Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review: Grown Ups

Grown Ups got a lot of flak when it first came out in theaters as many critics complained that it was just Adam Sandler and his buddies cracking jokes about each other. Is it as bad as everybody says it is? Well, that depends. Do you want to see a movie where Adam Sandler and his buddies just crack jokes about each other? If you do, then you might just like this movie. If you don’t, well, join the club.

The Movie: Two and a half stars

There was a time in my life (in many of our lives, really) when Adam Sandler could do no wrong. I’d like to call this the Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison years, back when Adam Sandler was in the funniest movies on the planet, and he was the funniest comedian in those movies. It didn’t really matter that Adam Sandler was just one little component in what were really solid (and surreal) stories. You just assumed that if it had Sandler in it, it meant quality. A lot of us thought it was Adam who was making all this possible, not really paying attention to how good the scripts actually were. And then came Little Nicky, where Adam was still doing his normal, strange guy shtick, but the script just wasn’t of the same quality as his earlier movies. People were disillusioned it. How could Adam Sandler make a crummy film? Did this signal the end of one of America’s favorite comedians?

Since then, Adam Sandler made the shocking-then, understandable-now decision to veer into drama (Reign Over Me, Punch-Drunk Love), and only seldom does he pick up the Anger Managements here or the You Don’t Mess with the Zohans there. It’s usually a big event when he decides to star in a big, broad comedy. So what could be better than paring him with some of the biggest comedians of both yesterday and today: Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James (Paul Blart himself!), and Rob Schneider? Seriously, could there possibly be a bigger event when it comes to a Sandler comedy? This should have been the movie that put Sandler back on the map as one of America’s favorite comedians. And it did. But not in a good way.

Grown Ups made quite a bit of money at the box office, so it proves that Sandler is still a marquee name (because seriously, when have Rock, Spade, James, or Schneider ever really been big box-office draws by themselves?). But while his name is still there, the charm of Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore is certainly gone. Gone are the fits of rage over things of little consequence. Gone are the surreal jokes about punching Bob Barker in the face. Gone are the quirky little details that made Adam Sandler movies distinctly his own. All we have left are the little, mean-spirited (but sometimes funny) jokes, which were never really my favorite parts of the Sandler early years. But hey, I guess it’s better than nothing, right? At least we have Sandler telling Kevin James to stop eating all the KFC. Because he’s fat, you see. He told Kevin James that because he’s fat.

What really dampens Grown Ups, though, is not the lack of jokes for Sandler, as he pretty much gets all the best lines in the movie, few though they are. What stinks is that all of the other comedians, in their own right, have at least made me laugh over the years in some form or fashion. And all of them (outside of possibly James) are so poorly utilized in this movie that it seems like a major waste of time for any of them to even be in it. For instance, why doesn’t Chris Rock have a single funny line in the movie? Why does it have to be all Sandler, all the time? Why couldn’t somebody else have a shot at slinging a funny line here or there? Why did he have to be so selfish?

In a way, this movie is really confused. It’s an Adam Sandler comedy, no question, as the jokes take center stage and the storyline takes a back seat, but at the same time, it’s not one at all, as all the other characters have backstories that are supposed to be relevant and humorous but aren’t in any way whatsoever. Chris Rock is a stay-at-home dad, and his wife (Maya Rudolf) makes the figurative bacon, while he makes the literal bacon at home in a pan. The ongoing joke is that he’s emasculated in his role as a husband, which could be funny in its own right, but instead, because the movie is built on a tower of crumbling jokes, it’s just pushed off with him getting upset that his wife is always making fun of him liking the kitchen. And that’s not funny. How is that supposed to be funny? Couldn’t the movie have gone deeper than that? I feel like something’s missing here, and I’m pretty sure it’s the comedy.

David Spade says so little that I almost forgot that he was even in the movie, and the running gag about Kevin James being overweight runs its course by the first joke. Also, Rob Schneider doing the dirty with an old woman had scads of potential. Unfortunately, all of the Schneider-dating-strange-women jokes were spent in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, so it’s not all that funny here. All we’re left with is Sandler joking around with his friends, which might be appealing to some, but for those who grew up loving Sandler films for being so unique, it’s just not enough. Sure, there are some funny scenes, and you can tell they’re having a good time joking about each other -- in many ways, it feels like one giant roast for all of them -- but it’s just not enough. Will we ever get the old Sandler back? Probably not, but at least he’s a pretty good actor. And who would have ever thought that while watching Big Daddy? Adam Sandler: good actor. It seriously boggles my mind. But not as much as people actually liking this film. That, I will never understand.

The Disc: One and a half stars

As if you didn’t get enough of Sandler and the gang goofing around, we get a special feature in "Laughing Is Contagious" and a blooper reel, both of which are more of the same nonsense you already had to sit through when you watched the film. You also get to hear the actors and actresses fawn over each other in "The Cast of Grown Ups" featurette, which informs us that Adam Sandler is a hard worker. Fascinating.

While I wasn’t expecting much in the way of special features for the DVD release, I’m a little pissed off that they didn’t put any more effort into it. Sure, a lot of people hated this movie, but I’m willing to wager that a lot of people actually liked it given the large box-office pull, and I’m sure those people would have liked to hear commentary by either the director or one of the actors in the film. (Like Rob Schneider. It’s not like he’s doing anything these days, right?) Really, I’m pretty sure that all of the actors in this film knew that once it was out there, there was nothing to be proud of and they wanted to move away from it as soon as they could when it was panned by critics and fans alike. Still, that’s no excuse not to put more effort into the actual special features. I feel like they just added them because it’s unacceptable to have a modern DVD release with nothing but a trailer and a scene-selection feature. Audiences want more, and the people who put out this DVD decided that more is a blooper reel which is even less funny than the movie itself, and a featurette on the cast that doesn’t reveal anything about them that we didn’t already know. What a waste. The special features on this disc suck, but just a tad bit less than the movie. That’s why I gave it one-star difference. I guess I’m feeling generous today.

Review: Mirrors 2

Mirrors 2 is a straight-to-DVD release of a horror movie that already wasn’t very good. So, is it really that much of a stretch to assume that this movie isn’t going to be the next Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street when it comes to breaking new ground in the horror genre? No, no it is not.

The Movie: Two and a half stars

I like to think of the first Mirrors as one of Kiefer Sutherland’s better modern-day films. Is it a good movie? Not by a long shot. But it’s one of the few recent films that he’s starred in that really benefits from having him in it, all gruff and badass, just as he should be. Without him, the movie’s absolutely worthless. That being said, enter Mirrors 2, starring Nick Stahl, who’s probably most recognizable as the guy who wasn’t Edward Furlong in the Terminator 2 sequel, Rise of the Machines. Nick Stahl replaces Kiefer as the protagonist in this direct-to-DVD sequel, and let me tell you, he doesn’t fill those shoes well at all. He plays a security guard, similar to Kiefer in the original, but he’s so sickly and tired looking throughout the film that your main concern while watching it isn’t about a ghost that lurks in a shopping mall’s mirrors, but rather that Nick Stahl needs to eat a banana or something and get some rest, pronto. Seriously, he looks that bad in the movie, I’m not even kidding you.

The plot and acting don't help, since both are atrocious even by straight-to-DVD standards. The story centers around a tortured man (Stahl) who lost his fiancĂ© in a car accident. Because he’s the son of a rich guy who’s opening a mall, and because he’s degenerated into sort of a bum from all his guilt, his father gets him a job as a security guard at the mall in hopes that he’ll get back to being productive again. The mall, however, is haunted by a spirit because of an incident that happened there not too long ago, and she’s killing off all the people who had anything to do with it. What does any of this have to do with Nick Stahl’s fiancĂ© being killed in a car accident? Good question. You would hope that the story would tie all that together in the end, but no, it doesn’t do that at all. So that’s a plot hole right there for you, don’t you think? In fact, the spirit also goes after another character who has nothing to do with the incident at all, suggesting that this is one unfocused ghost. Plot hole number two.

Plot holes can be forgiven in a horror film if it’s at least scary, but this movie isn’t even that, with gore taking center stage rather than scares. Being that this picture is unrated, it’s actually a bit gorier that the first one, mouth-pulling scene notwithstanding. Heads get decapitated by glass, innards get cut open by knives, and Achilles tendons get sliced. And while none of this is really all that shocking by modern standards (the Saw and Hostel franchises have been dabbling in this sort of thing for years now), it gives the film at least a little charm for horror hounds, especially since it’s all done with actual props and make-up rather than CG (more on that in the special features). If not for the kills, I’d give this movie one star.

Let's talk acting, shall we? Everyone in this film acts as if they're reading lines off cue cards the entire time. One character (the ghost’s sister) is actually the worst actress I’ve ever seen in a horror movie before...and I’ve seen a lot of horror movies. Not only that, but the script is just plain awful. It seems like the movie is built around those aforementioned death sequences rather than it being the other way around. And unfortunately, all those deaths happen relatively early in the movie, so you’re left with a long slog through boring and predictable narrative (Hint: The person you’d least suspect to be the bad guy really is! What a shocker!).

Overall, if you liked the first Mirrors, you won’t necessarily like this one. Kiefer isn’t in it, it looks like the straight-to-DVD release it is, and the story is ka-ka. Add all that together, and you have Mirrors 2. Whether you can accept that or not is up to you.

The Disc: One and a half stars

One of the key selling points for this DVD on the commercials is that it contains the original Korean movie, Into the Mirror, that both Mirrors and Mirrors 2 are based on. And while I’d like to say that that makes this disc worth the price of admission, I’m going to have to give a big no to that, as Into the Mirror really isn’t that much of an improvement over the Americanized versions. In fact, I actually think it’s worse, because at least those remakes have either Kiefer Sutherland or some well-designed gore in them. Into the Mirror is just boring as all hell. I can definitely say this for Korean horror cinema: if this is one of the best movies they have to offer, they’re nowhere near as adept at horror as the Japanese are. The Ring and The Grudge are indications of that.

Still, if you actually like the Mirrors series, it’s interesting to watch Into the Mirror, as many of the scenes are replicated in the American releases. Most times I recommend the originals over the remakes, as the originals usually have a special charm to them that the remakes don't offer. This is one instance where I think the opposite can be said. The glacial pacing of the original Korean picture is quickened a great deal by American sensibilities and impatient audiences. It makes me proud to be an American, at least when it comes to comparing Mirrors pictures across seas.

Also on this disc are two paltry deleted scenes -- one relevant, one not; a small doc called "The Other Side: Making Mirrors 2," which is actually a bit depressing, because you come to think that the cast and crew were under the impression that this movie would actually be released in theaters; and "Keeping It Real: The Visual and Special Effects of Mirrors 2." This last doc is actually pretty impressive, as it shows all the hard work and modeling that had to go into making the gorier sections of the movie look real. Since the budget was a lot lower for this picture than the first Mirrors, the crew had to rely on old-school special-effects techniques with fake blood and models, and it really pays off, as that’s one of the only features of the movie that’s actually decent. The hard work they had to go through to make the deaths in this movie is astounding, and it really takes you back to a time when movies like The Thing and Jurassic Park looked so good because they used actual models and materials rather than CG. This doc is the one redeeming special feature on the entire disc and definitely worth a watch if you pick it up. The rest you can skip.

Review: Vanquish

Oh, baby. If you like action games that never let up and blow you away with style and panache, then you have the game of your dreams here in Vanquish. It was directed by the creator of the Resident Evil series, Shinji Mikami. It’s almost funny if you compare this game with Mr. Mikami’s first Resident Evil which was as stiff as Gorilla Glue. In that game, you’d be lucky enough to escape a zombie without bumping into walls every five seconds. But in this game, you’re flying all over the place and killing robots.

The storyline isn't as intense. It suffers from the same hackneyed video game tropes that have hampered the genre for decades now. The story’s about a rapidly expanding global population that causes certain nations to push outwards into space to make room for the people down on Earth. Sounds interesting, right? And it is. But herein lies the problem: the main enemy of the game is some nihilistic Russian leader, who leads a group called the “Order of the Russian Star.” He basically has no emotions whatsoever and has this glazed over video game look that just pulls you right out of the storyline just by looking at him. He uses this weapon that wipes out half of San Francisco, and it’s just not believable at all. Why is this story even in the game? I’m all about a compelling narrative and whatnot, but when the gameplay is going to take center stage here (Which it really does, more on that in a moment), then why come up with such an elaborate storyline that’s not even going to deliver on the goods? Why not just have the President (who looks like Hillary Clinton, by the way) get kidnapped by ninjas, or something? Why go through all the trouble of boring the audience with a story that they couldn’t care less about?

The action, however, is amazing. You take on the role of Sam Gideon, who has a super suit that can pretty much blow the hell out of anything. Not since I first controlled Kratos in the first God of War did I feel so powerful with a video game character. Sam can switch weapons on the fly, slide on his knees at hyper speed, and even topple enormous mechs by leaping up and punching them in the face. Seriously, could this gamebe any more exciting? On your journey, which is like one really long mission, you head into enemy fire with guns a-blazing. You’re constantly ducking and taking cover so your suit can regenerate itself, as it tends to overheat with all the action that’s going on. The cover system doesn’t slow the action down, though; enemies will quickly blow up whatever cover you’re hiding behind so you need to keep moving.

What’s interesting about this overheating system is that you can actually push your suit to the limit by performing cool attacks like melee strikes or the slow-motion “bullet time” effects. These actions don’t only look cool, but they actually give you an edge over the enemy. At the same time, the game somewhat punishes you for using these attacks because you’re more vulnerable afterwards from enemy fire. This makes for a lot of sweat inducing, panicky moments where you’re looking for the nearest safe spot to hide behind while your suit replenishes itself. All the while, some other troops are still shooting at whatever’s out there shooting at you, so it puts you in the moment of being in the midst of a full-scale battle. It really pulls you in.

The controls took a little while for me to get the hang of but after awhile, they just start to make sense and your hands do all the work for you. As with Platinum Games’ previous release Bayonetta, there is a casual setting for players with more clumsy fingers. In this case, casual mode gives you auto aim. Casual or not, in no time you’ll be easily busting out awesome moves and taking out robots. You’ll kill lots of robots, by the way. The missions themselves offered enough variety to compensate.

The pacing never lets up. Every time you topple some giant robot or control some speeding hovercraft, you’re confronted with more enemies nearly seconds afterwards, so the game really never lets up. Mikami’s Resident Evil games were slowed down by puzzles and escort missions but Vanquish doesn’t have that problem. I commend Platinum Games for not putting any puzzles in the game and sticking with straight-up action as it really gets the ol’ heart pumping. That being said, the lack of puzzles or other breaks in action makes the game a little short. I beat it in only seven hours. And I’ve heard reports of it beaten in even shorter playtimes. That’s okay with me, though, because the shorter (And tighter) the gameplay is, the better.

Overall, I love this game. It’s fast, it’s frenetic, and it’s fun as all hell. Sure, it’s kind of short, and sure, the delivery of the storyline could have been much better, but as a whole, the game blows you out of the water with its awesomeness. If you like action games and feel that you haven’t played a good one in a long time, then Vanquish is the game for you. You’re going to have one hell of a ride.

Here's a video of the game itself:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Eating out in the Chesters: Marilyn’s Cafe

If you love great food and reliability, you can count on Marilyn's Cafe in Chester to be open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day of the year. And if you happen to like Marilyn Monroe, that's just an added bonus.

"On Christmas day, every single thing in this town is shut up, even the diner," says owner Marilyn Masaitis. "We're more than happy to stay open for our customers."

Masaitis, a grandmother of eight, may just be the hardest-working woman in town.

"I'm here almost 365 days a year," Masaitis says. "I might get four days off a year with all my grandchildren. I have eight grandchildren, and I spend one week a year with them."

The rest of the year, she's making sure her tiny cafe is pumping out great food that might even put most diners to shame.

"I don't want my girls to give 100 percent," Masaitis says. "I want them to give 110 percent."

And they do, bringing out a diverse menu of things that range everywhere from steak and eggs to fried chicken. The menu even features scrapple.

"Scrapple is every end of every piece of pork that's compressed into a piece of meat," Masaitis says. "It sounds bad, doesn't it?"

But the people here love it, and Masaitis attributes its popularity to the mere fact that most people in the area have never seen it on a menu before.

"People don't sell it," Masaitis says. "It's like a Southern item, and you just don't go to places to get scrapple."

Besides the excellent food, Marilyn's has a very homey feeling everyone can enjoy.

"It's very family-oriented, and everybody knows everybody here," Masaitis says. "The place caters to the people, more than a diner."

It's also dolled up much more than a diner, too, with the walls covered with memorabilia of everybody's favorite blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe.

"The Marilyn's theme is because I am Marilyn," Masaitis says. "I was born in 1957, and I was named after Marilyn Monroe. I was supposed to be a boy and ended up to be a girl, and that's the reason for the theme."

Masaitis has been in town for more than 20 years and has warm feelings for her customers and Chester in general.

"I just love the people, and I just want to thank each and every one of them for keep coming, even during this bad time," Masaitis says.

Know of a restaurant you'd like to read about in MCW This Week? E-mail us at

WHERE: 21 W. Main St., Chester
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-879-4340
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day
CUISINE: American
PAYMENT: Cash only
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: This cozy place has Marilyn Monroe memorabilia up the wazoo, and it's wonderful
ATMOSPHERE: This family-friendly shop is the perfect place to enjoy an excellent breakfast or lunch.
CATERING: Small jobs only, up to 30 people
PARKING: Plentiful parking in the shopping mall lot
OWNER: Marilyn Masaitis

Friday, October 22, 2010

Eating out in Long Valley: The Cozy Cafe

There's no better way to describe the Cozy Cafe in Long Valley than by repeating part of its name: Cozy.

"I wanted to open up a place, but I didn't want a typical storefront or strip mall," says owner Diane Lomocano. "I was looking for something like this. It has little rooms, and it's like a little house."

She isn't kidding. When entering The Cozy Cafe, you might think you've just stepped into somebody's home — but it's purely intentional.

"I want them to feel at home," Lomocano says. "I want an at-home atmosphere. Something cozy, something you want to come to."

And people will definitely want to come here, especially with such a delectable menu. The menu says, "A little taste of Brooklyn," and Lomocano, a Brooklyn native, wants to bring you the kind of food that will make you come back for more.

"I love cooking for people," says Lomocano, who doesn't have formal cooking experience other than what she learned from her Italian-American family when she was a child. "I don't want to cook for me. I want to cook for you."

Some of the items Lomocano and her gang would be happy to cook for you are breakfast, which is served all day, as well as paninis, wraps and sandwiches, making for a well-rounded menu.

"Right now, we have three popular paninis," Lomocano says. "The first one, which we've had on our menu from the beginning, is the ham and grilled pear with Wisconsin cheddar cheese. It's a big seller. A new item we added on is the Gobbler, which is turkey, apple and brie, with our Cozy secret cranberry."

Another new addition is the Italian sausage, another big seller.

"It's sausage, sauteed broccoli rabe and roasted red peppers, with mozzarella and roasted garlic olive oil," Lomocano says.

The Cozy Cafe also has excellent wraps, such as the turkey, avocado BLT with chipotle mayo, and sandwiches, including the Cozy Sandwich, which contains grilled portobello mushroom with caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and balsamic vinaigrette.

The best meal at the restaurant, though, might be on the breakfast. It's the Flaming Burrito — scrambled eggs and jalapeno peppers with Monterrey Jack cheese. It's a nice melding of flavors, and it's little wonder why it's probably the best-selling item on the menu. And would you believe it's healthy?

"My menu is really based around healthy, good foods," Lomocano says. "We don't fry, and we don't do pub food like wings and burgers."

The Cozy Cafe currently offers Thursday night dinners, when they serve pasta and the like.

"We did it in June, and then we stopped at the end of the month, because then it was summer," Lomocano says. "Now we're doing it again."

As for the future of the Thursday night dinners, it depends on the response of the guests.

"We'll see how it goes," Lomocano says.

WHERE: 16 Schooleys Mountain Road, Long Valley
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-867-7179
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
CUISINE: Breakfast, sandwiches and more
PAYMENT: Cash, checks, Visa, Mastercard
PRICE RANGE: Omelets, $4.25 to $5.25; sandwiches, $4.95 to $6.75; wraps, $5.95 to $6.25; paninis, $6.95; deserts, $1.75 to $3.95.
DRESS: Casual
DELIVERY: To nearby businesses
THE SCENE: This small shop sure packs a lot of punch. Come inside and see how cozy it is. It's a great place to relax and enjoy a coffee or a beverage
OWNER: Diane Lomocano
ATMOSPHERE: Lomocano and her crew are very kind and do their best to make sure you have a happy stay
PARKING: In the lot in back

Know of a restaurant you'd like to read about in MCW This Week? E-mail us at

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Editorial: Marvel vs. Capcom Looks Like It Might Suck. Hard.

The title of this article says it all, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 looks like it might suck, hard. All of the trailers that I’ve seen so far just don’t do it for me, and if this game sucks, it’s going to be one of the biggest disappointments of my entire life. I’m not even joking. And that’s because MvC2 is one of my favorite games of all time, even higher on my list than most of the Mario games that have shaped my life forever. I even ranked it as the greatest fighting game of all time, so you can imagine my let down when the trailer makes it look like total booty. But not everybody shares my opinion, and you’re probably one of them thinking, "What the hell, it looks awesome!" But it doesn’t look awesome, it looks awful. Why, you ask? Well, where do I begin?

Let’s start off with the control scheme, because if there’s anything one can say about the control scheme of MvC2, it’s that it’s flawless, absolutely flawless. Originally, when I first heard that MvC2 would have four buttons instead of six back in 2000, I was devastated, thinking it would make the game far too easy for somebody as badass as me. But I was wrong, dead wrong, because it actually made the game more versatile and actually added layers to the title as three players would have been too confusing for all those buttons to use. It made six buttons just seem superfluous when you thought about it. So four buttons was a good thing. No, strike that, four buttons was the perfect thing. And you shouldn’t mess with perfection, right?

But, from what I’ve seen and heard, MvC3 will be using only three attack buttons this time (also with a launch button for air combos, and two buttons for each character swap). This is similar to the format of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, which I don’t think will work for MvC2, since it makes it far too simplistic to play. This is the very same complaint that I had with TvC in that it was just too damn simplified for its own good. Now, it’s not that TvC was a bad game. In fact, in my review, I gave it 3 and a half stars. It’s just that it feels like it was made for newbies in the interest of appealing to everybody, and it was. I think this control scheme seriously going to alienate the hardcore crowd for MvC3 who like that extra bit of training with the extra button. It’s certainly alienated one of my friends who actually played the game recently at ComicCon. He said flat out that if you like playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 competitively (which I do) then you will NOT like MvC3. He thinks a punch and a kick should not be on one button, and I agree. I think it’s going steal all of the fun out of complex combos when you can just roll your fingers across the buttons and whip out 20 hit combos like you could do in TvC. I don’t want MvC3 to be that simplified. I’ve been playing the MvC series for years now, so why does the game have to be pared down so it can be played by my grandmother, who doesn’t even play fighting games? This isn’t Wii Sports. This is Marvel vs. Capcom! Why does it have to be so easy?

Next up are the graphics, which just look so annoying. The characters in this game look huge in all the videos I’ve seen. Why do they have to be so big? They make the background look puny in comparison, and that 3D effect is just lame. Part of the beauty of the hand drawn look of the predecessors is that they looked like they were actually right out of the comic book, which was cool. It really fit the Marvel universe. But ever since I saw that first trailer with Iron Man flying all over the place like an idiot, I’ve been immediately turned off. There’s just something about 3D that just doesn’t fit the MvC universe for me. The supers are going to fly all over the place, just like in TvC, most likely from what I’ve seen so far, and it’s just going to be too chaotic. I’m probably going to have a seizure.

And finally, what’s up with the new characters? I know I’m taking this personally, and I really shouldn’t be, but why are most of the Marvel characters so lame so far? Why are we getting M.O.D.O.K, Dormammu, and Super-Skrull? Who the hell wants to play as them? Now, I will admit that getting Thor and Deadpool is pretty awesome, but why haven’t we seen Punisher, Doctor Strange, or any of The Fantastic Four yet? Are they even in the game at all? Sure, MvC2 had its fair share of bizarre characters, too (um, Servbot?), but there were so many damn awesome characters in there that it didn’t make any difference in the end. As long as you could do a Strider, Wolverine, and Guile combo, everything would be alright in the world. But so far, these characters (Except for Arthur from Ghost and Goblins) just don’t excite me. When are we going to get Frank Castle already?

In closing, MvC3 is really looking like it’s going to suck. Granted, I’m sure it will be playable, and people may even like it, but as a follow-up to arguably the greatest fighting game of all time, it doesn’t look like it’s going to stack up in even the slightest. Ten years of pining and hoping and praying, and it looks like we’re going to get a cheap imitation of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Is that what we deserve? The one consoling thing about all this is that we at least still have MvC2 on Xbox Live if this winds up being a stinker. But seriously, damn. Why does this game have to look so disappointing? Capcom, I want to get excited. But what you’ve shown so far just doesn’t do it for me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eating out in Mendham: Wicker Basket

Find the article here:

The Wicker Basket, which was the runner-up for Best
Bagel Shop in the 2010 Best of Mendham-Chester-Washingtown ThisWeek reader poll, is all about speed.

"It's fast service, and I really like the fact that we can get people out of here in a couple of minutes," says shop owner Glenn Schmidle, who, even with a full line of customers on a Saturday morning, can keep the crowd moving at a swift, steady pace. "They really don't have to hang out too long."

Schmidle, who's been in this business for 22 years, attributes the Wicker Basket's speed to the fact that many of the same customers come in. The staffers know them so well that they have their order ready for them as soon as they hear them come into the shop.

"We try to cater to what they like," Schmidle says. "We see them coming and we try to make their stuff."

"It's a family business, and we're trying to make everybody happy," Schmidle says. "They come in, and we try to get them in and out."

Having worked in this business for so long, one of Schmidle's greatest pleasures is seeing some of his customers' children grow up and have children of their own.

"You see the kids grow up," Scmidle says. "They get older and they're still coming in, and their kids are coming in now too."

As for the regulars reading this story, they might notice the shop has gone through some improvements over the past year.

"We did a little facelift again," Schmidle says. "We did the floor, the signs, the fans, the ceiling. We just cleaned it up a little from the last time we did it; kind of finished it off."

Schmidle says he did this to give back to the customers who have already given so much to the Wicker Basket.

"We just like to put something back into the business," Schmidle says.

Besides the overall look, the menu hasn't changed since the last time you've been here, and that's a good thing. The Taylor Ham sandwiches are still at the top of the heap when it comes to popularity, and the Half and Half's — half ice tea, half lemonade — are still bought in huge quantities, especially when it comes to game day at the school.

"Kids seem to come before the sports, you know, like the football players, field hockey and the basketball kids," Schmidle says. "They all seem to come down here before a game, and it's kind of nice."

As for what Schmidle is trying to offer his customers, it's simple.

"I'm just trying to give everybody good-quality stuff for a decent price," Schmidle says. "It's fast service, and I really like it."

WHERE: 84 E. Main St., Suite B, Mendham
TELEPHONE: 973-543-7279
HOURS: 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3
p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday
CUISINE: Bagels, deli food
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: This bagel shop has ample room for the many customers who fill it on a daily basis.
ATMOSPHERE: A fun place with a quick pace
PARKING: In the lot
OWNER: Glenn Schmidle

Know of a restaurant you'd like to read about in MCW This Week? E-mail us at

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Eating out in Mendham: Country Coffee Shop

If you're looking for a warm feeling to go along with your warm meal, you can't go wrong with Country Coffee Shop in Mendham. It recently was voted the runner-up Best Diner by the readers of MendhamChesterWashington This Week.

The face behind that warm feeling is John Paxos, who's been working in the food business since he was a teenager.

"I was brought into the business by my parents," Paxos says with a smile. "I was about 13 when I started working, and I've been doing it ever since."

Paxos, who's had this shop in the corner of the Mendham Shopping Center for about 14 years, thinks a great deal of the diner's success is attributed to the fact that it has a very wide-open market.

"We're a family business, family owned and operated," Paxos says. "We try to cater to families."

The children's menu includes all the staples kids usually ask for, no matter what restaurant they go to.

"We do burgers, chicken fingers, spaghetti and meatballs, grilled cheese," Paxos says. "We do a whole array of different stuff."

While the burgers and omelets are very popular, one of the most famous items on the menu might surprise you — the Greek Salad. But it's not the only popular salad here. As the seasons change, so does the menu — slightly.

"We have a gorgonzola salad with apples and walnuts," Paxos says. "At different times of the year, we'll do things like zucchini bread, things like that."

Paxos also has recently added ice coffee and flavored coffees, which are much-loved by his customers, he says.

"It's been going good," Paxos says.

Also new to the shop is a bit of technology, used to market new menu items.

"We have our own Facebook page that we put our new stuff on," Paxos says. When asked whether Country Coffee Shop has a Twitter page, Paxos laughs.

"No Twitter account, I don't even know what Twitter is," he says.

Paxos has been in many different locations since he started in the business, from Hopatcong to Union, but he thinks this current spot is the best of them all.

"Mendham is the best town in the country. You'd better believe it," Paxos says. "You can't beat it. It has affluent people, a lot of young families, a lot of people who are up on things, and it's a good community. There's a lot of stuff going on in town."

Asked whether he's seen many of the same faces since he opened the shop, he nods his head happily.

"I probably know most of the customers by name," Paxos says. "Either that or by what they order."

WHERE: Mendham Village Shopping Center, Route 24, Mendham
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 973-543-7173
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
CUISINE: Burgers, salads, omelets and more
PAYMENT: Cash, Mastercard, Visa and American Express
PRICE RANGE: Griddle food, $3.95 to $6.50; salads, $4.75 to $11.75; sandwiches, $3.75 to $5.75; burgers, $4.25 to $7.50
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: As the menu says, this diner is where friends meet to eat
ATMOSPHERE: A friendly diner — exactly what you expect it to be
PARKING: In the lot
OWNER: John and Andrew Paxos

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Local farm offers a bounty of fun activities and not just great food

With over 500 acres and 250 different varieties of fruits and vegetables available, you can pretty much purchase any kind of produce you’re craving from Alstede Farms. But that’s not all you can do here as this vast location has so much more to offer.

“There’s no better way to spend quality family time than to get out in the open air and to do things without video games, without television, and just be together as a family,” says General Manager, Kurt Alstede, “And we offer the perfect place to do it.”

On Alstede Farms, aside from the ice cream and other delicious foods that you can purchase here on the premises (More on those soon), there’s everything from pony rides for the kids, to visiting the animals, and even a corn maze that changes every year at the farm. This year’s corn maze theme is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scout’s of America and last year’s theme was a tribute to one of New Jersey’s greatest teams.

“We’re big Devil’s fans, and last year, the theme of our corn maze was the New Jersey Devils,” Alstede says, “and we’re just continuing to have a relationship with the Devils organization.”

Alstede, who founded the business in 1982, has about 80 or more people working on the farm during the busy season each week and it allows many different activities to take place.

“Our goal is to make agriculture accessible and fun to people,” Alstede says.

One such way his farm is making agriculture fun is the ability to pick your own fruits or vegetables right off the farm.

“We have everything from peaches, apples, red raspberries, blackberries, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and even some pumpkins available for picking [right now],” Alstede says, “There’s hay wagon transportation to all the picking areas. We farm as many as 500 acres, and it’s a full-time operation, and everything is sold direct to the consumer.”

It’s a five dollar admission, and that includes unlimited free access to their hay wagon shuttle. Picking is open every day from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and there’s even a special treat for those who would like to pick in the middle of the week.

“What’s really special is that on Tuesday and Wednesday morning from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, we have what we call the midweek quick pick special,” Alstede says, “Anybody is welcome to come out on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and there’s free admission, so not only do they get in for free, but they also get to ride the hay wagon shuttle for free.”

If you’d like to acquire some of their fresh fruits, vegetables, or flowers and don’t have the time to go out and pick out in the field, though, then there’s also plenty of items in the store that you can purchase that vary in price depending on what you’re looking for. They also have special treats that you won’t find on many other farms.

“Several years ago, we made a decision to start taking these products that we grow and turning them into other things,” Alstede says, “And one of those things for instance is ice cream.”

“We make a variety of different flavors of ice cream with our own fruits and we feature different seasonal specials,” Alstede continues, “like in blueberry season, we had blueberry ice cream, and in strawberry season, we always have strawberry, but we had strawberry cheesecake, and right now in the fall, we’re offering chocolate red raspberries, which features our own red raspberries.”

They also have apple pies featuring some of their homegrown apples, as well as caramel apples.

Even with all of the delectable treats though, he’s also proud to discuss how healthy a majority of his items are.

“If you’re looking for a source of good, quality, local foods, whether it be organic or sustainable, we’re the place,” Alstede says.

Alstede truly loves the Chester area, as well as New Jersey itself.

“This is a great area to be in,” Alstede says, “There’s a reason why Jersey’s called the Garden State and it really is a tremendous place to be growing fruits and vegetables.”


WHERE: 84 Route 513 (Old Route 24), Chester, NJ
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-879-7189
HOURS: 9:00AM-8:00PM every day
CUISINE: Fruits, vegetables, and other products
PAYMENT: Cash, checks, and all major credit cards except American Express
PRICE RANGE: It depends on what you’re purchasing, but it can be anywhere from 49 cents to several dollars. It really depends on what you want
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: A lovely place to buy produce in the shop or to pick your own from the field.
ATMOSPHERE: This immense farm has everything from hay rides to pony rides to a corn maze. There’s no better place to be on a beautiful day than at Alstede Farm.
PARKING: In the lot

Family farm believes that farming is a faith, not a science

When most people think farming, they probably think of large fields, high corn stalks, and most importantly, a family-run element built behind it that’s been going on for decades. And that’s certainly the case at Parks Farms in Chester, which was established at the beginning of the last century.

“We’ve been here since 1906,” says manager, Laurie DiBietro, “it’s been owned by the Parks Farms, [and] the granddaughter is the 5th generation.”

Members of the Parks family are the only ones working out in the fields, which DiBietro says is a lost art as many farms these days get outside help. She also believes that farming is more of a science than a faith, and feels that even though this has been a tough year with some of the weather, they’ve gotten better crops than they expected because of their beliefs.

“Customers who have shopped here for over 30 years have said that it is the best corn we have ever grown,” DiBietro says, “[It’s] very, very sweet, very nice.”

What they have on the shelves really depends on the season, but depending on when you go, you might find excellent peaches, apples, or eggplants, but that’s not all they have here at this excellent farm.

“We have some of the best Christmas trees,” DiBietro says of what to expect around Christmas time.

They also have special events on the farm at certain times of the year.

“We have agritourism on weekends in October and Columbus Day,” DiBietro says.

Some of the agritourism featured at Parks Farms includes a time to pick your own pumpkins and a corn maze that’s entertaining for anybody who enters it.

“It’s a fun corn maze that takes about 5 to 10 minutes,” DiBietro says, “It’s nothing really scary and it is a fun time for a young family.”

The hay rides here are free, and they’re needed for the little over nine acres that they have on the farm.

“There’s three tractors that run nonstop,” DiBietro says, “they drop you off and pick you up, so you can pick your own pumpkin and then you can come into the store.”

Outside of all the products grown from the farm, they also have a few items from off-site that add a great deal of variety to their overall inventory.

“I have jellies and jams from Metuchen,” DiBietro says, “I have frozen fruit pies that are totally homemade and done with local fruits [and] I have fresh mozzarella cheese and homemade spaghetti sauce.”

DiBeitro also says that one of the perks of coming here is the fact that they treat every customer with the respect and kindness that customers deserve and appreciate.

“One of the things we really, really try to do here is when you walk in, you’re the only person who shops here,” DiBeitro says, “[When you come inside, we’ll say things like], Hi, how are ya, how’s your mom, sorry to hear that.”

“If someone’s sick or ill,” DiBeitro continues, “we’ll send them flowers, or give them something that we know they buy all the time, so we really try to keep the community [happy].”

Another way they keep the community happy is by giving deals to customers who buy in bulk.

“Our whole goal is to give you a quality product at a reasonable price and the more you buy here, the lower the price,” DiBeitro says, “We sell half bushels, four quarts, two quarts, [and a lot of other things], so we have a pound price, and the more you buy, the more per pound, the lower unit price.”

DiBeitro loves the customers here, and she also loves the town itself.

“[Chester] is a very nice, clean area,” DiBeitro says, “there’s a lot of things to do [here].”


WHERE: 525 State Route 24, Chester NJ
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 908-879-5509
HOURS: Weekdays and Saturday: 9:30AM-6:00PM Sunday: 10:00AM-5:00PM
CUISINE: Produce
PAYMENT: Cash, checks, and all major credit cards except American Express
PRICE RANGE: Blizzards: It really depends on the size of your purchase. Items can be as low as a change or a few dollars
DRESS: Casual
THE SCENE: This small shop has seasonal fruits and vegetables all around, and in back, lies the farm itself, which looks large.
ATMOSPHERE: Down to earth and practical, Parks Farms is how you’d probably expect a farm stop to look if you were to imagine one.
PARKING: In the lot
MANAGER: Laurie DiBeitro