Sunday, July 24, 2016

Garry Marshall: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Garry Marshall not only created the classic sitcoms Happy DaysThe Odd CoupleLaverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy, but also directed a string of hit movies, including The Flamingo Kid, BeachesPretty WomanRunaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. He died on July 19 at a hospital in Burbank, California, from complications of pneumonia after suffering a stroke. He was 81. 

Marshall was the classic American success story, born Garry Kent Marshall in the New York City borough of The Bronx on November 13, 1934. His mother, Marjorie Irene (née Ward; 1908-1983), was a tap dance teacher who ran a tap dance school. His father,  Anthony Wallace Marshall (1906–1999), was a director of industrial films who later became a producer – as Tony Marshall – on some of his son’s television programs. 

He was of Italian descent on his father’s side and German, English and Scottish on his mother’s. His father changed the family’s last name from "Masciarelli" to "Marshall" before Garry was born. Marshall attended DeWitt Clinton High School and matriculated at Northwestern, where he wrote a sports column for The Daily Northwestern, penning a controversial column suggesting that Northwestern leave the Big Ten Conference. 

After graduation, he began his career as a joke writer for comedians including Joey Bishop. He later joined the writing staff of The Tonight Show With Jack Paar. He also worked for the New York Daily News as a copy boy in 1959 followed by a stint as a sports statistician in 1960. In 1961, he moved to Hollywood, where he teamed with Jerry Belson, writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Lucy Show.

Marshall and Belson struck out on their own as creator/producers for Hey, Landlord, which lasted one season (1966–67). In 1970, they adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple for ABC and scored a substantial hit. Over the course of its five-season run, the show drew three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series. Stars Jack Klugman and Tony Randall won individual Emmys for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series – Klugman twice (1971 and 1973) and Randall once (1975). 

In 1971, Marshall wrote the pilot for Happy Days, which was aired in 1972 as a segment of ABC’s comedy anthology series Love, American Style called “Love and the Happy Days.” George Lucas asked to view the pilot before deciding to cast the segment’s star, Ron Howard, in American Graffiti, which was released in 1973.

The success of American Graffiti, in turn, led to ABC picking up Happy Days for its 1974 schedule. The series began slowly, but steadily expanding its audience, becoming the No. 1 show on television during the 1976-77 season, No. 2 in 1977-1978 and No. 4 the following year. Henry Winkler, who played Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli became a pop culture icon; his leather jacket eventually winding up in the Smithsonian. 

In 1977, as the show searched for new ideas, the gang visit Hollywood, where Fonzie accepts a challenge to jump over a shark while on water skis. This decision later gave rise to the phrase “jumped the shark,” which was used to describe a show clearly past its prime and running on fumes. However, that is a misnomer for Happy Days. While the quality declined   that happens with nearly all long-running TV shows  and actors came and went, the ratings were still strong for years after that episode. It didn't go off the air until 1984.

While at the height of its success, Happy Days spawned two spinoffs. One was Laverne and Shirley (1976-83), starring Cindy Williams, who appeared in American Graffiti, along with Marshall’s sister Penny, who was Myrna Turner, Klugman's character's secretary on The Odd Couple TV show. The other was Mork and Mindy (1978-82), which made a star out of its lead, Robin Williams. Mork made two appearances on the show.

Marshall made his directorial debut in 1967 on his series Hey, Landlord and also helmed episodes of The Odd CoupleHappy DaysMork and Mindy, and Laverne and Shirley. The first feature film he directed was the comedy Young Doctors in Love (1982), a spoof of the long-running TV soap opera General Hospital, starring Sean Young and Michael McKean. A bit of trivia: Before making the film, he met actor Hector Elizondo during a pick-up basketball game. The two became fast friends and Elizondo then appeared in every Marshall movie.

His second film was The Flamingo Kid (1984), which he scripted from a story by Neal Marshall. A coming-of-age comedy starring Matt Dillon as a recent high school graduate who learns important life lessons while working during the summer as a cabana boy, it drew critical raves and decent box office. 

Marshall’s next venture was the comedy-drama Nothing in Common (1986) starring Tom Hanks as a successful ad man whose world falls apart when his mother, Eva Marie Saint, leaves his father, Jackie Gleason. Hanks now finds himself juggling his life to meet the needs of his parents, especially his father, who he realizes he never really knew. Though the critics weren’t as crazy about this as The Flamingo Kid, it still did decent business at the box office thanks to its star power. Marshall followed it with another modest success, the screwball comedy Overboard (1987), starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Marshall’s first taste of success came with the 1988 tear-jerking chick flick, Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. The critics panned it, but the audience loved it, as it racked up a domestic gross of $57 million with an even more successful afterlife on home video. 

After directing The Lottery (1989), a short starring Bette Midler as a music teacher who loses her winning lottery ticket, Marshall hit the Hollywood lottery with the megahit Pretty Woman (1990), starring Richard Gere as a millionaire businessman who hires hooker Julia Roberts as an escort and winds up falling in love with her. Made on a budget of $14 million, the film grossed $178.4 million in the USA and $463.4 million worldwide. 

Marshall followed Pretty Woman with Frankie and Johnny, a adaptation of Terrence McNally’s play starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer that scored well with critics, but returned only $22.7 million against a budget of $29 million. But that was nothing compared with his next two films, the critical and commercial bombs Exit to Eden (1994) and Dear God (1996), which some critics said would have been better served as a TV movie. He managed to rebound with The Other Sister (1999), a modest financial success with Juliette Lewis as a mentally handicapped young woman and Diane Keaton as her mother.

Realizing what made him successful, Marshall reunited with his Pretty Woman stars Roberts and Gere for Runaway Bride (1999), about a reporter (Gere) whose latest assignment is writing a story about a woman he knows back home (Roberts) who keeps leaving her fiancés at the altar. Filmed on a $70 million budget, it grossed $309 million worldwide.

He followed this hit with another one: The Princess Diaries (2001), starring Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopiles, a normal teenager who learns that she is the heir to the throne of a European country named Genovia and now must becomes used to a totally different lifestyle. The film was followed by a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2. The films made a star out of Hathaway and its sequel was also big hits for Marshall.

The films he later made were nowhere near the commercial or critical successes he had in the past. Georgia Rule (2007), starring Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman, was a by-the-number weepie that turned a modest profit thanks to overseas grosses and home video sales. 

Valentine’s Day (2010) and its sequel New Year’s Eve (2011) were more commercially successful enterprises. Valentine’s Day, a story about three couples who break up and make up over the pressures of Valentine’s Day starred Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Bradley Cooper, and Eric Dane. It returned a worldwide gross of $216.4 million against a budget of  $52 miillion. New Year’s Eve, which was the same story set against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert De Niro, and Halle Berry, returned $142 million against a budget of $57 million. Marshall’s last film, Mother’s Day, following the same formula and starred Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Jason Sudeikis, was released in April 2016. 

One facet of Marshall’s life that’s usually overlooked is he was also an actor with 83 roles to his name almost all of them uncredited or as a guest star. He played a U.S. recruiting officer in The Phony American (1961), with Christine Kaufman and William Bendix; an uncredited mafioso in Goldfinger (1964); a service station attendant in Fabian’s anti-drug Maryjane (1968); a plainclothes cop in the Dick Clark-produced Psych-Out for AIP in 1968; and chewing gum magnate Phil Harvey in the 1992 A League of Their Own (which he later reprised for the short-lived TV spinoff) for sister Penny Marshall, who directed. In television he had a recurring role as network head Stan Lansing on Murphy Brown (1994-1997) and Bernie in Father of the Bride (2004), besides numerous guest appearances and voice-overs for animated series,

Marshall even found time to pound the stage boards, appearing in Wrong Turn at Lungfish (co-written with Lowell Ganz), played L.A., Chicago and Off Broadway. The Roast, which he co-wrote with Jerry Belson, played Broadway in a production directed by Carl Reiner in 1980. In 1997, he and his daughter Kathleen founded the Falcon Theater in Burbank. Marshall also occasionally direct opera, including stagings of Jacques Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess, which opened the Los Angeles Opera’s 2005-2006 season, and Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, which played at the San Antonio Opera in January 2008.

Over his career, Marshall received a plethora of honors: the American Comedy Awards’ Creative Achievement Award (1990); the Writers Guild of America’s Valentine Davies Award (1995); the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television (1996); the PGA’s Honorary Lifetime Membership Award and Lifetime Achievement Award in Television (1998); the American Cinema Editors’ Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award (2004); and the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement from the Writers Guild of America (2014).

He was inducted into the Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of television in 1997. In 2012, he was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters' Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Walk of Fame. Northwestern University named a building specializing in radio/television/film production for him and his wife.

Marshall wrote two volumes of memoirs: Wake Me When It’s Funny (co-written with his daughter Lori in 1995), which recounted his first 35 years in Hollywood; and My Happy Days in Hollywood (2012).

Marshall is survived by his wife, Barbara, to whom he was married since 1963; son Scott, a film director; and daughters Lori, an actress and casting director, and Kathleen, an actress; a number of grandchildren; and sisters Penny Marshall, an actress and film director, and Ronny Hallin, a TV producer.

Friday, July 22, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for July 23-31

July 23–July 31


THE GOODBYE GIRL (July 24, 6:00 pm): This film came during the peak of Richard Dreyfuss' acting career and is one of his best performances. He won an Oscar for Best Actor (becoming, at the time, the youngest to win the award) for this 1977 film. The screenplay, written by Neil Simon, is good, but the acting and interaction between Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings (the latter two were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively) are outstanding. Cummings, who was 10 when the film was released (and flamed out as an actress a couple of years later), is marvelous as Mason's precocious daughter. It's a very charming and entertaining romantic comedy.

THE CAINE MUTINY (July 25, 12:00 am): Humphrey Bogart in his last great role as Lieutenant Commander Philip Frances Queeg, the head of the USS Caine, a Navy destroyer minesweeper. Queeg is losing his wits and desperately trying to have a final moment of glory as a commander, which puts his crew at risk. The final straw is his refusal to avoid a typhoon and then freezes when told of the danger facing the ship. That leads to a peaceful mutiny – thus the clever title – and a court martial. The supporting cast – Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray (the latter in particular) – is excellent. 


HOBSON’S CHOICE (July 23, 8:00 pm): David Lean directed this wonderfully droll comedy with Charles Laughton in one of his best and most unforgettable performances. He’s a widower with three daughters to marry off, but things don’t quite turn out like he expected. See this once and you’ll want to see it again ... and again. Gentle comedies such as this aren’t made anymore; mores the pity. Look for Prunella Scales – later best known as Sybil Fawlty – as one of Laughton’s daughters. If you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a real treat. And if you have seen it before, I don’t need to tell you to watch it again; you’ll be doing that anyway.

THE ENTERTAINER (July 23, 10:00 pm): Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as has-been song-and-dance man Archie Rice, who will stop at nothing to hit the big time once more, even if it means ruining the lives of those around him. Brenda DeBanzie gives a terrific performance as his alcoholic wife, Phoebe, and Roger Livesey is wonderful as his father Billy, a retired music hall performer. Director Tony Richardson does a superb job of capturing the flavor and atmosphere of the cheesy seaside resorts that Archie is reduced to playing, which compliments perfectly Olivier’s brilliant touches as the egotistical Archie Rice. Olivier had perfected the role on stage in John Osborne's play and hits every discordant note on his way down. A true essential.

WE DISAGREE ON … LITTLE BIG MAN (July 27, 9:30 pm)

ED: B. Little Big Man is an interesting movie, as it’s concerned with a specific period of American history. Unfortunately, whenever Hollywood meets history, truth is the thing sacrificed. There are several glaring inaccuracies in the film concerning matters of historical fact, mainly the depiction of Custer as a bigoted loony murderer. That’s as far from the truth as the depiction of him as a gallant martyr in They Died With Their Boots On. Keep in mind that the film was made in 1970, when it was chic to be anti-establishment. I have never seen any reason to bend historical fact to fit an ideology. History is interesting enough without hiding or distorting the facts to make a “better” story. As a film it is first-rate, but it’s historical inaccuracy is enough to make me drop it a grade.

DAVID: A+. There is no doubt that, as Ed wrote, this isn't an accurate telling of historical events. However, simply dismissing this satirical film for that reason is short-sighted. It's a fascinating story of the many legends of the Wild West as told by Jack Crabb, a 121-year-old man who supposedly lived through them. Dustin Hoffman is positively brilliant in the lead role, showing amazing versatility playing the character in a variety of scenarios and at different ages. The makeup is fantastic, and while Hoffman is the star of this 1970 film, he has a solid supporting cast including Martin Balsam as a snake oil salesman and Chief Dan George, who plays his Indian "father." It's a great combination of comedy and drama told through what is definitely a very liberal, but extremely entertaining, telling of historical events. 

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

SpongeBob SquarePants

Animation Nation

17 Years at Bikini Bottom

By Steve Herte

SpongeBob SquarePants (Nickelodeon Network, 1999-present) – Creators: Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, & Nick Jennings. Voices: Tom Kenny, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Dee Bradley Baker, Mr. Lawrence, Carolyn Lawrence, Sirena Irwin, Lori Alan, Mary Jo Catlett, Ernest Borgnine, Tim Conway, Paul Tibbitt, Bob Joles, Guy Siner, John Rhys-Davies, & Jill Talley. Color, Rated TV-Y7.

Most animation fans know the answer to “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” when Patrick Pinney starts the theme song, and shout “SpongeBob Squarepants!” at the appropriate time. Created by Stephen Hillenberg and released on May 1, 1999, the yellow, porous, and absorbent character with the annoying laugh is now 17 years old and his nautical nonsense continues to the delight of fans everywhere.

My admiration for the art of animation goes back to my childhood. I grew up with Warner Brothers’ cartoons and preferred them to the Disney characters who, by comparison to Bugs Bunny and his crew, were more for children and less sophisticated. And like other WB fans, a great part of my appreciation for classical music comes from background music to their cartoons. This love affair took me to the early 1990s, when the supply of new episodes petered out. Fortunately, in 1993, Animaniacs took center stage and renewed my love of the clever, hilarious WB wit and the flawless animation. That lasted until 1998, when again I had to search for a comparable quality cartoon. Then, seemingly in the “nick” of time, along came SpongeBob.

Why SpongeBob (voiced by Kenny)? He’s only an innocent, childish character who loves his job flipping Krabby Patties at a fast food joint called the Krusty Krab. His best friend Patrick Starfish (Fagerbakke) is one step up from a total ignoramus and he continually drives his clarinet-playing, would-be-sophisticated next-door neighbor Squidward Tentacles (Bumpass) completely crazy. And that laugh of his!

There’s something beyond the basic premise of SpongeBob. Those who’ve seen the Warner Brothers' 1992 cartoon Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers, directed by Greg Ford and Terry Lennon, know what I mean. In that cartoon, anyone who eats a radioactive carrot becomes a “badly drawn” automaton. Bugs Bunny notices all of his friends going from three-dimensional to two, and it’s more like a scribble than a clearly defined figure. When put side-by-side with many other cartoons created since 1999, SpongeBob is definitely not flat and not “badly drawn.” That was the first thing that drew me to the series.

With a combined staff of about 40 writers, the dialogue is funny, sometimes hilarious, and many times as clever as a Bugs Bunny aside. My favorite example is in Season 1, Episode 11b, Squidward, the Unfriendly Ghost, that has Squidward coated in a white substance and SpongeBob and Patrick convinced he’s a ghost. They think they’re responsible and wind up obeying Squidward’s every command. While carrying him around on a litter, they repeatedly ask him where he’d like to be set down. Squidward is fully taking advantage of this situation. “No, too wet!” “No, too dry!” (remember, this all takes place under the sea) Then they walk onto a scene recognizable from a poster of Moulin Rouge, and Squidward negates, “No, Toulouse Lautrec!” Excellent! I can hear children saying, “Why is that funny?” This sort of writing is the link for me between Warner Brothers and Nickelodeon.

What also draws me in is the big element of absurdity – both in the various plots and the cartoon as a whole. SpongeBob’s other best friend is the karate-chopping squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence), who prefers living in her underwater home to living on land. She wears an underwater suit when she leaves her glass home and SpongeBob and Patrick have to don water-filled helmets to visit her. 

SpongeBob’s boss, the pirate-accented, penny-pinching Eugene H. Krabs (Brown), has a daughter Pearl Krabs (Alan) who is quite obviously a sperm whale. His mother Mama Betsy Krabs (Tibbitt), the widow of Victor Krabs is undeniably a crab. You have to wonder what Eugene’s wife was (hopefully a whale, but we don’t even want to think about that). And we mustn’t forget SpongeBob’s pet snail Gary (also Kenny) who meows.

The absurdity continues in the second SpongeBob Movie; A Sponge Out of Water (2015) (read our review here) when a pirate steals the secret formula for Krabby Patties and causes chaos to break out in Bikini Bottom, including gang warfare and houses being set on fire (we’re still under the sea, mind you). In a few episodes of the television show, campfires are lit as well. It’s a part of the unique attraction of the cartoon.

But what about conflict? Besides the usual head-butting between SpongeBob and Squidward, there is Sheldon J. Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence), the owner of the Chum Bucket restaurant just across the way from the Krusty Krab. He never has customers because his food is ... well … chum! With his W.I.F.E. (Wired Integrated Female Electroencephalograph) Karen (Talley), Plankton (also the smallest character in the cartoon) is always plotting to steal Mr. Krabs’ recipe. We also occasionally meet the master villain ManRay (voiced at various times by Bob Joles, Guy Siner, and John Rhys-Davies) and reinforcements have to be called in (sort of). SpongeBob’s superhero favorites Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (guest stars Adam West and Burt Ward) are now almost senile (Borgnine and Conway, respectively) but still fighting crime. Absurd, no?

Among the cast of wacky characters, we can’t forget Driving Instructress Mrs. Poppy Puffs (Catlett), appropriately a blowfish who inflates with terror whenever SpongeBob is behind the wheel. Oh, and by the way, everyone drives in wheeled boats in Bikini Bottom. There’s the body-builder Larry the Lobster (voiced again by Mr. Lawrence) who, strong as he is, cannot defeat Sandy. In one episode, we see Squidward’s former classmate, the debonair, successful Squilliam Fancyson (Baker) and Squidward is embarrassed to be seen by him as a mere cashier in a fast food restaurant – a fun episode.

Besides the regular characters the voices of other famous people, some because they are fans, are heard in various episodes. The list includes Marion Ross and Amy Poehler as Grandma SquarePants, John Hurley and Jeffrey Tambor (in the movie) as King Neptune, Ray Liotta as Bubble Poppin Leader, Charles Nelson Reilly as the Dirty Bubble, David Bowie as Lord Royal Highness, Johnny Depp as Jack Kahuna Laguna, Henry Winkler as Sharkface, Mark Hamill as the Moth, Ricky Gervais as a narrator, Dennis Quaid as Mr. Krabs’ Grandpa Redbeard, Laraine Newman as Plankton’s Grandma, John Goodman as the Imaginary Santa, Gene Simmons of Kiss as the Sea Monster alongside his wife, Shannon Tweed, Betty White as the aged Beatrice, a fish who owns a store called Grandma’s Apron, and Pat Morita as Karate Master Udon.

Playing themselves in cameos on the SpongeBob series are: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, LeBron James, Pink, Robin Williams, Gene Shalit, and – strangely and appropriately – Davy Jones of The Monkees.

If this were not enough, like Warner Brothers, the cartoons are still funny after multiple viewings. Whenever I’m away from home and just want to rest and watch TV, if I find SpongeBob, I’m hooked. (pun intended.) The series has been nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, winning two. It’s not a substitute for Warner Brothers and it's had tough competition with The Simpsons, which is 10 years older, but when you want laughs and you don’t want to think about it, SpongeBob is waiting for you in a pineapple under the sea.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Mower Minions (Universal, 2016) – Director: Glenn McCoy. Animated. Color, Rated G, 4 minutes.

What do the minions do when they are not serving Gru or searching for Scarlet Overkill? Simple: they’re watching TV and thinking about bananas. 

And that’s what they’re doing in this hilarious four-minute short after they see an infomercial touting a miracle blender full of bananas for $24. 

They quickly get out the piggy bank. One puts several sticks of dynamite on it, while another simply smashes it. A single quarter is inside. What to do?  

They see children outside getting money for mowing lawns and an idea is formed. Pulling the pin from the trailer attached to a professional landscaping outfit’s truck, they have all the tools they need and head for a retirement home. Though the people can’t understand their wacky language and one elderly gentleman is just as incomprehensible, they get the job using a sign indicating $24 and pointing. The rest is pure insanity.

One uses a leaf blower to annoy another, one steps in dog poop while another in a hazmat suit places it in a paper bag. Another has a staring contest with a lawn gnome – and wins when the gnomes head explodes – and is so excited he needs to breathe into a paper bag (you guessed it, the one with the poop). The work really doesn’t get done, but the people are so grateful for the gales of laughter they pay them with a jar filled with 24,000 “shiny pennies.”

I loved the minions since I first saw them in Despicable Me and I still find them very funny. This is an excellent short that had me chuckling minutes into the main feature. Well done, Universal!

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Secret Life of Pets (Universal, 2016) – Directors: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud. Writers: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch & Cinco Paul. Stars: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, Tara Strong, Sandra Echeverría, & Jaime Camil. Animated, 3D, Color, Rated PG, 90 minutes.

I was talking with a friend about seeing this film when he noted that his son didn’t want to see it for a most unusual (and partly correct) reason. He didn’t want to see another movie where the main character gets lost and all of his friends must go searching for him, a plot of many past movies. Yes, that’s almost it. But unlike Dory or Nemo, Max (Louis C.K.) does not become lost by his own fault.

Max is Katie’s (Kemper) little brown and white dog and he has a good life, that is until Katie has to go to work. His lifestyle is upset when Katie comes home from the dog pound and brings Duke (Stonestreet), a big, long-haired mongrel, to be his big brother. Duke uses his size to lord it over Max, but when Duke smashes a vase, Max uses a doggy form of blackmail to control Duke.

While on a dog-walk with Duke and eight other dogs, they arrive at the dog park and the young man, more interested in girls than the dogs, neglects to detach Max’s leash. Duke sees a way out of the dog park, grabs Max’s leash and runs off with him. The two wind up in an alley presided over by Ozone (Coogan), a mangy hairless Sphinx cat who, with an army of other cats, remove both of their dog collars. They escape, but are caught by the dog catchers and are headed for the pound.

Max doesn’t know he has a girlfriend in Gidget (Slate), a fluffy white Pomeranian living one story up in the next building. Unlike the dog-walker, she notices that Max is missing when his pals Buddy the Dachshund (Buress) and Mel the Pug (Moynihan) come home without him. Inspired by the soap opera she’s watching where Fernando (Jaime Camil) tells Maria (Echeveria) that she must find her true love, she climbs to the roof of her building to look for Max. But then she realizes just how big New York City is when she stands on the ledge. She hears a voice behind her coming from a creepy shed on the roof (which she acknowledges as creepy), and meets Tiberius the Red-tailed Hawk (Brooks), who is more interested in her as food than as a friend. But she manages to make a deal with him to find Max in return for freeing him from his chain.

Meanwhile, in the dog-catchers’ truck, Max and Duke see a ferocious bulldog and are stunned when the truck is ambushed by Snowball the Rabbit (Hart), who is coming to free the bulldog. Snowball chews a key out of a carrot and opens the cage and is about to leave when Duke and Max convince him that they killed their owners and thus, deserve to join his “gang.” This gang consists of every pet that was abandoned or flushed by their owners and includes alligators, snakes, spiders, as well as dogs and cats, and Tattoo the Pig (Beattie).

Tiberius brings Ozone to Gidget and her interrogation methods force Ozone to direct her to the sewer. She rounds up Buddy, Mel, Chloe the obese and apathetic Tabby Cat (Bell), Norman the Guinea Pig (Renaud), who, by the way, keeps getting lost trying to find his apartment, and Sweet Pea (Strong), a parakeet who like video games involving fighter planes. She has to argue all that Max has done for them to get them to agree with Tiberius in the room, but they all head off to see the street-wise Pops, an elderly, partially paralyzed Basset Hound (Carvey), who leads them to the sewer hideout of the “Flushed Pets” organization.

The Secret Life of Pets is much more than a lost dog story. Its purpose is to whimsically posit what pets do when the owners are away and it does so in spades, with a lot of laughs along the way. Leonard is a prim white poodle who secretly prefers heavy metal rock to the classical Vivaldi his owner plays. Chloe raids the refrigerator, which explains her size, and Buddy uses the electric mixer as a shiatsu. The voices are well-matched to the characters and the animation is beautiful. The 3D effects are eye popping, especially when the snakes guarding the sewer lair come straight out over the audience – so does the alligator’s jaw – and opening scene, while the audience is soaring over, under and through the city while Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” plays is almost stomach-dropping.

Speaking of the soundtrack, we hear “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees on the dog walk, “We Go Together” from Grease at the sausage factory raid by Duke and Max as well as “My Best Friend” by Queen, and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams (well, it did come from the people who brought us Despicable Me).

In addition to the stars, we hear Larraine Newman as Chloe’s owner and John Kassir as Leonard’s owner. The writing is great and clever. Chloe has most of the funny lines, but Pops gets in a good one. Talking about Snowball, he says, “That ball of fur has got a screw loose!” The movie is squeaky clean and lots of fun. Bring the kids to this one, even if they’ve made up their minds not to see it. And remember to stay through the first set of credits. There’s a little bit more madcap action to go.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

104 W. 13th St., New York

What caught my attention about this restaurant, aside from the apparent misspelling of the Arabic word for peace (Salaam), is that when I looked it up on, it was listed as Syrian/Lebanese. When I arrived at its below-street-level location, the awning touted Middle Eastern. Upon entering the charming space, I saw the business card, which called the cuisine Arabic. It’s all of the above.

Salam has operated out the lower level of a classic brownstone in Greenwich Village for 20 years and can add 10 more years in a previous location to the expertise of their chef. It’s a family-owned business and quality and care are products number one and two. Inside is a small bar to the right and a few tables in the bar area. My server Karen met me at the door, confirmed my reservation, and seated me. The room was spacious. Three of the walls are mirrored, making it look much larger. The chairs are wrought-iron with gracefully sculpted backs, and the tables are inlaid with ceramic tiles in earth tones and moss greens. I was charmed just looking around.

When Karen asked if I wanted a drink to start, I chose the pomegranate martini – vodka, pomegranate juice and lime. It was delicious, appropriate for the atmosphere. And though the bar was just a room-divider away from me, I never heard her prepare it – no tinkling of ice cubes or shakers. Totally inspired though mysteriously concocted.

Although the food menu has a remarkably large selection for such a small place, I had already thought out my selections from perusing the online menu. 

My first dish was the babaganouj – grilled eggplant pureed with garlic and tahini (a sauce made from baked sesame seeds and vegetable oil) was thick and creamy with that wonderful smoky flavor from the tahini.

An order of stuffed grape leaves arrived shortly after and before I finished the first dish. But that didn’t matter. Babaganouj is served cold and the stuffed grape leaves were steaming hot, slightly vinegary and exciting. Karen brought out the wine and I asked her to wait until the main course.

The 2013 Chateau Ksara Reserve Du Couvent Cabernet from the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, was the perfect complement to the meal, a varietal blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet grapes with a fruit nose and a rich, full-bodied flavor and deep red color.

For my main course, I ordered macloubee – lamb layered with eggplant and basmati rice. The tender juicy lamb paired with the melt-in-your-mouth eggplant under a garnish of spinach and a touch of olive oil to provide a perfect main course.

For dessert, I ordered halvah, which was served in chunks on a beautiful plate so that you could see the pistachios. It exploded into sugary dust in the mouth and brought back memories. Fortunately, I also ordered Lebanese tea to wash it down. The tea was served in an authentic brass teapot with a scalloped top and gracefully curved spout and I half expected a genie to appear from it.

Salam is a wonderfully transporting experience. I raved to Karen about every dish. It was after I left that I saw two Syrian favorites at the bottom of the online menu. That alone would prompt a return, not to mention the Moroccan couscous royale (three meats). I was at peace going home.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Cinéma Inhabituel for July 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


We can’t fully discuss de Havilland without discussing her late sister, Joan Fontaine. It was no secret that the sisters were somewhat estranged throughout most of their lives, but the popular story, taken from Fontaine’s autobiography stated that, when Fontaine won the Oscar for Suspicion, beating out her sister, who was nominated for Hold Back the Dawn, she deliberately avoided walking past her sister’s table on her way to the stage for fear of being tripped. But there are photos of that Oscar night showing Olivia happily congratulating her younger sister. However, when Olivia won in 1947 for To Each His Own, Fontaine came over to congratulate her and was rebuffed. Asked to explain the snub, de Havilland’s publicist at the time said: “This goes back for years and years, ever since they were children.”

De Havilland was also responsible for a landmark legal ruling affecting those bound by contracts. After she fulfilled her contract with Warner Bros. In 1943, she was informed that six months had been added to the contract for the times she had been on suspension. The law at the time allowed studios to tack on extra time to an actor’s contract to cover the time the actor was under suspension. De Havilland, on the advice of her lawyer, Martin Gang, took the studio to court, citing an existing California labor law that forbade an employer from enforcing a contract against an employee for longer than seven years. In November 1943, the California Superior Court found in de Havilland’s favor. The studio immediately appealed, but on December 8, 1944, the California Court of Appeals for the Second District also found in de Havilland’s favor. California's resulting "seven-year rule," also known as Labor Code Section 2855, is still known today as the “De Havilland Law.” However, the studio gained a modicum of revenge by circulating a letter to other studios that had the effect of a "virtual blacklisting.” As a result, de Havilland did not work at a film studio for nearly two years.

As to her personal life, while she and Errol Flynn never has a romantic relationship off-screen, de Havilland did engage in romantic relationships with Howard Hughes, James Stewart, and John Huston. On August 26, 1946, she married Navy veteran, journalist, and author of the 1941 novel Delilah, Marcus Goodrich. They has one child, Benjamin Goodrich, born on December 1, 1949. Her marriage to Goodrich was a stormy one and ended in divorce in August 1953.

On April 2, 1955, she married Pierre Galante, author and executive editor of Paris Match. They had met at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, and after her marriage, de Havilland moved to Paris, where she continues to live today. They had one child, Gisèle Galante, born on July 18, 1956. Although the couple separated in 1962, they continued to live in the same house for six years in order to raise the children. Afterward, Galante moved across the street and the two remained close, even after their divorce became final in 1979. After he was diagnosed with lung cancer, she looked after him until his death in 1998.

Son Benjamin worked as a statistical analyst for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, and as an international banking representative for the Texas Commerce Bank  in Houston. He died on October 1, 1991, in Paris at the age of 41 of heart disease brought on by treatments for Hodgkin's disease, three weeks before the death of his father.

Daughter Gisele, after studying law at the Université de Droit de Nanterre School of Law, worked as a journalist in France and the United States.

July 22: It’s Olivia in the ‘50s beginning at 8:00 pm with the excellent My Cousin Rachel (1952), followed by The Proud Rebel (1958) at 9:45, and the uneven comedy, The Ambassador's Daughter, with Adolphe Menjou and Myrna Loy, at 11:45.

We then return to the ‘40s at 1:45 am with the first-rate soaper, Hold Back the Dawn (1941) with the script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Olivia is a shy, spinsterish schoolteacher targeted by gigolo Charles Boyer, who is fleeing the Nazis and sees her as his ticket into the U.S. Following at 4:00 is Olivia in one of her best roles in The Strawberry Blonde (1941) with James Cagney and Rita Hayworth, director Raoul Walsh’s delightful remake of 1933s One Sunday Afternoon, starring Gary Cooper and Fay Wray. 

July 27: It’s Olivia in the morning beginning at 6:00 am with the entertaining drama My Love Came Back (1940). Following is the all-star revue Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) with a rare number featuring Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best in non-stereotyped roles(!). Capping off the morning at 9:45 is the comedy Four’s a Crowd (1938), also with Errol Flynn, Rosalind Russell, and Patric Knowles.

July 29: A program of de Havilland films mainly from the 50’s, 60s and 70s, though the best film of the evening is The Male Animal, with Henry Fonda from 1942, which is airing at 4:00 am. The excellent Libel (1959) with Dirk Bogarde, precedes it at 2:15 am. Also of note this evening is Light in the Piazza from 1962 with Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux, which is showing at 12:15 am.

July 30: Two minor de Havilland efforts air this morning, with Government Girl (1943) at 6:00 am, followed by Princess O’Rourke (1943) at 7:45 am.


The TCM Spotlight for July, TCM Presents Shane (Plus a Hundred More Great Westerns), continues each Tuesday.

July 19: It’s a morning filled with spaghetti Westerns, including Hate For Hate (1967, 6:15 am), The Stranger Returns (1968, 10:00 am), and The Silent Stranger (1968, noon).

The evening features Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns for Sergio Leone: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and the classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968). The fun starts at 8:00 pm. Following at 2:00 am is the first Western Clint made in Hollywood, Hang ‘Em High, from 1968.

July 24: At 2:00 am, it’s Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambetty's first feature, and many say his masterpiece, Touki Bouki (1973). In the film, Mory (Magaye Niang) and his student girlfriend Anta (Mareme Niang) long to escape from Dakar for a better life in France. They hatch various schemes to get the money for a ship to Europe, but in the end only one of them is able to make the trip.


July 17: At 12:15 am, it’s the original tale of an ordinary girl’s rise to stardom in Hollywood, Souls For Sale, from 1923, starring Eleanor Boardman, Mae Busch, Barbara LaMarr, and Richard Dix. Written and directed by Rupert Hughes for Goldwyn Films.

At 2:00 am comes an up close and personal film from Macedonia about the war which resulted after Yugoslavia broke up into separate countries, Before the Rain (1994). It was the first film from the newly-formed nation to be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar. The anthology drama shifts between London and the Macedonian countryside; the main thread concerns a war photographer (Rade Serbedzija) who returns home after Yugoslavia has split to find that his homeland has been decimated by war.


July 21: Great Garbo looks appropriately regal and dominates the screen as only Garbo can in Queen Christina (1933), airing at 5:15 pm.

July 22: A morning and afternoon of Pre-Codes, beginning at 9:00 am with Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery in Untamed (1929).  It’s followed at 10:30 by They Learned About Women(1930). At 12:15 comes the sound remake of The Unholy Three from 1930 starring the great Lon Chaney. A British lord pretends to be a gigolo to escape gold diggers in Just a Gigolo (1931), with William Haines and Irene Purcell at 1:30. Robert Montgomery and Walter Huston prove war is hell, especially in a World War I submarine, in Hell Below (1933), at 2:45. Finally, at 4:30 it’s the brilliant Lee Tracy as an ambulance chasing lawyer in The Nuisance (1933).

July 25: At 11 am, chorus girl Marion Davies gets bad advice from her co-workers in The Floradora Girl (1930). At 2 pm, Leslie Howard is appointed guardian of South Seas beauty Conchita Montenegro in Never the Twain Shall Meet (1931). Following at 3:30 pm is Marion Davies in Peg O’ My Heart (1933). At 5:00, it’s Robert Montgomery and Dorothy Jordan in Love in the Rough(1930), followed at 6:30 by Lady With a Past (1932), starring Constance Bennett and Ben Lyon.

July 28: A morning of Pre-Code Joe E. Brown films opens at 6:30 am with Eleven Men and a Girl (1930) and ends at 5:00 with You Said a Mouthful (1932)


TCM is devoting the evenings of July 24 and July 31 to films made by African-Americans from 1915 through the ‘40s, when movies made by African-Americans were independent affairs and released to segregated theaters. That these films were made was remarkable; that they survived to this day is miraculous.

July 24: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with Oscar Micheaux’s Birthright (1938) following the travails of a Harvard-educated man who attempts to found a school for African-Americans down South. At 9:30, it’s the silent Ten Nights in a Barroom from 1926, followed at 10:45 by a compilation of home movies by the Rev. S.S. Jones documenting life in Oklahoma from 1924-26. At 11:10, it’s the documentary short We Work Again made by the WPA in 1937 showing their efforts to find jobs for African-Americans during the Great Depression. At 11:30, it’s Micheaux again, with Veiled Aristocrats (1932), about a light-skinned lawyer who forces his sister to pass for white. And Micheaux closes out the evening at 12:30 am with his silent classic Within Our Gates from 1920.

July 31: At 8 pm comes a double feature from director Spencer Williams, starting with Blood of Jesus (1941), followed by Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A. (1946). At 10:30 it’s a couple of shorts: Heaven-bound Traveler (1932) and Verdict Not Guilty (1933). At 11:00 comes a short directed by one of the giants of American Literature: Zora Neale Hurston. It’s titled Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, May 1940 and is a recording of religious services in a South Carolina Gullah community. At 11:30 a couple of pre-1920 shorts: Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled (1918) and Two Knights of Vaudeville (1915). At midnight, a composer marries an abused girl to protect her but can't face his family's prejudices in 1927’s The Silent Scar from director Frank Perugini. Rounding out the evening is the South Seas adventure Regeneration (1923).


As always, there’s a good selection in both the psychotronic and the B-category. 

July 16: Rod Taylor takes on the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, at 4:00 pm.

A triple feature, beginning at 2:00 am of three great zero-budget exploitation classics: Reefer Madness (1936), the legendary Dwain Esper’s Marihuana (1936), and The Cocaine Fiends (1935).

July 21: At 8:00 pm it’s the original The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974) with Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw and Martin Balsam heading a great cast. At 2:30 it’s Richard Roundtree in the classic Shaft (1971).

July 23: The heavy-handed cautionary tale about nuclear war, The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959) airs at noon, followed by the Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove (1964), with a virtuoso performance by Peter Sellers in three roles, at 1:45.

The late evening presents a double feature of The Street Fighter (1974) at 2:15 am followed by Return of the Street Fighter at 4:00. 

July 26: Laurel and Hardy open things up at 7:15 am with the classic Way Out West (1937), followed by The Bowery Boys at 8:30 in Bowery Buckeroos.

July 29: A Nancy Reagan double-header begins at 3:30 pm with the excellent Donovan’s Brain (1953), also starring Lew Ayres and Gene Evans, followed by Nancy starring with husband Ronnie in 1957’s Hellcats of the Navy. Michael Weldon describes the love scenes between Nancy and Ronnie as “chilling.”

July 30: The final five episodes of the Ace Drummond serial air beginning at 9:30 am. You know what that means – no one’s watching.

Later in the afternoon at 5:45 it’s the sci-fi classic Logan’s Run (1975).

July 31: It’s Patti McCormack as The Bad Seed (1956) at 10 am, and the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) at 6:15.