teams obliterated the over/under line of 213.5 but I think that had much more to do with Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza, and Jason Terry starting the game on fire from the three point line. All teams are impossible to stop when everyone is shooting lights out. I don't think this will happen again and I am tempted to pick a Warriors blowout but instead will stick to my strategy of picking the under and will bet $110 to win $100 that less than 216.5 points will be scored in tonight's game.

My last post's video of Robert Parrish punching Bill Laimbeer was so popular (one person told me they liked it) that I thought I'd share another of 'Laimbeer's Greatest Hits!'

Here is the subject handled in more depth...

Monday, May 25, 2015

NBA Conference Final Predictions - Game 4

  I'm either getting the hang of the NBA conference finals or getting lucky since I won both my game three predictions. I picked under 220 points in the Warriors-Rockets matchup. While the Warriors did their best to make me a loser with 115 points the Rockets more than made up for that by being held to a playoff low of 80 points. I predicted the Hawks would try to up the pace and they did play a faster game using Shelvin Mack at guard instead of Dennis Schroder as I had thought. A 60 point third quarter made my prediction of over 190 points a nearly sure thing and that number was hit with 5 minutes left in the game which turned into a Cavaliers overtime win. When I found out Saturday that Hawks' forward Kyle Korver was out for the playoffs with an injured ankle I thought of taking a $10 loss by placing a matching under bet but as I reflected I thought Korver has been shooting so poorly the Hawks would likely score more in his absence.The two wins bring my NBA playoff roller coaster bets to $75 mythical dollars to the plus side. I'm still inclined to stay away from the point spreads and continue playing the over unders heading into the two game four this week. As usual I'll be getting my lines from for entertainment purposes only.

Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets – Game 4 Monday
No one predicted a 35 point blowout for the Warriors in game three. Facing the prospect of getting swept, I imagine the Rockets give up on their deliberate offense and finally try to outscore the Warriors in an up and down game. I dont think it will work as the Warriors have figured out how to keep Harden from shredding them will slow the game down until they knock down a few threes to clinch the game. The over/under has moved from Saturday's 215 to 213.5 for game four and I'll take the under for $110 to win $100 since the total points have gone down in each game of this series.

Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers – Game 4 Tuesday
The Hawks were able to speed the game up despite losing center Al Horford to an ejection in the first half. Cavaliers all-star guard Kyrie Irving will probably sit out until a possible game six to rest up as much as possible for a the Finals where he will certainly be needed. The over under like has moved to 193.5 and I will take the over on a $110 bet to win $100. My only concern is that a fight might break out in this game after last night's ejection of Horford for trying to elbow Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova in the face after Dellavedova tried to roll over Horford's knees in a battle for a loose ball. Dellavedova was the player that rolled over Korver's ankle in game two of this series and in the previous series locked up the Bulls' Taj Gibson's legs in another battle for a loose ball. Like Horford, Gibson got ejected for retaliating in a pivotal game 5. I don't know whether Dellavedova is sloppy in diving for loose balls or just a thug trying to injure players or draw ejections for retaliation but messing with a basketball players knees is messing with millions of dollars and I can't imagine this being put up with for long. If the Hawks are getting blown out tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised if a Hawk throws a punch at Dellavedova inIf the Warriors play the Cavaliers in the finals I expect the Warriors to send a message to Dellavedova early in the first game since one way for the Cavaliers to win the series is if Dellavedova were to roll up on Stephen Curry's knees and knock him out of the series - accidentally of course.

Robert Parish vs Bill Laimbeer (1987 ECF Game 5) by kevin-garnett123

The NBA will sell throwback jerseys but this is one throwback they probably don't want to see...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

All the Way near Kansas City

My trip to Missouri started at a impromptu biker convention at the Marshalltown Git-N-Go parking lot.

  Last week I took Thursday and Friday off from work. Normally this would be great for me to take a break from the interminably long 75 minute commute I've had to endure since our company has moved 10 miles of heavily trafficked highway further away to West Des Moines but I’ve been working from home two or three days a week since the move which makes the interminably long commute much less interminable. Unfortunately I spend my two days off driving 120+ miles to Des Moines anyway, taking Kathy to the airport on Thursday (to fly to Idaho and help Ben pack and drive back from college) and heading to St. Francis for Friday’s weekly chess club.

  I got home on both of my days off by 10 and spent the rest of both days beagle-walking and hanging out. Normally the weekend would mean no driving for me, but my niece Lauren graduated from law school on Saturday in Kansas City. Lauren and her folks (my sister in law Becky and her husband Bob) have travelled to Marshalltown for both our son’s high school graduations and I get along great with them so I decided I would take the 500 mile round trip to Kansas City on Saturday to spend a couple of hours at her graduation celebration party.

  I had originally planned to board Daisy and Baxter for the weekend and stay overnight in Kansas City but our preferred boarding place didn’t have any openings. One of Kathy’s friends agreed to look in on the beagles during the day so they wouldn't be stuck for 12 hours without water or a bathroom break. I took Daisy and Baxter on long walks at 5 and 9:30, a shorter walk at 10:15, put them in the kitchen with a full bowl of water and a potty pad, and left for Kansas City at 10:30. My first stop was to get some gas at the local Git-N-Go where an impromptu biker convention was taking place in the parking lot. I filled up my Chevy Spark with gas, got a cup of ice, squeezed one of the lemons I brought with me into the ice, and poured one of the assortment of Dr. Pepper and 7-up sodas I packed with me over the lemon and ice and was on my way to Kansas City.

The strongest coffee in the world may be at this travel stop in southern Iowa...

  In a little over an hour I had reached the exit on Interstate 80 I normally take for work but I passed that exit and continued south on Interstate 35. Another hour later I had reached the Iowa-Missouri border. I was feeling a little tired from the sugary soda so I stopped in a rest area for a tiny 75 cent cup of coffee from a vending machine. Except for oatmeal, rest area vending machine coffee may be the vilest substance known to man and its sheer nastiness made it impossible to feel sleepy as I continued my trip and headed into Missouri.

Welcome to Missouri. I thought the 'ss' in Missouri looked familiar and it turned out to look like the Nazi Schutzstaffel logo.

  Missouri has a large fireworks industry along it’s Iowa border because fireworks are illegal in Iowa and not in Missouri (although that will soon change). I passed a number of fireworks stores as soon as I got to Missouri and none afterwards. I made great time on the 114 mile Missouri trek to Kansas City, only stopping once to get more ice for my sodas with lemons squeezed into them. I reached the Kansas City suburb of Liberty when I had to slam on my brakes as traffic had suddenly screeched to a halt. There was construction on Interstate 35 that had the highway reduced to one lane. The road signs said there would be improvements by Spring of 2017 which means something but I'm not sure what. The merge from two lanes to one shouldn't have been enough to send traffic to a standstill but the police cars and ambulances speeding by on the shoulder informed me that there was some sort of accident.


Could you imagine waiting two years for the road improvements?

  I crawled along at about two miles an hour for 40 minutes looking at the road signs promising improvements in only two years and then I saw an old familiar logo on the sign letting me know what food was available at the upcoming exit. There amongst the omnipresent McDonalds, Culvers, and Perkins logos was the simple sign of the best restaurant chain in America – The Waffle House. When I lived in Florida 30 years ago I was a Waffle House addict, having the gargantuan T-bone steak and eggs with grits and the Waffle House's signature scattered, smothered (with onions), and covered (with cheese) hash browns at least seven times a week. The food was cheap and plentiful and I could sit at the counter and watch the Waffle House workers make waffles, steaks, eggs, hash browns, etc. which I did for many happy hours.

  When I moved back to New Jersey in the spring of 1987 I left the Waffle House goodness behind and hadn't been to one since a trip to visit my father-in-law and his family in South Carolina over 10 years ago. On that visit they thought I was crazy for insisting we eat at the Waffle House but once we were there my in-laws (who are very educated people) had a great time watching the Waffle House staff pump out the food, listening to the previous century's hits on the jukebox, and keeping an eye on their belongings as the local riff-raff filed in and out of the restaurant. Having been to the Waffle House, my father-in-law and his family understand my Waffle House addiction and have gotten me a framed menu and a Waffle House T-Shirt as presents although I don't think they have actually eaten at a Waffle House since. If I wasn't stuck in the Missouri traffic I would have stopped at the Liberty Missouri Waffle House right then but by this point I was late for Lauren’s graduation party and just didn't have time. I eventually got past the traffic snarl which was caused by a car accident right at the spot where the two lanes turned into one and found my way to the graduation party at North Fifth Street in Kansas City by 3:15pm.

Congratulations Lauren Haley, Esquire! She is in all three pictures with her mom Becky (l), my in-laws Shawn & Kathy (c), and with Becky's friends from work (r)

  I had a nice time hanging out with my niece Lauren, Becky, Bob, Kathy and Shawn (my other set of in-laws), and some of Becky’s co-workers. Lauren was celebrating her graduation in tandem with her law school graduate boyfriend Bryce, whose family brought this giant pot of beef brisket. I had a few slices and it was great but I mostly grazed at the fruit and vegetable platters so I would have more room for a Waffle House sized meal.

Before I got to the Waffle House I made a gas-up stop at Snappy's, which had cheap gas and expensive beef sticks.

One of the most beautiful sights in the world! Notice how blue the sky is around the Waffle House sign and the bright heavenly light emanating from behind the restaurant...

  I was having a good time visiting in Kansas City and planned on staying until 5:30 but that was before I realized I was just a few miles away from the Waffle House so at 4:45 I said my goodbyes and headed back north on I-35 towards Liberty. I stopped at the Snappy convenience store to fill up my Chevy Spark with gas (the 9 gallon tank was ¾ empty from the 240 mile trip) and a few miles later took the Liberty exit by the tall scrabble letter Waffle House sign and made a left turn into the Waffle House’s empty parking lot.

Deb was my Waffle House server and keeper of the decor!

  Judging by the amount of food on the tables and crusted waffle stuff coating the waffle irons I must have just missed throngs of customers that had just enjoyed the goodness of a Waffle House meal after a long day of shopping at this strip mall infested street in Liberty Missouri. There were two skateboarder types having waffles at counter and taking up the middle four of the six stools so I sat at the booth nearest the cash register with the best view of the waffle irons and grill. Within a few seconds my server Deb cleared the table, presented me with a freshly wiped off menu and asked me if I knew what I wanted.

If only I was a cow and had four stomachs....

  I really wanted a T-Bone and egg platter with hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered but I still had three and a half hours of driving ahead of me. I was afraid I was going to fall asleep if I had too much dinner so I settled on a cup of coffee and an order of Hash Browns ‘all the way’ (scattered, SMOTHERED with onions, COVERED with cheese, CHUNKED with ham, DICED with tomatoes, PEPPERED with Jalapenos, CAPPED with mushrooms, TOPPED with chili, and COUNTRY covered in sausage gravy. A single serving of Hash Browns ‘all the way’ was only 650 calories and I figured it wouldn't fill me up to the point of sleepiness on the ride home.

  Deb the Waffle House server passed my order to Toby the cook. I noticed Deb’s name badge said ‘Since 2015’ so I asked her how she liked working at the Waffle House. Deb said it was the best job she ever had and she had plenty jobs and that this was the best because she loved all the customers and all of her co-workers. I asked Deb if she could eat for free and she told me that the Waffle House took 4 dollars a day out of her check for meals and she could have anything she wanted. I mentioned that if I had a job at the Waffle House I would have T-Bone and Eggs twice a day. Deb told me that T-Bones and other high priced items cost an extra dollar and she didn't even make minimum wage so she stayed away from the T-Bones but she had lots of waffles and eggs and burgers.

  I felt bad that Deb didn't even make minimum wage and was going to ask her how much she got in tips on a good day when Toby the cook came over to my booth. Toby asked Deb if I wanted ‘chili or gravy’ on my hash browns. Deb told him I wanted both. Toby raised an eyebrow as he grabbed my hash browns and headed to the ladling station where he ladled both chili AND country gravy on my hash browns.

After clearing up some topping confusion with chef Toby my hash browns 'all the way' arrived at my table!

  In no time Deb had my plate of hash browns ‘all the way’ on my table with a fresh cup of coffee. My hash browns ‘all the way’ were steaming hot so I took a dollar out of my pocket and headed over to the Waffle House juke box. There were 100 songs to choose from and I picked out four of the standbys from when I was a Waffle House regular 3 decades ago : Hotel California by the Eagles, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, Thriller by Michael Jackson, and Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac.

Music, anyone?

  I returned to my hash browns ‘all the way’ while Hotel California was starting and proceeded to dig in. The first bite of hash browns ‘all the way’ was incredible with the flavors of potatoes, onions, cheese, ham, and country gravy exploding in my mouth all at once. If I only had some beagles with me I might have thought I was in heaven but I took a sip of coffee instead to cleanse my palate (cucumber sorbet was not available at this Waffle House) for my next bite of hash browns ‘all the way’. Deb came by and asked me if I needed anything.

  I thought it would be nice to have some pictures of me and my hash browns ‘all the way’ so I asked Deb if she could take some pictures of me eating which she happily did. Deb told me she noticed that I was taking pictures and wondered if I was from the Waffle House corporate office. I told her that I was an award winning journalist (leaving out the self-nominated chess journalist award part) and that my trip to the Liberty Missouri Waffle House was going to be prominently featured in a future post on my blog. Deb was suitably impressed and went off to clear some of the tables in the restaurant.

  Each bite of my hash browns ‘all the way’ was like Christmas – a bite of chili, some mushrooms, or a taste of ham mixed in with the awesomeness of hash browns with onions and cheese. The jalapeno peppers were the coal in my Christmas stocking – they were just too spicy for me. Deb brought me a second cup of coffee but I had to surrender and pulled the peppers out of my hash browns ‘all the way’. The next time I order hash browns ‘all the way’ I'll skip the peppers but it was the best meal I've had all year and I've eaten at the best place in Cylinder Iowa among many others so that is saying something in my opinion.

The jalapeno peppers were a little much for me. Other than that I cleaned my plate!

  As I was finishing my meal, a family of four came into the Waffle House and the children started debating what kind of waffles they were going to eat as Hotel California gave way to Folsom Prison Blues. For my part I was super energized by a great meal and ready to get back to Iowa and take Daisy and Baxter outside for a late night walk. Deb gave me the bill which was a little more than seven dollars. I was so fat and happy from my hash browns ‘all the way’ that I gave Deb $30 and told her to keep the change. I thought she was going to cry but I told her she deserved it because she worked at a place that made a lot of people happy and she helped me out a lot with my blog by taking pictures of me and my hash browns ‘all the way’. I was out the door as the opening sounds of Thriller came on the jukebox and was on my way back home by 5:45.

  Most people I told about my trip to the Waffle House thought I would have needed to stop for a restroom break at least three times but I'm happy to report (and apologize if it is too much information) that I drove all the way home without stopping until I got a cup of coffee at the Kwik Star in Marshalltown Iowa. I was home by 9:30 and greeted by a pair of enthusiastic beagles who were sniffing me up and down trying to figure out what I had been eating without them. I drove 7 hours to Kansas City and back for my niece’s graduation party. If it was held in a Waffle House I would have insisted on a weeklong celebration.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

NBA Conference Final Predictions - Game 3

  I split my Game two predictions in the NBA conference finals and in gambling splitting is losing. I Predicted the Warriors would cover the 10.5 point spread but the Rockets covered easily and nearly won the game after being eight points down with two minutes left. The Cavaliers-Hawks game looked to go over the 198 point over /under and make me a double loser until a 26 point 4th quarter left gave me my first round two win. I dropped another 10 mythical dollars to leave myself $125 in the red heading into this weekends games. There's no reason to go crazy in my bets but I'll be staying away from the point spreads for now as I attempt to get back to the plus side using the familiar lines for entertainment purposes only.

Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets – Game 3 Saturday
The Rockets are a one point underdog at home. The Warriors have been barely good enough to win the first two games in taking a 2-0 lead. I don't see the Rockets trying to match the Warriors in a shootout and have noticed that the Warriors have not been scoring at the same pace they have in the regular season. I expect that both teams will make defensive adjustments to keep the ball away from superstars Stephen Curry and James Harden. Even though the over/under line has dropped to 215 from Game two's 220 I'll take the under of 215 and will bet $110 to win $100 on a relatively low scoring game as both sides try to limit the touches of the other team's best player.

Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers – Game 3 Sunday
Despite having all-star guard Kyrie Irving missing for Game 2, the Cavaliers controlled the pace and slowed the game down in a surprisingly easy win. The Hawks offense is out of sync and they seemingly have no way to guard LeBron James. I suspect Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer will try to get his team back into the series by amping up the pace to attempt to wear James out by the fourth quarter. I expect to see a lot of guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder on the court together in an attempt to force more turnovers and get more fast break points. I'll gp for this game to be fairly high scoring and will take the over of 190 for $110 to win $100.