There is no food that is consumed more on New Jersey’s oceanfront boardwalks than pizza. Any town that has a commercial boardwalk, has at least one pizza joint on every block. These two are my favorites.
Perhaps the reason I can’t choose one of these pizza joints over the other is that they’re blood relatives. Their common ancestry goes back to Anthony and Lena Macaroni who operated a restaurant in Trenton. On Memorial Day in 1953, Anthony, Lena and their three sons Joseph, Vincent and Duke opened Mack’s Pizza on the boardwalk in Wildwood. A few years later, in 1956, Anthony, Vincent and cousin Vince Manco opened a shop on the Ocean City boardwalk which they named Mack & Manco. Mary Bangle, daughter of Frank Manco, and her husband Charles Bangle purchased the Ocean City operation in 2011 and renamed it Manco & Manco. In 2017-18, Charles Bangle spent 13 months in jail on tax evasion charges. Mary got three years probation. It had no effect on the pizza.
The Best Fries
They’ll fry anything on the boardwalk.
Curley’s is a Wildwood landmark.
But the best fries are in the Boss’ old stomping grounds, Asbury Park, just a block away from Madame Marie’s and across the street from the Stone Pony.
No contest. It’s Ocean City Coffee Company. Pay no heed that Starbuck’s opened a block away.
Atlantic City’s primary contribution to the culinary world is salt water taffy. There is a story about a storm in the Atlantic in the 1880’s that washed out a storage bin full of taffy at a candy store in Atlantic City run by David Bradley. Perhaps tongue in cheek, he gave the remaining product the name salt water taffy. That may or may not be true, but we know that Joseph Fralinger was the leader in commercializing the sweet treat (a product that includes no salt water among its ingredients). His first competitor was Enoch James. Today, both brands are owned by James Candy Co. (an outfit that is in Chapter XI) and each still has a branded store on the boardwalk.
In Ocean City, this is the signature sweet:
And in Wildwood, it’s this:
And for some non-traditional boardwalk food, how about a Korean fusion taco, served out of this converted storage container on the Asbury Park boards.
Art in the Atrium is a non-profit Black arts organization in Morristown, N.J. Since its founding in 1991, it has exhibited the works of African-American artists at the Atrium Gallery. The current exhibit, For the Culture, By the Culture: Thirty Years of Black Art, Activism and Achievement, at the Morris Museum, is a retrospective of those 30 years of Art in the Atrium exhibits.
For those of you who may be living through a sweltering mid-summer weekend, here’s some cool and refreshing photos from Sunrise Point in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington. Sunrise Point, at an elevation of 6,400 feet, is the highest point at the park that is accessible by car. These aren’t photos from last winter. I took them July 3.
Mt. Rainier National Park was established in 1899. It was the fourth U.S. national park.
At a much lower elevation, and at the southern end of the park is Longmire. This was once a mineral spring resort operated by James Longmire, an American explorer who found his way here in the 1850’s.
The 2022 Tribeca Film Festival had more than its share of movie about sports. Here are a few I watched:
Breaking the Ice
Mira is a women’s hockey player in Austria. She’s captain of the Dragons. Or at least she was captain until she got wasted one night before a road game, showed up 45 minutes late, then puked in front of the steps entering the bus.
Mira works on the family farm/winery with her dementia-suffering grandpa, her hostile mother and the ghost of her wayward brother. How things got this way is a story that unfolds slowly as the movie moves along. On the ice she literally has a love/hate relationship with a teammate.
This is a really nicely filmed movie. There are pictures both beautiful and artistic. And I enjoyed the sounds of the hockey, the skates, the sticks, the pucks slamming into the end boards. (It’s Austrian women’s hockey so there’s no crowd noise to overwhelm that.)
Much of what transpires is pretty somber. But ahhh…what a difference a goal makes.
Game Change Game
A sports documentary? Yes, but more so a movie about social justice. This is a movie about the 2020 NBA season. Already a season like no other because of COVID, then George Floyd gets murdered by the Minneapolis police.
The NBA suspended its season in March after one player tested positive. It was the first professional sports league to do so. The others quickly followed. It was some five months later that NBA teams chose not to play in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Again, the rest of the sports world followed.
This is a movie about conscience, played out over the decision to play basketball in a world that is making sport seem less and less a priority. The players, through the NBA Players Association, had to make the decision to leave their families for three months to play in a bubble in Orlando. It was a still harder decision to go back on the court after the Blake incident.
We’ve seen the footage of Muhammad Ali before. Of Colin Kaepernick. We’ve seen the Gerorge Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. We’ve seen the response from white supremacists, the reactionaries and the loser of the 2020 election. But we haven’t seen it before through the eyes of NBA players, a unique element in the story of race in America because of their skill, their wealth, and their visibility. As I watched many of these committed and insightful players I had to remind myself that these are really young guys. Odds are they will continue to be the leaders of the sports world when it comes to those issues that are larger than sport.
You may be familiar with John McEnroe the cynical, witty tennis commentator who is at once both entertaining and insightful. Or, you may remember John McEnroe the tennis player, the tantrum-tossing New York brat who was quick to tell anyone who asked that he didn’t give a shit what they thought.
The filmmakers catch a different McEnroe, sitting calmly in a studio, introspective and basically offering up a verbal autobiography. We also hear from his kids, his wife Patty Smith, Billie Jean King, Bjorn Borg, Christie Hynde and even a quick snippet from Keith Richards and a guitar gig with Carlos Santana. One of my favorite lines, when asked about pot smoking: “Today they do performance-enhancing drugs, we did performance-distracting drugs.”
The first half of the documentary is a McEnroe-hosted review of his tennis career. He talks about his early competitors. Jimmy Connors “taught me you have to be a prick out there.” He envied Vitas Gerulaitis’ nightlife and Borg’s calm demeanor. He never apologizes for his volatile on-court episodes but talks about being stupid and “sabotaging myself.”
1984 is a turning point. After reaching the top of the tennis world he backs off a bit, gets married and has kids. It doesn’t work out with his first wife, Tatum O’Neal, and his tennis career never hits the zenith it did in ‘84. But with a second marriage, to Smith, and more kids, priorities and focus changes.
The movie is long for a sports doc. At times the music seemed a bit somber and the filmmakers seemed to try too hard for the artsy shot. But it’s an interesting story about sports as much as a personal biography of McEnroe. Stars with the drive to hit the heights are usually neither happy nor satisfied when they get there. Give him credit for changing his goal to being a good father.
A movie about the WNBA and the New York Liberty franchise in particular. We see the league’s pioneers, Sue Wicks and Rebecca Lobo and Theresa Witherspoon, and we see lots of highlights of the 2021 Liberty season when the team unexpectedly made the playoffs.
A good part of the movie felt like a team highlight reel, but interspersed with some meaningful issues. From the early years those players talked about what it meant to have a professional league to play in. While that has been accomplished, these players have to play year round and make most of their money overseas. Picture Stephen Curry heading to Russia as soon as the playoffs end so he can pick up a bigger paycheck.
No professional athletes anywhere are as socially conscious and as willing to use their platform to speak out as the WNBA players and we see some of that here. No other professional athletes as a group have been as forthcoming about their identities.
Yet this is a league where a team can make the playoffs and not have access to their home arena because it’s been booked. And this a league where a team like the Liberty once moved from Madison Square Garden to a gym in Westchester County with a 2,000-3,000 capacity. That’s the unfinished business. Elite professional athletes who are still not always treated as such.
As a movie, this documentary sometimes seems a little scattered and disorganized. You have to admire the people being filmed. But all in all, I’d have rather spent the time watching a WNBA game.
Capsule reviews and ratings of the films of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival
Land of Gold ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A second generation Sikh-American truck driver sets out on one last long haul trip before his wife is due to give birth. As he does he discovers an unexpected addition to his cargo, an undocumented Mexican-American girl of maybe 10 who also is headed to Boston.
This is a movie about immigrants, told from their perspective by a director, Nardeep Khurmi, who is an immigrant himself. He also plays the role of Kiran, the trucker.
Elena turns out to not be the shy, scared little girl you’d expect. Instead Kiran ends up sharing his cab with a saucy, articulate, opinionated young lady. A pretty good companion for long days on the road. He introduces her to Indian food, she talks him into a burger run. She takes him to church, he brings her to a Sikh temple.
Eventually she tells her story. She ran away as the rest of her family was taken away in a raid by immigration police. He flashes back to his own family’s experiences. Along the way they encounter the occasional scowl which immigrants in America must be all too familiar with. More consequential are the encounters with immigration police.
This is a touching, emotional movie that rings true at every turn. I hated to see it end.
Land of Dreams ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Haunting and mysterious. A young Iranian-American woman is a census worker, knocking on doors and not just getting demographic data but asking people to recall their most recent dreams. She records this, brings it back to the office, and plugs it into some high tech apparatus through which, amidst a flurry of blue lights and bar graphs, it is processed.
Why? “For your security” says Simin the census taker, but she knows nothing further. And the stone faced census execs at headquarters aren’t letting on. It’s a little like a next-century 1984. Some unseen technology enables ank enhanced level of surveillance.
The movie is structured as a series of vignettes as Simin goes on her different appointments. The setting is New Mexico, beautifully filmed in all its starkness.
The festival blurb suggests it’s political satire mixed with science fiction. Maybe. There’s a scene where she visits a “colony” where Iranian revolutionaries who fought the Islamic state are holed up. There’s another where she encounters an evangelical cult. How it all fits together I’m not sure but the movie is as much about how immigrants are perceived in America as anything else. As with Land of Gold, the Iranian-American directors are both immigrants. Sheila Vand, who plays Simin, is a second generation Iranian-American.
If you’re the kind of person who likes their movies to tie up all the loose ends and spell things out, this may not be for you. This one’s vague. But I found the movie captivating, and Vand’s performance mesmerizing.
Jerry and Marge Go Large ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It’s an overused expression but this is truly a feel-good comedy. Gerry is involuntarily retired from a corn flakes plant in Michigan. He mopes around a bit not knowing what to do with himself. Then he comes up with the key to his so-called Golden years. He discovers a flaw in a state lottery game which he exploits in a big way.
There are morals to the story. One is about how a guy who could do this had been stifled for decades working as a line manager. Another is about the wise-ass Harvard kid who turns out to not be quite as smart as he thinks he is. And another is the neighbor helping neighbor theme. Indeed, Jerry and Marge’s small town Michigan is like a new age Mayberry.
This is now the third movie I’ve seen at the festival from three different countries about a long-time married couples overcoming their boredom. As if there weren’t more serious societal problems. This one is the funniest. And the fact that it is supposedly based on a true story makes the feel-good part even better.
Katrina Babies ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
You don’t need millions of dollars, a fancy set and state of the art equipment to make a good movie. Katrina Babies has some interviews, a bit of animation and some archival footage. And it couldn’t be more interesting.
It’s 2005 in an underwater New Orleans when this documentary begins. Small children are being rescued from rooftops in a basket hanging from a helicopter. One of the children who evacuated, although he was fortunate enough to do it in the family car, was Edward Buckles Jr. Since then, Buckles has used his camera to record friends, family and neighbors, children at the time but adults now, as they talk about the hurricane, the evacuation and eventually coming back to the city. The result is this movie.
Above all else Buckles message is that the story is ongoing. There is a scene of tourists eating beignets at Cafe du Monde. All seems as it was. That’s not the case for the people Buckles introduces us to. One young woman tells how her family was put up in FEMA trailers that were full of formaldehyde. Not long after she developed a cancerous tumor on her stomach.
While Buckles doesn’t emphasize this point, it’s clear that the losses of family, of homes, of neighborhoods would have played out a lot differently if those neighborhoods weren’t predominantly black. “What we lost we’ll never get back,” Buckles last word.
A somber movie about a depressed film school student in Riga, Latvia, in 1991, as that country was fighting for its independence from the USSR.
Jazis, the student, approaches most of life with seeming indifference. That includes the girlfriend he should have cared about losing and his position of being subject to conscription into the Russian army. It also includes his parents: a father who is still a member of the Communist Party and a mother who is out on the streets demonstrationing for independence.
Jazis views it all through the lens of his father’s old camera. He films his girlfriend Anna, some drunken teen romps, the quiet sea, and gets knocked around filming the police. One wonders how this collection of random scenes would fit together as the movie he aspires to make. In January, these pieces of this and that somehow do fit together.
This is an artistic but darkly filmed movie. More than once I found myself wondering if it was in color, because there is little. It is slow and pensive and brings us no conclusion, but is eminently watchable.m
Roving Woman ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The roving woman is Sara. We are introduced to her wearing a sleek dress standing in her driveway banging on the door of a house. Inside, a boyfriend/fiancé who is apparently through with her.
With no money, clothes or pretty much anything else, Sara hits the road. Eventually she finds her way to a gas station where she steals a car and heads out on the road to some pretty desolate place. She meets a number of people along the way: a mystical dude with a face mask, a couple honeymooning in a trailer, a guitar-playing recluse. Mostly these encounters are just odd.
This is the moodiest of movies. The scenery is stark. The music is dirge-like. None of the things you might fear would happen to a half-dressed woman sleeping alone in a stolen car actually happen. Nor does much else happen.
My interest in this one didn’t last as long as the movie did.
Good Girl Jane ⭐️⭐️
This movie won the jury award for best U.S. narrative feature. Beats me why.
Jane is a high school girl trying to adjust to a new school. Her parents are divorced. Her mother turns every conversation into complaining about her father and her father is MIA. Jane connects with the wrong crowd and you can pretty much guess what happens from there.
A good part of the movie becomes a whirlwind drug fueled maze of partying and car seat sex. Making matters even worse is a toxic 21-year-old boyfriend and con artist who ups the ante on the drugs.
Rain Spencer won the jury prize for best performance in a U.S. narrative feature for her portrayal of Jane. I’m okay with that but as for the film, we’ve all seen this story before and it’s pretty predictable.
Capsule reviews and ratings of the films of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival
Employee of the Month ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
My experience suggests that anything about “employee of the month” programs would be an invitation to ridicule and cynicism. This unique, smart Belgian movie could well be titled “The Revenge of the Employee of the Month.”
Billed as a dark comedy, there are a series of underlying issues about equal pay, workplace harassment and sexual assault. Ines is an underpaid, overworked and sexually harassed secretary. Melody has joined her as an intern and is greeted to a two-foot mound of paper to be fed one sheet at a time through a desktop shredder. Together they come up with the final solution for the misogynists they work with.
Leaving aside the equality issues and the bloodshed, this is a movie that’s full of laughs. The stereotypical portrayal of the good-old-boy office is hilarious as is the bullshitting boss, the narcissistic sales guy and the management bureaucrats.
Not much chance of my being able to provide an objective review of this short documentary because I’m a big fan of the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men which the movie is about. It celebrates both the tenth anniversary of their first album and the release of their most recent one, also named Tiu.
The band takes us on a tour of places in Iceland that were of significance to them and plays songs that relate to their experience. For example, the camera visits Nanna’s great grandmother’s house and they do a song there about a bowl of sugar on the table, something her great grandmother always set out for her.
What we don’t see in this documentary is the rock band. Instead we see a soft, harmonious, gentle band playing thoughtful, introspective songs. What we also see is some beautiful cinematography capturing the landscape of Iceland.
The name Tui is ten in Icelandic. There are ten songs on the album. They are songs that were written over a period of ten years that didn’t make it onto other records. Doesn’t matter, they’re good.
Cha Cha Real Smooth ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Andrew is 22 years old. He just graduated from Tulane. He’s back home crashing in his little brother’s room. He got a gig behind the counter at “Meat Sticks.” He scores a second gig as a party starter for a string of Bar Mitzvahs in Livingston, N.J. Then he gets a third gig as a babysitter for the autistic girl who sits in the back corner at those Bar Mitzvahs.
It is the Bar Mitzvah gig that gives the movie its name. As someone who lives in New Jersey and who married into a Jewish family from Livingston, I was ready to start laughing before they even rolled the opening titles.The Bar Mitzvah part doesn’t disappoint, even though some of these gatherings result in a stream of profanity, bouts of drunkenness and even fisticuffs.
The other central theme to this movie is the hot and cold relationship between Andrew and the autistic girl’s mother Diamond. Diamond is played by Dakota Johnson who seems grossly out of place at a Bar Mitzvah.
If you can call this a RomCom, I’d say the com is a lot better than the rom. Ultimately it’s about discovering something that many of us realized later in life: that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing when we were 22.
Carol & Johnny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A documentary about a couple in their 70’s, facing the camera, talking about their lives and wondering where they’ll go next. He’s is Seattle. She’s in Texas.
They are still married but have no idea if they’ll see each other again.
The lives that they reminisce about include 56 bank robberies and two decades in prison.
It’s hard to find much good in Johnny Madison Williams. He stole things when he was a kid. Took a pounding from the adults who raised him. Went to jail for robbing a convenience store then got out, married Carol, and coerced her into being the driver of the getaway car on his heists. Somehow he got 19 years behind bars and she got 20.
This is not Bonnie and Clyde. You can’t romanticize these two. What’s fascinating is how ordinary they seem and how matter-of-factly they tell their story. Johnny doesn’t make excuses for himself and doesn’t show much remorse. Carol says she became a criminal so her husband would love her. Folks like this don’t often get to tell their long form story and it’s pretty interesting to watch.
A visit to the penthouse changes the lives of a 60ish couple in an Israeli apartment building. It all starts when Itzak, the guy upstairs blocks Meir’s car in the parking garage with his Maserati. That results in an apologetic invite to the top floor where Meir and Tova clearly are fish out of water.
Meir, a quiet, unassuming regular guy sort ends up singing karaoke (quite well), hopping on the back of Itzak’s motorcycle and doing a line of coke. Tova goes from calling the police because of the noise to doing Spanish dances for Itzak in the penthouse.
Does it produce self-realization? Or just middle age folly? Beats me.
The premise promises more fun than the movie provides. There’s a few laughs and lots of awkwardness. Trying to stir the pot for middle-aged married couples seems to be a theme this year. As in:
Nude Tuesday ⭐️⭐️
Bruno and Laura are an unhappy, harried and seemingly unloving married couple. For their anniversary, Bruno’s mother gives them a gift certificate to a retreat that promises to revive your sex life.
Once there, they stay in yurt-like cabins, listen to the suspicious head guru and do exercises like sitting in a circle touching the genitals of the person on their right. Nothing here is either titillating or especially funny. That goes for the film as well. The suspense is in wondering whether Bruno and Laura completely lose their minds. The most touching part of the movie is Laura’s relationship with the on-premises goat. Sadly Fritz the goat does not make it to Nude Tuesday, the climax of the program.
You may wonder why this New Zealand movie has subtitles and is in an indistinguishable language. It’s because they aren’t speaking a language, they’re talking gibberish. It’s clever, quirky, but not necessarily engaging.
The Lost Weekend: A Love Story ⭐️
This is a documentary about a young Chinese American woman from New York who becomes John Lennon’s girlfriend? lover? roommate? for 18 months while he and his wife Yoho Ono take something of a break. May Pang got a job with Apple Records, then becomes John and Yoko’s personal assistant, then focuses her “assisting” totally on John.
Pang seems to claim that the whole affair was Yoko’s idea. At least that’s how she tells the story. She is not one to underestimate her influence and importance in John’s life and in his relationship with the other Beatles, his son and his ex-wife. The time frame is 1973-75 and May is 23.
If you are, like me, not a fan of name dropping, so much the worse because it comes hot and heavy. Watching this movie doesn’t make me like any of these folks any better. There are those who can’t get enough Beatles and with all the footage and interviews contained herein, they will find this doc interesting. For me, watching the home streaming version, I felt no need to press the pause button when stepped out of the room.
The N.J. Botanical Garden consists of 96 acres within Ringwood State Park in the Ramapo Mountains. It was originally the estate of New York stockbroker Clarence Lewis who built the manor house (Skylands Manor) and grounds in the 1920’s. It was purchased by the state in 1966.
The gardens are open year round and are free of charge. They are maintained by volunteers.