Occupation: Viking! Severed Ways

I had planned this Viking project many months before finally renting Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America. I heard it was about Vikings vs. American Indians, and was set to metal. I though it would be something like Pathfinder (full review) only less stupid. It was much less stupid, but it was also less entertaining. My alternate title for it would be The Blairviking Poopwitch Project.

It too recreates the meeting of Vikings and Native Americans (called Skraelings here) in 1007 A.D., only this time the Vikings flee, riddled with arrows by a force with superior numbers and a proclivity for fighting in choked forests instead of farm villages. Two men are left behind, and decide to make their way north to a settlement, through enemy territory. At first, the slow camerawork and over-saturated colors reminded me of a parody of Terence Malick, and I was very patient with it. It has a documentary feel in parts, and is entirely in Norse with subtitles.

The colors, children! The colors!

A short time later, we get to watch him take a dump in the woods, as graphic as Pink Flamingos without any of the shock humor, and wipe with leaves. At first, I thought, alright. It’s a survival picture; we never get to see the mundane and boring stuff in movies about survival. This could be interesting, in a primitive survival sort of way. They spear some fish, we watch them cook on hot rocks by the fire, and thankfully they make fire a lot quicker than Tom Hanks in Cast Away. And then, while they are cutting firewood, metal starts playing and one of the Vikings starts headbanging.
Now, I love me some Scandinavian metal. Dimmu Borgir, Moonsorrow, drone like Sunn O))) and folk like Korpiklaani. And I applaud the inclusion of Dimmu Borgir on the soundtrack. But until now the tone has been utterly different. A few hours later they see some monks, attack them because hey, we’re Vikings, and burn the only shelter they’ve found. Milky explained it best: Why are they burning the church down? Because metal is playing. The rest of the story plays out with helpful title cards like “Separation,” so you know they’ll get separated. One guy gets captured by “Skraelings,” and a woman ties him up and hops on his Viking sword. No, you don’t see anything.
I liked arty films better when it meant gleeful nudity, instead of a guy taking a dump in the woods. Will our boring Viking comrades find each other? Can they escape the wilderness? Do American Indians see in weird tunnel vision, as the cinematographer would have us believe? You’ll never know unless you rent this. For Odin’s sake, don’t buy it. Even if you’re a freak with a Viking poopfetish, I’m sure you can find it online. I wanted to like this, but it’s a tedious and pretentious mess. The idea and the concept are pretty cool- even dubbing the entire thing in Norse- but the characters never manage to evoke a personality, and the pointless plot is predictable and so sparse that its running time is mostly filled with shaky footage of a guy lugging a camera around in the woods. And filming poop.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America on Netflix

All reviews in the Occupation: Viking project

Badass du jour: Oliver Reed, in Sitting Target

My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” -Oliver Reed
My friend Pita-San wanted to see this movie, Sitting Target, with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane, so I went on the hunt. Turns out it was rated X in Britain when it came out for brutality. They had me at “brutality.” Of course I expected it to be tame now, and in many ways it is- there’s nothing as racy as Lee Marvin throwing a naked man out a window as in the spectacular Point Blank, or as brutal as um, Lee Marvin smashing a pot of hot coffee in a woman’s face, as in The Big Heat (Marvin’s a bad-ass among bad-asses). But it remains a gritty and yes, brutal thriller about a crook who busts out of prison to get revenge on his woman when she shacks up with a well-off acquaintance, instead of waiting for him.
That crook is Harry Lomart, played by Oliver Reed, a bad-ass on and off the screen. Let us have a moment of loudness to remember his passing, at the age of 63, during the filming of Gladiator. He was at lunch, drinking 3 bottles of rum, a half dozen beers, and various shots of whiskey and cognac, and had a heart attack after besting five Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. There are method actors, and there are forces of nature that you are lucky enough to capture on film. Ollie “Mr. England” Reed, so self-proclaimed because he was one of few celebrities to flee Britain’s high taxes in the ’70s, was certainly one of the latter.
Sitting Target begins with Harry getting the bad news from his girl, who’s on the other side of the prison glass, talking to him on the phone. When he learns that she’s been untrue and is leaving him, he bashes through the barrier with one punch and seizes her by the throat. The guards beat him down with their truncheons, and drag him back to his cell. But he’s already been planning a breakout with pal Birdy Williams, played by Ian McShane (you know, Al Swearengen from “Deadwood,” among many other roles). Harry does his time by sticking to a cruel training regimen, working out in his cell. In an age when even hunks had the uni-ab, he’s got the definition of a Greek statue and he’s cold and hard as marble.
He breaks out by hiding during the night roll call, hanging from the ceiling in a feat of physical strength, and swinging down to clobber the guards when they search the cell. They’re the same guys who beat him when he choked his wife, and he gets his revenge. To show how driven he is to pay back his wife’s betrayal, when they finally escape the prison after dealing with guard dogs, search lights, and climbing across guy wires in the dark, Harry has to climb barbed wire with his bare hands. The other guys used rags to protect themselves, but there’s no time. So he does it the hard way.

Tell me he doesn’t look like The Terminator?

Once they are out, they are hot and have to leave the country, but not before Harry finishes his business. They break an unspoken rule of “no guns” in the underworld, and pick up a broomhandle Mauser with a removable stock, that can be fired full auto. This leads to a brutal gunfight with motorcycle cops in the back alleys that is probably what gave the film its X certificate. A cycle bursts into flames, and Douglas Hickox’s direction makes it seem documentarian and all too real. As Harry hunts down his wife and realizes he’s made more enemies with his obsession, double crosses lead to more gunplay and an excellent car chase through a railyard with a Land Rover. It’s a forgotten and memorable piece of ’70s crime, and while it may not be a classic like Get Carter, it’s a fine thriller that stands on its own, and deserves a DVD release.

Artful upside down boobies.

Reed is more famous for starring in Oliver! as Bill Sikes, and the excellent Three Musketeers films of the ’70s, and of course as Proximus in Gladiator. He played many colorful roles in everything from Tommy and The Devils to Vulcan in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Every once in a while you find an actor who’s as colorful off screen as he is on screen, but Reed is one of the true originals. I look forward to watching more of his roles, but I know they can’t live up to the man.

One day I should like to live in Ireland. I love the Irish, the more I see of other races the more I believe the Irish are the only real people left, and apart from that they have space and clear air in which to wander and think and to feel free.

the three little pigs learn their ABC’s

Pennsylvania memorialized the bloodiest battle of the Civil War with a stunning white monument listing all its citizens who fought in the conflict. I decided to ponder their sacrifice by eating a pork chop and bacon sandwich at Appalachian Brewing Company, a brewpub in spitting distance of the battlefield.
Behold its excess. Three slabs of thinly sliced grilled pork topped with bacon. If only they put ham or pulled pork on it, the piggy trifecta would have been perfected. It looks better than it tastes, sadly- it lacks any spice and the pork was rather dry. I should have slathered it with BBQ sauce or something.

The restaurant is not far from here, where I stand on Little Top, a strategic observation post overlooking one of the bloodiest sites of the War, the Devil’s Den. We stopped to eat at ABC, where they sell the sandwich, decent burgers, and some good local beer. I liked the Jolly Scottish Ale. The Marzen-style beer and a Hefewiezen we tried were good, but not remarkable. The scotch ale stood out.
Milky had a Fire Jumper Burger, which turned out to be very mild. What do you want, it’s Pennsylvania! The further you go into the Midwest and the word spicy loses all value. He still enjoyed it, and it looks pretty good, don’t it?
However, in Gettysburg I’d head to Garryowen’s Irish Pub. We had a nice burger there and a fantastic corned beef Reuben. They have Guinness and Smithwick’s on tap, but not the local microbrews. I was glad I stopped at ABC if only to try their beer. I wish it hadn’t been 85+ degrees, or I’d have brought some Scottish Ale home.

Occupation: Mothman

The Mothman Prophecies, to most of us, was a movie from 2001 with Richard Gere. But to Point Pleasant, West Virginia- where the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967, and two couples were confronted by a beast unknown in one evening on a country road- it is a legend of the unexplained. As fans of the movie- if not Mr. Gere’s acting- and bizarre tales of the supernatural, Milky and I made a long detour from Gettysburg to visit the Mothman Museum (Luckily, Hillbilly Hotdogs was nearby to fuel us).
The Mothman Museum is around the corner from the Mothman statue, tucked on a boulevard that leads to a scenic park and amphitheater overlooking the bridge that replaced the fallen one. The statue itself is very memorable, a shiny steel representation of the beast that reportedly haunted the town in the late ’60s. It has glassy amber eyes that reflect the light, and especially camera flashes, which approximates the “glowing red eyes” that the witnesses described as it chased them through the “TNT area,” a woodsy road near a World War 2 ordnance factory.
The story goes, two young married couples- the Scarberrys and the Mallettes- were driving near that factory when they saw two glowing red lights near it. The lights seemed to be the eyes of a creature “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six and a half or seven feet tall, with big wings folded against its back.” It gave chase, and followed their car “at speeds over 100 miles an hour,” until finally it disappeared. The Mothman has been written off as a sandhill crane or barn owl that spooked them, to a paranormal harbinger of disaster that was warning the town of the impending bridge collapse. After the first sighting, others saw it. Whether this was real or mass delusion, I leave you to decide.
The history of the area is undisputed; the Battle of Point Pleasant, where Virginia militia fought off Shawnee and Mingo Indians led by Chief Cornstalk in 1774, killed over 100 men. And in 1967, Forty-six people died in the bridge disaster. In our grief we struggle to find reason. Our brains are pattern recognition machines, seeking order out of chaos. Was there a link between the sightings and the tragedy? John A. Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies claimed there was. John has passed away recently, but the museum has photos of him, and mementos of his research. It’s one of the best museums concerning such a narrow subject that I’ve been to- they have quite a bit to see. Compared to the L.A. County Coroner’s museum, which was a dilapidated office selling t-shirts when I visited, this is the Smithsonian of Mothmaniana.
I haven’t read the book, but I have seen the movie. Starring Richard Gere and directed by Mark Pellington, I found it interesting but not all that compelling. I ought to watch it again. Gere is not one of my favorite actors in his later years, and while the visuals of the film are quite good, the story itself was the same old song and dance when Hollywood gets a great idea from someone else. They dilute the creativity out of it until it’s become dull as dishwater. To reference Roger Ebert, “the human characters are, I believe, based not on facts but on an ancient tradition in horror movies, in which attractive people have unspeakable experiences.” And that’s what’s wrong with the film; it takes the unique creature and the tales of the people who saw it, and moves them to Generica, U.S.A. It’s unfortunate that Laura Linney- who plays a local cop that Gere befriends after his wife is killed in a car accident- and Pellington got saddled with sad sack Gere and the boring, vague script.
The Mothman is barely glimpsed, and the best I can tell is that it is a harbinger of death only seen when people close to you die. One of so many movies where we see between the layers of reality and are faced with things we cannot comprehend, it fails to be as creepy as it should be. If they had studied the classic “weird shit be happenin’!” film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they wouldn’t have started us off with Gere’s wife dying. Why, because you want to believe him. You feel bad for him. How much better would it be if we thought he was a little crazy, and chuckled, and then shat our pants when there were two glowing red eyes on the bridge, and nothing there when he got there? I admire the movie’s restraint in not making this a monster film, but it was almost too ambiguous.
And it’s a damn shame. The movie isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit on the bland side due to its lead and a script that goes for mysterious but delivers apathy. However, the reenactment of the bridge collapse is excellent and terrifying. It really makes you think about how the denizens of Point Pleasant felt when they saw the unthinkable happening on the Ohio river. They still have a friendly town of about five thousand, and the guy running the Mothman Museum chatted us up about the Jersey Devil for a while, and spoke volumes about the mystery of his home town. Much friendlier than Pennsylvania folks, who couldn’t be bothered to tell us where to find Whoopie Pies. West Virginny is on my good list.
So if you’re in the area- perhaps for snowboarding at Snowshoe, or to get some Hillbilly Hotdogs- stop by this friendly town and remember a tragic and mysterious part of American history.

I tried to ride the Mothman subway but my Metrocard wasn’t working.

hot dogs wrapped in bacon

At AFS, where I train in the deadly arts of Bando to use my mighty belly as a hammer to crush my foes, a fellow maniac said my blog made him hungry all the time, and asked: “Are you a chef?” My response? “No, I’m just a fatass!”
But I can cook well. Hot dogs wrapped in bacon isn’t the toughest thing to do, so for the cooking impaired I’ll show you how to make ’em. I made some for Milky and I when we watched Crank, and two filled us to the gills with delicious. First, wrap your hot dogs in bacon. I considered holding them with toothpicks but the cooking oil would burn them, but if you have small metal skewers they might help hold the bacon on.
Put some canola or grapeseed oil in a deep skillet or pan. I only used 1/2 an inch of oil, and turned the dogs over with tongs. If you have a deep fryer it would be easier, but with patience this will work. Heat the oil on high until it shimmers and a little piece of bacon fat starts to fry in it. Then lower the heat to med-low and CAREFULLY put your hot dogs in. Tongs will help here. A metal spatula will work.

Remember the first rule of cookery: Don’t cook bacon when you’re naked!! It splatters oil all over the place. Like on your balls. Or even your ovaries. It will take a few minutes per side to crisp up the bacon. There’s a lot of moisture in bacon and it will splatter a lot. I have a fryer guard screen to cover the pan.
While your dogs are frying, toast your buns in the toaster and then put cheese on first. It’s much less messy that way, and the bun will melt it some. I use Land O’ Lakes White American cheese, because they put crack in it. That enhances the flavors. Lay out your condiments ahead of time. We had dill relish, crushed pineapple, Zatarain’s Creole mustard, Sriracha Hot Sauce (also known as “the Cock”), Habanero chile sauce, chopped roasted green chiles, Vlasic Stacker sliced pickles, Hormel Chili, Mango Salsa, Tabasco Reserve, Sour Cream, Diced jalapenos, Banana pepper rings, and ketchup. What, no sauerkraut? Nope. I don’t like it with bacon. It gets things all soggy. If you like it, squeeze it out in some paper towels.
To flip the dogs, I used dogs- about 3-4 minutes after they went in, and only the very top of the bacon wasn’t cooked. So it only took another minute or two to crisp up. Deliver them right to the buns, and make your own wacky combinations.
My favorite was diced jalapenos, banana pepper rings, sour cream, mango salsa, crushed pineapple, roasted green chiles, and creole mustard. A bit spicy, but the sour cream & pineapple cools it off. I made a chili-cheese dog with Hormel canned chili, and will never use that again. It’s tasteless and gave me the poops something fierce. There are other canned chilis out there, or make your own. We also regretted the lack of Nathan’s Hot Dog Onions, which A&P did not have. For shame, A&P! Milky called his the Hot Pepper Rollercoaster. We called them all delicious.
For the record, I used Boar’s Head natural casing hot dogs and bacon, gifted from my pal Brian the Meat Man. Fine products that I will use again. The dogs had some good flavor and snap, and the bacon had good smoky flavor. We used Martin’s Potato Hot Dog Buns, soft with a bit of sweet. They toast very well.
We had them with Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, my favorite of the autumn seasonal pumpkin beers. It balances the firm full flavor of a brown ale with real pumpkin pie flavor. I’ve had pumpkinier beers, like Southern Tier, but Punkin Ale is more drinkable, and doesn’t overpower other foods. I also had a Southhampton Alt Bier, which is a decent example of the variety. A little too malty, but the only bottled Alt I’ve had. When Abita Select was an Altbier, it was my favorite, but they aren’t making it any more.

what exit? I’ll tell you what exit, $%$@#!

Flying Fish Brewery is brewing a series of beers named after exits on the NJ Turnpike. I heard over at the Beer-Stained Letter blog that the Turnpike Authority- one of many government monopolies that contribute to my state’s miasma of political corruption- was not pleased. So of course, I gave them the Italian Salute and bought a bottle.

I would have anyway, because Flying Fish is one of New Jersey’s best breweries. Located in Cherry Hill, their Hopfish IPA and Farmhouse Ale are two of my favorites. Exit 11 – a hoppy wheat ale that combines a Belgian yeast, wheat, and West Coast hop infusion- is my new favorite of theirs. The mellow fruity smoothness of a great wheat beer, with the snappy, piney finish of a hoppy IPA make for an excellent summer brew. Available only in 750ml “big bottles,” there’s enough for two big wiesbier glasses and a little leftover. Milky and I consumed one while watching Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and if offered a case of this beer, I would kneel before Zod.

Flying Fish Brewery offers tours on most Saturdays- check the calendar on their website before visiting- and I foresee a trip there in my near future. They are also on twitter. Give them a try! Great local beer is one of the things that keeps us sane here in Jersey.

organic feels good, but does it taste good?

The Burger Battle of the Best continues…

Elevation Burger is a newer chain that’s finally arrived in Montclair New Jersey. They advertise free range, grass fed, organic beef; french fries cooked in olive oil; and fresh, local-sourced ingredients “when practical.” While I haven’t drank the organic Kool-Aid, I did want to try a grass-fed burger, so Milky and I gave them a try.
I consider Five Guys Burgers & Fries (visit & review here) the burger chain against which all others should be compared. They make things fresh, serve them simply, and let you go to hell with yourself with toppings. Elevation Burger is their organic cousin. You walk up to the counter to place your order, but here they deliver it on a steel tray. They offer shakes and malts, organic cookies, pre-made side salads, and they have veggie burgers on the menu. Like the Shake Shack– which has a portabello burger- you can mix & match to have a meat & veg burger, which should make my British readers snicker.
The burger comes wrapped in paper with a handy sack. The standard is a double, but you can “elevate” your burger up to 10 patties high in fine In-N-Out Burger style. A double with fries and a root beer was plenty filling, but go for it. So, how’s it taste? I give the aged cheddar cheese high marks, and grass-fed ground beef has a stronger beefy flavor that reminded me of the ground-to-order sirloin in my favorite burger, the one Tony Bourdain slings at his downtown NYC location of Les Halles (I haven’t had the one at the Park Ave location, but a friend told me it wasn’t as good). But it didn’t have the mouth feel of a good grilled burger, something Five Guys gets right every time. For toppings, I had hot pepper relish, pickles, caramelized onions and Elevation sauce. The pickles were very thinly sliced longways and I couldn’t get any snap or flavor from them. The hot relish was a little mild, and I couldn’t tell what the Elevation sauce was. Next time I’ll get a standard burger with sauce, lettuce & tomato to find out.
So that does mean I will return, a good sign. Their fries cooked in olive oil were a bit thin- shoe strings- but had good flavor. Olive oil burns quickly and they seemed a bit over browned, almost like sweet potato fries, but the flavor was good. The flavor of grass fed beef is an acquired one, but it’s almost steak-like. I liked it. The texture was just different, perhaps ground too finely. For a chain or franchise, this was an excellent burger, and I recommend trying it out. Especially if you want to try an organic, grass-fed free range burger for a change. I’m not convinced it’s that much better for you, but it does show in the taste. If Elevation Burger reads this, I’d suggest some crunchy toppings. Bacon, which was oddly absent, given the availability of Niman Ranch free range bacon; crunchy pickles, or fresh jalapenos (something I love on a Five Guys burger). You’ve got a tasty burger, but it needs some snap. Good job on bringing grass-fed beef to the burger crowd.