In Bruges (***½)

Posted on April 5th, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

In BrugesWe live in a small country town (Brenham, TX – population ~13,000), and love it.  One drawback, however, is that there is only a single movie theater here, six-screens showing the absolute worst of Hollywood crap…we call it the Yokelplex.  There has been only one exception, which is when they showed Gone With the Wind on the big screen in partnership with a local community theater that was staging a play about the making of the movie.  But other than that – a constant parade of dreck.  For example, here's the current playlist:

21Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a WhoDrillbit TaylorLeatherheadsNim's IslandSuperhero MovieTyler Perry's Meet the Browns

Not every movie on that list is execrable, but most are, and none are compelling enough to get my entertainment dollars.  We've been to see maybe 5 or 6 films at the theater, and we've lived here for a year and a half and I *love* going to the movies.

What does this have to do with In Bruges?  Well, nothing directly, except that we had to drag ourselves into downtown Houston (90 minute drive, to the sadly decaying Angelika Theater – more on that at the bottom of this article) in order to find a movie worth seeing.  And, to me, this is indicative of the drought of good films being produced by the mainstream American film community.  Are there occasionally good American films?  Yes.  However, most of the mainstream films are simply horrible.

At one point we were so desperate for movie entertainment that we took a couple of weekends to visit the Yokelplex and see the films that were most highly rated by the combination of RottenTomatoes and IMDB.  One weekend it was The Spiderwick Chronicles, which we knew was primarily a kid's movie, but I've got an open mind and have loved many "kid" pics, such as The Incredibles.  Well, Spiderwick was so bad that we walked out, something we rarely do.  It wasn't really bad, it was just incredibly derivative and boring.  As are most mainstream films that we are able to go see.

However, In Bruges, is a different story altogether.  We had seen some brief trailers for it, and it looked kind of like an action comedy, and it is…sort of.  But it's much more than that.  First of all, it's so well written that it shames virtually every American film we've seen in the last few years, with only a few exceptions like Michael Clayton, Superbad, and Stranger Than Fiction.  Second, it defies expectations at every turn – and not in the in-your-face, clonk-you-over-the-head, artless manner of most mainstream American films – but in subtle, unexpected, and even frightening ways.

I really don't want to talk too much about the film because I don't want to spoil it.  Suffice it to say that Bruges is the name of a city in Belgium, and Colin Ferrell and Brendan Gleeson (who also played the father with the little girl in 28

Tender and Juicy Texas-Style Barbeque Brisket on a Gas Grill

Posted on April 2nd, 2008 in Recipes by EngineerBoy
Texas Barbeque BBQ Brisket, click for larger version

Fork tender and juicy…yum!

I have a low-end little gas grill (Sunbeam Grillmaster 660) that we use for our weekend barbequing.  I used to be strictly a charcoal kind of guy, but I’ve been won over by the convenience and predictable heating of a gas barbeque grill, which is why  I recently read these gas grill reviews and decided to order the Char-Broil Signature TRU-Infrared 325(It’s high time I upgrade my grill).  There are some Texans who claim that *real* brisket can only be made over coals and/or wood, but I beg to differ.  I’ve been eating barbequed brisket my whole life, starting when we moved to a small Texas town in the 60’s, where my uncles would make brisket (along with ribs, chicken, and homemade venison sausage) for family gatherings.  Since then I’ve eaten brisket from just about every kind of barbeque joint and backyard cook you could think of.  And the brisket described here, cooked over a gas grill, ranks right up there with the best of ’em.

The brisket pictured here will give you an idea of what yours should look like.  Note the tray of charred wood chips on the left.  Also, only the left side of the grill is on, and the right side (under the meat) is off.  Also remember that the brisket cooks with the cover closed.  Click the picture for a larger version that shows more detail.

The Keys to Good Brisket

Good meat – get a big chunk of uncooked, unflavored brisket, 10+lbs with a nice fatty side, just a big old slab of meat in a vacuum sealed heavy plastic package.  Do NOT use any of the pre-flavored, pre-smoked briskets for this recipe, and do NOT trim the fat off.
Patience – prep time can extend overnight, cooking time is 6+ hours, resting time is nearly an hour and none of the steps can be rushed.
Restraint – very little seasoning is needed, and the meat must cook virtually undisturbed (no forking, flipping, meat-thermometer-stabs, or manhandling – just gentle slow cooking and smoking).
Non-violence – up until the time you’re ready to slice and serve the brisket, the meat should not be punctured or pierced in any way.  No forks, thermometers, unskilled tong use, flavor injections, slicing, scoring, tenderizing, etc.
Practice – it will probably take a few iterations for you to get the hang of the nuances of your grill, tools, and preferences.

Tools and Such

Gas grill with independent left and right side burner controls (only one side will be lit)
Big roasting pan or foil pan, large enough to hold the brisket and tough enough to withstand grill heat
Lots of aluminum foil (the extra-wide kind is better)
Aromatic wood chips (mesquite, pecan, hickory all work good) plus small foil pan or metal tray

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (***)

Posted on April 2nd, 2008 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Forgetting Sarah MarshallFirst and foremost, go into this movie with the realization that it is Rated R, and heartily deserves it.  If you are easily offended by nudity and/or sexual situations then you probably want to skip this film.  The scenes in question are not gratuitous and are germane to the plot, and are also some of the funniest scenes in the film.

And that's the key to this movie…it is funny…damn funny.  Judd Apatow and his ensemble have created another winner here, and it's looking to be a habit (Drillbit Taylor notwithstanding).  The screenplay was written by Jason Segal, who is also the star.  His character is a journeyman composer in the film and TV industry, but he happens to be dating the hot, blonde starlet (named, of course, Sarah Marshall) of a TV crime drama.  However, between her success and his professional mediocrity, she decides that they're "just going in different directions" and dumps him.

Peter Bretter (Segal's character, above left) tries several methods to cope with his broken heart, including sobbing, eating cereal, acting out at work, and nailing anything that moves.  Nothing helps – then a friend suggests that a vacation might be just the thing to break the funk.  Peter heads to a resort in Hawaii that Sarah had mentioned, and when he gets there who does he find?  Sarah (above, middle), of course, along with her new beau, the preening pop star Aldous Snow (above, right).

He also meets Rachel, who works the front desk of the resort.  As you might imagine, he and Rachel fall in love, but not without complications, of course.  All of the characters in this film seem like they would fit stereotypes from a hundred other romcoms, but they all seem to defy expectations by being more real and quirky than I expected.  Aldous Snow the pop star, in particular, really ends up differently than one might presume from his initial scenes.

And that seems to be the key to the Apatowian juggernaut – characters that feel real, that develop, and that are funny and poignant in ways that don't seem to be contrived for a film.  Now, I'm not saying that people in the real world would ever act exactly as these characters do in all situations – but it's close.  The characters also draw our instant empathy because of their familiarity, even Sarah.  She's not a demonized vixen, she's more like a confused person who let success go to her head, and now isn't sure how to act "normal" any more.

Jason Segal is the only credited writer for the screenplay, and if wrote all of it himself then it's an astonishing debut.  It was surprising and refreshing to hear snappy, funny dialog that didn't feel recycled or derivative – and he keeps it up throughout the entire film.

I'll wrap up by reiterating my opening warning – if you are offended by nudity and sexual content, you may want to skip this