Sunday, January 27, 2008

BloodRayne, The Vampire Killing Fox


Uwe Boll gets such a lashing in the fan circles that I was prepared to let this one go by. Ultimately, I rented it after seeing Kristanna Loken's "come hither" gaze in every retail establishment that sells DVDs, everywhere in the world, for the past two years. That's what's weird about this guy's movies. It's like there's a conspiracy to place them at point of purchase zones in the wal-mart, target, and best buy stores all over the land, despite the bad rap they continue to get. With lowered expectations and an interest in the female lead based on her Terminator 3 status, I settled in for my first Uwe Boll flick.

Frankly, it wasn't that bad. I've seen worse attempts at action/ horror, and in movies that got better reviews. BloodRayne is going up against your Blade/ Underworld/ Hellboy type of film, being a movie that looks like it might be horror, but is in fact, action. Classics like Aliens and Terminator aside, it's a sub-genre that I simply cannot get excited about, which is probably why I'm okay with the ridiculous costumes and bizarre casting presented here. Seriously, Michael Madsen rules, but I was hoping to see him carve off a vampire's ear and light him on fire. Likewise, the women all know karate and bare exposed midriffs, and sport video game style vampire hunting gear unique to their characters personality traits.

Another thing that some might find upsetting is a near complete disregard of vampire canon, allowing for an amazing vampire body count that actually hinders the sensibilities of the plot. Maybe they explain this somewhere, but that's another problem I have. There seems to be an artistic decision here that interferes with the story telling. There are several scenes that are flashbacks, and then several more that appear to be flashbacks, but are actually stylized transitions that left me sort of confused until the action starts up and everyone is face to face, kicking the crap out of each other again. The ending is also subjective enough to cause further bewilderment.

Yet, despite being a film that is really all over the place, BloodRayne has it's charms and works as your basic popcorn flick. There are buckets of fake blood poured over the cartoonish, old world landscape, the aforementioned ass-kicking women, and a completely unnecessary sex scene for the new (goth?)couples who might be watching. None of this was nearly as horrible and tasteless as one is led to believe from reading the reviews, although it's not winning any awards. In edited form, this flick would play well on the upper dial of your basic cable TV service, perhaps on USA or TNT. It's the movie your inner thirteen year old watches at 1:30am, eating pizza, when sleeping over at your childhood friend's house. This film might be representative of what Uwe Boll is reviled for, which I take to be amateurish film making. Yet, after watching BloodRayne, I have to believe the backlash against his movies is due to the unprecedented marketing support they receive, rather than any short comings of the director. In the end, this is the type of movie where you know, even before watching, whether you'll enjoy it or not.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yocco's "The Hot Dog King"

In the mid-90's I was driving from Pittsburgh to NYC with great regularity. I would take PA-I76 to I80 to I78, before finally hitting the home stretch that is the Jersey Turnpike. For a few years it seemed like I was making this trip every other month or so, mainly to discover the cultural wonders of the lower east side and import some bizarre trend or experience to my quiet home town. While New York City never fails to deliver in that respect, the biggest impression was made on the journey home by a billboard advertising the legendary "Yocco's" restaurant chain of Allentown, PA. Seen only from the west bound lane of I-78, the wary (i.e. hungover) traveler was rewarded by the image of a menacing, anthropomorphic hot dog, wearing a crown and holding a BBQ fork with an impaled hot dog on the end, presumably one of his loyal hot dog subjects. Clearly a retro illustration without any sense of irony, it stands as one the most mind blowing images I would see on many a trip to the big apple. Since I could never leave the city in anything less than a contemplative state, the Yocco's billboard always amused me with it's cartoon character from a bygone era, a mascot that would seem to possess a drive and ambition bordering on insane if compared to anything found in McDonaldland. If the Hot Dog king were any indication, one would expect McDonaldland to more closely resemble North Korea. Indeed, the fact that Yocco's only exists within the relative confines of the Allentown/ Bethlehem area could indicate that the major powers in fast food have utilized some sort of preemptive strike, most likely to keep the tyrant in check.
"Hot Dogs With A Personality"
It would be ten years before I finally enjoyed my first hot dog at Yocco's, a happy accident when I realized my brother had moved to the same Allentown, PA that Yocco's called home. I don't know if it's the Hot Dog King's subtle use of demagoguery or if those 'dogs are, in fact, awesome. Whatever the case may be, if you're in Allentown and reading this, don't tell me or you might be expected to Fed Ex me a "Dog Pack" sometime in the near future. Nowadays, my trip east pretty much end in Easton, where I visit my bro's family and then eat Yocco's. I know I was driving home, alone, when I decided I should finally check in on the place and see what it's all about. I had gained some insight after viewing Rick Seebak's "The Hot Dog Program" which dutifully mentions the Hot Dog King, if not properly advising the viewer of how fantastic Yocco's is. I had also read about it in an issue of the great zine "Snack Bar Confidential" but said reviewer was highly critical of the fare. Probably a health nut. Finally, now in the information age, I went online to find all sorts of praise, mostly from transplanted natives. It was online that I realized how one should order when at Yocco's; two "Yocco's" a side of Pierogies, and a chocolate milk. When they finally removed the billboard I guess it became a mission to finally see what exactly the Hot Dog King was really offering.
Since trying my first Yocco's I make a point to stop on the way home after every trip. Yocco's is for real. Maybe not exactly wholesome eats, but very much so in the sense that it's a regional dish that isn't found anywhere else, relying on regional outlets to provide the various ingrediants. Although Mrs. T's pierogies are everywhere the steel industry was, you usually don't see them deep fried and offered by way of the drive thru window. The buns are baked at the local starch powerhouse and stand above the typical plastic wrap variety found at the grocers. The dogs and milk are also shining regional examples of local household staples that have somehow managed to avoid being absorbed into the Wal-Mart model of retail. And then there's the sauce. You see, Yocco's has a secret, and "the secret's in Yocco's sauce." A chili sauce, to be precise, a thin, brownish red drizzling with only a hint of beef, that when coupled with mustard and onions, rockets this pup into hot dog heaven. When you ask for a "Yocco's," that's how it's served, a dog with chili sauce, mustard, and onions, and as simple as that sounds, I am pressed to find better.
My family thinks I'm crazy. They don't get what the fuss is all about, and can't stand that there's no sauerkraut at this place. Then again, they didn't have to see that billboard on the way home from so many studio parties. Once I stopped on the way TO my brother's place, and found that they had mistakingly given me an extra hot dog. I try to limit my consumpuntion to just two Yocco's per visit, but this time I was happy to make an exception. Elated, actually. Later that evening, as I slept, I dreamed that I made the trip all the way back to the 'burgh and found yet another, hot, fresh, delicious Yocco's while cleaning my car. I woke up somehow disappointed, at 8am, despite knowing this particular dream was somehow more attainable than, say, Anna Nicole Smith or the ability to fly. I decided not to stop on the way back, because I don't want to kill my Yocco's experience. I want to know the malevolent Hot Dog King is still driving his minions, with an iron fist, into my grateful belly the next time I make my way to Eastern Pennsylvania. I'm part of and privy to his homicidal reign, god help me. Long Live Yocco's "The Hot Dog King!"

Monday, January 7, 2008

Buffalo Wings... "Pittsburgh Style" Mmmmmmm!

Just in time for your Super Bowl party! Pittsburgh does indeed offer a unique take on that greatest of bar appetizers, the noble Buffalo Wing. Careful when ordering your wings "Pittsburgh Style" though, even in Pittsburgh. The chain restaurants that thrive on ease of preparation have no time for the extra steps that make these wings superior, so this variation is in danger of being forgotten even in it's home town. No problem, it's actually simple and ingenious, and can be made at home or accommodated in any establishment where whole wings are served. You see, Pittsburgh Style Buffalo wings only work on "whole" wings, and you'll soon understand why.

To make Pittsburgh Style wings you drop a dozen or so in the fry vat and prepare your sauce. The sauce doesn't vary from traditional Buffalo sauce, you just make twice as much. When the wings are done you mix them in the sauce as you would normally, only instead of serving them you throw them on the grill on a high flame! You can see now how frozen wing "Dings" are never going to work with this method, right? Char (blacken) the edges, then turn and repeat. When there is no longer wet sauce in evidence, transfer the wings to a serving tray and drizzle remaining sauce upon them. Enjoy!

Doesn't that sound much healthier then normal wings? Well, don't be an idiot! You're actually eating twice as much buttery sauce! Here in Pittsburgh we understand that Buffalo Wings are never going to be healthier, but they can be a heck of a lot tastier!

If you're around town, take Interstate 76 to Route 376 to Monroeville. Hop on business Route 22 West and follow four miles to Carl's Tavern on your left . Carl's is keeping this tradition alive and well and has a great beer selection, too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Megazone 23 Perfect Collection (ADV 2007)

Finally. I missed the initial region 1 DVD release of Megazone 23 and could not turn it up until now, and I didn't want to just rent it, such is the admiration I have for this title. After twenty years, it's a relief to be able to see this again.

Cover scan for Megazone 23 Collection Pictures, Images and Photos

In the mid 80's, anime was proliferating the US through a network of fan clubs starting with the CFO and working it's way down to various regional groups, including our own Anime Keiken in Pittsburgh. Anime at this time meant taking what offerings you could get from Saban or DIC, or enjoying a crummy third or fourth generation dub in it's original Japanese without the aide of subs. Such was my introduction to "Megazone 23", a dark (for the time) sci-fi with a massive human element that suffered only slightly for the lack of translation. It continues to serve as an early example of seriously compressed storytelling that succeeds with the aid of a (for the time) mind-blowing twist and excellent design aesthetic developed by ARTMIC and Hiruhiko Mikimoto. It also featured a gory execution and a sex scene, two "Firsts" for a mainstream production such as this, and also rather mind-blowing (for the time.) Finally, it reserves it's place in anime history for being the blockbuster anime to secure the future of the OAV, then a fledgling concept. Seeing this as a kid in Western PA only further convinced me that anime was here to stay. Seeing it again with subtitles convinces me that I was right. Part II is great, mainly because it provides resolution and breaks the mold as far as character design goes. Part III was a mistake, but it's out there. Oh well. I lent my fan dubbed VHS to my friend Dave back in 1989, and never saw him or my movie again. I could never have guessed at the immense popularity anime would garner in the following decades, and as annoying as it can be, in this case it's more of a lucky break.

Props to ADV for continuing to exploit this property. It's truly one of the great films of the "Real Robot" era, and needs to be available like a lot of other deserving titles (Crusher Joe, Giant Gorg) It's nice to see a company maintain respect for the groundbreaking works in a time when anime seems to focus entirely on "Fan Service," Gundam, and collectible card games. US otaku, however, will not likely respond as I have, and so this release will probably not release the floodgates as I would like. True, classic titles continue to trickle in as the market continues to broaden, but it's clear by the packaging of the Megazone 23 Perfect Collection that ADV will be taking their time about it. If I wasn't sure about the story already, after reading the summary on the case I might be expecting the prequel to "Ghost in the Shell," and the artwork approved for the cover adds further confusion by featuring characters only from the sequels in a stylized layout that's hard to read. I realize that there are complicated rights issues when a US company is handling anime, but, like, who the hell are they trying to sell this to? Special features-wise, there are enough design sketches to make this worthwhile for the older fan who never picked up the Roman Album, otherwise, I was really hoping for the scratched footage of Shogo raiding the airport ( filmed as the original ending, or maybe for "Robotech: The Movie") Not much other information, unless the English speaking cast offers insights in their commentary, which seems unlikely (People watching dubbed anime have no idea what they're missing!)

Priced at $30, it's a little steep for me to be sending casual fans out of their way for, especially when they really want more "Full Metal Alchemist" so I'll just say if you're like me, gathering up all the great anime from the 80's, this should be on your list.