Monday, June 27, 2022

Musical Monday with Tom Waits

Downtown Train (1985)
Starring: Tom Waits and Jake LaMotta
Director: Jean-Baptiste
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When the moon is full, a weirdo (Waits) spends the night singing, bringing entertainment or exasperation of the residents of an inner-city neighborhood during the 1950s. (And he's lucky he doesn't live in the same neighborhood as this guy!)

Tom Waits

 The teaser summary above is the set-up and story (such as it is) of the very creative video for "Downtown Train". The song was a single from Tom Waits' 1984 album "Rain Dogs. I can take or leave the song, but I love the video--including the odd tag at the end with Waits on the waterfront.

Fun Fact: There are no trains, downtown-bound or otherwise, in this video.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Catholic Coffee's Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexican Mocha

Today, I bring you a review of coffee from a roaster who's new to me!

Inspired (or perhaps even moved) by a Facebook ad, I decided to try one of the offerings from Catholic Coffee. And I can't tell if these people are earnest or not.

Catholic Coffee is a roastery that's been in operation for about a year (in fact, as I type these words, they are running a one-year anniversary sale on their products). It's a brand of North Carolina-based Trinity Road, LLC, which, I presume is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Almighty & Sons. Their marketing hook is that each of their blends are associated with/inspired by a Saint (about which you can read a little bit on the side of bags). The marketing text invokes some degree of spirituality with each plug or catchphrase, implying that drinking coffee can literally be a religious experience. 

I found the tidbits about the Saints interesting (the blurbs from all the coffee bags, mini-bios of each coffee saint and the days upon which each is celebrated, and opportunities to purchase additional saint-specific merchandise can be found on Catholic Coffee's website), but the mindset it all put me in was feeling that it was either there to have fun with faith... or tacky. But, since I am not a Catholic and just a non-believing coffee lover, I am not really the target market, and there are probably some cultural things that have gone over my head. (But I am thinking if I should go to one of those firms that offer their coffee for third-party packaging and start selling Love Coffee...)

Bessie Love, Patron Saint of Shades of Gray
Bessie Love, the Shades of Gray Patron Saint

But, all that aside, what matters is if the coffee is any good. And I'm finally getting around to talk about what you all came here for.

When choosing what to order from Catholic Coffee, I went with a flavor that I'd tried from other roasters that I thought I would like: Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexican Mocha. (The packaging and saintly marketing tie-in of this blend is a bit off, I think. Strictly speaking, Our Lady of Guadalupe is not a saint. She is the manifestation of the Virgin Mary that showed herself to the humble peasant Juan Diego in 1531, caused a miracle that brought about mass-conversions, and ultimately led him to be elevated to Saint Juan Diego. Also, the Virgin Mary did not appear to him looking like the cloak-draped figure we're used to from nativity scenes but rather like an Aztec princess. This causes me to wonder why Our Lady of Guadalupe portrait on the package looks like Nativity Scene Mary? But I am getting off the topic of the coffee again...)

The Our Lady of Guadalupe blend is a medium roast that should have a slightly peppery, chocolate flavor, since it purports to taste like a Mexican mocha. The beans are sourced exclusively from Mexico, which is fitting with everything else that's going on with this blend. Although it's not specified anywhere, I think it's a safe assumption that the coffee here is made from Arabica beans, since that's what is almost exclusively grown in Mexico.

When I opened the bag, the strong aroma of chocolate that rose from the pre-ground beans made me hopeful that the promise of the name would be kept. That hope grew stronger as the coffee brewed and the smell of chocolate drifted through the kitchen, as well as rose from the mug as I poured it.

The promise that had wafted through the air was kept in spades. Consumed hot and black, this blend has a full-bodied flavor with a strong presence of chocolate and peppery spices. I think anyone who likes chocolate and takes their coffee black will enjoy this.

When I added Unsweetened Almond Milk to my mug, this flavored coffee leapt halfway to tasting like a full-fledged Mexican mocha... and when I tried a mug of this blend with some sugar-free Italian Sweet Cream creamer the chocolate popped, the spiciness intensified, and the coffee flavor blended with the creaminess into a near-perfect imitation of mocha-ness! Again, I recommend this highly.

At room temperature, the blend comes across as very spicy when black, but if mixed either with Unsweetened Almond Milk or the sugar-free Italian Sweet Cream creamer the chocolate flavor came back strong. Chilled and iced, the blend was okay black, but it was absolutely spectacular when mixed either with the almond milk or the creamer. In fact, I am having a hard time imagining it being better than it was iced and with the creamer... and I think anyone who likes iced Mexican mochas will really enjoy this.

My first experience with Catholic Coffee was an absolute delight. I will have to try a few more of their blends... so look for reviews of their St. Nicholas Christmas blend (in December) and their St. Patrick Irish Cream blend in early March of next year).

Friday, June 24, 2022

Firearms Friday and the 2,222nd Post

This is the 2,222 post here at Shades of Gray. It also happens to be a Friday, so we're making it a Very Special Firearms Friday with two pictures of two different women using two pistols at the same time.

Two-Gun Cowgirl
Charlene Holt as a two-gun toting Saloon Girl


Thursday, June 23, 2022

'Edge of Doom' is a fascinating look at the psychological effects of poverty

Edge of Doom (1950)
Starring: Farley Granger, Dana Andrews, Paul Stewart, Robert Keith, Joan Evans, Mala Powers, Howard Vermilyea, Houseley Stevenson, and Adele Jergens
Director: Mark Robson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When his devoutly religious, beloved mother dies, Martin (Granger) snaps under the pressure of living life in poverty and murders an elderly priest (Vermilyea) he blames for much of his misery. As he spirals deeper into despair and madness, Martin becomes obsessed with getting enough money to provide his mother with the elaborate funeral he feels she deserves.

Farley Granger in "Edge of Doom"

"Edge of Doom" had the potential to be one of the bleakest, most depressing, and emotionally impactful films ever made. It takes place almost entirely at night, which is an embodiment of the everpresent gloom in the impoverished inner-city neighborhood in which the story unfolds. The central character is one of the working poor who, despite living an honest life and working hard can't get ahead. There is no way to not feel empathy for him, because circumstances have literally been against him his whole life. The film gets even darker, because those in his life who could possibly stop his downward spiral are either self-interested criminals, trying to keep their own heads above water, or so distracted and/or burned out by the unending cycle misery and social and economic struggles of the neighborhood that they are blind to Martin's meltdown and that they have the ability to stop it.

The villains in this picture aren't any of the characters (although Paul Stewart, in an excellently performed supporting role, comes close to filling that slot)... no, the villains here are Fate, Luck, and perhaps Society. It's rare that a film that a film successfully manages to have ephemeral concepts as the primarily antagonists in a story, but "Edge of Doom" pulls it off. Mostly. Some terrible decisions are made, which I get into below.

The set design, camerawork, and lighting are excellent and all work together to emphasize the unescapable gloom that permeates the neighborhood and infects everybody. Most of the performances are likewise fitting for the characters and situations, with the way the characters are written and how the actors portray them . Even the main police detectives who initially seem to be one-dimensional, dimwitted bully-boys that populated many films of the 1930s and 1940s, end up being portrayed with some nuance, both due to the story and to actors portraying them. 

Although Farley Granger does not get top billing, he is the undisputed star of the film. His character is central to almost everything that happens in the picture, and he has more screen time than any other actor. He also delivers a star-caliber performance, even if he goes a little over the top on a couple of occasions. He's not as good here as he is in "Strangers on a Train" (which he would star in the following year), but it's close.

With all the praise I'm heaping on "Edge of Doom", why is it only getting a Six-Star rating? Well, because someone, somewhere, made the absolutely awful decision to tell the story in flashback, bookending the main story with a sequence featuring Dana Andrews trying to convince a young priest to not quit the parish, because, despite the harsh nature of life there, he has a chance to make a difference if he just sticks with it. This sappy framing sequence not only undermines the dark tone of the story, but it removes any tension that surrounds Andrews' character as the main story unfolds, since we already know how his part in it ends. 

Dana Andrews and Farley Granger in "Edge of Doom" (1950)

The cheesy narration that the flashback structure provides an excuse for, further undermines the tone of the film and brings to the fore what might otherwise have been a preachy under-current. The message that poverty breaks those trapped in in and those who try to get them out of it is delivered clearly enough through the story without the narrator beating us over the head with it. It also undermines Andrews character, since he does seem like a devout, humble and empathetic priest and not a holier-than-thou, preachy one--which is what the voice-over narration borders on. And this is a real shame, because Andrews does a good job with the character otherwise.My dislike of the framing sequence and related narration can't be overstated, and it caused me to knock at least a Star off my rating.

Despite the terrible decision to tell the dark and tragic story of "Edge of Doom" in a flashback sandwiched by a hokey priestly pep talk, I think this is a film that's well worth watching. Farley Granger and Dana Andrews are both very good, and their performances are enhanced by equally remarkable performances from the supporting cast. As mentioned above, Paul Stewart is particularly impressive as Martin's sleazy neighbor. Adele Jergens, as Stewart's wife play a much smaller part, but she is equally remarkable. Both these characters are obviously bad people, but they are portrayed with deftness and nuance by the actors to the point where the viewers can actually find them somewhat sympathetic.

If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, "Edge of Doom" is, as of this writing, one of the films you can watch for free. Click here to check it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

In memory of Tim Sale

Seattle-based comic book artist Tim Sale passed away on June 16, 2022. Here are some of the great drawings he created.

The Punisher by Tim Sale
Femme Fatale by Tim Sale

The World's Finest by Tim Sale

Pen-and-Ink drawing by Tim Sale
Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) by Tim Sale
Black Widow by Tim Sale

A Spider-Man in Paris by Tim Sale
Moon Knight by Tim Sale

Femme Fatale by Tim Sale
Superman and Lois Lane by Time Sale
Deadly Woman by Tim Sale
Superman by Tim Sale

James Bond by Tim Sale
Femme Fatale by Tim Sale

Batman vs Joker by Tim Sale

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Yvonne Craig welcomes you to Summer!

Actress and Dancer Yvonne Craig at 19

Summer is officially here! We're celebrating it's arrival with some pictures of Yvonne Craig in a bikini!

Craig was a dancer turned actress and model. She is a favorite here at Shades of Gray who is perhaps best remembered for her turn as Batgirl on television in the late 1960s. The featured photos are all from a shoot early in her career.

Yvonne Craig bikini photo shoot

Yvonne Craig bikini photo shoot

Yvonne Craig bikini photo shoot

Monday, June 20, 2022

Musical Monday with My Gal Sal

Are you unhappy because you're working on a Monday? Did you come here, hoping your friends at Shades of Gray would have something to life your spirits? Well, you're in luck, old pal! We have a really fun cartoon that you can sing along with!

At the dawn of the talkies, Max Fleischer produced a series of animated shorts based around popular songs and/or folk tunes. Each would, at some point, put the lyrics to the song up on the screen and would encourage the audience to sing along. And, by all accounts, they did and had a great time doing it!

On this very special Musical Monday, we bring you Fleischer's take on "My Gal Sal", a barbershop quartet standard. This short film contains not just one sequence of funny animal characters singing, but three different ones. These vignettes cross over with one another and get progressively weirder as they go. The cartoon can even be held up as having some social relevance as one of the segments carries a suicide prevention message. And, last but not least, it is also one of the very best the series has to offer.

So... gather coworkers around your computer! Lift your spirits by singing along with a classic cartoon, just like they did in 1930!

My Gal Sal (1930)
Starring: Anonymous Singers
Director: Dave Fleischer
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Coffee Beanery's Butterscotch Toffee

I wrote some notes on the most recent way I've found pleasure in my caffeine addiction! 

There's a subtitle on this medium-roast, all-Arabica blend that describes it as "candy-coated coffee". That certainly sounded promising. But did this blend deliver on that promise?

As the coffee brewed, there was no detectable aroma other than coffee, which is often the case with flavored coffees. There was also no detectable scent as I poured the first cup--other than, of course, coffee.

The taste is what matters, though. While I wouldn't describe this blend as tasting like it was "candy-coated", it did taste like a piece of hard candy had been dissolved in the pot. The Butterscotch Toffee blend is a mild-flavored coffee that tastes as if it's very slightly sweetened. It was so mild that even a pathetic wretch like me--who hardly ever drinks any coffee without adding some form of milk, creamer, booze, or some combination of all of the above--would be able to drink it black if called upon.

This blend was okay when mixed with Unsweetened Almond Milk; in fact, it paradoxically seemed to gain a little more of a bite when the milk was added. This might have been a drawback with other blends, but it worked extremely well here since it's so mellow to begin with.

This blend, however, was excellent when mixed with the sugar-free Italian Sweet Cream creamer. The butterscotch flavor was drawn out and moved to the center of the flavor profile, and here the coffee did indeed seem candy-coated. It was very sweet, but not cloyingly so.

James Stewart and Kim Novak in "Vertigo"
Jimmy soon learned Kim was serious when she said, "Touch my coffee, and I'll end you."

The flavors remained stable as the coffee cooled to room temperature, regardless of what it was mixed with. The mildness of this blend works really well when the coffee has cooled. Drinking the Butterscotch Toffee blend at room temperature with Unsweetened Almond Milk was my favorite out of the ways I tried it.

With that said, though, the Butterscotch Toffee blend is also pretty good iced. The flavor is almost a little too mild when consumed black, but once either Unsweetened Almond Milk or the sugar-free Italian Sweet Creamer has been added, the sweetness of the toffee reemerges. For those who like their iced coffee sweet (but who would like to avoid sugar), I think this could be a good choice.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Fantastic Friday

On Thursday, June 16, 2022, artist Tim Sale (perhaps best known for his work on "The Long Halloween" and "Dark Victory" from DC Comics) passed away after being briefly hospitalized. We're dedicating this Fantastic Friday to the memory of Mr. Sale by presenting a trio of portraits that arose from direct commissions from Dr. Victor Von Doom, King of Latveria.

Doctor Doom by Tim Sale
Doctor Doom by Tim Sale

Outside Castle Doom by Tim Sale

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Big Cheese has a visit from the Mouse

Big Cheese (1930)
Starring: Anonymous Voice Actors (but there are no important spoken lines)
Directors: John Foster and Manny Davis
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A boxer from the rough side of town trains for the big prize fight while bullying all who crosses his path.

"Big Cheese" is one of the lesser efforts from the Van Beuren animators--there's excessive looping, gags that get dragged out past the point of being funny, and sloppy animation that leads to character's changing appearances for no reason. Oftentimes, such weak efforts are saved by excellent music and/or songs, but that's not even the case here. There are just enough gags that work to hold a viewer's, and there's also a healthy dose of bizarre, surreal, and out-of-left-field cartoon character transformations to keep the "what the hell am I watching" quotient at an acceptable and entertaining level. And the prize match is mostly hilarious--even if they don't quite pull off the ending.

Despite its overall weakness, this COULD have been a Five-Star rated cartoon, or perhaps even a Low Six if someone, at some point during the production process, had said, "Hey... this story-thread that starts when our Mickey Mouse look-alike character shows up? We just sort of drop it when it really should come back around in the big finale! In fact, we set it up perfectly to do so--so why don't we do it?!" (Basically, Mickey Mouse gets bullied by the boxer, gains super-strength, and then wanders around a bit punching things. If someone who worked on "Big Cheese" had even the slightest notion of how to tell a story, he would have been present for the chaotic brawl at the end of the cartoon, and he would have kicked everyone's butt.)

I have perhaps given a mild spoiler above, but I don't think so. At most, I've given you what you need to not waste your time with this one, if you're a Van Beuren fan. (On the other hand, if you enjoy a good boxing spoof, you'll like boxing match during the second half... and if you're on a quest to watch all the appearances of the Van Beuren Mickey Mouse knock-off [like me], then you'll want to check this out by clicking below.)