8.27.2008

The Biggest Loser

Currently I am participating in a "Biggest Loser" contest at work, which was organized by one of the girls in the office. Everyone who entered had to pay a $25 entry fee, then whoever loses the most body fat percentage in 10 weeks gets all the money. Well I have been thinking I could stand to shed some pounds for some time now, but since losing weight merely for my health just isn't a good enough reason, now I have cold hard cash to motivate me.

I have tackled this weight loss mission on two fronts. First, I modified my diet. The greatest change is that I have greatly reduced the amount of sugar and sweets that I consume on a given day (although I do allow myself to indulge every now and then). I am drinking more water, and I try not to eat after 7 p.m. Second, I am exercising regularly. Once I got over my cold a few weeks ago, I started getting up early every other day to either ride my bike or swim laps for a half hour before getting ready for work.

We reached the midpoint of the contest this week. Since we are using body fat percentage, I am not sure exactly where that puts me. However, I am happy to report that I have lost 10 pounds so far, which leads all contestants. My suit pants, which haven't fit properly since I was a newlywed, buttoned right up last Sunday. Honestly, eating right and exercising, who knew?

I took my camera on my bike ride this morning so I could shoot a few photos along the way:

Sunrise over Oquirrh Lake.

More bridge love, with a view of the copper mine in the distance.

Grandville Avenue, which many of you should be familiar with as one of the roads you must turn on to get to our house, will soon be much, much longer.

8.25.2008

Tagged Again

Melissa tagged me ages ago and I'm finally getting around to responding! What you must understand about our blog is that we usually have several posts just waiting for the right moment to be posted and lately we've had lots of other things tying up our blog space (like Batman). So, without further ado...

Four Places I Go Over and Over Again
1. Target: For diapers, diapers, and more diapers!
2. Madsen Health Center: To see the midwife.
3. Steve & Melissa's Blog: Anxiously awaiting new posts. I am usually disappointed. (Zing!)
4. Crazyville: Ed drives me there.

Four Favorite Places to Eat
1. Kneader's: Mmm... sandwiches...
2. Winger's: Mmm... amazin' sauce...
3. Training Table: Mmm... ultimate dipping sauce (mayo + bbq sauce = crazy delicious)...
4. Anywhere Other Than Our Kitchen: Mmm... non-homemade non-healthy food...

Four Places I'd Rather Be
1. New York City: Without the expense.
2. England: Without that long plane ride.
3. In the Pool: Without gross diseases.
4. In Bed: Without being awake

Four TV Shows I Watch All the Time
1. Mythbusters: So sciencey!
2. The Price is Right: So pricey!
3. Designed to Sell: So design-y!
4. LOST: So twisty!

8.22.2008

Caped Crusader Cinema: The Dark Knight (2008)

Perhaps some of you are thinking, "Finally, there are no Batman movies left for Dave to geek out about!" Well believe it or not, I have had requests for posts covering Batman: The Movie starring Adam West, and Batman & Some Guy, starring yours truly. And if I really wanted to be a completist, I could also review the animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which was released theatrically (for about two seconds). For now though, "Caped Crusader Cinema" is going to take a little hiatus, but I definitely plan to bring it back at some point to truly complete the series.

In Retrospect

Batman Begins set the bar very high, and with the promise of the Joker at the end of that film, I knew the sequel had the potential to take things to a whole new level. I was a recent first-time father who was addicted to blogging when The Dark Knight arrived in theaters and blah blah blah, let's stop right there. One thing this review won't have is the benefit of nostalgia, or the familiarity of endless viewings.

There are a number of problems inherent in reviewing new movies. It can be a challenge to reconcile all of the hype and expectations with what actually ends up on screen. Sometimes, I am slightly disappointed by a film the first time, only to find it much more enjoyable later on after the weight of my expectations has been lifted.

And how much of a movie's appeal can be attributed to its newness factor? Often I will see a film once and think it is great, but when I watch it again, I find that the thrill is gone, and have little desire to ever see it again (unfortunately, I have usually already bought the DVD by this point). Anyway, to make a long story short, I have waited this long to review The Dark Knight because I wanted to see it at least twice before diving in, and going out to the movies tends to be a dodgy proposition when there is a three month old involved.

Critical Analysis

Spoiler Alert: I will be discussing the movie in all its glory, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't want all the secrets ruined, you have been warned. Also, what is your problem? It's been out for over a month, go see it already!

So how did The Dark Knight hold up to a second viewing? Let me put it this way. As the credits rolled the first time, I immediately turned to Kristen and said "I want to see it again." When the credits rolled the second time, I immediately turned to my friend Spencer and said "I want to see it again." The most character driven of any Batman film to date, The Dark Knight is so richly layered and epic, even after 2 1/2 hours, I have been left wanting more—twice.

As the events of the film begin to unfold, Bruce Wayne has yet to completely lose himself in the cape and cowl. While he spends a good deal of the film in costume, growling at and pummeling criminals, Bruce Wayne is humanized by his interactions with his allies, gadget man Lucius Fox and faithful butler Alfred. He also longs for the day that Gotham no longer needs him so he can be with his unrequited love, Rachel Dawes. And with Maggie Gyllenhaal stepping in for Katie Holmes as Rachel, just like that, one of the biggest problems of Batman Begins has been rectified.

Villains presenting the hero with a choice of saving one or the other is not an unfamiliar plot device in comic book movies. Spider-Man, Batman Forever and others have featured such a scenario, which typically symbolizes the hero having to choose between his two lives. And every time, the hero always manages to defy logic and save everyone involved. But this is not the case in The Dark Knight. Because the Joker isn't playing by the rules, Batman's choice is ultimately futile. As a result, Rachel dies, and Harvey Dent is left a deformed and broken man. Batman must learn the hard way, as Alfred points out, that "some men just want to watch the world burn."

You may have noticed this review isn't quite as humorous as some of my other installments, but this is a serious film. There are some moments of humor mind you, but you almost feel guilty for laughing. I should clarify, these are not guilty laughs as in cheap, but rather you feel guilty for allowing yourself to laugh at some of the horrific things the Joker does.

I'll admit that when I heard that Heath Ledger had been cast in this role, I found it to be a bit of a head-scratcher. It was definitely not what I was expecting, but at the same time, I trusted that Christopher Nolan knew what he was doing. And my faith was rewarded, as Ledger's performance is quirky, terrifying, and yes, funny—usually all at the same time. Perhaps most importantly though, this Joker wouldn't be caught dead galavanting around to any Prince songs.

Badly dated pop music is one thing, but Tim Burton also made the mistake of killing the Joker off. Nolan, on the other hand, wisely keeps Batman's greatest doppelganger alive in the end. Unfortunately, the Joker's promise to Batman after he is finally captured that they are "destined to do this forever" will be left unfulfilled. For a film already built on tragedy, knowing that Ledger will never get to follow up his transcendent performance brings an even greater sense of loss to the proceedings.

While Batman and the Joker command a lion's share of screen time, the true emotional core of The Dark Knight is the rise and fall of Harvey Dent. Known as Gotham's White Knight, Dent is the reason that Bruce Wayne has allowed himself to hope that Gotham will soon no longer need Batman. Anyone remotely familiar with the Batman mythos knows that Dent is destined to become Two-Face. But when he descends into madness in the wake of Rachel's death, there is a genuine sense of remorse, rather than merely relief that Two-Face has finally hit the screen.

Two-Face's assumed death brings a dark film to a bittersweet culmination—a finale I never expected. Batman knows what Harvey Dent stood for more than anyone, and that Gotham can't afford for the Joker to be validated. In order to keep the public from finding out what their White Knight became in the end, Batman offers himself as a scapegoat. He does what nobody else can because "sometimes the truth isn't good enough." While Batman makes his escape, Commissioner Gordon is left to explain why they must chase him to his son, thus providing the film with its coda:
Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now...and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight.
The final scene of Batman Begins gave the viewer a clear idea of what to expect in the sequel. The theme would be escalation, and it was going to feature the Joker. So what's in store after The Dark Knight, and realistically, will anything be able to top it? I honestly have no idea. All I know is that as long as Christopher Nolan is involved, I have reason to hope.

Grade: A+

8.20.2008

Rachael Ray's Inside-Out Sausage Chops

Now that I'm home all the time, I watch a lot of TV. I've been trying to control myself, so I've started paying attention to what time certain things are on so that I can watch just that and not have the TV on all day. I've started regularly tuning in for the portion of Rachael Ray's talk show where she makes the food to see if it looks good. On a recent show (a re-run, I think), she made this recipe. I thought it sounded delicious, so I cooked it up a few days later. It was a hit!

Below is the recipe exactly as Rachael Ray wrote it, but I will give you a few cautions:

1. Rachael Ray makes way more food than necessary, so it's probably best to adjust the recipe to make the right amount for you and your family (for instance, we did 2 peppers instead of 3, but I think 1 would've been sufficient for our party of two). And when you reduce the amount of peppers, reduce the amount of oil you use or you'll have really oily peppers.
2. Rachael Ray loves onions. Please don't really use two whole onions to make four servings or everyone on the block will be able to smell you. I used a couple of slices of an onion and it was plenty for us.
3. If you don't like the way sausage tastes, you probably won't like this. The fennel seeds make it taste just like sausage.

Ingredients
• 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thickly sliced
• 1 green bell pepper, seeded and thickly sliced
• 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thickly sliced
• 2 large onions, thinly sliced
• 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 boneless pork loin chops, about 1 1/2 inches thick (ask your butcher for these)
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1 clove garlic, grated
• 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
• 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shaved

Yields: 4 servings

Preparation
Preheat an oven to 400ºF.
Place the peppers on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons EVOO and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in the oven and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, preheat 2 tablespoons EVOO, about two turns of the pan. Season the pork chops with salt and freshly ground black pepper, transfer to the hot pan and sear until brown on both sides, 3-4 minutes per side.

Transfer the chops to a sheet pan and allow them to finish cooking in the oven about 10 minutes (if using thinner chops, reduce your cooking time). Once the chops are cooked through, cover them with foil to keep them warm until ready to serve.

In the same pan the chops were cooked in, heat the remaining tablespoon EVOO, about one turn of the pan, over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, fennel seed, garlic and red pepper flakes, and sauté until tender. Tent the onions with a piece of foil as they sauté so they slightly caramelize.

To serve, place one pork chop on each plate and top with caramelized onions and a sprinkling of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Serve the roasted peppers alongside.

8.17.2008

Ten Things...

...I Have Learned From '80s Movies (Part 2)

10. You should always take the lovable nerd over the unattainable rich kid. Hey wait a second... (Pretty In Pink)





9. To create your very own supermodel, all you need is a barbie doll, a circa 1985 computer, and a little help from Oingo Boingo. (Weird Science)

8. As long as you are good at basketball, no one will care that you are a werewolf. (Teen Wolf)






7. Body swap movies? Pure box office gold. (Big, Like Father Like Son, Vice Versa, 18 Again!)

6. The only one with enough influence to end the Cold War is an underdog Italian boxer with brain damage. "If I can change, then you can change. We all can change!" (Rocky IV)



5. "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." (Dirty Dancing)

4. Hitching a ride with a portly female truck driver in the middle of the night is never a good idea. (Pee Wee's Big Adventure)





3. "When someone asks you if you are a god, you say YES!" (Ghostbusters)

2. The government won't think twice about raiding your home in space suits to take your pet alien away. (E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial)





1. The most bankable star of the decade? Tom Cruise? Sly Stallone? Bruce Willis? Nope, Steve Guttenburg, baby! (Cocoon, Police Academy, Short Circuit, Three Men and a Baby)

8.14.2008

Barton Family Reunion '08

We had our annual Barton family summer reunion in Logan this past weekend. Everyone arrived in town Friday night for dinner and family photos. Kristen and I did our best to get several members of the family addicted to our favorite new game Ticket to Ride. Saturday we went up to Bear Lake for some fun in the sun. We also rented some WaveRunners for a few hours, which was a welcome change of pace. Eddie spent most of the time hanging out in the shade with his mommy, trying to keep sand out of his crevices. Before we left on Sunday, we dropped in on Great Grandma Jones so she could meet Eddie. Here are some photos:


The whole fam.


The newest cousins and their proud mommies.

Quality time with Grandpa.


Runnin' some waves.


Come on in, the water's fine. And by fine, I mean really cold.


I was relaxing on the beach, experimenting with my camera's grainy, high-contrast, black & white setting, when I noticed an unusual shape out in the water. Luckily, I was using my telephoto lens.


Meeting Great Grandma Jones.

8.12.2008

Caped Crusader Cinema: Batman Begins (2005)

In Retrospect

Many projects went into development in the dark years following Batman & Robin, which I followed to varying degrees between serving a mission and attending Utah State. Among these potential follow-ups were another Joel Schumacher-helmed sequel titled Batman Triumphant, a live-action version of Batman Beyond, a Batman/Superman team-up, and an adaptation of Batman: Year One.

But Warner Brothers was understandably hesitant following the Batman & Robin debacle, and none of these projects managed to get the elusive green light. The series remained dormant until an up-and-coming filmmaker named Christopher Nolan came along, and was given the reigns to rethink the franchise from the ground up.

Following graduation in the Spring of '04, I was working for USU Extension Marketing with fellow graphic design grad Ben Barnes. We often had little work to do, save the occasional Master Gardener guidebook or Equine Team brochure, so we passed the time by hyping ourselves up for Batman Begins and Revenge of the Sith. As each new production still or behind-the-scenes video made its way to the internet, we were there, ready and willing to make custom desktop wallpapers.

I went to the midnight show with Ben, our wives (who likely agreed to go at that hour because they got to see Christian Bale shirtless) and our boss Rick, who came stag. I eventually saw Batman Begins three times in the theater, and found it to be so superior to all previous live-action adaptions in the way it truly understood the character, I even wondered if I would be able to go back and watch my beloved Tim Burton movies.

Critical Analysis

The real breakthrough of Batman Begins is who its main character is. It's not about the villains, which is what all the previous live action movies had focused on. It's not even really about Batman, as he doesn't show up in full costume until an hour into the film. No, this is Bruce Wayne's story. Everyone's favorite orphaned billionaire is finally given the attention he deserves, instead of merely being the chin behind the mask. His back story is fully fleshed out, bringing a new found depth to his motives and ambitions.

Batman Begins is also the first bat film to attempt grounding everything in reality. Batman's arsenal is pared down to only the bare essentials—the Bat Suit, Batmobile, and a modest collection of gadgets, Everything is given a thorough explanation as to why it exists, and how Bruce Wayne comes to acquire it, whereas the other movies sort of half-heartedly suggested that all of Batman's "wonderful toys" were creations of Alfred. After watching the beginning of Batman & Robin, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor old butler, imagining Robin whining to him that he needed a smoke machine and not one but two neon Robin logos to spruce up his motorcycle's holding bay.

As Roger Ebert points out, Batman Begins "is not realistic, because how could it be, but it acts as if it is." Some of the explanations we are given are completely ludicrous if you really listen to them, such as when Lucius Fox describes the development of the Batmobile, aka the Tumbler:
"She was built as a bridging vehicle. During combat, two of these would jump over a river, towing cables. Over here on the throttle, flip that open and throttle up. This will boost you into a rampless jump... We never could get the damn bridge to work, but this baby works just fine."
If ever there was a more impractical way to build a bridge, I'd like to hear it. But I'll be darned if you aren't willing to suspend your disbelief because Morgan Freeman delivers the line so convincingly. So maybe "realistic" isn't the right word. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe Batman Begins is "plausible."

I tend to be an armchair editor when I watch movies. I am always thinking about what could be excised for the greater good. I would rather that something leave me wanting more than overstay its welcome (don't get me started on King Kong). Even at 140 minutes, Batman Begins is lean and mean, with very little excess that could be trimmed. But while I originally felt the film was perfect, a few minor flaws have exposed themselves with repeat viewings (as is often the case).

First, some of the fight scenes move so fast, and are shot so close up that it is near impossible to tell who is headbutting whom. You might just get headbutted yourself if you sit too close to the screen. Second, all the exposition can get a little tedious after you have watched it as many times as I have. Just settle down, Mr. Random Wayne Enterprises Employee, we all understand that if the train reaches Wayne Tower, the whole city's water supply is gonna blow, thanks to you telling us over and over (and over). And finally, Rachel Dawes, as played by Katie Holmes, is one condescending beyotch, and has little romantic chemistry with Christian Bale. Keeping things in perspective though, these are minor quibbles when you consider the previous movie featured Batman and Robin on ice skates doing battle with "the hockey team from hell."

All nitpicking aside, Batman Begins easily established itself as the definitive live action Batman upon its release (until Christopher Nolan & co. topped themselves earlier this summer). And while I originally feared that Batman Begins had rendered the Tim Burton movies obsolete, I'm happy to report that this just isn't the case. The two interpretations can peacefully coexist along side one another. That is one of the great things about the character. There is always room to rethink and reimagine, as long as it doesn't involve nipples or neon.

Grade: A-

8.08.2008

What's Happening in Salt City

I had only been at my job for a few months when I had to start working on last year's catalogs. And while the finished product was certainly passable, I was still familiarizing myself with Salt City's visual style, and wasn't really comfortable enough yet to push the envelope too much. When catalog season came rolling around this year, my boss encouraged me to rethink all aspects of the design. With an added year of experience under my belt, I was able to identify specific areas where some streamlining was needed, and found creative ways to make the catalog more user-friendly.

Well, the catalogs recently rolled off the press, and I have to say, I am quite pleased with the final result. I think they represent my most accomplished work to date. Below is the cover for the Home Party version, which highlights the distinct shape of our candles. Feel free to download the pdf and take a closer look at the whole thing (please be patient, it might take a minute or two).




Another fun project I had the chance to work on recently was designing gift boxes for our primary line of candles. Working closely with our packaging vendor, we came up with a unique hexagon shaped box with flaps on top that fold down to resemble a bow. I have been waiting for the right project to come along in which I could incorporate some spot varnish, and my chance finally arrived with these boxes. First the entire box was given a smooth matte coating. Next, a high gloss finish was applied over the images, which makes the colors appear more rich and vivid. Glossy pinstripes were also added in the black and white sections, which really give the package a high end feel. It is kind of hard to see the finish in this photo, but you can see the pinstripes if you look closely.

8.06.2008

Ten Things...

...I Have Learned From Chick Flicks

Dave loathes chick flicks. I, on the other hand, only loathe some of them (including some on the list below). There are several that I like quite a bit. Dave tried to convince me that they are always contrived and based upon lies or ridiculous coincidences. I tried to explain to him that it's not necessarily the quality of the movie that matters. I think that (for me, at least), certain chick flicks are "comfort movies." So I watch While You Were Sleeping and Pride and Prejudice at least once a month for the same reason that I listened to Counting Crows and nothing else for a year straight or the same reason why I always have to have a vat of ice cream in the freezer. That way, when something isn't quite right in my life, I can get a heaping bowl of Chocolate Gorge ice cream, pop in You've Got Mail, and remember that there's always a happy ending... even if it's not the ending you thought it would be at the beginning. Lame, I know... but sometimes lame is not necessarily bad. So, here are ten things I have learned from chick flicks. Feel free to add to the list in the comments.

10. Nothing says "I love you" like a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel. (Say Anything)






9. If your true love dies in a horrible accident, be sure to donate their organs to an equally hot single person. (Return to Me)

8. If you're the homely, unpopular girl in school, just let your hair down and take your glasses off and you'll be hot (but not before Freddie Prinze Jr. discovers your inner beauty). (She's All That)



7. You're fiancé at the beginning of the movie? Total jerk. That stranger you bumped into through a series of coincidences? Hello, soul mate. (Titanic)

6. If you think you're in love with someone you've never spoken to, his ruggedly handsome brother is probably the man for you. (While You Were Sleeping)




5. Nearly being killed by a dumpster would seem like a bad thing -- unless Matthew McConaughey is involved. (The Wedding Planner)

4. Just because you were born in different centuries doesn't mean you aren't meant for each other. (Kate & Leopold)





3. If you need a pretend boyfriend as a cover while you try to steal the groom-to-be, choose your flamboyantly gay friend -- if nothing else, it might lead to a zany impromptu sing-a-long. (My Best Friend's Wedding)

2. Even if you only have two minutes to spare, there is always time to play in a giant puddle with George Clooney. (One Fine Day)





1. If you have a secret online crush and a real life enemy, chances are they are the same person. (You've Got Mail)

8.03.2008

Three is a Magic Number

What exactly makes 3 a magic number? Well, there are currently 3 members of our little family, Eddie was born on the 3rd day of May (3 months ago today), and most importantly, because Schoolhouse Rock says so. There you have it, 3 perfectly good reasons. On with the slideshow.

video
Drum Roll Please...

Some of you want more updates and photos of Eddie. Some of you don't want to be bothered with posts detailing how our baby blows the bestest spit bubbles in the whole wide world. Well, we are going to attempt to do the unthinkable and try to appease both camps. We are pleased to announce we are giving Eddie his very own spin-off blog, aptly titled "Eddie's Spin-Off Showcase," which will be all Ed, all the time. We hope this doesn't discourage the Eddie fans out there from still checking this blog regularly to get our demented take on whatever the heck happens to strike our fancy on a given day.