Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dunkirk

In 1940 in Occupied France, Allied soldiers are pushed to the coastal town of Dunkirk where they await evacuation. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a British Army private meets fellow soldier Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) on the beach, and the two try to gain access to a ship that will take them across the channel. Meanwhile, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) volunteers his yacht to aid the war effort, and he, his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and Peter’s younger friend George (Barry Keoughan) set out aboard the vessel toward Dunkirk to provide life jackets and rescue survivors along the way. In the air, a group of Spitfires piloted by Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) attempt to shoot down Luftwaffe bombers before they can attack the troops waiting at Dunkirk.

Nearly two decades ago, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan set the gold standard for wartime realism with its brutal depiction of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. Though Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk shares some surface elements with it (Allied soldiers on a French beach during World War II), it is very nearly the former film’s antithesis. It is also, in many ways, its equal.

After a brief glimpse of a frame story, Saving Private Ryan promptly offered twenty minutes of frenzied carnage before developing its characters and conflict and contemplating the value of sacrifice. Dunkirk does virtually none of that. Rather than offering a focused narrative, Nolan presents the film asynchronously. The overlapping land, sea, and air segments are meant to depict one week, one day, and one hour, respectively, which can make it a chore to keep up with. The PG-13 rating also ensures that Dunkirk is light on gore. Most of the action takes the form of aerial dogfights and troops swimming away from imminent doom. Lastly, instead of humanizing its characters by delving into their backstories, Dunkirk keeps them relatively anonymous: they work as everymen because they could be any men.

Despite these departures from war film conventions, Dunkirk is very much not a pretentious or sanitized affair. As with many of Nolan’s previous films, it is stylistically breathtaking, be it the plumes of smoke rising over the bombarded beach or the sweeping maneuvers of the Spitfires. Hans Zimmer’s score also leaves quite an impression. In lieu of valorous reveries, he offers a ticking clock, ominous strings, and compositions befitting a horror movie, an appropriate (if unexpected) choice given the subject matter.

The film’s style works to impart a near-constant sense of dread. Though the audience never sees the face of the enemy, we are constantly reminded that the enemy is out there. We know that it is only a matter of time before the next attack, and the characters know it too. They are trapped in their own existential hells, whether it is Tommy going from sinking ship to sinking ship or Farrier running across one German plane after another as his fuel supply dwindles. Like previous Nolan films, Dunkirk reaches a hopeful note – in this case, a surviving character reads a Winston Churchill speech in a newspaper – but it makes both the characters and the audience suffer for it.

Speaking of characters, the cast of largely lesser-known actors does a lot with a little. As Tommy, Whitehead is wholly believable as a scared young man who just wants to get home in one piece. A lesser film would have him start that way and “grow” into something of a sacrificial action hero by the end, but Nolan wisely avoided that pitfall. The cast does boast a more conventional action hero in Hardy, and while he plays Farrier with cool competence, his escapades do not strain credulity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the two Allied characters positioned most antagonistically – a shell-shocked survivor (Cillian Murphy) rescued by Dawson and a hotblooded Scottish soldier (Harry Styles) – are driven by the same thing that drives Tommy: survival. Aside from Hardy and Murphy, the two biggest “names” are Rylance and Kenneth Branagh. The former plays Dawson with uncompromising bravery and integrity while the latter, as a Navy commander, personifies the British stiff upper lip. All of these actors get by with very little dialogue, and even the Shakespearean Branagh avoids spotlight-hogging showiness.

Traditionally, war movies dramatize victory, however much they show of its often-steep costs. Dunkirk, on the other hand, dramatizes a long retreat. In doing so, however, it does not slander its subjects but rather affirms their humanity and their service (conscious or not) to the greater good. After all, dying en masse in Britain’s name would have meant little if there was no one left to defend the homeland (curiously, the contributions of French soldiers are downplayed, much in the way that British contributions are diminished in American WW II films), and the evacuation directly led to Churchill’s rousing speech. It is unknown if Dunkirk will seem as tense, refreshingly unorthodox, and stylistically masterful in the years to come as it does today, but it’s so far among the best films that 2017 has to offer.


8.5/10

High Point Korean BBQ

Located at 2017 Kirkwood Street in High Point, High Point Korean BBQ serves Korean fare for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

With limited Korean options in the area, High Point Korean BBQ filled a definite need when it opened this past spring. Though dining here proved to be an up and down experience, the restaurant is still a welcome addition.

Housed in a nondescript plaza, High Point Korean BBQ is much nicer inside than out. It’s tastefully appointed with a combination of booths and tables as well as semiprivate dining areas off to the side. Soothing music plays unobtrusively in the background.

Despite the restaurant’s name, do not come here expecting tableside grilling: everything is prepared in the kitchen. That aside, you will find a lot of recognizably Korean dishes: bulgogi, bimimbap, jjigae, jap che, galbi, and more. Pricing is all over the place, ranging from wallet-friendly $10 lunch specials all the way to $40/person group meals. There are enough protein options within that range to satisfy most patrons’ diets.

My first visit was a late lunch, and I went with a ttukbaegi bulgogi (beef and a broth-like sauce with glass noodles) lunch special. First and foremost, it proved to be a fantastic value. For a mere $10, I received not only bulgogi, but a small salad, miso, six banchan (side dishes, which included pickled vegetables and kimchi), a side of rice, and a cold cinnamon tea for dessert.



Among the offerings, there were more hits than misses. The miso held its own, the mild broth imparted the bulgogi with flavor, the kimchi was appropriately spicy, and the cinnamon tea was deliciously refreshing. On the other hand, the dressing atop the salad was offputtingly acidic (wherefore art thou, classic ginger?), and the beef in the bulgogi was rather chewy.

Throughout the meal, Matt proved to be a capable, polite, and attentive server. He clarified the differences between the different bulgogi variants, identified each of the banchan dishes, and generally seemed to be on top of things.

Given the ambiance and pricing, High Point Korean BBQ has the potential to be a very good lunch spot for the area. In order for it to take the leap, however, the kitchen needs more consistency.


7.75/10

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sammy G's Tavern

Located at 3800 Tinsley Drive in High Point, Sammy G’s Tavern serves American fare for lunch and dinner. There is a full bar, drink specials change daily, and a brunch menu is offered on Sundays.

Though the name calls to mind a neighborhood watering hole, Sammy G’s is more upscale than the moniker lets on. A sister restaurant to Fratelli’s Italian Steakhouse in Winston-Salem, Sammy G’s does what others have tried and failed to do: it gets the dressed up pub/casual fine dining concept right.

Deceptively spacious, Sammy G’s features several dining areas. One includes a bar and a long communal table while another is a more traditional dining set up. My wife and I got to experience the latter and found it comfortable enough.

The menu here is well-stocked with American staples: wings, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and steaks. There are, however, enough global touches to keep things interesting. The appetizers include a Thai shrimp, a fried calamari, and an Asian seared tuna, risotto is an available side, chicken teriyaki features among the entrees, and several styles of nachos (including lobster and blistered corn for the truly curious) are accounted for. For our first time out, my wife and I split a green tomato starter and followed up with The Sammy G’s (fried flounder, popcorn shrimp, and a crabcake) and the Plum Asian Sirloin, respectively.

A fried green tomato has become one of our litmus tests for new places, and by that measure alone, Sammy G’s passed. Though the slices were smallish, they were crisp and well-coated, and they paired well with the accompanying dab of pimento. The jalapeno bacon jam that came with it brought a nice bit of heat. Plum sauce on a steak seemed like a gamble – would it be too sweet? – but my faith was rewarded. It enhanced rather than overwhelmed the sirloin, and it called to mind a less salty teriyaki. The side of sautéed broccoli that came with it was perfect (seriously, I was left wondering how broccoli could be this good), and the risotto was satisfying if not spectacular. The steak did come out slightly overcooked (requested medium rare, it arrived medium approaching medium well) but not enough to render it unpalatable, and that was the only hitch in an otherwise very good meal.






Said meal was complemented by service that was generally on-point. Wait times for food were minimal, and Brycen, our server, was attentive and polite. Sammy G’s seemed both adequately staffed and well-managed, no easy feat given the amount of restaurant industry turnover.

At first glance, prices at Sammy G’s seem to be in-line with the menu and concept. Entrees start in the mid-teens and run into the twenties for steaks while sandwiches and entrée-sized salads hover in the $10 to $12 range. However, most of the entrees include two sides that can be substituted (including a fries-for-risotto swap) as well as a salad (Caesar or house). Take those perks into consideration, and Sammy G’s is a surprisingly good deal for what is offered.

Given that my previous experiences dining out in High Point have largely consisted of mediocre Asian, it’s safe to say that Sammy G’s is a new favorite for the area. Flavorful food and great service make this place ideal for when a nice meal is sought but a white tablecloth establishment is out of reach.


8.25/10
Sammy G's Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Who You Selling For


Being fronted by a former child actress invites skepticism, but The Pretty Reckless did a commendable job of establishing its hard rock bonafides across the band’s first two releases. The third album, last year’s Who You Selling For, sees a maturation of the band’s sound but not at the expense of its potency.

The band’s previous release, 2014’s Going to Hell was dripping with rebellion and featured fittingly aggressive lyrical and musical sensibilities. But for however catchy some the songs were, the audacity eventually became one-note. In contrast, Who You Selling For is much more varied. The first two tracks, “The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman” and “Oh My God,” channel Alice in Chains and “Ty Cobb”-era Soundgarden respectively while the third, “Take Me Down,” which plays on the familiar trope of musicians selling their souls for success, would have fit right in on the previous album. However, “Back to the River” delves into Southern blues rock (aided by guest guitarist Warren Haynes) while “Bedroom Window” is melodic, melancholic pop and album closer “Mad Love” channels 70s funk.

This coming-together of diverse musical styles serves as a showcase for Taylor Momsen’s versatility and vocal power, but The Pretty Reckless isn’t a one-person band. Ben Phillips provides competent guitar work, the rhythm section keeps up with the style changes, and Kato Khandwala’s tight production is neither overblown nor underdeveloped. Yes, there are times when the band treats familiar rock themes as revelatory or when it tries too hard to ape its grunge-era forbearers, but its raw earnestness and cross-genre appeal make Who You Selling For a worthwhile listen from a band that continues to grow.


8/10

Friday, July 28, 2017

La Palma

Located at 4623 W. Gate City Boulevard in the Sedgefield Crossing Shopping Center in Greensboro, La Palma offers Dominican and Caribbean food for lunch and dinner.  Food specials change daily, and catering is available.

While Greensboro has Mexican eateries aplenty (one of them, El Mariachi, is right next door), Dominican and other Latin cuisine is largely underrepresented. Thankfully, La Palma, which opened earlier this month, capably fills the void.

La Palma’s pan-Caribbean menu includes starters, soups, salads, sandwiches, platters, and signature dishes. In addition to the more familiar Cuban sandwiches, plantains, nachos, and empanadas, you will find cassava balls, longaniza (Dominican sausage), mofongo (Puerto Rican plantain bowls), and a decidedly different take on lasagna (shredded chicken or beef, pasta strips, cheese, and cream sauce).

For my first visit, I opted for a takeout order of a La Palma sandwich (pulled pork, lettuce, tomato, onion, and sauce with fried plantains instead of bread) and sweet plantains (maduros) as well as a Cuban sandwich with fried plantains (tostones) for my wife. The cashier was friendly, and the sandwiches came out to about $7 apiece with a choice of side included, a very good value given the filling portion sizes.

The food definitely did not disappoint. Though a bit of a mess to eat (plantains don’t hold ingredients together nearly as well as bread), the La Palma featured tender pork and a delicious pink gustosita sauce. The maduros were crisper and not quite as sweet as some that I’ve had, but they still satisfied. My wife rated her Cuban and tostones a definite re-order for future visits.




Sparsely appointed with few tables, La Palma is tidy and neat but probably better suited for takeout. If you go this route, do not expect fast food prep speeds: this food is made with care (in front of your eyes, if you choose to look past the counter) and takes time.

With an enticing menu, reasonable prices, and (so far) very tasty food, La Palma has earned a “Me gustó” as well as several likely returns.


8.5/10

Friday, July 14, 2017

Stamey's Barbecue

Located at 2206 W. Gate City Boulevard in Greensboro, Stamey’s offers country breakfasts and Lexington-style barbecue for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The restaurant has a drive-thru window, and catering is available.

I first tried Stamey’s not long after moving to Greensboro and was very underwhelmed. The location seemed dated, and the chopped barbecue was gray, mushy, and flavorless. For the better part of a decade, I avoided this place and was baffled by the favorable reputation it enjoyed. At my wife’s urging, however, I decided to relent and give Stamey’s another try. While my opinion hasn’t quite done a complete 180, I can definitely admit that Stamey’s is a lot better than I remembered.

An old-school barbecue joint dating back to the 1930s, Stamey’s still cooks its pig over hardwood coals, which is commendable. The interior is, as noted, quite dated, but there is also a bit of folksy retro appeal in that. Though the restaurant draws a sizeable lunch crowd, there is plenty of seating, and while you can try to grab a table, your best bet may be to claim a spot at the counter.

Stamey’s lunch/dinner menu is true to its concept. Selections include barbecue pork or chicken, sliced or chopped on plates, or in sandwich form, with a few sides and some tasty-sounding desserts (including seasonally rotating cobblers) as well. I opted for a barbecue plate – sliced this time – with hushpuppies and slaw. Despite the lunchtime bustle, it came from the kitchen remarkably quickly. The hushpuppies were very good and delivered a nice onion note. The finely chopped slaw was a “red” variety, and while I’ve had some bad experiences with that kind in the past, Stamey’s version thankfully was not vinegar overkill. The pork was definitely more palatable this time. Though still grayish, it was moist and tasted fresh. However, it came very lightly sauced and without any smokiness or depth of flavor. Be prepared to apply copious amounts of sauce to get the desired taste.

Stamey’s servers and cashiers are equal parts friendly and efficient, and the pricing here is downright cheap. A regular sliced plate was only $7 (with two sides included), and a large would have only been sixty cents more. One can get quite a bellyful for $10 here.

Despite their similarities in pork preparation, no-frills ambiance, and local popularity, Stamey’s is not in the same league as Lexington Barbeque, and I would hesitate to rank it above the more-modern Hillsborough BBQ Company, for that matter. But as a Greensboro-based option, Stamey’s ultimately proved to be fast and affordable with decent, if unspectacular, food.


7.5/10

Stamey's Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Irie Rhythms



Located at 3252 Silas Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem, Irie Rhythms serves Jamaican cuisine for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Lunch specials rotate daily, and vegetarian options are available.

Billed as Winston meets Kinston, this smallish eatery is easy to overlook. But if you should venture to the plaza across from Hanes Mall, you’ll find plenty of tantalizing options. Ire Rhythms offers both the familiar Jamaican hallmarks (oxtail, jerk chicken, beef patties) as well as a few dishes I haven’t seen (or at least seen prepared this way) elsewhere.

During a lunch visit, I opted for a BBQ Jerk Pork Sandwich. Though the menu lists fries or rice and peas as available sides, be forewarned that the latter is an upcharge. The sandwich was huge, sloppy, and very tasty. It combined the best of tomato-based BBQ (a dark sauce slathered on) and traditional jerk seasonings (an appropriately spicy zing). The fries were so-so, but the small portion of tropical coleslaw (sweetened with orange, pineapple, and coconut) was incredible. Get an extra side of this, and you won’t regret it.

For the quantity and quality of the food, the $8 charged for the sandwich was plenty reasonable. Many of the entrees and lunch specials run in that range though a few (such as curry goat or escovitch fish) are priced in the teens.

Irie Rhythms is sparsely appointed and perhaps for that reason, does brisk take-out business. Despite the volume of customers in and out, the efficient and patient staff had no problem keeping up with the pace of orders.

A pleasing menu, generous portions, and minimal waiting make Irie Rhythms well worth a return visit.


8/10

Irie Rhythms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato