"You see my son, you make your heaven and hell for yourselves on earth, you only bring it with you here."
Those are the frightening words spoken by Reverend Tim Thompson (played by the great Sydney Greenstreet) to a small group of passengers aboard an eerie steamship shortly after its departure from war-torn London. The year is 1944, and it will soon be "Judgement Day" for a varied array of unique individuals who don't yet realize they died enroute to the docks when a Luftwaffe air raid bombed their shuttle bus from above.
The opening shot indicates the passenger liner is owned by the Great White Steamship Company. I suggest one stay clear of this cruise line just as you would the White Star Line, the only difference between the two is you will probably go to a cold, watery grave aboard the latter whereas you will be forced to disembark forever in either Bali or Belize (my idea of Heaven and Hell) with the former.
(Yes, I've been to Belize -- I hope it isn't too late to clean up my act.)
The entire cast is truly terrific. John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Eleanor Parker, Edmund Gwen, George Tobias, George Coulouris, Faye Emerson, Dennis King, Isobel Elsom, Gilbert Emery and Sara Allgood comprise the entire passenger manifest. As Sara's name indicates, all are good (if not great) in their roles. Together, they comprise an excellent ensemble, although I will admit that Garfield tends to go over the top on occasion.
Of course, in this morality play the only baggage each brings aboard the unnamed ship is the baggage they carry inside. It is the magnificent Greenstreet as Reverend Thompson, aka "The Examiner," who sends each to their ultimate destiny. You can expect a surprise or two along the way but be forewarned -- the unexpected, unprincipled denouement is perhaps the most exasperating in the history of American cinema. Yes, the Gospel according to Jack L. Warner simply had to have a happy ending even if it makes no sense whatsoever. For this unpardonable indiscretion I'm sure he is now permanently residing in an outlying area near Belize City.
Two additional thoughts regarding BETWEEN TWO WORLDS:
Sydney Greenstreet appeared in a grand total of only twenty-three movies. His entire motion picture career lasted a mere eight years and it ended well over fifty years ago. However, starting with THE MALTESE FALCON and going on to such classics as CASABLANCA and FLAMINGO ROAD, Mr. Greenstreet remains one of the best remembered and most recognizable film actors of all time. Fittingly, there is a road named Greenstreet in Sydney, Australia. (I knew you were going to ask.)
Also, pay attention to the music in BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. The appropriately melancholy and mysterious score was done by Erich Wolfgang Korngold -- often credited with "inventing" the syntax of orchestral film music. Clearly he remains one of the best ever at his craft, and should you be looking for a little controversy, I encourage you to get a copy of KING'S ROW (1942), starring Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan. Listen to the powerful score and then tell me John Williams wasn't at the very least "extremely influenced" when he wrote his score for STAR WARS.
If George Harrison can be successfully sued for plagiarizing the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" for the melody of his own "My Sweet Lord," then Mr. Williams must have a hard time sleeping. I'm tempted to call the Law Offices of James Sokolove, but I refrain since an eerie, unnamed passenger ship belonging to the Great White Steamship Company awaits.
Mr. Williams -- meet Mr. Warner.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Restaurant Review by Jerry L. Nelson
It reigned supreme in the meat market bars and restaurants of the eighties and nineties. It, coupled with a bottle of gawd-awful chardonnay with the buttery, oakey flavors of California, and the men among us would be guaranteed a score in triple digits. “It” is King Salmon, prepared any way you wanted, topped with (insert topping of choice here) usually some kind of teriyaki glaze. Well, its’ days are numbered for I have been to the kitchen top and have seen the light.
Higher than Salmon in those supposedly good for you fats and omega three stuff, the new kid on the block is Kona Kampechi, a South Pacific fish or, more specifically, Hawaiian (hence, I suppose, the word Kona). Reminds me a bit of grouper or even amberjack. This flakey, hearty, meaty fish stood out on my plate during a recent foray to The Grill At Leon Springs. The fact that The Grill is located in the original Romano’s Macaroni Grill building in Leon Springs, Texas, just north of San Antonio off Interstate 10, doesn’t hurt. A lot a great food passed out of that kitchen before Phil Romano sold out to Brinker International and the concept became just another “me too” Italian restaurant.
This time I dragged Friend with me for a change. Both our wives were conveniently out of town working so the two of us could afford to play. I caught some hell for that one. Oh, well….some of us eat to live while the fortunate among us live to eat.
The first thing you notice about The Grill is the old limestone exterior. Once inside, you see a contrast of the old with new all around as well as a humongous wine room….wonder if they seat in there or is a bit on the chilly side? Friend and I were seated by Liza (with a Z) who immediately spotted us for trouble. She pawned us off on Jenn, a comely young lass of college age….in fact Jenn informed us she was a communications major at UTSA…and quickly added her boyfriend worked in the kitchen, should we get too rambunctious. However, after a couple of pre-dinner beverages and a glass or two of wine I told her to bring him on. Fortunately, (for me) she declined. But I digress.
Friend and I settled in for what appeared, from the menu, to be an excellent selection of everything from Pasta to Seafood to Lamb Chops and Pork Tenderloin with a variety of “side” stops in between. I was ready to jump on the Walnut Blue Cheese Salad and move on to Spring Rolls of shrimp, crab and pork and then, assuming there would still be room, make my entrée in the form of Chicken Picatta, and of course, saving room for dessert of an individual Chocolate Soufflé. (I’m stuffed just writing all of that.) Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed when Friend decided on the Grilled Rainbow Trout for himself, served with a Tomato/Caper Relish, Roasted Potatoes and Grilled Veggies….all for $15.95….very reasonable once I saw the size of serving and quite well prepared. Friend was pleased with his choice.
Sweet Jenn got my attention with one of the off-menu specials, quite often the best way to go. She offered up a fish I had never heard of….Kona Kampechi. She described this as being higher in those good-for-you fats and oils than Salmon. Since you already know I despise Salmon, this sounded like a viable option. It came topped with four Grilled Shrimp and just a “hinted at” Honey/Teriyaki Glaze (will anybody ever come up with something besides Teriyaki for a glaze?) over a Toasted Sesame Slaw which was really Sautéed Julienned Leeks and Carrots. I don’t know where the sesame flavor was supposed to come from unless it was done in a bit of toasted sesame oil. No toasted sesame flavor but none the less, quite good….and only $22.95. Having never before had Kona Kempechi, let alone heard of it, I knew not what to expect, only to discover my new, favorite fish.
It was surprisingly flaky and solid at the same time, holding up well and not falling apart. The larger-than-I-could-eat serving was properly grilled, not even the least bit tough or dry, something easy to let happen if you don’t pay attention to it. In one word, outstanding. I recommend a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with either of the seafood dishes we had. Really, any dry white should pair nicely but for gawd sake, stay away from that 1980’s style California Chardonnay with its oakey, buttery aftertaste.
By now Friend and I were bordering on the full mark but I persuaded him to try an individual Chocolate Soufflé for dessert. We both ordered one and should you do so, turn in your request with your entrée so you don’t have to wait so long. A good server should be able to time it out so there’s no overly long wait as we had. Unfortunately the wait wasn’t worth it. I do love soufflés and know a good one when I taste it. Sadly though, ours were on the cakey side, as if they were made with too much flour and not enough egg white….or perhaps mixed a bit too long knocking out all of the air, for ours were anything but light and airy. While Chef Tomme Johnson certainly knows his fish, he might double check the soufflé recipe. (Really a small disappointment when you consider the damage we did overall). Hint….don’t pour the Grand Marnier sauce over the Chocolate Soufflé….BAD combination. They need to offer a Grand Marnier Soufflé with that sauce.
This is a restaurant I will return to. There are too many other possibilities on the menu that sound delicious. Unfortunately a lot of people know about this place so, on the weekend, make a reservation.
Salmon, if there is a Neptune in the sea, your days are relegated to patties in the school cafeteria line. On second thought, that food is bad enough without forcing the kids to eat that crap every Friday.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
A recent sojourn to the Emerald Isle found the lovely Lynda and yours truly driving the perilous backroads of the Irish countryside with the jocular Jerry (Needtovent's intrepid restaurant reviewer) and his child bride of nearly forty years. The highlight of the trip was to hook up with Alan Moors, a redoubtable raconteur Lynda and I met on a previous vacation. We've been close friends since.
Among the gallimaufry of glorious Gaelic adventures is this Kodak moment taken just outside the idyllic little village we stayed in for four fun-filled days. Yes, that's the gregarious, glabrous Alan and the frequently bollixed, Bohemian Bob in a posed tribute to "Doolin Banjos."
Is that Ned Beatty I hear squealing?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The following is from THE GREAT AMERICAN BASEBALL CARD FLIPPING, TRADING AND BUBBLE GUM BOOK:
"Elmer Valo was a journeyman outfielder who managed to stay in the major leagues for twenty years. He was an average hitter, but an exceptional pinch hitter, particularly in his later years. What I will always remember Elmer Valo for, however, will be his spectacular catches in deep left field in Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium, catches that inevitably had him crashing into the wall and crumpling dazed to the ground, with his glove in the air and the ball still in it."
Brendan C. Boyd
To my knowledge, Elmer Valo is the only Czechoslovakian-born player to reach "The Bigs." That, alone, makes him one of my all-time favorite players. After all, I am proud of my Czech heritage and so I followed Elmer Valo's career far more closely than that of more famous ballplayers like Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Wayne Terwilliger.
The Great One's nickname -- "Wall Crusher" -- is both descriptive and accurate. There is some dispute about whether or not he entered the final game of the 1939 season as an 18-year-old pinch hitter. Many claim this did actually happen, although the official records do not confirm this. (If he did play the team would have been heavily fined since he was not at the time officially listed on the Phillies' roster.) I mention this, because, if true, his major league career would have spanned a remarkable four (4) decades.
Two more things about Elmer. His baseball card photos were often far above the average -- this one with the triple lens TV camera in the background being just one example. Also, believe it or not, during his long, productive playing career Elmer Valo reached base as often as Joe DiMaggio.
That's extremely good company to be in, and so I cannot help but be puzzled as to why this talented, unassuming fellow isn't a household name -- except in his hometown of Rybnik, Czechoslovakia.
Yes, puzzling, indeed.
Pilsner Urquell anyone?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
One critic has called THE LIVES OF OTHERS "a perfect movie." Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, there's no denying that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has crafted a remarkable motion picture in his directorial debut. This clearly is one motion picture that will stay with you long after the lights come up and the popcorn has been depleted.
Ulrich Muhe is brilliant as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, a mid-level officer in the German Democratic Republic's secret service -- the Stasi. Appropriately, the year is 1984, and Hauptmann Wiesler is assigned to oversee the round-the-clock surveillance of Georg Dreyman, a popular writer who has exhibited no signs of disloyality to the state, and his live-in girlfriend, the acclaimed actress Christa-Maria Sieland. Sebastian Koch is excellent as the gregarious Dreyman. This goes double for Martina Gedeck as the vivacious, but vulnerable Sieland. These three outstanding performances, under the steady direction of von Donnersmarck, combine to deliver a heartwrenching, complex, suspenseful thriller of political and moral relevance as well as an unforgettable cinematic portrait of oppression and, surprisingly, compassion.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall the Stasi had over 90,000 employees in a country of only 16 million. In addition, hundreds of thousands were recruited as "unofficial employees" who, for any number of reasons, spied on their neighbors, their co-workers and their families. This Orwellian nightmare of state-sponsored voyeurism had a shattering impact on even the most ordinary citizen -- but the atmosphere of secrecy and justified paranoia also affected many of the Stasi spies. What makes THE LIVES OF OTHERS so compelling is to see and viscerally feel the effects of what this policy can do to Big Brother as well.
(One can only wonder why governmental wiretapping is declared fascist when performed in other countries, but is deemed a "patriotic act" here in the USA.)
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Talk about confusing.
I initially thought THE WASP WOMAN was a bio-pix about Hillary Clinton. But it isn't.
Then I wondered if it might be the life story about some lesser-known "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" female -- perhaps the honey-blonde hymenoptera haranguer who attacked a recent subdivision POA Board Meeting. (You know who you are.) Wrong again.
Alas, this "Wasp Woman" is none other than slinky Susan Cabot in her final film role. Written and directed by the King of Kitch, Roger Corman, some critics have hailed THE WASP WOMAN as the first feminist horror film. That's a bit of an overstatement, although the idea of any woman (even in reel life back in 1960) heading a multi-million dollar empire with unbridled determination and guile was as rare as a jet-black Jujube.
The opening twelve minutes focuses entirely on bees -- not wasps. We see beehives and beekeepers. We see real bees, not the colored Styrofoam pellets Irwin Allen tossed in THE SWARM (1978). There's nary a wasp anywhere -- neither the insect nor the female human variety.
It almost begs the question: Is this B movie a bee movie -- title notwithstanding?
Fear not, eventually the bees are relegated to simply being extras when it is discovered that the royal jelly of a queen wasp has greater rejuvenating powers than that of a queen bee. Dr. Eric Zinthrop's laboratory now contains more wasps than the Republican National Convention. This research is fully funded by Cabot with the promise of her becoming young again and wrinkle-free, not to mention the millions upon millions to be made by her company marketing a cosmetic line that reinstates a woman's youth. Of course, Ms. Cabot ultimately overdoses on "jelly injections" and finds herself turning into a giant wasp who eats men alive. For the record, she does attack her secretary, but the deed isn't consummated. (We'll refrain from the cheap lesbian/wasp joke that you were expecting. Admit it, you're surprised.)
Recently re-released on DVD by Digiview Entertainment, THE WASP WOMAN is paired with THIS IS NOT A TEST, KILLERS FROM SPACE and UNKNOWN WORLD to provide 330 minutes of B-grade sci-fi fun. It arrives just in time considering the WGA strike is in full force and re-runs reign the airwaves.
(THE WASP WOMAN is a quintessential example of what is commonly called a B movie. One of our favorite definitions of a B movie is that it is a film where the sets shake when an actor slams a door. We didn't know that Joe Grosso once worked in L.A.)
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Review by Jerry L. Nelson
Tim O’Brien has a gold mine in the desert, at least as far as the desert goes in the hill country of Texas. Located on Texas Highway 46 in the nearly extinct community of Bergheim, about twelve miles west of U.S. 281 in what can only be described as a former Service Station/Grocery/House combination, O’Brien’s serves up what they describe as “Good Home-Cooking”. Yes and no. Yes, what we had was reasonably good and No, quite a bit of it was never found on your mother’s table…unless your mother served up Smoked Chicken and Bleu Cheese stuffed Mushrooms as an appetizer (by the way, lacking in Bleu Cheese flavor)…but only $7.99.
There was a constant undercurrent of something just not being “quite right” throughout the evening. I don’t think it had anything to do with the fake (I despise the word Faux) cow hide table coverings which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be vinyl. I imagine real cow hide would be impractical owing to all the food that would constantly get spilled on it…but why cow hide at all? What’s wrong with white linen? Nor can I solely blame the “gas station/house-like” interior. After all, that’s what this place was at one time, I’m sure. But it appeared as if there was no effort to improve the overall ambience, to make this a real dinning pleasure…and ambience goes a long way in creating an enjoyable evening. Although it can’t save bad food, it can add to good food to create a great evening of dining out and I think this is what O’Brien’s would like to become…a destination restaurant…which is what they are right now only because of their distant location…but I digress.
Their menu is an amalgamation of what one might consider Gourmet dishes such as Escargot in garlic butter with a pastry topping, the aforementioned Mushrooms, Pescado St. Lucian (I have no idea what the hell that means nor could our server explain it), the chef’s choice of Fish Blackened with Shrimp then baked to finish in a cilantro cream sauce, to a more localized -- for Texas anyway-- Fried Jalapenos, Macaroni and Cheese (excellent, by the way) and the ever standard Chicken Fried Steak…which recently received the People’s Choice Award from the San Antonio Express News. I ask again, what do they want to be?
My recent dining excursion resulted in mixed emotions. It began with my appetizer of two rather bland Crab Cakes ($11.99) served with remoulade and Peckin Slaw (a disgusting name for an ordinary German style cole slaw…and all I did was peck at it). The crab cakes had the texture of over mixed tuna fish, the kind my mother served me when I was a kid. There were no chunks to it. It was stringy and mushy…perhaps too much filler, but I doubt made with lump crab meat. While the 16 oz. Pork Chop ($20.99) was served as requested (medium-rare) and lightly smoky, the sun-dried cherry, chipotle and molasses glaze was dropped off on the side of the plate rather than topping the chop, as described in the menu. While this may seem a minor infraction, it made for a disappointing experience in eating as the flavors were not constant in every bite. My companion’s selection (once again I had managed to sneak out without the child bride of nearly forty years) began with the bleu “cheeseless” mushrooms followed up with an entrée of the Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb ($26.99) served with a dried fruit compote. I can only imagine the mixture of herbs, but, unfortunately, it came out covered in what can best be described in appearance as burned parsley…most unfortunate because the flavor of the lamb was quite good and cooked to a “just right” medium-rareness. The dried Fruit Compote was mostly dried apple rings but still went nicely with the lamb chops.
We enjoyed a soft Estancia Pinot Noir with our meat dishes and very enjoyable it was. The dessert offerings were limited to the usual “some kind of chocolate cake concoction, cheese cake, ice cream, etc., etc”…nothing really creative or different…so we opted to drink our dessert in the form of Irish Coffees. Having recently returned from Ireland and enjoyed a real Irish Coffee from the location where it was created, in Foynes on the Shannon River, I’m a bit spoiled and sorely disappointed in what they passed off on us…no sugar to sweeten the whiskey…sweetened whipped cream (I’m sure out of an aerosol can) on top instead of just lightly whipped cream (no sweetener…it’s already in the whiskey) spooned over the coffee. Then they topped that with crème de menthe…gawd awful. If you’re going to serve a classic, serve it the correct way. If you’re going to bastardize it…give us fair warning.
Our server, Sasha (pronounced with a flat A, Texas Style, as in bash and cash, not pronounced with a soft A, European style, as in posh, she was quick to point out) tried almost too hard most of the evening. She informed us this was only her second week on the job and she was enthusiastic. There’s no faulting her for that. She just seemed a bit smarmy. The owner, Tim O’Brien, stopped by our table…a nice gesture. He commented that things were finally heading in the right direction after several months of upheaval with the staff. I hope he chose the right direction for his restaurant because right now it just doesn’t knock your socks off…good, but not yet ready to be considered great. In fairness, I’ll return, hoping the gold mine in the desert has a bit more sparkle next time.