Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sorry, we've moved

Hello. Thank you for visiting my website. We've have moved to a new location on Wordpress and while I would love to keep updating this site as well, it's become clear that I'm not organized enough to keep that up.

You can find us at bjaminwood.wordpress.com, where we will continue to post movie and entertainment reviews, essays, photos and all the other random crap that makes it onto Wood's Stock.

Thanks, and come say hi.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie Review: 'This is Where I Leave You' leaves you wishing for more

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This is Where I Leave You is not a particularly good movie. It relies on a cloying sentimentality, arbitrary conflict and leaves much of its significant potential wasted.

And yet, it is not unenjoyable viewing, largely due to the incredible talent of its assembled cast that paradoxically leads to unattainable expectations.

Truthfully, if you were to assemble Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Cory Stoll, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hahn, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne and Connie Britton for a dramatic reading of Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam,” I would likely rise to my feet in applause. Yet that performance, just like This is Where I Leave You, would be a tragic squandering of what this ensemble could have achieved.

The film is largely centered on Judd (Bateman) who is cuckolded by his man-child of a boss and whilst growing an impressive breakup beard learns that his father has passed away. His father’s dying wish was that his children sit Shiva, a week-long mourning ritual in Judaism that involves the immediate family of the deceased sitting and receiving guests during each of seven days.

And so the Altman children gather: namely eldest son Paul (Stoll) and his child-starved wife (Hahn); frenzied sister Wendy (Fey) and her prop of a family; Judd, who immediately reconnects with an old crush (Byrne); and youngest son Phillip (Driver) the immature screw-up dating his much-older former psychiatrist (Britton).

The family is dysfunctional in a textbook movie way, with outrageously explosive scuffles never steering the plot away from the inevitable group hug at the end. But while that saccharine reconciliation is a foregone conclusion, its unclear how most of the characters have achieved any sort of emotional evolution by the time the credits roll.

These are argumentative family members who maintain a lovingly distant relationship, thrust together by tragic circumstances only to again separate and argue, lovingly, when the credits roll. Any progress is incremental and in the case of Fey it’s unclear what transformation, if any, has taken place during the story.

And yet. And yet.

This is one of the best casts ever assembled and the sheer joy of watching them squabble is delightful despite the sometime asinine plot. Driver especially brings an unpredictable mania to the roll, further cementing his status as a national treasure, while the always excellent Stoll and Britton are unfortunately sidelined to make way for other toys.

It’s a bit of a shift for director Shawn Levy, who of late has been mostly consumed with the Night at the Museum franchise, short shift comedies The Internship and Date Night and, of course, the robot Boxing Movie Reel Steel. Levy never quite hits the dramatic notes required by the films more emotional moments, but handles the comedic elements with a breezy ease that almost makes up for the film’s shortcomings.

Grade: B-
*This Is Where I Leave You opens nationwide on Friday, September 19.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Movie Review: 'The Drop' a fitting, familiar send-off for Gandolfini

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Many actors are drawn to similar characters throughout their careers, but perhaps no one is as symbiotically fused to an onscreen identity as the late James Gandolfi, who captured every class of criminal during his career from the mob boss to the corrupt politician to the assassin to the neighborhood tough and every shade of low-life in between.

It's fitting then, in a poetically nostalgic way, that his final film role is not the tenderhearted divorcee Albert in last year's excellent Enough Said but instead Cousin Marv, the down-and-out Brooklynite who oversees a watering hole for the mob and watches the last shades of his rambunctious skull-cracking youth fade away.

Although "The Drop" is technically a film about Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy, adopting yet another vocal tenor in his ever-expanding chameleon gallery of on-screen affectations) Gandolfini's Marv is the commanding presence when he's on screen and the haunting shadow when he's not. The bar where the action is set has Marv's name on the door, and the methodical, slow-burning story creeps forward on the back of Marv's past sins.

As explained by Bob, a night in Brooklyn is one where clandestine money is constantly changing hands. That money eventually reaches its final destination, a "Drop Bar," selected seemingly at random, where all the dirty bills of the burough are collected for final delivery.

One night while closing up, Bob and Marv are ripped off for five grand by a couple of punks casing the bar as practice for a later Drop night when they can net the big score. But money is money and the mob wants their five grand back, so the family starts turning the screws on Bob and Marv to make amends.

Bob's got other problems too. One night while walking home he notices an injured dog discarded in a seemingly random garbage can, leading him to adopt it as his own with the help of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), whose ex-boyfriend doesn't take to kindly to the interest that Bob is taking in his girl.
And there's John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook) as Detective Torres, who in the process of investigating the robbery begins to think that there might be more foul deeds connected to Cousin Marv's Bar.

That may sound like a lot of disparate elements, but The Drop exists in a pulpy crime world where everyone in the neighborhood and all their baggage are at least partially aware of and constantly running into one another. There's a lived-in history to the story, as though the audience has arrived late to a movie that's been playing for years and leaves well before the action truly ends.

These are characters for whom a different set of rules apply, where wrapping a severed arm is plastic is treated with mute indifference and where acts of violence are expected but still leap out unannounced.

Hardy's Bob is a particular and engaging enigma, a man for whom past is past and the present is handled one decision and crisis at a time. His chemistry with Rapace's Nadia is probably the weaker link in The Drop's chain, but neither seems out of place as blue collar Brooklynites.

Much like Hardy's previous film Lawless, the individual performances are perhaps better than the actual material. But the combined effect of Hardy, Gandolfini, Ortiz and Rapace, who all play it cool while subtly tweaking expectations, takes what could have been a bargian airport-novel whodunit or a campy-grit Guys and Dolls and instead delivers a rich character piece that hums with moral ambiguity.

Grade: B
*The Drop opens nationwide on Friday, September 12.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Movie Review: Frank

*Portions of this review were first published during the 2014 Sundance Filme Festival
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Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is an aspiring musician plinking away at his keyboard in a frustrated attempt to write a hit song. He feigns sincerity, but in his incessant appeals to social media and his inability to create even mainstream drudge it is clear that he is motivated by a pursuit of fame and not by any deeply-held artistic vision.

But in a bit of dumb luck, he crosses paths with a band fronted by Frank, an experimental musician whose face is perpetually obscured by a large paper-mâché head and for whom music is an end in itself.

Frank invites Jon into the band as keyboardist, whisking him away to a secluded cabin in Ireland to record the new album, despite a cold reception from the other members of the band, including Maggie Gylenhaal as a cold and volatile theremin player.

The film eventually strays from a story about a quirky Euro-band recording in Ireland to one about mental illness and expression with a backdrop at the South by Southwest festival. But the central question of the movie, "Who is Frank and why does he wear the head?" is left largely unanswered even as the band collapses and Frank’s mental state deteriorates. One would assume that if you cast Michael Fassbender in your movie and spend the whole movie hiding his face that you would've done so for a reason. Right?

Frank was a buzzy film at this year’s Sundance festival and certainly has it's moments of charm. The actors commit fully to the gonzo setup, particularly Gylenhaal who is delightful while threatening to stab our protagonist and, later, making good on her threat.

But in this critic’s opinion, the film is one that perhaps had grand things to say if you could just hear them from underneath a muffled mass of paper mâché.

Grade: B-
*'Frank' opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, August 29.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Treat Yo' Self: Chest Wax with Cody Titmus

Chest Wax 1
When I was a teenager my sister, a cosmetologist, talked me into letting her wax between my eyebrows. I remember sitting in her salon, surrounded by women who likely waxed various body parts on a regular basis, and screaming in agony over the horrendous sensation on my forehead.
I drew a lot of skeptical glances steeped in thinly-veiled mockery, as if the entire female population of that salon was collectively thinking "this kid has no idea."

They were right. I did not.

Even now, with a greater understanding of the art of waxing, I can only begin to imagine the pain associated with waxing some of the more delicate areas of the human form and I have no intention of ever finding out.

As I write this, one day after my chest and stomach wax at the Garden Day Spa & Salon in Bountiful, my torso is in a uniform state of discomfort and covered in ubiquitous red sores that give me the appearance of a person with Rosacea. This is extra fun since I'm going to a pool party and barbeque later tonight.


Good planning, Ben.
Chest Wax 2

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For this month's Treat Yo Self I invited my good friend Cody to join me for a little manscaping and his wife Kelsey to join us afterward for some dinner.

I met both Cody and Kelsey in college, though they did not start dating until we had all graduated and moved to Salt Lake City. The three of us and our friend Krista formed a nice little group of four who would meet regularly for platonic dinners, but then of course they had to go and screw it all up by falling in love.

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They're OK.

Me and Cody checked in at the spa and were quickly ushered to an dungeon-esque subterranean keep where we waited for our waxer to arrive.

She took us (separately) into a back room with a massage table and some soft music playing, at which point I disrobed and laid down and surrendered my fate into her hands.
Chest wax 3

She warned me that my stomach would hurt more and started with my chest, working her way around in excruciatingly small increments. If you've never waxed, the process involved applying a small amount of hot wax to the skin with what looks like a tongue depressor, applying a strip of fabric and then tearing that off in one swift motion. Repeat ad (seemingly) infinitum.

The sensation itself, as best as I can describe it, feels like having your sunburn slapped repeatedly for a half hour, or an unending series of very precise belly flops.

The nipples were quite sensitive, but nothing compared to the agony of the skin around my belly button, which was compounded by the fact that my body hair is thickest at my belly, thus requiring several repetitions to smooth me out.

Whereas my chest would sting but immediately dissipate, my belly button was a searing pain that didn't go away and only got worse and worse as she went back again and again. I didn't scream, but I groaned a few times and my eyes were watering uncontrollably.
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The Situation before/The Situation after
Properly pampered, we picked up Kelsey and headed over to El Matador to conduct our interview over carnitas and fish tacos.

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?
Cody Titmus: My name is Cody Titmus and I am a copywriter
WS: And Kelsey who are you and what do you do?
Kelsey Titmus: I am Kelsey Titmus and I’m an employee relations consultant.
WS: So Cody, how was your waxing experience?
CT: It was something I will always remember
WS: You said you have had some waxing done before?
CT: Yes, my sister went to esthetics school and she has waxed between my eyebrows, inside my nose and once on a dare she did the side of my leg.
WS: How did those compare to today’s experience?
CT: The eyebrow is not painful at all. The nose stings, it always makes my eyes water, and the leg hurt a lot. This one, I felt like up on the chest it didn’t hurt that bad, it definitely stung for a bit, but down around the belly and the belly button was super painful. Like a lot.
WS: Walk me through the experience.
CT: We walked into the spa and checked in upstairs, then they sent us downstairs which was totally dimly-lit. Did they have music playing?
WS: I don’t think so.

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CT: Yeah, it was just really dark. It didn’t seem like drab but it was just dark and so we sat and waited for probably 5 minutes. Then I had to go first so the girl took me into a very small room with a massage table and she left the room for a few minutes so I could take my shirt off.
WS: Why?
CT: I don’t know, I didn’t ask her to. She just said ‘you can take your shirt off and put your stuff wherever and I’ll be  back in a few minutes.’ So I did and she came in and I quickly informed her of what the status of our visit was.
WS: Cody was a little concerned that she was under the wrong impression when I said I was paying for his chest wax.
CT: I guess I get really weird about that kind of stuff but I always am very quick to clarify that I’m married every time I get my hair cut or do anything like this, which I don’t do anything like this very often, obviously.
She asked whether or not I had ever done this and then just quickly proceeded to lay a thin coat of wax on a small area of hair and then she put a piece of tape on top of it and just ripped it right off.
WS: What did it feel like?
CT: It feels exactly like what it is, you’re getting the hairs of your body ripped off by a piece of tape. I mean, it feels like when you’re a kid and you would put a piece of tape over your mouth and rip it off really quickly. I don’t know any other way to describe it.
I just kept talking to her, that was my way of keeping my mind off of what was going on. So we just went through everything: where she lived, where she grew up, where I live, how long we’ve been married. I talked about our dating story, where we went to school and every time I knew it was coming I would brace myself and hold the sides of the bed and it really wasn’t bad at first but the more we got into it the more it hurt.
WS: Where did it hurt the most?
CT: Around the belly button. That really hurt a lot.
WS: Are you a man who does any manscaping?
CT: No.
WS: So it was completely uncharted.
CT: Yeah.
WS: Kelsey give me the 15 second version of how you and Cody met?
KT: We met at Utah State through my roommate Krista and I asked him out and then he asked me out in 2010 and then we didn’t’ date for a while and then we both moved to Salt Lake and started doing bi-weekly dinners with my roommate and you.
WS: And me! And then you guys got married when?
KT: March 1st, 2013.
WS: What was something you didn’t know about Cody until after you married him.
KT: I didn’t know that he put yogurt in his oatmeal.
WS: Is that good?
CT: I think it is.
WS: I’ll have to try that.
CT: I usually get the big things of oatmeal from Wal-Mart or whatever,  and so it doesn’t have any flavor to it or anything and I like to get something in there to mix it up a little bit.
WS: What’s a surprising thing about married life, or something that you weren’t quite anticipating?
KT: It’s just normal.
WS: Absolutely normal, so if I got married tomorrow it would be like, whatever?
KT: Yeah.
CT: There’s some adjustments. Obviously if you weren’t living together beforehand and then you do live together, sleeping on the same bed.
KT: That’s true, that’s an adjustment. But I feel like it was normal. I didn’t feel weird, maybe he did.
CT: No I like it. Now it’s weird when we don’t sleep in the same bed.
WS: Why do you say it might be weird for Cody? Are you a mover and a shaker?
KT: Probably. It was an adjustment actually for me, I’m a light sleeper.
CT: Kelsey just likes to be really close when we’re in bed.
WS: You’re a close-sleeper?
KT: I’m a close-sleeper.
WS: Are you (Cody) a close-sleeper?
KT: And he is not.
WS: How do you reconcile that?
KT: I cuddle in for a minute and then I move away.
WS: So you make the decision to move away?
KT: Usually.
WS: Even though you would like to stay close?
KT: Sometimes, occasionally, I’ll scoot back.
CT: I don’t need a bunch of space to fall asleep but I feel like I need a little breathing room.
KT: It gets hot.
WS: Yeah, I’m not a close-sleeper.
KT: And he snores a little bit sometimes.
WS: So what’s good about being married? Or is there anything good?
CT: Marriage is awesome.
KT: You just have your best friend around all the time, always someone to talk to who cares about you and helps you.
CT: We’re really open about everything, we like to involve each other a lot in whatever happens to be going on which I feel is really healthy and good. Previously I was the type of person who didn’t rely on my parents much if I was ever faced with anything, I just took it all by myself. So it’s been really nice to have a second pair of eyes, a second opinion on everything. We talk things out and figure them out together.
WS: What do we think about waxed Cody? Good or bad?
KT: I really don’t care. It would probably be weird if he did it regularly.
WS: Cody do you have any plans to be a regular client?
CT: No.
WS: Would you recommend chest waxing?
CT: I feel like it would probably depend on the situation. I wasn’t that hairy so it wasn’t a problem and Kels doesn’t mind it. If Kels liked it I would do it for her. I would.
WS: Really?
CT: Yeah I would. It hurt, but it was only like 20 minutes.
WS: But it really hurt.
KT: Doesn’t it hurt now?
WS: Yeah I’m in pain, are you in pain?
CT: Right now I feel like I was sunburned and applied aloe vera and then put a shirt on. It’s really sticky but then it’s kind of painful. It hurts but my pain level right now is only like a 2, it doesn’t hurt that bad.
WS: Do either of you have anything to promote?
KT: Everyone should watch How I  Met Your Mother.
WS: Are you guys on twitter?
KT: I am not.
CT: I’m on twitter but I don’t tweet. But I am on twitter @ThePaperBadger.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One Wood Uke: Broadripple is Burning [VIDEO]

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A while back me and my friend Jordan decided to take a little road trip around the intermountain west. We hit Goblin Valley, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend and Zion National Park, stopping to take some pictures along the way.

When we got into Zion, Jordan had the idea to rig up some GoPros and film a little music video, so we attached 3 cameras to his car and drove through the park uke-ing a cover of Margot & The Nuclear So and So's.

We didn't have any microphones to pick up the audio, so everything you hear is native to the video, which as you can see from Jordan's wardrobe we shot just prior to robbing a stagecoach (I kid. In actuality, he suffers from fotografizophobia and the bandana helps him keep the anxiety at bay).

While watching, please keep in mind that neither of us had showered in a couple of days, and that the GoPro's wide lens makes my nose look even more distinguished than it actually is (in college, there was a girl who knew me only as "Hot Jewish Guy." I'll take the compliment).

Also, if you don't know Margot I would highly recommend checking them out. 'Broadripple' is one of their best but they've got a lot of great stuff.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Review: 'Expendables 3' walks (and detonates) familar ground

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I don't remember a single plot point from the original Expendables movie. I can't tell you who the antagonist was or what conflict our team of mercenaries fought to resolve. I remember that Mickey Rourke was in it for all of five minutes and that there was something about a woman who needed saving.

Expendables 2 is slightly clearer, mostly due to recency and that ridiculous moment when Jean Claude Van Damme's villain (whose character name, honest to God, was "Vilain") decides to kill Liam Hemsworth by kicking a knife into his chest.

Kicking. With his foot.

I realize that the dictionary definition bit is a cliche but in this case it bears noting that "expendable" refers to an object that is "designed to be used only once and then abandoned or destroyed" or "of little significance when compared to an overall purpose, and therefore able to be abandoned."

In that regard I say "Bravo" Mr. Stallone, for giving us a piece of cinema del arte that fully realizes the purpose of its creation. Not only is the revolving cast of hulking man meat able to expand, contract and evolve — due to scheduling demands and conflicting egos — but character, plot, and reason are as easily dispatched as the current film's set pieces, reduced to rubble in bombastic fashion and re-assembled for the next go-round.

For our third adventure with Sly Stallone and his band of merry men, we find a weary Barney Ross burdened by the memory of the men he's lost. He breaks one of the original Expendables out of some generic foreign imprisonment — Wesley Snipes, providing essentially 15 minutes of meta action-comedy about the actor's real-life legal woes — before skirting off to a CIA-funded job stopping an infamous international arms dealer.

But Surprise! Said arms dealer is none other than Stonebanks (a gleeful Mel Gibson) another Expendables OG believed deceased after finding himself on the wrong side of Ross' gun many years ago. His resurrection sends Ross into something of blind rage and the mission quickly goes south with the barely getting away and not entirely intact.

So Ross calls it quits on his team and tells them to go home and enjoy a peaceful life, allowing him to recruit a new group of young whipper-snappers whose almost certain deaths won't bother him since going after Stonebanks is a "one-way-trip."

Obviously that doesn't last (since absolutely no one prefers seeing Kellan Lutz pout to seeing Jason Stathum rip bad guys' spines out of their bodies) setting the stage for an old-meets-new teamup in a dilapidated high rise surrounded by a literal army gun-wielding goons.

The young guns are a bore but the additions of Snipes, Gibson and Antonio Banderas liven up the otherwise nondescript sweaty drudgery. Harrison Ford steps into the Bruce Willis rule as "Growling CIA man who inevitably joins the fight," but his contributions are mostly limited to a laughably bad computer-generated helicopter chase.

Expendables is beyond over-the-top, but it's reliance on practical effects gives it a low-key adrenaline charm. It's a shame, then, to see such poorly rendered CG wizardry applied in this third film.
The dialogue, what little there is, is also as stilted as ever, all the more reason for these actors to let the loud firearms they carry do their talking for them.

But I guess that's the point, and if action is on the menu then Expendables 3 delivers, allowing each character a moment to showcase their skills before scooping them all back together for a group hug at the bar as they rest up for the inevitable fourquel. It should also be noted that the PG-13 rating carried for the first time by the franchise doesn't slow things down. There may be less blood splatter and curse words, but number three goes fist to fist with its predecessors, at least as far as I can remember them.

Grade: C+

*'Expendables 3' opens nationwide on Thursday, July 14.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Movie Review: Gleeson shines in difficult but rewarding 'Calvary'

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'Calvary' starts on a jarring note. An off-screen parishioner in confession tells Father James (Brendan Gleeson) that he suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest when he was a child, and that he intends to kill Father James a week from Sunday in some sort of redirected vengeance against the church.

It's hard to tell exactly how fazed Father James is by the threat, due to the incredible way that Gleeson registers and downplays emotion in the role. He tells his presumed attacker that he'll think of something better to say by next Sunday, and then goes about visiting the various lost souls of his flock with a business-as-usual diligence.

Calvary is presented almost as a series of vignettes as James makes his rounds. Some are quite dramatic, like the couple injured in a car accident who require last rites, the prison visit to a convicted killer (About Time's Domhnall Gleeson) and the longing conversations with Fiona (Kelly Reilly), James' daughter from a pre-priesthood marriage. But others are filled with dark comedy: the complacent cuckold (Bridesmaid's Chris O'Dowd) or Dylan Moran as a man so disillusioned by his wealth that he quite literally urinates on it.

These visits — some bizarre, some pleasant, some combative — are underscored by the weight that Father James is a man fighting, however nonchalantly it may appear, against a ticking clock. He knows the identity of his would-be killer but keeps this information from the audience, preserving an it-could-be-anyone tension as we're introduced to more of the idiosyncratic characters that populate this small town in Ireland.

The setting is one of Calvary's strengths, existing in a world apart from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life but steeped in and struggling to deal with a history of sexual crimes against children. It's made clear that Father James is innocent of the horrors perpetuated by his peers, but he is still burdened by the communal weight of his institution.

These are people largely detached from the crimes of the Catholic Church, and while Calvary does not address those crimes directly, it presents us with the aftermath of a world where institutional trust is shattered.

The film has a lot to say, and achieves it best by having its protagonist leave much unsaid. But there's also a sense that the filmmakers are reaching to string together themes that don't quite coalesce.

The large cast also presents an inconsistent caliber of performances (the scenes with Reilly never quite hit the emotional punch they're intended to) but everyone involved is lifted by the commanding presence of Gleeson as Father James.

When next Sunday arrives and our antagonist is revealed, their malice and anger is not easily reconciled with the interactions they've had earlier in the film. But the film's final scenes, while likely to be divisive, are beautifully shot and written with the appropriate weight of questions that do not provide easy answers.

Viewers will likely come away with different reactions, but speaking broadly Calvary is a film that leaves an impression, not of any particular moment or line of dialogue, but a quiet and introspective mood that haunts you after you leave the theater.

Grade: B+

*Calvary opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 15.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Two Wood Uke: 'Lucky Number' [VIDEO]

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I've been hearing all my life how similar I am to my brother Jake, who is nine years older than me. I could point to several key differences (he's an extrovert, I'm an introvert) but from an observational standpoint I've been told that we look the same, walk the same, talk the same, act the same and dress the same.

Again, I don't know about any of that but one thing we do have in common is ukulele-playing (although technically, I started uke-ing first).

Jake was the lead singer of Dishwoody and the Burritos in his younger years and has always had a better hand at songwriting than I have. That's because I can't write songs at all, and have thus accepted my lot in life as a cover artist.

Anyway, the other night Jake stopped by for a late night jam so we could record a song he had written for his wife as an anniversary gift. It was already late-ish when we got started so in a little over an hour we rehearsed, recorded and edited the song and an accompanying YouTube video.
It turned out pretty good for a smash and grab job and it was kind of nice to be on backup vocals for a change (you're all very welcome).

Here's the video below and since no one downloads these songs but my mom anyway, you can pick up a free copy on my Bandcamp page (where there's also mine and Jake's Beyonce cover).
Enjoy.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Movie Review: These 'Ninja Turtles' belong in the sewer

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It's hard to be overly critical of a movie that features a family of talking turtles, raised by a rodent martial arts expert, who spar against the criminal underground of New York City. 

And yet I doubt I'm alone in approaching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the latest iteration of the enduring comic-book/cartoon/film/toy characters, with a certain degree of nostalgia-inspired hesitation.

Hesitation that was only heightened by the presence of Michael Bay as producer, the bombastic auteur who is already responsible for the creative demise of a campy beloved children's franchise in the woefully unstoppable Transformers films.

Hesitation that was heightened further by pre-release promotional materials that suggested the
filmmakers had spared no expense at creating the most visually unappealing heroes that state of the art computer imaging software can produce, resulting in a Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo and Splinter who are more Polar Express than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
And more hesitation still at the prospect of body robot Megan Fox anchoring the "human" characters of the film.

Was it naive to think that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could ever have been a good movie? I don't think so. We live in a technological era where a raccoon and a humanoid tree are two of the best aspects of one of the better major summer film releases.

But that hope, for those who held out, is unrewarded. TMNT is a loud, obnoxious, immature, menagerie that assaults the senses for a relentless 90 minutes, with the onslaught of hyper-kinetic imagery made all the more nauseating by sloppily applied 3-D.

In this latest film, Fox's April O'Neil takes center stage as a novice TV reporter tired of fluffy community stories and trying to scratch her way into "serious" reporting (Babe, you're an on-camera reporter in Manhattan. Excuse me if I don't shed a tear for your career trajectory. Oh yeah, and you look like Megan Fox.)

While investigating the actives of the criminal Foot Clan, O'Neil conveniently witnesses a vigilante thwart a robbery but is unable to convince her superiors to take the story seriously. No bother, she gets another chance soon when she conveniently is part of a Foot Clan hostage situation that is again thwarted by vigilantes, who she is then able to follow up to the roof and who are revealed to be 6-foot-tall, ninja reptiles.

But nobody believes the poor thing, so she does what any girl would do: go and tell the world's most obvious super-rich secret villain Erick Sacks (William Fichtner) who is working with the Foot and their leader Shredder, including using his resources to turn Shredder's ceremonial armor into the Silver Samurai from The Wolverine.

Turns out that O'Neil's father worked with Sacks the first time he and Shredder tried to take over the world, ret-conning April into the turtles' origin story and setting the stage for a sinister pharmaceutical plot straight out of Mission: Impossible 2 (yes, the John Woo Mission).

The turtles hold the key to Sacks' plot, and I honestly can't believe I've already spent four paragraphs synopsizing this movie. To wrap up: punch, punch, kick, flip LOUD NOISES!

Grade: D+

*Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens nationwide on Friday, Aug. 8.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Movie Review: 'Wish I Was Here' is no 'Garden State'

*Note: This review was first published during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival




Wish I Was Here

Zach Braff's diretorial follow-up to "Garden State" was under scrutiny long before its premiere in Park City. The "Scrubs" actor drew the ire of many by asking his would-be audience for help through the fundraising website Kickstarter, with many feeling that it was inappropriate for an established star with Hollywood connections and several year's worth of syndicated sitcom money in the bank to be asking regular folk to turn out their pockets.

But his fans jumped on board, and now the question is whether "Wish I Was Here" delivers their money's worth.

WIWH, like Garden State before it, tells the story of a struggling actor (Braff) at a crossroads in life. In this case, Braff's Aidan Bloom is a 30-something father of two who is in a professional rut. He hasn't worked since "that dandruff commercial," leaving his wife (Kate Hudson) to shoulder the bulk of the family's financial burdens.

Aidan gets hit with another blow in the form of his ailing father (Homeland's Mandy Patinkin) whose cancer has returned and spread throughout his body. Their relationship is strained, with Patinkin's character incessantly voicing his disapproval of Aidan's career choice, but more intact than that of Aidan's brother (Josh Gad) who we presume has barely spoken to his father in years.

The movie is more mature than much of Braff's earlier work, with a surprising amount of tenderness between Aidan and his two children (played by Looper's Pierce Gagnon and White House Down's Joey King). But there is a disconnect between the characters and the material that stands in the film's way. Braff and Hudson have little, if any, chemistry onscreen and Gad has even less with Ashley Greene in a side-plot awkwardly inserted into the fray. There's also a significant portion of the film devoted to religion that never quite materializes into something impactful.

In the end, Wish I Was Here is a pleasant film with a sufficiently emotional voice. But the movie likely will not live up to the expectations of Garden State fans who waited 10 years for Braff to get back behind the camera.

Grade: B

*Wish I Was Here opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 25.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Treat Yo Self: European Facial with Chelsey Gensel

European Facial

Last month's Treat Yo' Self was not entirely pleasant, so as a new month rolled in I was ready to get back to an activity of a more relaxing nature. I briefly considered doing something patriotic to coincide with Independence Day, but then it occurred to me that I spend the bulk of July with a persistent sunburn and my skin could use a little TLC.

So I settled on a European Facial, which combines a deep cleansing with steam, exfoliation, and an upper body massage before culminating in a chemical mask that hydrates the skin, and I invited my friend Chelsey Gensel to come along.

Chelsey and I met in the journalism program at Utah State University, and more specifically at USU's independent student newspaper, The Utah Statesman.

When I was named editor in chief I hired Chelsey as my second-in-command, meaning that she made sure everything was spelled correctly while I engaged in ill-advised spitting contests with the school's student government and Greek Row (which were pretty much one and the same).

In 2011, we both moved to New York City and were basically neighbors in that we were separated by a couple subway stops and were two of the only seven white people in Queens. She's an extremely loyal and supportive friend and is passionate about the things she loves.

She's OK.

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We checked in at Skinworks School of Advanced Skincare for our 2 p.m. appointment and had a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire in an phenomenally-aromatic lobby. The sun is really bad, guys, as our pages made clear by repeated inquiries into our regular levels of exposure and warnings against venturing out into the cruel harsh light except for the most exigent of circumstances.

From there we were taken into our private rooms, Chelsey by a woman and myself by a nice man named Mike who reminded me of Little Richard without the mustache.

My preconception of facials was largely based on television comedies, where groups of women sit together and gossip about their love lives with a green paste on their skin and cucumbers over their eyes. I assume that option is out there, but my facial was a very matter-of-fact affair, with the first 30 minutes or so consisting of the applications of various creams during a dialogue with Mike about my individual skincare needs and then 30 minutes of quiet relaxation while Mike applied a translucent mask and massaged my face, neck, shoulders, arms and back.

Mike told me I have great skin (I bet he says that to all the guys) and warned me repeatedly about wearing SPF since I'm a "Fitzpatrick II," which is skin-industry-speak for "Pasty white Irish boy."

Properly pampered, Chelsey and I headed to Oh Mai to conduct our interview over some Báhn Mì sandwiches and toasted coconut water.

Oh Mai Salt Lake City

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Chelsey Gensel: I am Chelsey and I am a nanny in New York.

WS: Have you ever had a European facial?

CG: I’ve never had a facial of any kind before today.

WS: What did you think?

CG: I was pleasantly surprised with what a process it was. I thought you would just sit in a chair and they would put some gunk on your face and then wipe it off and moisturize you. But it was kind of like getting a massage. You’re in there for an hour, you have a bed and it was quite involved. And the mask was clear, I was not expecting that.

WS: Neither was I.

CG: You expect it to be like green or blue or mud colored or whatever.

WS: Walk me through it. What was it they did, you did, and so on.

CG: They had a lovely terry cloth dressing gown. A massage table bed. A warm toasty blanket, which was good because it may be summer and you think you’re not going to be cold but when they’re taking hot and cold washcloths off your face for an hour you get a little bit of a chill.

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They started with some kind of a cleanser, lotion-y stuff. They wiped that off. Exfoliant – wiped that off. Mask, moisturizer, whatever the last one was. Toner? I think. And then a sort of upper body massage in between. Oh and the lamp, the check-your-skin-to-make-sure-you’re-healthy lamp.

WS: With my guy, the first half was a lot of questions and conversation and then the last half was mostly massage. Is that how yours went?

CG: Actually no, she was not talkative at all at first. I explained to her that I had my freshly-inked tattoo so I couldn’t have my arm rubbing against the blankets and moved around. The questions were very business-like, just about what was going to be happening. She asked what scent I wanted. But she never asked what I did, where I was from, anything like that. It was very little conversation.

WS: Do you remember which scent you chose?

CG: Lemongrass

WS: Mine was an East Indian Patchouli Oil and he said I had good taste.

CG: Patchouli Oil is nasty.

WS: I agree, but this was apparently differently.

CG: Yeah it was that or lavender or lemongrass. It was a toss up between lemongrass and lavender but there was no way I was going Patchouli.

WS: Was there anything else that surprised you or that you didn’t expect?

CG: No I don’t think so. I’ve been to salons before. I’ve read the service menus and kind of knew what to expect from a facial. I just didn’t know that it was like an hour-long process.

WS: How does your skin feel?

CG: Refreshed and glow-y, although a little bit wet. I keep waiting for the moisturizer to all soak in but every time I touch my face it feels a little oily.

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WS: So let’s talk a little bit about New York.

CG: It’s still there.

WS: You’re a nanny there, how long have you been doing that?

CG: Three years.

WS: How do you like it?

CG: I still like it most of the time. I figure it has its challenges like any job but it’s something I generally enjoy doing and can still learn from doing and let’s me live the way I would like to and be comfortable and do the things I like to do.

WS: What was the motivation behind New York. Why that place?

CG: New York is my mistress. I’m just in love with it. I can’t explain it, it’s like it’s own little universe. I hated Salt Lake City growing up and I never would have figured myself for a city girl but I was nannying in Pennsylvania after my freshman year of college and visited New York on a weekend and just from the second I stepped off the subway I wanted to come back.

WS: I think most everybody, whether they vocalize it or not, wants to live in New York. Or they at least want to be able to. Do you ever find yourself surprised that you’re actually there?

CG: No, not really.

WS: You never have that moment where you realize “Oh right, I live in New York”

CG: I guess sometimes I do take a step back and think “aren’t I lucky to live in a place where I have all these opportunities and can do all the things I want to do, basically when I want to do them.” But that’s not happenstance, I did it on purpose, so it’s not like it’s a surprise to me. I picked New York because I wanted to be in New York for those reasons: to be able to do those things and go those places and have those experiences.

People always say “You’re so brave” or “You’re so adventurous.” It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I went where I wanted to go to do what I wanted to do.

WS: So you don’t automatically feel cooler than the rest of us because you live in the Big Apple.

CG: Oh yeah. I totally do. But it’s not for everybody and I get that. I’m not like a New York missionary.

WS: What’s the best thing and what’s the worst thing about living in New York?

CG: I’ll probably have a different answer in a few months but right now it’s the smell.

WS: Yeah, the summertime…

CG: Summer in New York, it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s smells like hot garbage and body odor. That’s just the way it is. It’s hot and you think like you’re never going to be dry again. It’s like in Harry Potter when they play that quidditch match in the rain and Fred and George say “We haven’t been properly dry since August.” That’s how I feel starting in about May in new york.

WS: What about the best thing?

CG: (Takes a sip of toasted coconut water) I don’t like it. Not New York, I don’t like the coconut juice.

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WS: You don’t like the coconut?

CG: It’s got chunks in it.

WS: Yeah it does! I love it. I absolutely love it.

CG: Texturally that’s not a thing that I am interested in doing. I’ll sip it. You should have told me there were chunks.

WS: You wouldn’t have gotten it if I had.

CG: That’s true.

WS: You need to be a more adventurous eater.

CG: That is totally untrue.

WS: OK I take that back, you still do like ethnic food and all sorts of things.

CG: As evidenced, I’ll try almost anything. Usually taste is not bothersome to me, it’s texture.

WS: Well I do feel like you put too much of a dealbreaker status on texture.

CG: I can’t help my brain chemistry. I’m sorry.

WS: You were born this way, is that what you’re saying?

CG: Yes I was. Actually I may have been born this way but I’m probably more adventurous than I would otherwise have been if I didn’t spend four years as a vegetarian.

WS: Yeah, that makes you experiment with food.

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CG: What was the question?

WS: Best thing about New York?

CG: My head is swimming, I don’t know how to define it. If I get asked this question in a conversational setting I’ll either give a stock answer that makes no sense or I’ll wax philosophical for days because I love it so much.

It sounds super corny, but it always amazes me that as a city that is so connected to everywhere else in the world it can be so isolated. I feel like it has it’s own heartbeat. You can be isolated and find your niche and never leave or you can go 100 different directions and experience anything you want to experience and never see the same person twice for 10 years if you don’t want to.

WS: I know what you mean. I remember when I was living there I would tell people how I felt kind of alone and isolated and people would say “how is that possible?” but there’s so many people that you are just in a sea.

CG: And it can be really hard to meet people because it’s not like you just go to the park or it can be kind of an ordeal to go anywhere you’re going to go so you have to be purposeful about it. So if you’re not part of an office culture where you meet people at work or a church group where you meet people of your faith or you're going to school and you meet people in class, it can be very difficult because not everyone wants to necessarily meet the people they would meet at a bar on a night out.

WS: And without those groups there’s just millions of people…

CG: ...who never really intersect. Although you see dog walkers and dog owners pass each other on the street and strike up a conversation. I have started talking to people on the subway because I notice they’re listening to a band I like or reading a book I know.

A couple weeks ago I started hanging out with these four kids on the subway who were playing a word game where you start with the last letter of the previous person’s answer. This one kid kept using World Cup players and I caught on to it 3 or 4 rounds in so I interrupted on his turn and said “another World Cup player?” He was like “Dang, I’m caught” and I joined their game. For 20 minutes on the subway I played a game with these four strangers and will never see them again. But you can put yourself into wherever and whoever and whatever you want or remove yourself just as easily.

WS: I do miss that, that is a cool aspect of the city.

CG: And a simplistic one but I really like being in proximity to everything I want to do like concerts and stuff.

WS: Is there anything you miss about Utah?

CG: The mountains and my family and friends who are still here. When I come back it’s nice for about 3 days but everywhere I go I run into someone I know and can catch up and don’t really have to put effort into it. But then after a little while I’m over it and ready to go back to the city.
I’ve seen enough plaid cargo shorts, tank tops over t-shirts and crocs to last me a lifetime. I don’t claim to be high fashion or anything but I’ve had about enough.

European Facial

WS: Would you recommend a European facial to others?

CG: I would say “provisionally.” It’s very nice but I imagine it can be quite pricey depending on where you go and unless you have skincare needs or issues I don’t know whether it would be worth it to do often. It’s certainly worth trying once, but I’m not sure it would be cost effective to do just for fun.

WS: Anything you want to promote?

CG: Ed Sheeran’s new album just came out. Go listen to it.

WS: Are you on Twitter?

CG: Yes, @ChelseyJane

Monday, July 21, 2014

'Weird Al' IS the Internet

"Weird Al" Yankovich

I never saw the video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Eat It" on MTV. Or "Amish Paradise." Or "Like a Surgeon." Or "Fat" for that matter.
That's because when I was a kid, enjoying a picturesque childhood in rural Utah in the late 80s/early 90s, my family didn't have cable. And we weren't alone.

Back then subscriber television hadn't reached levels of omnipresent ubiquity. My neighbors had it, and it was always a thrill to scroll through the endless list of channels at hotels during family vacations, but once we were home I was limited to the Big 4 and PBS, assuming I could hold the antennas in the exactly right position.

I was still a passionate "Weird Al" fan, resulting from my love of all things Star Wars in 2009 that led me to obtaining my own copy of the album "Running With Scissors" — which included a Star Wars-themed parody of "American Pie" along with such hits as "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" and an 11-minute spoken word tribute to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which I memorized and would perform at family functions.

But MTV is where Yanky made his bread and butter, and the reason why is obvious.
You don't listen to "Weird Al" for the music. Nobody puts "Living with a Hernia" on the playlist for their wedding video. You listen to "Weird Al" because he has a gift for pairing clever wordplay with satirical videos shot with surprisingly impressive production quality.

His appeal — and his biggest hits — have always stemmed from a knack for multi-media showmanship, which is exactly what makes his current internet domination so interesting.
As of the writing of this post, Al was on day 5 of an ambitious strategy of 8 daily music video releases ahead of the release of his 14th album. The "project," for lack of a better word, has done gangbusters online, flooding my twitter feed and Facebook as friends and acquaintances discover "Word Crimes," "Tacky" and "Foil." ( 6 million, 2 million, and 6 million YouTube views, respectively).

He has stated in interviews that part of his digital release strategy is due to the decline of MTV and cable, and he's right. MTV's much-discussed failure as "Music" television aside, research group TDG found that cable subscriptions in the U.S. peaked in 2011 with 100.9 million households and has declined ever since (and is projected to continue keep falling).

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But where most articles have suggested that Yankovich is "adapting" to the internet age, I would posit that the internet is precisely what his career has been building to. Yankovich has been here all along, he was just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Social media, and the "viral" sensations it creates, has fully supplanted primetime television programming as the most effective way to reach a mass audience. But consider this, A Yankovich video like "Word Crimes" is the perfect Facebook post: a funny, inoffensive video that pleases both political ranters and baby-picture-sharers with its blend of winking high-brow and low-brow comedy. Take, for example, the blink-and-you-miss-it innuendo of "a cunning linguist" tucked into a debate over the Oxford Comma in "Word Crimes" (hey-hey-hey!).

The songs are familiar, prompting us to turn up the volume to hear the differences that derive from similarity, and the videos are packed with gags that blend both sight and sound (the backup singers who materialize to croon the word "Fooooooooooil" will never not be funny).

All week long we've been stumbling upon these videos, we've had a good laugh, we've maybe re-watched to see if we missed something on our first run, and then we clicked the share button to let our friends in on the joke. From there, we went about our lives never to really think about or listen to it again.

That type of catch-and-release audience engagement has always been central to "Weird Al's" creations, but until now we've never had the appropriate mechanism to make full use of its potential. Fourteen albums later, Yankovich has seized upon the perfect storm of technology and clickbait attention spans to produce the best work of his career. Bravo.

And in case you haven't seen it yet, here's the video for "Word Crimes."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Movie Review: A 'Sex Tape' best left unseen

'sex tape'

Comedies, by nature, are built on the basis of justifiable implausibility. That's because life, by and large, isn't particularly funny, which requires a level of pseudo-fantasy to generate the big laughs movie goers expect.

That's why we allow a suspension of disbelief when, say, two 30-year-old men pose as high school students in the Jump Street films, or a crass teddy bear is brought to life by a child's wish in Ted. That lapse of reality gets us in through the door, in order to take us on a wild ride of shenanigans and tomfoolery.

It's unfortunate, then, when a movie has nowhere to go beyond its initial, unlikely premise. Such is the case with 'Sex Tape,' which manages to make an otherwise tight 90-minute running time feel like it's dragging on endlessly through a series of meandering and asinine sequences only sporadically punctuated by the rarest glimpses of comedic ingenuity.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are suburban parents in a happy marriage that has lost the fiery passion of their younger years, which we see in flashback while Annie narrates the body of her latest mommy blog post. Because what R-Rated comedy about a sex tape is complete without a mommy blog sub-plot?

Jay is a loosely defined radio station manager, which is established solely to explain that because of his job he routinely upgrades to a new iPad and gives his old device away as a gift. He has apparently done this several times, because after a night of mommy-blog-related celebration produces an ill-advised recording of the pair recreating every pose in The Joy of Sex, the video in question is automatically synced to the tablets of his friends, family and mailman via the all-mysterious Cloud.

Thus begins a long and increasingly desperate attempt to retrieve all of the digital copies, which have found themselves in the hands of Annie's potential employer (a surreal and unhinged Rob Lowe) and a teenage extortionist (naturally). And along the way Jay and Annie take stock of their dwindling physical relationship providing some sort of emotional undertone for a movie whose audience will be largely comprised of teenage boys who came for the promise of seeing Diaz naked (sorry boys, backside only).

It's a bizarre amalgamation of disparate elements: part wandering heist film, part softcore skin-flick, part heart-happy love story, part mildly amusing and several parts endlessly boring. When the final evidence of their tawdry misdead is recovered and beaten with a hammer, it's an all-too-fitting end.

Grade: C+

*Sex Tape opens nationwide on Friday, July 17.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Photo Shoot: Midnight Train to Denver

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Utah occupies a rather prominent role in the history of U.S. rail travel. On May 10, 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in the then-Utah Territory, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and forming a continues line from east to west.

It's a scene that is depicted on the state's official quarter, along with the phrase "Crossroads Of The West," and yet despite residing in Utah for 91 percent of my life I've never really participated in long-distance rail travel (subways and a quick trip on the Long Island Rail Road excluded).
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But a few months ago I was at a journalism conference where the invited speaker was Tom Zoellner, a former Utah journalist who authored the book "Train," which is about, as it turns out, trains.

At the end of his speech, the mediator asked him what one what piece of advice he would give a roomful of professional journalists. I was suspecting some bit of industry parlance like "work your beat" or "write tight" but instead Zoellner said to get on the California Zephyr and ride to San Francisco.

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Until he said that it hadn't even occurred to me that Amtrak stopped in Salt Lake City. We're westerners after all, we have cars. But then I remember that of course you can get on a train in Utah. We're the Crossroads of the West!

I've been to San Francisco, and most of the points west along the Zephyr's route, but in 27 years of Utah living I had never visited Denver, our intermountain sister-city to the East, so when a 3-day weekend availed itself to me I packed a back and headed for the tracks.

Obviously there's a lot of drawbacks when comparing travel by rail to travel by air. A nonstop flight on Delta from SLC to DEN takes 90 minutes, compared to the 16 hour churn of the Zephyr. And because the Zephyr runs a single route on repeat, ad infinitum, there's not a lot of options for departure times. In Salt Lake, that means boarding at 3 a.m. if everything runs on time (more on that later).

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But it has its advantages as well. The cost is typically lower, the seating is considerably more comfortable, you can stretch your legs with a trip to the lounge car or catch a full-service meal in the diner. And security is scant, with almost no limits on your luggage and the ability, if you choose, to snuggle with your dog. Let's see you do that on Delta.

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Speaking of the lounge. On both my departure and return trains there was a family of – what I presume to be – Amish people. At first I thought "Oh, we're all coming back together" but then it occurred to me that these were not the same people. Turns out the Amish don't ride planes, with the more orthodox seeing them as an unnecessary worldly luxury and thus necessitating the use of trains for long-distance travel. Who knew!

The other way that trains have planes beat is the scenery, which particularly through the Glenwood Canyon was just incredible.

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Our first stop in Colorado was Grand Junction, a rather dilapidated relic of the railway golden years. You can almost imagine old scenes of men in trench coats, puffing on cigars in the moonlight while the steam from an arriving trains billows along the platform, or enlisted men leaning out of windows for one last kiss as their girls wave and dab at tears with frayed handkerchiefs.

Now it's just boarded windows and chain link fences, with a metallic Amtrak Sign lending support to the cracked and faded lettering on the junction's facade.

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We arrived at Denver's Union Station a little before 7 p.m. The building was closed for a private party celebrating the end of a renovation project so we travelers wrapped around the perimeter and headed up the 16th Street pedestrian mall.

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16th Street is a charming feature of the city's downtown, with through-traffic relegated to the cross streets and only public transit and rickshaws allowed down the main drag. The street itself is largely dominated by Starbucks shops and chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Chili's, making it something of a pedestrian mecca for those friends of yours who like to go out but don't have particularly refined taste.

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There are exceptions of course and the ritzy Larimer Square is nearby, where I got some killer sushi and potstickers at Tag. And since this is Colorado, I moseyed into a recreational marijuana store. I didn't take any pictures though, because I didn't want to be that guy who walks in with a Utah ID and a camera starts snapping photos like some puritanical narc.

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Saturday was my main day to explore the city. I watched the Rockies lose to the Twins while eating a footlong bratwurst at Coor's Field and stopped by Tatterred Cover bookstore to pick up my own copy of A Tale of Two Cities (which was fitting, because my king bed at the Grand Hyatt allowed me to end the night with one of the better rests that I have ever known).

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I also headed over to Commons Park, which runs along the South Platte River, and happened upon a skateboarding tournament, which made for a nice distraction. I'm not a skater, I've never been a skater, but it's incredible what they're able to do.

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From there I headed back to my hotel with a quick detour to the Colorado State Capitol and Civic Center Park, where most of the city's government buildings (and the Denver Post) are located. Colorado has a great capitol, with a blue-ish rotunda that makes it stand out from the relatively identical nature of those buildings.

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Nearby are the public library and Denver Art Museam, two great modernist buildings surrounded by sculptures and pop art. I'm a sucker pop art, always have been.

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I was supposed to leave Sunday morning at 8 a.m., but around 6:30 I woke up to a message that my train had been delayed four hours to 11:50. When a 16-hour ride is delayed four hours, it puts a bit of wrinkle in your plans. What puts an even larger wrinkle in your plans is when that train is delayed again until 12:15, and then again until 12:30, and then finally leaves around 1:15.
But on the bright side, I finally got a chance to explore the union station.

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I admit that some of the romance had worn off by my return trip, during which I spent less time gazing out the lounge windows and more time with headphones in my ears binge-watching the first season of The Americans on my laptop.

But even while I tried to resist, the scenery at times was just too much to ignore.



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