Monthly Archives: September 2008

Casual Movie Critic is Home Alone

Being as the rest of the family is dispersed around the globe and I am home alone, I have dedicated the last week or so to watching mostly crappy movies. In the cine and at home.

There are a lot of movie theaters in Merida but like everywhere else, they like to all show the same movies at the same time. And with the price of a pirate DVD in el centro running around $20 pesos ($2.00 USD) there are fewer and fewer bums in seats these days. There is not a lot to choose from in the cine since the movies that make it to Merida are mostly formulaic pictures that theater owners are convinced Mexican audiences will want to see. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights I watched during the two week period (they change 2-4 movies from their lineup every Friday here in Merida):

Babylon, A.D. (Mision Babilonia)

Yet another Vin Diesel movie that I would never take my wife to see, this one features that occasionally watchable actor with the rough voice in his cliche role – the tough, cynical guy whose heart grows three sizes that day thanks to an innocent girl. Aww. Lots of insane violence, crappy chase scenes in snowy environments where you can’t make out what’s happening, a pessimistic future and the unknown actress playing the heart-warming innocent. Appearances by Michelle Yeoh who does some kung fu (surprise!) and even Gerard Depardieu, who obviously had rent payments to make when he signed on to make this dud. Bad bad bad. Don’t even rent this one.

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Bangkok Dangerous (Peligro en Bangkok)

After the Vin Diesel fiasco, this movie came out the next week and I thought, Nic Cage can’t be all that bad right?

Wrong.

Directed by the Pang brothers who have a long road ahead of them before reaching Coen brother status, this shows Nic Cage at his worst, walking through the blandest movie with lots of graphic violence and a cast of paper cut out oriental actors. Of all the Thai women in the world, Nic falls for the most insipid of them all, while his newly acquired sidekick couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. Bad bad bad. Avoid at all costs.

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Eagle Eye (Control Total)

In spite of the fact that the cinema had no poster for this movie, no rese├▒a (a little blurb explaining what the movie is all about) I looked it up on the internet and found that it had Shia WhateverHisLastNameIs in it and decided what the hell.

Oh surprise. This is an excellent action thriller kind of movie; kind of like a Bourne movie. Excellent action sequences and Shia is convincing as the main character, as is Michelle Monaghan.

If you liked the Jason Bourne movies, you will like this one.

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Arrancame La Vida

OK I am desperate and feeling particularly tolerant. I will go see this movie that normally I would never bother to give the time of day. People talk about the nuevo cine mexicano all the time so maybe I should check this film out, made in 2008 and based on the novel of the same name by Angeles Mastretta.

Do you enjoy Mexican soap operas? Then you may like this plodding movie, full of one-dimensional cardboard characters that leave no mark at all on this viewer. The film takes place in Puebla and Mexico City in the 30’s and 40’s and miraculously the main character, a poor girl who becomes the wife of an older politician and first lady of a state (classic soap opera plotline) doesn’t age a bit during her transition from virginal 15 year old to a woman in her late 20’s near the end. Oh well.

Nuevo Cine Mexicano – it’s Mexicano and it’s Cine, but there is nothing Nuevo about this pablum.

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On TV, I was able to watch a plethora of horrendous movies, one of which was Kevin Bacon’s latest revenge movie, filled with arms being ripped off and blood spurting here and there; what is Kevincito buying these days that he has to be making this shit to pay for it?

The best movie on TV was Rendition, with Jake Gyllenhall and Reese Witherspoon, which will put the fear of Allah in you if you travel to the US of A, land of the free and all that. Excellent movie, that.

And so I conclude my movie post this morning; hopefully some of you will take my advice and avoid some of those Raspberry Award candidates and save yourself some money.

Speaking of money, MM Cinemas, who are based in Monterrey, have bought out the Yucatecan movie chain Cines Hollywood and have made a few changes. One new feature penny pinchers might be interested in is their MM Card, which is like a frequent flier card, where you collect points/pesos for going to the movies and buying stuff in their dulceria. It will set you back $20 pesos and for that you get a coupon for a small popcorn ($23 peso value) as well as a discount ticket for any showing on a Monday (instead of $50 pesos you will pay $33 pesos). Each time you buy a movie ticket on a regular day, you get another of these discount Monday tickets. Pretty cool.

Links:
Movies on now in Merida

Perros vs. Humans

A quickie (post) this morning.

I was snooping around Facebook and saw that one of my online contacts from Tabasco had joined a group that is called:

“vetemos el arte de guillermo habacuc vargas un maldito asesino de perro”

which is a group dedicated to banning the art of this Guillermo fellow who apparently killed a dog in the name of art.

Now this group, created in 2007 on Facebook, has over 21,000 members!

Just for laughs, I looked up Padrino Fonseca, who is the beloved Tabasco journalist shot to death a few days ago while putting up signs that said ‘No More Violence’. Really, it’s true, I am not making this up.

The Facebook group just created with him as it’s subject had 21 members this morning. Now it has 22. ­čÖé

Then I thought, well that’s not fair, this event just happened. So I looked for groups with the words ‘Iraq Victims’ in them. There are quite a few pages for groups that come up, including “Hillary 08” and “Let’s Put George W. Bush’s face on Mt. Rushmore”. Really. But the ones that were about Iraqui Victims of the war, numbered in the hundreds of members. Not much interest there.

There’s something about cruelty to animals that brings out some really strong reactions while cruelty to other humans seems somehow to cause less of a reaction.

PACK YOUR SHIT AND GO HOME and other Comments from the Peanut Gallery

What is it, I wonder, that makes people read my blog and then complain that if I don’t like it I should leave? Why are these people reading this blog? This is the blog reader’s version of masochism. Have yourself checked by a reliable shrink, please.

Did I say I didn’t like living here? Does the blog not indicate somewhere, at some point, that this is a blog written from the POV of a Neurotic Foreigner? Are there no other neurotic foreigners in town? Is it all charming and lovely? Of course it isn’t. It’s not charming and lovely anywhere all the time.

If you are one of those folks – not necessarily living in a trailer park – who find my ramblings a little on the negative side and wish I would go away, I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. Don’t read my blog! I know, I know, it’s almost too obvious. But that’s OK. I understand. Sometimes we don’t see things when they are right in front of us. While this may seem painfully obvious to most regular people, perhaps you feel compulsively compelled to keep reading even though you know it’s damaging your psyche, your eyesight and causing you irreparable trauma that will require years of psychotherapy to unravel…
  2. Browse around the internet for other reading options. There are at least two nice, white-bread websites – one is a government site that is SOO useful – that will cheerfully validate your tortured decision to come and live here. What my blog does is just look at it all from the viewpoint of the admittedly neurotic foreigner. I am a neurotic! I am not normal! Wake up!

Many folks have written to say they appreciate me telling it like it is; while some may not agree on some aspects of life in the Yucatan, they still understand that it is what it is and that the neurotic foreigner often has his tongue in his cheek.

Thank you.

No Smoking Update – VIPS

The Critic had lunch at La Rueda and it has joined the ranks of non-smoking restaurants which is probably a good thing because there was no way you were going to be able to divide that tiny place into smoking and non smoking sections.

The real news is that VIPS, that Denny’s clone from Mexico City (Wachilandia) still allows smoking in it’s area reserved for those of us that still partake in the nasty habit.

How VIPS does this while everyone else is making their places exclusively non-smoking is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is because their food is so mediocre – with the exception of their great Caldo Tlalpe├▒o which the Critic enjoys every Tueday night – and their service so lackadaisical that it doesn’t really qualify as a ‘restaurant’?

If anyone has any clues, please enlighten the Critic! Thank you.

La Rueda – Argentina in the Boonies

It’s good to be back in Merida!

For those of us that live in Merida’s norte, getting to La Rueda is a bit if a drive. But the Casual Restaurant Critic is happy to report that it is probably worth it.

On a sunny midweek afternoon which turned into a downpour by the time lunch was over, the Critic and some amigos went for lunch at La Rueda. After hearing so much about this place, the Critic had to see for himself what all the fuss was about.

The restaurant is surprisingly easy to find, and Jorgitos directions couldn’t be simpler. It is a non-descript little place on a corner, a converted house, that had a large sign on top and, as Jorgito noted, a rather conspicuous collection of nice cars out front.

On this occasion, no waiting was necessary and a table – one of about 8 in total – was had in the middle of the air conditioned restaurant. The decoration is unpretentious but pleasant; nicely put together posters, photos and memorabilia related to Argentina is all over the walls.

The 3 amigos ordered a salad to share, which featured real, crisp romaine lettuce, fresh tomatos and strips of prosciutto tossed with a vinagrette dressing. Refreshing. Soft drinks were ordered and since the Critic believes that red wine is good for you, a glass of Cun├ę Rioja.

As for meat, one of the amigos ordered the veal, while the other amigo and the Critic ordered the churrasco steak. Once the meat arrived, which took a little while, it turned out to be delicious. The chimichurri sauce was, in the Critic’s humble opinion, not needed. A little fatty around the edges, it was perfectly seasoned and cooked and came with a mashed potato garnish that was not very warm and half of a grilled sweet onion. Superb.

Suprisingly, the desserts were not only original but tasty as well! The Praline is what appears to be a homemade hazelnut and almond ice cream and the chocolate pyramid was delicous as well.

The Critic had heard that the prices at La Rueda were ridiculously cheap; one of the amigos mentioned that the menu had had a serious price hike since his last visit. Since he is of Lebanese descent, the Critic believes him, because if anyone notices these things, it’s a paisano.

The bill for the three people, for the food mentioned above, was – with tip – $810 pesos. This is not a lot lower than the bill for 2 meats and a pasta at La Recova on Montejo, reviewed in August. In the Critics opinion, both restaurants are excellent in food quality and service; perhaps the Montejo version is a little nicer in terms of the actual room.

On a scale of 5, this place rates a solid 4.

On a completely unrelated side note, the Critic and amigos finished their lunch just in time, as a comandante of the local police and his family were sitting down to have lunch. With all the drug violence in the formerly white city these days, it would be unwise to remain in such a small space in the immediate vicinity of a police official, one could safely assume. Also, what caught the Critic’s eye was that the officer sat with his back to the plate glass sliding door entrance, a move the Critic wouldn’t have undertaken if he were a member of the police force. Of course, two bodyguards were left on either side of the door to watch for anyone that looked fuere├▒o and suspicious, but a machine-gun drive-by could have made quite a scene…

Provecho!

No Smoking in Restaurants

While my associate the Casual Restaurant Critic writes sanguinely about the no-smoking rules in restaurants, I would like to take a sharper look at what I consider an invasion of privacy and an intrusion by government in the affairs of ordinary citizens.

While government is supposed to be charged with maintaining some sort of level playing field when it comes to regulating the activities of its citizens, this rather lofty ideal has come crashing down over the decades, or maybe it hasn’t – it’s just become more obvious and less secretive.

To maintain some semblance of authority (we are here to help the people!) government officials like to take on simple, easy to do projects like this no smoking thing. There are enough people whining and moaning that cigarettes kill, so we should be able to pass this quickly and everyone will see how hard we work for the subjects we mean populace. It’s the government policy version of Hamburger Helper.

While I have no doubt that smoking is a health problem I nevertheless enjoy my cigarettes, especially the one right after a meal or in a bar. I can however, go for extended periods of time without lighting up so I not one of those militant smokers. My problem is with government legislating what you can or cannot do in a privately owned restaurant. Public spaces, yes, by all means, legislate away for the good of everyone since everyone needs to be in these public areas and smokers shouldn’t be allowed to contaminate the lungs of those who choose not to smoke, in those areas. But restaurants, no.

Non-smokers will whine about how they can’t go to Trotters without having to put up with smoke from some nearby inconsiderate jerk who is smoking. Or how they can’t enjoy their coffee at Segafredo without suffering the exhalations of some smoker at the next table. I have two words for those people – don’t go.

It is not your god-given right to go to any restaurant. There is no clause in the constitution of this or any other country that indicates such a right. This is not a public space. This is a private space and the owner of the establishment should be able to make the decision as to whether or not he or she wants to allow smoking in his or her place of business. If you feel you can’t go to ‘x’ restaurant because they allow smoking there, so what. Don’t go. It is not, I repeat, your god-given right or constitutional obligation to eat at that restaurant.

Will a restaurant’s business suffer because the owner allows smoking? So be it. The owner can then decide to create either a no smoking area or prohibit smoking altogether if he or she decides that it will be good for business. Maybe the move to non-smoking will be a good idea, maybe it won’t. It should be up to the owner.

But I want to eat there, the steaks are so good, whines the militant non-smoker. Tough. Open your own steak restaurant or go someplace else. This is a privately owned business. Get it?

What about employees? This is another selling point for the non-smoking militant. I don’t think that Mr. Trotter for example, goes to his employees homes and points a gun at them and forces them to come to work. If you can’t stand smoke, go work someplace else. Simple.

But then, no one will work in the restaurants and bars where smoking is permitted, some might argue. Again, tough. Tough for the owner. If there are no employees willing to work in a smoky environment, it’s up to the business owner to make changes, not the government. The business owner must decide how to make his workplace safer and/or the job more attractive to make up for the hassle of the employee possibly getting sick from cigarrette smoke. Better wages, a better health plan and a good smoke extraction/air purification system will make the job attractive to potential employees. Have you ever been to Vegas? Are the croupiers complaining about the heavy smoking that goes on at the roulette tables and casinos in general? Probably. But if you don’t like it, you could go work at McDonalds or Walmart. No one is forcing you to work there. They must be doing something at those casinos that make people want to work in them.

Restaurants are not public places. How many times to I have to repeat this?

My position is admittedly anti-government in the sense that they have no business in anyone’s business. Or personal life for that matter.

Malls, at least in Merida for the time being, are still smoking friendly. A mall, in spite of being privately owned as well, can be arguably classified as public spaces. You could make an almost convincing argument that you have to go to the mall to get whatever it is you want to get. I wouldn’t be convinced, but you could make it. Yet, one can still smoke in the mall. Not in the restaurant, but in the mall. Go figure.

The Casual Restaurant Critic on Smoking in Restaurants

The Casual Restaurant Critic would like to inform the 19 readers of this blog that Mexico – and even Merida – has joined the ranks of the cities, states and countries that have imposed upon their citizenry smoking controls of some sort.

While in Canada, the Critic noticed that not only are there no more ‘smoking sections’ anywhere to be found in restaurants or bars, there is no smoking outside the restaurants or bars either, and a new bylaw in the city of Vancouver for example, now prohibits smoking within ‘6 meters of any entrance’ to the building. This means, wherever there are several small shops and restaurants together, like Robson or Denman streets for example you can’t really get 6 meters away from any entrance. The Critic calculated in several areas that the ‘smoking hot spot’ (and it could be labeled as such, much like the WiFi hot spots in public areas) was in the middle of the street.

Of course there are ways around this; Canadians are generally very law-abiding but the smoking crowd is a little more rebellious. At many Starbucks locations, for example, smokers (or staff?) have moved one or two outdoor tables away from the other ones thereby creating a 6 meter illusion and bonafide smoking area. I mean, who can imagine coffee without a cigarette?

And now Merida has joined in in the no smoking fun. The Casual Restaurant Critic went to have a salad at Italianni’s and there were no smoking signs everywhere and the place smelled of ozone. Those little injectors are everywhere it seems. Same experience at La Tradici├│n. Also, at La Susana in Kanasin! The Critic was amazed at how civilized Merida has become.

It seems, however a little silly, all this fuss about smoking, when when people are literally losing their heads in drug wars, the land is being cemented over, every last living green thing is being chopped down, the water table is being contaminated, people still can’t drive and there’s no one to teach them, poverty is growing among the poor in the Yucatan’s countryside at an alarming rate along with drug use and crime, wages are stagnant, and and and. But now we have no smoking in restaurants and this is progress at last.

Hysteria in the Yucatan?

Back in Merida from my travels, I can perceive the nervous tension in the city. The violence associated with more ‘macho’ states like Nuevo Leon and Sonora has made an appearance here at last, and it has shaken up the Yucatecans like nothing before. No hurricane has had the impact of the news that 12 headless bodies were found here.

Here! Where nothing ever happens!

There is a saying that says, cuando se acaba el mundo, me voy a Yucatan which roughly means when the world comes to an end, I’m moving to the Yucatan. Well, that feeling of ‘nothing bad ever happens here’ has been shaken out of many Yucatecans. The ambiente is tense:

  • Around the city, there are police controls near every mall and wherever people might be congregating. Police controls funnel traffic from 2 or 3 lanes into one lane where machine gun armed police with bullet proof vests and dark sunglasses peer into your vehicle as you pass by. At night, these are lit up like Christmas trees and you have to squint as you pass under the bright 500,000 watt lights blast into your face.
  • The newspapers are happy as pigs in poop because they have increased their sales to the point of salivation. They are even printing rumors that they pass off as stories ‘that have not been confirmed’, like a shooting here or there, a kidnapping that might or might not have happened, a bomb threat imagined or real who knows, that kind of thing. Very professional and a great example of journalism. The local papers, in an effort to ‘inform’ their readership, actually took the beheading video off YouTube and posted it directly on their site. Nothing morbid about that is there? Nahh.
  • The people that put that polarizing film on vehicle windows are happy because now they can offer the service of removing that same film. You remember the Dr. Suess story of the Star Bellied Sneetches? With the man who brought a Star On and Star Off machine to the hapless Sneetches? It’s kind of like that. The state government has decreed that no vehicles shall have darkened windows and that any car that has it must have it removed. We all had until mid September, but of course, as is always the case in this lovely land, there has been an extension of the deadline. The traffic manual from the SPV says that cars shouldn’t have their windows polarized anyway, but only now it seems will anyone do anything about it.
  • Store owners and merchants in the malls and in general are complaining that sales have fallen dramatically as people opt to stay home instead of going to the mall to enjoy free air conditioning. Better to be sweating on the sidewalk in front of your house than to be bleeding and cool in the air conditioned mall. The economy in general, has slowed to a crawl.
  • Kids and their parents are deciding that discos and nightclubs are not great places to be, since the combination of macho-ness, alcohol and a possible hand gun are not a particularly attractive combination. Drugs are sold at clubs after all, and while this has been going on for a while, it took some beheadings to bring the message home.
  • Police have raided a lot of houses, found clues here and there and seized a sizable number of vehicles. Not much in the way of arrests though. There is much speculation about who is involved. Anyone who looks foreign ie. not Yucatecan is suspect. Remember the Diario de Yucatan catchphrase ‘aspecto fuere├▒o‘ and you get the picture.

That all said, I have not felt particularly unsafe in my daily activities. Business-wise I am hurting but I don’t feel physically threatened, yet. I guess if I was a clubber or involved in some illicit activity I would be worried, but for us normal folks trying to eke out a living, besides the traffic complications, armored machine gun vehicles on the periferico and the occasional military helicopter with armed soldiers sticking out overhead, nada grave.

NotTheNews on Drugs

Chris Rock and I have a lot in common it would seem. We are both in the same corner on the so-called ‘war on drugs’, which is really a load of crap and an excuse to dedicate money ‘stolen’ taxpayers to a ridiculous and wasteful campaign that does absolutely nothing more than fill the jails with regular people who just want to get high while the real power players remain out there.

Humans have been smoking, injecting, inhaling mind-altering substances ever since some caveman ripped up a pot plant and threw it on the fire, causing the entire tribe to erupt in a fit of giggles and then try to satisfy their munchies with some roasted squirrels or something. Why do governments (with the notable exception of the Dutch) not seem to understand this? People want to do drugs! So let them.

The existing laws are already enough. You want to get high, whether it’s alcohol or crack, fine. you break the law and you go to jail. Simple. Do you think that there would be all this violence between competing groups trying to dominate an illegal market if you could go to the tendejon at the corner and pick up a 100 gms bag of weed along with a six pack? I don’t think so.

Of course, any independent thought in this country (and most everywhere else) is completely dependent on what the giant Puritan hypocrisy thinks:
“Oh you want to legalize drugs? Well forget about getting your tomatoes to Pennsylvania then. You help us ‘fight’ this war and if you are good, you’ll get a pat on the head from us and some used Hummers from some war we are just finished with.”

Legalize drugs, stop the violence. Stop the madness.

Coffee Cup Caf├ę – Boulder City, USA

On the road…

Just outside of Las Vegas, on the way to the Hoover Dam, lies this charming little hamlet, which deserves a stop on it’s own because it is really quite lovely. However, the reason the Critic stopped here on his way to the Dam, is because the concierge at the Palace said “stop at the Coffee Cup; it’s great”.

These are the kind of local, insider tips a food addict like the Critic loves and appreciates, so not stopping was not even an option.

It’s a diner, it’s on the main street in Boulder City and it’s reeaal casual. No uniforms, no “hi I’m Madison and I’ll be your server”, no maitre’d, no celebrity chef photo hanging outside. It’s great! Finally, the real thing!

The Critic had the Chicken Fried Steak with eggs and hash browns. Huge, somewhat greasy and extremely satisfying!

Breakfast for two here will run you about $20 or less and is a welcome break from the crowds, the plastic and the blinking, flashing lights of Las Vegas.