The greatest science fiction film ever made

Found out my DVDs from Manila of Nausicaa and Mononoke work in my very expensive and not too versatile American player.

Lara (who grew up on these films) loves Nausicaa but considers Mononoke her favorite. I think it's as ambitious as ever, with a very intense first half, but the time roughly after Ashitaka takes Sen from Tataraba to the moment Eboshi fires at the Shishigami leaves me cold--too many characters, too many subplots to resolve satisfyingly...I know I'm in the minority on this...

And Nausicaa...aah, Nausicaa's just the greatest science fiction film ever made, is all.


Filipino films

Good Filipino flms are the ultimate arthouse films--they're difficult to find, almost impossible to get on DVD, VCD or VHS, and if you go anywhere in the world, especially New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin, Bombay or any of the other great film cities, you are instantly an expert.

Beyond that, there are so few good ones, much less great ones, that the great ones are like priceless gems--walang kapalit (there's no equal).

The Singing Detective

Am going through "The Singing Detective" again. I first saw it on PBS on a tiny 14 inch set with dubious color (it was secondhand), and I thought it was fantastic, maybe the best TV I've ever seen. Seeing it on DVD on a big screen, oh wow...

Ashamed to admit I'm using close-captioning, but Potter's words are such lovelies, I can't help not wanting to miss any of it...

Oh, Michael Gambon is a great actor. Absolutely. Up there with De Niro, Pacino and what have you.

When I finished the first disc (three hours), I ran through the commentary. A few gems:

Jon Amiel mentions Patrick Malahide's pithy summation of "Singing Detective:" "It's a psychological case study told as a detective thriller, then set to music."

Amiel also says of Gambon that the producer wanted Nicol Williamson (who's brilliant as Merlin in "Excalibur"), but that he insisted on Gambon because Williamson would have gotten Marlow's (the protagonist) sarcasm and eloquence and anger, but he'd never have broken your heart. Which Gambon does without the least sentimentality.

Finally, Amiel says of their first read-through of the script with the cast that, after the last line of dialogue was uttered, instead of the usual congratulations or compliments there was complete and utter silence. Amiel turned to look at Dennis Potter who was white as a sheet. Then Potter muttered: "Christ, I never realized how close I cut to the bloody bone."

The Least Samurai

Friday at Turner Classic Movies, Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise took over TCM and showed a whole slew of Kurosawa samurai movies--"Seven Samurai" (of course), "Yojimbo," "Throne of Blood," plus the odd
Gate of Hell," each of which they talked about with much enthusiasm and love.

Big mistake, I think. If Zwick, who I pretty much think is an inept director, wants his "Last Samurai" to come off as being at least passable, he shouldn't be reminding us of how GOOD a samurai movie can be. Just sitting down to a few moments of each film is enough to make me dissatisfied with anything else, even if Kurosawa rose up from the dead to try again...


Different film critics

Something I posted on the Movies and TV thread at www.pinoydvd.com, on film criticism:

If you study every aspect of the film thoroughly and are powerful enough to be sent to interview the filmmakers and stars and are diligent about watching all kinds of films, from Hollywood to foreign, from documentary to anime, but you're as sensitive as a block of concrete and can write about as well, filling out most of your article with a summary of the film's plot then almost always ending it with a rating of three stars or above, you're Roger Ebert.

If you have brilliant prose and can write witheringly and insultingly, bringing to your piece a wide-ranging background in literature and the various arts but basically don't even know the first thing about the art you ARE writing about, which is film, you're John Simon.

If you do know something about film and can string together a series of glittering witticisms that show off your omnivorous intelligence to its best advantage, even though you think the medium you're writing about is basically beneath you, you're Anthony Lane.

And if you're a Roger Ebert who can't even bother to study the film or do interviews, but just mainly pad out your column space with TV bloopers, you're Nestor Torre.


Clint Eastwood's Very Important Picture

Clint Eastwood's Mystic River is a serviceable film serving up a pretty good story. I like the way he lets the film unfold at a leisurely pace, but every time a big scene comes up--the kidnapping that opens up the film, for example, he slathers on the big orchestral music and has the camera lurch around in a stylish way.  I wish he'd just do what he does in the rest of the film, which is let the camera sit, more or less intelligently, and simply record what's going on.

The performances. Sean Penn has the showiest role, but I liked his quieter moments far better--like when he admits that his daughter scares him more than prison ever did, or when he simply reacts to a speech his wife gives, gratefully receiving her words of comfort to cover over the big gaping hole in his conscience. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne are pretty good--Fishburne has a better role here than he ever had in the Matrix sequels, but the one I liked best was Tim Robbins.  Sure his character felt underwritten and didn't make sense, but he has the look of a victim just right--like someone carrying a dark, tight knot deep in his guts that he's afraid people can see, and just the effort of carrying this around, this shameful secret, bends his back and tires him even before he gets out of bed. 

The ending (skip if you plan to see the movie) pretty much flushes all that down the drain--I mean, if I were investigating and I was handed THAT as a final answer, I'd be suspicious immediately; more coincidences and unlikely happenings occur in two hours than in Oscar Wilde's entire body of work. And poor Laura Linney, who's in the background most of the film, suddenly comes forth and delivers an eloquently evil speech.  She delivers it well, it sends chills down your spine (and the way Penn receives it like lotion on a fresh sunburn is equally chilling), but where the hell did it come from?  If they at least established that Penn counts on Linney's advice, it would help; as it is...eh.

It's ambitious, it has its moments (particularly Penn confronting Robbins--okay, that had some suspense; I guess I much prefer the interrogation scene where Robbins outwits Bacon and Fishburne), and it's easily the best thing Eastwood's ever done.  But...would it be blasphemous to say I prefer the Looney Tunes movie?

Non-sexual fantasy

Another post in reply to a query about Lord of the Rings (funny how I seem to be bashing non-sensual films nowadays):

One of my major objections to a fantasy film like Lord of the Rings, or the books by Tolkien in general is that they may seem to be adult adventures, and have the maps and made-up language (complete with poetry) and detailed, made-up history to prove it, but they're not. And one reason is the lack of important roles for women or for sexuality in the films. If you compare LOTR to, say, the Arthurian legends, women are strictly in the sidelines, and are hardly looked at as women at all--at most they are brave soldiers or enduring nursemaids; you wouldn't know if there was a vagina in the lot, or if it ever lubricated.

Oh, people have pointed out that, say, Morgan le Fay was a negative stereotype...but she was central to Arthur's legend; Eowyn is a positive role model, but she's barely more than a stick figure, albeit a positive one. You might argue that Galadriel is crucial, but the most she does is provide Frodo with a glorified flashlight to scare the big spider with; it's not a crucial role, and I think not an especially memorable one.

People have pointed out the sensuality of Gollum's hunger--sure, it's the best thing in the film and novel. Actually, about the few characters I still find interesting in either films or novels are those that give any evidence of having any genitals: Gollum, Saruman...Aragorn suggests he has a pair, but mainly in battle (he's queer that way); even his love for that lily-livered fairy is as chaste as driven snow. Sauron--fughedaboudit; he's a flame at the end of a gas pipe leak, and about as scary.

Which is why the only franchise I'm really looking forward to is the third Harry Potter flick.

Kubrick, Or: How I learned to be scared of sex and make millions off of my fear

Here's a paraphrase of something I posted on indiefilpino, in response to Alex Tioseco's post (his statements in quotes) about the lack of sex in Kubrick's films, and someone else's post about the lack of sex in Mike de Leon's films:

Sex--or the fear of it, is crucial to a film like Mike de Leon's "Kisapmata;" Mike is more like Hitchcock--it's what he's TRYING not to say that makes him so interesting.

You get the impression that (Kubrick)'s not just not afraid (of sex), he's not interested at all. Makes you wonder if his kids are adopted.

"judge him not on what he left out but what was included"

I don't know, I wouldn't do it on principle, it would depend on the film.

"Did you think any sex scenes should have been included in a specific film?"

Well, sensuality. Take the rape in (Kubrick's) "Clockwork Orange" vs. the one in (Sam Peckinpah's) "Straw Dogs." "Clockwork" has two of em, of radically different designs, and pretty much imaginatively staged; "Straw Dogs" only has one, but it's of such sensual power that I for one was turned on, and that is disturbing. I can see what the man is doing is wrong, but my getting a hardon in the process drives home the fact that the rapist may not feel the same sense of repulsion, but instead hunger. It's worse than what Kubrick does, which is to stand from a great height and put a magnifying glass on the scene; in Straw Dogs, you feel like you're sticking it in her yourself.

And as I've noted in "Eyes Wide Shut," the comedy is in Tom Cruise not getting any for most of the night; but it would be an even better comedy if there was anything that was actually tempting--the nude show Kubrick puts on is so inept it's laughable. He can't seem to stage a sexy moment to save his life (may be one reason why in "Lolita" the comedy is emphasized), and it's a serious weakness. Sex is a major part of life as we know it.


Thanksgiving feast

Haven't tried this:


But I have tried deer penis wine.  Literally,  wine with a deer's penis pickled inside.  Tony Bourdain had this in a recent episode in Singapore, too. Copycat.


A secret

Wanna know one secret to writing? Walk.

Yeah, that's it, walk.  An hour a day, at least, every day.  Get out of your damned car, and just walk.  Stop once in a while to hear, smell, see things. For an hour, at least.

The best scriptwriter in the local film industry, Mario O'Hara does this.  He walks everywhere, around Makati, Malate, Quiapo, Binondo, Escolta.  He can be seen commuting up and down Manila in a jeep--not his jeep, a passenger jeep.  He pretty much knows the bus network of this city.  He's the only Filipino filmmaker I know that does this (even Lino Brocka has a car--well, O'Hara drives a van, but only on special occasions, like an out-of-town shoot), maybe the only filmmaker in the world that does this.  That's how he came up with the scripts for films like "Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" (You Were Judged and Found Wanting), "Bakit Bughaw ang Langit" (Why the Sky is Blue?), and "Babae sa Bubungang Lata" (Woman on a Tin Roof), among others. He looks at the people around him, listens to them, puts them in his screenplays.

And I'll tell you another little secret: "Insiang," considered by many to be Lino Brocka's masterpiece (including myself, over the I think overrated "Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Neon), and perhaps the finest, tightest Filipino film script ever written, was inspired by what happened to O'Hara's backyard neighbors.

O'Hara walks, that's his secret. Oh, it's not the basis for some of his wilder flights of imagination, in films like "Mortal" or "Pangarap ng Puso" (Demons), but it's the basis of his understanding of people.  By being among them.


Finest kind

So someone at pinoydvd forum asked: what is it, primarily, that you judge a director by?

- Ability to tell a story?
- Bringing out the best in actors?
- Way with the camera?
- Editing?
- Originality of vision or technique?
- Others?

I realize it's normally "all of the above." But, if you don't mind, which aspect of directorial work do you prioritize?

My answer:

That's hard to say, really.  Kael called it a "film sense" which is really a made-up term she uses that she has to qualify so much it's pretty much useless.  I think sticking to one virtue or another and holding it high above all else limits one's way of thinking to the point that one's preferences are influenced, which is what I don't want to happen. 

I just like their films; that comes first; then I have to explain why.  Their films have to interest me, for one reason or another; I guess that's the ultimate criteria to me: the ability to arouse and sustain interest.  Which, again, has to be qualified so much that as a criteria it's also pretty much useless.  Better to read my thoughts on a filmmaker than have me check off his qualities on a list.


Magdalene Sisters (Part 2)

(Read previous post)

And while the nuns were wonderfully played (McEwan was the best of a fine lot), I would have like to have seen more of their side--how do they form their opinion of the girls, how do they justify their sadism?  Showing their side would have again helped give the film more texture, make it more than the mere anti-Catholic Church, pro-feminist screed that it seems to be. This one-sidedness is especially felt in that scene where one of the girls stands up to Sister Bridget after Crispin was taken away, and she has a brief attack of self-doubt.  If we knew more of what went on in her head, that moment could have been more powerful. As it is, it seemed puzzling--surely she knew about the abuses Crispin was subject to, or at least purposely turned a blind eye towards it?  Why the crisis of conscience?

And maybe my biggest complaint would be reserved for the end titles.  I've always thought end titles (where are they now?) should only be used when depicting actual people; otherwise, you're claiming a realism that just isn't there, and Mullan seems to be saying that his characters are composites. I disliked it as far back as American Graffiti, I disliked it in something as recent as Three Kings, and I certainly dislike it here. 

The Magdalene Sisters (part 1)

This is a movie I would love to love, mainly for confirming what I suspect about nuns all along, that they're Nazis with a serious sadistic streak.

The performances ARE strong; of the generally excellent cast, I'd single out Britta Smith as Katy, the elderly, rather simpleminded inmate, and the thoroughly courageous Eileen Wash as Crispina. And Mullan was good enough to relate the existence of the convent and its practices to the general community, who condone such things happening (or at least condone sweeping girls away into places where such things can happen). That moment when Margaret hesitates before the open door is telling: she knows if she gets out she has nowhere outside to run to. The surrounding community is every bit an extension of the convent.

But it struck me the wrong way, somehow, starting from the moment one of the girls has an interview with Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) and she counts money right in front of her.  First, I wouldn't dare count money where someone in front of me could pick up a bill from the desk when I wasn't looking; second, it seemed like a hamhanded way of saying "yes, we're in this for the money," which Mullan suggests isn't true anyway, or tries to.

And I'd like to have seen more complexity in the characters.  Were all the girls on one side and all the nuns on the other?  I would imagine there was bullying even among the girls, cliques formed, loyalties and enemies made.  As is, they had a few spats, and maybe Katy sucked up to her superiors, but by and large they were all united against the nuns.  Can it have been as simple as that?

Quentin Taranwhatsisname

Nicked a copy of The New Yorker from a doctor's office (what, you think I'm going to actually spend money on an issue? Come to think of it, a doctor that reads The New Yorker...?), and it turned out to be their movie issue. 

Enjoyed an article on Pauline Kael by a former Paulette--he keeps sounding like a rehab alumnus confessing and ultimately condemning his hidden vice. Enjoyed even more an article on writers wrangling over the writing credit on the Hulk movie--they should have taken their cue from Gore Vidal, who won his suit to have his name added to the credits of "The Sicilian;" when he actually saw the movie, he called his lawyer and said "get my name off this piece of shit!"

Then there was this long, fawning article on Quentin Tarantino. Early on Tarantino acknowledges Jean Luc Godard as one of his early heroes, which is only right and proper; then the article goes on to say "he has now outgrown Godard," which had me howling till I fell off my seat.  You don't outgrow Godard; you can only attempt to use what he's developed intelligently, in the hope of not disgracing his name with the association, acknowledging that such is not always the case.. 

The article continues: "Godard was, in the end, too breezy, too detached, too motiveless, too delicate, too French to serve as a model (for Tarantino)."  No, of course not; Tarantino merely borrowed Godard's bags of tricks and instead of investigating the nature of cinema and huiman behavior with them, used them to build a rickety altar of cool over which he can preside, wobblingly.  It's no a growing beyond, it's a regressing beneath. It's using high tech weaponry to crack open a walnut.


Mah Tricks Lava Lotion (Part 2)

(Please read previous post)

Meanwhile, inside the human city Chiong, got one garang leader called Mui-fan. He organised his band of fighters. The lobots then break into the city. Mui-fan end up being leftover rice instead. Then got more fighting scene and got two woman tag-team bazooka like WWE. Big long fight. At the same time, Niao tok-kok with this giant machine (made of small lobot) called Door Macham Ex to make deal. Door Macham Ex okay, you kill Agent Simi. I flee human.

Niao kena jacked in and fight Agent Simi in the rain.

After fighting until even my cock sian by half, Niao finally allow Agent Simi to take over him. Door Macham Ex then sends power surge to Niao, killing both Niao and Agent Simi. The rest of the Agent Simi all die, leaving a lot of puzzled people asking,"Simi?" Mor-peng and Nah-beh then give group hug saying they are saved because of Niao.

Orkang, and that KFC man come back. Mah-Trix then get Lee-loaded. Black cat again. After a while, KFC man says,"Ko kwa simi lan cheow! Movie liao lah! Go home!"

Mah Tricks Lava Lotion (part 1)

Singapore Coffee Shop Talk- Matrix Revolution: The Ah Beng Review:

Last night, I go with my Ah Lian to see Mah-Tricks: Lava-lotion. This is my long and short (but my Ah Lian always says I long wan ha-ha).

Niao wake up in Mobil Petrol Station - cannot get out. Have to wait for latex wearing Titties and kwa-simi-lc Mor-peng. Tit and Mor-peng go see the black lady, Orkang. Orkang says "Niao boh lui pay petrol so kena confined at Mobil." Tit and Mor-peng then go see guy at Hell club called French Kiss -- pay extra attention to Hell club where his char borh with big boobs that can occupy whole screen till you can salivate. French Kiss sez, "gimme Orkang's eyes." Tit says "you tokking more kok some more, I give you eat bullet." French Kiss boh pian and let Tit and Mor-peng win. Niao then gets free when tots and Mor-peng come with train. He go see Orkang and wakes up from coma.

Orkang kena take over by Agent Simi. Agent Simi laughs, showing nice white teeth -- advertisement for Darlie toothpaste. Tit and Niao then sex again. So horny this couple.

Niao say he want to go Machine Shitty. Mor-peng's char bor, Nah-beh says, "Take me!" (I think she say take her ship but close enough). Niao then take his ah lian, Tittity to machine shitty. On the way, the chao kwan, Beng, fight with Niao. Niao kena blinded but Beng dies. Nah-beh and bf, Mor-peng take another ship to rescue their own city, Chiong, fighting lobot along the way. Sibeh exciting. Above ground, Niao explode more and more lobot, they fly to sky but in the end, crash, killing his beloved ah lian, Tittity. Niao supposed to cry until no bak sai but he is blind - so dunno really crying or not or because his eyes still pain.


Fire Department barbecue

Garner once said: no commerical establishment is ever going to win a face off with any local fire department.

That's prolly an exaggeration, but the Lumberton Rescue Team's fundraising barbecue doesn't suck (else they'd have run out of funds long ago).  Cars lined up down the block; you handed them five bucks, they handed you a styrofoam box--two in my case, a barbecue plate and a fried chicken plate.

Inside was unusually spicy cole slaw, white bread (remarkable stuff; like a sheet of softest cotton with a leather border sewn in); a generous pile of decent gas-grilled, hickory-chip-smoked barbecue, prolly the best the little town has to offer--chewy, juicy salty, only the slightest hint of tang. The chicken plate was even better, with a tart potato salad, some kind of pink pound cake (strawberry flavored, I think which the wife liked very much--but she's expecting, so I'm not too sure of her tastes); and juicy chicken with crisp skin and an indefinable, unforgettble flavor--when I asked one fireman the secret he pointed me to a meat shop in Martin Luther King Drive that sold the mix. Having visited several North Carolinian cities I couldn't help noticing that avenues named after Mr. King aren't in the best of shape.  I'll still have to visit, if I want that mix...and I think I want that mix.  


Matrix Revolutions

Saw it. Makes "Lord of the Rings" look good, and I don't like "Lord of the Rings." 

The Wachowskis (you might not want to read this if you haven't seen the movie, or plan to see it) go the LOTR route, with a big battle up front and a Hail Mary pass going in the back (only the Frodo on secret mission here packs a liddle more firepower). 

The battles SHOULD be impressive, if only we could see for ourselves, clearly, the importance of that dock there in Zion or whatever it is, the capabilities of Machine City's sentinels or whatever they are, and the abilities of the APUs, or whoever was manning them.  And if we could see, clearly, what was going on.  But no, it's all CGI, and the Wachowskis are too much in love with that damned roller-coaster type shot, where the camera goes up and down and swishes right and left, and you FEEL like you're in a coaster.  Which is pretty exciting--back when it was first done, years ago (I can't even remember the first time I've seen this shot, it's been done so many times).  Entire batles, several of them, take that kind of point-of-view, enough to put you to sleep several times over.

It makes you appreciate what Peter Jackson did with "Lord of the Rings."  There, he kept the coaster shots to a minimum and the camera well back, the better to see the lay of the land and general situation. If I were to sum up the difference between the Wachowski's visual strategy and Jackson's when it comes to heavily CGI'd battles, Jackson uses the camera as if he were filming old-fashioned battle sequences, with real extras crawling over real landscapes, while the Wachowskis tie their camera to a (virtual) high-tech train track and watch it go chugging round and round. 

(This may sound as if I actually like LOTR but Jackson's sins are on a different level--a lack of irreverence that takes any surprise or freshness out of a remarkably unsophisticated story some half a century old.)

The ending is what Richard Fleischer might have done with the Superman sequel if he had the budget and techonology, but not the breezy, lighthearted wit.  Give me wit over budget and technology anytime.


Tanging Ina: recent hit Filipino film considered (Part 1)

Wenn V. Deramas' "Tanging Ina" is a surprisingly supple, surprisingly well-made, comedy that turns on the acting and comedy talents of the decidedly unglamorous Ai-Ai de Las Alas. Ai-Ai is an odd combination: generous bosom and glamour-girl legs attached to cartoon face and horsey jaw; you can see why men would find her attractive enough to make their wife, the same time God would find her funny-looking enough to act as butt to some of his less kindly jokes.


The first twenty minutes are the film's high point. Deramas uses the standard tropes of Filipino comedy: speeded-up slapstick, absurdist imagery, semaphoring silent acting; what distinguishes her use of these devices from the usual Filipino comedy director's is that it's all in the service of creating a genuinely complex and fairly original comic character: the mother as hapless creature of fate, doing her best to keep her sizable chin above the water as she marries one husband after another, is widowed in a number of rather ingenious ways (one drops dead from a heart attack; another falls from the balcony of a movie theater during a stampede; yet another is electrocuted at their wedding reception), each leaving her with a number of children.

Tanging Ina (Part 2--Please read previous post first)

Along the way Deramas (using a script from Mel Mendoza del Rosario--one of the better comedy writers working in the industry today--and Keiko Aquino) scores a few satiric points: the tendency of Filipinos to produce unbelievably large families (Ai-Ai eventually ends up with an even dozen kids), the mad scramble for decent jobs in an increasingly indecent economy; the value put on displayable material wealth and "face," or surface respectability. Some of the better jokes include Ai-Ai naming her children after numbers (Juan (Marvin Agustin), after "one;" Portia (Heart Evangelista) shortened from "por" or "four"); Dennis Padilla as her latest suitor, a taxi driver with an appealingly maniacal twinkle in his eye and a penchant for showing up in his knight-errand taxi at the right place and the right time; and, of course, the film's title, which literally means "true Mother," the same time it's a pun on an obscenity that means: "whore mother."


The film doesn't sustain the comic momentum: about two-thirds of the way the picture seriously sags from all the tearjerking drama, meant to underline Ai-Ai's plight and suffering (they could have underlined it and still made it funny). Some of the satire isn't as pointed as it could be--Heart Evengelista could have really gone to town on her materialistic Portia, who expects her mother to fork out enough cash for her swanky debut birthday party, but other than some deft slapstick she does little else; no connection is made between Ai-Ai's troubles and the Catholic Church's medieval policies on birth control; and an incident involving a terrorist bomber seems to come out of left field if one isn't familiar with the turmoil that embroiled Manila at the time the film was made (some political context would have been welcome). Still, this is a film with serious targets that it manages to skillfully skewer at least half the time (most Filipino satires nowadays seem too broad, or miss their targets entirely); and in terms of general quality it stands head and shoulders above the standard-issue "toilet humor" or "tits-and-ass" slapstick.


North Carolinian Barbecue (Part 4)

Okay, Wilber's in Goldsboro is the fattiest, Allen & Son the smokiest, Murray's in Raleigh the saltiest--but they're all superb barbecue, coarse-chopped, pit-cooked.


Murray's is a humble white cinder-block building, with a parking lot full of secondhand cars and pickup trucks and the odd BMW. Plates of paper, forks and spoons of plastic, but the pulled pork is first class--a heap of steaming-hot, juicy, well-salted cue, nicely vinegared and pepper-flaked, and marvelously al dente.


The sides go well with the cue: boiled potatoes in melted butter; string beans; perfectly sweetened cole slaw, dark sweet tea, rich Brunswick stew sweetened with fresh corn, and since it's Monday, huge brontosaurous ribs, a huge rack chopped in half and dropped on your table with an audible ka-thump! The tips are toasted to a flavorsome crisp, the base is wrapped in meat that in terms of tenderness could give the cue a run for its money.


I talked to Murray, a nice old man who stands behind the cash register (and cleans up the tables when the other servers are busy), and told him I went some ninety miles to eat at his place; he said he gets customers from Florida, New York, Canada. I told him this has to be better known in places like Europe and Asia; they just don't get the concept of barbecue, not the way it's eaten in North Carolina. He confirms the place is the only one that still cooks over a wood burning pit in Raleigh, and when he retires, there'll be no one left in the city.  Which is kind of sad.  But for today, I eat like a god--a pork-loving one, anyway.

North Carolinian Barbecue (Part 3)

Allen & Son's at Chapel Hill has pork shoulders cooked slow over hickory logs and hand chopped and it's so good it'll make you swear off vegetables forever. Intense hickory-smoke flavor, with the meat just dripping with fat, it's in the same league as Wilber's in Goldsboro, I think (just found out Goldsboro had a great barbecue joint as early as the 1930's--what is it with these North Carolinian small towns? Durham and Raleigh are far bigger and ostensibly more significant communities than Goldsboro and Chapel Hill, and there reportedly isn't a decent barbecue joint between them). Wilber's is tenderer and juicier, but that hickory flavor--as if they had smoked my tongue in hickory for hours I can't get rid of the memory of it; it's like if I died and was buried, people would pause by my grave to salivate.

Crisp hush puppies the size of golf balls and a hell of a lot sweeter; amazing baked beans; fries from potatoes cut with skin on and cooked a dark brown; a pound cake with cream cheese icing to die for, served hot with a crisp crust rounding the edges. I don't know if it gets any better than this.

North Carolinian Barbecue (Part 2)

(Read previous post)

North Carolinian cue is really something else--I like the elemental simplicity of it, the emphasis on pork as the prime ingredient. The toasty skin added occasionally is very nice, though not as nice as we're used to in Manila--weeks-old porker roasted whole, entire skin perfectly crisp and glistening with fat. The Cebu version is even better, rubbed with salt and stuffed so full of lemongrass you don't need any sauce at all.

But the Manila lechon is slathered with a thick and sweet liver sauce; this Carolinian version, with its pepper and vinegar taste (especially the bottle I bought from Wilber's), that's a huge improvement on the meat. This isn't good eats, this is great eats.

North Carolinian barbecue (part 1)

Last summer we went to New Bern, birthplace of Pepsi, and they had some nice eateries there, if expensive. Pepsi tasted same there as everywhere else.

Along the way we tried a few barbecue joints. King's Barbecue was an improvement over the cue we eat in our little town here. They served it on buffet on a bed of its own skin, crisped and laid whole on the table. If you dig down to where the meat is marinating on the skin's underfat, it's very juicy indeed.

Moore's Old Tyme Barbecue in New Bern had even better cue, cooked (at least partly) over coals. That was a revelation; North Carolinian cue for me was usually the vinegary Smithfield's. There's a place here called Fuller's with a buffet, but it's finely chopped almost into threads, and you got to dig in for the juicier meat (Fuller's okra deep-fried in fatback, however, was to die for, sweet, crisp, and salty).

On the way back from New Bern we dropped by Goldsboro. Tried McCall's and  loved the succulent deep-fried scallops the size of a gold doubloon (why is seafood always deep-fried around here?), tried the cue ordered from the kitchen, not off the buffet, and it was even better than Moore's, fully pit-cooked, juicy and rough-chopped.

Then we dropped by this place called Wilber's. Not far from McCall's--I'd say a few hundred feet down and across the road. Small rooms, nothing big like in McCall's, and the meat I ordered hardly tasted like it had sauce at all. But it was delicious--pit-cooked smoky, buttery-fat, mixed with deliciously crisp brown edges, or outside-brown I think they're called. Add the sauce (I bought a bottle) and it's perfect, peppery and tart to the tongue.