Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beer & Oysters - Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout

"'Twas a brave man, who first ate an oyster."
--Jonathan Swift

I'm really enjoying Flying Fish Brewery's NJ Turnpike Exit Series of beers. It's so quintessentially New Jerseyan to celebrate one of our state's greatest eyesores and hellholes, and they're doing it with excellent brews. I reviewed their excellent Exit 11 a while back, which was an American Wheat Ale. Their Exit 1 is a classic Oyster Stout, made with oysters and shells! This was a popular type of stout in England public houses when a pint of stout might be the most vitamins a man would have all day. Now, it's just a smooth and tasty malty stout that goes great with a dozen on the half shell. The Exit beers only come in 750ml wine bottles, so share with a friend!
I was alone since Firecracker headed home for Christmas, so why not drink away my sorrows? I got these at Whole Foods, along with an Oxo shucking knife. Cost $20. But the experience of shucking oysters for the first time was worth the money. Scrub the oysters well, and discard any that aren't tightly closed.
I opted for Drago's Char-broiled Oysters recipe. I like them raw, but I missed these from Louisiana, so what better to eat when I missed by Baton Rouge baby? You'll need melted butter, fresh parsley, lemon juice, minced garlic, Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, lots of grated Parmesan, and a little Tabasco. Mix it all up!
Shucking an oyster is easy if you're patient and confident. Clamp the oyster flat side up in a dish towel, with the pointy end sticking out. Press the point of the knife into the hinge and wiggle it until you get in there and can twist it open. Slide the knife down into the valley of the shell to separate the meat, then do the same to the top. When the knife goes into the hinge you should feel it try to close; it's alive, after all. Quickly separate the meat to put the poor oyster out of its misery, you heartless hungry bastard!
Cover each one with the cheese and butter and parsley mixture and broil them until the cheese bubbles and the edges begin to brown. I went a little lighter because I didn't use enough cheese- a cardinal sin- and I wanted the meat to remain juicy. There's also a salmon patty in the corner. I didn't have any bread in the house, but I'll be warming a nice crusty loaf in the oven to soak up the juices, when I do this again. I also used a bit much parsley, but I like it so that's fine. Next time, I'll mince it finely.
I like how it turned out- less like Oysters Rockefeller and more like Felix and Acme's char-broiled oysters. The sweet shellfish really only need a little seasoning. But, on to the beer! The chocolatey smooth stout went very well with them. Because cooking oysters gives them a mild fishy flavor, the strong stout went well with them. I think it might drown out the delicate flavors of raw oysters, but I'll buy another bottle and try that next. Because now the Plucker is a mother shucker, and I'll be eating them at home more often. The stout's a winner- it's not too heavy like the Samuel Adams Imperial Stout that's sat in my fridge for months- that's tasty but too heavy to drink! I'm gonna make stew and chili with it. Flying Fish is quick becoming my favorite New Jersey brewer, because their varieties are readily available and quite good. And their Exit series has been fantastic!

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
--Lewis Carroll, "The Walrus and the Carpenter"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from John McClane

Ho ho ho

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RIP, Pretzy

Arnold Stang, "Pretzy" from Milky & I's beloved Arnie film Hercules in New York (full review), has died at the age of 91. He was most famous as the voice of "Top Cat" and Catfish from "Jabberjaw," as well as the bespectacled Ray from It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He had serious roles too, such as Sparrow in The Man with the Golden Arm, alongside Sinatra. He was a likeable character, and may he rest in peace. Maybe he's selling pretzels in Olympus.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hey, we're not birds! We're a Jug Band!

The grass does not grow on the places where we stop and stand!We're the River Bottom Nightmare Band!

Ah, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas Special. It was one of my favorite Jim Henson creations. The music is great, the characters come to life, in the end Heavy Metal TRIUMPHS. It doesn't have a smarmy happy ending; there's no miracle, and the otter family still has to struggle. But they've come together and found their talents, and perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the years to come, if Doc Bullfrog is true to his word.

It's a simple tale based on O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," as Ma Otter and her son Emmet both vie for the prize in a talent contest so they can buy one another the gifts they want for Christmas- a piano, and a guitar with mother of pearl inlays. It's based on a children's book by Russell Hoban, who may be more famous for writing a cult classic post-apocalyptic novel called Riddley Walker. I had no idea. Strange coincidence, is it not? The songs were written by none other than '70s icon Paul Williams, he of The Phantom of the Paradise who appeared on many Muppet show episodes too.

It all comes together as a tale of bittersweet poverty that reinforces the adage that your health and your loved ones are the real gifts to be thankful for, and that talent and hard work never go unrewarded. Even if the biker gang rock band leaves you in their dust. I haven't watched this one in a few years, but recently found that my sister has a copy, and we'll be watching it this Christmas Eve, I'm sure.

Since the internet is bare of the music, here's a band covering the Nightmare song at Lee's Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar: Nature Trail to Hell... in 3-D

I've always liked James Cameron's films. Even Titanic. But the commercials for his newest epic, Avatar, did not grab me. The aliens had a hint of the uncanny valley effect, due to their wide leonine noses, and the theme seemed indistinct. But after Roger Ebert- that 3-D and CG hater, gave it four stars, I decided to trust that James didn't get nitrogen narcosis from those underwater movies he's been making, and got tickets to a 3-D show at a real IMAX theater- not one of the many "a li'l bit bigger" IMAX screens in regular theaters that seem to be diluting the brand. I got ripped off at the AMC 25 Empire in NYC seeing The Dark Knight on a screen that didn't wow me, and I didn't want to get a bad impression with this film, that is supposedly set to change how we think about 3-D.
The movie starts with no credits and you're immediately thrust into the 3-D jungle planet of Pandora, as Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) gives us a little history about the planet, who he is, and why he's there. He's a Marine who lost the use of his legs, but is being shipped out to replace his identical twin brother. The planet is so hostile that we explore it by mental link to genetically grown avatars of the local Na'vi people, 12 foot tall azure warriors who resemble Comanche meet the Maasai, and who don't trust us, because we only want their planet for the resources. They have good instincts. Cameron gives us a bleak corporate future we'll remember from Aliens; it's 2134 and Jake is a paraplegic? Sure there's a cure, he just can't afford it on Veteran's benefits. Sound familiar?
Earth's presence on Pandora is corporate; led by Parker (Giovanni Ribisi), they seek an antigravity mineral called unobtainium, a reference to an old Duck Dodgers cartoon that tells us it's a MacGuffin, it doesn't matter; they just have something we want. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, looking as good as ever) is the science contingent, studying the Na'vi people and the planet's complex ecology. And Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang, the bad-ass sheriff from Public Enemies) is the military arm, "defending" the construction workers as they drive huge earth movers through the Na'vi homeland. When Jake shows up, he's meant to help repair the relationship with the Na'vi. But of course, Parker and Quaritch have deadlines to meet.
The story isn't that complex and if you know Cameron and Screenwriting 101, it is a little bit predictable; but the richness of the world and the director's experience in endearing characters to us through simply observing them make it remain an exciting adventure. The world of Pandora is dangerous and bizarre, and the Na'vi aren't just "close to nature," they're still a part of it. They aren't a simple allegory for American Indians, they are their own indigenous people. Their biology lets them bond with their horse-like mounts and flying dragon-like beasts without relying on hackneyed telepathy. It's clever and thrilling, something we haven't seen before.
Jake meets a Na'vi woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) on a mission and after proving himself against Pandora's host of hostile wildlife, he is introduced to the tribal elders- played by Wes Studi and CCH Pounder without stereotype. He gets an exclusive access to their culture and trains to be one of them, or at least his Na'vi avatar does. And he begins to see as they do. Through purely human means. It's been a science fiction convention that "mind melds" and what not are what changes us, but the morality is so black and white that Jake sees it on his own. I liked that.
Of course, there will be a final battle between the people of the jungle and the military, with their mecha power-suits and twin-rotor gunships. We expect nothing less. And we do not get a silly battle as in The Phantom Menace; it is brutal, and no brilliant guerrilla tactics are going to give the Na'vi a sort of Ewok invulnerability. But seeing the blue warriors ride their bat-winged saurian mounts against gunships, and fire arrows the size of spears was exhilarating. Soldiers in powersuits with bayonets the size of chainsaws in melee with huge, agile aliens had a grin plastered on my face. And since it's Cameron, you always know what is going on in the battle and aren't given shaky-cam headaches.
But there is more to this than an action film. I loved the richness of Pandora, the bizarre ecology down to the phosphorescent fungi and tiny floating jellyfish. It's well planned and not a mish-mash of cool creatures. Some seem reptilian, others mammalian, and they have gills of a sort to filter the atmosphere that kills humans in minutes. There's so much to see that Cameron had to use depth of field and objective focus to show us what to look at; apparently some are getting headaches from tryig to focus on what's not in the field. Since he's not throwing rocks and spears at us non-stop to show off the 3-D, try to relax and focus on what's obvious. Then everything settles and you see the depth in the screen. One excellent example comes early, when Jake awakes from cryo-sleep in the zero gravity of a spaceship. We've seen zero gravity before, but it looks so real in 3-D. The detail of the CG is so crisp that not once did I balk. Beowulf it ain't. The textures are amazing. This one lives up to the hype.

Five 3-D blue boobies out of 5
(and yes, it was really funny seeing Michelle Rodriguez run in a t-shirt in 3-D. Thanks, Mr. Cameron!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

DBGB - Delicious Beer Great Burger

I have a new favorite burger in NYC. HB Burger nearly grabbed this crown a few weeks ago, but its patty, while flavorful, was a little too thin. DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Daniel Boulud's retaurant on the Bowery by 2nd, makes a burger as beefy and flavorful, moister than Les Halles grilled-to-order sirloin, and with artful toppings that compliment and exponentially amplify its signature flavors. We have a winner. There's always a burger contender on the block; but Les Halles was the Matt Hughes of my burger world, to use a UFC analogy. It's been there for a year. I'll have to go back and see if they've improved, now that DBGB has stolen the jester's thorny crown.

Sorry it's blurry. My hands were greasy with bone marrow!

DBGB is a charcuterie, a French style sausage fest with an excellent beer selection. It is a bit pricey. After 3 beers a piece, two apps, burgers and desserts we were set back $170. But goodness were we sated. We both semi-starved because it was our 3rd anniversary, and I took Firecracker to Element Beauty Lounge for a massage and mani-pedi. I just got a massage. And the masseuse was a masseur. He was Korean, but didn't look enough like Rain to made me want a happy ending. Anyway. The food! DBGB is a busy place, and even with 9:30 reservations it took us about 10 minutes to be seated at a cozy table by a pillar. The bartenders were friendly and knowledgeable, and when FC ordered a berliner-weisse, they offered a shot of creme de cassis to compliment its crisp champagne-like flavor. My first beer was Harviestoun Brewery's "Old Engine Oil" porter, which is a perfect winter brew. Smooth but rich and malty, with toasty coffee and chocolate notes.

We waited long enough to have a second round, with the 'Cracker having that classic Scheider Weisse, and I grabbing Six Point's Mason Black Wheat. That was a lot like a Black Lager in concoction, with a smooth fruity wheat beer start and a snappy malty finish. Six Points is rising to the top of my new favorites- their Sweet Action, which I had at the Brooklyn Ale House, was superb. After being seated, our apps came out quickly. We ordered the bone marrow plate with toast triangles, and one of their house-made sausages- the Vermont cheddar wurst. Both were fantastic. I was expecting more marrow, but it is so rich, I'm glad there was just enough to dab each tiny bit of toast. They slathered some homemade stoneground mustard on the bone, and it came with a single slice of Katz's pastrami twirled with watercress. For $17, you can put two on the plate for sharing, guys. But it was delicious. The sausage was a juicy, cheesy pork explosion. You can easily make a meal out of picking different sausages here, and you wouldn't be disappointed.

But you know me. As much as I like a big meaty sausage, burgers are my true calling. And what was so good that it knocked Bourdain's burger from the gold to the silver? We ordered two, the Piggie (topped with pulled pork) and the Frenchie (with thin, crisped pork belly). they are 6oz burgers, just the right size. Plump and juicy. They lean toward rare- Firecracker wasn't thrilled with her "medium" being so pink, but I loved my "medium rare" leaning to rare. It was cooked and didn't have the metallic tartare flavor of a too-rare burger. It was beefy bliss. The crust on the seared meat lent salty char to the flavor, and the note of well-marbled beef was uninterrupted throughout. The pork belly was thin enough to not overwhelm, and came off as rich bacon that wasn't chewy enough to interfere with mouth feel. The bun, a mild and buttery round, just fit the burger and also complimented, without getting in the way.
One caveat. The pulled pork was amazing. Some of the best I've had. But it smacked you like Tony Danza, and made you wish you got a pulled pork sandwich instead of a burger. It's really that good. They both come with excellent fries, crisp and tasty. I think Bourdain has the edge in the frites department, but it's been a while. Another reason to go check. The Frenchie comes with some house-pickled, tart cornichons and the piggie is topped with a likewise pickled jalapeno, which packs more fire than many habaneros I've eaten. I'm no stranger to hot food. But from experience, let me warn you, if you eat this pepper wash your hands BEFORE you go to the bathroom. Sweet baby James, I was smiling like a Cheshire cat with Vap-o-rub in his jock strap through dessert.

And yes, we had dessert. They make a fantastic sundae. The mocha variety has tiny brownies and cookies in it, and manages to be airy enough to make finishing it seem possible. I had a pear ice cream sandwich, which had pear compote in it. It had great crust. Then again I prefer mild desserts that cleanse the palate and keep your gut from exploding, and this hit the spot. The final beers were Kiuchi, a Japanese white ale with spicy cardamom and lemon notes, and a Belgian pumpkin ale that tasted too much like a tripel to go with dessert. I wish our waiter was as beer-smart as the bar gal was. Overall, it was an excellent dining experience of the gastro-pub variety. Easier to get into than The Spotted Pig, but not as cozy and rustic. The food is a notch above, though I like the simplicity of a fried pig ear. So we'll be back to the Pig sometime as well. Their roquefort burger is a contender worthy of battling DBGB's excellent Frenchie. Until then, I tell Daniel Boulud:

MMM-hmm! That IS a tasty burger!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Occupation: Viking! Severed Ways

I had planned this Viking project many months before finally renting Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America. I heard it was about Vikings vs. American Indians, and was set to metal. I though it would be something like Pathfinder (full review) only less stupid. It was much less stupid, but it was also less entertaining. My alternate title for it would be The Blairviking Poopwitch Project.

It too recreates the meeting of Vikings and Native Americans (called Skraelings here) in 1007 A.D., only this time the Vikings flee, riddled with arrows by a force with superior numbers and a proclivity for fighting in choked forests instead of farm villages. Two men are left behind, and decide to make their way north to a settlement, through enemy territory. At first, the slow camerawork and over-saturated colors reminded me of a parody of Terence Malick, and I was very patient with it. It has a documentary feel in parts, and is entirely in Norse with subtitles.

The colors, children! The colors!

A short time later, we get to watch him take a dump in the woods, as graphic as Pink Flamingos without any of the shock humor, and wipe with leaves. At first, I thought, alright. It's a survival picture; we never get to see the mundane and boring stuff in movies about survival. This could be interesting, in a primitive survival sort of way. They spear some fish, we watch them cook on hot rocks by the fire, and thankfully they make fire a lot quicker than Tom Hanks in Cast Away. And then, while they are cutting firewood, metal starts playing and one of the Vikings starts headbanging.
Now, I love me some Scandinavian metal. Dimmu Borgir, Moonsorrow, drone like Sunn O))) and folk like Korpiklaani. And I applaud the inclusion of Dimmu Borgir on the soundtrack. But until now the tone has been utterly different. A few hours later they see some monks, attack them because hey, we're Vikings, and burn the only shelter they've found. Milky explained it best: Why are they burning the church down? Because metal is playing. The rest of the story plays out with helpful title cards like "Separation," so you know they'll get separated. One guy gets captured by "Skraelings," and a woman ties him up and hops on his Viking sword. No, you don't see anything.
I liked arty films better when it meant gleeful nudity, instead of a guy taking a dump in the woods. Will our boring Viking comrades find each other? Can they escape the wilderness? Do American Indians see in weird tunnel vision, as the cinematographer would have us believe? You'll never know unless you rent this. For Odin's sake, don't buy it. Even if you're a freak with a Viking poopfetish, I'm sure you can find it online. I wanted to like this, but it's a tedious and pretentious mess. The idea and the concept are pretty cool- even dubbing the entire thing in Norse- but the characters never manage to evoke a personality, and the pointless plot is predictable and so sparse that its running time is mostly filled with shaky footage of a guy lugging a camera around in the woods. And filming poop.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America on Netflix

All reviews in the Occupation: Viking project

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Southern Discomfort

I saw Southern Comfort on HBO in the early '80s long before I knew who Walter Hill was; I liked The Warriors and Streets of Fire and 48 Hrs. (full review) but I hadn't connected them as the work of one director yet. I remembered it as a cheap Deliverance knockoff, so I wanted to refresh my memory.
The story is a simple one. A squad of Louisiana National Guard are training in the bayou. They aren't the best and brightest; their Sergeant is straight laced, but the boys have some whores lined up for fun after maneuvers, and they want to get done quick. Among them is a loaner from Texas named Hardin, played by Powers Boothe; Fred Ward as a crude loudmouth named Reece, Keith Carradine as a sarcastic self-deprecating smartass named Spencer, and T.K. "Nauls from The Thing" Carter. That gives us some solid character acting on board and a beloved cult director, so let's see how much comfort it gives us for the next two hours.
During training, the lazy fellows are in Cajun country, and have no respect for the swamp folks; Reece calls them coon-asses. He cuts their nets as they wade through the bayou, completely unmindful of the snakes, gators, gar and other critters. They're city boys, and some comparison to the culture clash between Americans and Vietnamese. The Cajuns speak their French patois, live off the land, and just want to be left alone. The Guard boys have blanks for training, and the guy with the M60 likes pranking people with it. When they come upon some pirogues (canoes) and decide to take borrow them as a shortcut, he fires at their rightful owners when they're caught. Problem is, the hunters in the swamp have guns with real ammo, and they fire back.
The soldiers are green and panic, and end up lost in the bayou, with a few bullets each, surrounded by inhospitable territory and people who live in it, who they've made their enemies. Sound familiar? Not long after they regroup and go a little wild, they capture a Cajun trapper played by Brion James. He speaks only French, and his lines are especially funny if you understand a little. He's stoic and laconic, and when they come upon a stringer of 8 dead rabbits- coincidentally the same number of soldiers- they think it's a warning and are creeped out. They demand an answer from him, and he just says, "lapin!" Sonny "Billy from Predator" Landham plays another of the hunters, but doesn't get any lines.
The rest plays out mostly as expected- some men cling to reason and military procedure, others want revenge and grasp for power in the confusion. When they realize they are being hunted, some lose it, and they never come to terms with how dangerous the land alone is, even when it is used against them. We do get to see a more pleasant face of backwoods Cajun life as two of the men come upon a small town and join in a crawfish boil, pig roast and celebration. Unfortunately the story structure is a bit muddled and the ending comes 20 minutes too late. It spends a little too much time whittling down the Guards with clever traps like a slasher film, when it should have stuck to the war film formula. It's still an enjoyable film, in Walter Hill's best pastiche of a Sam Fuller B-movie.
The very end slows as the rescue arrives, but comparing National Guardsmen taking it easy at home in '73 to soldiers in Vietnam running for the medevac chopper is a bit much. I would have loved the festival scene to continue its creepy vibe, where they are unsure if the ropes being strung up are for slaughtering pigs for the feast, or for hanging interloping soldiers. I would have liked them to panic and turn on their hosts, but instead it continues the slasher vibe. Not a great movie, but a good one, and the bayou has never been bleaker. It was filmed on location and Hill's crew suffered in the wet and cold. Ry Cooder's excellent soundtrack, with some traditional Cajun music by Dewey Balfa, helps set the film's excellent tone, which makes the foggy swamp one of the creepiest settings in a long time. Southern Comfort may not be one of Hill's best, but it's definitely an interesting take on the Vietnam metaphor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Killer Elite

"There's not one power system that really cares about its civilians!"
This was written as a contribution to Agitation of the Mind's Peckinpah Month blogathon! go check it out.

James Caan. Robert Duvall. Burt Young. Mako. Sam Peckinpah. Sounds like fun, don't it? Well it is. This lesser known Peckinpah film was made during the nadir of his relationship with Hollywood, when no producer would give him a dime; eventually Mike Medavoy of United Artists assigned him this film because he believed in Sam's talents. Made after his classic nihilist tale Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, the same cynicism pervades this film, but the story isn't Peckinpah's, and it's often treated as a joke.
James Caan and Robert Duvall had just finished The Godfather, Part II and were probably looking for lighter fare; Caan would also make Freebie and the Bean (full review) this year, and he still has some of that carefree attitude that made that film a classic. The story opens with them playing Mike Locken (Caan) and Gerry Hansen (Duvall), two off the record operators for a shadowy government agency, taked with rescuing a foreign national from assassination. They blow up the building as they leave, tearing off in a land yacht, cracking sarcastic jokes all the while. After the job, they go to a party and Locken gets laid; later Hansen tells him he found a doctor's note in the gal's room saying she's got VD, and shows him the paper.
The plot hinges on a betrayal that makes little sense, but that is the point- that the government's shifting and mercurial alliances during the Cold War were cynical in the extreme and put civilian life at a lower priority than maintaining the current power structure. Not long after fooling Locken into thinking he's got the clap, Hansen pulls a double cross and shoots their foreign national in the head, and Locken in the knee and elbow. He slips away after leaving his ex-partner with this deliciously dark goodbye: "You just retired, Mike. Enjoy it."
While the film doesn't delve too deeply into why they do this job, as Frankenheimer's Ronin did, Peckinpah does inject a bit of absurdity later on. He said he prepared for it by watching Bruce Lee movies, which makes a bit of sense, as Mike recovers from his crippling injuries using tai chi and kung fu, and his final job will be escorting Mako and his daughter to a ship bound for China. I was quite interested in watching Locken's training, because he's saddled with a cane and uses it to fight. Beyond the usual wizened, cane-wielding master in kung fu films, cane fighting is a serious martial art- check out Cane Masters sometime- but Sam doesn't take it very seriously. The slow-motion fighting recalls his later film The Osterman Weekend, which seemed to fetishize it and mock it at the same time.

Needless to say, Mike Locken wants revenge. After proving that he's still dangerous with a metal arm brace- which he learns to bash heads with- and a cane, his old boss Weyburn recruits him for another job, in Chinatown. Escort Yuen Chung (Mako) and his daughter to a Naval transport before ninjas and assassins can take them out. Gig Young plays the boss, and has that WASPy sense of old family cool befitting a paranoid Cold War thriller. This was done to much better effect in Three Days of the Condor, but this one's got more action; it's from the Max Von Sydow perspective. Mike puts together a team of old pals, including Miller the Sniper (Bo Hopkins) who we meet skeet shooting by the Golden Gate bridge; and Mac, the car expert, played by Burt Young as a bit of a schlub who's got it when it counts.
Mac hooks them up with a bulletproof taxicab. "Some union guy put it all together, bulletproof glass, and then they shot him in bed. I got it from his widow." Oh, the irony. The pickup in Chinatown of course leads to a shootout, that Hansen is behind- who else? The story is predictable, but at least the performances and Peckinpah's casual attitude toward the material make it entertaining. The bullets fly, and while nothing recalls the frenetic mayhem of The Wild Bunch, we get a sense of the cheapness of civilian life as gunfire riddles the city streets with abandon. This is later punctuated after Mac manages a reliable San Francisco car chase and ditches the cops, only to find a bomb wired under the car. The tension builds as a motorcycle cop senses something awry, but it's played for laughs; the inconvenience of a traffic stop while the timer ticks away. Mac ends up handing the bomb to the cop, and they tell him to throw it in the harbor.
Ebert missed the payoff in his lukewarm review, as it's the opposite of the '66 Batman "some days you just can't rid of a bomb" gag; they drive off to the shipyard, and as they get out of the car, a distant explosion is heard. I liken this to another hilarious wink Peckinpah gives in Convoy, when the trucks are circling by the flag-draped coffin of their compatriot. That's almost too ridiculous to take, but it's the kind of pompous gesture the establishment would demand to assuage the public's ire. But the bomb made me wonder, was Sam just trying to be funny by giving the hated '70s icon of the motorcycle cop- mocked so well in Harold & Maude- comeuppance, or was he having the callous "elite" kill off an innocent casually to underline the clumsy yet memorable line of Mac's that leads this post:

Mac: Damn it, Mike! You're so busy doing their dirty work, you can't tell who the bad guys are!
Mike Locken: Don't worry! I know who the bad guys are: anybody who tries to hurt me!
They're all tryin' to hurt you Mike! All the goddam power systems! All the wheelers and dealers at the top with their gin and fizzes! They need guys like you to do their bloodletting, while they're busy making speeches about freedom and progress! They're all full of bullshit! There's not one power system that really cares about its civilians!

That seems to be the kind of cynicism Sam would like; the modern world having no place for honor. Locken is robbed of his revenge by expediency, in a Mexican standoff that in most films would have ended with his fast-draw besting his rival's. The final battle aboard a decommissioned battleship between gunmen and ninjas might have had the melodrama of The Last Samurai, but no one takes it seriously; it may work on paper, but in broad daylight it ends the only way it should, with cloaked swordsmen cut down like wheat before the scythe. When Mako faces his challenger, Locken and Mac want to "just shoot the guy," but he demands the ceremonial battle. Caan ad-libs with snarky comments, but is it because he knows his own concept of honor is a fraud? The ending recalls a buddy picture like Freebie, and The Killer Elite is too vague and unfocused to make any grand or weary statements, but is still enjoyable enough to watch.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

get yer yum yums out

I just wanted to pop in and promote my favorite food blogs, who'll keep you drooling daily. I try to share my culinary exploits in the kitchen and out at greasy spoons, but lately I've been healthier. For example, I made these wasabi pea crusted tuna steaks with butternut squash last week as a post-workout pigout for Pita-San and myself:
Here's some good reading for good eatin', whether it's healthy or heart attack specials.

Thoughtful Eating
- by Raquel of Out of the Past Classic Film blog also likes to cook, and she shares some delicious recipes here. If you're on Facebook, become a fan.

A Hamburger Today
- I'll gladly pay you Tuesday... this is the hamburger center of the internet, and I read their reviews daily. The whole Serious Eats site is excellent, and I recently made their recipe for quinoa with bacon, kale and sweet potatoes. Quinoa cooked in bacon fat? Delish.

Beantown Brews - This beer blogger from Boston reviews lots of good brews, something I've been meaning to do more often.

Re(cession)IPES - It's not updated often, but they have many great recipes that will fill your belly without emptying your wallet.

NJ Munchmobile - Pete Genovese of the Star-Ledger Munchmobile is what inspired me to food blog, and they are still finding hidden gems in the Garden state.

And for the hell of it, here's my Thanksgiving plate. I can still taste it.
Turkey, turnips, asparagus, pearl onions, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, two kinds of cranberry, giblet stuffing, mashed potatoes and a biscuit. Still working that off.

Monday, December 7, 2009

White Manna - two N's are better than one

A little while back I gave you the history of the two White Man(n)a hamburger joints in New Jersey, when I visited the one-n spot in Jersey City. They make a fine slider, but I have to say that the Hackensack spot on River Road is worth the trip.
Both places pride themselves on their "system," using every inch of the grill in perfect harmony to create a steamed smashed slider topped with onions and slung into a roll. But the Manna puts it to the test, by remaining a small burger counter with just enough seats around the grill. I've been here when it was so packed it looked like a phone booth stuffing contest. The building itself is an icon, a squat chrome toadstool on the Hackensack that's served sliders for 63 years.
It's seven years younger than the Jersey City joint, but they do things a little bit differently. They use a potato roll for the bun, which better fits the burger and has better flavor. Their burgers are a smidgen smaller, starting life as ruby red meatballs gridded out on the griddle looking like a maze for a carnivorous Pac-Man. Then the spatula smashes them down, and after they cook a while, a messy string of raw onion ringlets are deposited on top like tinsel. Once they caramelize, cheese and bun-top arrive to steam-finish the meat and you get your slider with s few slices of sour pickle on a plate.

Don't bother the griddle man with orders for drinks or fries; he has minions to do that. The grill is his domain, and requires his full attention. And once you get a taste of the fruits of his labor, you'll agree that he should not be disturbed. These are much juicier, and much richer than any other sliders I've had. Within the same week I had some flame-broiled Lil Burgers and a fantastic HB Burger, and these were a lot like the HB, which is one of my new favorites. They lack the crust, but being steamed under a bun makes that impossible.
So my favorite slider is the White Manna. It packs a lot of flavor into that tiny burger, which is what sliders are all about. I might like the White Diamond better, but they're much bigger than a slider. Sometimes it seems that my favorite burger is the one I ate last, but I've neglected to tell some of the horror stories here. I'll rectify that soon. You have to try average burgers now and then, so you know what good tastes like. And that's how you know when something like the White Manna stands out.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!

Thus spake the immortal Ralph Wiggum. He's a Viking in his "head movies," as Simple Jack would say. But what real movies with Vikings are there to entertain us, not make our eyes rain? I've got a bunch on deck and I'm going to watch them all. Did I miss any?

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America
Made by a crew of 8 people and scored with Black metal like Dimmu Borgir, this minimalist tale of the Vinland saga tells the tale of two Vikings left behind in an ill-fated raid on the New World. Essentially it is shaky scenes of Vikings pooping in the woods and wiping with leaves, killing chickens and salmon, burning huts and watching newts to Dethklok. I'm watching this with Milky right now, which inspired this project.

The 13th Warrior
Based on Michael Crichton's Beowulf-reimagining The Eaters of the Dead, this one may play with history by having a Saracen visit the north, but it's a lot of fun and pretty realistic. The guys who play the Vikings are all Nordic fellows and the "Grendel" they find is plausible, scary and a good fight. Antonio Banderas plays the Arab traveler with good humor, this is a top of the line B movie.

The Vikings
Obvious. Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis! A good old Hollywood epic. I imagine this one's as historically accurate as my dream movie of "The Jeffersons" meeting Thomas Jefferson, but Douglas is always good. Plus Ernest Borgnine as "Ragnar" makes for a must watch.

The Long Ships
There is a legend about a great bell, called "The Mother of Voices," made of pure gold, three times the size of a man, made by monks many years ago... with Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier. Those guys elevate most material, so I'll give it a shot.

I actually liked this all-CG fantasy by Robert Zemeckis quite a bit. It gets silly at times- Beowulf fights Grendel naked in an Austin Powers-inspired mead hall battle, but it's good adventure fare. I think making it all CG was a mistake, but Grendel and the Dragon both looked great. I have it on HD-DVD and I'll rewatch it for this project. There's also a Christopher Lambert movie called Beowulf, set in the future, and I may suffer through it for the hell of it.

Beowulf & Grendel
This tried to tell things from Grendel's perspective, making him one of the last Neanderthals whose father was killed by Vikings. It's not all action, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the Icelandic locations are stunning. The effects are good, and I'd love to watch this again.

On the other hand, I'll never watch this turd again. I really wanted to see Indian braves battle Vikings, but they ruin the premise by making Karl Urban be a Viking child left behind, raised by Indians, and have to fight more Vikings who come later. Vikings who don't know what ice is. WTF? According to Led Zeppelin, they come from the land of the ice and snow. This movie is fatally stupid and best avoided, but I'll eviscerate it again for your pleasure. Original review here.

When the Raven Flies
I came upon this '80s Icelandic revenge flick about a young boy who is spared by Viking invaders and avenges his family 20 years later, and I have to give it a chance. I imagine Icelanders would make a good Viking movie!

Erik the Viking
This was a silly movie by Terry Jones, but he's a noted historian and a funny Python alumn. I haven't seen it in years, and want to watch it again. There's also an Italian '60s production of the same name I think I can get my hands on.

This one is a kid's fantasy where Thor and Loki take two disobedient children to Asgard, and they get a tour of Viking mythology. Should be fun to see.

Embla: The White Viking
Another Scandinavian movie, this one involves the Viking clash with Christianity. But this quote sold me: "By the legacy of almighty Thor, we shall see the enemy in Valhalla!"

I loved this recent B-movie of Alien vs. Vikings. It just came out on DVD, and is definitely worth watching again. Full review here.

Grendel Grendel Grendel
An animated film from the '80s, from Grendel's point of view. As voiced by Peter Ustinov. Nostalgia ahoy!

The Last of the Vikings
Oh, cheesy Italian movies from the '60s how I love you. I think this will be a lot like a Hercules movie with different costumes.

The Viking Queen
A Hammer film that seems to be about Druids vs. Romans; a VINO, Viking in name only. I think I have a line on it, and it's loosely based on Boudicca, so I'll give it a shot.

The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent
Two words: Roger Corman. Then again, how can I avoid a movie with such a great title?

The Viking Sagas
Starring Ralf Moeller, this one is almost universally panned, but it's on NetFlix streaming, so why not?

Tarkan vs. the Vikings
I have shamefully ignored cheapo Turkish films and this seems like a good place to start.

So, are there other Viking movies worthy of the name that should be considered? Besides of course, this epic kitten film where they come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow: Viking Kittens

Thursday, December 3, 2009

HB Burger - Times Square gets a good burger

Last night was Hamburgers & Hamlet night for Firecracker and I. We went to see Jude Law play the melancholy Dane, and I realized that a block over was HB Burger, which slider scientist Nick Solares of A Hamburger Today gave a rave review. So we had to go. I don't often brave Times Square, because there are few good eateries due to the tourist trade. House of Brews on 46th is a favorite, and the Heartland Brewery & Chophouse is a decent franchise that makes good beer and above average food. So when I realized that HB Burger is a burger-only annex of the chophouse, I was a bit wary.

We have a winner

There was a short wait for a table and they seem to be running a bit slow, probably due to sharing kitchens with the bigger place, but the service was alright. It took us a while to order and get our beers- a Bavarian Black Lager for me, and a Rooster Red Ale for Firecracker- and she ordered a Red Nose Ale. Oops. The Red was a fine specimen of an Irish Red Ale, one of my favorite varieties, and the Black lager was a bit too malty and heavy for the style, but had a great smooth finish. It was almost like an oatmeal stout, but lighter. Both very good brews!
House made tater tots

They offer some fancy burgers- a filet mignon, a Kobe, a prime aged ground steak burger- but we opted for a free range Bison, and their standard HB. Firecracker had the bison with avocado, caramelized onions, cheddar and mayo; I had the HB medium rare with bacon, pepper jack, and their onion marmalade. We both had wheat buns; their standard is a potato roll. In retrospect, I'd recommend the potato roll, and getting the bison rare. The avocado was... half an avocado, which keeps slices from falling off, but makes it harder to eat. The burgers are cheap for the area- $7.50 for an HB- but fries are extra. The fancy burgers start at $14 and come with fries. You can also get sashimi grade tuna, a crab cake burger, turkey or veggie; I was hoping for lamb, but maybe another time.
We also ordered tater tots, which are fried mashed potato balls with a hint of cheese and bacon. But on to the burgers! Firecracker's bison burger was expectedly drier than the beef burger, but it was still juicy enough and full of flavor. But the real winner here is the HB burger, which as promised, was incredibly juicy and flavorful with a thin salty crust of sear on the outside. I've had more flavor, but this is one of the juiciest I've had in a long time. Island Burgers and 5 Napkin might be able to compete, but this is a nice compact package of flavor. I'd compare it to a Ray's Hell Burger, but you have to go to D.C. for those. So we've got a new contender in the Top 5 Burger list, because I liked how juicy this was without being humongous, like the Island and 5 Napkin are. And you can't beat the price.
You can't handle the juice!

Times Square does have a few good spots nearby to eat- the aforementioned House of Brews, Sake Bar Hagi, and now HB Burger jumps into the fray. You won't be disappointed, and it will assuage the disgust of being in a tourist hell hole.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top Ten Arnie One-Liners

Arnold Schwarzenegger is more than a movie star, he's a force of nature. The Austrian Oak come to America in the '60s when he was Mr. Universe, and started by making awful movies like Hercules in New York (full review). Even though he barely had a command of English, you could see the charisma, ambition, and the sick sense of humor in his eyes. Then Pumping Iron came out, and we could see the mind games he played on his opponents. But the biggest joke is on us- the awful puns he loves inserting into his movies. I'll be back? Hasta la vista baby? Talk to the hand? Bah! Here are the real classics:

10. Consider zis a divorce.

from Total Recall

9. What is best in life?

from Conan the Barbarian

8. Agaahhaahahahaaggghh!

from every damn Arnold movie!

7. He had to split

Bonus: you also get the rest of the Running Man ones.

6. Yakety Yak, don't talk back!

from Twins

5. It's not a tumah!

from Kindergarten Cop

4. You're fired!

from True Lies

3. Stick around!

from Predator

2. Let off some steam, Bennett!

Commando, being the best movie ever made, gets three!

1. Right? Wrong!

Wait, these go up to 11!

I lied!

One we'll forget:

You should not drink and bake

from Raw Deal

Let's hope he gives up politics and gives us some more!

disclaimers of legal bull shitte

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