Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Celebrity Sighting #4

Tonight I worked out at a New York Sports Club gym that was closer to my chiropractor's office. The location turned out to be perfect.

While stretching before my workout, I noticed a red-haired man on the leg press in front of me. The first time I looked at him, I instantly knew who it was in my mind. But because he's not the most recognizable actor in the world, I debated whether to approach him. You see, I was in a similar situation last year at the YMCA in Nashville, and I was wrong.

I got on a leg machine and tried to ignore my dilemma for a minute. Pushing it away, I figured I could just ask him later during our respective workouts if my curiosity wouldn't stop nagging me. But then the rare social opportunist in me seized the moment.

"Is your name Kevin?" I asked, walking up to him.

"Uh, yeah it is," he replied, his body at a slightly awkward 45° angle on the inclined leg press.

"Are you Kevin Allison?"

"Yeah, I am."

My face lit up, I introduced myself, shook his hand, told him I was also from Ohio, and let him know how big a fan I am of The State, MTV's sketch-comedy series from the mid-'90s. The short-lived cult show is fondly remembered by many, but mostly now mentioned in boy-who-cried-wolf conversations concerning the release date of the long-promised box set (which has been finished but unavailable for unknown reasons). It's the Chinese Democracy of DVD releases.

Kevin gave me some scoop about The State reuniting in September to film a special for Comedy Central. I then concluded our brief chat with "Yeah, we're big fans. We quote it all the time." I think that made him proud.

Not too long after, I realized that I should have asked him specifics about the perennially delayed DVDs. What kind of red tape was left to cut through? Was it because of licensing issues with all the music they used in the episodes?

I guess I'll never know. Because when I looked around for him, he was already gone.

"Another stupid fan, another gym I need to find."

Me, too, Kevin. Me, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Good Knight and Farewell

Superhero screenwriters take note: The Dark Knight is everything a comic-book movie should be: smart, thrilling, complex, introspective, and dynamic; an action-packed, thinking man's superhero movie.

While Batman Begins is an origin story that follows the internal transformation Bruce Wayne undergoes in becoming Batman, The Dark Knight is more about the world reacting to Batman, which in turn pushes the Dark Knight through an ongoing character arc. "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

It's a film that merits multiple viewings to scrutinize its many layers, plot points, action sequences, and performances. With an all-star array of actors, including rock-solid supporting roles that we've come to expect from Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman, there's a lot to appreciate here.

But in the wake of his untimely death, Heath Ledger steals the show from them all. Whereas Jack Nicholson's Joker was just crazy, Ledger's take is psychotic, disturbed, and unpredictable. His captivating onscreen presence will leave your eyes glued and mouth agape as you hang on to his every twisted word. And as rumored, Ledger's final full performance is not only unforgettable, but Oscar-worthy.

I'm not normally a fan of crowd noise in movie theaters, but there was a lot to cheer about Friday night. And much like the outbursts you'd hear from a pack of Yankees fans, the sold-out crowd actually enhanced the already entertaining experience by excitedly applauding at the surprises, the "bat"-ass stunts, and Mr. Ledger.

And they should have. Because The Dark Knight not only delivered, but it distanced itself from every other comic-book movie in existence.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Long, Long Way from Home

Last month my brother and I went to Europe for the first time. I've always been fascinated by other countries and cultures, so it was a long-overdue trip across the Atlantic. It wasn't technically my first international experience since I first visited Canada in 2005, but it was certainly the most culturally diverse and eye-opening.

The trip was put together by my brother's former Jersey roommate who now lives in Switzerland. So we flew into Zürich and made our way through southern Italy (Lake Como, Cinque Terre) and France (Nice, Monaco, Antibes, Cannes) over the course of a week.

Cool things we did: partying all day with the Swiss for the inaugural game of Euro Cup 2008, drinking wine on the beach of Monterroso, kayaking on the Mediterranean, hiking along the Cinque Terre coast from Manaro to Vernazza, hitting up the Monte-Carlo Casino, and partying with random Canadian and Australian hostel-goers.

What follows are various takeaways from the trip...
  • Language is everything. Never before have I felt so stupid, illiterate, and verbally handicapped when trying to communicate with people. This was especially true in Zürich, where the primary language was Swiss German. Over the course of the trip, though, I was amazed at how well most everyone not only spoke and understood English well, but how they were all at least tri-lingual. And it was a marvel to watch the flight attendants on Swiss Air switch between English, French, and German so seamlessly and effortlessly while attending to different passengers.

    I decided that the most beautiful-sounding language is definitely Italian when spoken by an Italian woman. German still sounds harsh, ugly, and barbaric to me, though.

  • Europe is cooler. There's just a more laid-back, carefree vibe everywhere you go. From being more open about drugs or sexuality, it makes you wonder how censored America came to be, and why we continue to uphold those restrictions. In Europe, no one seems to care, and everything is fine.

  • Soccer is still overrated. I still don't understand why Europe is so obsessed with this sport. While I appreciate its strategy and skill, I just don't see the draw. With such few scoring opportunities or genuine moments of excitement, it's a game that serves up long rounds of extended foreplay without the climax. Still, I'm amazed at how ingrained it is in the cultural fabric.
Before going on this trip, I felt like finally visiting foreign countries and lands would be a life-changing experience. I can tell you that being halfway across the world really puts things in perspective. When you're looking out over the Mediterranean during sunset, you can't help but look at your life and think about where you want to be. As much as I love the United States, I kept wondering over the course of the week if Europe was ever a place I could live (the shorter work week and minimum 25 vacation days are hard to ignore). Then I wondered what my life would be like if I simply grew up in a country like Italy or France. What would I be doing then? All big what-ifs.

While the trip allowed me to escape the bubble of city life, I found it more surreal than life-changing. Even with the seven-hour flight and six-hour jet lag, the voyage itself seemed "easy"; just spend some time in a plane and there you are, plopped in another country in another part of the world. Especially in this global Internet age, I came to realize that the world is more connected and accessible than my 28-year delay would suggest. We may be separated by different time zones, but we all live under the same sun.

While I enjoyed my vacation, I was happy to come home. Between the larger-portion meals and just the general feeling of being back in the loop, it was exciting to return to New York City, and brought back feelings of first arriving here. Even with a little jet-lag the day after we got back, I headed into the subway on my way to work, energized by the fact that I was back to a city—and a life—that I love.

Facebook pictures from the trip:
Europe, Part 1
Europe, Part 2
Europe, Part 3