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Thursday, July 28, 2022

July Streaming Film Festival

Unexpectedly, I've been home this past week instead of vacationing. I'm spending my evenings watching films I missed over the past few years -- with an emphasis on genre films that my spouse does not like all that much, including science fiction, animated features, superhero films, overly violent action movies, and horror. She's away fulfilling a family obligation. 

These are the films I watched, ranked in order of my liking, with a few comments:

The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021) (Netflix)

Yes, it feels a bit like The Incredibles, but it is very well done and funny despite the fact that the story takes place during a robot/AI apocalypse. It was nominated for the 2022 Oscar in the animated category, but did not win. Consider this great line of dialogue from the Mark Zuckerberg-type character: "It's almost like stealing people's data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing." I laughed a lot. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel (2009) (HBO Max)

This was pretty funny and fairly entertaining. I almost always like Chris O'Dowd films and Anna Faris is charismatic here. Most of the film takes place in a bar and involves three nerdy friends who drink beer and talk about time travel and potential films they might make. Keep in mind that these are their dreams and ambitions because on-screen they are portrayed as losers. O'Dowd's character, for example, loses his job in the first few minutes of the story. It is a solid addition to the time travel genre even as it pokes some fun at the idea. 

Oblivion (2013) (HBO Max)

This science fiction film didn't really register on my radar when it came out, but it was worth watching. It is set post-apocalypse and virtually all the planet's humans are dead. There are some interesting plot twists and the story does not feature too many mindless fight scenes with big explosions. Still, Tom Cruise action films often seem a bit off-kilter to me, particularly when they reveal him to be romantically involved with women nearly 20 years younger than he is. Also, he's a fairly small guy for an action hero (5'7" tall?).

Gerald's Game (2017) (Netflix)

This film was apparently based on a Stephen King story, though I haven't read it. If you know anything about the movie you probably know the premise. A couple trying to repair their marriage attempts to add a bit of spice to their relationship by venturing out into the middle of nowhere to have an adventurous tryst. Shortly upon arrival, the wife puts on her sexy new slip, the husband strips to his boxer briefs, handcuffs his spouse to the bedposts, starts pretending to be someone else (to her dismay), and then soon has a fatal heart attack. A lot of the story seems to happen in the woman's imagination as she struggles to survive and escape. Some of what she imagines may be real -- it is King, right? I found it watchable, but a big notch or two below the top movies above. 

Suicide Squad (2021) (HBO Max)

So, basically, this is the plot of the Dirty Dozen, but the villains are cartoonish figures with superpowers (or merely incredible killing ability) and there's a space alien component. Does this count as a spoiler? The giant bad guy at the end walks a lot like the Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. Margot Robbie and Idris Elba make this watchable, and the occasional comic dialogue also helps. It's not a terrible movie, but I wasn't the target audience, apparently. 

Wheelman (2017) (Netflix)

I read a book a few years ago with virtually the same title, but the plot was a bit different despite some broad similarities. The credits said this film was written by the director. Virtually all the action takes place inside one of two vehicles and most of the dialogue is between the driver and people we don't see on the other end of telephone calls. In that way, it is similar to the film Locke from nearly a decade ago. It mostly held my interest, but it is not a top-tier film. Some of the conversations seem redundant, there are lots of threats bandied about over the phone, and almost all of the action involves driving, which is only so interesting. At least to me. 

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019) (Netflix)

This film was also nominated for an Oscar for animated film (2021) and did not win. I was expecting it to have the humor of Wallace and Grommit, but Nick Park seemed minimally involved here and it shows. The story is about an infant space alien who lands in the countryside and is befriended by Shaun the Sheep. The humans are not especially smart, the dog is the butt of many jokes, and the sheep are the stars. It just wasn't very funny or even all that fun to watch. How did it earn a 79 on Metacritic? 

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Saturday, July 16, 2022

COVID Update: Omicron Edition

Readers of this blog are most likely vaccinated to some extent against COVID-19 -- a big majority of Americans are. Of course, the level of vaccination varies greatly. The CDC says that about 78% of the US population has had one dose of vaccine and 67% has had the "complete initial protocol." Only about 38% of Americans have received the booster even though almost everyone 5 or older can get one dose. FYI: The CDC officially recommends that everyone eligible should get boosted. Below I reference some research suggesting the booster might save your life. 

A second booster shot (also recommended by the CDC for those eligible) is available for people aged 50 and above, plus the immunocompromised -- basically, the people facing the greatest risks during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the virus keeps mutating and so neither the vaccines nor previous infection have been especially effective at preventing transmission of the latest version of the disease. They are doing a much better job at preventing hospitalization and death, as the rates for those outcomes have been lower in the US in 2022 than they were in 2020. 

The Washington Post reported in late April that the most recent variants have primarily been  killing peopled aged 75 and up: "nearly two-thirds of the people who died during the omicron surge were 75 and older." However, there are differences among the victims:
the bulk of vaccinated deaths are among people who did not get a booster shot, according to state data provided to The Post. In two of the states, California and Mississippi, three-quarters of the vaccinated senior citizens who died in January and February did not have booster doses.
A new study also finds that it is dangerous to become infected with the virus multiple times: 
The constellation of findings show that reinfection adds non-trivial risks of all-cause mortality, hospitalization, and adverse health outcomes in the acute and post-acute phase of the reinfection. Reducing overall burden of death and disease due to SARS-CoV-2 will require strategies for reinfection prevention.
This is likely already be baked into that data, but experts say about 1 to 5% of COVID patients develop what is commonly called "long COVID"
The percentage of people with severely debilitating symptoms is probably between 1 and 5 percent — amounting to millions of people in this country, according to Harlan Krumholz, a Yale University professor of medicine.
The April information referenced above is now a bit out of date as it is primarily discussing the Omicron variant that was then dominant -- version BA.2. The new BA.5 variant is seemingly much more contagious. Indeed, from Alpha to Delta and then through the several Omicron variants, virtually ever wave of the virus has been propelled by an ever more contagious version of the disease. 

There is some good news: While it was recently calculated and reported that the R-naught (or R0) of BA.5 is over 18, making it the most contagious viral infection known to man (worse than measles), that is apparently incorrect and fact-checkers have now corrected the reporting. It is, however, too soon to calculate the R0 precisely. By the time we can calculate it, the new BA.2.75 circulating in India might be dominant. 

Additionally, the current circulating versions of the disease remain deadlier than the seasonal flu -- at least for the unvaccinated

In all, the information fairly clearly reveals that the pandemic is not over -- no matter how many unhelpful strangers tell you that it is -- and people should continue to take precautions.

Get boosted. Wear an effective mask (N95 or KN95). Maybe even outdoors (in crowds)

Practice social distancing

The government should be pushing harder to reinstate masks on planes and other forms of public transportation.  Indeed, because of standing room only crowds and poor ventilation, buses might be the most dangerous. 

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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Michigan Beer

My wife and I enjoyed our regular "annual" summer Michigan trip June 18 to 26th. Annual is in quote marks in that first sentence because we didn't go in 2020 for obvious reasons. Last year, we got a good rate on a week-long Holland hotel rental and thus limited our range to nearby activities. Partly we did that because the Traverse City Film Festival was canceled last year as it was in 2020. The timing of the 2022 festival does not work for us, so we will not be attending again this summer. 

This year during the vacation, we dined with old KU friends in Grand Rapids on the first day, spent a couple of days checking out Grand Haven and Muskegon (their beaches and brew pubs), went up to Traverse City for two days (where we celebrated 31 years of marriage), stayed with a generous friend from Louisville in her family's recently acquired Leland cottage, drove down to Grand Rapids for my first trip to Founders Brewery (!), and then went to a high scoring minor league baseball game in South Bend on the way home that Sunday. Oh, we obviously stopped to dine at Shapiro's in Indianapolis, as we typically do. And bought some bagels and rye bread for home. 

We have a lot of Michigan traditions and I'm not going to use this post to mention them all. Some we could not do because of timing. For instance, the Filling Station brewpub and pizza place was closed on Tuesday-Wednesday, the days we were in Traverse City. 

Beyond the vacation update, this post is about Michigan beer. I drink Michigan beer exclusively when I'm there and I typically buy several multipacks of fresh canned beer to bring home to enjoy in the ensuing weeks. Sometimes I buy single cans or bottles, but those are harder to find these days. 

For the second year in a row, I picked up a copy of the Michigan Brewery Guide (see above) in a southwest brew pub -- and this year I got a second copy for my neighbor who also enjoys a good craft beer. 

Looking through the magazine this weekend got me thinking about my history of trips to Michigan breweries -- both this year and in the recent past. 

Thus, I'm going to use this post to summarize my recent and prior visits to Michigan brewpubs. This is one instance where Google Timeline information is actually helpful, though this information only goes back to mid-year 2013 when I must have authorized the tracking software. I'm not listing breweries where I didn't drink. We went into Ludington's Jamesport once, but could not get a table for dinner in a timely fashion, and we quickly left Grand Armory in Grand Haven on this trip because it didn't offer outdoor seating. 

Given that Michigan has nearly 400 breweries as of 2022, my personal list includes less than 5% of the total! I could move to Michigan and have a difficult time sampling all of them. 

2022 (4 new; 18 total)

Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven
Unruly Brewing, Muskegon
Rare Bird Brewing, Traverse City
Cherry Republic Brewing Company and Public House, Glen Arbor
Founders, Grand Rapids

We dined at all of those places, though at Odd Side we had to order takeout from a nearby restaurant. They don't have food. 

2021 (2 new; 14 total)

Big Lake Brewing, Holland
Guardian Brewing, Saugatuck
Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids

We also dined at all of these.

2019 (2 new; 12 total)

New Holland Brewing, Holland
Big Lake Brewing, Holland
Clam Lake Beer Company, Cadillac (2)
Filling Station, Traverse City
Workshop Brewing, Traverse City
MiddleCoast Brewing, Traverse City (was called Monkey Fist at the time)

We did not dine at Big Lake or MiddleCoast, but both have food (I think).

2018 (2 new; 10 total)

Workshop Brewing, Traverse City
Clam Lake Beer Company, Cadillac
Filling Station, Traverse City

We dined at these.


I was on antibiotics that trip and did not visit any brewpubs and avoided alcohol. 

2016 (2 new; 8 total)

Saugatuck Brewing, Saugatuck
Filling Station, Traverse City

2015 (2 new ones, 6 total)

Short's Brewing, Bellaire
Rare Bird, Traverse City

We dined at these.

Older trips: (at least 4 visited)

New Holland Brewing, Holland
Mackinaw Brewing, Traverse City
North Peak, Traverse City
Jolly Pumpkin, Traverse City

We did not dine at Jolly Pumpkin, but they have food -- and various other locations across the state.

* It is possible my memory has failed me in recalling other brewpubs visited before 2015 as we have been going to Michigan as a family since the 1990s when my children were quite young. Then again, we didn't really take the kids to brewpubs when they were young -- maybe restaurants that happened to brew some of their own beer. 

I've also tried a good deal of Michigan beer in restaurants and taprooms, but I'm not going to list all of those here. I would put in a good word for the 7 Monks in Traverse. 

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