The world converges on Dec. 31 in Times Square to rejoice at the passage of another year. Celebrities are afoot, and they are looking to crank out a classic. The resulting cheese-fest of hastily conceived romances and grating pop-music is a minimally amusing look into the world of cinematic euphoria, at the cusp of 2012.
Another year, the same New York and a horde of celebrity actors and musicians are the main ingredients in Garry Marshall’s latest holiday celebration “New Year’s Eve.” Following the intertwining adventures of several, starry-eyed New Yorkers in Times Square, awaiting the famous ball to drop at midnight, Marshall looks to weave a hip and heart-warming homage to New Year’s cheer.
With Hollywood beauties Hillary Swank and Jessica Biel, playing an events coordinator and pregnant woman respectively, and hunks Ashton Kutcher and Zack Efron getting caught up in their own hijinks from one slacker one-liner to the next, the quirky attempts at comedy and false-chemistry, as actors attempt to outshine one-another, make up the majority of the flick. The actors’ stories somehow all connect as the fateful ball is set to drop – perhaps on their careers.
But don’t forget the montages.
When transitioning from scene-to-scene of campy dialogue, the film treats viewers to a sampling of over-blown, bubble-gum pop to chew on while they sit amazed as glorious images of New York City flash before their eyes. One’s psyche is suddenly awash with admiration for the big apple, and fluttered with a garbling of the classic MTV, auditory hedonism.
Perhaps fun for younger viewers and fans of reality television’s brain-drain effect, by the end of “New Year’s Eve,” the film is apparently nothing more than mere propaganda.
Dragging to the nearly two-hour mark, the sappiness seems to have one message: 2012 is going to be just fine; America and New York are going to be just fine. It is a movie where nothing happens, save more screen time for spot-light darlings.
Don’t let the glossy poster fool you, or the celebrity cast list entice you. This is not a movie. Don’t let them tell you it will be okay.
Breakfast (or lunch and dinner) of culinary champions
Andrew Beckford The Washtenaw Voice
Ramen noodles are simple to cook, and provide a great platform to base a meal on.
Ramen noodles have always been an essential meal for college students. Often seen as a life-saving, budget-friendly meal, it’s quick and easy to prepare and will put a dent in the stomach while at the same time preserve the pocketbook.
While economically and gastronomically friendly, ramen noodles can become stale and boring very easily due to lack of versatility in preparation. But with a little creativity – and we’re here to help – ramen noodles can make an interesting and even tasty meal.
Think chicken in a white wine cream sauce with ramen noodles. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what will be done – in a matter of minutes. This will be a simple, delicious yet affordable meal that can be prepared with two packs of 75-cent ramen noodles.
- 2 packs chicken flavored ramen noodles
- 1 cup half-and-half cream
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 Tbs fresh garlic puree or garlic powder
- 1 chicken breast
- 2 Tbs olive/vegetable oil
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
Wash and cut chicken breast into small strips and marinate with one pack chicken flavor from the noodle packet. Preheat sauté pan with oil until hot. Sauté chicken and garlic until no longer pink. Add white wine and allow to simmer for two minutes. Add cream and parmesan and allow to reduce for an additional five minutes under medium flame. While the cream is simmering, microwave noodles in plain water for three minutes. Drain water and add noodles to chicken mixture then stir for a minute. After the noodles are added, remove from stove and serve immediately. Serves two.
In an epic battle of the tablets, which one wins?
Smart phones have small screens, and this can cause problems for those who enjoy videos. Students have a lot to look up and the tiny screens don’t work well when surfing the net. They don’t want to haul around a heavy laptop, either.
This is why tablet computers laden with apps, cameras and touch screens all wrapped up in a small package have become so popular. Students can get work done on the go with a screen large enough to be comfortable and light enough to keep in a small bag.
“I type my papers on it and it automatically saves everything. I can go back to all of my old papers,” said Michael Randall, a 24-year-old liberal arts major from Ypsilanti, and a proud iPad owner.
“They are easier than regular computers. Just tap for the internet!” said Shanna White, a high school student from Ypsilanti. The runaway leader of the tablet computer market is the iPad 2, but other companies have released their own devices. How do these stack up against the iPad 2? Here’s what you’ll need to know when you’re shopping for the latest technology to replace that clunky laptop.
This tablet is gorgeous. It’s very thin and sleek. Don’t get taken in by the design though; it has some major flaws. It doesn’t support Adobe Flash. This is a serious shortcoming, and it’s a deal-breaker for some. Not only that, it has no USB ports either.
One thing it definitely has going for it is that it plays beautiful and crisp movies. The size of the screen makes watching videos feel pleasant. So does the way that the tablet sits in your hands. Unfortunately, the speakers aren’t very powerful. It does have a headphone jack though, so that might not be a problem for everybody.
The apps available for the iPad 2 are terrific. There are apps for everything from choosing what to buy at the grocery store to apps that simulate playing instruments. There are some great apps that edit photos and movies, and the large touch screen makes it really fun to use. In the end, the ease of use and the beautiful design make it a good tablet, but it isn’t a great tablet.
For more information: http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/09/ipad-2-review/
A selling point of the BlackBerry PlayBook is the unique operating system, which is designed specifically for this tablet. It has become popular because it allows for multitasking, and it supports Adobe Flash. It is really lightweight and the screen is crystal clear.
It definitely isn’t as pretty as the iPad 2. There is a wide black rim around the screen that some find annoying. Regardless, the video on the BlackBerry PlayBook exceeded my expectations. This is a terrific tablet.
For more information: http://reviews.cnet.com/tablets/blackberry-playbook-16gb/4505-3126_7-34185051.html
Samsung Galaxy Tab
This is the only tablet that competes with the iPad 2 in the area of design. It is also thin, sleek and lightweight. The interface is strange though. It wasn’t easy to find what I was looking for through different screens. The Galaxy Tab is larger than the iPad 2, but I found that a larger screen was even better. It was really comfortable to hold and pretty easy to use. There isn’t anything special about this tablet, but it’s very nice.
For more information: http://the-gadgeteer.com/2011/08/18/samsunggalaxy-tab-10-1-verizon-4glte-review/
The Thrive is also a little bit bigger than iPad 2, and the design isn’t attractive. The back of the tablet is covered with ribbed rubber, and it isn’t very comfortable to use. It is very heavy, and it feels clunky. It doesn’t seem to move as quickly as a lot of the other tablets. This one isn’t my favorite, and a lot of other tablets are much better for a few dollars more.
A pen even mightier than a computer?
Upload every pen stroke and download a multitude of apps
It listens to your class lectures, it remembers what you write, it plays games with you and it helps you study for tests.
What is it? It’s the Echo Smartpen, which has a microphone that records everything your teachers say during classes, as well as speakers to play them back.
“Every student should have one,” said Damon Flowers, vice president of facilities development and operations, and the proud owner of an Echo pen.
It is about as thick as a marker, and it isn’t very heavy. The grip is rubberized, which makes it a little bit easier to write with. Given how thick it is, writing with it is a little bit awkward. It has a button that turns it on and off on the top and a screen that runs down the side of the pen. It is sleek and very attractive.
The 2GB model typically costs $99.95, but also comes in 4GB and 8GB for a higher cost. The models differ in the amount of audio they can hold. One can hold 400 hours of audio and the other can hold 800 hours.
When using the special notebooks that are designed for this pen, a student can write and record a lecture. The notebooks and more ink for the pen can be purchased in the bookstore as well, as well as headphones that can be plugged into the pen. Then, when studying later, a student can tap a point in the notes and start the recording from that point.
This Smartpen connects to a computer and recorded lectures can be uploaded and things that are written can be easily transferred to the computer and printed. There are even applications to try out.
It does a lot of cool things and it’s pretty easy to use. It can help students in language classes to translate words on a page and it can even define words that have been written down. If a student draws a diagram, then the pen can be plugged into a computer and that drawing can be saved. The pen also helps students keep track of their notes and keep them organized.
Need one now? It’s available in the WCC’s bookstore or you can find them cheaper online. Amazon has the 2GB model for $79.99.
You’ve got a lot to lose (but you don’t have to)
Screenshot of Application
If I asked you to, could you put a price on the time and effort you put into the last essay you wrote? What about the video you took of your child’s first steps, or the pictures you took at your grandmother’s 90th birthday party?
Everything I’ve described above – your time and effort, those moments in time that will never happen again – is irreplaceable. If you have things like that stored on your computer (like most of us do), and if you haven’t backed them up (again, like most of us don’t), you’re exactly one hard drive crash away from losing them forever.
Enter CrashPlan, an online backup service for both Mac and Windows. It’s inexpensive, secure, packed with features, and – most importantly – dead simple to use. For about the price of two cups of coffee per month, you can ensure that all of your important files will survive longer than your hard drive will.
After you install the program and set up an account, CrashPlan automatically selects your Documents folder for backup (you were going to do that anyway, right?), and you can select other files and folders as needed. Once you click the Start Backup button, CrashPlan silently encrypts and uploads your files to their servers. CrashPlan doesn’t store the key to decrypt your files, so there’s no chance of their employees ever snooping through your things.
The first backup can take a very long time: it took me over a month to back up 250GB of my files over a cable Internet connection. If speed is a concern, Crash- Plan can ship you a hard drive so that you can run the first backup locally, then ship the drive back to them (they call this “seeding” your backup). Turnaround time on seeding is between 5-10 days, and costs $125. Once the initial backup is done, subsequent backups happen very quickly.
Ever accidentally overwrite part of an essay, save it, then cry after realizing what you did 15 minutes later? CrashPlan has you covered; it saves multiple versions of your files, and can save them as often as every minute. Ever delete a file accidentally? You’re covered there, too. CrashPlan never deletes any of your files (even if you do), and it’s as easy to restore files as it is to back them up.
Paid backup plans start at $1.50 per month for 10GB, $3 per month for unlimited space, and $6 per month for the Family Plan, which includes unlimited space for up to 10 computers.
Peace of mind is worth $36 per year to me.
What’s it worth to you?
For more information, visit the CrashPlan website.
Jim Ward steps out – and comes of age
Photo courtesy of Tembloroso.com
When the indie, post-hardcore darlings At The Drive In called it quits in 2003, it seemed that the band had a bit of an identity crisis.
And while The Mars Volta’s first few albums were nothing short of genius, Ward’s Sparta failed to capture the essence that shaped his former group into formidable up-and-comers.
When faced with extinction and cultural irrelevance, a musician has two options: wither away into obscurity or evolve into something unexpected.
On Ward’s various solo romps the guitarist has indeed evolved, and his latest compilation album, Quiet in the Valley, On the Shores the End Begins, is no exception.
Made up of three previous solo EP’s, including this year’s The End Begins, Ward has chosen to focus more on down-to-Earth songwriting, weaving folk and pop elements together perfectly. So good in fact, all of his fruitless Sparta and Speedcar efforts seem null and void in the grand context of his own career.
This time around, Ward chooses acoustic guitars, synthesizers and programmed drums to shape soundscapes, leaving behind his fuzz-driven guitar. The music is more organic and although heavy on the folk, his songwriting is more akin to bands like Wilco and Owen than it is Bob Dylan.
For those that already have all three albums, there may be no pressing need to purchase this one, but long-time fans of Ward and new listeners will certainly find this album to be a welcomed, contemporary gem.
And aside from the album’s main tracks, this compilation takes a few choice songs and re-envisions them with louder, more traditional electronic instruments, keeping the faith alive for many fans that Ward may someday return to his thrash roots.
Doing so, however, would set his new-found creativity back light years.
Team Fortress 2 just got better
Photo courtesy of OSXDAILY.com
The reasoning for why someone would write a review about a game that is more than 4 years old is questionable. But when a game this good goes free to play, you have to tell the masses.
That’s right gamers; “Team Fortress 2” is now free to play. There’s no credit card information to fill out, nothing to submit.
The only time you will have to enter credit card information is if you would like to buy items in the in-game store.
Team Fortress 2 (commonly known as TF2 to gamers) is a class-based, teamwork-oriented, first-person shooter that is played online. Players can practice offline against the computer, but it’s not the same as playing with a person.
There are eight different classes to choose from, each one with its own benefits and downfalls. Classes like “The Scout” can run incredibly fast and capture enemy-control points twice as fast as the other classes, but don’t carry much firepower (just a short-range shotgun, pistol, and bat) and have very low health. Or like “The Heavy” who carries a powerful mini-gun and has high health, but it takes a few seconds for him to get the gun spinning, and he moves much slower when his gun is ready to fire.
Visually, the game uses simple graphics that are not as impressive as the “Call of Duty” franchise, but detailed graphics were never the point in this game.
The game has several different play modes to choose from, such as “payload” where one team escorts a bomb-filled cart towards the enemy base within a time limit while the other team tries to stop it from reaching its destination. There are also the more traditional maps most gamers know, such as capture the flag, king of the hill, and control points (domination).
TF2 has an enormous gaming community that gets bigger every day, and that doesn’t just mean there are more people to play with. Much like any other PC game, there is a plethora of user-created maps to fight in and modifications to spice things up. Ever wanted to smash your friend’s face in with a baseball bat on the “Mario Kart” track? In TF2, you can.
TF2 is a game that was never meant to be taken too seriously. Filled with mischief and comical taunts, TF2 is just plain fun. Now get out there and enjoy yourself.
Indie comedy obsesses on street art
Photo courtesy of EW.com
If you ever wondered what inspires art galleries, street artists or filmmakers, you might consider renting “Exit through the Gift Shop.”
Don’t expect to find any Hollywood stars; the movie was created by street artists. But if you’ve ever wondered why some art sells for tens of thousands of dollars and other art seems worthless, this movie will give you insight into the modern pop art industry.
The film is almost too weird to believe it is true, but there is enough video evidence to suggest it really is. The movie documents the last 10 years of world street art. It is the story of how an eccentric French shopkeeper and amateur filmmaker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, the world-renowned graffiti artist, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner with spectacular results.
Thierry Guetta becomes obsessed with filming, and he travels the world filming street artists that create illegal graffiti. He gets caught up in the game of the street artists and nearly goes to jail.
Near the end of the movie Banksy offers a chilling commentary on Guetta’s success: “I used to think everyone should do art, now I am not so sure.”
Maybe Thierry Guetta was a bit lucky, or maybe art is a bit of a joke. I won’t spoil the end. But I will suggest you download the movie from Netflix or Amazon Unbox, and enjoy coming to your own conclusion.
‘Glee’ is missing the plot but hits the notes
Photo courtesy of Allmovies.com
“Glee” hasn’t done well at the box office, but does that mean it was awful? Depends on what you were looking for.
It was a good concert, but not a great movie. Those who love the TV show of the same name will definitely notice that there are a few important characters missing, including Sue Sylvester and Will Shuester. These are major characters in the show, and it just doesn’t feel right without them in the movie.
It was an awesome concert, but there wasn’t much of a story. Almost every character got to sing a song and there were several songs where all of them sang. Everybody can cheer on their favorite character.
Between songs, the stories of a few teenagers were shown. It was the story of people who struggled and were helped through difficult times in their lives with “Glee.” At some places, these people were annoying; they didn’t fit in well with the movie.
Parts of the movie were also a little bit strange. There was footage of the actors backstage, but they always stayed in character. It was confusing to watch them getting their hair done, while still acting like their characters.
I did love being able to get so close to the singers without actually having to go to a concert. There, I might not have seen the singers well, and it could have been loud and hard to hear the songs. At the movie theater, I have no problems with people around me screaming, and I’m not leaning around the tall person in front of me to see the show. This is really the best way to see a concert up close.
This doesn’t take away from the amazing singing. There was really a bird’s-eye view of the singers onstage, something that few people had at the concert. Those who love listening to the music above the drama of “Glee” are probably going to enjoy this. However, this movie has none of the drama that has made the show popular, and it missing some key characters.
From a chubby to inspiring – and inspired – marathon runner
Marie Wolfgram describes running the 2010 Boston Marathon, the most challenging race of its kind in the nation, as an “out of body experience.”
“I did what most people can’t do,” Wolfgram said. “I finished stronger than I started.”
Wolfgram, 32, was confident she would do well. She trained, she read a book about the marathon’s route, and she knew the right pace. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that the now-marathon runner, personal trainer and businesswoman used to be 50 pounds overweight – and running was not part of her routine at all.
Her lifestyle changed and fitness journey began in high school when Wolfgram’s then boyfriend lost weight during the summer.
“The truth is,” she said bluntly, “I did not want to be bigger then my boyfriend.”
She changed her eating habits and started to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Within a year and a half, the excess weight came off.
“It was a process,” she said. “It was not fast, and it took me a long time. Seeing the results made me feel good and kept me motivated.”
Excited with the weight loss, she decided to exercise. Wolfgram started by just walking a few days a week. Then, when the popular girl in her school was ranked in the top 10 racers, Wolfgram set the challenge for herself: “I’m going to beat her next year.”
She began training, and though her foe did not run that year, Wolfgram was hooked.
“I figured it out that it was actually good,” she said of her new passion. And her racing was on.
In 2003, she ran her first marathon in Chicago.
At the starting line, she met another runner and they became friends.
“We ran the whole time together, up until mile 21,” she said, adding that having someone to talk through the race made a lot easier. “You don’t think so much about the race and you pace yourself.”
Soon after that, Wolfgram became a personal trainer.
“I thought it was my last marathon,” she said. But at the same time, while also working at a running store in her hometown of Flint, she became friends with the owner. He convinced her to train and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
It is a challenging route, and the runners are the fastest in the world. He became her mentor.
“He gave me a training plan to qualify,” Wolfgram recalls.
She ran the Florida Marathon, and ended up 10 minutes faster then the qualifying time for Boston.
“To go from being a bigger person, to running and to qualifying for Boston is something I never dream of,” she said. She finished the Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Since then, Wolfgram has been through a lot. She got married, moved to Los Angeles, got divorced, moved back to Ann Arbor, fell in love again, made friends, and opened a business. And she put on a lot of miles.
“Even during the bad times,” she said, “I never stopped running.”
In October 2010, Wolfgram and a partner opened PRFitiness, a running company that holds group runs, strength and conditioning classes and offers individualized coaching.
Ann Arbor has a big running community, and Wolfgram saw a great opportunity to show runners and athletes how important balance is.
“I wanted to show them how important strength training is,” she said.
Although most of her clients are experienced runners, PRFitness is open to everybody who wants to start running. She believes that anyone can run and thinks that people can relate to her because of her life experience.
“I’ve been there,” she said. “I know how hard it is when you start to run.”
Wolfgram also holds classes at the YMCA in Ann Arbor for cancer-remission patients. She also dedicates one of her group runs to the LIVESTRONG Campaign founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong.
“After my first class with them, I cried on the way home,” Wolfgram said. “You realize that your life and problems are not that bad.”
She got so involved with the cause and the group that she always runs races with a LIVESTRONG shirt and a bandana signed by each member of the class.
“Every time a race get’s hard,” she said, “I reach up and touch it to give me strength to finish it.”