Saturday, September 17, 2011

Road Trip: The Debt

 

The Debt
starring
Helen Mirren
Jessica Chastain
Tom Wilkinson
Marton Csokas
CiarĂ¡n Hinds
Sam Worthington
Jesper Christiansen
Romi Aboulafia

Directed by
John Madden

So after having missed an opportunity to go to the theater the previous weekend, The Girlfriend and I tried it again last weekend.  We were aided by the fact that she was babysitting her Aunt’s house and her cats, so I was able to go into Bakersfield on Saturday and spend the night,  That way we could not only see a movie but we could both have the brunch buffet at Marie Callender’s the next morning.  

The Girlfriend has some strange ideas that really annoy me.  She would rather go to a movie that she has no real interest in seeing, just because she doesn’t want to pay the difference in cost between the matinee price and the evening price.  You can’t blame her for being thrifty I suppose, but there is such a thing as carrying it to the extremes.  I mean, isn’t it worth a few extra dollars to spend some time with your supposed beloved, that of course being me?  Never mind, don’t answer that.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t make it into Bakersfield as early as I had hoped I would.  I guess you want to know why, don’t you?  My, you are the nosy bunch.  If not just skip ahead to the review because this is the part where I make the blog personable, just like I said I was going to.  It’s the way I left off a little steam now and then.

The Girlfriend was supposed to call and wake me up so that I wouldn’t sleep too late on Saturday, something I have a tendency to do unless I’m doing something really special such as making a trip to L.A.  She didn’t.  Then when I did get up and get motor-vated, The Girlfriend’s sister hopped into the shower mere minutes before I could get into the one adjacent to our bedroom.  And two showers at the same time is not workable in this house considering the plumbing was installed in 1912, right after it was salvaged from the Titanic.

And let me tell you, this gal takes record setting showers.  I didn’t know that a hot water heater could even hold that much water.  Sometimes I half expect a walking talking Sunsweet Pitted Prune in a robe to come walking out of the bathroom when she’s done.  But still, I figured that even after the forty five minutes she was in there, I should have no problem getting into Bakersfield at a decent hour after taking my own fifteen minute shower, even with having to make a stop at the local Save Mart to get some sodas.  Honorable Son No. 3 also wanted me to take him to get his cash checked and that was doable as well.

But plans started to go awry the minute we arrived at Save Mart.  They had exactly one check out lane open, and there was a line all the way back to the Bum Fuck Meat Department.  I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.  It took us quite a while to get out of that place so time wise things weren’t looking so hot.  It was about to get worse.

I had to drive all the way across Wasco down highway 46 to get to the Wasco Liquor Store where Honorable Son No 3 cashes his check, and traffic did not cooperate one bit.  But at least there was a parking space when we got there.  I waited patiently while he went inside.  Several minutes later he returned and informed me that somehow he had brought the check stub with him instead of the actual check. 

So it was necessary to drive across town to get back home.  It was then that I remembered that it was the day of the annual Wasco Rose Festival which is held in Barker Park and the surrounding area.  Having made the mistake of going in that direction it took forever to get back to the house.  I had meant to blog  the Rose Festival for my blog rejuvenation, but it was way too late to do anything about that now, except rerun this seven year old picture or wait until next year.  

I waited for him to run inside the house and get the proper portion of his whopping big McDonald’s check.  To make matters worse, temperatures were in the high nineties and the air conditioning in my car has been kaputz for a couple of years.  I had tried to think of a faster route to the Liquor Store but there wasn’t one, although I did have sense enough when I took him home (again) to avoid the Rose Festival so it wasn’t nearly as bad on the return trip.  Finally I was able to head into Bakersfield, but it was apparent that we were going to have a hard time catching a matinee.  I finally arrived at her aunt’s home around 4:30 PM.

The movie she had wanted to see was The Debt.  I don’t know why because it was the last film I had expected The Girlfriend to want to see.  But to be fair, I knew nothing about the film so maybe she had read something or seen the trailer for it.  You know how trailers are.  They often make a movie seem like something it’s not.  Myself?  I would have rather seen Contagion or even The Help but not The Debt.  Hell, even the title sounded lame.   I thought The Help would be right up her alley but apparently not.  She said she’d wait for the DVD and nothing I said could convince her otherwise.

It appeared at first that we weren’t going to see The Debt either.  There were no more matinee showings that we could make it to on time.  So if we were going to make the Matinee as she insisted that we do, we were going to see My Idiot Brother.  I considered that to be appropriate considering how idiotic The Girlfriend was being about her requirement of not attending an evening showing.  So we got into her Ford Escape and headed to the theater.  Although neither film was one I would have picked out, I decided I would rather take my chances with The Debt.

“What I think is silly,” I told her, “is that you’ll go see something you know you don’t want to see just to save a few extra dollars.  And besides, if we go to Valley Plaza, my admission is only $5.50 regardless of what time we go so we’ll only have to pay for one regular admission.” 

It must have been that last part that convinced her.  She asked me to check the times that The Debt was showing which I did.   If we had gone to see My Idiot Brother, we would have ate dinner after the movie.  Since we were going to a later showing we went to Marie Callender’s which you can read about here.

So eventually we made it to the Valley Plaza.  I also knew for sure that we were going to end up in one of their cigar box screening rooms.   And this we did, thus keeping The Girlfriend’s record intact of only picking movies that either everybody had already seen weeks before or nobody wanted to see now.  But even so, the theater was hardly busy.  In fact they only had one concession stand open and the girl working it was practically begging for people to buy popcorn.  Later I would find out that it was the weakest weekend of the year at the box office and boy did it show at this place.

Still, for some reason they had not cleaned out our cigar box cinema yet, even though we weren’t all  that early.  That left me with some time to kill which meant either twiddling my thumbs, talking to The Girlfriend, or taking pictures with my cell.  I opted for taking pictures with my cell.  Lucky you.   I bet since we have been here before I would forego this.  But there’s always something going on.  Nevertheless,  I’ll try to be glib.

Kenny Wormald Who?

Oh well, I can always settle for downloading a nude picture of her.

Now that I’ve wasted your time with all the other crap what about this movie?

 

The Debt is the story of three Israeli Mossad agents who sneak into East Berlin in the 1960’s to locate a German war criminal known as Dieter Vogel, the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christiansen), who experimented on and tortured Jews during World War II at Auschwitz.  Once they have ascertained  that he is the man they are looking for, their mission is to capture him, escape with him from Berlin, and return him to the west to stand trial for his horrendous crimes.  When the film opens the three agents are in fact arriving home as heroes, although Vogel is not with them.  Later we  will  find out why, but opening your picture with a scene that should be near the end is often not a good idea and that ended up being true for The Debt.

Flash forward to the present day.  The daughter of agent Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) and Agent Stephen Gold  (Tom Wilkinson), Sarah Gold  (Romi Aboulafia), has written a book based on the exploits of her mother and the other agents.  In fact, her mother is given the task to read one of the chapters of the book aloud at a party being given to celebrate the book’s release.  As she begins reading, the film flashes back to illustrate the events as they happened, at least as they do in Sarah’s book.

At the same time that Rachel is doing her reading, the third agent, David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds) is picked up for a debriefing, but when he sees Stephen waiting in a nearby vehicle, he commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a truck.

The film then flashes back again to all of the events in the past and what actually happened.  Needless to say, what is written in Sarah’s book may or may not be exactly truthful.  And therein lies the main problem with The Debt. 

Once we realize that everything the agents do in the past is simply a buildup to one moment in time or in this case a book chapter, the film loses much of it’s suspense.  Watching how they capture the despicable Vogel, is chilling enough, especially when a young Rachel (Jessica Chastain) has to pay several visits to him by pretending that she and her make believe young husband David (Sam Worthington) are having trouble conceiving.  And we also see why their escape from Berlin with Dieter failed.  You already knew they weren’t going to make it so it’s simply a matter of finding out why.  And frankly if real life agents were as careless as this trio, the Mossad couldn’t capture a flea on their best day.

The interplay between the agents and Dieter is a study in psychological games, one that Dieter seems more adept at than the three agents.  He  knows how to manipulate them.  You would think they would be prepared for such a thing but they are not.  It is during this time that Rachel falls in love with David, but is rebuffed because he is only concentrating on the mission.  Rachel seeks solace in the arms of Stephen, a decision that has lasting consequences for all concerned.

But despite all that intrigue and love triangulation, it will always be in the back of your mind that this is just the filler until we get to the big reveal scene that tells what really happened one night in Berlin, and you just end up wanting them to get on with it and move the story forward.  And frankly, you’ll probably have guessed the big secret anyway.  Since you already know at the beginning of the movie the trio are going to concoct a fictional retelling of the events, it goes without saying that decision has it’s ramifications as well.  If ever a film begged for linear story telling this one would be the candidate.  The flashbacks in the first twenty minutes or so detract from everything that happened in the past, whereas if they had begun in the sixties as they should have, you probably would have been on the edge of your seat the entire time.  It’s sort of like watching or reading Love Story.  In the first paragraph they tell you the main character is going to die.  So you spend the rest of your time waiting for the Grim Reaper to come down and scoop  Jennifer Cavilleri away.

To make matters worst, the story then picks up in the present day where the agents must deal with the consequences of their actions in Berlin.  It’s interesting enough, but is spoiled by a ridiculous coincidence during the last ten minutes that just doesn’t hold water and will have you leave the theater feeling worse about the film then you would otherwise.  I could only shake my head and wonder why.

It’s a shame too, because some good performances are wasted.  Helen Mirren is always excellent, but Jessica Chastain as the younger Rachel is exceptional and almost upstages her present day counterpart.

 

Likewise, Jesper Christiansen’s portrayal, along with Chastain’s, would normally be the stuff supporting actor nominations are made up of if it were in a better film. As a matter of fact, I found both of the actors who played the younger David and Stephen far more believable and intriguing than their older selves, who just seem crotchety and grumpy.

The bottom line is that the film is worth watching, but I would wait for a DVD rental and no more than that.  And if I can’t recommend that you go out on a road trip of your own to see a film, I have no choice but to give it a grade of C+. It’s a good effort that just misses the mark.  See you, on the road.

The New Blogger I Phone App - Taking it for a drive

Out at Circle K, junking up on some food. I was just bitching about blogger not having a mobile app last weekend. Ask and you shall receive. Thank you blogger.

Friday, September 16, 2011

You Are What You Eat–Denny’s Gut Bustin’ Cheesy Menu, T-Bones Ranch House, Marie Callender’s Pasta Special and Sunday Brunch.

I imagine many of you have ate at one of these places at some point in your life, except for T-Bones which is a local Bakersfield concoction.  It may be harder to find a Marie Callender’s  restaurant near you though.  They closed 30 restaurants in June and filed for bankruptcy protection which is never a good thing.  Most of the stores they closed were on the West Coast, and they gave no notice to employees when they did so, which also is not a good thing.

The one we’ve been to in Bakersfield off and on over the years is still in business, and I’ve always received decent food and service there.  And besides, the pies are always good. 

As for Denny’s, while the menu doesn’t vary much from place to place, there are always variables with any chain.  These would be restaurant management, who’s cooking in the kitchen with Dinah, and of course the service by the employees.  The local Denny’s that we frequent opened just over a year or so ago, and we’ve never had any big problem.  I can only remember a couple of times that our visit might have been worth complaining about at all and nothing really disastrous.  At least not yet.

Before Denny’s came to town, we used to eat at a restaurant up the street called Perkos that really didn’t have a whole lot of competition for the kind of restaurant it is.  I believe it too is part of a chain, but more local than nationwide.  You can see it in this article I wrote previously at the beginning of my blog rejuvenation project.

For a while it wasn’t a bad place to dine.  Then for some reason things went to hell in a hand basket.  The food became inedible, the portions smaller, the prices higher, and the service hit the skids.  After two ridiculously bad visits to Perkos with The Girlfriend, we quit going.  I looked up who owned the chain, sent them an email and they never responded.  That was about two years ago. 

I did go back with Honorable Son No. 3 once to see if things had improved now that they had competition, but sadly, they were just as bad as always.  Still, the local yokels frequent the place, mostly out of habit.  But I can see Denny’s seriously cutting into their business seeing as how management and ownership don’t seem to really give a shit.  So don’t believe this nonsense on their web site.

Anyway, I’m off track and this is supposed to be about Denny’s.  As I was saying, the menu doesn’t change much except for the temporary themes that they have on the menu until they eventually wear out their welcome and a new one appears.  That’s why it always says “For a limited time only.” 

I think the last one they had was called something like Tastes Across America.  It went over well with The Girlfriend who really enjoyed some sandwich that had beef and French Fries on it.  I was in full diet mode at the time so I couldn’t partake.  I usually had the Tilapia and it wasn’t so hot.

But that theme is gone and has now been replaced with “Let’s Get Cheesy.”  Of course you know that anything with cheese in it is loaded with calories.  Some of these items are real artery clogging diet busters even if you’re not on a diet.  So don’t go the day before the doctor is checking your cholesterol.  But I’m not here to count calories.  Far be it from me to try and tell people what they should or should not eat.

So last week The Girlfriend and I were at Denny’s and took a couple of the new menu items for a drive around the eating booth.  The girlfriend ordered the Cheesy Sampler.  I can’t report on how it tasted because she ate it, not I, and she’s not here.  Wait a minute, and I’ll call her on my cell phone and get a full report.

The girlfriend says,

“It was alright.  I liked it well enough.  But it really didn’t have enough cheese on it.  With a name like “Cheesy” I expected it to have more cheese which is what gave it its flavor.  Other than that, I liked it.” 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, The Girlfriend is staying in Bakersfield for six weeks or more, babysitting her aunt’s house.  Guess I’ll just have to tough it out.  Hurray for me!

Looking more closely at the picture, I can see what she means.  For it being a cheese promotion, the cheese does look a bit skimpy on everything except the eggs.  And I’m not sure about that sausage.  Looks a bit overdone.  That’s what it looks like in real life, but keep in mind that it will probably vary from restaurant to restaurant.

You can compare it to the original on Denny’s web site by going there and……oh hell, never mind.  I did the work for you and here’s a screen capture of what Denny’s says it’s suppose to look like:

Don’t hold the fact that the Denny’s picture looks so much better deter you.  The chances are that’s not even real food on that plate.  I knew what ever I had off that menu was going to put a hole in my diet so I tried to choose something that wouldn’t add 20 lbs. to my frame as I walked out the door. I finally chose something called the “Cheesy Skillet.”   Keep in mind that this thing can best be compared to a breakfast fajita skillet without the tortilla to pile it into.  Also, the one on Denny’s web site shows it with the eggs sunny side up.  Mine was over easy.  Here’s Denny’s ad:

Looks good enough to eat doesn’t it?  Well, keep your expectations in check.  Because there’s the advertisement, and then there’s the reality.  And the reality is this:

All I can say is that it tasted better than it looks.  Then again, mine wasn’t in a shiny new skillet and posed for a picture either.  And unlike The Girlfriend, mine had plenty of cheese.  So much so that it looked like it was seeping through the egg.  I hadn’t counted on the vegetables being charbroiled though.  But for the price, it was good enough,  and filled us both up.  But that may have been because The Girlfriend insisted on us sharing a big plate of pancakes.  But I think on my next trip to Denny’s I’ll try something else.

But if anybody from Denny’s happens this way I do want to register a complaint.  What was the purpose in taking chili off the menu, and then limiting your daily soup selections to about three alternating ones?  I really liked having a bowl of chili once in a while.  Couldn’t you have sold chili burgers to get rid of any excess you may have had?  Bad decision, Denny’s.

Two weekends ago though we made a shopping trip into Bakersfield.  It was supposed to be a movie trip but that didn’t happen.  Instead we ended up at a place we had visited about a month ago.  The place is called T-Bones Ranch House, and is located on District Boulevard in Bakersfield.  The location is not the greatest for us.  It seems to be far away from just about every place we go except Sam’s Club and we don’t go there very often.  This time we were way on the other side of Bakersfield and had to use the GPS to make sure we arrived there without getting lost.  And from all the turns we made along the way, we would have had a bit of trouble getting there to say the least.

The last time we were at T-Bones, I was still in full dieting mode.  I still should be but as you can see I’m kind of not at the moment.  I can’t even remember what I had at that time but I know it was fish or chicken.  It’s always fish or chicken.  I thought I had a picture of that meal somewhere but my hard drive is such a mess.  I really really have to get that situation under control…..someday.

Besides being a restaurant, T-Bones also has a lounge where they have live music.  But if that’s not your bag, have no fear.  It is off on the other side of the building and the acoustics are such that you won’t even notice.  On this trip, the special was a 12 oz. Rib-eye complete with salad, potatoes, and dinner rolls for $18.95 each.  And that is what we ordered.  I ordered mine medium, and my girlfriend ordered hers medium well I believe. 

Although it was a Saturday, the place didn’t seem very busy.  In fact, I don’t think there was enough for all the help to do.  You’ve heard of service with a smile?  Well we got that and then some.  And then some more.  And then some more again.  Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  But I’m not really going to complain about that because I’d rather see the waiter/waitress too much than not at all if you know what I mean.

I took a few camera shots of the interior while we waited on our dinner.  Not really much to see here except that it’s supposed to have that Texas type ranch atmosphere to it.  But I’ve only been through Texas once, and didn’t stop at any ranch in Amarillo, so I’m really clueless as to whether or not that’s what they were trying to achieve.  Maybe it was the Ponderosa from Bonanza they were shooting for.  But the Cartwright's have all gone to the big Virginia City in the sky so I can’t fire off an email and ask them either.

You decide.  I am going to have to work on getting better pictures though.  I’m kind of hesitant about taking pictures as you can see.  I guess I could just pass myself off as a tourist but it’s hard to say you’re just passing through once you’ve been to a place two or three times.

I also had a shot of the exterior but damned if I know where it went.  I know I took one but I may have accidentally deleted it.  You know how it is when you’re all thumbs.  Then there was the one I took just as you walk in the door but that was too blurry too use. 

You get your dinner rolls before you get dinner.  The dinner rolls are actually one of the best things about T-Bones.  Rule of thumb:  No matter where you are, if the bread is good, it helps set the pace for the rest of the meal.

Eventually they brought our steaks.  Mine was cooked about the way I liked it but The Girlfriend says that her steak had too much pink.  But she opted to eat it anyway mainly because when we eat out like this The Girlfriend seldom eats much of her meal.  She usually takes most of it home especially since having the lap band surgery.  I told her that if she reheated her steak in the microwave that the pink would disappear.  And it did when she took my advice the next day although she said it made the steak tougher.

The steak was tasty enough, but the quality probably could have been  better especially for the price that was charged.  It was a little tough even without The Girlfriend zapping it.  The chili beans weren’t that good either.  They tasted more like the Mexican refried beans than chili beans.  The Girlfriend concurred with me on that.  She had them on our last visit and said they were better that time.  There was also more grease sliding around on my plate than I prefer but it’s not something that would make or break a meal for me.  On the other hand, the salad was fresh, and they use real tomatoes and not those phony miniature ones that some restaurants try to pass off on you.   But I think for the price they could have had a few more ingredients in the salad.

 

The total for all this was about $44.00 not including tip.  So we’re talking roughly $50.00.  Really, I hate the way that having a damn glass of tea or a soft drink in these places jacks up the price.  We’ll probably return to T-Bones again, although once I hit the $50 mark I begin thinking Tahoe Joe’s or even Famous Dave’s.

This past weekend I went to stay in Bakersfield with The Girlfriend and headed up there on Saturday afternoon.  We decided on dinner and a movie.  The movie was “The Debt” of which I’ll be writing about in a separate post sometime soon.  We had our usual debate on where to dine.  We knew that we were going to Marie Callender’s the following morning for brunch because The Girlfriend had purchased some “buy 1 get 1 free coupons” some time back and they were going to expire in October. 

I suggested that we just go to Marie Callender’s at this time as well because it was within reasonable proximity of the theater and not really much out of the way of her Aunt’s house.  She didn’t think we should at first because we would be eating there the next morning.  My argument was that brunch was one thing but this was dinner so we wouldn’t be eating the same things.  After looking at it from that perspective she agreed.

There are many Marie Callender’s around but I’ve only been in two. The one on California Drive in Bakersfield, and we stopped at one near Magic Mountain on our way to L.A. about seven years ago.   But here’s a crappy exterior picture of the one in Bakersfield, and one of the interior as well that I took with my I-phone because once again I forgot the good camera.

I usually have decent meals at this restaurant but on this particular day they had a special on Pasta.  Your choice of Pasta with a Caesar Salad and a slice of pie.   I generally don’t order the specials very often because except for a place like Olive Garden, they’ll often jack you around with serving portions.  But I ordered the Chicken Alfredo and The Girlfriend had the Rigatoni. 

At Marie Callender’s you get cornbread which doesn’t do a thing for me because I’m not a fan.  The girlfriend likes it well enough, but to me it’s just a crumbly tasteless mess.  But I ate a piece anyway, just to be sporting.

See, crumbly mess just as I said it was.  But I imagine it keeps their food cost down and if any chain needs to keep that under control at the moment it would be Ms. Marie’s. 

Soon after we had the cornbread they brought the main meal, and right away I knew that we had made a couple of mistakes.  The first one was in not ordering an appetizer and the second one was ordering the damn special in the first place.  I don’t really know what I expected. Maybe I have spent too much time at Olive Garden.  The Pasta Items on OG’s menu are served on their own large plate and come with all you can eat soup or salad, and all the breadsticks one could ever hope for. In fact, The Girlfriend usually fills up on breadsticks and pasta and then takes her pasta home.

For Marie Callender’s special, the  pasta and the salad were both on the same plate, although the pasta was in it’s own special little Shirley Temple side dish.  I don’t know why I expected it to be on it’s own large plate and the salad in a bowl but I did.  I guess I was daydreaming about other places again. 

The Chicken Alfredo Pasta actually looked like it was made from a box of Betty Crocker’s chicken helper, the Rigatoni looked like it came right from the Kitchen of Chef Boyardee.  But maybe it tasted better than it looked.  It didn’t really.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t very flavorful at all.  The girlfriend felt the same way about her rigatoni.  And the salad was so chintzy, I would have been better off just ordering a meal with the salad bar.  But lesson learned:  No more specials at Marie Callenders because the only thing special about it is the money they make by being chintzy with the food.  I mean, there’s just nothing more to say about it, so I guess I’ll just show you.

And I’m sure you thought I was exaggerating.  Anyway, there was always the pie and you can’t really go wrong with pie now can you?  Have you ever seen the movie Michael?

Pie
Pie
Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it's pie
Apple!
Pumpkin!
Minced
an' wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you've got em'
Pie
Me o my
I love pie

Anyway, that’s how I feel about pie.  And of course, since it is a special, and considering what had come previously, you knew it wasn’t going to be very much pie.  And you would be right.  Notice the fork size and the slice of pie slice.  I think two bites and I was done with that sucker.  Oh well, at least it kept us from dawdling and we made it to the movie on time.  But your best bet is to wait until they are on sale and buy one of their whole pies.  That place sells a lot of pies that way.  This here was just sad, and if it weren’t for The Girlfriend’s coupons we wouldn’t have gone back the next day.

Buffets are tricky.  They can either be very good, or just terrible or even somewhere in between.  They can be overprice or a real bargain.  We had been to the Marie Callender’s Sunday Brunch Buffet before and at $18 a pop, it’s in the upper stratosphere of buffet prices.  At least for the Bakersfield area.  Of course, if you’re ever in Vegas and go to The Bellagio’s buffet, then you’d better take out a loan.  Remember, we had a coupon for buy one get one free so we were basically paying only nine bucks each.

The brunch is a mix of breakfast and lunch items.  The last time we went to Ms. Callender’s for this we arrived later in the day and the place was packed.  This time it was around 9 a.m. and just about everybody was either sleeping off their hangovers or in church praying for forgiveness for whatever it was they were doing when they tied one on the night before.  So that was a big plus and something to keep in mind if we ever go back.  So arrive early if you can.

As buffets go, this one is pretty good.  There is a wide variety of breakfast and lunch items to choose from, although the majority of the items are breakfast oriented.  You can also get an omelet freshly made to your specifications.   Order your omelet before getting any other items.  And unlike some places, the staff does a good job of refilling your drink (the price is included in the meal which is always a big plus), keeping the food fresh and warm, and the food area very clean.  Everything has it’s own heated container, and the lid’s actually shut properly so that’s another point for their side.

But remember, you are seldom allowed to take any food home with you unless you sneak in some baggies and put them in your pocket or purse.  The Girlfriend always gets the big eye and piles up way more than she can eat so I end up having to help her out because I hate food waste.  Also remember that at $18, you have to eat a lot of food to get your money’s worth.  But here’s what our meal looked like:

You can see that I probably piled too much on my plage, but sometimes it’s hard to choose and I don’t like having to get a bunch of different plates.  But The Girlfriend doesn’t mind doing that.  She had an omelet, ribs, ham, potatoes and Eggs Benedict.

That blurry picture is barbecued chicken.  That was mine.  All and all, I’d say this meal made up for the night before so I’m glad we went.  I’m not sure if it’s worth almost $19 each though if you’re just having breakfast, but that’s up to you and your pocketbook to decide that.  Not me.  At any rate, I’m sure we’ll go back sooner or later as long as they’re in business.  However long that may be.  Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner has been served.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Wild Hogs (2007)

 

images

Wild Hogs (2007)
Tim Allen
John Travolta
Martin Lawrence
William H. Macy
Marisa Tomei
 
Ever since Adam was last seen running around naked as a jaybird in the garden of Eden, middle aged men have been undergoing a mid life crises. As a matter of fact, it was Adam’s mid life self doubt that enabled Eve to convince him to take a bite out of that damn apple. What? You don’t believe me? How do I know this? It’s because I’m a true scholar and you’re not.

Way back either a gazillion years ago or two thousand years ago depending on your religion and which bible you have handy, Adam was pondering, questioning his values, and wondering if there was more to life than hanging around the Garden of Eden watching Eve horse assing around with that damn snake in the grass. He wondered if the rest of his days would be spent doing nothing more than eating bananas and oranges, watching his hair get more grey, and trying to figure out what it was about a certain snake that captivated Eve.
 
So when she told him that the serpent said taking a bite of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge would make him feel better and open up a whole new life for him, Adam was ready and willing to change his hum drum life. And ever since that fateful day when Adam suddenly discovered that Eve was indeed one hot mama with boobs, Hollywood has found the subject of men and their mid life crises to be the stuff of box office gold. Okay, so my bible is a little different from yours. Let’s not nit pick.

For a long while, most of the stories Hollywood concocted on the subject matter revolved around the one man one mid life crises at a time dilemma. Sometimes the plot would center around one man’s lust for another woman, sometimes another man’s woman, or sometimes his daughter’s best friend or as in the case of Blame It On Rio, your best friend’s daughter.
 
For instance, in 1955 Tom Ewell lusted happily after Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch while his wife was away on vacation. Could you blame him? But the film ended with Tom heading out to join his wife and kid on vacation with his many fantasies in regards to Miss Monroe remaining unfulfilled. Well, it was the fifties so what did you expect?
 
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The film did not end so happily for another person approaching their mid life crises though. It seemed Joe DiMaggio just didn’t much care for billboards showing his wife Marilyn’s skirt billowing upward above her panties being plastered all over New York City.
 
Forty-four years later, Hollywood was still at it. The man was still middle-aged but the gal was much younger as Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) went completely bananas while having a lustful eye for teenager Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). And unlike old Tom Ewell and his Seven Year Itch, this time the ending wasn’t at all cheerful for poor old Lester, may he rest in peace.

Lester’s undoing was that he just never took the time to realize that the best way to discover yourself after forty is to go on an outing with your best buddies forever. I mean, didn’t he at some point see City Slickers where Mitch (Billy Crystal) and his pals Phil ( Daniel Stern) and Ed (Bruno Kirby)went on a Cattle Drive to rediscover and reinvent their sad and pathetic lives? If Lester was that horny, he could have gone on a Cattle Drive, found himself and possibly a nice looking cowgirl like Bonnie Rayburn (Helen Slater) to lust after just like Phil did. And let me tell you, I would have taken Supergirl over Mena Suvari any old day of the week. At any rate, it’s way too late for Lester but not too late for our newest group of fifty somethings plus one. Plus one? Well, you’ll see.

Although Lester was never lucky enough to go on a buddy driven cattle drive, Hollywood knows a good thing when they have one and once again have brought to the silver screen another saga of middle aged men feeling as if they have wasted their entire lives without doing anything interesting or exciting and are just biding time until old age, arthritis, and low box office receipts, sink them once and for all. For this 2007 replay of the men in flux plot, Touchstone Pictures lined up four familiar names that have all had big screen successes at various times in their careers. Our would be explorers this time around are Dougie (Tim Allen. Age 53), Woody (John Travolta Age 52), Dudley (William H. Macy Age 57) and Bobby (Martin Lawrence (Age 42), thus making Bobby the aforementioned plus one.
 
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Since Billy Crystal and his gang of rootin’ tootin’ cowboys had already done the cowpoking horse riding scenario twice, writer Brad Copeland decided to send this aging quartet out west to discover the Pacific Ocean by way of motorcycles. Of course, to go out west our quaint quartet has to have a reason to go, and as always the case in movie land, each of the four friends are coping with a different set of circumstances.

Dougie is a Dentist who does nothing but clean and pull teeth all day and has trouble relating to his kid who thinks the old man is a total bore.

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Then there is shy and timid Dudley, who has never had a steady girlfriend, and quite possibly has never dated any woman more than once. Old Dud is also a major klutz, so if the script calls for pratfalls and physical humor, he is ready willing and able to provide it.
 
Woody is a rich guy who unbeknownst to his BBF’s (best buddies forever) is now broke and in the middle of a divorce. He is nothing more than your every day All-American Jerk.
 
And Bobby? He lives in a house with his wife, his two daughters and his mother-in-law and is totally henpecked by all of them. We find all of this out in the first few minutes of the film when we are quickly shown about two minutes, maybe less of each sad and pathetic life. Think of it as a cram course in getting to know your movie characters. And shortly after that we find out that the foursome gets together on weekends and ride their motorcycles, except for Dudley who spends a lot of time being knocked off of his by stop signs and anything else that might happen into his path.

So were they all once members of a motorcycle gang when they were younger? No, they weren’t. The reason they are the Wild Hogs is because Dougie’s wife sewed the Wild Hogs emblems on their leather jackets to make them feel better. To feel better about what exactly we are never told.
 
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After having lost everything and now having nothing, it is Woody who comes up with the idea for a cross country trip. And after quite a bit of coaxing and one panic attack, our fun bunch are on their way to entertain us and keep us rolling in the aisles with their humorous but touching story of four men out to rediscover life. Well, not exactly.
As it turns out, you’ll be hard pressed to find too many humorous moments and the only touching that is done has nothing to do with your heart strings. It comes early in the film when the feckless foursome are discovered sleeping together by a gay state patrolman. Yes, it’s the same scene you’ve already seen dozens of time in the preview, and have seen in countless other films that try to turn homophobia into high camp or comedy.
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Later, we get another comedy bit where the guys go skinny dipping, and shortly after that they meet up with what turns out to be their main antagonists, a real genuine practicing over-the-hill motorcycle type gang called the “Del Fuegos,” who spend most of their time sitting in their favorite bar. The gang is led by Jack (Ray Liotta Age 53), and he and his bbf’s (best buddies forever) wastes no time in sending the Hogs on their way but not until after they’ve stolen Dudley’s motorcycle. Shortly thereafter Woody decides to sneak back to the bar to reclaim Dudley’s cycle, and in the process accidentally burns the bar down, an important detail that he fails to mention to the guys, just in case doing so might muck up the plot or the suspense if there really were any.

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All of this happens before the movie is even half over, and that’s not a good thing. Soon the boys end up in a small town and we spend the rest of the time waiting for the completely predictable and obvious to happen. Will Jack and the Del Fuego’s find the Hogs? Will the Hogs find out the truth about what happened to the bar? Will Dudley find a gal (Marisa Tomei) and fall in love? Will the Hogs find their manhood and stand up against the Del Fuegos before its too late? Will Woody tell the guys his wife divorced him and that he is broke? Will we be entertained for the rest of the movie? Will we even care about all of this? I can answer the last two questions for you by telling you that the answer is a very emphatic no.
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The problem is not that the entire second half of the film is so predictable because that can be overcome with a witty script and putting the guys in some humorous or even semi-humorous situations. But it never materializes. Once the guys are finished with their skinny dipping which isn’t all that funny in the first place, the rest of the movie is dead on arrival. I did not laugh one time.
 
In City Slickers, much of the humor was derived from the fact that the Billy Crystal and his bbf’s (best buddies forever) had never been on anything like a cattle drive thus making each situation new to them so that they could be easily milked for as much humor as the script called for. In Wild Hogs, other than the fact that these guys are on a cross country trip, they already know about all there is to riding a motorcycle down the road just as millions of other people do every day. The only obstacles they really come up against within the film are the gay motorcycle cop, a family swim meet, and the motorcycle gang. That’s it. And since the whole motorcycle gang plot takes up more than half of the running time, there’s not much time to have fun with anything else. Even the big climactic confrontation with the Del Fuegos at the end fails to generate any humor or excitement.
 
To make matters worse, never once during the film do we really have any sense of fun and adventure. There’s something romantic and adventurous about a cattle drive, but nothing remotely resembling that seemed to have entered the writers thoughts when they were putting the script together of our four motorcycle riders. In a trip across country, you would think they could have come up with something more than what we have here. At one point the writer must have become so desperate for something funny to happen these guys, he randomly throws in a bull slapping scene that has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on in this film. Yes, I know that was in the trailer also, as were most of the so called comedic scenes. So if you’ve seen that, you have in fact seen the movie.

Another reason City Slickers succeeded where this film fails is that it took the time at the beginning to help us connect with the characters. In Wild Hogs, we are escorted through these guys life problems so fast that we are never really given the chance to care if they go on some damn motorcycle trip or not. It doesn’t help any that Travolta plays Woody first as a jerk, and then later as a simpering, whiny, coward. Nor does it help that although we see that Martin Lawrence’s Bobby is henpecked, it seems to be a problem of his own making. When you compare that to Daniel Stern’s extra-marital affair being exposed in front of his wife in City Slickers, it pales by comparison. Not to mention the fact that just that one scene in City Slickers is worth way more laughs than all the scenes in Wild Hogs put together. The best I can say about Martin Lawrence though is that in this film, he is at least tolerable and this is the first film I’ve seen him in where he achieved that dubious distinction. Not so John Travolta, who seems to be on another one of his many downward career slides.

Tim Allen on the other hand, just doesn’t have the knack to make you sympathize with his character the way Billy Crystal has always been able to in his films. Tim Allen’s film career has been totally dependent on putting him in some outlandish situation and seeing how well he copes with it. In other words, he can only be as good as the script is, as was the case in Galaxy Quest. The strange thing is that although Allen seems to have top billing and is used extensively in the first twenty minutes to set up the premise, once the trip gets under way he just as well have headed off in a different direction considering how much he is given to do.

Bill Macy, who is the best of a very sad lot should have known better than to get involved or at least should have read the script before signing on the dotted line We like him, we like Dudley, but like everything else we just don’t care. And his impending romance with Marisa Tomei is never anything close to being believable. There are times when both of them looked as if they wished they were somewhere else.
 
When I first heard of the idea for Wild Hogs, I thought it was something that had considerable possibilities if done right. I guess a lot of other people thought so as well as it did boffo box office in the first weekend of release. Inexplicably, even after that opening week when word of mouth should have killed it, Hogs went on to gross $168 million in the U.S. alone. And if that isn’t enough, the film seems to be making another killing on its recent DVD release. The only explanation that I can offer is that there must be an awful lot of kids out there under the age of 12 who for one reason or another, find the inane antics of the Wild Hogs simply mesmerizing. Sort of like watching the Three Stooges on two wheelers. Wait a minute. I take that back. That’s an insult to the Stooges and Stooge fans everywhere.

But for anyone older than 10 or eleven, I advise that you only watch this at your own peril. And maybe I just figured out what really was bothering Lester in American Beauty. Perhaps he had seen the future and saw himself riding a motorcycle to the west coast with a gang of misfits. That would be more than enough to depress anybody. And because of that I have no choice but to offer Wild Hogs my grade, and that would be a D+. If only they could have figured out a way for a motorcycle to give birth to a baby calf, it might have all worked out in the end. There’s always the unfortunate possibility of a sequel to accomplish that though.. I dread the thought.

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Peter Pan (2003)

 



(2003)
Jeremy Sumpter
Rachael Hurd-Wood
Jason Isaacs
Olivia Williams
Lynn Redgrave
Richard Brier


When I was very young, the first version of Peter Pan I remember having seen was the annual televised production of the Broadway Musical starring Mary Martin. It was delightful in its own limited way because after all, when Mary as Peter took to the skies you could definitely see the wires. Not to mention that Peter's shadow looked suspiciously like female hosiery sewn together in the shape of a boy.

Some years later, when it was first released on video, I finally was able to enjoy the animated Disney version of J.M. Barrie's classic story. The songs, the animation, the characters were all first rate and I loved it.

Later, I caught a special showing of the Cathy Rigby’s production of Peter Pan.   She was full of spunk and energy, and certainly had the physical frame for the role not to mention scads of athletic ability. And, it was getting more and more difficult to see the wires, but that could be attributed to my failing eyesight. But at the age of sixty Cathy is still flying high so send me tickets will you?  No word on dates in the California area where I live but if you can you should go.  Here are the dates (2011).   (If you let the video below play, I believe you can see the whole show. It’ll automatically switch from one part to the next and well worth your while.)  But see the show live if you possibly can.  Undoubtedly it may be your last chance.



Later, Stephen Spielberg tried his hand at it, bringing us Robin Williams as a grown up Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook and even Julia Roberts as Tinkerbelle. Spielberg called his film Hook, and it's the first time that particular character was ever given star billing. I love Julia Roberts, but the beam of light used for Tinkerbelle in the Broadway production gave a better performance. Of course, being a Spielberg film you couldn't see the wires but surprisingly Spielberg somehow forgot to make his film either interesting, entertaining, or magical. I'd rather have had the magic and seen the wires. We’ll just chalk up the whole film as a bad idea from the get go.  The question is, just how many versions of the story does one need? Please don't despair, as it turns out, the 2003 version  may just be the best of them all.
 
 
In late 2003, Director P.J. Hogan brought to the screen his vision of the boy who would never grow up and having viewed it on DVD, I can proclaim with all honesty that it is (at least for me) the definitive version of Peter Pan. Through the spectacular use of CGI, Hogan brings us a wondrous and beautiful Neverland never before realized on film. From the opening scenes in London and the flight to Neverland, to the snow encased ship of Captain Hook and his Pirates, each scene is rendered in illustrious detail.
 

In one of the more humorous bits in the film when Peter loses his shadow, the shadow takes on a life of its own and it sure isn't unused panty hose. When Peter Pan flies, he does so unimpeded by any laws of gravity, twirling, bouncing, and floating, in a whimsical way that not unlike Superman, will convince you that with the help of good thoughts and fairy dust, a boy can indeed fly. With each movement, Tinkerbelle emits a shining sparkling cloud of fairy dust that fills the screen like a thousand Independence Day Sparklers. When Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael first arrive in Neverland, they land on puffy pinkish clouds, which are quickly bombarded by Captain Hook and his cannons.
 
 
In one of the most compelling and touching scenes in the film, Peter and Wendy are witness to a fairy dance, and then take to the skies themselves in an airborne ballet. When Pan takes flight to engage in swordplay with Hook and his pirates the scenes are nothing short of amazing. These are just a few of the many magical, charming, and exciting moments that energizing Peter Pan like never before.
 
 
As for the story, it pretty much sticks to previous incarnations we've seen in the books, films, and on Broadway. Wendy tells stories, Pan listens and then loses his shadow one night. The dog Nana makes a mess of things, Papa tells Wendy she has to grow up, Pan comes back to retrieve said shadow and off we go to Never Never Land!
 
There is however, something inherently different about the relationship between Pan and Wendy than anything previously seen. We are made well aware of the fact that Wendy stands on the threshold of womanhood seeing as how we are told this often during the early part of the film. Peter on the other hand, had run away from home with Tinkerbelle before the rites of passage from boyhood to manhood had commenced. It is well within Wendy's ability to love, whereas the concept of true love is a foreign concept for Peter. He cannot love, and will not love, and is firm in his resolve to stay a boy forever. It sets up a much more tense conflict between Wendy and Peter and adds an emotional depth to the story never before realized.

Much of the success of Peter Pan also has to go to the young actors portraying Peter and Wendy. Jeremy Sumpter, who shined in Bill Paxton's haunting film Frailty, brings Peter to life like no one else has. For most of the film he is as he should be, the carefree rascal who sees fighting Hook and his crew as the ultimate in playground merriment.
 
Late in the film, as he discovers the darker side of his emotions, he handles the transition as well if not better than many adult actors.  For Wendy, Hogan chose English Actress Rachael Hurd-Wood. As far as I can discover, this is her first film role of any kind, yet one would hardly believe that would be possible just from watching this film. When she discovers she is on the verge of entering womanhood, she is able to portray both the fear and loathing of the prospect, but yet she depicts a wide eyed curiosity of what is to take place. Later, her anger and frustration in dealing with Peter's vow of perpetual childhood, has the same believability of someone twice her age dealing with the same conflicting feelings.

 

Most of the adult actors are no slouches either. Jason Isaacs does a duo role as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. How good is he? I didn't realize he was playing both roles until referencing the credits on IMDb. As Mr. Darling, the timid banker, he reminded me a lot of David Tomlinson's Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins. His Hook is as dastardly a hook that has ever taken to the screen. Let's just say that when this Hookdoes away with someone, they pretty much stay dead and you won't see that kind of ruthlessness in the Disney animated film.

 
 
Olivia Williams as Mrs. Darling is perhaps the weakest link in the film. She seems not to be able to portray the deep sadness that comes when one's children are missing, and likewise her joy at their return home is equally unimpressive. She is clearly overshadowed by Lynn Redgrave as Aunt Millicent.

 
 

And what about Tinkerbelle? I certainly can't leave her out. She is played with a lot of panache by an actress named Ludivine Sagnier. She does it with a lot of spunk, a little sass, and a ton of energy. She will quickly make you completely forget the atrocity Julia Roberts made of the same role in Spielberg's Hook.
 
 
And most importantly there's the biggest surprise of all. Having seen the trailer several times before the film's release, I was under the assumption that most of the really good stuff was shown in those few minutes of advertising. I couldn't have been more wrong. Let's just say that if you saw the previews in the theater or on the internet, what you saw is just the tip of the iceberg of the discoveries waiting for you within this film.

One may come to the conclusion that perhaps I am going overboard in my praise. Yet, whether you are young or just young at heart, or wish you could fly away from your troubles to the wonderful place called Neverland, there is something in Peter Pan for even the most cynical film-goer. For an hour and fifty three minutes, it certainly made me feel younger than my years, and when a film does that I have no choice but to give it my grade and it's an A sprinkled with a healthy dose of fairy dust.