Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Friedman's Lunch and the High Line

A friend of Firecracker's is in town and we met her for lunch at the Chelsea Market. I hadn't been there before, but it's everything you'd expect in a high end market- fresh vegetables, multiple butchers offering everything from goat to prime beef and fresh seafood, bakeries and bistros, wholesale barware, salons. It's also home to a luncheonette called Friedman's, serving wine and beer and a nice brunch with a varied menu. Not too big, but a nice selection of omelets and pancakes plus Southern style food such as shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, biscuits, and so on.
Normally I'm on a biscuit like cotton on a lamb, but we'd just had Popeye's chicken after a hike, so I decided to try their beef brisket burger, medium rare. It was quite good- lots of flavor, not too big, but lacking crust or sear. Other than that and the sweet brioche-type bun it was delicious, juicy, and cooked to order. The meat was loosely packed and felt hand-formed. The fries were dusted with flour or cornmeal to make them extra crispy, which they were. Tender inside mostly, on the larger pieces. I like some crunch, so I didn't mind the crisper pieces. The pickle was forgettable, odd because they sell Gus's in a barrel outside. I would've preferred a half-sour, this was a bland dill.
The burger will set you back $13, not bad for Chelsea and good brisket, but if there were a Shake Shack in the market I'd never go here for a burger. It's probably the same LaFrieda brisket mix, just done differently. The shrimp and grits was very good, surprisingly with egg on top of the grits. A bit scant on the shrimp for the price, as expected in tony-town. The pancakes were fluffy and magnanimous in serving size. The fried tomatoes were alright, floured and not as crispy as let's say, Dinosaur Barbecue's, who makes the best in NYC I've had so far. So, Friedman's is nice, but nothing spectacular. They don't serve liquor, so no Bloody Marys, but they do have pomegranate bellinis and serve a great beer selection; I had Lagunitas "Censored" Copper Red Ale, which was originally called "The Kronik" until the Feds made them change it. Crisp, hoppy red with a good malt backbone. Worth a try.
Christin reminded us that the High Line park was nearby and we walked it back toward the PATH trains. It was enjoyable even in the misty rain. You get a lovely view of the city and a leisurely walk without worrying about traffic lights and oblivious yuppies pinballing off of you as they bumble down the street typing on their smartphones. There's some interesting art displayed in spots, and the original railroad tracks- with the old arsenic-laced pressure-treated railroad ties replaced by new- run some of the length. The design is pretty cool, with the benches rising like bent rail tracks made of concrete. Go enjoy it sometime, whether you want some shrimp & grits or not.

Though you'll have to put up with hearing aging hipsters sigh, "I don't think I have the energy to reinvent myself," and clever 7-year olds tell their parents that "reverse psychology doesn't work these days." If you like posting to Overheard in NYC, it's a good area for people watching.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." --Lloyd Dobbler, Say Anything...

I have a post for today but blogger images are down, so you'll have to wait. It's about a yummy burger and the High Line. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and time is money, and that means posting pictures saves me $00.348 per post.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Eating Sushi Off Naked Chicks

Showdown in Little Tokyo is one of my guilty pleasures. It's like Commando's retarded cousin. Sorry to use the R-word, but I love this movie like I love retards, and I worked with them in high school in the Human Relations Club. Community service, you know. (Actually it's because I was hot for this hippie chick, so I'm glad that didn't work out, I'd still be scrubbing the patchouli smell out of my taint.) What a stupid name for a club. It should have been called Find Out What Old People Smell Like and Realize That Down's Kids Are Nicer Than High School Kids club.
But back to the movie! It has Dolph Lundgren in the Arnie role, and Brandon Lee as his goofy partner. Before Brandon (son of Bruce, you know) became The Crow (full review) and then was tragically killed on set, he did a few chop socky flicks like this and the less effective Rapid Fire. In this one he plays an Asian Task Force Cop who's a Valley boy and knows nothing of his culture. Part of what I liked about it was that he never sees the life and embraces Zen. He does however, want to eat sushi off of naked chicks, but who wouldn't? I mean, hot chicks. Freshly scrubbed ones. Actually it's probably one of those things that sounds more erotic than it really is, unless you're an emasculated Japanese salaryman who can only get off by subjugating women. Screenshot here. NSFW, duh.
But it's that kind of movie. Japanese-scare flicks were big in the '80s, such as Rising Sun, but by the 1991 it was a bit dated. The movie doesn't let that bother it. Lundgren plays an L.A. cop with his own rules, whose parents were murdered in Japan by the Yakuza. This led him to love samurai culture so much that he becomes the big white super samurai who likes kicking Yakuza ass, waiting to avenge his parents. His beat seems to be driving around Little Tokyo and waiting for gangsters to threaten store owners, and then destroy their store in the process of kicking the shit out of said gangsters. It's nice work if you can get it. He meets Brandon this way, as they pull guns on each other, and fight, and then of course get a begrudging, professional respect. And later, they comment on dick size.
You know, like straight guys do. The "unlikely partners" aspect is fun because Lee is, like his father, a totally ripped little psycho dude, and Lundgren is a musclebound man-mountain from Hitler's most lurid wet dreams. It's like Laurel and Hard-on with Karate. The fights are very good because Lundgren actually competed in Shotokan tournaments, and Brandon Lee is... Brandon Lee. If hadn't been killed, he'd be transcending his father's legacy. Here he's not reaching for the artistic skies, but it was a start. He's the clown to Lundgren's stone-faced straight man. Now another "of course" is that the Yakuza thugs are led by... the guy who killed Dolph's parents. We knew that was coming. Played by the dependable Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, John Carpenter's Vampires) he oozes with evil for evil's sake. We meet him when he beheads a topless crack whore.
Yup. Tia Carrere plays one of his non-crack whores who sees the murder and goes to the cops. She also gets nude, but it's a body double. Of course, she sleeps with Dolph; it's a rare Hollywood film that lets an Asian male wet his chopstick. Now, I bet you're saying Tommy likes this movie? I'd hate to hear what he has to say if he hated it! But really, the action and humor in Showdown in Little Tokyo absolve it of all its stupidities, including a guy getting impaled on a bent katana and thrown into a fireworks pinwheel that suddenly goes off for no reason except that it would be frickin' awesome if it did that. You get to see Dolph Lundgren yank a man through a frickin' door. You get awful jokes like Dolph telling Tia he's so stealthy that she won't hear him coming, and then later when she jumps on his Godzilla-size junk, she coyly whispers that she heard him come. Get it?
Brandon Lee makes the best of the ridiculous dialogue, somehow making lines such as "You have the biggest dick I've seen on a man" sound funny and not totally gay, after they fight yakuza in a bath house. He also gets to beat up the lead henchman while reading him his Miranda rights, only to throw him into a vat of meth-infected beer, and say "You have the right to be dead." And he gets to say the line that inspired the title of this review, when they go on their last suicide mission into the bad guy's lair: we're gonna kill those guys, and then we're gonna eat sushi off naked chicks! Because earlier, they saw rich Japanese businessmen doing that in one of those secret Japanese clubs where Japanese people go and do weird Japanese things, like eat sushi, and sing karaoke.
Although it wasn't released until 1991, Showdown in Little Tokyo is an '80s movie through and through. From the repetitive electronic soundtrack to the enormous body count of ethnic baddies, the mix of action and humor trying to riff off earlier hits like Commando and Die Hard, it missed the '90s boat and didn't realize it had to be more sensitive, and have some sort of message, maybe about the environment, or corporate malfeasance, or homelessness. That makes it a bit of a dinosaur, like the frat boy showing up in a pimp outfit at a costume party. But it made that '90s concession where if you're gonna kill a bunch of shady ethnic stereotypes, you have to have at least one of them be a good American. Like Fasil in True Lies, etc. Who was the good Latino in Commando? Exactly.
It's a good dumb movie with plenty of boobs, guns, karate battles and explosions, and sometimes that's just what you need. Dolph and Brandon made a good team, and I wish they'd had another chance to work together. Lundgren will return in Sly Stallone's epic The Expendables, and I hope it jump-starts his career in America again.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? With Russian mobsters, sure.
Quotability Rating: Good
Cheese Factor: Easy cheesey, Japanesey
High Points: Brandon & dolph yukkin' it up
Low Point: offensive Asian stereotypes
Gratuitous Boobies: Tia's body double and a hot blonde (and the lead Yakuza guy's tattooed man-boobies)

Showdown in Little Tokyo on Netflix

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

now I wish I watched the Oscars.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hitch your -cock to a star

Following in the footsteps of fellow movie blogger Silents and Talkies, I thought about my top 20 movies by Alfred Hitchcock. He's one of my favorite directors because he had such fun making us watch him toy with us and share his obsessions. He was one of the big star directors, and one of the few whose films that average moviegoers would eagerly anticipate. He had a few misses, and was best when he dealt with subjects dear to his heart like the oppressive incompetence of authority and the suspense of the unknown.

1. Strangers on a Train
2. North by Northwest
3. Shadow of a Doubt
4. The 39 Steps
5. The Birds
6. The Trouble with Harry
7. Rear Window
8. Psycho
9. Vertigo
10. Rope
11. Suspicion
12. Frenzy
13. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
14. Rebecca
15. Notorious
16. Lifeboat
17. Secret Agent
18. The Wrong Man
19. "Lamb to the Slaughter"
20. Saboteur

Conspicuously absent: The Lady Vanishes. By the end of the movie I wished it was Throw Momma from the Train. To Catch a Thief- more like to catch a few Z's. Spellbound has lovely visuals but is rather tepid.

I love The Trouble with Harry and its dry morbid humor, but my all time favorite is of course, Strangers on a Train. Cris-cross! I wish he'd directed more Patricia Highsmith stories, especially The Talented Mr. Ripley, but he wouldn't have gotten the asexuality of a sociopath correct. The first ten are among my favorite movies, period. I don't know of another director who's made TEN movies I can watch again and again, other than Hitch. I still haven't seen many classics- The Lodger, Marnie, the first Man Who Knew Too Much, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Stage Fright, and more- but I look forward to every one of them.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You can outrun cold, earthquakes AND volcanos

Roland Emmerich keeps making Independence Day over and over, shittier every time like a badly replicated clone. 2012 is his latest poopturd, which posits that the Mayan calendar predicted a 640,000 year cycle of destruction caused by solar flares which overheat the Earth's core and make the crust slosh around like the flaky top of your chicken pot pie after you've mashed it with a fork.

"I'm Roland Emmerich. I make poop."

What annoyed me about 2012 was the utter lack of empathy for the billions of dead. Emmerich's CG set pieces have gotten crueler than when huge attack ships roasted entire cities; now 400 foot tsunami aren't bad enough, they have to heave aircraft carriers onto the White House lawn. People praying in Vatican City get steamrolled by the dome of the St. Peter's basilica. All rendered in slow motion, so we can see it all. The earthquakes are hilarious, with cracks in the asphalt that seem to chase people and split couples apart neatly. The big ones cause fissures a mile deep, but are sure to leave recognizable wreckage so we know what city was just leveled. It's rather like watching a Final Destination film, except you get hapless gaggles of humanity dying at Fate's cruel hand instead of annoying teenagers who were asking for it by starring in a horror movie.
This one might as well have been called The Year After the Day After Tomorrow, because essentially it's that same nutless disaster porn with a vague message rehashed. This time it's bleakly cynical. Our hero is John Cusack playing a science fiction writer, who is of course divorced and has two kids who don't like him, even though he seems to love them more than anything in the world; he's just sort of an unsuccessful doofus whose wife left him for a plastic surgeon with a Porsche. Of course they love him by the end of the movie, because he saves 1/3 of humanity, despite having put them in the predicament in the first place. Anyway, he's John Cusack playing a grown up Lloyd Dobbler that is hard to dislike. Rather than re-hash the plot, let's just say he takes his kids camping, makes them walk on Old Faithful's little bro, and instead of them all being boiled alive, they are captured by sneaky government types led by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Back off man, he's a scientist.
He's a pretty naive scientist. Having warned the President of the Earth's impending doom, he just sort of assumes everyone will be warned, and we'll have a fair lottery to see who gets on the stupendous arks they hired the Chinese to make. Of course not, the tickets cost a billion dollars, so next to the pairs of elephants, giraffes, and rhinos we get to see extras dressed as Paris Hiltons, the Queen of England, and a bunch of sheiks. A few leaders choose to perish with their people, and oddly enough you don't see Olympic athletes, engineers and Nobel prize winners getting envelopes in the mail saying "come to the ass end of China to receive an award, and be quiet about it." When it comes down to it, only Chewie and Cusack seem to have any morals, and Ejiofor only gets it after an unlikely phone call from his Indian scientist pal who didn't get a golden ticket, and is staring at a 1500 meter tsunami heading his way.
Now I know you don't go to a blockbuster like this for the cerebral involvement. This makes Avatar look like 2001. But wouldn't it have been a lot cooler, and more plausible- or at least less bullshitastic- if scientists and athletes and other genetic lottery winners started disappearing, while the Earth begins spiraling into disaster? I know I'm asking for subtlety from a guy who names a kid Noah in a movie with a flood and arks in it. I'm not saying it should be like the masterful apocalypse film Last Night (full review) and really confront us with what we'd do on our last night on earth, but when faced with the extinction of humanity, should you really make me care whether some rich twat's lap dog survives? It was too easy to forget the billions who were dying in the background, and too much excitement was generated for the arks, and the joy of mankind starting anew without the fetters of all those hungry mouths to feed. Like the craziest of the eco-terrorists who secretly wish the Earth would shake off 99% of humanity like so many fleas so they could live in a hunter-gatherer paradise, 2012 wants me to think like Stalin- a single death (like the Porsche dude porking Cusack's wife) is a tragedy, but billions are a summer blockbuster. I think it appeals to our basest nature, because we all think we'd be on the ark. It's sort of like assuming that that Jesus is going to return in your lifetime. What makes you so special?
I liked Woody Harrelson playing a conspiracy blogger so wacky that he was daring Emmerich to keep him in the film. I thought the CG rendition of the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera was amazing to watch. I liked that while New York is shown, we're spared seeing its destruction for the umpteenth time. I liked Chiwetel Ejiofor (Redbelt, Serenity) on board as the voice of reason and humanity, Thandie Newton in a rather wasted role as the First daughter. The bad guy in the film is named Anheuser, which is kind of cute. Thanks to Mr. Ebert for pointing me at that one. John Cusack did a good job and I hope the cash helps him fund more personal projects like High Fidelity. Roland Emmerich said this will be his last disaster film; let's hope it's the last one that is a disaster. Get it?

1.5 out of 5 Mayan poopquakes

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The gamble of the diner burger

Diner burgers run the gamut in New Jersey, but most tend to be firmly packed, overcooked and dry. The State Line diner in Mahwah is an exception. They make a juicy, tasty burger of ground round that is exceptional in the diner realm, but nothing amazing when compared to specialty burger joints, even Five Guys. It had little crust because it was grilled, but was quite juicy and had good flavor. I prefer the English muffin to the plain bun or potato roll because it is less likely to fall apart or soak up juices, and the crispness and char of the toasted crannies lend a better mouth feel.
They offer the standard trio of fries, pickle and coleslaw, but I opted for their thick cut onion rings, which had a nice crisp batter. They were well cooked, the slaw was good but a tad dry, and the pickle was a little soft. Nothing's worse than a soft pickle, right girls? The burger is worth your while if you're on Route 17 near the New York border, however. They are a good diner all around. Sadly, I wrote this after a disappointing burger at the Nutley diner- overcooked, rather tasteless, and stuffed on an oversized Portuguese bun that overwhelmed it. They made great sweet potato fries, though. Nope, I didn't take a picture of it, it was that disappointing. To be honest, I had the Mexican burger with jalapenos, cheese, tomatoes, salsa, but it might as well have been on meat loaf.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It takes a big man to cry

... but it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man.

The immortal words of Jack Handey, I was reminded of them recently when I started blubbering like a little bitch while watching that De Niro tear-jerker, Everybody's Fine. We of Italian descent are an emotional people, but I prefer to blame the Native Americans, for that crying Indian in the anti-pollution commercial in the '70s. However, he was played by Iron Eyes Cody, who turned out to be of Sicilian ancestry, so maybe it is an Italian thing.

Ever since my father died, I've gotten teary-eyed from anything with some sort of paternal redemption, or heaven help me, that emotional musical upswing. The Iron Giant's "You stay. I go. No following." turns me into Old Faithful. I can't watch Field of Dreams when anyone else is around. Even stupid movies get me. And it's completely beyond my control. I don't get upset at all, my eyes just start leaking like an excited puppy on an expensive carpet. If I was that self-conscious, it would be embarrassing.

Thankfully I do have limits. Sloth & Chunk might get a tear or two, but I still don't find myself moved by Indy and Short Round. That would be unacceptable. So, what movies make you cry like a fat kid who dropped his ice cream?

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

movie compactor

To conserve paper, I have reviewed 5 recent movies in one post. With one week to the Oscars I still haven't seen a few. I'm hoping to see The White Ribbon this weekend. Gonna skip Crazy Heart, as much as I like Jeff Bridges, because I saw Tender Mercies. But these are worth seeing:

Big Fan
Patton Oswalt as "that guy," the face-painting home team obsessed freako who lives in mom's basement and stays up late to rant on the local AM sports talk radio show. Oswalt once again shows his enormous range (you thought I was gonna say ass, didn't you?) by totally becoming this role. Written and directed by the screenwriter of The Wrestler, we know to expect him to be a busted up shell of a man filling a hole in himself with his fanaticism. He sees his team's quarterback one night and he and his buddy follow him to a strip club, and work up the guts to approach him. Things happen and he gets assaulted, and must decide just how much he'll suffer for his home team. It's a bit weak in the third act and ending, but as a character study it's pretty gripping. This is one of the better films of last year that was sadly overlooked, and a fine first directorial effort for Onion alumnus Robert D. Siegel.

4 face-painters out of 5

Big Fan on Netflix

The Blind Side
This movie's getting a lot of hate. Straight up: I enjoyed it. I think we've become accustomed to discounting uplifting fare as inherently shallow, and while it may be a stretch to nominate this for Best Picture, if Avatar is up there this has every right to be. The Hollywood take on Michael Oher's rise to football stardom, this is a sports story with a deeply human element that is unafraid to tell us what we're supposed to mean when we say "Christian charity." The Tuohy family is rich; Mr. Tuohy is a former basketball superstar who now runs a gaggle of fast food franchises. The film obliquely points the finger at our millionaire sports heroes to perhaps give a little back, as Mrs. Tuohy- played with organic brilliance by Sandra Bullock, in what will hopefully be a controversial Oscar-winning performance that will bump Marisa Tomei's win for My Cousin Vinny as the film snobs' "least deserved award" category- decides to do the right thing and bring the practically-orphaned "Big Mike" Oher under her wing. This is old-school Hollywood storymaking, not unlike Slumdog Millionaire without Danny Boyle's directorial strength. John Lee Hancock does a workmanlike job. He also wrote the screenplay, which to the real Michael Oher's chagrin, makes him a sort of football oaf to begin with, when he was rather skilled by the time the Tuohys helped him. The real story is how they overcome their fear and saw Michael as a person, and shared their abundance of both the material and the emotional to make him part of their family. So what if it's couched in a tale written for the demographic where both sexes love football from birth? It's uplifting without being smarmy, and isn't as simple as its critics claim it to be.

4 out of 5 ladies who lunch but also give back to their community

The Blind Side on Netflix

The Road
Adapting Cormac McCarthy is difficult but obviously possible; No Country for Old Men, anyone? This one's not so easy, as much of the story is internalized. The screenplay veers from the source at times, to give us a female character to please the bean counters; I felt this was a distracting mistake. The story is simple- an unknown disaster has cut the shackles of civilization and returned man to his more bestial state, and a father resolves to protect his son from the ravages of cannibals and nature, so he may "carry the fire" of humanity, and bring hope to the bleak future. How does the world end? In this version we know it's a bang, when it was left ambiguous before. Does it matter if it's a whimper, or fire or ice? Not really, in the grand scheme of things. Humanity is consuming itself, literally. What the movie gets right is showing how the father- Viggo Mortensen- loses hope. How can he carry the fire when it has gone out inside him? Like Frank Darabont's similar take with The Mist, the father's protective drive has corrupted him. I found this a little too spoonfed, and I didn't care for the flashbacks to the mother, though I see the parallels and contrasts director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) was making. My suggestion: see this first if you haven't read the book yet, and let the book expand on it.

4 out of 5 long pig banquets

The Road on Netflix

Everybody's Fine
Robert DeNiro plays a retired widower, who Harry Chapin was singing about in "The Cat's in the Cradle." He drove his children to be ambitious and worked hard while his wife handled family matters, and now that she's gone, no one has time to visit. It surprised me by shifting alliances, showing the old man's own flaws and how past wounds run deep. This one rises above the standard tearjerker, but never goes much further. Bobby is always endearing and is perhaps the perfect image of that sort of hard working family man who was always too tired to really give to his family, but I never really felt his sadness, like Jack Nicholson managed in the similar film About Schmidt. This was based on an Italian classic from the 90's entitled Stanno tutti bene, starring the unequaled Marcello Mastroianni, and the new script has some nice touches. Bobby made PVC casing for telephone wires, and only talks on land lines (rather like Paulie from Goodfellas); his children are well played by Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. At first they seem like the usual busy, ungrateful kids but bloom into real people. It'll do well on cable.

3.5 out of 5 million miles of wire

Everybody's Fine on Netflix

Food, Inc.
Are you eating? Might want to read this later. This should be for the modern food industry what Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was for turn of the century sausage factories, but I doubt many people saw it. Like the lackluster dramatization Fast Food Nation, this documentary exposes the industrialized network of factory farms and how it accepts disease and death among us, its customers, to serve its bottom line. I bet you expect the FDA to protect you from this, but the fact is they were created to promote and protect "farmers" and "cattlemen," who are now mostly large corporate conglomerates benefiting from government-sponsored local monopolies. We see the victims of E. coli poisoning from "undercooked" beef- which would be perfectly safe if it wasn't contaminated with, you know, shit- and E. coli tainted vegetables infected from manure runoff, since these county-sized slaughterhouse operations can't dispose of the cow shit, which could probably fill one of the Great Lakes. Don't criticize them too loudly, for they are protected by Federal Law (just ask Oprah, who was prosecuted for saying she wouldn't eat beef until we tested all our cattle for Mad Cow disease, which we still don't).

Genetically Modified foods are explored as well; they concentrate on Monsanto, not for abstract fear of "frankenfood" as some call it, but for how they have patented life, cornered the market on soybeans, and made it illegal for farmers who purchase their seed to ... plant the seeds that were naturally produced. Plants produce seeds; but you can only plant the ones you buy from Monsanto. Your food now comes with a service agreement. It's an eye-opening documentary, and while I found The Cove important, this is more so. If you wonder why a McMuffin costs less than a head of broccoli, rent this and find out. And wash and cook your food thoroughly. To quote Fast Food Nation, "everybody has to eat a little shit sometime." Dig in.

5 out of 5 grass-fed free range organic strip steaks, hold the E. coli

Food, Inc. on Netflix

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

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