Monday, December 21, 2009

survivor: samoa villain faces disappointing loss to ill-deserved winner

I have a history of falling for the wrong men – when it comes to Survivor, that is.

I laughed in amusement while the Tagi tribe gaped in horror as Richard Hatch walked around with his junk out in season one. In season seven, I drooled over Jonny Fairplay from the minute he told everyone his grandma had just passed away. And this season, I fell for Russell Hantz – a short, overweight oil tycoon who lied, cheated and manipulated his way to the top with the best of them.

So during the season finale of Survivor: Samoa, when the jury awarded the $1 million to Natalie White – a blonde southern belle who had done nothing the entire game except ride Russell’s coattails to the final three – I died a little inside.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But I still couldn’t believe it. Once again, the bitter, cynical jury members chose to award the $1 million not to the person who had played the best game (arguably the best game in Survivor history), but to the person who had pissed them off the least.

It didn’t matter that Natalie had blindly followed everything Russell said and voted for each and every person on that jury, just like Russell had. Because she let Russell take all the heat for the tribal councils, she won the million in a vote that wasn’t even close.

And then, to make matters worse, she told Russell at the finale that she had played the better game (without a strategy, mind you) and refused his offer of $100,000 for simply the title of sole survivor – a title he had undoubtedly earned by the time he voted Kelly off on day 24.

Natalie joins a long list of other Survivor winners who claimed their victory by riding coattails and pretending to be sympathetic when voting people off the island. Remember Sandra from season seven? The Survivor: Pearl Island’s winner had only one strategy: to vote off anyone, as long as it wasn’t her. And Amber from Survivor: All-Stars? Good thing Boston Rob married into the money, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to win the game for being the better player.

The Survivor jury used to recognize when someone had played a better game and awarded them for it in the end. Richard Hatch, Tina Wesson and Ethan Zohn won seasons one through three, respectively, and earned their title of sole survivor because of how they played the game strategically. But recently, in a disappointing number of seasons, Survivor has become a popularity contest, and it doesn’t matter who outwits, outlasts and outplays – it’s who wins in the social category that wins the game.

Russell found immunity idols when there weren’t clues, he burned socks and drained water canteens to gain an upper-hand, and he made big, bold moves that dismantled the Galu tribe one by one and led a downtrodden and disrespected Foa Foa tribe to become the final three people standing.

Russell is the sole survivor. And he didn’t have to pay me $100,000 to say that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

txting + drving = bad idea

Though I’ve never driven while intoxicated, I am guilty of something nearly as dangerous: driving while intexticated.

These days, nearly everyone owns a cell phone, and texting has become a nationwide – if not international – phenomenon. But this phenomenon has recently fallen under strict scrutiny because of its relation to the number of accidents caused by texting while driving, an act appropriately termed “driving while intexticated.”

According to a study released this summer, people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who refrain from texting while driving.

This same study, one of the first to focus on the effects of texting while driving, also showed that when texting, people spend an average of nearly five seconds not focusing on the road. Though five seconds may not seem like much, for someone driving 55 mph – an average highway speed – that five seconds equals driving the length of a football field.

Pretty scary, when you consider the number of people you know who text while driving. Even scarier when you think about the people you don’t know who, at any given moment, are driving the same streets you are but paying more attention to whatever their last text said than on the road.

Currently, only 19 states have outlawed texting while driving. This July, legislation was introduced in the Senate that would establish a federal law requiring each state to prohibit texting while driving, but it has yet to gain firm support from either party.

My question, simply put, is this: How many lives have to be lost before lawmakers decide this issue warrants serious attention and a law making it illegal to text while driving?

We’ve all heard horror stories about the dangers of being distracted behind the wheel. In 2007, five teenage girls from New York died after the driver of their vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic and hit a tractor-trailer. The vehicle then burst into flames, leaving the girls trapped inside with no chance of survival.

Police records indicated that the driver, Bailey Goodman, had been texting on her phone up to 75 seconds before the accident. Though no one will ever be able to confirm that Bailey had been the one actually texting, this unfortunate accident is just one of many that proves the dangerous and all too often life-threatening mistake made when people text and drive.

Most people in America heed these accidents as warnings and believe in the severity of texting while driving. In a recent survey, 95 percent of drivers said that texting while driving was “completely or somewhat unacceptable.”

However, 18 percent of these same people admitted to having texted while driving in the past month.

Until Congress passes a law prohibiting people from texting while driving, people on the roads will have to continue to worry that the person in the next car is more concerned with reading their last text message than with driving carefully and cautiously.

I used to drive while intexticated, but I’ve reformed. I hope the rest of the nation does, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

must-watch christmas movies this holiday season

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the next few weeks will be filled with baking, decorating and hunting for retail bargains to make sure you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list without emptying your savings account.

In the midst of all the Christmas madness, however, it’s important to take some time out of your hectic schedule and relax with a few classic Christmas flicks.

Although network television stations usually choose to run the same mundane schedule of Christmas movies from now until Dec. 25, only a handful of these films are actually worth watching. Here, I’ve compiled my own list of the top five greatest Christmas movies of all time:

5) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): With a mere 28-minute running time, this made-for-TV special might seem like a stretch for a list that only includes the top five Christmas movies of all time. Nonetheless, Charles Schulz’s characters embody the spirit of Christmas in this classic special. The lovable but often misunderstood Charlie Brown, disappointed by the lack of meaning he finds in Christmas, picks out the smallest, scrawniest tree he can find for the annual Christmas pageant. When the other characters ridicule him about his choice, his best friend Linus makes an incredibly heartfelt speech about the true spirit of Christmas that would melt even the heart of Scrooge. Directed by Bill Melendez, this ageless TV special is a must-see for young and old alike.

4) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000): Based on the classic children’s book by Dr. Seuss, Jim Carrey stars as the Grinch, a creature intent on ruining Christmas for the Whos of Whoville. This recent remake of the television cartoon allows viewers a glimpse into the Grinch’s childhood, where they come to understand why the Grinch grew up to be such a, well, grinch. The real star of this Christmas film, however, is Cindy Lou Who, played by Taylor Momsen (now a star on the hit teenage drama Gossip Girl). Cindy Lou manages to convince the Grinch of the importance of Christmas and teaches her fellow Whos a little something about the meaning of the holidays in the process. The essence of the cartoon classic is carried over beautifully onto the set of this film, and director Ron Howard does a truly spectacular job of capturing the two-sizes-too-small heart of the Grinch.

3) Home Alone (1990): Before Macaulay Culkin grew up, developed a cocaine addiction and divorced before he was 20, he played the role of the lovable eight-year-old Kevin McCallister in Home Alone. When his family accidentally forgets him on their way to the airport for a trip to Paris, Kevin realizes he has been given the chance to live every child’s dream: making his own rules without parents to tell him what to do. When two burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) attempt to break in, however, Kevin must act fast to ensure he protects his home while his parents are away. The give-and-take between Kevin and the burglars makes for one of the most comedic Christmas films of all time, and who can forget Kevin’s first experience with after-shave? Home Alone, directed by Chris Columbus, is one Christmas film that would be a crime not to watch this holiday season.

2) It’s A Wonderful Life (1946): When heavenly angels hear the host of prayers being lifted up for George Bailey on Christmas Eve, they know he is in need of a little divine help. George, played by James “Jimmy” Stewart, is a simple man who always tries to do the right thing but has been struck hard by unforeseen circumstances. When Clarence, title AS2 (Angel Second Class), takes him under his wing (metaphorically speaking, since he hasn't earned his wings yet), everyone learns a valuable lesson about a positive attitude and the beauty of life. More than 60 years later, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life still warms the hearts of people everywhere and inspires them to believe in faith, even when life no longer seems worth living. That might seem a bit dark, but it’s enough to earn the film a permanent place on any list of classic Christmas movie greats.

1) The Santa Clause (1994): While the two sequels to this film may have been utter failures, the original Santa Clause, directed by John Pasquin and starring Tim Allen, captures the No. 1 spot on this list. When Scott Calvin, played by Allen, accidentally pushes Santa off a roof, he must either assume the role of St. Nick or risk ruining Christmas for millions of children worldwide, including his son Charlie. Allen shines in his role as the reluctant-turned-lovable Santa Clause, and the sarcastic banter between Scott and Santa’s head elf, Bernard, will amuse adults as well as children. The Santa Clause has all the best elements of a Christmas film: humor, sincerity and none of the cheesiness (well, not much of the cheesiness) that has plagued holiday movies from their beginning. No Christmas season would be complete without watching The Santa Clause. Just don’t rent the sequels.

From endearing cartoon characters to second-class angels to Santas falling off roofs, Christmas movies offer the perfect escape from the otherwise chaotic atmosphere associated with the holiday season. This Christmas, don’t forget to take a much-deserved break and schedule a date with your DVD player, make a cup of peppermint hot chocolate and let yourself be transported to a place where joy and happiness always triumph over stress and anxiety.

It might not be reality, but count that as a blessing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

bullock's performance in "the blind side" trumps vampire love triangles

It may not involve vampires, werewolves or damsels in need of constant rescuing, but The Blind Side will put viewers in a Thanksgiving mood this holiday season.

The film didn’t stand a chance against the latest installment of the Twilight saga, New Moon. Still, The Blind Side, directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Sandra Bullock, offers a feel-good experience that will remind people of the importance of generosity.

Though based on true events, the story risks coming across as sappy and overdone, but the film’s cast – particularly Bullock – makes this movie worth seeing.

Bullock plays Leigh Anne Touhy, a woman whose philanthropic nature compels her to take in an African American teenage boy and help him turn his life around. Though this role strays from her usual tendency to play the quirky romantic heroine in chick-flick comedies, Bullock portrays the strong-willed, determined woman beautifully, right down to her fake southern accent.

And though she never falls into a mine or stuffs donuts down her evening wear, it’s refreshing to see her deliver a powerful performance worthy of the Oscar buzz surrounding it.

So no, The Blind Side may not tell a sordid, teen-angst love story complete with a vampire counterpart. But in all honesty, that’s just one more thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

healthy restaurant impresses fast-food lover

In a city with nine McDonald’s, six Taco Bells and four KFCs, it’s refreshing to eat lunch at a restaurant that serves fresh, healthy food that doesn’t come prepackaged or covered in grease – even if you’re a fast-food junkie, as I am.

Buffaloberries in downtown Sioux Falls makes serving healthy food its mission. In fact, the restaurant calls itself a “select ingredient bar” because, as its Web site states, “each ingredient has been carefully chosen for proven health benefits.”

When I ate at Buffaloberries for the first time last weekend, I’ll admit I was skeptical. I have a nasty habit of rejecting anything that sounds even remotely healthy. But I was determined to give Buffaloberries a try, mostly because I had heard the food wouldn’t even taste as though it were good for you – which was good enough for me.

All my doubts about the restaurant vanished once I saw the menu. As it turned out, the trouble would not be finding something I liked, but choosing from among the various menu options. From a selection of salads, soups, pizzitas (single-serving pizzas), pastas and sandwiches, I finally decided on a cup of tomato basil bisque soup and a Tuscan chicken melt – though I was seriously tempted to try the bison melt.

My boyfriend, who accompanied me on my journey into healthy restaurant options, ordered a pepperoni pizzita, which, interestingly enough, is nitrate-free and made on whole wheat pita. This pizzita, like many other menu items, also comes in a gluten-free option.

When the food arrived, I found myself a bit jealous I hadn’t ordered the pepperoni pizzita. My sandwich came with an excessive amount of black olives and red peppers, neither of which I particularly like. Still, once I scraped off the olives and peppers, the sandwich was tasty, albeit a bit spicy, and my boyfriend exchanged half of his pizzita for half of my sandwich.

The pizzita was clearly the better choice. Unlike pizza from Dominos or Little Caesars, this pizza didn’t require three or four napkins to soak up the excess grease. But my tomato basil bisque soup didn’t impress me, mostly because it had too much basil and not enough tomato. On the other hand, this could just be years of bias toward Campbell’s tomato soup talking.

In addition to its healthy food mission, the restaurant also makes it a priority to practice sustainability by using biodegradable packaging and supports fair trade of coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate. Signs in the restaurant also advertise the recyclaholics program, which works to eliminate waste and raise awareness about recycling.

The one downfall to Buffaloberries, as with most businesses in downtown Sioux Falls, is its hours. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and is also open Friday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. Though the menu is geared toward lunch options, it would be nice to see this establishment open for regular dinner hours as well.

Despite this one disappointment, Buffaloberries is a restaurant to keep in mind when deciding whether to eat lunch at McDonald’s or Taco Bell. It has something for even the unhealthiest of people, and let’s be honest: Your love handles will thank you for it later.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

disney rings in christmas early

For Disney, Christmas comes a little earlier every year.

The release of Disney’s newest film, A Christmas Carol, opened nationwide last weekend – a full three weeks before Thanksgiving and the official start of the holiday season. Though the film’s holiday spirit may seem a bit premature, it didn’t stop A Christmas Carol from securing top honors at the U.S. Box Office its opening weekend with $31 million.

The movie, which follows the classic story by Charles Dickens, stars Jim Carrey as the voices of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express), the film takes a new twist on an old classic by venturing into the world of 3D cinema.

This approach, though it may seem unconventional for the time-honored Christmas tradition, proves valuable. Unlike the countless other movie renditions of Dickens’ novel, Zemeckis’ version immerses viewers in the film, making them feel as though they, too, are flying over London with Scrooge or feeling the wrath from the Ghost of Christmas Future as he eerily points to Scrooge’s dead body.

Scenes like this prove the film has a darker side that isn’t seen in previous versions like The Muppet Christmas Carol. Between creepy ghosts, dead bodies and a grave marking one’s descent into hell, this interpretation has some parents refusing to take their children to see the film.

And this criticism is perhaps warranted. At times, the special effects and grim subject matter may prove too much for younger viewers. The film earned a PG rating for a reason – it’s not a traditional feel-good family film along the same lines as Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. Scrooge’s problems are real, and each spirit that visits him will make viewers feel slightly more uncomfortable than the last, especially with the added 3D effects.

Still, the classic Christmas tradition rings true in A Christmas Carol, and for those parents who won’t let their children see the film – well, bah humbug to them.