Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chili Cheese Fries Of The Damned

EVERY ONCE in a while it dawns on me that my ususal summer practice of vowing to stick to cold sandwiches and potato chips is really pretty silly, and then I start giving in to the impulses and cravings that, for good or ill, frame my world. This time-- what I refer to as Cold War Chili Cheese Fries, because the flag, to my eye, vaguely resembles the flag of South Korea-- paid dividends in spades, not only in providing a damned hearty meal and a spicey delight, but also in providing the absolutely most perfect companion Sara's Black Forest ever had. The black lager-- I gotta stop doing that: the Saranac people describe it, on the label, as a Bavarian style black beer, and I have exactly zero reason for calling this a lager-- anyways, it has a slightly sweet undertone that the chili, spiked with chili garlic Cholula and green Tabasco, curled around like an affectionate cat. Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

The movie of the day-- well, lets' suffice to say that Jerry Lee has now seen Voyage of the Damned.*

This is something I have kind of been meaning to see for at least a couple of years, but had been instincively avoiding for no reason that I could really put a finger on. Plenty of stuff argues for the film-- great cast, compelling story, historical impetus, real human drama-- but I just always got the feeling, seeing the few small moments of it I had in the past, that I just didn't want to sit through it. This time it happened to be coming on with just the kind of perfect timing than made me think that this was an opportunity I ought not to ignore.
(The Wifey points out that this revierw completely omits what the movie itself is about. In 1939, the Nazi German government selected nearly a thousand Jews and gave them passage to Cuba. Accoding to some, they were never expected to be allowed off the boat, and, in fact, once they got to Cuba, they were denied passage, either as tourists or refugees. The captain spent the next months sailing about the Atlantic, trying to deliver safe passage to his cargo, failing in both the US and Canada, finally managing to scatter them between Britain, France and Belgium. Then, of course, the war broke out, and eventually two thirds of the passengers met their demise at the camps.) (Wow. That was cold.)

With the result that this is one helluva movie. Great cast. Great performances, Extraordinarally compelling source material, driving plot, great dramatic moments, great sets and costuming. But good LORD, does it go on and on and on. Of course, it was originally a TV movie, so it may have-- MUST have-- gone on over two nights, but it was still a helluva thing to sit through, regardless. On the one hand, I understand that the filmmakers felt compelled to include a fair amount of the on-boardschmoozing and politicing and interpersonal conflicts, but in a large way, this was just kind of like a chicken salad with far too much mayonaise. Still, I am glad I saw it.

I went to all the trouble of researching this, ordering it from Netflix, and setting myself upo to screen this, and then guess what shows up in rotation on Showtime? So I considered watching this earlier in the day, but noooo-ho-ho-ho-ho! You do fine fork, Lizzie, and please understand that I am a fan, but, really, genuinely, please, once was enough. Or at least that's how I feel right now. I'm a little scared that while the first time it was compelling and engrossing in a slightly painful way, a second time it just might come off like cruelty drama. Which, finally, I have the same visceral reaction to as cruelty humor. Not that humor can't be cruel, folks, just realize that all cruelty is not humorous.

But I still recommend it, same as last time. Chili cheese fries are one of the world's most perfect experiences, and those white American cheese hashes, which are what makes me think of the South Korean flag, well, as Frost might say, those make all the difference. You could probably do as well to read the Wikipedia entry, but if you have a few hours to put into it, hearty provisions, and black beer, my advice is: go for it. And if you don't mind being punched in the gut repeatedly by a beautiful woman, so long as she gives you a peck on the cheek after each one, well then, my friend, this is for you!

*Know that story? You could look it up. It'll probably funnier that way, than if I explain it for you.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Call The Big One "Bitey"

SO NEW TECH-nologies and advance-ments in frozen pizza manufacturing techniques have finally lead us to a brave new world, one in which a person of discriminating tastes such as myself would contemplate having frozen pizza and beer for lunch as an actual treat. To be completely fair, this is the Palermo thin crust, which is a vastly superior bird in the field. I am not comparing it to true pizza. Tony's it ain't. Nor Villa Francesca, where they offer both New York style thin crust and Sicilians, and also the Grandma, a delightfull little cheese and garlic bomb I try to make room for even if I am full. But also, Totino's in ain't. Nor Red Baron, which, ew. Just ew. Anyways, this offers a nice, spicey sausage, which I don't even feel compelled to say is "good for frozen pizza," a bright, sharp pepperoni, and a nice undercurant of garlic. All of which is plenty to stand up next to the Harpoon offerings. If I did call one of them Bitey, it would be the Bohemian Pils, which like the IPA is hopped to the gills, but being very slightly lighter bodied, the hops are, in a word, bitey.

The movie of the day very nearly wasn't. The description we get of this on our TWC Guide makes it sound like a kind of pat exmination of the Holocaust through fictional characters, but it's way more than that, and very painful to watch. The basic premise is that a writer is conscipted by the Nazis to write a treatise justifying euthanasia-- what it says in the giude-- but at root it's really about a man whose circumstances keep him distracted enough to allow him to make what turn out to be terribly, tragically bad decisions during what turned out to be a terrible, tragic time. The worst part about it was that the character isn't blind to what's going on; it simply, by turns of the screw, becomes more and more impossible for him to resist, until finally he has become part of the most evil enterprise in history.

I don't want to say anymore, for fear of spoiling it. I'm not waiting to the end to say I recomend it. It's very, very hard to watch, but immensely well done, and imminently worth seeing.

This is also hard to watch, but for different reasons. This is not the film of the day, it's the film that was not the film of the day yesterday. I got it via Netflix, and popped it in at the end of what had turned out to be a fairly hard day while I snacked, blissfully and ravenously, on cheese and sausage and flatbread crisps and an IPA, but I hafta say I missed a fair amount of it. The basic plot was, I'm guessing, so thin that the first two thirds of it consists mainly of a shell game in which we are not supposed to be sure if the one guy is ripping everybody off, the other two guys are either blind or stupid, or they really are going to make a functioning jet pack. (Or rocket belt, in the chinois of the film.) The acting is commedable, especially from Paul Giamatti, who plays an arrogant, angry, genius schmuck like nobody's business. And David Hornsby, who's character may or may not have been gay (one of the parts I missed, if in fact there was a reveal there). But it moves like an unhurled brick, so when I happened to be away from the screen when the big plot twist came, and wasn't sure if the genius had hired mobsters to shake down the pitch meister, or just had gotten in some dirty money to finance the project, or had simply gone batshit with paranoia, I really didn't feel compelled to rewind and see what I had missed.

Sorry, Paul. I blame the editing room.

But I could recommend it. Like I said, not bad, as frozen pizza goes. Not Totino's, anyways.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Department of Settlements

SO THIS was an experi-ment, much in the same way that my nephew Josh's pouring a glass of water down the back of a television when he was four was an experiment. (I kid you not, that was his explanation for it.) The Wifey has been on a Pad Thai kick for awhile, and so decided to take advantage of the offer in the local mega-mart to buy one Annie Chung product and get one free. The product she got was not Pad Thai, but the one I got was most certainly not hot and sour soup. The bits of it that were not offensively bland were downright nasty. The noodles tatsted like factory dust. The dumplings, which were of an entirely different brand, were better, but still not as good as I would have gotten had I called out to our local joint, which is excellent. The beer at least was good, Harpoon Summer Beer followed by their Bohemian Pilsner. A nice light lager followed by a ridiculously over-hopped pils, which went great with the chocolate cookies I had for dessert.

This was less and experiment than a requirement. I have been a big fan of Mary Elizabeth Ellis' work on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia ever since I started watching the series in its third season, and I had heard good things about this movie in researching the cast of that show-- and that she was one of the writers. And it was pretty much precisely what I expected. A rich slice-of-life drama in which pretty much everyone gets their turns, good and bad. The script seemed to have been crafted on the basis that every one of us is a screw-up, given the proper motivations. There was only one plot point that I found somewhat implausible, but it was pretty well set up beforehand, such that it was not completely implausible, so I let that slide. And it had a drop-out-bottom ending that was just terrific, in that it both negated and amplified the entire plot in one fell swoop.

Took a damned long time getting there, though. Life is full of dull moments. Kudos to the writers for sticking 'em in.

This, on the other hand, was about 90% better than it had any right to be. That had largely to do with the New York & Long Island settings and the deeply commited performances, especially from Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, who were both adorably commited to their roles, so much that I almost bought Sheedy as a cop. (Ally Seedy as a cop. Let that percolate a little.)
Watching Alan Alda and Joe Pesci duke it out was great fun, but it was even more fun watching Anthony LaPaglia stretch his New York Mobster cliche of a character all out of shape, and then Burt Young-- hell, what's there to say about Burt Young? Always good to see Burt workin' it. Every single element came out the Big Book of Hollywood Cliches, but damn if it didn't end up being a great deal of fun.

So do I recommend it? Hell no. Chinese, Thai and Mexican food should never be attempted at home. Maybe if you have a gourmet or industrial grade kitchen, but I'm not even sure about that. And Annie Chun can go to hell with an anchor around her neck. If your have an afternoon free, relax, stretch out, and don't expect any of the characters to behave perfectly-- and be prepared to be angry and dissapointed with each of them at some point. And stay 'til the end, that droput ending is a killer. And if you want and example of why the 80's ended early, you can't do much better than Betsy's Wedding. There were a few juctures where several of the actors clearly thought they were in a different kind of movie than the others thought they were in, and that made it as much fun as anything else.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Never Trust The Gorton's Fisherman

SO THIS was an experi-ment. By and large I have always known the stuff they sell under the Gorton's banner is crap, and their recent re-purposing of the brand to suggest they are selling actual, recogniseably different kinds of fish, should hold no better promise. Still, I figured what the hell. I had recently put together a fish-and-chips lunch using a brand of frozen "pub battered" cod, and, I thought, it wouldn't take much of a difference in the Gorton's product to elevate it past the bland, unobjectionable, generic, frankly kind of insulting stuff I have experienced before.

And it was fine, really. A little disconcerting that the "fillets" are in almost geometrical form, and the breading still accounts for a dissapointing portion of the portion. But it tasted recognizably like fish, and actually enough like flounder that it might actually have been flounder. And, really, the only real reason I might have to dislike it is the standard reason, which is that this is the kind of food product that make it reasonable to claim all sorts of rotten things about Americans-- that we have no taste, that we value quantity over quality, that we voted for George W. Bush-- twice-- and that we will buy anything so long as it is packaged prettily and we're told it is special.

But really, the whole point here was the condiments. You see before you Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce, tartar sauce, Polish mustard, and ketchup spiked with Cholula and jalepeno Tabasco. Whee.

The weekend turned out to be movie weekend, mainly because we'd had a long week, the Wifey in fact had a long month, travelling for the majority of it for business, and it was easy enough to plop down and put something in the DVD/Birdy* player and just let 'er rip. This wasn't bad. The reviews I read of it played it pretty much right-- kind of heavy on the battle and light on the LA. Which is not to say there were no recognizeable locations or that it didn't feel like LA or SoCal for any reason. Just that . . . I dunno, it just kind of lacked personality. This bothered the Wifey more than it did me. Aaron Eckhardt was playing the lead as a character who doesn't have much of a personality outside being in the service, and having known a few of those types, I think he did a pretty good job, so I at least enjoyed that aspect of it. But the aliens only really appeared at great distance or as crafts flying overhead for the first two thirds, so the Wifey had great difficulty enjoying it as an alien invasion movie. It wasn't until I suggested that it was Black Hawk Down Vs. Aliens that she managed to find a level on which she could appreciate it. Still, in the final analysis, it was largely a great deal of smoke and noise. You could easily do as well playing a video game, and almost certainly better.

This, on the other hand. What is there to say? What's green and red and goes 200 miles an hour? They took a bit of Solaris here, some old Twilight Zone there, a dash of physics, a pinch of popular psych, a sprinkling of Dianetics, bleh bleh bleh, whiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrz, aaaaaaaaand garnish with Cillian Murphy.

So do I recommend it? Nah. I like my fish & chips with beer. The Battle: Los Angeles you could see once, but its' not going to change your life or anything. And if you happen to meet the Gorton's Fisherman, just punch 'im in the @#$%ing face for me.

*Birdy is what I call the Blue Ray Disc, both because I think it's cute, and because I think calling it a BD is stupid.

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