Monday, June 30, 2008

Hercules in New York

You'll be seeing a lot of Arnold here in the next few weeks. I've seen most of his movies, and I want to fill in the gaps, no matter how painful. I've been a big fan since The Terminator and Conan the Barbarian, and sort of lost interest when Eraser came out. I decided to get the worst out of the way immediately, so Darth Milk and I watched his first film appearance, Hercules in New York, a low-budget sword-and-sandal movie from 1970. He was credited as Arnold Strong, in case his name scared people off, which seems crazy now.

Sometimes we forget he cut weight for Conan.

The movie begins with some hilarious narration as the camera pans over some mountains, and zooms in to bring us to Mount Olympus. The set is a public park somewhere; you can hear cars going by in the original audio track, which I highly recommend. Arnold's accent was so think that he was dubbed for the theatrical release, and while it's amusing to hear a generic voice come out of his mouth, the movie is much funnier with the restored dialogue. If you thought he was hard to understand in Conan or Pumping Iron, this will sound like crazy moon-man language. And that's saying a lot, because part of the fun in Pumping Iron is realizing that Lou Ferrigno, who was struck deaf at an early age, is usually easier to understand than Schwarzenegger.
"Zumday a real rain iz going to come and clean up zis place."

The movie is pretty horrible, but that didn't stop us from watching it in its entirety. Take one of those Italian Hercules movies starring Steeve Reeves, one of Arnie's heroes, and mix it with Midnight Cowboy, and there you have it. It has plenty of moments of unintentional hilarity and copious cheesiness, and you get to see young Arnold with a bad haircut delivering lines that make you wonder if his nickname "The Austrian Oak" came from his acting instead of his amazing physique.
Far in the dim past, when myth and history merged into mystery, and the gods of fable and the primitve beliefs of man dwelt on ancient mount Olympus in antique Greece, a legendary hero walked godlike upon the Earth, sometimes...
Hercules is bored on Olympus and wants to go to Earth and "browse around a bit." Zeus is having none of it. He's as grumpy as always, and if you thought Lawrence Olivier was chewing the scenery in Clash of the Titans, this guy must have died with it lodged in his colon. He gets sick of Herc's insolence and hurls a lightning bolt, made loving out of silver rebar by some forgotten prop designer, which sends his son tumbling to Earth to teach him a lesson.
Unidentified Flying Olympian

Two little old ladies see Arnold falling past their Pan Am jetliner and are overcome with the vapors over seeing so much beefcake tucked in a toga. Then he's picked up by a ship full of sailors, and ends up getting in a shirtless wrestling match with the first mate because he refuses to take orders. I began to wonder who this movie was supposed to cater to.
Pretzie is extra salty.

Wait, it gets better. When he jumps ship, he's rescued by Catfish from Jabberjaw. I'm not kidding- Arnold Stang, who also voiced Top Cat, plays "Pretzie," a bespectacled New York nebbish peddling-- you guessed it-- pretzels by the shipyard. They nab a cab uptown, not before Hercules grabs a forklift and tries to ride it.
"Nice chariot, but where are the horses?"

As the camp increased to a fever pitch, it became clear that Arnie's first movie was not really a Hercules movie like the Italian ones, or meant to capitalize on his status as Mr. Universe, but was probably crafted on the cheap to play in Greenwich Village theaters. My uncle, who ran gay bars for the mob back in his day, told me Midnight Cowboy was so popular they were showing stolen prints for years. Pretzie sounds a lot like Ratzo Rizzo, but I was surprised to learn that Dustin Hoffman's legendary performance was partly based on Arnold Stang's stage persona- probably best seen in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as the gas station attendant with the Coke-bottle glasses. Instead of Jonathan Winters tearing things up, this time he has to deal with Mr. Universe.
Cameo by Jiminy Glick

Instead of pimping his new pal like Rizzo tried to, he gets him involved in mob-sponsored wrestling matches. They're pretty sad to watch- Arnold is no wrestler, but he gives a good flex here and there. According to IMDb, Arnie got the part because his agent said he had a lot of "stage experience," meaning posing on stage for bodybuilding competitions, which was mistook for work in theater. This is twelve years before Conan, and seven years before Pumping Iron, where he mostly played himself. He improved exponentially in those years. If you thought his alternate under and over-acting was funny in Conan the Destroyer, just wait until a skinny little sailor tries to strangle him here.
Arnie's always been great at emoting struggle.

The plot thickens as Zeus realizes that Herc likes it down there and won't come home. He sends Mercury to get him, who gets rebuffed. I have no idea what Hercules likes so much down here; he spends most of his time talking to a mousy girl in a sweater, the daughter of a professor played by James Karen, most famous for being "The Pathmark Guy" in commercials, and the boss who built houses on a graveyard in Poltergeist. Zeus sends Nemesis down, who slips Herc a mickey that denies him his godlike strength. This makes him lose a strongman competition vs. Monstro, played by "Mr. World" Tony Carroll, another bodybuilder.
Some of the overdressed goddesses.

Pluto even comes on down to try to lure him back, but he seems a lot more like Satan in his dapper suit. There are a few other goddesses in togas up in Olympus, but the filmmakers seem to know their audience isn't interested in girls. By 1970 we already had Barbarella, so Aphrodite could have bopped on down in a bikini, but no such luck. When the mob shows up to clobber the now-vulnerable Herc, we get Atlas and Samson-- on loan from the Bible-- to help save him.
"Atlas, when you're done how 'bout we go for a nosh?"

The best part of the movie for us was the car chase around Central Park, put to frantic zither music. Milky and I accompanied them on the conga drum and ipu gourd. With enough beer and random percussion, the movie is tolerable. I wouldn't recommend this movie to all but the most fervent Arnold fans, and even then you're going to be performing your own version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to keep watching.

The movie is enjoyable with proper application of beer and bongos.

I've seen parts of Arnie's next two movies- The Villain, an uber-campy Western spoof with Paul Lynde (sensing a pattern here?) and Stay Hungry, where Jeff Bridges opens a gym, and Schwarzenegger plays the violin in a fringey cowboy shirt. They're forgotten 70's relics, but I guarantee you they'll be a lot more fun than this. If you like really bad movies, this is for you. For a good bad Arnie movie, watch Commando.
Now we know how Zeus got Samson- he's actually a rabbi.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wall-E - Johnny Five with a Chaplin chipset

It's hard not to like Pixar, especially if you like animation. They may have practically invented the 3-D stuff that criminally sounded the death knell for traditional animation, but they've brought such life to the medium that it makes you cast a look askance at what Disney's been doing since Walt died- the same thing over and over.

He packs a lot of expression in those binocular eyes.

Wall●E is another fantastic entry in a series of movies that have kept raising the bar since Toy Story came out back in 1995. Cars was a mediocre entry for adults, but if I'd seen that when I was a young boy obsessed with Matchbox cars and Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, I'd have loved it. So I can't fault them too much for catering to Nascar fans; they even made driving in a circle seem exciting, so Extra props for that. Pixar's latest movie's title is a nod back to their beginnings-a little computer-generated movie called The Adventures of AndrĂ© and Wally B., which was the pinnacle of computer animation at that point. We nerdlings sat in slack-jawed awe at its magnificence. From screenshots in Atari magazines. Without the youtube we had no way of seeing it, but it's up there now.
Wally B.: Pre-Pixar Lasseter movie, c.1984.

Wall●E isn't about bees, it's about a little trash compactor robot, the last of his kind left to clean up our mess on Earth in the far future. All his little buddies have broken down and he scavenges them for parts to dutifully keep making neat little cubes of trash on our poor used-up planet. His one friend is a little cockroach, also seemingly the last of his kind. Wall●E leads a mostly lonely life, doing his job and saving little bits of trash that amuse him, like a Rubik's Cube, and his most prized possession, a VHS tape of Hello Dolly that he watches every night.
Wall●E falls for a pair of blue eyes.

Until one day he sees something he's never seen before- something lands and ejects another robot, a sleek white little egg-bot named Eve. Her mission is a mystery as she scans every square foot of the planet, with Wall●E following close behind, eager for a little robotic companionship. Things play out with little dialogue, just bleeps and blurts and the occasional word. Like a silent film romance between Chaplin and a flower girl, it draws us in through their non-verbal cues and through some terrifically expressive voice acting. Wall●E's been compared to Johnny Five from Short Circuit, but he makes the 80's bot seem like Short Round with the symphony of expressive notes in his repertoire.
(Click image for enormous version)

The adventure really begins once Eve is called back from her mission, and we find out what happened to humanity. It's a hilarious and pointed satire on consumer culture, where the planet was run by the CEO of Buy 'n Large (played with the usual hilarity of Fred Willard), and 700 years later we've evolved into Cabbage Patch people riding around in hoverchairs with TV screens, cell phones, and a constant supply of Slurpee meals. This remains in the background enough to keep Wall●E and Eve's story in the forefront, and without making the message too strident. (Though I imagine Fox News will try to make some sort of controversy about it.)
(Click image for wallpaper size version)

At 103 minutes, it was a bit long for a kid movie, but it never dragged once. The pacing is perfect, and if you thought kids would squirm and squall at a movie where a robot and a cockroach bleep at each other for half its length, you'd be wrong. Our theater was surprisingly quiet- the kids were enraptured by this simple story. And no one will be rushing out to buy pet Madagascar hissing cockroaches that will end up in shelters, at least. So, Pixar's done it again. Not once was I bored. It's a little on the smarmy side in points, with Hello Dolly, but it's natural sweetness, not a high-fructose overload.
Pixar can even make cockroaches cute.

I'd go see it again today, just to stare longer at its rich backgrounds and simply stunning animation- they've raised the bar once again, and shown that Brad Bird isn't the only guy in their studio who can make a movie just as exciting for kids as adults. Ratatouille and The Incredibles are two of my favorite animated movies, but The Iron Giant is hard to top. Wall●E doesn't top it, but sits right alongside. It does, however, make you want to drag whoever at Disney greenlighted Beverly Hills Chihuahua and throw them in a trash compactor.

There's also a hilarious Tex Avery-style short by Pixar called Presto, about a hungry rabbit dueling with his magician onstage, before the film. It's not as madcap as Tex, but it's funny and original, getting a lot of mileage out of its premise.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Rocketeer

One of the best movie posters ever.
This week, I watched one of my favorite flops of the 90's, The Rocketeer. Disney stupidly released it on the same weekend as Terminator 2, arguably the best action movie of its decade, preceded by a huge hype machine including music videos by Guns 'n Roses, video and pinball games, Slurpees and sunglasses behind it. The li'l Rocketeer was trampled under Arnie's motorcycle boot like a box of flowers in the mall.

That's unfortunate, because while Rocketeer isn't a perfect movie, it's good popcorn fun in the pulp tradition. It tried to ride on the coat tails of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade's immense popularity, but misses the mark by embracing the old timey innocence instead of riffing off it, as Ebert put it in his rather scathing review. Only Ebert can make you not want to see a movie he's given a decent rating. (His recent review of Mongol, the Genghis Khan epic, gets 3.5 stars and the entire review is complaints of how it's nothing but blood and slaughter with a dash of torture flakes).

Not just blowing smoke.
I'm guessing Disney wanted to aim it at kids, which doesn't really work in a story about a stunt pilot fighting mobsters and Nazis over an experimental jetpack. Based on a comic book that recalls the adventures of Skylar King of "Sky King," and other "King of the Rocketmen" and "Commander Cody" serials, it doesn't really update things except in visual flair. The end battle especially, which has a huge zeppelin with a Nazi insignia appear out of nowhere over Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, fits in a cliffhanger serial but not in a summer blockbuster. I'm reminded of the excellent Superman serials, where one episode would end with a car exploding in flames, and then the next would begin with Superman zipping in to save the passengers just before it crashed.

Despite the movie's flaws, it's a lot of fun. Too much fun, in fact. Cliff Secord, played by wholesome all-American Bill Campbell, is flying an experimental plane (a model of which actually broke the speed record in the 30's) when G-men chasing mobsters burst through their airfield, shoot at his plane for no reason, and cause all sorts of mayhem. One of the mugs hides a mysterious package in their hangar before he's captured.

Peevy and Cliff
Cliff and his handyman buddy, played by grumpy Alan Arkin like Pops from "Speed Racer," are now broke and need to fly in the goofy airshow again... until Cliff finds the hidden package, which turns out to be an experimental jetpack designed by Howard Hughes (played decently by Terry O'Quinn, Locke from "Lost"). The movie reveals all its villains as it unfolds. Eddie Valentine (Paul Sorvino, Goodfellas) leads the mobsters, working for Hollywood heartthrob Neville Sinclair-- played with relish by devilish Timothy Dalton, channeling Errol Flynn. The Flynn vibe is so obvious they even parody the classic Adventures of Robin Hood, lest you not guess which star he's supposed to be.

Everyone wants the jetpack, including a hulking giant named Lothar who also works for Sinclair. In a movie made for adults, he would have been more fun- he folds people in half to silence them, and when a troop of Feds open up on him with tommyguns, he pulls out two .45's and starts blasting right back at them. The scene quickly fizzles, and I think director Joe Johnston is less suited toward adventure movies than stuff like Honey I Shrunk the Kids and October Sky, which I enjoyed. He also made the tepid Jurassic Park III, which makes me concerned about his upcoming remake of The Wolf Man with Benicio del Toro. That should be more of a horror drama, so hopefully it won't be as silly as this movie is.

Hotter than the jetpack
The movie has a lot of special effects, but little of the action really engages you. After Cliff and Peevy figure out the jetpack, he saves a wayward barnstorming pilot with it, and not much else. His steady girl Jenny, played by a vivacious and practically bursting out of her clothes Jennifer Connelly, falls in with nefarious Neville Sinclair, who seems much more aware of her womanhood than flyboy Cliff, who feels like he walked out of an Archie comic. When he flies in to save her, it's more like comic relief than heroics, with our Rocketeer buzzing around the supper club like a gadfly. There's no rocket punches, or firing his pack to singe anybody; the best I remember is him kicking Lothar when he comes at him with a wrench. Indy used to shoot people, too. I guess it's out of style for pulp heroes for now.

Too wholesome hero
A pulp hero needs to be good with his fists, and ours doesn't get a lot of time to use them. He does fly off to deal with the Nazi zeppelin with a Luger in his hand, but Disney decided gunplay was too rough for the kiddies, I guess. Every chance for breathtaking action just peters out- there's a fight on top of the flaming dirigible vs. the monstrous Lothar, and a battle between G-men, gangsters and Nazis who pop out the bushes that has a lot of flash, but feels more like Dick Tracy than Indiana Jones. Despite this litany of complaints, the movie manages to be entertain. TV prettyboy Bill Campbell just isn't a great lead, and everything is dialed back to be kid-friendly. There's nothing wrong with kid-friendly, but I thought Raiders of the Lost Ark was kid-friendly, when I was a kid. Now it would probably garner an R rating.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow did a great job of updating a pulp concept into an exciting modern movie, helped in part by spectacular special effects. Rocketeer has so-so effects, with the rocket man glowing like lightbulb against the backgrounds. The movie is screaming for an update that keeps the story in adult territory. He's such an iconic figure, with the art deco helmet and leather aviator jacket. And with Indy fighting Soviets, we could use a pulp figure to beat up hordes of Nazi thugs again.

The Predator Illuminati Shadow Government

I don't know if you heard, but that guy from Predator is running for office.
Arnold? That's old news. Jesse Ventura? Even older.

No, this time it's Sonny Landham, Billy the tracker with the huge machete who "ain't afraid of no man." I was hoping Carl Weathers or Bill Duke might have been dubbed to be Obama's running mate- he needs some muscle on his side. Instead it's the guy who was so touchy on the set of the movie that a bodyguard was hired to protect Schwarzenegger, Ventura, and Apollo Creed-- a collective 3 tons of 100% Prime American beefcake-- from his outbursts. And even more disturbingly, he looks like Kim Jong Il these days.

Fuck you, Hans Brix!

Sonny also played Billy Bear, one of the bad guys from 48 Hrs., and the cable guy in a few porn films, apparently. He's now running on the Libertarian ticket, but he ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in 2003. All the actors from Predator seem to lean Libertarian. Arnold is one of the better Republicans in government. I voted for Jesse Ventura back when I lived in Minnesota, and don't regret it. The state was fine under his watch.

Throw it in a pot with some broth, and you got a stew goin'!

In a few years, we'll see Carl Weathers run on the "a stew in every pot" ticket, and Bill Duke can just stare at you until you stumble into the voting booth in terror. Shane Black can run on a Assfuck ticket, since that's his favorite word to use in screenplays, and we'll have a Predator Shadow Government that can hunt down those pesky invisible terrorists.

I know I'd feel a lot safer. As long as no one from Predator 2 runs for office. Two words: Gary Busey.

Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?

Groucho Marx!

Oh, what a card. After visiting Firecracker in Harlem (cough, Hamilton Heights, sorry) for a year, I remembered that the tomb of Ulysses S. Grant is not far away. After our earlier trip to MoGridder's Barbecue, we drove crosstown and down lovely Riverside Drive to see what we could see. Despite being the largest tomb on American soil, you can miss it as you drive alongside; shrouded by trees and set back from the road, it overlooks the Hudson from its shady perch.
Surrounded by garish and out of place murals, it looks like urban renewal attacked its spartan grandeur in a fit of pique. The site fell into disrepair by the squalid 70's and was restored in the 90's, so I imagine the mural is from that era. The front of the building is a popular spot for wedding photos, and that section of the park is well manicured.

Still waiting.

The building rises up on huge columns to a rotunda which proclaims, "Let Us Have Peace." Within, two marble coffins entomb President Grant and his wife Julia in the center of the edifice. If you walk downstairs, the tomb is circled with busts of Civil War generals. As in all tombs, there is a sense of quiet solemnity in the soft echoes your footsteps make on the smooth granite and marble, and how the immense maroon caskets draw your eyes to the center of the room where they rest.
Mr. & Mrs. Grant were beloved by the country; he was entombed in New York to be close to his widow. The funeral was attended by former Civil War generals, President Grover Cleveland, the entire Supreme Court, and most of Congress. The procession was seven miles long.
Nowadays Grant is probably best remembered as Mr. $50 bill, and his Presidency and generalship are commemorated by this beanie baby.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

80's Trash of the Week: Porky's

Bob Clark has had an interesting career. He's the director behind several popular classics, the most famous being A Christmas Story. He began as a slasher film director, and directed one of the early classics of the genre, Black Christmas. It was recently remade, but there's no reason to see it over the 1974 original, where Margot Kidder is terrorized by an unknown killer. The ending is still one of the best to any slasher film I've ever seen. It's not my favorite genre, but it's was a very good movie.

Porky's: the epitome of the 80's teen sex romp.

Clark set the bar high for raunchy teen sex romps in 1982 with Porky's, a collection of high school stories he wrote and gathered, cobbling them into one fantastic tale about kids in Florida and their fascination with an infamous nearby strip club run by a legendary good ol' boy named Porky Wallace. The movie's success made it the highest grossing movie in its home country of Canada for over 20 years, (meaning it grossed nearly a million dollars). It spawned an inferior but watchable sequel that went after sleazy politicians, hypocritical evangelical preachers and the Klan, picking 3 easy targets and spreading itself too thin. The original is unforgettable to any male who saw it, and I wanted to see if my memory was colored by nostalgia. I'm happy to say that the movie is just as funny now as it was when I sneaked in to the Franklin theater to see it in 1982.
Chili with extra Meat

The movie centers on a group of teenagers in high school; we first meet Pee Wee (Dan Monahan), a short red-headed guy on a quest to lose his virginity. He blew chance with the school slut, Wendy; despite being a little snagglepussed, she is played endearingly by Kaki Hunter. Sure, the guys poke fun at how many guys have taken a poke at her, but it's not cruel humor. In fact, the whole film is infused with this sort of chum-like ribbing. Even a racist asshole is given a backstory and a chance at redemption. We might remember the shower scenes and other juvenile humor best, but as in A Christmas Story, Clark gives the movie a welcoming mood, like we're all sitting around a campfire drinking beers and telling stories.
Let's hope she spent her salary on dental work.

The rest of the crew are Billy and Tommy, the Heckle & Jeckle of the school; Mickey the redneck, "Meat" Tuperello, the huge jock with something huge in his jock, and Tim, who's got a greaser convict Dad and a big chip on his shoulder. The movie doesn't burden us with much drama, but Tim's conflict with his Dad, and how he takes it out on Brian, the only Jewish kid in school, is handled well without being shoehorned in.
Before Sex in the City, there was Sex in the Gym Closet

The film's other subplot involves the coaches and Phys-Ed teachers. Kim Catrall plays Ms. Honeywell in an early role; she's a hottie that newer Coach Brakett wants to knock tennis shoes with. He gets warned by an elder coach, and the payoff is one of the best laughs in the movie. The only thankless role in the movie is played with aplomb by Nancy Parsons (Steel Magnolias, Sudden Impact); Coach Balbricker. As you can tell from her rather puerile name, she's the school ballbreaker; every one's got one. Severe and prudish, she'd be more at home as Mother Superior in a cruel convent. She ends up in most of the best gags, such as the famous peephole scene in the girl's shower room. When one of the boys tries to take a peep with his one-eyed trouser snake, she engages him in a painful and hilarious tug of war.
Balbricker ain't pulling your leg.

So much goes on outside of Porky's legendary club that it's surprising that it got the title. The boys end up there after a prank with a prostitute named Cherry Forever robs Pee Wee and pals of a chance at getting some poontang. Mickey being King Redneck, wants to head to a redneck joint where he heard you can have some private time with the girls. The underage boys drive to the next county, into "Wallacetown," one of those backwoods burgs run by a local rich guy and his brother the Sheriff. Porky's club has just the right amount of sleaze and drunken violence to inhabit teenage legend; the boys get in with their fake IDs, buy overpriced beer, and get cockteased for their dollars, suffering all the self-imposed indignities men endure for a peek at some snatch.

Porky's Pussy Parade

The trouble starts when Mickey gets pushy, and wants to pay $100 for him and his boys to get some time with the ladies. They're underage and pushing their luck; Porky plays a nasty prank on them and scams them out of their money. Mickey can't handle it, and gets further extorted by Porky's brother the Sheriff (a doughy yet menacing Alex Karras, aka "Mongo" from Blazing Saddles). The boys drive home and take it as a lesson learned, all except for Mickey, who can't handle Porky getting one over on him. He keeps heading back to get his money back, and beaten up for his trouble.
Pee Wee, Mickey and Porky

Chuck Mitchell played Porky in all 3 movies; he was perfectly cast, as the grizzled tubby club owner with the deep voice, piggy face and sinister sneer. Much of the cast are unknowns, and this helps us feel like they were real kids. Even Kim Catrall is unrecognizable as cocktease with a locker room fetish. About the only person you'd recognize is Karras, and his small part as the bad sheriff is more like a cameo.
I'm sure Kim Catrall looks back fondly upon this dignified moment

The famous revenge on Porky is the dream of every kid wronged by powerful adult forces. Porky's comeuppance and humiliation are fitting and complete. I never saw the third movie, Porky's Revenge, and it wasn't written or directed by Clark, so I have no desire to. Porky's II: The Next Day wasn't bad; it's impossible to make a movie 2 years later that lives up to one that was 15 years in the making. It's typical 80's fare, and watchable. I remember being amazed when sneaking in to see Porky's that there were more gags over the credits! This was a first for me. it wasn't even bloopers, like the brilliant credits of one of my favorite movies of all time, Being There. Stick around and you'll get to see Pee Wee's final attempt at losing his cherry.
Bush was more than Vice President in the 80's.

The movie delivers on all counts; it doesn't try to inject too much drama into what never rises above a chummy teen sex romp based on tall tales from teenage-hood. Bob Clark has made some beloved classics, which may forgive him for Baby Geniuses and The Karate Dog. I watched this because Howard Stern has been trying to remake it for years. Hopefully he'll go bankrupt trying.

Beers Required to Enjoy: None, would a six-pack wouldn't hurt!
Could it be remade today? Let's hope not
Quotability Rating: Medium
Cheese Factor: Low
High Points: Tug of war, Lassie, Kim Catrall's ass
Low Point: Scientifically proven to contain none
Gratuitous Boobies: Here there and everywhere!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Greasy Spoons: Taste of Portugal's Steak on a Stone

From an unassuming little building in Newark's Ironbound section, you can get some of the best steaks you've ever had. I've been to a few of the top-rated steakhouses in America-- Manny's in Minneapolis, the Chicago Chop House. But for half the price I've had a fantastic marbled filet cooked just the way I want it, without worrying about reservations or throwing on a sport jacket. At Taste of Portugal on Delancey Street.

If you've eaten in the Ironbound, you're familiar with Portuguese restaurants, famous for their rodizio, the unending delivery of grilled meat on huge skewers, sliced directly to your plate. Those that don't offer that up often have similar menus full of platters of steaks and seafood, huge slabs of sea bass or bucket-sized bowls of paella, the obligatory appetizers of charred Portuguese sausage, and the platters of potatoes, rice and vegetables shared on the table. Here you get the standards trimmed into a concise yet varied menu that touches all the meat groups, including a goat leg appetizer and occasional deliveries of wild boar. If the boar is offered, all bets are off- skip the steak and have it.
Their flagship dish is the Steak on a Stone, a baseball sized filet with good marbling. It comes on a searing hot slab of black granite heated in their ovens, and arrives at the table raw. Your server slices it into four smaller chunks and places them on the stone to sizzle, and tops them with huge chunks of garlic herb butter. If you like, they will stay to flip the pieces for you. If you're a hands-on diner who would rather eat the stone than a well-done steak, you can flip them yourself. I opted to be the captain of my own destiny, and was rewarded with a terrifically tender filet mignon slathered in creamy butter.

The side is red beans and rice with chunks of Portuguese sausage, and a gravy boat of mushroom sauce; not a green in sight. Our appetizer was a special of shrimp and pineapple; this turned out to be shrimp cocktail, with half-round chunks of pineapple and twirled slices of prosciutto. The salty slices where not di parma, but the drier, thicker kind. It all went well together but was nothing spectacular, except for the huge shrimp. The desserts are good but average, including Italian specialties like tartufo and tiramisu, plus Portuguese ones like serradura, which I found sort of bland.

If you want a great and unique steak meal for a mere $26.95, hie yourself down to the Ironbound section and get to Taste of Portugal. You won't regret it.

Shoot 'Em Up

I didn't like Crank. I'm not a big fan of Boondock Saints, either; it has plenty of moments, but none of them revolve around gunplay. Willem Dafoe makes that movie, and Billy Connolly helps. Smokin' Aces is another recent movie that thinks it's a lot crazier and shocking than it really was. Shoot 'Em Up seems made of the same cloth, but surpasses all three of them in both idiocy, and somehow, enjoyment.

The movie is about a man on a park bench who sees a pregnant woman chased by thugs, and tries to save her; he manages to save the baby, and spends much of the movie running around with the newborn in one hand and a gun in the other. You know, like Hard Boiled. He also does a lot of sliding around and shooting people. I've seen a lot of people sliding around shooting guns lately. I liked The Transporter, which had some amusing Woo-inspired action sequences, but put its own crazy tack on them by making its hero have to fight unarmed most of the time.

Paul Giamatti and Clive Owen are two interesting actors who I can watch in almost anything, and they are what salvage this movie. The movie has some slick visuals and dialogue that dives headfirst into self-parody. Clive Owen is Smith, who might as well have walked out of his role in Sin City. Smith likes to eat carrots; huge orange cock-like ones. The obvious joke is that he's the invincible Bugs Bunny; the movie lets us know we're watching a cartoon by having him say "Whats up doc?" and Giamatti reply "You're a wascally wabbit." After that, I was still sneering a little, but could see what they were going for.

Joe Carnahan (Smokin' Aces) likes to write stories involving criminals harvesting us for our blood or organs; his amusing first flick, Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane had a MacGuffin in the trunk of a classic car that turned out to be rare blood from a Mexican village that would cure a mobster's wife. The aforementioned Smokin' Aces had a hit on someone for a heart transplant. And this movie has Giamatti the Babyhunter for their bone marrow. The difference here is that Smokin' Aces got all dramatic.

Shoot 'Em Up is at least consistant, and it has some good fight music, like "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead, "If You Want Blood" by AC/DC, and "Breed" by Nirvana. It's sort of like watching a mash-up on youtube, except instead of great gunfights, we get repetitive ones conceived around sets where Smith can slide. If there was a scene with a Slip 'n Slide, I'd call it genius.

Crank also thought that making Jason Statham bone his girlfriend on a mailbox in Chinatown would be funny and shocking. When I read about the scene, I thought it would be funny. The execution was pretty stupid, and this movie has its own take on it. Smith is such a stud that he can shoot a dozen men when fucking his hooker friend and she's so amazed at his cocksmanship that she doesn't even notice. At least when Luc Besson and Quentin Tarantino and Seth Rogan come up with ideas when they're 13, it makes for amusing movies (The Fifth Element, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Superbad respectively). This just felt icky.

So why am I still watching it? While director Michael Davis isn't too original when it comes to action scenes, cribbing bullet-counting from Face/Off and babies lost during car chases from Raising Arizona, and a dozen other he manages to craft a crazy story behind the action with the help of his two slumming leads. It's bizarre but it works, and you start wondering what he'll do next. The action really isn't the draw; Smith wires up a bunch of guns for one scene, and likes jamming carrots through human heads, but that's really not the fun part. Seeing Giamatti and Owen chew up the scenery together is, however.

The movie would have been better if it was a little funnier; the dialogue is lacking, and the tone never really hits home until the end, where an inopportune phone call is the funniest part of the movie. It nearly gets serious, with a vague subplot about Smith's family, which would have completely ruined it. You don't go from having someone walk by the corpse of a woman shot breastfeeding her newborn and saying "nice knockers!" to anything remotely serious. I'll give it 2 .45's out of four.

So I've finally met one of these "cartoon gunfight" movies that sort of lives up to the hype. It's just missing one thing.

There's no scene with a Slip 'n Slide.

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