Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Le Samouraï - girl, gun.

Jean-Pierre Melville is a true master. This is something I seem to have internalized without seeing his films, and by seeing one of his least acclaimed films, Un Flic, first. I found it in a DVD bin, and found it a gripping cop thriller. And if that's mediocre, I wondered, what would great be? The next film of his I watched was the brutally oppressive picture of the French Resistance working in Nazi occupied France, Army of Shadows. I felt like a power drill was twisting my guts into knots, as I watched the agents operate, not knowing who would be betrayed, to be dragged off by Vichy scum. Or when vengeance could be wrought, years later. You feel the sense of terror these people must have had very clearly, and it stands as one of the great artistic representations of organized moral terror.
But Le Samouraï is something else. It takes the anti-hero of a contract killer named Jeff Costello and strips it down to the barest of essentials. A man, a code, a girl, a gun. It went on to inspire John Woo to make The Killer, Jim Jarmusch to create Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Luc Besson to give us Léon. We meet Jeff in his spartan flat, smoking a cigarette and watching the ceiling fan turn. A scene later cribbed by Francis Coppola for Apocalypse Now. A tiny caged bird flutters in its prison, tweeting discordantly and scattering feathers. Before the visuals begin, we are given one epigram: "There is no solitude greater than a samurai's, unless perhaps it is that of a tiger in the jungle.''
I read Roger Ebert's Great Movies review of this long before I saw it, and the detail of Jeff's flat containing only packs of cigarettes and bottled water struck me as brilliant. We never see Jeff eat. He is gaunt and haunts his surroundings like a spirit, in his long grey trench coat with the collar pulled up, and his immaculate fedora. He has a relationship with a call girl named Jane, but only uses her as an alibi, not for pleasure. He doesn't desire her, he needs her; this inspires her loyalty. As Jeff heads out for a job, he becomes robotic. He has a ring of car keys and slips into a Citroen, his eyes flicking side to side as he tries them all. Like the famous kitty cat clock, until one turns and he takes off. He slips into a jazz club to do his work, and faces his target.

Bar Owner: Who are you?
Jeff Costello: Doesn't matter.
Bar Owner: What do you want?
Jeff Costello: To kill you.

His work is done without splash or emotion; the jazz singer Valerie, perhaps intrigued by this fellow jungle cat, follows him to the hallway, and sees his face as he exits. His one mistake, catching her eye. Jeff lives in a drab world leached of all color. Noir is a black and white world where everyone is a shade of gray, but Melville chose color for Le Samouraï. And somehow it is still beautiful, unlike the overused desaturation we've seen everywhere since Saving Private Ryan. He is the perfect killer, and thus must face his diametric opposite, the unstoppable detective. Known only as The Superintendent, he immediately senses the professionalism of his prey and wastes no time, putting all his forces into play to catch this faceless assassin. We respect him, and our loyalties waver. Just a hair.
Of course, Valerie doesn't finger him, and neither does Jane. Alain Delon's Jeff is not merely handsome but intense and alluring, despite his stone face. His steely eyes exude his loneliness, and they are drawn to the abyss. The plot has been copied a dozen times; not only is he pursued by the police, but doublecrossed by his contractor. Instead of being paid, he's shot and escapes. He tends to his wounds with stoicism, in a scene that directly inspired the recent and memorable No Country for Old Men, when Chigurh plucks buckshot from his knee. As Jeff dodges the police and hunts down his employer for vengeance Melville delivers a spectacular foot chase through the metro. The French Connection and even The Taking of Pelham One Two Three owe a debt to this fantastic scene with double backs, escalator jumps, and even simple glances as Jeff spots the undercover cops with their transmitters, broadcasting his location.
This is deconstruction done right; the character and story of a contract killer whittled to the bone, where he resembles a Buster Keaton with his moral compass turned to magnetic south. The emptiness of a room, a life, a soul fills the screen with such rich minimalism that it proves that for a story, all you needed was a girl and a gun; Godard may have said it, but Melville proved it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

casting my bread upon the Waters

John Waters is one of my favorite people.

In autumn our thoughts turn to beer

Well, autumn is not alone in that respect. But the autumn seasonals are some of the most celebrated beers. I already wrote about High Point Brewing Company's Ramstein Oktoberfest release, but my mom sent me a link to CityGuide's list of Ten Great Fall Beers.

They have a nice selection put together, including my favorite pumpkin ale, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. That's #2 on their list, and for the money, this brown ale is my pick for best pumpkin beer. Sure, you can get a stronger flavor with Southern Tier's Pumpking, which tastes like pumpkin pie liqueur- but it becomes less drinkable. It's a sippin' drink. Wolaver's organic pumpkin ale, which I had at my cousin Lou's 50th birthday bash, is nearly the match of the Punkin. If you prefer lighter ales, this may be for you. I prefer the brown ale's heavier body and smooth mouth feel. They also recommend Smuttynose's Pumpkin Ale, and since I like their Porter, I'll give this one a try.

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen is one of the benchmark beers of the type, and I agree with its inclusion on the list. I've yet to try Ayinger's Märzen, but will when I see it. Brooklyn Oktoberfest also makes the cut, and it's a fine beer. I wouldn't overlook Samuel Adams' Oktoberfest either. It should be easily available in most areas. I think Sammy gets the brush-off sometimes because they've been around a long time and have gotten pretty big, but they still make a great beer and we owe them for helping kick start the craft beer obsession.

Another beer I'm intrigued by in writer Bret Stetka's list is Original Flag Porter from the U.K. Apparently it is made from yeast salvaged from a ship that sunk in 1825! Sure, Fossil Fuels Brewing has them beat by a few million years, but they both sound delicious. The "bold, malty" favors of Flag are right up my alley as winter creeps in, and who wouldn't want to try Jurassic beer?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bonzo goes to Scrotesburg

Where have all the bloggings gone, you ask? Milky and I took a road trip. We hit some good eating spots in Pennsyltucky and West Virginny, visited the Gettysburg battlefields, abandoned tunnels of old I-76, and the Mothman Museum. Photos and reviews will be forthcoming.

My stepfather's mother passed away while I was away, and the funeral is Monday, so expect the reviews of movies, greasy spoons and brews to appear this week once I get caught up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

hot dogs wrapped in bacon

At AFS, where I train in the deadly arts of Bando to use my mighty belly as a hammer to crush my foes, a fellow maniac said my blog made him hungry all the time, and asked: "Are you a chef?" My response? "No, I'm just a fatass!"
But I can cook well. Hot dogs wrapped in bacon isn't the toughest thing to do, so for the cooking impaired I'll show you how to make 'em. I made some for Milky and I when we watched Crank, and two filled us to the gills with delicious. First, wrap your hot dogs in bacon. I considered holding them with toothpicks but the cooking oil would burn them, but if you have small metal skewers they might help hold the bacon on.
Put some canola or grapeseed oil in a deep skillet or pan. I only used 1/2 an inch of oil, and turned the dogs over with tongs. If you have a deep fryer it would be easier, but with patience this will work. Heat the oil on high until it shimmers and a little piece of bacon fat starts to fry in it. Then lower the heat to med-low and CAREFULLY put your hot dogs in. Tongs will help here. A metal spatula will work.

Remember the first rule of cookery: Don't cook bacon when you're naked!! It splatters oil all over the place. Like on your balls. Or even your ovaries. It will take a few minutes per side to crisp up the bacon. There's a lot of moisture in bacon and it will splatter a lot. I have a fryer guard screen to cover the pan.
While your dogs are frying, toast your buns in the toaster and then put cheese on first. It's much less messy that way, and the bun will melt it some. I use Land O' Lakes White American cheese, because they put crack in it. That enhances the flavors. Lay out your condiments ahead of time. We had dill relish, crushed pineapple, Zatarain's Creole mustard, Sriracha Hot Sauce (also known as "the Cock"), Habanero chile sauce, chopped roasted green chiles, Vlasic Stacker sliced pickles, Hormel Chili, Mango Salsa, Tabasco Reserve, Sour Cream, Diced jalapenos, Banana pepper rings, and ketchup. What, no sauerkraut? Nope. I don't like it with bacon. It gets things all soggy. If you like it, squeeze it out in some paper towels.
To flip the dogs, I used dogs- about 3-4 minutes after they went in, and only the very top of the bacon wasn't cooked. So it only took another minute or two to crisp up. Deliver them right to the buns, and make your own wacky combinations.
My favorite was diced jalapenos, banana pepper rings, sour cream, mango salsa, crushed pineapple, roasted green chiles, and creole mustard. A bit spicy, but the sour cream & pineapple cools it off. I made a chili-cheese dog with Hormel canned chili, and will never use that again. It's tasteless and gave me the poops something fierce. There are other canned chilis out there, or make your own. We also regretted the lack of Nathan's Hot Dog Onions, which A&P did not have. For shame, A&P! Milky called his the Hot Pepper Rollercoaster. We called them all delicious.
For the record, I used Boar's Head natural casing hot dogs and bacon, gifted from my pal Brian the Meat Man. Fine products that I will use again. The dogs had some good flavor and snap, and the bacon had good smoky flavor. We used Martin's Potato Hot Dog Buns, soft with a bit of sweet. They toast very well.
We had them with Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, my favorite of the autumn seasonal pumpkin beers. It balances the firm full flavor of a brown ale with real pumpkin pie flavor. I've had pumpkinier beers, like Southern Tier, but Punkin Ale is more drinkable, and doesn't overpower other foods. I also had a Southhampton Alt Bier, which is a decent example of the variety. A little too malty, but the only bottled Alt I've had. When Abita Select was an Altbier, it was my favorite, but they aren't making it any more.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Friedkin vs. Mann in the 80's

It looks like William Friedkin and Michael Mann had a little tiff in the '80s. After the gritty crime thriller The French Connection, Friedkin made an aimless remake of Wages of Fear called Sorcerer, the daring but squirm-inducing flick Cruising, where Pacino goes undercover in the gay BDSM scene, and then the disastrous arms dealer comedy The Deal of the Century. He needed something to get him back in his element, and ex-Secret Service agent Gerard Petievich's thrilling novel Money Men was just the ticket. Retitled as To Live and Die in L.A., which would be incredibly apt once viewed, he made an '80s crime classic that may not top the tale of Popeye Doyle, but it comes close, and gives us one of cinema's unforgettable car chases.
Michael Mann was elbow deep in "Miami Vice" while this was made, and actually tried to sue Friedkin for plagiarism over this film; the script differs greatly from the novel and the colorful style is certainly influenced by the popular TV series. He lost, but he got his revenge by beating Friedkin out for the right to direct Thomas Harris's excellent serial killer novel Red Dragon, which became Manhunter. William Petersen would get his start as a bartender in Mann's debut, Thief (full review) and then as Chance in To Live and Die in L.A.; Mann got him back for Will Graham in Manhunter, which is perhaps his best role. Now he's a star of "CSI," but he had a great start with a pair of the best crime thrillers of the '80s.

L.A. begins much like Thief, showing us the details of counterfeiting as a paper man named Masters (Willem Dafoe) makes counterfeit plates and then bills from them. He's working out in the desert and before he can destroy all his evidence, he finds a Secret Service man digging through his dumpster and executes him brutally. Shotguns to the face. Later when the man's partner- Chance- follows his leads, they find the body in the dumpster. He wants revenge, of course; Masters has evaded the law for years, operates boldly in plain sight, and is a high profile target. Drives a black Ferrari and flaunts his money and flouts the law. He's a walking middle finger to the Secret Service. Willem Dafoe has always played an excellent villain and this is no exception. Chance gets partnered with the more straight-laced Vukovich (John Pankow), and as the saying goes, all it takes is one bad apple.

"Let me tell you something, amigo. I'm gonna bag Masters, and I don't give a shit how I do it."
Chance, however, is a man who'll do anything for his job. He's sleeping with an informant; he takes an informer (John Turturro) out of prison to lean on him, and loses him.When his boss won't get them $30,000 in front money to put a sting on Masters, he decides to rob another crook to get it. And when he does, all hell breaks loose- leading to a chase that begins in a truck and warehouse district full of forklifts, goes alongside a diesel train, into the concrete culverts of the L.A. River, and finally, and infamously, the wrong way down a freeway. They get their money. And the next day, they find out they hit an undercover FBI Agent. Oops.
Friedkin took a lot of pages from Mann's playbook for this movie. He used contemporary rock band Wang Chung for the soundtrack, which suits the film and era well. The song "Dance Hall Days" originates here. He used real counterfeiters as consultants, and the actors were concerned they'd be arrested once the opening scene was made public. Author Gerry Petievich has a cameo as an agent, and the film lusts over the mechanics of the criminal enterprise. Willem Dafoe's characterization of Masters resembles a Mann protagonist like James Caan in Thief, or Neil Cauley in Heat; a man driven by perfection of his work, with rigid codes. Except Friedkin leaves things too vague with his characters. Perhaps as residue from Cruising, people are owned by other people; Masters gifts a girl named Serena to his consort, Bianca; Chance may be sleeping with his informant Ruthie, but there is no love. The relationship is purely one of power; she informs, sleeps with him, and can operate without interference from the law. When Vukovich assumes the role of Chance, he tells her that he's essentially her new owner. "You're working for me, now."
John Pankow's performance as Vukovich is oft overlooked, but I found it more interesting than Petersen's emotional live wire as Chance. Oh, he's well played and very memorable, it's just a character type we've seen before- in both Friedkin and Mann's films. He brings great energy to it, and we never know just how far he'll go. For example, Vincent Hanna (Pacino) in Heat is bombastic, but we know he won't break the law to get Cauley. Bend it, sure. Ignore his family, definitely. Chance, on the other hand, is capable of anything, and they don't try to sugar coat it or make him likeable. Vukovich is what grounds us. He freaks out. He's panicking in the back seat as Chance barrels the wrong way down the freeway, looking like a jonesing cokehead racing toward his man. We get to see him worn down both by the invincibility of the criminal targets and Chance's disregard for the rules, as he slowly sees what made his new partner that way.

Pankow has an innocence to him, but by the end, he's had it burned out of him. And we know why. We've gone through hell with him, and can accept how he's changed. That's something I haven't seen in a Mann film. His men are unwavering, and often die for it. I've always felt that Mann's world was a noir fantasy. As much as I love his films, they are essentially Westerns modernized and given a biting film noir edge. We have the lone killer, the hero with his code, which can be his salvation or his undoing. Friedkin, on the other hand, makes tragic heroes out of his driven men. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, instead of behind cold eyes. Friedkin's films have a dirty reality behind them that makes them interesting vicarious interludes, but you wouldn't want to live there; Mann brings such style and glamour to his tales that we like to think we could swim along his sharks, when we'd be cut to pieces. They are quite alike and quite different, and two of my favorite film makers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kobe Dogs & a man with a 68" cucuzza

Let's go by phallic measurement, or pecking order if you will. Click the image above to see the article and the guy who grew a cucuzza- an Italian squash, and euphemism for his sazeech, his gabadone, his pistole- that was as tall as he was. Of course, the guy's name is Ben Longo. Yes, look at Longo's enormous cucuzza.

Cucuzza are relatively tasteless like large zucchini, but when cooked in a tomato based sauce with hot peppers, sort of like ratatouille, they are excellent and absorb all the flavors. They look like a lime green baseball bat and if you see them at your local farmer's market, give them a try.
Next, I finally had a "Kobe" hot dog. I highly doubt that high quality wagyu beef was used in these. I had them at Legends, the sports bar in the mid-30s that shows the LSU football games in Manhattan. They were good hot dogs, admittedly, but no better than some non-Kobe franks I've had. In fact, they tasted like Hebrew National. I've avoided Kobe sliders and franks because of this; it's like using Beluga caviar to make an omelet, or top shelf liquor for most mixed drinks- you're not going to taste the difference. I sure didn't. I liked them, but the Usinger's hot dog at Big Daddy's is more memorable. If I want "Kobe" or wagyu I want it rare and mostly untouched. Sorry I'm singling out Legends- they're a good bar with a good menu, and this was hardly a bad meal. It's just endemic of the Manhattan bar food world, that "Kobe sliders" are used to sucker people in, when a good bit of ground chuck cooked right would taste nearly as good, without the caché.
Firecracker got a crockpot and made some kick-ass pulled pork, which we turned into Memphis style BBQ sandwiches. I brought the corn! I do cook, and made bacon-wrapped hotdogs recently- photos will be shared soon. This was some really good BBQ. If you love you some pork, a crockpot is definitely a must. Make your own!
Another time, for breakfast, my girl made me waffles. Isn't she the best? I made the bacon and eggs- cooked in the bacon fat, of course- and decided to make a breakfast sandwich out of them. Now, am I the first guy to think of this? I've had ice cream sandwiches made of waffles, but it makes you wonder why more breakfast sandwiches aren't made this way. I once made a peanut butter and honey sandwich out of Egg-Os, and I heartily recommend using waffles as bread. The honeycomb structure is ideal for collecting drips of egg yolk, as well as the standard maple syrup. Give it a try.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

this sign makes me cry.

Friday, September 18, 2009

80's Trash of the Week: The Hidden

The Hidden had to have influenced Rockstar Games to create Grand Theft Auto. The movie opens with a model citizen shooting up a bank, hopping into a Ferrari and leading the cops on a destructive chase across Los Angeles that ends with him smashing through a roadblock only to be gunned down and set on fire by his own exploding car. Then in the hospital, he gets a new life and wakes up with no guns, and sets out to wreak more havoc. In another body of course...
Grizzled L.A. cop Tom Beck (soap opera vet Michael Nouri) pumps the final bullets into the maniac, and follows to the hospital later. But the Feds- represented by a Porsche-driving Kyle MacLachlan as the oddly quiet Agent Lloyd Gallagher- step in, and while Beck at first bristles at this intrusion, he learns to like his partner's unorthodox style, and habit of driving a Porsche at high speeds through L.A. We find out what "the hidden" is almost immediately, as our mortally wounded bad guy grabs the patient in the bed next to him and pukes up a squealing black space slug into his mouth. Ew.
I came upon this lost gem through Dreamin Demon and while I may snicker at the comparisons to The Terminator (full review), this is one surprisingly good B movie that outshines many of the bigger flicks of its era. You've got to hand it to William Boyett- veteran of trash such as Space Raiders- for equaling Vincent D'Onofrio's turn in Men in Black at portraying an alien using a human body like a cheap Halloween costume. He really looks like he's controlled by a space slug in his abdomen. And the best part about this slug is that it loves Ferraris, guns, strippers and booze.
Like a long episode of Outer Limits, they have to keep chasing down the host creature but can't manage to kill the Hidden creature within before it can find another body. The most memorable scene is probably after it invades one of the strippers from a nightclub, and she whips out a streetsweeper shotgun to pepper the cop cars with buckshot. I remember seeing that in the trailer, and several times on HBO before I got to see this movie. And while the acting is relatively hilarious, and the direction by Jack "Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Homoerotic College Years" Sholder is uninspired, The Hidden has many charms that make it fun to watch. Kyle MacLachlan brings a bemused aloofness to his role as alien hunter, and even movies like Crank don't rise to the level of a good run of mayhem in Vice City that this managed 22 years ago. Written by Jim Kouf- who'd pen The Boogens, Stakeout, and Rush Hour- it clunks along but has an interesting premise of alien possession and never takes itself too seriously.
Claudia Christian was a real hottie in this one, and got to have some fun as well. The alien is amused by her body and before Kristiana Loken's Terminator-X inflated its chest, it realized the power of the human boobies.
"When a flamethrower appears in the first act, it must go off by the second act." -Anton Chekhov.

All 68 entries in our ongoing series of 80's Trash of the Week are here.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? It needs to be.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: High. Arcturian goat cheese
High Points: MacLachlan, shootouts and chases, FIRE!
Low Point: Slow
Gratuitous Boobies: Claudia Christian in hot clothes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

sad losses

Patrick Swayze. Never took himself too seriously, immortalized in Road House and Red Dawn. I still haven't seen Dirty Dancing - despite growing up among a gaggle of girls, and having seen Grease and Xanadu more times than I care to admit - but you left your mark. Thanks for making the women of my generation want to dance dirty.

Johnny Ramone. That rare right-wing punk rocker, he didn't let political differences get in the way of rocking his brains out and leading the punk revolution without advertising for some wanker's bondage clothing store. Lost him to the "Big C" as well, and he kept it private. Your guitar helped save rock 'n roll.

Henry Gibson. Character actor extraordinaire. Everyone's favorite Illinois Nazi from The Blues Brothers, he helped revolutionize TV comedy on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. He played the bad guy a lot in comedies like The 'Burbs, but got his start singing in Altman's Nashville- which I need to see again now. We'll miss you.

Mary Travers. Mary of Peter, Paul & Mary, her music is simply part of American culture now. One of the most easily recognizable folk groups of the '60s, their songs have a timeless quality. Who doesn't know "Puff, the Magic Dragon"?

Bánh mì, bon ami

I've longed for the Vietnamese sandwich known as the Bánh mì. I've heard foodies wax orgasmic about them, and had to try one. How good can a sandwich be? This good.
Okay, maybe this is a sandwish, but when they are this good you can deal with a little Engrish. Mangez Avec Moi on Church Street near Ground Zero is tucked in an unassuming little storefront with stripes, and for $6 they'll serve you a sandwich made of chicken satay, pork chop, Vietnamese ham, or turkey with pickled carrots and daikon radish, fish sauce, some jalapenos, cucumbers and mayo on a special baguette made of wheat and rice flour. This gives it a lighter taste and crunch, which goes well with the snappy veggies and tangy meat within. Light, delicious, and unique, the Bánh mì is worth hunting down. This place is just convenient to me, and does it well.
As you can see it's not humongous or overflowing, but it's easy to eat on the run. We took ours to Battery Park and watched the ferries roll in, and the koi jump in the nearby pond. The shop also sells various Vietnamese snacks like shrimp chips, summer rolls, candies and everyone's favorite spice, Sriracha Cock Sauce. The ham was very good, next time I try the pork chop. We got there after 6pm and they had run out of a few like chicken satay.
The storefront. Easy to miss. There's also a sit-down joint next door.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hangover Helper at the Brownstone Diner

After Firecracker's apartment-warming party I slept until noon- a rare vice for me- and when we woke, the sun was like Larry Miller said- "like God's flashlight." So we went to the Brownstone Diner in Jersey City for their justly famous pancakes.
This is peaches and walnuts with a side of sausage. I couldn't wait to take a photo. I dove in to their peachy syrupy goodness and never looked back. They were delicious. Fluffy, soft, buttery goodness; never spongy or dry, always full of flavor. Firecracker had peanut butter & chocolate chip, her usual. With a banana to try to make it healthy. That was good too- I prefer fruit with my flapjacks.
There was of course a line at brunch-time on a Sunday in hipsterville, but it wasn't a long wait at all. They keep things moving, the service is prompt, and the kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine. good coffee, great 'cakes. So filling, and reasonably priced. I found out about this on Diners, Drive-Ins and Douchebags with my nemesis Guy Ramsey Ferry, but friends Rob & Suzanne live in the area and knew it. We went previously, and I had one of their enormous omelets. This may be my favorite Jersey Diner, and we have a LOT to choose from.
They can definitely call themselves a Pancake Factory, as they serve a full house with great efficiency. Maybe they extrude them like Play-Doh and slice them? It doesn't taste like it. They are some of the best. Next time- burgers. Diner burgers always disappoint me in their mediocrity. I bet the Brownstone will surprise me. I will report back!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

come with Pépé le Moko to Le Casbah

I finally watched Pépé le Moko, the crime film set in the Casbah of Algiers with Jean Gabin as a Parisian crook holed up in its seedy labyrinth. As a lifelong fan of Pepe le Pew, I almost fell for director John Cromwell's attempt to erase this film by buying up prints and destroying them. See, he directed the remake Algiers with Charles Boyer and Hedy (Hedley!) Lamarr, and didn't want the French classic by Julien Duvivier around for comparison. Now I've seen both, and while Hedy is gorgeous, see this one. Jean Gabin brings great life to the notorious thief Pépé le Moko.
I'd seen Gabin before and admired his skill in Grand Illusion and the lesser-known early noir Port of Shadows, and he's equally excellent here. Like the skunk that would later spoof him, he has an effortless way with women; he exudes such confidence, and moves through the exotic world of the Casbah as naturally as a jungle cat in its realm. According to wikipedia, Graham Green cited this story as an influence on The Third Man, and the story is similar, except we meet Harry right away. Pepe is king of his domain, his small pond that he cannot escape. The cops set up traps, but he's eluded them for two years, playing cards and pulling small heists with his gang. It's not until Gaby, a Parisian beauty trophy-wife of a fat businessman who visits Algiers for the thrill of it, shows up that Pepe remembers the City of Lights and yearns for his home.
In the meanwhile we get a gritty gangster tale as stool pigeons are lured by the cops, and their victim, returning to Pepe's hideout with a bullet wound, is helped to shoot the snitch with his dying breath. That's part of what made the movie so appealing, how it balanced a crime tale with romance equally well. Its influence would go on much further than cartoons, and the dangerous beauty of Algiers would inspire even greater films such as Casablanca and the aforementioned Third Man. The remaining prints are soft and scratchy at times, but the poetic realism style holds up especially well today, and never feels old fashioned. In fact, some parts seem a little brutal if you see them through classic-film glasses; there's no Hayes Code here.
The tough guy whose heart betrays him is now an icon of cinema, and Jean Gabin's Pépé le Moko is one of the first and the greatest. Like Humphrey Bogart after him, he was able to convey immutable strength and yet, weakness inside that would engender our empathy, not our contempt. He was more handsome than Bogey, which makes his tough guy persona harder to sell, but he does it effortlessly. He's rough around the edges; used to getting what he wants. He slaps around the young crook he mentors, like he was surely cuffed by his own teacher; and Gaby is both aroused and frightened by his street manners. It's not easy to be so confident and not come off as cocky, which would lose us from his side. Gabin knew how to pull it off, and this is probably his best demonstration.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Copenhagen, too much is just enough

Another blast from the past, this was a delicious decadent monstrosity of a burger I had in Copenhagen with my friend Sonny the Viking. It just goes to show you that America doesn't have the insane burger market cornered, not one bit. This biggie was topped with a fried egg, curry sauce, and caviar. I think with the exchange rate it was $12, or 3836 kröner. The thick cut fries in the background were well spiced and charred to tasty crispness. The place was called Sporjeven and their website has few words in English, but "probably the best burger in town" is right there. And while I didn't sample many- we had fried eel, doner kebab, and sushi- I'd say this was one of the most memorable burgers in my worldly travels. I think it was the Karryburger but I like typing Hvidløgsburger, so I'm calling it that (even though that's a garlic burger).

Sonny overlooking a platter of fried eels (from his hovercraft)

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Ramstein Brewery's Oktoberfest Lager

I have the hardest time explaining Oktoberfest to the non-beer lovers. "Why is it in September?" Well, it's complicated. High Point Brewing Company founder Greg Zaccardi gave us a bit of history at the 2009 Open House tour at the Brewery this year. Oktoberfest commemorates the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese in 1810, which was held on October 18th. But in modern times, it has begun in the last two weeks of September and runs until early October. It celebrates the end of the harvest, when there is actually time to celebrate. Nowadays, we just celebrate great beer and how it brings friends together. And that's reason enough!
The brewery's Oktoberfest lager is unfiltered, but the lagering process makes it a sparkling clear dark amber reminiscent of fine whiskey. It has a crisp yet malty flavor but is remarkably light and delicious, a refreshing brew great for the end of a workday that won't be heavy in your belly. This award-winning lager remains a spectacular beer that is well worth the wait, every year. According to the excellent Beer Stained Letter blog the brewery doubled their output this year, but it remains keg and draft only. The bars have siphoned up the supply, so if you want to try it, find a bar that serves it, or come to the October open house (second Saturday of the month) and get a growler filled. They have growlers on hand, and take credit cards. The brewery is open most workdays and some weekends, check their website for their phone number and call ahead.
We had a great time, meeting friends old and new. The brewery served up some wurst, German potato salad, sauerkraut, pretzels, cheese and more. It was all very good, and there was plenty for everybody. Also on hand was Ted of SR Fresh Hot Sauces, offering tastes of their Cherry Cayenne and Habanero Gold sauces. They were both very tasty and not dangerously hot. Of course, myself and Milky had to try the Pure Habanero that Ted had on hand. It was ridiculously hot but still had flavor. I hope they're back next time, I may pick up one of each!
The Oktoberfest lager is served from kegs, but to make things special they crack open a barrel of it, to open the celebration. Here's video of the grand event:

Let's not forget the men who do all the hard work serving us up the beer. Check out those guns from pulling beer taps all day.
And here's Brian, the man who fills the growlers. A bad day working at a brewery is better than the best day working in an office! He does a great job filling our bottles and keeping the foam down. Thanks for the hard work, man!
I haven't written about the Brewery in a while, but they truly make some of my favorite beers. Their flagship Ramstein Blonde Weiss with its toasty notes, is a classic of the form. Their seasonals like the Oktoberfest Lager and Maibock are simply fantastic, and worth hunting down. In winter, their Winter Wheat doppelbock is one of the tastiest, chocolatey beers you'll ever find- and is available in stores. Their Classic Wheat dunkelweiss shouldn't be overlooked either- it's readily available, when dunkels are fairly rare, and it's great to drink all year round. They truly make a craft beer at the High Point Brewing Company, and any lover of good beer should make time to try their world class brews.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

8 on the Break - oldest video game arcade?

MJ on the DDR!

8 on the Break is "the oldest continually open arcade" according to its website, running since 1973. Located in Dunellen, New Jersey just off Route 22- for my money, the most annoying highway in America- it's open late and serves cheap food like $2.25 cheese steaks and deep fried Oreos so yo can burn off the calories stomping to Dance Dance Revolution.
Sadly their classic game stable is pretty slim. They have Bubble Bobble, and I saw a few dead cabinets of Mr.Do! and Ms. Pac-Man. But they have a great selection of music, shooting, fighting games, and head to head racing games, as well as pinball.
Here's Milky playing as Jack Bauer on the 24 pinball. I played the Universal Monsters one. I wish they had Terminator 2, but they do have a Simpsons machine. Unfortunately for real classic games you still have to hit the Shore. We were hoping for Turtles in Time, which we played on Xbox Live a few nights ago. Or the Simpsons arcade game, haven't played that in ages. It's a nice night spot and the food looks good- hard to go wrong with a $2 sandwich! They were out of fried Oreos. Next time I'll sneak a food review in, but it will be a while for me. The late '90s arcade games weren't my faves, and I suck at Bubble Bobble.

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