Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Showdown of Avatar Vs. The Hurt Locker

Posted By on Sat, Mar 6, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Update: This post was written by BW contributor Jeremiah Robert Wierenga and posted by Amy Atkins. Sorry for any confusion.

You couldn’t have designed a more delicious dilemma than that which faced this year’s Oscar voters. Leading in nominations with nine nods apiece are two films that highlight the dichotomy of the Academy’s subtitle—that is, the difference between art and science. It’s hard to imagine two frontrunners more unalike—one an inventive small-budget tale of the current Iraq conflict, the second a futuristic fantasy with a recycled plotline—Pocahontas, anyone?—and likely the most expensive movie ever made. But the most dramatic piece of this accolade head-to-head? The dueling directors are divorced couple Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and James Cameron (Avatar).

The marital rift, which occurred seven years before Cameron crowned himself “King of the World” at 1998’s Oscar ceremony, is a picture of the disjointed focus of the Academy itself. With an ambiguous aim of promoting “the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures,” the Oscars have a history of touting big-budget mainstream films with spectacular technical production over smaller independent features that many critics would consider narratively superior.

Consider the few categories in which Avatar and The Hurt Locker aren’t co-nominees. While both are up for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Editing (film and sound), Original Score and Sound Mixing—a mix of aesthetic and technical honors—Bigelow’s film has a Best Actor and Original Screenplay nod, while Cameron’s is in consideration for Visual Effects and Art Direction. Don’t be fooled by the word Art in the latter category—it’s largely a bureaucratic position. In essence, the two films represent the yin and yang of the Oscar mission, one a thoughtful work of art and the second a sensationalist technological wonder. But I have little doubt that Avatar will emerge with a bigger armful of statues.

So what is the relevance of the Academy Awards? Is it to honor art or science? One often seems to preclude the other. As Boston Globe critic Ty Burr points out, the Academy hasn’t always been considerate of advancements in the machinery of movies. The first Best Picture winner was silent film Wings (1927) which benefitted from the Academy’s disqualification of talkie The Jazz Singer due to worries that it might make a sensationalist sweep of the awards. What’s different now that the tech is 3-D animation, not voice recordings? For that answer, I think we need to consider the cash involved.

With adjusted costs for technological developments, Avatar’s budget could have financed about thirty-two films like The Hurt Locker. Of course, with it’s current box office gross, Avatar could have made itself ten and a half times, while The Hurt Locker would only manage to make four fifths of a twin. As any indie director could tell you, it’s the Avatars of the industry that make The Hurt Lockers happen. To ignore Cameron’s film would be a black mark against the Academy and a grave oversight—it is a remarkable technical achievement—but its inclusion in the Best Picture category makes for an odd addition, perhaps a concession to its popularity and not its overall artistry. The outcome of the Best Picture and Best Director awards will be a telling sign of the attitudes of Academy members. While the Oscars have somewhat successfully maintained a balance between honoring art vs. science, its an uneasy high-wire act that may, this year, result in a really splendid smashup. While hesitant to make predictions, I’m guessing the Academy will split the top two honors, giving Bigelow the gold man for Best Director before Cameron walks away with Best Picture. Anything else in this race is fair game.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Whigging Out Last Night

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Its easy to smile when you have a great new album, <i>In The Dark</i>, coming out in a few days and are performing on Letterman on Thursday, April 1.
  • photo by Jordan Noel
  • It's easy to smile when you have a great new album, In The Dark, coming out in a few days and are performing on Letterman on Thursday, April 1.

Last night, Athens, Ga., trio The Whigs opened for California's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Knitting Factory.

A scheduled interview with Whigs drummer Julian Dorio prior to the show was nearly scrapped when sound check ran long, but he graciously asked me to follow him backstage to chat for a few minutes.

The Whigs' new album, In The Dark, is due to hit store shelves on Tuesday, March 16. It's thicker and denser than their last album, an interesting turn considering that Dorio said they did far fewer overdubs this time around. It's also the first album with new bass player Tim Deaux in the mix.

"One sort of obvious physical change is Tim," Dorio said. "He wasn't on the last record. He joined us right after we finished recording it. He's been with us over two-and-a-half years now, but this is the first album he's on. As a trio, everyone plays a big role and Tim has been amazing. We're lucky to have him.

"On this album, we took a different approach for a lot of the writing. It was nice for me to have a bass player again who was permanent. We started doing these drum-and-bass beats and lines and songs started from that angle. We would go from beginning to end trying to create a whole song, create a vibe and then bring that to Parker [Gispert].

"It's still a rock 'n' roll record, but it has a little more drum-and-bass influence and grooves ... it gave Parker the opportunity to write lines that he felt were adding to the songs and were important, because there was already a foundation."

The Whigs' opened their set with songs off the new album. The audience was a bit perplexed and fairly quiet during new tracks like "I Am Real" (In The Dark) and its David Essex-ish intro. But the crowd whooped and hollered from the first notes of familiar songs like the Love & Rockets-esque "Already Young" (Mission Control).

The new album is definitely different from Mission Control, the new drum-and-bass influence evident. But it doesn't at all feel like the band took a dramatic left turn or steered away from what made them buzzworthy in the first place. Instead, the music is deeper and darker. It's rich and strong and even a bit experimental. It's evolutionary. And it's brilliant.

(I did not take the following video. Sadly, I forgot to press the record button on my camera at the show last night.)

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Poo at the Zoo

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 4:27 PM

Zoo Boise veterinarians have taken their doo-ties to the next level. Tomorrow, March 6, from 8:30-10:30 a.m., they’re offering your little poop troops (aged six and up) the opportunity to participate in a morning flush with “fun fecal-focused activities.” Though it might sound like a crappy way to spend the day, the Zoo promises that poop “is an important part of any animal’s ecosystem—and is a great tool for tracking animals in their habitat.”

The glovely zoo veterinarian will demonstrate how she examines animal poop and provide a butt-load of info on how animal feces can be an indicator of animal health. If a lack of snacking has you flushed, don’t get down in the dumps—the program also includes a light continental breakfast, as well as an up-close animal encounter and a visit to the animal clinic.

For Boise City residents, becoming a one-day member of the poo crew will set you back $9, non-residents pay $12, and Friends of Zoo Boise members shell out $7. If you’re interested in exploring number two at the zoo, register online today at

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Quarter Beers Return

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 10:06 AM

If you've been in Boise long enough to remember quarter beer Sundays at Parrilla in Hyde Park, you're going to love this: they're back for one day only.

In celebration of the burrito joint's 10th anniversary, PBRs are a measly 25 cents all day. But the deal is actually better than it used to be because today only, there's free food, $2 wells, $2 Tecates and $2 Sierra Nevadas.

Party on.


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Would You Like Bear Mace With Your Pasta?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 6:46 AM

One problem with kitchen life is the lack of personal space. Imagine being in constant contact with three or four sweaty individuals who smell like garlic. Hangovers are common and so is smoking. Combining all of those results in a uniquely odorous work environment.

This lack of personal space can also be dangerous to a person’s health. I have suffered the consequences. It happened when I was forced to share my mis in place with my sous chef. We worked in a small kitchen and simply did not have enough room for a double set of prep. We had to share.

On the menu was a nice spicy Italian pasta. To make the dish we would start with olive oil and heatit to the almost-smoking point. Then we would add the chili flakes and “bloom” them in the oil. This causes the essential oils to come out and turns the oil spicy hot. (Blooming peppers in oil for pasta is a classic technique.)

A problem occurs when the oil is too hot. The oil is no longer blooming, it gets burned out in one quick burst. I learned this the hard way. I went in for basil and my sous chef went in for chili pepper flakes, leading with a smoking hot saute pan. I watched as he reached for the flakes, which were about 12 inches away from my face, and then tossed them into the oil.

Smoke billowed. It traveled quickly into my eyes, blinding me. I stupidly took in a sudden breath, one of those unintentional inhales caused by fear. That forced the chili smoke into my lungs. Did you know that bear mace is essentially vaporized chili pepper oil? Yeah, that's what I inhaled.

Just in case you see a wild cook...
  • Just in case you see a wild cook...

Instantly my body rejected the stuff with a forceful cough and hack, turning my eyes and face bright red. I stumbled down the line to the nearest sink and promptly vomited. I wheezed and yelled and used curse words for the better part of 15 minutes before I could see and breathe well enough to read tickets and stand unassisted.

Later that night, I had a training session with my sous chef on how to properly bloom chili flakes. Unfortunately, I was still the guy who had to clean out the sink.

Randy King is the Executive Chef at Sysco Food Services of Idaho. He has served as the Executive Chef at several locations in Boise including Richard’s in Hyde Park, Crane Creek Country Club and the Doubletree Riverside Hotel. Randy is a member of the American Culinary Federation and has been awarded the elite status of Certified Executive Chef. He can typically be found behind a stove making a mess ... and something delicious to eat.

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Halfway to Half-Breaking Half of the Rules

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 6:35 AM

We're into the third month of the new year, so we're now almost halfway to the halfway point of 2010.

Coincidentally, statistics show that almost half of all Americans made one or more new year's resolutions, and of those resolution-makers, only about half will still be maintaining said resolutions by the halfway point of this year. So does this mean that half of us are halfway to failure?

If improving your eating habits was one of your new year's resolutions (at least half of all new year's resolutions probably involve healthy dietary goals), consider an easy read to help get you back on track. Author Michael Pollan, who also wrote bestsellers The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, recently published Food Rules, which is a starkly simple collection of 64 rules for eating wisely.


Pollan infuses his Rules with humor—for example, "If it's made from a plant, eat it. If it's made in a plant, don't." And unlike the rules of a picky 4-year-old who insists that different foods on his plate not touch each other, all of Pollan's Rules pertain either to the health of the eater or the health of the planet.

Just as a glass that is half-empty is also half-full, half of us will keep our new year's resolutions, and Pollan's Rules might help us in this quest. At least half of them have to be worth following.

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