Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Nieces and I Review The Muppets (2011)


The Muppets (2011)

PG - 98 min (comedy/family)

Jason Segel – Gary
Amy Adams – Mary
Chris Cooper – Tex Richman

When I told my dad on Thanksgiving that I was going to see The Muppets over the long weekend, he replied with, “Again? I took you to see that when you were a kid.”
“Um, no dad. Not the original Muppet movie. There’s a new one.”
“There is?” My dad, one of the smarter men I know, is not a movie buff.

Indeed The Muppets is the first theatrically released Muppet film since 1999’s Muppets in Space, which prior to the release of the current film, I had never even heard of. And aside from watching Muppetvision 3D in Disney’s California Adventure (or Hollywood Studios in Florida), I hadn’t even thought about the Muppets in ages. But thanks to Jason Segel, who co-wrote, executive-produced, and stars in the film, the Muppets are back.

Gary (Segel) plans a trip to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Mary (the endlessly cheery Adams) to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Gary decides to bring his brother Walter along—who is not only a huge Muppets fan, but more than slightly resembles a Muppet himself—so they can take a tour of the Muppet Studio. It is dilapidated and nearly deserted, indicating that the Muppets haven’t been popular in quite some time. While on the tour, Walter overhears oil tycoon Tex Richman (Cooper) offering to buy the studio so he can restore it and turn it into a Muppet Museum. Moments later Walter discovers Richman’s real plan is to level the studio so he can extract the oil beneath it. Walter, Gary and Mary find Kermit the Frog, and together they travel the world rounding up the old gang so they can put on a show to raise the 10 million dollars necessary to save the studio.

The Muppets is a welcome influx of good-natured humor in today’s cynical world. Silly but not juvenile, there are plenty of laughs for both children and adults. This film benefits from multiple cameos (Jack Black and Zack Galifianakis were my favorites), a terrific pace, witty self-deprecation and in-jokes, solid acting, and of course, nostalgia. One might include its musical numbers in that mix, but for me one or two of those numbers were the only time(s) I felt the story stalled (particularly Amy Adams’ diner song and dance). One very notable musical number exception was during the start of their telethon, and we heard: “It's time to play the music - It's time to light the lights - It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.” Goosebumps!

In Summary: I kept this review short because the real review is at the bottom of this post. I saw this film with my family and we all loved it, no matter the age. The Muppets themselves do a great job of carrying the film, and Segel and Adams do their part to fill in the cracks while still giving the real stars of the film their due screen time. The multiple cameos (the only good part of some movies) are icing on the cake here, and again the pacing of this film was great. The Muppets will now be a relatively new addition to many children’s lives, but at the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s good having them back in mine!

Oh, and speaking of “real stars of the show,” please enjoy what Roger Ebert has recently declared, “Cutest. Review. Ever.” My four nieces, ages 2-11, review The Muppets:

Monday, November 21, 2011

2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Recap


With the 2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival wrapping up last week, I figured it was high time I posted my review of it. This annual event has been taking place at Epcot since 1995, and personally this was my sixth time in attendance. I don’t drink alcohol so I’m afraid I can’t comment on the quality of the wine (I did have a few sips of some sort of strawberry beer, you’ll see why later). I rarely attend any of the "eat to the beat" concerts or cooking presentations, so I'm afraid I can't review those either. I do however love food, and I did my best to “eat around the world.” Here are the 29 booths that were situated throughout World Showcase:


Brewer's Collection












Fife & Drum



Hops & Barley




Desserts & Champagne

South Korea



South Africa

New Zealand

Craft Beers



There were some countries that I had little interest in sampling, so I either skipped them, or just mooched a bite from the plate of one of my friends. Patrick and Jenn were there, and with their help I was able to check off 23 of the 29 countries in my little Food & Wine Passport. Below isn’t the Festival's entire menu, just the dishes I personally sampled. I did snap a few pics of some of the dishes, so I'll include them.

Grilled Lamb Chop with Potato-Goat Cheese Salad and Shiraz Reduction:
This little piece of lamb was quite delicious. Very flavorful and cooked perfectly. I only wish I had about 10 of them.

Feijoada (Black Bean and Pork Stew):
Not too bad. Jenn ordered this and didn't care for it, so I got the leftovers. I would recommend it.

Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree:
Very good. They added a little too much of the Chimichurri for my taste, so I just scraped it off and enjoyed this little dish.

Thanks to Patrick for holding this dish for me!

Ropa Vieja (slowly braised beef) with White Rice:
Decent. Not bad, not great.

Grilled Ribeye Taco (Chipotle Pepper Sauce and Scallion on a Flour Tortilla):
Maybe the tastiest dish out of all of them. Ribeye is always great, but the seasonings they used made this cut of meat pop even more.

Taste of Scandinavia - Shrimp Salad, Cured Salmon and Herring:
I love all three of these types of seafood, so this was a great dish for me. The shrimp salad was okay, the herring was very good, and the salmon was delicious. 

Rice Pudding with Driscoll’s Only The Finest Berries:
Eh. This was another one of Jenn's leftovers. I took two bites and was done.

South Korea
Boolgogi BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Kimchi:
I had just one bite of this dish. It was pretty good.

South Africa
Seared Filet of Beef with smashed Sweet Potatoes and Braai Sauce:
Yum. Nice tender beef, and you can't go wrong with smashed sweet potatoes.

Kielbasa and Potato Pierogie with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream:
Had just one bite of this. I didn't love it.

Fife & Drum
Red Stag Lemonade by Jim Beam:
I had only one sip of this so I could get my passport stamped! I don't drink so my opinion wouldn't be useful on this one.

Hops & Barley
Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce:
The mousse itself was very good. The orange sauce was okay, but it was a little too thick in some parts. I didn't enjoy the Craisin flavor mixed in. Craisins are better on their own. Didn't vibe well with the pumpkin.

California Sushi Roll:
Pretty average sushi. Not the quality you'd find at the California Grill. More the quality you'd find at the Yakitori House.

New Zealand
Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney:
I love lamb! Not as good as the chop in Australia, but still pretty good.

Kefta Pocket (ground seasoned Beef in Pita Bread):
Not a fan. Jenn took one bite and gave it to me. I took one bite and threw it away.

Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil:
This dish looked better than it tasted. I love calamari, but this dish suffered from too much paprika and not enough flavor.

Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream:
I am a huge fan of Belgian food. Obviously not as good as the waffles I had in Brussels, but still pretty tasty. The berry compote was only okay.

Coq au Vin sur Gratin de Macaroni (Red Wine Braised Chicken, Mushrooms, Pearl Onions and Macaroni Gratin):
I loved the chicken, but I don't do cheese.

Crème Brulee au Chocolat au Lait (Chocolate Milk Crème Brulee topped with Caramelized Sugar):
I had one bite of Jenn's. It was good. I don't love Crème Brulee, but as far as it goes this one was above average.

Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Baileys Ganache:
So good! I had one bite of Patrick's and wish I had ordered one for myself. Its only downside was that there wasn't enough. The cake and the lava were both excellent.

Chicken Chipotle Sausage with Sweet Corn Polenta:
Wow this was spicier than I had anticipated. For me it was a little too spicy to enjoy. But I am a spicy food wuss, so maybe I'm not the best choice to critique this one.

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki:
Pretty good. Jenn is the authority on Greek food so I'm hoping she chimes in on the comments!

Desserts & Champagne
White Chocolate Macadamia Mousse with Dark Chocolate Pearls:
I love dark chocolate, so this dessert had me at hello. The mousse part of it was not too shabby either. Behind Ireland's lava cake this was the tastiest dessert I sampled.

Tres Leches Verrine:
So-so. Didn't hate it, but I wouldn't need to try it again. 

Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise:
Deelish! This was one of the last dishes I had and if it had been my first, I probably would have repeated it. 

Craft Beers
Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss:
Again, I don't drink. But this beer was a little on the sweet side. I was told by my friends that it was basically "carbonated Hawaiian Punch," so maybe that's why I enjoyed it. They didn't, so I ended up finishing it for them.

Speaking of which, Craft Beers was actually our last stop. Jenn and Patrick ordered six 6oz beers from that booth, and Jenn brought a 6oz beer from the Hawaii booth. Look at how happy this made Patrick!

Patrick looks like a kid at Christmas

And then when Jenn ran to the restroom, Patrick chugged them all by himself!

"I may have to pee..."

Ha ha, I'm kidding of course. In fact Jenn and Patrick wrote a great review for all seven of those beers, as well as the beers at the Brewer's Collection booth.

Every year the International Food & Wine Festival is a wonderful addition to Epcot. Like I said previously I have been there six times, but that's out of the last seven years. There are always miniature culinary delights for every palette, and the weather during the Festival is in my opinion some of the best Walt Disney World enjoys all year. The 2011 F&WF was one of the best I've attended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Race Recap

The 2011 Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Disney World already had a huge advantage over its 2010 counterpart hours before the race ever began: Weather. Some kind of temporary cold front moved in (and by temporary, I mean just in time for the race, and would move out just as fast) and dropped the temperature several degrees. I’m not sure of the exact temperatures, but it felt a full 10 degrees cooler at race time this year over last. And I don’t have to tell you, that’s huge. Wait, I guess I just did tell you. Sorry!

The runners were treated to a little pre-race entertainment by a DJ who actually got some of them to engage in synchronized dancing. I opted to hang out with my Disney friends and wait in line to get my picture taken with Mickey. The line was long but we had a good two hours before the race, so we had time.

Sayin' cheese with the Big Cheese

After posing with Mickey a few of us got together for a group shot.

From the left: Lisa, Megan, Collin, Adam, Daniel, Me, Jenn, Patrick, Danielle

My friend Patrick and I had to show off our super cool compression sleeves (which I have him to thank for). If any of you were on the fence over whether or not to buy a pair, allow me to clinch it for you. They are awesome.

Watch out Zoolander, part-time shin models comin'!

And of course, one last trip to the little boy’s room before the race.

Lotsa potties

Race time. We were instructed to head to our corrals. I was in corral B, but felt like I probably should have been in A, which was where most of my friends were. I walked with them towards the entrance to A, but decided to opt-out when I noticed that there was TSA-rivaling security in place preventing any unauthorized entries. Cue the sad Charlie Brown music, I lowered my head and dragged my feet over to B. At 10pm the race began for A, then about five minutes later, it began for B. I tried to snap a pic, but it came out blurry. Here it is anyway!

I was pretty far back

That will be the last race pic you’ll see from me. I realized pretty quickly that not tracking my pace was a bad idea. My first mile took 11 minutes, mostly because I had to weave through the mob of runners like it was Black Friday at Toys-R-Us. I decided to speed up a little after I had cleared the crowd, but I sped up too much, accidentally running the second mile in seven minutes. At that point my focus became running a nice consistent pace throughout.

The course was pretty much the same as last year. The starting point was the Wide World of Sports Complex, and from there we ran three miles to Animal Kingdom. Along those first three miles the entertainment was pretty slim. There was one live band and a handful of random characters. It was good to finally get to Animal Kingdom so there would be stuff to look at. The bad thing was the way they routed us in caused a bit of a bottleneck by the bus stop. It eased up however upon entering the park. I noticed in some of the darker areas instead of huge standing light spheres they positioned smaller egg-shaped lights across the ground, which was kind of cool. I am not a huge fan of Animal Kingdom, but it is pretty neat seeing it at night, especially Everest. We made our way through the roughly two-mile stretch through the park, and then it was on our way to Hollywood Studios. We had to be careful after exiting AK, because that was where the relay transition point was. The half-marathoners stayed to the left while the relay runners veered right. At this point there was another three miles of just road. There probably was some sort of entertainment along that stretch but I can’t seem to recall what it was. This was the halfway point of the course and I personally was trying to convince my adrenaline to kick in already. For me that was probably the toughest portion of the race.

We finally made it to Hollywood Studios right around mile nine. Again it was great to be able to have stuff to look at, and get a few more onlookers cheering us on. It was this point last year that I had to stop and walk for a good half-mile, but not this time! It was probably the better eating habits on race day, and the cooler weather. This time I didn’t stop at all during the DHS stretch (I only stopped once the entire race to work out a hammy cramp), not even during the Osborne Lights. I posted some shaky video of the lights last month. In case you missed it…

The run through Hollywood Studios was long. By the looks of the map it was just under three miles, but it felt longer. I still have never seen Lights, Motors, Action!, but I always enjoy running across its main floor. This year they had Lightning McQueen down there flashing his pearly whites at us. After finally making it through Hollywood Studios there was just a little over a mile to go. This is where we got to run along the body of water that connects Hollywood Studios with Epcot (I know the lake by the Beach Club is Crescent Lake, but is it Crescent Lake all the way to Hollywood Studios?). There were more spectators holding signs and cheering us on near the Boardwalk, and it was much appreciated. After crossing the bridge over to the Yacht then Beach Club, it was home stretch time! The signs I noticed were: Only 400 Yards to Go, You Just Burned off 1300 Calories: Time to Party, and AllEars Deb was holding up an AllEarsNet sign. After climbing that little hill between the Beach Club and the International Gateway, that was it. Or was it?! I had totally forgotten that they changed the finish line from last year. It was no longer out in front of the International Gateway, but around to the front of Epcot. Gah! Okay so just a little longer yet.

That last little bit took longer than I wanted it to, but then again even 20 feet was too long for me by that point. We were routed through the backstage area and came out just outside of the entrance of Epcot. I was fortunate enough to cross the finish line by myself (unlike last year when some guy ran in front of Jenn and I at the last second), so I got a pretty cool finish pic and the announcer said my name as I crossed. The actual race is always hard but as you cross that finish line it always seems to be worth it.

After the race I caught up with my friend Jenn, and we decided to pose for a few pictures, since doing anything else at that point sounded way too exhausting.

The character spot was open too!

Chef Pluto!

And Chef Goofy!

The After Party this year was 10 times better than it was last year. RunDisney really listened to all of the complaints, because while last year the lines for the food booths were 50 people deep, this year they were much more manageable. My friends and I sampled some food with the 10-dollar gift cards we received as part of our runner’s package (another great idea, since not all of the runners wanted to stay for the after party, and last year we were given vouchers that expired that night). A few characters were also in World Showcase that night.

We sampled some food, talked about our respective race experiences, and at 2:59am ran (or our version of running by that point) to Test Track and were the last ones on for the night.

As far as Disney races go this one is my favorite. I admit to being biased though, because I love Epcot and I prefer running at night. But if you have never done a Disney race and have been thinking of trying one, I definitely recommend trying the Wine and Dine Half Marathon.