Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for August 1-7

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 1–August 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

TOP HAT (August 5, 11:00 am): As a general rule, I don't like musicals, especially those with dancing. (Don't confuse that with movies with great music in which people don't suddenly break out in song. I like a lot of those.) So what's different about Top Hat? At the top of the list is Fred Astaire. As with most musicals, the plot is secondary. He's a dancer who wakes up the woman (Ginger Rogers) living in an apartment below him with his tap dancing. He falls in love, there are a few misunderstandings, and the two eventually get together. Astaire has great charisma and charm, and his dancing is so natural looking. He makes it look as easy as walking. The storyline is typical of a good screwball comedies from the 1930s (this one came out in 1935). But it's the dancing and the memorable songs, written by Irving Berlin, such as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," that make this movie a must-see and among my favorite musicals.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (August 6, 8:00 pm): Like me, Woody Allen loves Ingmar Bergman films. Unlike me, he gets to make films that steal, um, borrow from Bergman. You have to give Allen credit, he does great adaptations. For example, this film is very similar in structure to Bergman's excellent  Fanny and Alexander . In this 1986 film, Mia Farrow is Hannah, whose husband (played by Michael Caine), falls in love with one of her sisters, a free-spirit (Barbara Hershey). Woody, as Hannah's ex-husband, steals every scene as a hypochondriac convinced he's going to die. He ends up with Hannah's other sister (Dianne Wiest). The acting is spectacular, with Caine winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Wiest for Best Supporting Actress, and an all-star cast. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (August 2, 8:00 pm): When one looks up the term “action picture,” a still from this film should be under the definition. Quite simply, this is the role Errol Flynn was born to play, and he’s quite good in it. Give him such villains to play against as Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone, and this film just can’t be beaten. Olivia de Havilland shines as Maid Marian, with Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin in fine form as the comic relief. The best thing about the film is its refusal to take itself seriously, which amps up our enjoyment even more. Michael Curtiz directed with a nearly flawless style. It’s simply one of those rare films I can watch over and over without growing bored.

THE BAND WAGON (August 5, 12:00 am): In my estimation, this is the greatest musical ever to come out of Hollywood. Fred Astaire has never been better than he is here playing a faded Hollywood musical star lured out of retirement to star in a stage musical based on Faust, of all things. He has tremendous support from the lovely Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, English song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan, and Oscar Levant, who, although playing Oscar Levant as in every other film, has never done it better than this. There are lots of great numbers topped off by Astaire and Charisse in “Girl Hunt,” a mystery set in swingtime. Fabulous. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (August 4, 12:15 am)

ED: AThis film has the distinction of being the first mythic sports film ever made. If anyone was made for mythologizing, it was Lou Gehrig, who slid ever so comfortably into a role established in Greek myths. Gary Cooper was pitch perfect to play Gehrig, as both were of the strong, silent type. Watching it today, it’s hard to imagine anyone except Cooper in the role. Granted, there are some pictures he was never cut out to do, but this is the perfect role, as it plays to his strengths as an actor, especially in the last scene where the hero, to god-man, is forced to accept his mortality. The real prize in the film, though, is Teresa Wright, who practically steals the show as Gehrig’s devoted wife Eleanor. Another who deserves credit is cinematographer Rudolph Mate, who made the 41-year old Cooper look good enough to play the young Gehrig simply through the use of lighting and camera angle. This is one of the greatest sports movies ever made, and some critics today still count it the best ever made.


DAVID: B-. A good, but certainly not great, film that is more fantasy than reality. Gary Cooper does a decent job playing baseball legend Lou Gehrig, but despite what Ed wrote, he looks like an old man playing the younger Gehrig in college (?!) and during his early years in the major leagues. Adding Yankees, such as Babe Ruth, who played with Gehrig decades earlier, in cameo roles doesn't help matters as they also look too old. In this movie, Cooper reminds me of Robert Redford playing a ball player who is supposed to be much younger than he actually was in The Natural. For some reason, Hollywood has done an overall poor job making baseball films with the original Bad News Bears being its best effort and that film is certainly not a classic. However, this is an effective tear-jerker and the chemistry between Coop and Teresa Wright, as Gehrig's wife, is solid. Cooper makes Gehrig's "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech, with the echo from Yankee Stadium, an iconic movie moment. Again, it's a good movie. It just has some dull spots and flawed moments.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Young Dr. Kildare

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

Young Dr. Kildare (MGM, 1938) – Director: Harold S. Bucquet. Writers: Max Brand (story), Harry Ruskin & Willis Goldbeck (s/p). Cast: Lionel Barrymore, Lew Ayres, Lynne Carver, Nat Pendleton, Jo Ann Sayers, Samuel S. Hinds, Emma Dunn, Walter Kingsford, Truman Bradley, Monty Woolley, Pierre Watkin, Nella Walker, Marie Blake, Leonard Penn, & Virgina Brissic. B&W, 82 minutes.

In the late 1930s, MGM, always on the lookout for a solid, profitable, and hopefully long-running B-series, given the success of the “Andy Hardy” films, focused their sights on a series of popular stories by Max Brand (real name Frederick Schiller Faust) about an idealistic young intern, James Kildare, working in a New York City hospital. It mattered not to the suits at the studio that Paramount had already made a film about the character, called Internes Can’t Take Money, in 1937, starring Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck. MGM acquired the rights to the stories from Brand, and set about planning the film, to be titled Young Dr. Kildare.

Dr. Kildare was first introduced to audiences in a pulp-fiction story, “Internes Can’t Take Money,” published in Cosmopolitan in March 1936. Brand followed it with “Whiskey Sour,” published in Cosmopolitan in April 1938. As originally conceived by Brand, Dr. Kildare was an aspiring surgeon who left his parents’ farm to practice at a big New York City hospital where, through his work, he comes frequently into contact with members of the underworld. Paramount’s adaptation followed this pattern.

However, when Brand was contacted by MGM about the Kildare rights and informed that MGM hoped to create a series starring Kildare, he made major changes to the storyline. Dr. Kildare’s specialty was now diagnostics instead of surgery. The character of Kildare’s superior and mentor at the hospital, Dr. Gillespie, was added and the underworld elements discarded. Brand also restarted the story from Kildare’s first arrival at the city hospital.


Brand totally cooperated with MGM on the film series beginning with the first release, Young Dr. Kildare. He wrote several original Kildare stories, which were first serialized in magazines, later republished as novels and adapted into films by MGM (but not published as movie tie-ins). This would be the case with Calling Dr. Kildare (1939), The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1940), Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (1940, published as “Dr. Kildare’s Girl” in Photoplay the same year), Dr. Kildare Goes Home (1940), Dr. Kildare’s Crisis (1940), and The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941). After this film, the Brand-MGM partnership came to an end. Brand would author one more published Kildare story, “Dr. Kildare’s Hardest Case” in 1942. An unfinished story, “Dr. Kildare’s Dilemma,” was published in two parts in a Los Angeles fanzine titled The Faust Collector in February 1971 (Part 1) and January 1973 (Part 2). A restored fragment of the story was included in a book collection titled The Max Brand Companion (1996).

Now that the film was in the planning stages, the next task was to assemble a cast and a director. Lew Ayres was cast as Dr. Kildare. His intelligent, youthful looks belied the fact that he had been in films for nearly a decade, beginning with an unbilled role in the 1929 comedy, The Sophomore, for Pathe. His best-known roles were as Paul Baumer in Universal’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and as Edward Seaton, Katharine Hepburn’s alcoholic brother, in Holiday, for Columbia in 1938.

For the role of Kildare’s superior and mentor, Dr. Gillespie, a brilliant but curmudgeonly physician whose career is now hampered by his confinement to a wheelchair, the studio cast Lionel Barrymore. For Barrymore, an actor who normally did not want to be cast in B-movies, the tides of circumstance led him to accept the role: He had broken his hip in an accident. It was the arthritis he contracted from the accident that confined him to the chair and available to play the character of Gillespie for the rest of the Kildare series and beyond. At least Barrymore could take solace in that he escaped being Judge Hardy in the Hardy Family sequels and playing second banana to Mickey Rooney. In the Kildare films, he shared star billing with Ayres.

The other cast members who would appear in subsequent films were Nat Pendleton as Joe Wayman, ambulance driver and the comic relief, Marie Blake as Sally Green, hospital switchboard operator and love interest of Wayman, Nell Craig as Nurse “Nosey” Parker (this sobriquet, hung on the nurse by Dr. Gillespie, later became a popular term), Walter Kingsford as Dr. P. Walter Carew, the head of the hospital, and Frank Orth, as Mike Ryan, the proprietor of Sullivan’s Café, a bar/restaurant where the doctors come to eat. Harold S. Bucquet, whose directorial experience had been confined to assistant director on features and directing shorts, was given the chair, with the real power wielded by producer Lou L. Ostrow.


When filming began, the onscreen chemistry between Ayres and Barrymore was so strong that MGM decided to make a sequel or two. As a matter of fact, the studio tacked on a scene at the end of Young Dr. Kildare with Ayres and Barrymore announcing their adventures would be continuing. Public reaction made it a consistent moneymaker for the studio, and 15 films were cranked out over a period of nine years before MGM finally threw in the towel. 

As with the Andy Hardy series, MGM used the Kildare movies to showcase some of their younger contract talent: Ava Gardner, Red Skelton, Lana Turner, Donna Reed, and Barry Nelson. Bonita Granville, signed from Warner Brothers, where she played juvenile roles (most notably Nancy Drew) was signed by MGM with the hope of placing her in adult roles, and she played such in The People vs. Dr. Kildare. Because there was a noticeable lack of chemistry between Ayres and Lynne Carver, who played Kildare’s girl, Alice Raymond, in the first film, Laraine Day joined the cast as Nurse Mary Lamont to become Kildare’s love interest beginning with the second installment, Calling Dr. Kildare. Alma Kruger also became part of the cast in that film as Molly Byrd, Chief of Nurses and a thorn in Gillespie’s side.

Although the Kildare series featured what at the time was cutting edge medicine, the films seem horribly dated in that aspect today, given the advances in medicine and medical shows such as ER and House, M.D. They also tied such concerns as social conditions and poverty to their effects on a patient’s physical and psychological health. But let’s face facts – audiences do not come for the technology, they come for the human drama, and the Kildare series was chock full of that commodity. A doctor on the front of the battle for life against death is tailor made for the movies, and it was the adventures of Kildare and Gillespie who put their careers, and sometimes their lives, on the line to help cure a patient that made the films a must see back when they were released, and they continue to fascinate audiences even today.

Young Dr. Kildare opens with Dr. James Kildare, fresh out of medical school, returning to the family home in Dartford, Connecticut, to see his mother Martha (Dunn), father, Dr. Steven Kildare (Hinds), and girlfriend Alice Raymond (Carver). The family has eagerly been awaiting his arrival as they have a surprise for him, which they show to him when he returns to the family home. It’s his own office, right next to his father’s in the family abode (they converted the house’s parlor). They even amended the shingle on the outside to include him. But Jimmy, grateful as he is to the family for their efforts, has other plans. He informs them his dream is to become a diagnostician, and towards that end he has applied to Blair General Hospital in New York as an intern at $20 a month in order so that he can study under the foremost diagnostician, Dr. Leonard Gillespie. Jimmy’s father is disappointed that his son won’t be joining him in the family practice, but he tells his son that he understands his desire and supports him fully.

Cut to Blair General Hospital, where we see Kildare and the other hires being greeted by Dr, Carew (Kingsford). Gillespie bursts in to size up the newcomers. He asks for a volunteer to come forward and diagnose him on the spot. No one except Kildare steps forward. Looking Gillespie over, Kildare tells the older man that he has a slight discoloration on his fingernail, but needs to check his epitrochlear gland in his elbow to be sure. (Not only is there no such gland, there are no glands in the elbow.) Gillespie strongly disagrees and proceeds to belittle Kildare in front of the other interns.


Later, the interns joke in their dorm and are kidding Kildare about his confrontation with Gillespie, when the young doctor is informed that Gillespie wants to see him in his office. Gillespie shows Kildare a group of children in his clinic and challenges the young doctor to diagnose each child, which Kildare does to Gillespie’s satisfaction. Later, in Gillespie’s office, Kildare is again asked by Gillespie to diagnose him. Kildare opines that the melanoma is cancerous and Gillespie may live for only another year. Gillespie gets mad and throws Kildare out of his office, although later we learn that Kildare’s diagnosis is correct and that Gillespie may be a brilliant doctor, but he is a terrible patient.

Kildare finds himself assigned to ambulance duty, working with driver Joe Wayman (Pendleton), who at first does not trust the young intern. On their first call, they speed to a bar, where a man has collapsed. Putting aside the obvious conclusion that the man is merely drunk, Kildare suspects heart trouble. They are about to load the man into the ambulance when another call comes in – an attempted suicide case. Before leaving, Kildare tells Wayman to administer oxygen to the man all the way to the hospital. Wayman, thinking the man is merely drunk, fails to give him oxygen and the man dies before reaching the hospital as a result. When it’s revealed that he was a prominent politician, Kildare is called to Carew’s office to explain. Kildare tells Carew the man’s death is his fault entirely and refuses to implicate Wayman. Carew removes Kildare from ambulance duty and assigns him to assist in surgery. Wayman, however, is deeply touched that Kildare took the fall and pledges loyalty to his new friend. This is an interesting juncture in the film because, in covering for Wayman, Kildare has, in effect, confessed to manslaughter. The film never discusses it and takes it no further, instead sweeping it under the rug, so to speak, because it can’t be discussed anyway due to the strictures of the Code.

The attempted suicide case, however, is becoming more interesting. The victim, Barbara Chanler (Sayers), is the daughter of a millionaire, yet Kildare has found her in a tenement trying to do away with herself. The nurses in her ward tell Kildare that Chanler has attempted once again to take her life. Kildare comes down to speak with her. It turns out she has a deep, dark secret. Kildare learns part of that secret and she swears him to secrecy.

Once again, Kildare gets into hot water when psychiatrist Dr. Lane-Porteus (Woolley) is called in. He determines that young Chanler is suffering from schizophrenia, but Kildare disagrees. He avers that she is sane; that she was driven to attempt suicide by an ordinary reason. But when Dr. Carew asks him to reveal Chanler’s secret, Kildare refuses, and Carew suspends him for insubordination. Despondent, Kildare retires to Sullivan’s Hospital Café for a beer to think things over. Alice, who has come down to the city from Dartford along with Jimmy’s parents, surprises him there. He tells her that he plans to return to Dartford, and when he sees his parents, he pretends that nothing is wrong. But he cannot fool Mom, who knows something is bothering him. She tells him to do what he thinks is right, no matter what the consequences. Kildare later visits Gillespie, who hints – rather broadly – that Jimmy should ignore hospital rules if he wants to properly diagnose his patient.

Fortified by both Mother and Dr. Gillespie, Kildare goes to Barbara’s fiancée, John Hamilton (Bradley) to see what he may know. Hamilton tells him that he and Barbara argued about her desire to go to the Blue Swan Club with dubious racehorse owner Albert Foster (Penn). Jimmy and Wayman visit the Blue Swan Club to see if they can get to the truth. Using what Barbara had told him – that she had been with Foster that night and had gotten very drunk, going with him upstairs to a private room – and speaking with those involved, Kildare learns that nothing really happened. Foster had recognized her, and fearful of what her rich father could do if he took advantage of her in this condition, simply dumped her on the street.

Now that he knows the truth he swears Barbara to secrecy, telling her not to mention that he has visited. He coaches Barbara on how to act with Lane-Porteus – to say that she tried to kill herself over an argument with John. That would help keep her from being institutionalized. Lane-Porteus declares Barbara to be fine a short time later.

However, the hospital board is unaware of these new developments and fires Kildare for insubordination. Jimmy tells his parents and Alice that he is ready to return to Dartford as his father’s partner. Suspecting what really happened, Gillespie visits Barbara and learns the whole truth. Gillespie now drops in on Kildare as he is busy packing. He tells Jimmy that all long he has been testing him to see if he has what it takes to be his assistant. He reveals to Kildare his system of “stooges,” placed strategically about the hospital. Their job is to keep him apprised of everything that goes on. One of his stooges is Joe Wayman, the ambulance driver. Now, Gillespie tells Kildare that he is certain of the young doctor’s integrity and competence. He offers Kildare the job as his assistant, informing him that the melanoma diagnosis was correct, and he hopes to pass along as much as he can before the cancer kills him.

The trappings that would guide the later Kildare films were set in Young Dr. Kildare, such as the characters not only of Kildare and Gillespie, but also the supporting players. Nat Pendleton, as Joe Wayman, fills in the comic relief role because the audience discovers that Gillespie isn’t being funny even when he’s being funny. (Red Skelton would later take on the comic relief duties when Pendleton wasn’t there.) Though the films in the series rarely exceed 90 minutes, the producers still manage to give the audience a continuity by layering in the supporting players’ personalities into the various subplots, so that watching the chronologically, as audience then did, one could see the development of the characters and the little idiosyncrasies they develop. We see the growth of Kildare and his relation with his mentor, Gillespie, as they fight hospital bureaucracy and the stubbornness of their patients to get to the truth and help cure what ails them.

The series also takes advantage of the fact that medicine makes a nice background and environment for drama, and the Kildare series takes advantage of this by deftly blending medicine with aspects of both soap opera and detective capers. Kildare will often step outside the confines of Blair General to assume a combined role of sleuth and therapist, righting the patient’s wrongs and gaining a better understanding that, along with the medicine, will be used more and more with each subsequent film. Kildare’s concern for the welfare of his patients goes beyond what merely ails them to what caused the patient to become that way and what can be done outside of the medical cure to insure the patient’s complete recovery. And when he gets in too deep he can always count on the curmudgeonly advice and influential offices of Dr. Gillespie to dig himself and the patient out.

We see it in the first film as Kildare defies hospital authorities to try to find the reason why a young woman would try to do herself in. He goes outside hospital grounds and procedures in order to find the basis of her illness. And Gillespie, who seems as if he’s aiding those trying to bury the good young doctor, is merely standing by on the sidelines – all-seeing, all-knowing, until his interference is necessary to the outcome.


As noted earlier, Ayres is fine as Kildare. But it is Barrymore who is the heart of the series. In the first film, he comes off more as Kildare’s adversary, but later, in film after film, we see the love he feels for his protégé becoming more and more apparent, thanks in large part to the humanity with which Barrymore imbues the character of Gillespie. Barrymore so dominated the series that, after Ayres left in 1942, the series continued, only now centered on Gillespie and his search for Kildare’s successor. It would take another six films before the audience finally tired of the doings over at Blair General.

Afterwords

When the United States went to war in 1941, Lew Ayres registered as a conscientious objector, refusing to take up arms because of his religious beliefs. MGM responded by dropping his contract, and Ayres soon became reviled by both the film industry and in the press.

After time in a labor camp and as a chaplain, Ayres put his training in the Kildare series to good use, joining the Army Medical Corps and serving honorably in the Pacific campaign, winning three battle stars. He also donated all his salary as a corpsman to the American Red Cross.

After the war, Ayres returned to Hollywood, but worked as an actor only sporadically, spending the bulk of his time studying philosophy and religion. He did appear in several well-regarded films, such as The Dark Mirror (1946) with Olivia de Havilland, The Unfaithful (1946) with Ann Sheridan, and the psychotronic classic, Donovan’s Brain (1953), with Nancy Davis. Ayres also earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as a compassionate doctor in Johnny Belinda (1948). 

The rest of his career was spent in television as a guest star on many series.

Marie Blake, who plays switchboard operator and receptionist Sally Green, was born Edith Marie Blossom MacDonald. Her younger sister was MGM singing star Jeanette MacDonald. She later became well known as “Grandma” on The Addams Family (1964), renaming herself Blossom Rock (she was married to actor Clarence Rock until his death in 1960).

Truman Bradley later went on to host the heralded television series, Science Fiction Theater (1955-57).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Jurassic World

Gallagher's Forum

By Jon Gallagher

Jurassic World (Amblin/Universal, 2015) – Director: Colin Trevorrow. Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, & Derek Connolly (s/p). Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (story). Michael Crichton (characters). Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus, Brian Tee, Nick Robinson, & Katie McGrath. Color and 3D, 124 minutes, Rated PG-13.

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and the theater in our small town is offering matinees for a buck off the regular $5 admission price. Jurassic World has just been held over for a second week and my oldest daughter and two oldest grandkids have recommended it. Then again, I have to remember that they recommended Transformers, so I gather my four bucks together and walk across the street.

Jurassic World is the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise which began all the way back in 1993 with Stephen Spielberg directing Michael Crichton’s screenplay of his own novel. Sequels would follow in 1997 and 2001 with Jurassic Park: the Lost World and Jurassic Park III.

SPOILER ALERT:  No lawyers are eaten during this movie. Damn!

The other movies followed a similar plot path: scientists recreated dinosaurs, put them on display for the public to see, and then were surprised when the dinosaurs broke loose and started munching on people. I wondered what a fourth movie would add that was new.

The answer is, “not much.”


In this movie, scientists have genetically engineered a dinosaur, bigger than any previously known overgrown lizard. This one is bigger, badder, faster, more intelligent, and seemingly unstoppable. Fortunately, he’s in a special pen on the north side of the island.

The south side of the island has reopened to tourists and features the very latest in dinosaur technology. There’s a petting zoo (I did not make that up), an archeological dig, and a “ride” where you are seated in a “hamster ball” that keeps you upright all the time but rolls amongst the roaming wild dinosaurs.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, an administrator with the Jurassic World owners who is trying to increase attendance at the theme park while playing host to her two teenage nephews who are visiting her while their parents sort out a potential divorce. She is in charge of the project that will unveil the “Indominus Rex,” the villain of the movie who is available for naming rights. The teens are played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins.

There are plenty of mid-level bad guys to choose from as well. Irrfan Khan is Masrani, one of the owners of the park; Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays the military guy who sees the new creation as the Army’s new secret weapon; and B.D. Wong, who is the guy who mixed the DNA to create the new species.  

Our hero is Owen (Pratt), a bad ass animal trainer who has developed a relationship with four Velociraptors (a velociraptor whisperer???) who also somehow has all the skills of a special ops/Jedi knight.

The plot goes the way of all these types of movies whether it’s Jaws or Predator. The big bad freak of nature (or the lab or aliens as the case may be) gets loose and starts to terrorize innocent people. The administration keeps denying the danger until the body count is too high to ignore at which point the good guy (Owen) starts to right the ship. In this case, the two teenagers are in the park in danger and Claire enlists Owen’s help to try and rescue them. Meanwhile, the Indominus Rex is able to survive attacks from other dinosaurs, humans, and machines with no real damage.

The movie is heavy with CGI, but then, where do you find stock footage of dinosaurs attacking each other and terrorizing humans? If you go into the movie accepting that fact, you’ll like it a lot better than if you don’t. If you can’t accept the CGI, then you may expect Fred and Barney to come rolling to the rescue at any moment.

Pratt is nothing special in the starring role. Of course, they weren’t looking for Academy Award winning performances here. This movie was driven by visuals and not by plot nor performances. Owen is a likeable hero, but he really brings nothing special to the role. I think any of today’s leading men could have been put in the role and the results would have been the same – a likeable hero.

D’Onofrio is quite different from his Law & Order character and does show off some of his acting chops here. His character comes off as being a little to the left of insane, creeping that way inches at a time till his true character is finally revealed.

The movie on a whole was fun and enjoyable. It was just different enough from the original three to keep me entertained, and it offered the traditional roller-coaster of emotions expected from a thriller. It also left the possibility open to sequels, and no doubt will, given the box office draw this movie enjoyed.

I’ll give it a solid B. I wasn’t thrilled with the last couple lines of dialogue, as they brought to mind the end of San Andreas (which I previously reviewed). Had they tried to develop the characters a little more and not tried to impress me so much with the CGI, it might have gotten into the A range.

About 25 other people from town also decided that it was a lazy Sunday perfect for taking in a movie. It was a good mix of ages from pre-teen to grandparent age, and everyone seemed to enjoy the film.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Terminator Genisys

Dinner and a Movie

Genisys and Genovese

By Steve Herte

Terminator Genisys (Paramount, 2015) – Director: Alan Taylor. Writers: Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier (s/p). James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd (characters). Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee, Michael Gladis, Sandrine Holt, Wayne Bastrup, Gregory Alan Williams, Bryant Prince, Otto Sanchez, Willa Taylor, & Matty Ferraro. Color, 126 minutes, PG-13.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger groaned, “I need a vacation” in Terminator 2: Judgment Day while battling the T-1000 Terminator, played by Robert Patrick, he didn’t know he would be making two more movies. Or, maybe he did. In fact, this movie is the fifth installment in the series. To bring you up to date, there was the original The Terminator (1984) where Arnold was the bad guy, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) where he was sent to protect Sarah Connor against the T-1000 liquid metal Terminator, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) where he battles a female liquid metal Terminator, and Terminator Salvation (2009) where the survivors of Judgment Day fight the machines and confront a giant robot without Schwarzenegger.

If you totally ignore the impossible science of these films and just sit back and enjoy them, they’re definitely entertaining. There’s lots of action, lots of things being blown up or destroyed, endless fight scenes where combatants are incapable of winning, and remarkable three dimensional effects. My recommendation would be to ignore the temporal anomalies and confusing time traveling back and forth and get some chuckles from the intentionally funny (I believe) dialogue.


Terminator Genisys begins with John Connor (Clarke) and his army on the verge of destroying Skynet, but just before they do, the first Terminator is sent back to May of 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Clarke). OK? We now have a prequel to movie number one. John knows all sorts of things about time and what will happen when and his men consider him a prophet and well as a military leader. It is decided to send a man back to the same time to protect Sarah. His best friend, Kyle Reese (Courtney) volunteers. But just as he’s about to be transported he sees a Terminator disguised as one of the Resistance attack John with a glowing hand over his mouth.

The scene switches to 1984 as the first Terminator (Model T-800), played by Azar (his body but with a CGI “Arnold” head), arrives much like Arnold did in the first movie and is confronted by the same three punks. But this time Sarah and “Papa” Guardian (Schwarzenegger) are ready for him and together they dispatch him. The second movie is thus incorporated into this one. Papa has been with Sarah since she was nine years old (Taylor).

Kyle zaps into 1984 and lands in a dreary alley, where he is confronted by police, and steals the pants from a vagrant. The policeman turns out to be a T-1000 Terminator, the liquid metal kind (Lee). Kyle links up with Sarah when she drives an armored truck into the department store where he’s hiding and he gets in. It takes some convincing to keep Kyle from trying to kill Papa and to accept that he’s been reprogrammed. They get away, but the T-1000 left a part of himself on the door latch as a kind of GPS locator. A big chase scene later and they arrive at Sarah’s hideout. The T-1000 easily follows them and she leads him into a large chamber with barrels of corrosive acid overhead. With Papa’s help the T-1000 is melted like the Wicked Witch of the West.

It seems that Sarah and Papa have built a time transporter without the help of MacGyver using 1984 technology (Gee, I want them for my mechanics!) but it only has power to send two people on a one-way trip. Sarah wants to travel to 1994 to stop Skynet from being formed but Kyle now has two sets of memories and knows that that date is no longer valid. (Must be all this back and forth time warping that caused that.) He eventually convinces her to go to 2017 just before an application called “Genisys” will come online and put the machines in power. His memory is from his childhood where he (Prince) learns that Genisys is Skynet. Papa agrees to find them when they get there.

Sarah and Kyle materialize in the middle of a busy highway and are arrested by the police for “being naked and exploding a bomb in a public place.” At the stationhouse, Mr. O’Brien (Simmons) recognizes them both from 1984. He was the real policeman in the department store chase whose life they saved from the T-1000. Meanwhile, who shows up but John Connor? He spirits them all to the parking garage where he drops a huge revelation on Kyle by calling him “Dad.” But Papa interrupts that awkward scene by shooting John. When John easily recoups from the shot, Sarah and Kyle know he’s now a “Morg” – not a man or terminator, but an amalgam of both; the first of his kind created by Skynet (technically, a T-3000). We learn later that this was what was happening to John while being attacked during Kyle’s transport. He’s also the chief engineer and impetus behind the Genisys project at a company called Cyberdyne.

Confused yet? The good guy is now the bad guy while the former bad guy is now the good guy. Sarah, Papa and Kyle have to destroy the underground mainframe computer and prevent Genisys from going online and creating Skynet. There is an amazing helicopter chase, a dive-bomb scene by Papa Arnold, and a battle royal at Cyberdyne where even the computer fights back. Papa manages to pin Cyber-John in the almost finished time transporter being built there. Kyle turns it on, much to Sarah’s horror (nothing can survive the field unless clothed in flesh), and John is disintegrated; but most of Papa is thrown into a pool of liquid metal. (Hmm.)

Just like in Frankenstein, the whole place explodes and the buildings collapse, Sarah mourns for Papa and he walks out like nothing happened. “Let’s say, I was upgraded,” he wryly states.

I mentioned time anomalies, right? Not only does Arnold battle his younger self, but Kyle meets and talks to his younger self – admittedly without revealing who he is. This is how he knows that Genisys is Skynet. But, that aside, this scientifically inaccurate and complex movie is still fun to watch. There is an appearance by former Law and Order star Courtney B. Vance, who plays one of the heads of Cyberdyne, Miles Dyson. Even though this film ends seemingly happily and with nothing more in the story to tell, I have it on good authority that there will probably be a Terminator 6 and 7. They’re in the works for 2017 and 2018. What in the world could they be about?

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Patzeria Family & Friends
311 West 48th Street (8th Avenue)New York

Those of you who know me, as well as those who’ve been following my column (thank you for that) are familiar with my attraction to the new, the unusual – perhaps bizarre – and forward-thinking chefs and restaurants. I love the undiscovered, the adventurous side of dining and am not afraid to pay for it. And you might ask, “Steve, what made you choose an obvious pizzeria with a cobbled-together name that presents itself to the public in a blatant display of ethnicity?” (The awning is green, white and red.) You are right to ask, realizing that I don’t generally go to pizzerias or fast-food places because I do not consider them “restaurants” (Sorry McDonald’s). I do not like dining at counters or bars and will avoid places that do not have tablecloths or wine lists.


This four-year-old Italian is not how it appears from the street view. Inside, it’s cozy, not too brightly lit, there are posters for various Broadway shows on the walls, and there is a stunning emerald green tiled bar curving gracefully into the dining area. There are no tablecloths, but the wine list is impressive and completely affordable. And the best part is that the restaurant is easy walking distance from the movie theater. I guess sometimes one has to come down from his or her ivory tower and join the multitudes to have a good, honest, no-frills meal once in a while.

The lovely young lady at the Captain’s Station acknowledged my reservation (another thing pizzerias do not offer) and gave me a choice of two tables. I chose the one by a faux fireplace near the front of the bar to give me a full view of everything happening at the 20-something other tables. I was presented with the food menu, the drinks/wine list and the specials of the day menu, all in neat plastic folders.

When my server, Igor (definitely not an Italian name), assured me they had Beefeaters gin at the bar, I ordered my favorite martini with olives and it was nicely done. He asked me what foods I preferred and I had to confess that I loved everything on the menu and was familiar with each preparation. The Tilapia Livornese was calling my name. I told Igor I would be having a three-course meal and he was delighted to help choose. There was a wonderful 2013 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Per Linda” on the wine list and I chose it. An excellent red table wine, it was not too heavy and not in the least bit light. The fruit and tannins were perfect for good down-home Italian food.

The regular food menu had the usual categories: “Appetizers, Soups, Salads, From the Grill and Italian Heroes, Pasta, Entrées, Pizza, Italian Specialties, Sides, and Desserts,” but featured an interesting one, “Trending Items.” I would guess that these dishes were ones consistently chosen by patrons – a good idea for people with theater tickets and an 8:00 curtain.

My appetizer came from the specials menu and was baked mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat. The five mushroom caps, mounded with crab were spaced on the dish in a star pattern around baby spinach and basil, and a cherry tomato sliced in three parts in the center. They were hot, fresh and tasty and very basic: Nothing to write Mama Leone about.


The second course was more serious food. The minestrone – with celery, zucchini, carrots, onions and cannelloni beans was wonderful! Some grated cheese on top brought back memories of my trips to Italy and a tear to my eye. I ate it slowly while munching the crunchy garlic bread, which had been toasted in the pizza oven (you can tell by the blackened parts – which I love). I also took the time to watch the family at the next table enjoy their pizza, which was served on the traditional aluminum platter and hoisted up on a three-legged pedestal above the table. The gooey cheese was obvious and the brightly colored toppings made it very attractive. I had heard several positive feedbacks about Patzeria’s pizzas.

The real test was my main course. The Tilapia Livornese unfortunately lost to the lasagna – ground beef, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses layered between fresh pasta sheets. Igor showed me very accurately how big the portion would by framing his hands and he was completely correct. 



I can’t tell you when I, like Garfield the Cat, became a Lasagna-phile but this one was exactly what I wanted after the two previous courses. Like everything on the menu, it was good, basic, honest, and home-cooked. It was not the greatest lasagna I’ve ever had, and I didn’t expect it to be, but it was way, far from the worst. The pasta was firm but tender the cheeses the right consistency and the meat cooked right but not overly present. I enjoyed it, almost considering ordering a meatball side dish.

When Igor listed the special desserts of the day I stopped him in mid-sentence when I heard the word “strawberries” twice. I had forgotten the description he gave me by the time the dish was served and stared in wide-eyed wonder at what was placed on my table. There, in the stemmed martini glass, was a large ball of strawberry ice cream swimming in fresh strawberry halves and dowsed in chocolate syrup. How can you go wrong with that?

Soon after, I had my traditional double espresso with a lovely glass of Alexander grappa from Conegliano, Italy. Yes, they did have Strega, but this time I wanted grappa. The manager came over and spoke to me and I told him of my experience. We discussed the greats and the smalls. He was pleased. The one question I failed to ask him was, “What’s with the crazy name?” I guess I’ll have to return to find out.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for July 23-31

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 23–July 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BEWARE, MY LOVELY (July 24, 9:30 am): Robert Ryan's character is a dangerous psychopath who has a bad habit – he kills people, blacking out and forgetting the evil deeds he's done. And Ida Lupino's character, who becomes his love interest, seems to be the last person in the world who realizes Ryan's rugged handyman has her at the top of the list of who he next wants to kill. It's a compelling and tense-filled drama with outstanding performances by the two leads. Both are seasoned film veterans who are able to take an average script and convince the audience that their characters are legitimate. This 1952 thriller isn't going to take your breath away, but it's a good 77-minute distraction. It sucks the viewer in as we squirm in our seats hoping Lupino finds a way to get away from Ryan's character who we fear. But we also pity him to a certain extent because his mental illness makes it impossible for him to control his actions.

12 ANGRY MEN (July 26, 6:15 pm): This is a movie that really stays with you for its quality, intensity and the outstanding performances by an all-star cast that includes Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, E.G. Marshall and Jack Klugman. The film takes place almost entirely inside a hot jury room that gets even hotter as the debate over the guilt or innocence of the man on trial escalates. Director Sidney Lumet and the cast make the viewer feel like he/she is a voyeur sitting in the room with the jurors. It's one of the greatest courtroom dramas made, quite a feat for a movie that skips over the case and gets right to the jury deliberations. 


ED’S BEST BETS:

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (July 24, 3:30 am): Director Louis Malle made many a fine film, but none better than this 1958 effort about a woman and her ex-paratrooper lover who plot to kill her husband in the “perfect crime.” It’s a dark, stylish noir thriller that owes much to the influence of Hitchcock and Melville. (In fact, Hitchcock himself greatly admired the film.) Of course, things do go wrong, but they go so deliciously wrong as to keep us totally enthralled. What really makes the film is the strong, sensuous performance of star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later claimed to have discovered her, but Moreau was already a star of the stage and a veteran of B-movies before she met Malle. But this was the film that made Moreau a star. Photographed by none other than Henri Decae, it contains some breathtaking shots of Moreau and Paris at night. For those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a definite “Must See.” And for those who have seen it, it still rates a revisit.

SVENGALI (July 27, 7:15 am): John Barrymore was in his prime when he played the title character, a demented maestro whose telepathic hypnotic powers transform beautiful model Trilby O’Farrell (Marian Marsh) into a great singer. Marsh is totally captivating, but this is Barrymore’s film and he doesn’t let us forget that for one minute, giving a powerful, yet restrained performance. Amazingly, this performance may have been due to an illness Barrymore suffered before filming. According to biographer Margot Peters (The House of Barrymore), he was suffering from an ulcer that caused severe gastric hemorrhaging. Because of that he was reduced to a diet of bland food and total abstinence from alcohol. The film was also helped by the bizarre sets from art director Anton Grot and the crisp black-and-white cinematography of Barney McGill. While both were nominated for Academy Awards, surprisingly, Barrymore was not, probably because most Academy members consider it to be just a horror picture, and they usually were overlooked when it came to nominations. By all means, see it, as it is a rewarding experience.

WE DISAGREE ON ... JEWEL ROBBERY (July 29, 6:00 am)

ED: B. Jewel Robbery is a very slight but amusing film highlighted by a great adult storyline and the use of reefers by jewel thief Powell to make his victims docile and cooperative. Powell is in fine form as the thief and Kay Francis is the bored rich Viennese woman who becomes enchanted by Powell. Made in the same basic style as Trouble in Paradise and One Way Passage, it pales in comparison precisely because it isn’t as lively as the other two. If you watch this and have not yet seen the other two films, it comes across as an “A.” But once you’ve seen the other two, the film quickly drops to a “B” in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine and intriguing film, but it just isn’t up to the others.


DAVID: A. I didn't realize we were going to end up debating three films from 1932. But Ed mentioned Jewel Robbery – which stars William Powell as a debonair jewel thief and Kay Francis as a bored baroness who falls for him – as being inferior to Trouble in Paradise and One Way Passage. A few words about the latter two: Trouble in Paradise (featuring Francis) is an excellent film, and on par with Jewel Robbery. I can't say the same for One Way Passage (which stars Powell and Francis) as I find it to be decent, but nothing memorable. Jewel Robbery is a sexy, erotic Pre-Code film with Powell essentially charming the pants off of Francis. Powell's character has his victims smoke joints to sedate them. He is sophisticated, suave and clever. In other words, he's William Powell. The Baroness is one of his victims, but she is turned on by it. The married baroness is looking for adventure and an adventurous man rather than her dull, wealthy husband. The dialogue is funny, filled with double entendres, and the two leads work very well together. Among my favorite exchanges is a quick one with the Baroness saying, "Show me your jewels." Powell: "Of course." The film moves at a fast pace, and is a great way to spend 68 minutes.


For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Minions

Dinner and a Movie

Minions with Élan

By Steve Herte

Have you ever had a week where your timing was perfect, people agreed with you, and even traffic lights were in your favor? I knew it couldn’t last but that was last week. Even work projects worked out right. I was not anticipating the project involving crawling around my hot attic trying to find a broken wire (our dining room chandelier had no power going to it), but my brother-in-law helped and we found it (luckily, but with a little expertise in using a Voltmeter) soon and repaired the problem. Let there be light, and there was.

On the other hand Dinner and a Movie night was one I had anticipated for a while. I loved the Minions in the first two Despicable Me movies and wanted to see what they would do on their own. It was great, as you’ll read. The restaurant also lived up to its name, as you’ll also read. Enjoy!

Minions (Universal, 2015) – Directors: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin. Writer: Brian Lynch. Voices: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush, Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Katy Mixon, Michael Beattie, Hiroyuki Sanada, Dave Rosenbaum, Alex Dowding, & Paul Thornley. Color, 91 minutes, Rated PG.

As the movie opens, we see the enormous word “Universal” familiarly orbiting the Earth, but instead of French horns blaring the fanfare music, we hear the voices of Minions singing it. The audience gets a chuckle right from the start. Through the opening credits we see the evolution of Minions from single-celled sycophants following ever bigger, badder creatures, until one crawls out on the land and they emerge from the sea as well. Throughout, the narrator (Rush) explains the whole purpose of their existence. All the Minions are wearing seaweed on their lower half except the last one, who is naked. He hastily picks up two starfish and wears them like the top half of a bikini. The narrator comments, “All the Minions know what they are here for…except Norbert. He’s an idiot.”

We progress through the ages as a T-Rex gets accidentally tossed into a volcano, a caveman gets eaten by a bear when a Minion replaces his club with a fly swatter (“La Piñata!”), an Egyptian Pharaoh and his people are flattened by a pyramid built upside-down, Napoleon is shot by one of his own cannons, and Dracula is turned into dust by the sunlight streaming in from a drawn curtain.

It seems that every villain the Minions turn to is exterminated one way or other and they take refuge in an icy arctic cave. But they become bored. That’s when Kevin (voiced by Coffin, as are all the Minions) decides he must leave the cave and find a new master. He recruits Stewart and Bob and they make a long journey that, just on the verge of starvation, leads them to New York City. After chasing the ever-fascinated Bob around a department store until after closing time they discover news of “Villain-Com” being held in Orlando, Florida.

Another trek begins and soon they are tired out. They see a hitchhiker displaying a cardboard sign reading “New York,” get a ride and eventually figure out how it’s done and write “Orlando” on the reverse side. Kevin’s attempts fail much to Stewart’s hilarity. Bob nearly is run over but succeeds. A “woodie” station wagon stops and the three meet Walter and Madge Nelson (Keaton and Janney), their fat son, and villain-avid daughter, who are also going to Villain-Com.

It turns out that the Nelsons are a family of villains as they rob a bank and a gas station on the way. Kevin endears himself and his brothers to them when he misfires a rocket launcher, toppling a water tower and effectively stopping the police pursuit.

Villain-Com has a secret entrance, which Walter negotiates smoothly and they’re in – so many villains to choose from. One, Professor Flux (Coogan), has built a time machine and is committing trans-temporal crimes and bringing back multiple versions of himself. That is until he accidentally kills his original self and they all disappear. But one exhibit stands out above all the others and that one belongs to Scarlett Overkill (Bullock).


Scarlett makes a spectacular entrance onstage and announces that she’s looking for henchmen. All they have to do is steal a large ruby from her outstretched hand. Several baddies attack from all sides but she fights them all off efficiently and easily – even a Sumo Villain (Sanada). Kevin and his boys also take the stage, but Bob loses the teddy bear he’s carrying and in the scuffle, Kevin swallows the ruby. When he spits it out Scarlett declares him the winner.

Back at Scarlett’s lair, the Minions meet her husband Herb (Hamm) and are led to a painting of Queen Elizabeth II. “Do you know who this is?” Scarlett asks. “La Cucaracha?” Kevin ventures. And Scarlett reveals her plot: Steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown, make Scarlett Queen of England, and they will be her henchmen for life.

On the way to London, Kevin telephones the rest of the Minions who, by the way, have already found a “Big Boss” in the Abominable Snowman. It’s short lived though, for during the celebration, a Minion blows a blast on a tuba. The sound loosens a huge ice stalactite and it comes crashing down on the snowman’s head. Fleeing the snowman’s angry henchmen, the rest of the Minions head for London.

Stealing the crown is not as easy as it seems. Herb gives them weapons he created; a hyno-hat for Stewart, a lava gun for Kevin and a super stretch suit for Bob. The three successfully get inside the Tower of London, but in the chase scene that follows, Bob pulls Excalibur out of the stone and becomes King of England.

Scarlett is furious. The Minions still want to serve her, and so Kevin changes the laws of England to enable him to turn the throne over to Scarlett. In gratitude, she locks them in the dungeon to be tortured by Herb, masquerading as an executioner. Needless to say, none of his tortures work.

Left on their own, Kevin, Stewart and Bob escape the dungeon through the sewers of London, where Bob befriends a rat he calls “Kitty.” They first surface at a funeral service where one swipes a wreath with a banner reading “Sorry.” They amend it to say “Sorry Scarlett,” thinking this will help get them back into her good graces. They arrive at Westminster Abbey, but have to scale the walls to get in. A bee has followed Bob, who is wearing the floral wreath on his head, and he leaps onto an immense iron chandelier (just happening to be directly above Scarlett as she awaits her coronation). Stewart chases Bob swatting at the bee and their motions are causing the chandelier to unscrew from the ceiling.

The titan lighting fixture eventually falls on Scarlett. Herb is devastated. But Scarlett is not gone. The firepower loaded into her hoop skirt enables her to blast out from under the chandelier. And she comes out fuming, capturing Bob and Stewart, but Kevin makes it into Herb’s secret lab where he enters a chamber bearing signs saying, “Do not push this button,” “Do not pull this lever,” and “Do not blow into this hole” – all of which Kevin accidentally does.

Outside the tower of Scarlett’s lair, we see the walls cracking and toppling to reveal a Godzilla-sized Kevin who goes to battle against Scarlett. It’s a hilarious scene because Kevin has trouble negotiating the narrow streets of London in his new monstrous size while Scarlett is zooming around above him firing at him. The remaining Minions arrive shortly before the interchange leading Scarlett to exclaim, “Are you kidding me?”

After many crazy volleys, Scarlett is defeated (kind of) and Queen Elizabeth (Saunders) is very grateful – even to the point of knighting Kevin. But her crown is gone again. Who has it? Scarlett – but not for long. She and Herb are caught in an ice ray that freezes them in place. Who takes the crown? A little boy named Gru (Carell). The prequel is now complete.

Minions is a wonderfully funny film and remarkably so because the heroes only occasionally speak intelligible English. Most of it is either Spanish or random words that sound something like comprehensible speech. Through it all, the audience knows what they are saying by their tone and body language. Sandra Bullock is great as a wicked villainess and Jennifer Saunders makes a very funny Elizabeth. The animation was fabulous and, most amazing, were the voices of the minions, all done by one man. Be sure to stay through the ending credits (which, by the way, are the only things that come directly at the audience in 3D) because there are extra scenes with the Minions interacting with the young Gru. Parents, this is another safe film for all.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.


élan
43 East 20th St. (Park Avenue South)New York

How many of you remember the restaurant Chanterelle? The upscale, expensive (but worth every penny), hard to get a reservation, gauzy French draped, downtown venue on Hudson Street at Harrison was ruled for nearly 30 years by Chef David Waltuck. Unfortunately, it went out of business shortly before its anniversary and has been gone for six years.

Chef Waltuck opened élan a little over a year ago to rave reviews. Some called it “a French Bistro with Asian accents,” and some dubbed it “New American with French influence.” The elements of all three (American, French, Asian) are obvious in the outré combinations Chef Waltuck serves. At the outset, I have to suggest, if you go to this restaurant and do not say, “I never thought those would go together.” Then you have not been to élan.


When I arrived for my 6:30 pm reservation, I was struck by the simplicity of the façade: a simple maroon banner with the name barely readable in a strange shade of red hangs over the front windows (now open to the street). The unadorned front door is to the right as is the Captain’s Station inside. The young lady noted my reservation and led me down a hall comprised of a long spartan bar to the right and large artworks on the wall to the left. This opened onto a dining area with maybe 15 or so tables, all empty except for one. I chose the left-hand corner in the back for a full view of everything.

In no time Nanci, my server, arrived, took my water preference, and handed me the cocktail and drink list along with the menu. I had no trouble choosing a cocktail. “The Pickled Ramptini” – Citadelle gin, Cocchi Americano (an aperitif wine from the Asti region of Italy infused with herbs and spices), Dolin dry vermouth de Chambéry, and pickled ramp garnish was too intriguing. It was an interesting new flavor. The gin was detectable but the pickle and herbs moderated it. The ramp (a relative of the onion) extended jauntily over the edge of the glass. After tasting it, the ramp was also gone when the drink was finished.

The menu had several choices I wanted to try in every category. There were “starters for the table,” appetizers, main courses, sides, cheese, and desserts. Nanci described the specials of the day and these were tempting as well (especially the rabbit main course and the “chilled” Vidalia onion soup). But she was very helpful when I was torn between two or three dishes.

The drinks menu only listed wines by the glass and I had Nanci get me the wine list. While many of the wines were overpriced, there were a few reasonable ones, and one I loved. It was the 2012 Monte dall’Ora Valpolicella – a fruity red, the color of fine Burmese rubies with the motto on the label, “Oltre al cuore abbiamo messo solo questo” (In addition to heart, we put this only.) It was indeed the heart of the meal.

Another server brought the bread dish – a single freshly baked pretzel roll (still warm) and a dollop of herbal butter. The roll was so good it didn’t need the almost over-powering tapenade and I commented that sweet butter would have been better. The herbal butter was more suited for sourdough bread. This was the only point Nanci begged to differ with me on.


Though the “Foie Gras Roulade” beckoned with its figs and Prosciutto, I chose (with Nanci’s help) the unusual sea urchin guacamole – with taro root chips. Presented with the guacamole in a bowl at the center of the dish and the large chips surrounding it, it looked like the giant Rafflesia flower I saw at the Bronx Zoo. But what a flavor! You can taste the sea urchin throughout but it never diminishes the avocado and mild spices. The chips were a delicate unsalted taste (much better than poi) and were perfectly matched to the dip. There was even a strip of sea urchin on top of the dip to show the contrast of orange and green.

Wanting to test a theory, I put some of the guacamole on the pretzel roll and went straight to Heaven. I didn’t tell Nanci.

The next course was a small war between the “Potato Potstickers with Summer Truffles,” the “Grilled Seafood Sausage,” and the dish I eventually chose (again with Nanci’s wisdom) the “Crisp Ricotta Gnocchi” – with corn, tomato and basil. The presentation was lovely. The main ingredients were floating on a small lake of corn purée and the colors were bright. Compared with the first dish, this one was on the sweet side, but the gnocchi were indeed crisp and delightful.


Later Nanci broke a three-way tie on the main course. I was drawn to the “Rabbit Special” and the “Kung Pao Fried Chicken with Peanuts, Chilies and Pickled Watermelon,” but the “General Tso’s Sweetbreads” – with leeks, orange and chilies – won hands down. Way too unusual! The lazy, long, leeks cradled the slightly spicy and crisp sweetbreads while the oranges added a festive color and citrus flavor to a most beguiling dish.

There was no contest over side dish. The “Duck Fat Hash Browns” appealed to my hedonistic side, delivering satisfaction in spades. It was a plate-filling golden brown swirled pancake that burst with good potato-y and rich buttery flavor. Mmmm!

Chef Waltuck came to my table to ask how everything was going and I raved over the “Taro Chips,” remarking that my first taste of Hawaiian poi was “Yuck!” But these delicate chips combined with the exotic sea urchin guacamole thoroughly redeemed the root for me.


And where does one go from here? No contest again. The “Camembert Cheesecake” – with apricots, strawberries and hazelnuts was like no cheesecake I’ve had so far. It was tart and a little sweet, fluffy, yet dense. The fruits and nuts made it complete Nirvana.

A double espresso and a glass of green Chartreuse later and my meal came to a close. That is, until Nanci brought out a rich, quarter-sized chocolate cookie that tasted like the most decadent Oreo ever.

Though stark in décor (the lighting is from nine light-sabers suspended from the ceiling), élan (Yes, they spell it in lower case) exhibits the exuberance and energy of its name and the bizarre – yet brilliant – imagination of its chef. My hat is off to you, sir! I wish you another 39 years. Thanks, Nanci! I shall return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.