“Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art?” says Peter Wells in the now infamous New York Times review of celeb chef Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen restaurant in New York’s biggest tourist trap, Times Square. It’s impossible to read a line like that and not wonder, “Could it really be that bad?” Or perhaps, “How does one make a marshmallow taste like fish?” “Which ingredient in the watermelon margarita holds the key to the formaldehyde essence?” “Do we really need our ice cream to live up to the boulder-sized claim? Aren’t we a cuddly enough country as it is?”
And when the man of the hour, Fieri himself, goes on national television to claim that Wells “had an agenda” when he walked through the heavy doors of the 44th Street establishment, the restaurant may as well have transformed into a giant magnet — we, the consumers of all things pop culture, were mere fragments of metal, unavoidably pulled in the direction of the shining beacon of fried goods. Hollywood.com sent me to the scene of the alleged crime against gastronomy to experience the supposed atrocity as your average restaurant-loving New Yorker. This is my story.
Nestled among some of Time Square’s most treasured theater district haunts, Sardi’s and Carmine’s, sits Guy’s American Kitchen. If you hadn’t witnessed the media explosion surrounding the popular restaurant, it would seem just like any other wallet-draining, waistline-expanding establishment in and around the city’s flashiest district. However, as celebrity editor Abbey Stone and I entered the house of Donkey Sauce, we both felt a sense of trepidation. Was this the worst meal we would ever eat? Why did the air smell so much like cayenne pepper and raw onions? Were my eyes stinging or was I just excited?
We sat in the restaurant’s bar, which is the section of the restaurant that feels most like the American Kitchen promised by the unostentatious name. Pots hang above the tables, and bar is stacked with cans upon cans of Rolling Rock and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If it wasn’t for the wall of “Welcome to Flavor Town!” shirts, plates, tumblers, and aprons by the door, it would appear to offer the promise of its low-key name — at least aesthetically. But despite its easygoing atmosphere, it was hard not to feel as if we’d entered the battleground. Was Fieri right? Was Wells just making a ruckus? Or was the menu an embarrassment of mayonnaise?
The tension was so high that when our waiter asked if we wanted to start off with a drink, we looked at each other in bewildered terror, wondering if the boozy elixirs would make us grip our throats in pain, or if they’d simply do what most alcohol does: make lunchtime a little more fun. After a failed attempt to order the suspiciously blue watermelon margarita, we learned that Wells’ claims had killed the item. It had been dramatically stricken from the menu. We settled on the jalapeño margarita, which for a drink decorated with fresh, sliced peppers around the edge and a few floating among the cilantro in the cup, was remarkably mild. Still, we were doing all right. Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary.
When it came time order some of this “inedible” grub, we made sure to get the full experience: the questionably Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders, the perplexing Guy-talian Nachos, the gobbledygook Unyawns Cajun Chicken Ciabatta, the Guy’s Big Bite Burger & Rojo Ring, and Guy’s signature Salted Whiskey Caramel Fool. And fear not, we made sure both sandwiches came with the legendary Donkey Sauce. Fun fact: it’s just saucy, less-bland mayonnaise!
But you’re dying to know, did the flavors make us want to crawl into the nearest TGI Fridays and beg for a plate of their fried green beans or lava posing as artichoke dip, just to rid ourselves of the taste? Did we curse the New York zoning commission for allowing this atrocity within Manhattan’s foodist borders? Were we about to regret our attempt to enjoy this gastrosplosion?
No. Not even slightly. While it’s true that slivers of pepperoni belong nowhere near any self-respecting plate of nachos, and the notion that pronouncing the word Italian with a first syllable resembling the pronunciation of Guy would make any New Yorker cringe, the food wasn’t life-endingly terrible. I won’t shudder when I walk past 44th, or jaunt across the street from Fieri’s flaming marquee to catch a matinee of Matilda on Broadway. The chicken tenders certainly didn’t need to replace your average batter with pretzels and almonds, but the choice of herbs wasn’t anything to balk at. They were tasty. We may have had to saw through the buns on our sandwiches as they’d clearly been working on their heat lamp tans in the kitchen, but Wells’ “long refrigerated tunnel” had clearly been shut down. Donkey Sauce isn’t exactly a revelation — and for that matter, neither is Fieri’s “super melty cheese,” which tasted like an unholy combination of real cheddar and the foodstuffs that comprise Kraft singles or Velveeta. Aside from the Rojo Ring, which may be the best onion ring I can remember eating, the meal was largely average: tasty, crispy, and a tad overpriced, just like every other touristy attraction. The wacky names and extra ingredients are clearly less for augmenting flavor, and more akin to the Rumble in the Jungle Turkey Wrap at your local Rainforest Café. Hint: it’s a gimmick.
And aside from a fork fumble here and there by our bus boy, the restaurant seemed to be running just as it always had, untouched by the media maelstrom surrounding it. Businessmen ate their lunches and chatted, tourists talked about what show they’d see that night or whether or not cough up the dough for Madame Toussads. A few construction workers leisurely sipped the surprisingly reasonably-priced PBR tallboys at the bar. A group of friends wondered if the man who’d just rushed out was a celebrity, or just some guy who looked like him. “It’s just like any other day,” one employee told me. Of course, the staff had been instructed that morning not to express any opinions regarding the review or Fieri’s Today interview, so perhaps not just like any other day, but as close as could be.
At the end of the day, the Times review was wildly entertaining, riotous, and unlike anything we’ve ever seen from the paper, however hyperbolic — but it was clearly a reaction to Fieri’s status as a “celebrity chef” at the head of a restaurant that takes beloved Southern American cooking and turns it into lip-smacking mass produced goodies instead of highbrow cuisine that could do the industry proud. One thing the review seems to forget as it gives a tour of Flavor Town is that this is the guy who says things like, “I could put this on a flip-flop and it would taste good,” and, “I wanna be the ambassador to Chimichanga Flavor Town.” If his restaurant wasn’t an amalgamation of over-the-top phrases drenched in ingredients so mismatched it’s likely your tongue might run away in fright, wouldn’t we be disappointed? Well, I would.
If Fieri’s New York mecca wasn’t a perplexing world of Corvette logos, plush leather booths, and desserts so full of whipped cream the crumbly pieces of pound cake have no place to reside, I’d probably be disappointed. If it was a revelatory mix of homestyle cooking and innovative recipes, wouldn’t we be ranting about how putting it in Times Square ruins it for the rest of us? It’s exactly what it needs to be, and the largely nonplussed clientele and wait staff are clear indications of that. The New York Times may have tried to take down Flavor Town, but its colors don’t run. It will top nachos with peperoncini. It will put the underwhelming Donkey Sauce on everything. It will hide the listless flavor of its chicken fingers with an preposterously strong honey-mustard concoction. And you’ll like it. Or you’ll take the first train out of Flavor Town.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Abbey Stone]
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As someone who, according to Louis C.K., can get away with using the word "wonderful" without it jeopardizing my sexual identity, I'll go right ahead and say it: last night's episode of Louie was wonderful.
First and foremost, it was just wonderful to see Louie get out of New York City. As much as he so effortlessly gels with the chaos of the city, he, like everyone else who lives in New York, needs to come up for air occasionally. And though Louie has had some disastrous ventures off the isle of Manhattan (his last exodus from the city, as you'll recall, lead to one memorably bizarre tryst in a truck) he, like the show itself, can be pretty wonderful anywhere. Look no further for proof of that than episodes like "Country Drive" and "Duckling."
This time Louie headed to Miami for the episode titled, you guessed it, "Miami." While he was technically there for business, he indulged himself in pleasure, too. Well, as much as a person like Louie can in a city that caters to people that look and behave nothing like Louie. "This is bullshit," he cried, in a sea of hyper-attractive people, on behalf of the rest of us.
The terrible and wonderful (that's right I can, and will, say it as much as I please) about going on vacation is the opportunity to reinvent yourself. To temporarily vacate not only your surroundings, but you. The only reason I say it's terrible is that so many of us, like Louie, tend to pack our baggage, too. Feeling defeated after not wanting to take his shirt off for a swim on the beach, Louie retreated to his hotel to eat a burger and fall asleep. But after noticing that the coast was clear (i.e. the unreasonably hot people left for the day) Louie finally dove in.
Of course the very best part of a vacation, of getting out of your comfort zone, is opening yourself to new experiences and new people. After a non-near drowning, Louie is "rescued" by a handsome, easygoing, spirited Cuban lifeguard named Ramon. They are about as different as two guys could be. Later, after Ramon checks out Louie's act at the hotel, the two trade stories about their heritage and we see something in Louie we haven't seen in a long time: the desire to connect with another person.
The following day (after having a priceless poolside interaction with a vapid bikini-clad girl who takes a strawberry off Louie's plate under the false assumption he, like every other man, would cater to her every want) Ramon invites his new pal to see the "real" Miami. There are certain scenes in movies and television shows where you would give anything to be there. Not just because of an enticing location, like Miami, but because of the feel of the moment. Those very rare ones in life where everything that bothers you goes quiet, and you simply take it all in. (For the record, my favorite on-screen escapes are Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.)
At Ramon's party, which was filled warm people and good music, the lifeguard talked to his new friend about the people in Miami who live under the facade of happiness in high rises. Those sitting high above, looking down on the real people, but are truly lonely at the core. Ramon was someone who not only genuine and took in all the beauty in life, but put it out there in the universe. And for someone like Louie, who always tries to be a good guy but tends to come up short, it's no wonder he liked being around him.
While Louie got a tour of "real" Miami, what he really got was something even more important: meeting someone and experiencing something that them that is pure and untainted. Louie would always get to remember Ramon the lifeguard fondly and wonder how he was and if he remembered their friendship, too. He would get to forever hold on to the feeling of that party and unbridled joy of riding along with Ramon and his friends through the bustling streets of Miami.
Even better, Louie could remember what it was like to open himself up to people. After the two shared a sweet, simple goodbye ("I wasn't drowning, but I'm glad you saved me," Louie told Ramon, unconsciously not realizing the depth of that sentiment.) For once, Louie, who is typically pretty terrible at goodbyes, got something so right. Not ready to let that feeling go, Louie, after making a phone call to his ex-wife (in which we learn the pair has been divorced for three years) decides to stay and hold on to it a little longer. The only problem is, Louie was actually hoping, in a way, to be rescued by Ramon. Rescued from his loneliness and rescued from the peril of being a heterosexual middle-age white class male who simply wants to enjoy the company of another man.
After the two reunite on the beach, which was a lot less Shawshank and a lot more Louie, it's pretty clear that's not going to happen for our poor hero. Their lines get awkwardly crossed when, later at the bar, Ramon kindly, not judgmentally told Louie he was not gay. But Louie, trying simaltaneously to sugarcoat his embarrassment and rejection and protect his heterosexual middle-age white class manhood, gets flustered and stumbled over his words, only making him look like he actually was hiding his sexuality. Ramon got the "real" Louie tour and bid his friend adieu for good this time.
Still, even with that excruciatingly awkward interaction (which Louis C.K. played so authentically) I still sense a turning tide with Louie. No, he probably won't be able to effortlessly fall into a friendship with another man or realize when to actually say goodbye, but I do think Louie is about to swim into the unknown again and try to connect. No one wants to be alone on their balcony.
I really loved this episode of Louie for so many reasons. The trip to Miami was not only a nice one for Louie (for the most part) but the viewer as well. As sickly wonderful as it is to watch Louie in bizarre, soul-crushing scenarios, it's nice to see an episode not rooted in depths-of-despair weirdness. So often the show gives viewers real moments that are amplified (a bad date for Louie isn't just bad, it's bad) but here it was universal feelings (i.e. being very much aware of your body on the beach) that made "Miami" shine. Plus, that end credit footage of Louis C.K. and his team filming in the Atlantic Ocean was just, well, wonderful. Share your thoughts on "Miami" in the comments section below.
Follow Aly on Twitter @AlySemigran.
[Photo credit: FX]
Louie Recap: A Gorilla Walks Into a Ballet...
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S3E10: Parks and Recreation feels good, you know? It's hard to explain why (although I may try), but I get so happy watching -- and last night's "Soulmates" was no exception. Somehow, the writers have managed to make every single character not only funny, but likable funny. What I mean is that there may be certain traits about each person that we don't like or, at times, feel are pretty obnoxious, but the writers have been smart enough to provide enough depth for each so that -- even though it's just a half an hour sitcom with the simple goal of making us laugh -- we can see there's something more to these characters. For example, Tom may be ridiculous and make a different dating profile for every letter in the alphabet, but earlier in the series, we saw how torn up he was about Wendy, so we know there's something more to him than just hand lotions and two-button suits. Don't get me wrong, providing depth to characters is rule number one when it comes to story telling, but so often in the half-hour television sitcom world, the idea of depth is abandoned for funny gags and attempts for humor. And, sure, that works. But what pushes Parks and Recreation to a different level of comedy is that because it invests in its characters and really allows the audience time to get to know them, the payoff of their absurd actions is that much better. In a way, the characters almost become like a group of friends you really like to hang out -- friends who are really motherfucking funny.
"What do I get if I win?" -Chris
"The rarest jewel of all: victory over me, Ron Swanson." -Ron
There's a few different story lines happening this week, but first, let's talk about the Ron versus Chris cook-off. Pawnee is the fourth fattest city in the country (soon to be third: they're "coming after you San Antonio!"), and so Chris (being the health nut he is) wants to do something about it (other than running backwards uphills behind Wal-Mart). One of the first steps is eliminating red meat from the cafeteria -- and when one of your top employees is Ron Swanson, a man who loves breakfast so much that he hangs a picture of bacon and eggs in his office, you're going to (no pun intended) meet some resistance. Chris challenges Ron to a cook-off, saying that he can cook a turkey burger that tastes better than any red meat burger, and of course, Ron accepts. (As a sidenote: Parks and Recreation is also awesome at taking incredibly boring stories and making them hilarious. Seriously. A cook-off? Yawn. But with the characters of this show? Awesome.)
"You're great. And you have great ideas. And. Ummmmmmmmmmmmm. Bye." -Ben
Meanwhile, Leslie straight up asks Ben out to dinner and he says no -- but in a very, very awkward way (even awkward for Ben standards). Leslie's disappointed, and she reaches out to Ann who, with her multiple boyfriends, probably isn't in the best state of mind to give relationship advice. Instead of thinking about the situation a little bit, Ann automatically assumes that Ben is a jerk and missed his chance. She encourages Leslie to try out the online dating world and signs her up for "HoosierDate.com." They enter all of her details, and search for a mate, coming up with a 98% match with probably the worst person in the world for Leslie: Tom Haverford. And of course, Leslie being the kind of airhead that she is, decides to give it an honest try (despite every bone in her body telling her that it's a terrible, terrible idea).
"Root beer is super water." -Tom
Leslie invites Tom out to lunch, who only agrees to go if he can get "apps and 'serts" (appetizers and desserts). They spend a few moments together and Leslie tries some first date conversations (if you had three wishes, how interested are you in my interests, etc.) but without much success. It's painfully obvious that Tom is a horrible match, and after awkward conversation, Leslie fesses up to why she wanted to go out to lunch. Of course, with Tom being Tom, he makes a huge deal about it, immediately calling her "boo" and wanting to hold her hands (all in the matter of about two hours). Tom refuses to drop it, so Leslie pulls him out into the hall and kisses him, just to shut up him. It works, but unfortunately Chris sees it happen and, because government employees dating is such a major "bugaboo" of his, he is forced to suspend Leslie. But it's not all bad, she learns that Ben actually said no to her request for dinner because of Chris' policy.
"This is a hamburger. It's made of meat." -Ron
Back to the cook-off, and Ron and Chris (along with Andy and April) have made trips to Grains And Simple for Chris' turkey burger, and to Food and Stuff for Ron (also, his favorite place because it's where he gets "all of his food, and most of his stuff."). They head back and have the cook-off! And although Chris presents a gorgeous turkey burger that Tom says "tastes like Beyoncé smells" (he hopes!), as soon as everybody sinks their teeth into the hamburger made of meat, it's all over. Ron wins. Even Chris admits it. The reasoning? Well, because as Ron says, turkey will never beat cow.
Oh, and one last thing, because Aziz Ansari was on fire last night, here's a bunch of hilarious stray Tom quotes:
"Forever young, I wanna be, forever young!"
"I call sandwiches sammies, sandoozles, or Adam Sandlers."
"I call noodles long-ass rice."
"Chicken parm is chicky chicky parm parm."
"I call eggs pre-birds or future birds."
"Let's get in my go-go mobile."
"His favorite movie is books!"
The 21 year old met McCartney while filming Zombieland with actor Woody Harrelson last year (09) and struck up an unlikely friendship with the rock icon after spending a day at his house.
She says, "I got to spend a pretty fair amount of time with Woody... He's just the greatest guy in the world. Probably the best thing I've ever done with Woody... was hanging with Paul McCartney. They're really, really good friends.
"So we go to his (McCartney's) house and he makes us veggie burgers. Can you imagine? It was unbelievable. It (burger) was so good. We just sat around and I was in a funk, I couldn't believe I was there with Paul McCartney."
And Stone decided to take advantage of her new friendship when it came to marking her mum Krista's new clean bill of health.
She says, "My mum and I are going to get tattoos. We've never gotten tattoos before and probably never will again, but her favourite song is Blackbird by Paul McCartney, (it's) my favourite song as well, and she just went through a pretty crazy two years.
"Two years (ago) she got diagnosed with breast cancer and she's out of the woods now, which is amazing, and so... I wrote a letter to Paul McCartney, asking him if he would draw two little bird feet because he wrote the song, and he sent them to me. He drew two little blackbird feet and so I'm getting the tattoo right there (inside of wrist). He's a good guy!"
Last night’s late night TV action was unusually good. In fact, I almost don’t know which clip to present to you first, and since you can’t tell me which clip you’d want to watch first, I’m going to have to guess. But I hate guessing, so I’m just going to pin two shows against each other and flip a coin. It’ll just be like a season of college basketball. Ready? Okay. The first two choices are Tina Fey on Fallon and Snooki on Letterman. Fey will be heads and Snooki will be tails. And…it’s heads. So, here.
Fun, right? Yeah, I like this game. Because now it’s like you can’t give me any crap for putting one celebrity clip above the other! And you know who doesn’t take shit? This quarter I’m using. So have fun taking up this clip order with the quarter on my desk. He’s got a bad attitude from all the birth control other people have used him to by at Duane Reade.
Next up, heads will be Snooki on Letterman and tails will be Casey Affleck on Leno. Ready? Oh snap it’s tails! I bet you were thinking I was going to use a double sided coin so I could just keep making my own decisions, but play it off like I’m not so you’ll all stop telling the people at Silver Spurs to well-do my burger. I was kinda looking forward to seeing Snooki get Letterman to fist pump and talk about sex, but a nice clip about how “controversy” is “confusion” will just have to do for now.
And last but not least, before we get to the guys with the rallies and the marches, here’s Snooki explaining what Ron-Ron juice and sexual activity is like on the shore to Letterman.
Okay, that was fun right? Yeah, that rocked.
And no doubt you’ve heard about Jon Stewart’s rally for sanity in Washington, DC. Larry Wilmore stopped by to tell Jon to be sure and embrace diversity while making sure he makes his rallies promise not to get sexual with children.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10cRally to Restore Sanity Advicewww.thedailyshow.comDaily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
And Sigourney Weaver told Jon about her new movie, You Again, and what height is like.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10cSigourney Weaverwww.thedailyshow.comDaily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
And Stephen Colbert finally provided us with an alternative to Craigslist’s newly defunct adult services sections: COLBERTSLIST!
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30cColbertslistwww.colbertnation.comColbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News
Top Chef: D.C. Recap: 'Chicken Run'
S7:E2: This episode we know more going in. We know who to hate and who to like. The morning-after interviews and pre-challenge passive-aggressive small talk around the house gets old fast. TWO interesting things to mention here. Firstly, they showed the contestants smoking cigarettes for the first time I can remember! Secondly, the scene wherein Andrea makes breakfast using absolutely massive amounts of butter and elicits disgusted, open-mouth stares from the others was hi-larious. She was all “Dude I like butter.” It was weird and great to see the more human side of these guys (I guess butter and cigarettes are relatable?).
Losing absolutely no time, Bravo drags out White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass before the contestants, parading their trophy bought with fame and mass circulation. This man’s hands feed your Obama. When the big man hankers for chicken nuggets, this is the guy who plops them in the fryer! We were all very impressed. Padma (inexplicably dressed in South Beach pink satin) indignantly explained that elegant, complex puns are an integral part of the reality show mythos and if one cannot keep oneself from pulling faces at every witty turn of phrase we are going to have a problem thank you very much. And with reserved indignation and narrowed eyes she announced the Quick fire Challenge: The Bipartisandwich. Silence.
The challenge was to make a delicious sandwich whilst inserted into an apron connected to another chef. Only one hand was to be used from each body to cook, meaning slicing and cutting was to involve one man holding and the other wielding the knife. This setup caused some measure of anxiety from Alex the Tan Russian as he was expected to hold sandwich meats in place while Timmy Dean stabbed wildly at the space containing the meat slab screaming “I WON’T CUT YOU. HOLD STILL. DO NOT PANIC. I HAVE THIS UNDER CONTROL”.
Jacqueline interviews that she is making chicken. A dark cloud passes overhead and somewhere a dog barks.
Kenny the Kool Kid is making a seared tuna sandwich with fruit bits. It’s clear at this point that he considers himself a black, bald, and more beautiful Jason Bourne.
Angelo is paired with Plump Tracey who confesses an ardent admiration for his graceful bone structure and lean sinewy body – in a sexual way, that is. She gurgles through the challenge, relying on Angelo’s experience as owner of a sandwich shop in New York. Angelo ends up winning the challenge for them with an Asian fish sandwich doused in what he called “liquid sex”. Tracey faints. Kenny flexes. Jacqueline whips up some chicken. Top Chef DC is just getting warmed up.
The Elimination Challenge was the school lunch challenge from most other seasons, though we were reminded of the D.C. location once again by a tangential connection to Michelle Obama’s Move It! Program for tiny fat kids. The contestants were admonished to make their meals healthy and were given a budget of 160 dollars per meal (about $2.60 per child). Arnold Mynt very insensitively comments that he spends more than 160 dollars on his own meals. Goddamn hipsters (just kidding he’s from Tennessee).
Angelo and Tracey were given immunity as reward for their fish sandwich, meaning they were a liability to the couple they paired up with. Angelo ended up picking Kenny to be in his group. This made Kenny furious.
Other groups were Arnold, Kelly (who?), and others, who decided to make carnitas tacos. This worked well in principle, however Kelly kept reminding the others that the pork carnitas was her dish and that she was responsible for it and that Arnold could keep his sneaky fingers off her pork. Arnold considered this extremely unfair, probably because he had only made a salsa (he was confused by poor people food). At the last minute he changed the name of his dish to a salad and called it a day.
Jacqueline’s team made chicken. I shit you not. Chicken is her life-water, her raison d'être. Chicken completes her. I suspect she is a plant from the League of Associated Chicken Distributors. But actually Amanda made the physical chicken, broiling it with sherry wine and then removing the skin to reveal a shiny, slimy, piece of gray meat. Jacqueline beams! Meanwhile she hurriedly dumps two pounds of sugar into her banana pudding and runs back to stare lovingly at the chicken.
Angelo and Kenny’s team decide to make chicken burgers, bread puddings and yam puree. In a transparent play to throw the challenge a bit and get Kenny kicked off, Angelo concocts a severe, imposing sculpture using celery and peanut butter mousse which kids will be confused by and is actually unhealthy as pointed out by Amanda in a fit of fiery anger.
K-Sbrags and Timmy Dean plus Tan Russian Alex make BBQ chicken with melon on a stick. Best of all, K-Sbrags gets kids to eat yogurt by pumping air into it and making it fluffy like whipped cream. FOOLS.
So what happened?! Kelly won for her pork carnitas. Anthony Mynt pouted. Kelly has the extremely obnoxious air of a girl who is really a tough bitch but sees herself as a sweet Pollyanna-Audrey Hepburn.
But what happened to the losers?? There were clearly two losing dishes: Jacqueline’s propagandist chicken project which was soaked in alcohol and served to children, and Angelo’s team’s failure to include proper vegetables in their meal. Under the pressure of the bright lights, a random white guy on Jacqueline’s team cracked and started screaming hysterically about Kenny’s lack of initiative in putting vegetables on the plate, pointing fingers and waving madly about. As he fell, foaming at the mouth and rolling on the floor, Kenny calmly stepped over his body and coolly explained that he had put tomato on the burger. To which Sam Kass was all “Oh Bitch PLEASE, tomatoes are a fruit”. To which Kenny SHOULD have replied, “Actually Smug-Ass-Kass, the Supreme Court has declared tomatoes a vegetable for taxing and tariff purposes and if its good enough for the judicial branch of this great government it should be good enough for you. SOCIALIST.”
However, in the end, it was the chicken that lost out. Tom, ever the sophisticate, deemed it a turd. Jacqueline was sent home for her chicken. WAIT, actually it was for the 900-calorie banana pudding, but from the proud glint in her eye as she slowly marched down the hall and out the door, it was clear that she would have gone home for her chicken ten times over.
Who is that masked man? Once upon a time he was Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) a rookie cop killed in the line of duty. Now he’s The Spirit the perennially beleaguered and battered hero of Central City who can’t seem to ever die. No matter how brutal the licking he keeps on ticking. Such invincibility irks the Spirit’s nemesis The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) a megalomaniac who craves the same sort of power and would like nothing better than to crush Central City underfoot before setting his sights on complete world domination. Ever a ladies’ man even when teetering on the edge of death our hero is always surrounded by a bevy of beauties including childhood flame Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) now a crafty jewel thief; Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) the foxy physician who carries a torch for him; Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) who gets her kicks aiding and abetting the Octopus; fast-talking rookie cop Morgenstern (Stana Katic) whose definitely got her eye on the Spirit; and Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) whose loyalties like her outfit of choice can be rather skimpy. It’s a wonder the Spirit has any time to fight crime given how much time he’s making with the ladies. But who can blame him? In many ways and like so many comic-book movies story is distinctly a secondary consideration to mood atmosphere and attitude -- and The Spirit’s got ‘em all in spades. Channeling such film noir favorites as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum Macht does a nice job as the gruff and tough Spirit occasionally pondering his fate when he’s not saving the day. As the Octopus Jackson doesn’t so much chew the scenery as make a seven-course meal out of it. Restraint is not in this film’s vocabulary. There are also plenty of opportunities for the film’s luscious ladies to strut their stuff which they do with good humor and even better outfits. Everyone on hand plays perfectly in sync with the spirit (no pun intended) of the proceedings including Dan Lauria as the crusty police commissioner and Louis Lombardi in multiple roles as the Octopus’ dim-witted henchmen all of whom have apparently been cloned from some low-IQ DNA. Look also for screenwriter/director Frank Miller as a cop who loses his head. In his first solo stint as director Frank Miller works overtime to capture the visual style of Eisner’s comic book and thanks to the advancements on CGI he has a massive palette in which to exercise that. The Spirit is eye candy -- at heart what comic book movie isn’t? -- but it makes no bones about it and no aspirations beyond it. It’s meant to be a cheeky diversion and on that score it makes the grade. The visual panache of the film is indeed impressive and there’s a refreshing sense of self-mockery to the proceedings. However those who prefer their comic-book heroes rendered in a more straightforward fashion may be taken aback by the sardonic approach. Here characters are just as apt to make a wisecrack or toss in a non-sequitur as deliver an important piece of expository dialogue. It will be interesting to see how the film performs at the box office if audiences embrace that approach and if indeed this becomes the foundation for the latest superhero franchise. Worse things have happened.
Set in the early 1980s the film follows young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) as he tentatively deals with the early pangs of adolescent rebellion. It only takes one viewing of Sylvester Stallone in the original First Blood combined with an unlikely friendship with cocky classmate Lee Carter (Will Poulter) to inspire Will to become more assertive and question authority. This doesn’t sit too well with Will’s widowed devoutly religious mother (Jessica Stevenson) but it ultimately makes her re-evaluate her relationship with her son. While most of their classmates are preoccupied with a group of French foreign-exchange students Will and Lee team up to produce their own makeshift sequel to First Blood (even if they somehow misspell Rambo’s name). In doing so they cement their friendship--perhaps the first genuine friendship of either boy’s life--but there are also circumstances that threaten to bring their youthful camaraderie crashing down. The engaging unforced performances of Milner and Poulter--both making their big-screen bows--go a long long way toward any success that Son of Rambow can claim for itself. There’s also a memorably quirky turn by Jules Sitruk as Didier the “coolest” of the French exchange students and a riotous appearance by long-time British favorite Eric Sykes playing what amounts to a geriatric bed-ridden Rambo (arguably the film’s funniest scene). Writer/director Garth Jennings (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) has a good feel for the way kids act and talk and he brings an exuberant irreverence to much of the proceedings but it’s in the characterization of the film’s adult characters where the effort falls a little short. When Son of Rambow turns serious the transition from humor to pathos is sometimes awkward--and whenever the focus of the film drifts away from Will and Lee the momentum flags. Nevertheless the film has a strong capacity to connect with audiences of all ages and may well find one this summer.
Small-town deputy Larry Stalder (you know who) unwittingly (of course) intercepts and kidnaps a beautiful blonde thinking she’s being kidnapped. Well as it turns out…somehow along the way Larry uncovers some dirty business within the FBI and saves the day. Story? Believe it or not Witless Protection is actually a showcase for Ivana Milicevic as Larry’s not-entirely-reluctant captive. She is not only great to look at (even Larry says so) but she plays things so incredibly straight that she manages almost single-handedly to bring a semblance of balance to these lowbrow proceedings. And fair’s fair--Larry the Cable Guy (nee Dan Whitney) plays right into the hands of both fans and critics alike. He is who he is--or who he plays. This is about as good a showcase for him as you’re likely to see. That can be construed deservedly so as faint praise or faint condemnation. If nothing else Larry the Cable Guy plays well with others: Yaphet Kotto reprising his character from Midnight Run and enjoying his biggest screen role in years; Peter Stormare channeling Jeremy Irons it seems as the principal bad guy; Eric Roberts Jenny McCarthy--as Larry’s waitress girlfriend and not doing a bad job of it; and finally Joe Mantegna. OK so he embarrasses himself. Witless Protection marks the feature debut of Charles Robert Carner a veteran of the small screen making the leap to the large. He keeps things moving if nothing else. This isn’t a technically well-made movie. The color sometimes veers jarringly from scene to scene and in some scenes the actors aren’t mouthing the words being broadcast. Other scenes are clearly shot against a blank background (all the better to composite a digital image there later) but the folks who are going to rush out to see this movie simply do not care--and will not care--about such incidental matters. It’s best to go into this with that in mind. Then again it might be best to leave one’s mind behind.
If ever there was a film to make one dislike cell phones this is it. And if there was ever a film to inspire the end of American remakes of Japanese horror films this is it too. A group of people start receiving eerie phone calls from their future selves--calls that specify the exact time and date when they are to die. Before they do however they begin experiencing dire hallucinations of ghostly figures. College student Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) whose circle of friends is rapidly being depleted as a result of these phone calls teams up with Jack Andrews (Edward Burns) absolutely the only homicide detective in the city who seems concerned that there’s a series of fatal accidents occurring with rapid regularity. But then again his own sister was one of the first to die. Somehow it all ties in to a tragic fire at a local hospital and even further back than that an incidence of child abuse that eventually had fatal consequences. This film is in no way prepared to deal with the abuse theme in any meaningful way making this story angle more than a little uncomfortable. With time running out Beth attempts to piece together the circumstances that has put her and her friends in jeopardy. The time can’t run out soon enough.
The perennially underwhelming Sossamon gives another flatline performance here and Burns--who seems awfully indiscriminate when it comes to choosing roles in the movies he doesn’t write or direct--seems to merely be going through the motions. Azura Skye Meagan Good and Johnny Lewis (recently seen in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) are only briefly on hand as victims of the fatal phone calls and Margaret Cho turns up as Burns’ partner who repeatedly pooh-poohs his worries even as the body count is rising. Some of these people ought to give their agents a call. Only Ray Wise in a throwaway role as the host of a supernatural-themed tabloid talk-show has any fun here--and his character could have easily been excised from the proceedings entirely.
Noted young French horror director Eric Valette has made the sort of English-language feature debut that will be very easy to improve on. Except for a few skewed camera angles some false scares that are telegraphed well in advance and random shots of giant centipedes (oooh--creepy!) this is an utterly uninspired endeavor. Even the low-angle shots of cell phones lose their menacing quality very quickly. Valette isn’t alone in his culpability; screenwriter Andrew Klavan--who once wrote a smashing black comedy called A Shock to the System (which unfortunately nobody saw)--equals Valette with dialogue and situations that defy even simple logic. The characters say and do dumb things so why should an audience care what happen to them? Indeed you don’t. Thanks to horror fans this may make a quick New Year’s buck at the box office but will soon be relegated deservedly so to video shelves where it can gather the dust it richly deserves.