Friday, October 24, 2014

Awesome Or Flawsome: Ouija

Never alone. Never in a graveyard. ... and of course, never alone while in a graveyard. That's right. If you are going to use a Ouija board, you need to follow the rules; this is the premise of the newest Universal Pictures horror film Ouija, which is being released today.

Under normal circumstances, I would never see a scary movie in a theater. But when Universal Pictures contacts you and asks if you and your students would like to attend an advance screening in a nice movie theater for free, you oblige (no matter if you cannot stand suspense in any shape or form, no matter if you know that you'll be watching the majority of the movie with your knees pulled to your chest and your face buried in your scarf). And so I figured I would do a quick review of the film. 

Ouija is rated PG-13, which is appropriate. There isn't much blood, guts, or gore; there isn't any nudity or sexual situations; and there is minimal profanity. However, there are plenty of startling moments, many of which made me scream out loud. This of course is slightly embarrassing as I was surrounded by students, thus providing them with endless material for playful harassment of their teacher.

Set in a quintessential American town during fall, Ouija follows a group of teenage friends (who have very absent parents) as they attempt to end an accidental and deadly connection made with some emotionally and psychologically disturbed local ghosts via a Ouija board. Not the most original of plots, but literally,"it is what it is." The background music is ominous at the right times; the special effects are believable and effective (no pun intended); and of course, there is potential for a sequel.

As for the cast, I believe that the talent on the big screen was surprisingly strong, playing characters who were just interesting enough, yet completely expendable (as most horror film characters should be). In particular, Olivia Cooke (who will be seen soon in the locally filmed Me & Earl & the Dying Girl) played the lead role of Laine Morris quite well. It was also good to see Douglas Smith (from an HBO favorite Big Love) on the big screen.

My official recommendation is that Ouija is an awesome and entertaining movie for this time of year, a time when we purposefully put ourselves in spooky situations. It's fun for those of us who have a fond recollection of playing with a Ouija board at grade school sleepover parties (alone with "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board"). It's also good for newer audiences who might not be ready for the likes of Evil Dead, Carrie, or The Exorcist. Does Ouija have a high rewatchability factor (Bill Simmons fans understand that concept)? No, it's flawsome in the sense that once is just enough.

SPOILER ALERT: I am never flossing my teeth again. Oh, and when I get to work and there is dental floss in my mailbox? Real funny people. Real funny.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

All About The Benjamins

Like excellent burgers? Like charming neighborhood venues that are within reasonable walking distance of Heinz Field? Good. Then you will like Benjamins Western Avenue Burger Bar (900 Western Avenue, 15233). They have an interesting, yet comfortable menu; good drink specials ($2 Yuengling drafts this past Monday night for instance); and an inviting atmosphere (I particularly like the small bar, the lighting, the open kitchen, and the fireplace).

Pretzels ($3.95, 3 baked soft pretzels, candied jalapeño cream cheese, truffle mustard)
Mushroom & Swiss Burger ($10.50, balsamic & basil roasted Portobello mushroom, Swiss cheese) with a side of Broccoli Salad (carrots, sesame seeds, ginger-lime-soy-wasabi dressing)
Since it was a pregame meal, I went with the Pretzels to complement my beer. The three pretzels were sizeable enough for sharing, and the dipping sauces were delicious. Had I not been in public, I would have licked the candied jalapeño cream cheese right out of its container. And since I am always following the "when in Rome" mantra, I ordered a burger, in particular the Mushroom & Swiss Burger. It was cooked to perfection (medium) and mushrooms and cheese literally melted in my mouth. The side of Broccoli Salad was light and refreshing. However, had I been throwing all of my caution waistline to the wind, I would have ordered the Bacon Fat Home Fries (poblano peppers and onions); admittedly, my one bite of JAS's portion was pretty fantastic.

Overall, Benjamins is a solid choice to gather with friends and family and it's a solid contender for the best burger in Pittsburgh. The service is consistently friendly and efficient, and I highly recommend this spot to everyone... I know I will be back sooner than later (especially if I walk by and smell the intoxicating aroma of their burgers that I swear they pump out onto Western Avenue)!

(3.25 stars, 3.25/4)

Benjamins Western Avenue Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2014

Afternoon Commute

I am always looking for songs that have a good beat with which to pace myself when I run (or jog).

With that in mind, this song is doing the trick (despite its pop factor and its video); of course it makes a great driving song as well, especially on a nice afternoon (flashback to the first 800 million times that I jammed out to "Call Me Maybe"). Enjoy!

Song: "Shake It Off"
Artist: Taylor Swift

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Awesome Or Flawsome: Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets

Within twenty-four hours of seeing the enticing commercial for Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets, I was sitting in the Monroeville location, with an 8-piece on deck. Note: they offer 4, 8, and 12-piece options, and one can make the 8 or 12-piece options into a meal (which is what I did for $8.05 with the side salad and a diet lemonade).

Here are the things that I jotted down as I tried them:

  • These are very juicy. 
  • These are very flavorful in a kind of chargrilled, kind of seasoned, kind of way. 
  • These would go really nicely on top of a salad. 
  • These cannot be eaten without a fork, which doesn't bother me except that I wouldn't call them a nugget per say and I wouldn't get them unless I was sitting down to eat like a civilized person. 
Overall, the Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets are officially awesome. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Sixteen thoughts and ideas for the sixteenth day of October...
  1. "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor is a terrible piece of music wrapped in a bubblegum pink wrapper of nausea. I mean, seriously. How can I support any message that comes across in these lines: "Yeah, it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two. / But I can shake it, shake it / Like I'm supposed to do / 'Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase / And all the right junk in all the right places"; "Yeah, my mama she told me don't worry about your size. / She says, "Boys like a little more booty to hold at night"; and "I'm bringing booty back / Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that / No I'm just playing. I know you think you're fat." I won't go into any more detail other than saying that this is just so, so wrong on so, so many levels. 
  2. The Equalizer was a highly entertaining movie. However, I think that the title is a bit misleading. It should have been called How To Seriously Injure and/or Kill Someone In Home Depot
  3. My favorite ABC prime time dramas aren't disappointing! Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Revenge, and the newest addition How to Get Away With Murder have my undivided attention this season. 
  4. My ringworm has had more sequels than Nightmare on Elm Street. I won't even tell you what part of my body is being attacked this time. 
  5. Maggie's Farm Rum. Go there. Drink it. 
  6. Tuesday's weather... there was something in the air. That breeze seemed to be literal winds of change, which is nearly poetic. 
  7. The Nick & Knight concert was incredible. I would know this because I was as close to being cloud nine as one could possibly be during its entirety. How fortunate am I to be part of the generation that has loved both New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys, and is still able to enjoy them years later? 
  8. Cupcake Pinot Noir goes well with rap music and Sunday nights. 
  9. Why are class rings still a thing? 
  10. My tenth grade students were born in 1999. So that's weird. 
  11. A friendship ending can be more heartbreaking that a romantic relationship ending. 
  12. How do some people manage to stay employed despite an overall lack of relative competence?   
  13. MAB and I have started a Google Doc for our Christmas wish list. Someone needs to create a Santa account so that we can share it with him/her on Google Drive.  
  14. I need a pedicure.  
  15. There are three more Harry Potter movies on the horizon. And that is great news. 
  16. Knowing when enough is enough is so darn difficult. I suppose it's because our threshold for pain bullsh*t varies with the ebb and flow of our lives.