Sunday, September 25, 2016

Oh, God!

Gallagher’s Forum

By Jon Gallagher

Oh, God! (WB, 1977) – Director: Carl Reiner. Writers: Larry Gelbart (s/p). Avery Corman (novel). Cast: George Burns, John Denver, Teri Garr, Donald Pleasence, Ralph Bellamy, William Daniels, Barnard Hughes, Paul Sorvino, Barry Sullivan, Dinah Shore, Jeff Corey, George Furth, David Ogden Stiers, Titos Vandis, & Moosie Drier. Color, Rated PG, 98 minutes.

A few months ago, I “cut the cable,” mainly due to the fact that my cable TV provider seems to think that the way to reward their customers for their loyalty is to raise their prices while cutting their service. In all fairness, they did give me a choice: Pay an extra $15 a month for what I was already getting or lose about 10 channels or a DVR for the same as I was getting now. I surprised them. I chose “none of the above,” went out and bought a set of what we used to call “rabbit ears,” and discovered that I could get 23 channels over the air for free.

Some of these channels include networks not carried by cable TV companies like AntennaTV (imagine that!), the MeTV network, Bounce, and others. Most of the programming is old shows that makes me wonder how we ever managed to get this far in technology while others reminded me of how good TV once was with actual writers and scripts rather than people making fools out of themselves in the name of “reality TV.”

Oh, wait. This is supposed to be a movie review, not an editorial. Sorry about that. I just needed to get you up to date on why this particular movie was reviewed. One of the over the air channels that I now receive carries an old show from the 1950s, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, starring the immortal husband and wife comedy team that made the transitions all the way from vaudeville to radio to TV. George was in his 50s during the TV run which lasted from 1950 to 1958.

I don’t remember the TV show. I was only a year old when it went off the air. But I do remember that he also starred in a couple movies, just about the time I was going to college. He was in his 80s when he won an Oscar for his role in The Sunshine Boys and he was cast opposite John Denver in Oh, God!, playing the title character. I remembered the latter and began digging for a source on which to watch it. 

I found it on Amazon.

John Denver was a pop/country music star with a string of hit songs including “Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” who was trying his hand at acting as his music career was on the decline. It was a novel, if not somewhat risky, pairing, but producers were counting on the chemistry that Burns seemed to have with all of his costars to carry the film.

Denver was cast as Jerry Landers, a perfectly ordinary guy who led a boring life as the assistant manager of a grocery store. He gets a letter inviting him to an interview the next day and it’s signed simply, “God.” Figuring it’s a joke, he tosses it into a bedside wastebasket only to have it pop back up in the middle of the night and again the next day while at the store.


With curiosity getting the better of him, Jerry goes to the interview where God tells him that He wants Jerry to be his messenger and tell the world that everything is going to be okay. At first, all we hear is God’s voice: Burns’ trademarked grandfatherly gravelly growl which Jerry dismisses as a practical joke of some sort. When God finally appears in the flesh to Jerry, the Almighty turns out to be the octogenarian Burns who somehow gets through the entire movie without his iconic cigar.

God manages to lead Jerry along, convincing him little by little that this is no joke and that Jerry was picked at random to spread the gospel. Of course, the world around Jerry reacts as it would to anyone who claimed to have a personal visit from the Almighty – they laugh at him and criticize him, going as far as to put him on Dinah Shore’s talk show with a police sketch artist so the world can see what God looks like.

The movie culminates with an evangelist (Sorvino) suing Jerry for defamation of character (God had told Jerry that the guy was a phony) and God showing up in court to testify on Jerry’s behalf which leads to a classic scene:

Bailiff: Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?
God: So help me, Me.
Judge: So help you, you?
God: If it pleases the court, and even if it doesn’t, I’m God, your honor.

All in all, it’s a charming movie with no heavy-handedness on the religious aspects. Although God is involved, it doesn’t continually bash us over the head with theology, but rather poses questions for us to answer on our own through the interaction of the characters. Denver and Burns do share a chemistry that is enjoyable to watch and it’s obvious that the seasoned Burns is leading Denver through his maiden voyage in movies, making him even perhaps better than he already is. The singer/songwriter, who leaves his guitar in the wings with Burns’ cigar, comes off as being very natural and engaging, the type of guy that would be fun to work with or be around in the real world. Burns is also a natural playing the old guy part, seemingly with an answer to everything, but then who wouldn’t when you’re God?

Add this to the fact that you get to watch Teri Garr, who plays Jerry's wife, and you just can’t complain at all.

I re-watched the movie with my 32-year-old daughter, and her two preteen kids. Although they weren’t impressed with the movie, it didn’t insult their intelligence and they did ask quite a few questions about those things that looked sort of like cash registers at the supermarket where Jerry worked as well as that push button radio in Jerry’s car.

Had the movie been written in our current day and age, there would have been more than enough people out there to be offended by something in it, but those are people who spend their entire day just looking, hoping, and praying to find something that they can claim offends them.

It’s a delightful movie, and leaves us with a genuinely good feeling (not a fake-good). It’s an easy A- which could only have been better if they’d let John sing the title song (of which there wasn’t one). 

If you get the chance to find this at the local video store, or local library, you might want to check it out. There are certainly worse ways to spend 98 minutes.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Let Us Be Gay

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

Let Us Be Gay (MGM, 1930) – Director: Robert Z. Leonard. Writers: Rachel Crothers (play), Frances Marion (s/p), Lucille Newmark (additional dialogue). Stars: Norma Shearer, Rod La Rocque, Marie Dressler, Gilbert Emery, Hedda Hopper, Raymond Hackett, Sally Eilers, Tyrell Davis, Wilfred Noy, William H. O’Brien, Sybil Grove, Mary Gordon, Dickie Moore, & Helene Millard. B&W, 79 minutes.


Now that sound was a fait accompli, MGM intensified its search for new material that would fit their stars. Irving Thalberg picked up Let Us Be Gay, a play by Rachel Crothers that had a good run on Broadway starring Frances Larrimore and Warren William, as a good vehicle for wife Norma Shearer, who was coming off the success of The Divorcee. Noting that for all its snappy dialogue and pacing, it was yet another story about a drab housewife whose husband deserts her for greener pastures. Frances Marion was brought in to revamp the prologue and add even more snappy new dialogue. In the end, the studio came away with a pleasing Shearer attraction. Of course, the fact that Marie Dressler is also on hand adds to the fun. Unfortunately, the ending completely undoes everything and nearly pulls the picture down with it.

As the film opens, we are in the house of Bob and Kitty Brown (La Rocque and Shearer). Kitty is a hausfrau who dotes on her husband, this day serving him breakfast in bed. She’s the definition of meek and subservient. Bob would like to stay and chat but he has an important date to play golf and he has to get ready. At one point, he can’t find his favorite tie and asks Kitty where it could be. Kitty, ever so dowdily dressed, is making yet another dress, but finds the time to locate the missing article of clothing. She asks Bob if she can come along on his golf date; after all, she has in the past. Bob, however, is evasive, telling her that he’s already rushed and for her to dress properly would take too much time.

Years of experience watching these sort of movies tells us instinctively that golf is the last thing on Bob’s mind, and a phone call shortly after he exits the bedroom confirms our suspicions, especially when he tells the caller never to phone him at his house. But it’s too late, she is on her way over to “clear the air,” and shortly afterward she’s standing in the living room. Just as she has her arms wrapped around his neck, who should saunter in but Kitty? Bob is too visibly embarrassed to speak, but his squeeze introduces herself to the shocked Kitty as Helen, adding that she thought it was time that they met. 

Kitty, quickly pulling herself together, tells her adversary that she has heard a lot about her from Bob. Helen, damage done, tells Bob she’ll be waiting out in the car. After she departs, Bob and Kitty get into it, with Kitty asking him to leave. Bob coldly tells her that if he walks out that door he’s not coming back, which is fine by Kitty. After he leaves, Kitty breaks down in tears.

The interesting thing about this scene is Kitty. At first, we don’t recognize her. Then it hits us: it’s Norma Shearer! Yes, Norma Shearer sans makeup, looking as dowdy as she can get. And it works, for she is almost unrecognizable. The Shearer we are used to is the vivacious glammed-up model. With her hair in rollers, wearing unflattering glasses, and dressed like a frump, (those with HD can even see her freckles), Norma comes across as distinctly unglamorous. 


Yet, despite her unmade look, on closer inspection we can still see that she is a beautiful woman; a lot more approachable, more down-to-earth without all the glam. It also reaffirms our faith in Shearer as an actress. How many other MGM divas would be so bold as to risk playing a scene without make-up? Remember, women in the movies even awoke in the morning wearing lipstick. Greta Garbo played a rundown prostitute in Anna Christie, but she still looked like Garbo. Joan Crawford may have despised Shearer and thought of herself as the better actress, but not even Joan would appear before the cameras facially naked. Shearer proved so good at it she repeated the feat in 1938’s Marie Antoinette.

A title card informs us that it is three years later and that we are at the estate of Mrs. Bouccicault (Dressler), a wealthy and scheming socialite, on Long Island. We gather from the servants that a new guest is coming to visit and they wonder if it will be anything like her usual run of guests. Mrs. Bouccicault is a collector. In this case, she collects upper class twits for her parties. It’s difficult to tell them apart as the film progresses, but with a little concentration we are able and equally repulsed as well. Included among the guests are lousy, boring amateur poet Wallace (Davis), and Townley (Emery), a dull figure who tries to get by on charm he doesn’t have and merely comes off as silly.

As we quickly surmised, Kitty is the expected guest. When we see her now, she has changed from a dowdy caterpillar into a most beautiful butterfly. The glam is back – and with a vengeance. This is the Shearer we know and love. Mick La Salle, in his wonderful book about Pre-Code cinema, Complicated Women, wrote the following about Shearer’s transformation: “Once again, Shearer was suggesting that women weren’t limited in their options. The picture promised the possibility of beauty and adventure for all women. As if to prove it, Shearer was willing to hint that her own beauty was manufactured.” 

We learn that Mrs. Bouccicault met her while in Paris and has brought her to Long Island with a specific purpose in mind. Kitty is a hired gun. It seems that Mrs. Bouccicault’s granddaughter Diane (Eilers), though engaged to Bruce (Hackett), has become infatuated with a four-flusher. The dowager tells Kitty that she has been invited specifically to take the rat away from Diane and let the engagement follow its course. 

Mrs. Bouccicault asks Kitty if she’s up to the task, and the banter between the two is risqué: “Well, my one little talent, clothes, is beginning to make money. When I can pay my own bills, men may come and men may go.”


Dressler, not quite sold by Kitty, continues the line of questioning: “Are you trying to imply that, until this point, there haven’t been any coming (she rolls her eyes slyly to make sure the audience knows what she means) or going?

In case we haven’t caught on to her meaning, Shearer emphasizes it: “Now Bouccy, that’s not like you. That’s clumsy. I’m surprised at you.”

Of course, we all know who the cad is that Bouccy wants to give the gate. Even those who haven’t yet seen the movie and are reading this for the first time can easily guess who it is. That’s right, it’s none other than good old Bob, on the make for money. Kitty is stunned when she discovers his identity and the rest of the movie becomes a sort of parlor game, with Kitty and Bob trying to top each other in witty remarks while not letting on to the others about their real relationship.

They pretend not to know each other, but as they make small talk, her feelings come out: What were you saying, Mrs. Brown? Did something unlucky happen to you years ago?”

Well, I thought so then, but I’ve grown wiser since.”

Bob asks Kitty about using the name, Kitty Courtland Brown. She explains: “Courtland was my maiden name. I took it back after my divorce.”

When Bob says that Brown is a name to be proud of, Kitty’s response is tinged with bitterness: “That’s the way I felt about it too. Evidently you don’t mind being a Brown, but I did – horribly.”

Taken aback, the only riposte Bob can come up with is, “You seem to have got rid of it very successfully.”

Kitty fires one final shot: “I hope so. Three years in Paris ought to improve any woman. Like you, I’ve been amusing myself with anything and everything that came my way. I know how a man feels about those things now.” Shearer plays the scene so well that we’re unsure if she is really serious or just putting the screws to him.


Bob, though he doesn’t believe her, is nevertheless taken with her. She didn’t look that way in all the years they were married and now she appears like a completely different woman – just the sort of thing a serial philanderer likes. If he was unsure about her veracity during their conversation, finding two men in her bedroom easily convinces him that she hasn't been home making new dresses. Kitty flirts so fast and easily it seems as if she’s practicing an early form of speed dating, and she’s expert at making the men feel as if they’re on the verge of conquest when in reality they are still at the starting gate. Bob is becoming convinced that what his ex-wife told him is the truth. The scene with would-be suitors coming and going into Norma’s bedroom is almost like the bedroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers.

The climax of the film comes when Bob, clearly dismayed by the antics in Kitty’s bedroom, announces that he and Diane are to be wed. Once again, Kitty is devastated. Bouccy, who’s been smelling a rat when it comes to Bob and Kitty, quickly figures out the truth and plays the trump card by arranging for their young children to join them at the estate. 

While Bob is overcome emotionally by the children’s appearance (he has not seen them for three years), they prove to be Kitty’s undoing. Dressed for the film’s final scene in a man’s coat and tie, she gloats over her new-found liberation, telling all that she’s not ready to sit by compliantly at the domestic hearth. Suddenly, seeing the children causes Kitty to break down and throw herself at Bob’s feet to take her back. “I’m so lonely,” she cries, leading us to realize that she wasn’t out sowing her wild oats so much as sewing new coats. And yet, the main reason Bob takes her back is because Diane, upon getting a load of the kids, realizes what a scumbag he is and gives him the heave-ho, going back to Bruce.

It’s definitely a cop-out ending and I can’t say it any better than the critic for The New York Times: “The ending of 'Let Us Be Gay' is unfortunate. It comes abruptly, and with tears and a manner of "I won't do it again." It does not fit in well with what has gone before; it is not in keeping with the characterization. Kitty is one minute laughing at her former husband and the next is agreeing to start all over with him. She, the Long Island Lorelei, the young lady who had been asked by Mrs. Bouccicault to rescue her granddaughter from the toils of Bob.”

This is the real message of the film: Kitty’s verbal fireworks are just that – talk, born of anger over Bob’s tomcatting. Though a woman may test the bounds of traditional marriage roles, given the chance, she will go running back to the safety of traditional matrimony. Her tears only serve to emphasize her realization over the price she has paid for divorcing her husband.


At the end, Kitty is back to the beginning of the film. She was the one wronged, the one whose loyalty was repaid with treachery. And now she wants to go back to a guy who hasn’t bothered to see his own children in three years. The real message of the film is that if husband strays, it’s the wife’s fault for not keeping herself sexually alluring by employing glamorous make-up and chic fashions. A woman wronged by her husband in such a way can respond by asserting herself and turning away from the accepted view of marriage, but in the end she must return. There’s only so far she can go. Notice that Kitty “reinvents” herself as Kitty Courtland Brown. If she were serious, she would have dropped the “Brown” and simply taken back her maiden name. The way she does it here served more to irritate Bob than to declare her independence from him. As author Roger Dooley noted in his book From Scarface to Scarlett, “It is remarkable how many plays which seemed to deal lightly with divorce still had the original couple getting back together; nearly 10 years later, Shearer was still following the same pattern in The Women.”

Afterwords

As directed by Robert Z. Leonard, Let Us Be Gay is definitely an early talkie. Except for the prologue at the Brown home the camera hardly moves, and several scenes start a few seconds before the actors appear. One scene in Bouccy’s living room featured only a pillow for seven seconds (I timed it) before Shearer appeared to joust with Dressler. It comes across as exactly what it is, a filmed play.

The film was shot on a rushed schedule of 23 days due to the pregnancy of its star. It was brought in at a cost of $257,000 and produced a nice profit of $527,000. Though the critics praised Shearer, it was Marie Dressler who was singled for her performance. Dressler had established herself as a performer who could both draw gasps of delighted recognition and loud applause from audiences. Of course, with Marion wielding the pen, the role was custom-made for Dressler and she played it in her normal fashion: large, in charge, and able to chew scenery at will.

Compared to Dressler, Shearer’s performance comes off as a little uneven. Her scenes with Dressler are the best in the movie as their characters engage in a verbal dance with witty banter, smiles, and winks. Offstage, they built up a warm affection for each other, with Norma giving Marie shrewd financial advice that enabled her to save more than she normally would, for according to mutual friend Frances Marion, Marie was a scatterbrain with a lot of money and a known soft touch.

Unfortunately, though, Shearer had to act with Rod La Rocque, an actor so wooden he had to be sprayed with bird repellent to keep the woodpeckers away. La Rocque made his fame and fortune in the silent era, beginning in 1914. By the ‘20s he was well-established as a romantic lead in such films as Resurrection (1927), Stand and Deliver (1928), and Our Modern Maidens (1929), with Joan Crawford. Offstage, his marriage to silent siren Vilma Banky in 1927 had been one of the Hollywood events of the year. The marriage was a happy one, ending only with LaRocque’s death in 1969. But there were problems for Rod, as his voice, diction and acting skills combined to keep him from becoming a star in the new era of sound.


The Thalbergs liked Rod and wanted him to repeat his success in the silents, but despite the best efforts of MGM’s speech coaches, La Rocque could not overcome his deficiencies. As regards his acting, the less said the better. He has zero chemistry with either Shearer or Eilers. He also lacks any sort of charm or sexual charisma, something that would attract the audience to him. It’s hard to see why either woman was so attracted to him. There’s nothing there. But perhaps the best summary of La Rocque in the film came from critic Richard Dana Skinner in The Commonwealth: “Mr. Rod La Rocque talks in the fashion of a traveling salesman who has about half-finished a course in elocution. His diction is deliberately monotonous and he gives one the impression of being a hastily rehearsed amateur.”

After the film was released, Thalberg wisely stopped his push of La Rocque and the rest of the actor’s career consisted of increasingly minor parts with the occasional starring role for studios like Republic and Grand National. After portraying the character of Ted Sheldon in Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941), Rod left Hollywood for a career as a real estate broker, where he did quite well. Ironically, wife Vilma Banky also struck out in the talkies, the possessor of a Hungarian accent so thick one critic said that, compared to her, Zsa Zsa Gabor sounds as if she’s from Brooklyn.

Another problem plaguing Shearer during filming was the fact that she was pregnant with her second child. Norma, known as one of the most ambitious women in Hollywood, jumped at the chance to play the role, as her inactivity during pregnancy bored her. (She also feared that if she were away from the screen too long, her public would forget her.) Because her condition had become quite noticeable during the last week of filming, designer Adrian draped her with even more care than usual. Shearer also strategically hid her figure behind tables and chairs and drapes and restricted her movements to a minimum. As an actress known for her costuming, when the scene called for her to wear anything of a revealing nature, she stuffed herself into stiff corsets and along with Adrian, spent hours looking for the right design. 

To say that Shearer finished filming in the nick of time is an understatement. The movie premiered on August 9, 1930. On August 25, Irving Thalberg, Jr. was born.

In 1931, a French-language version of Let Us Be Gay was released under the title Soyons gais. Directed by Arthur Robison, it starred Lily Damita and Adolphe Menjou.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for September 23-30

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 23–September 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CAGED (September 24, 6:30 am): Unlike nearly all the others in the unusual but often-visited women-in-prison film genre, Caged is well acted. Eleanor Parker was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the young innocent Marie Allen, Agnes Moorehead is great as warden Ruth Benton, and Hope Emerson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the deliciously evil matron Evelyn Harper. Almost anything bad you can imagine happens to Marie: her new husband is killed in a robbery, she ends up in prison because she is waiting in the getaway car, she's pregnant while serving her sentence, she's victimized by other inmates and Harper, she has to give up her baby for adoption, and finally becomes bitter and hardened from all of her bad experiences. The story is similar to other women-in-prison movies minus the T&A. We still get a shower scene (no nudity as this is during the Code era) and the stereotypical prison lesbian. But there's a huge difference between Caged and the women-in-prison films of the 1970s. It's not only the excellent acting, but the powerful dialogue and actual plot – it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar – that makes this gritty, stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (September 25, 2:45 am): I'm a huge fan of the British kitchen sink/angry young man film genre, and there are very few finer than this one. Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in his brilliant film debut) is a rebellious teenager in post-World War II England who ends up in a juvenile delinquent institution. While there, he discovers he has a talent for long-distance running. He's able to avoid the hard labor the other boys must endure because of his abilities. But the anger and resentment against a system that chews kids like him up and spits them out when they are no longer of any use is always in the back of his mind. The big race against the nearby public school is an opportunity to for Colin, but leaves him conflicted. In the end, he does what he believes to be the right thing to maintain his integrity and independence despite the consequences. It's a lousy time to air a great movie.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (September 24, 8:30 am): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. Garfield has never been better and Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Nicholson-Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.

TOP SECRET (September 28, 9:45 pm): This follow-up to the wildly popular Airplane wasn’t as well received at the box office, but it is still hysterically funny, with gaga flying everywhere. This spoof of rock ’n’ roll musicals and espionage pictures stars Val Kilmer as an Elvis-type rocker touring East Germany who gets mixed up with a woman whose father is being held in prison and who herself works for the Resistance. The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams leave no stone unturned in search of a gag. Some gags are painfully obvious while others are subtle, taking us by surprise. Kilmer turns in an excellent performance as signer Nick Rivers and is ably assisted by a slew of famous actors in cameo roles. It may not quite be Airplane, but it’s still hilarious in its own right.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (September 28, 11:30 pm)

ED: D. I have never found Will Farrell to be funny. Given a stronger plot, as in Elf or Old School, he can be tolerable – barely. But here, with a plot that is paper thin at best and a lousy script, Farrell is exposed for the boor he really is. It begins with as bang, but quickly fizzles as the plot gives way and we discover that Farrell is incapable of carrying what’s left. What’s left is the usual collection of potty jokes and situations that only go to show how dumbed down comedies and our expectations of them have become over the years. Both Christina Applegate and Fred Willard, two talented comic actors, are totally wasted playing second bananas to a piece of rotted fruit. Those tuning in expecting to see a parody in the manner of Ted Baxter at WJM will be very disappointed by this witless comedy. Shame on you, TCM, for wasting valuable resources on this turkey.


DAVID: C-. I don't dislike this film as much as Ed. While it has some funny moments and lines that spoof the 1970s, it's inconsistent and largely forgettable. More so than the movie, that it's being shown is what disturbs me. TCM is a network that shows classic films and not-so-classic films from decades ago. If TCM is going to show movies from the early 2000s, they better be of excellent quality. Anchorman is most definitely not. If I want to watch mediocre films from a decade ago, I have a dozen stations from which to choose. Among several TCM viewers, there have been growing concerns and complaints about the network showing films from the 1990s and 2000s as the "C" in "TCM" stands for "classic." Again, not everything shown on TCM is a classic, but if the decision has been made to show movies like this rather than films from long ago, it's a disturbing trend. One movie is not going to ruin TCM. However, if this isn't an isolated incident, I'm concerned about the future of TCM. Let's hope this is simply an anomaly. 

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sully

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Sully (WB, 2016) – Director: Clint Eastwood. Writers: Todd Komarnicki (s/p). Chelsea Sullenberger & Jeffrey Zaslow (book Highest Duty). Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Valerie Mahaffrey, Delphi Harrington, Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Ahmed Lucan, Laura Lundy Wheale, Onira Tares, Gary Weeks, Katie Couric, Patch Darragh, & Jeff Kober. Color, Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.

I never thought I’d be so glad to be in New York.” says Jeff Skiles (Eckhart) after the “Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) is still disturbed and concerned about his passengers and crew until he finally gets a count of survivors – 155, all accounted for. He calls his wife Lorraine (Linney) on his cell phone to let her know that he’s alright and she wonders why. He tells her to simply turn on the television.

This biopic is only one hour and 36 minutes long, but it is intensely emotional, beginning with Sully’s nightmare of how the incident could have ended. He’s haunted by thoughts of the disaster he averted throughout the movie. If that weren’t enough, the investigative committee led by Charles Porter (O’Malley) is threatening to end his career. After hearing that 20 computer simulations were run and all concluded that it would have been possible to land at either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airports and that one computer analysis stated that his left engine was running on idle and could have provided thrust, he starts to doubt himself.


To the world, Sully is a hero, but not to himself. He was doing his job. The harrowing review process can only be resolved by adding in the human factor of a 35-second delay and locating the left engine, which broke off when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 hit the Hudson River.

Sully is baffled by all the attention he’s getting from the media and even people he meets casually. A Marriott hostess hugs and kisses him. A bartender names a drink after him. “It’s a shot of Grey Goose with a splash of water!” His only relief is knowing that everyone on board survived and from Tom Hanks’ performance, this is palpable. You feel what he feels. A sterling bit of acting.

The crash landing is shown from two different perspectives and both are believably real. I was amazed at how subtly after take-off we heard the word “birds!” before both engines burst into flame. It was a flock of migrating geese, not just birds. I found myself almost on the edge of my seat even though I know what happened that day. Patch Darragh did a great job playing air traffic controller Patrick Harten, who was devastated when the plane dropped below radar and communication, and he thought he’d lost them. Laura Linney, though her part was small, was no small actress. She clearly demonstrated the stress that came from possibly losing her husband and sole source of income and, as a result, losing their house.

Kudos should also go to director Clint Eastwood and the special effects department, who made a flashy news item into a meaningful humanitarian experience, complete with flashbacks to Sully’s early flight career on a biplane and a fighter jet. I enjoyed seeing the background material. It helped flesh out the character and made the story more interesting. There were no dead spots and even young children would like this film. I know I did.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Kat & Theo
5 W. 21st St., New York


Kat & Theo proved to be an amazing dining experience from the four young trees on the sidewalk in front of the beautifully etched plate glass window to the dining room with its ceiling of wooden beams and walls of open brick and faux stone, with dark wood tables flanked by bare wood and iron chairs and soft leather banquettes.

Shortly after my server, Mona, arrived with the menus, I chose my drink: the Metal and Dust cocktail – pasilla and mulato chili infused reposado tequila, tempus fugit cacao, merlet crème de fraise, vanilla syrup, dark lager, lime and mole bitters, garnished with somethings called strawberry leather. It was spicy and smoky, and the strawberry leather was like strawberry jerky. What an original concept!

Looking through the wine list I found two reasonable Portuguese wines that showed promise. Mona sent the resident sommelier, who helped me choose a 2010 Quinto de Foz de Arouce red wine made from Baga and Touriga grapes. It was simply amazing. Up until then, my entire experience with Portuguese wines was Mateus and various ports, all sweet. This was a complete departure from that flavor, a rich, medium-bodied red with delicate nose and chocolate overtones. 

My first dish was a plate of homemade chips with olive tapenade and Labneh cream cheese/butter. Soon after, Mona brought my soup. The bowl she placed before me had the “lobster salad” lined up in the center on a diagonal. She carefully poured the local tomato gazpacho around it. It was like no other gazpacho I’ve ever had: no excessive cilantro flavor, just smooth herbal-graced tomato, and of course the lobster with a little dill, delightful.

Next to arrive was potato gnocchi mixed with bacon, shallots and English peas and crowned with a delicate foam. The peas are perfect with the tender potato dumplings, and we know that everything tastes better with bacon.


There were four main courses I was interested in, but I ended up choosing the rabbit crepinette. Arranged on the plate in five pieces, four loin segments and a rib section with yellow and green summer beans and mustard, it was juicy and tender, with the beans and mustard giving it a savory and succulent flavor. As a side, I ordered the summer squash accented with lemon verbena and crème fraiche. The gourds were grilled but still had a crunchy quality and full flavor. I’m not a person who adds lemon to any dish, but in his case, it was fantastic and flowery.

Mona helped me choose dessert. We both agreed upon the market strawberry – African strawberries with salted caramel and the most outrageous choco-peanut butter mousse. It wasn’t exactly like a mousse, fluffy and light, but more like a dense ice cream or halvah. I loved it. Then a nice cup of Darjeeling tea and a thistle glass of port wine finished my dinner.

A little over a year old, Kat & Theo has many more years to come and hopefully, more visits from myself. I thanked both Mona and the sommelier profusely and left happy.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Planet of the Apes

The Psychotronic Zone

By David Skolnick

Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, 1968) – Director: Franklin J. Schaffner. Writers: Michael Wilson, Rod Serling (s/p). Pierre Boulle (novel). Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Robert Gunner, Lou Wagner, Woodrow Palfrey, Jeff Burton, Buck Kartalian, Norman Burton, Wright King, & Paul Lambert. Color, Rated G, 112 minutes.

Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death. – The Lawgiver in the Sacred Scrolls

There isn't another movie more than the Planet of the Apes that has changed my plans over the years. I own the original Planet of the Apes five-movie DVD collection and have seen the first film more than 50 times. But when I stumble across it – no matter whether it just started or is about to end – on TV, whatever I'm doing at the time or about to do waits until the movie is over. Thankfully, I have a patient family.


Sure, there are science-fiction films with significantly better special effects, but few that are as timeless as Planet of the Apes. The 1968 movie isn't stale nearly a half-century later. A key reason is the apes who run the planet are primitive. They ride horses. They use non-automatic rifles. They use nets to capture humans. They live and work in huts. They don't have cars, planes, trains, telephones, televisions, radios, watches or anything people had in 1968, much less what an advanced society more than 2,000 years in the future would have. There's not even evidence of indoor plumbing in Ape City. The ape society could easily pass for 1868. That's the brilliance behind the film: Not having any technology, even the basics, gives the apes a level of authenticity that would be missing if the film took the opposite approach.

The plot is taken from Pierre Boulle’s novel and adapted by the screenwriters. The film begins with a four-person crew on a spaceship that left Earth a year or two ago. Because it's traveling at near light speed, the Earth has aged about 2,000 years. Taylor (Heston) is talking into a machine, acknowledging that those he knew back home are long dead. 

After he joins the others in deep-hibernation sleep, the ship makes a crash landing into a body of water on a planet. To save on money, viewers don't get to see the crash and only get a glimpse of the top of the ship as it sinks into the water. During the crash, the protective cover over Stewart, the lone woman on the ship, cracks and ages her to her death while the three men – Taylor, Landon (Gunner), Dodge (Burton) – age several months. How do we know? They all grew beards, but they’re rather neat when they should be ZZ Top length.


The three abandon ship, board an inflatable raft and paddle to shore, where tests are done showing nothing can grow in the dirt. But at least they can breathe the air. They walk the vast wasteland – we later find it's deep in the Forbidden Zone – until they stumble upon a plant and realize life can be sustained here. They don't give a second thought to several giant scarecrows on top of mountains. Upon finding a body of fresh water we get our only nude scene as all three take their clothes off and we’re given a shot of their bare asses. 

While swimming, their clothes are stolen and destroyed – along with their supplies of food and water. They turn the torn items and found rags into something to cover themselves. It's then that they see who destroyed their clothes and equipment: a group of primitive humans. The humans can't speak. and the astronauts figure they'll be running the place in a few months. Suddenly a horn sounds and they look up. Much to their dismay, they see a group of gorillas, some walking on two feet and other riding horses, attempting to capture the humans. Dodge is shot (he’s the lone black guy and it's the black guy who is typically the first to get killed in movies) and Landon is captured. After fending off the gorilla attack, even though he's shot in the neck, Taylor is eventually caught.

Brought back to Ape City, Taylor attracts the attention of Zira (Hunter), an animal psychologist and chimpanzee, who is fascinated with his ability to mimic speaking. (Getting shot in the neck temporarily takes away Taylor's ability to speak.) She calls him “Bright Eyes.” Zira and her fiancé, Cornelius (McDowall), an archaeologist and also a chimpanzee, are fascinated with Taylor, who starts to write things down, telling his story, which neither believes. But they realize he is intelligent, far more so than the other humans on their planet.

Dr. Zaius (Evans), aware that Taylor is a threat to his society, orders the human castrated. Dr. Zaius doesn't want Taylor breeding, which could be a possibility as he's got the hots for one of the humans on the planet he calls Nova (played by Harrison, who was dating Fox studio head Richard Zanuck at the time).


Taylor escapes and when captured utters the legendary line: “Take your stinking paws off of me, you damn dirty ape!” He's brought before an ape tribunal, consisting of Dr. Zaius and two other high-level orangutans, where he is found guilty of crimes even though humans have no rights under ape law. It's one of the best scenes with Zira speaking on behalf of Taylor and the three orangutans doing the classic monkey “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” bit. Doomed to castration or possibly becoming a lab experiment, Taylor, along with Nova, escape thanks to Zira, Cornelius, and Zira's nephew Lucius (Wagner). The five head for the Forbidden Zone followed by Dr. Zaius and an army of gorillas.

Taylor is able to take Dr. Zaius hostage and the group, except Lucius, enter a cave Cornelius discovered a year prior filled with human artifacts. The most damning item is an old baby doll that cries. Dr. Zaius tries to be skeptical, but can no longer keep up the charade: Why would apes make a human doll that could make noise when they're all mute? The doctor finally admits that he was aware of the history of his planet and that humans were far more civilized centuries ago. But, he says, humans destroyed themselves and parts of the planet, turning the Forbidden Zone from a paradise into a wasteland.

The film ends with the apes agreeing to give Taylor – who has Dr. Zaius hostage – and Nova a horse, gun and supplies as they head deeper into the Forbidden Zone. When asked what Taylor will find, Dr. Zaius ominously says, “His destiny.” The good doctor nailed it: It's one of the most iconic endings in cinematic history.


We first see a rusted piece of metal as Taylor and Nova ride a horse along the shoreline, then a close-up of the two on the horse stopping to look at the metal, they ride a little more, and a metal point is visible, then three more in what looks somewhat like a crown, they both get off the horse and stand. As the water comes ashore, Taylor says: “Oh, my God, I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was...we finally really did it.” (He drops to his knees and pounds his fists into the wet sand as water rushes over him.) He screams: “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” The viewer gets a reverse shot to see what Taylor sees. And there it is – the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand from its waist down.

Afterwords:

The 1963 French novel of which the film is based – La Planete des Singes, cleverly translated as The Planet of the Apes or Monkey Planet in English – and the original movie screenplay by the legendary Rod Serling featured advanced technology that certainly would look ridiculous if viewed today. But what led to the decision to make the apes primitive? Just one thing: money. It was far too expensive for 20th Century Fox to have the apes living in a high-tech world. The advancements considered in the late 1960s for 3978, the year Taylor and the rest of his ill-fated crew crash land deep in the planet's Forbidden Zone, would cost way too much for a company trying to keep expenses down on this film. Serling was replaced by Michael Wilson, a former blacklisted screenwriter who co-wrote, without credit, films such as Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.

Fox's refusal to spend money on props and sets for Planet of the Apes was stronger on the four sequels released annually between 1970 and 1973. The budget decreased with each film – though the dark storyline of the third film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) is the best of the bunch despite the terrible special effects. However, there's no denying that the makeup used in the films to make human actors look simian was spectacular and years ahead of its time. The apes in the later reboots are the results of CGI technology. While it's spectacular, I'll take a guy in classic POTA makeup over an ape created by CGI every time.


As for casting, Heston was Taylor from the word go. Particularly after his career peaked, and even during its high points, Heston's acting ability was much maligned. However, if you were casting a historical/biblical epic such as Ben-HurEl Cid and The Ten Commandments, he was your guy. The same goes for dystopian/post-apocalyptic films such as Soylent GreenThe Omega Man and Planet of the Apes. He's the perfect actor for those roles. Don't believe me? All you have to do is watch the remakes.

Heston's intensity, bravado and charm give life to George Taylor (we only know his first name because it's in the credits; it's never mentioned in the film). Whether he's uttering his first words to his simian captures – the memorable “stinkin' paws” line – or on his hands and knees during the stunning conclusion of the film – “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” – Heston owns the screen.

The legendary Edward G. Robinson was originally cast to play Dr. Zaius, Taylor's nemesis – an orangutan who is minister of science and chief defender of the faith, two roles that conflict, particularly when Taylor falls from the sky. Eddie G. had to take a pass on the film though he's in a screen test that was used to sell the film to Fox. Robinson had to bow out because of health problems that got worse when he had to sit through hours of makeup to look the part. Robinson's final cinematic role – and his most touching – would come five years later as Heston's partner in Soylent Green, released three months after his death.

Imagine the Planet of the Apes dialogue with Robinson. “I have always known about man, myah. From the evidence, myah, see, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain, you mugs. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself, Blue Eyes, myah, myah, myah. If you ain't out of town by tomorrow, you won't ever leave it except in a pine box. You're through.”


Evans, a Shakespearean actor with very little film experience, was cast in the key role of Dr. Zaius. He's extraordinary, and while watching the movie you can see Evans put his Shakespearean talents to good use. McDowall and Hunter, two actors with extensive filmographies – including an Academy Award for Hunter for her portrayal of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire – were eventually tapped to play the key roles of Cornelius and Zira, the chimpanzees who help Taylor. McDowell would have prominent roles in three of the four sequels as well as the short-lived 1974 TV show based on the film.

The apes have a caste system with the orangutans being the government leaders – very similar to our existing society – with the chimps as the timid intellectuals and the gorillas as the soldiers.

That this film received a G rating is stunning. It's filled with violence, including murder, some brief nudity, and very adult themes. This is post-Hays Code, and apparently the Motion Picture Association of America didn't pay any attention to this film.

The ending, with Heston discovering the Statue of Liberty, lasts for about one minute and 50 seconds and to me is the greatest, most powerful and shocking ending in cinematic history. Even though I've seen it dozens of times, it never loses its impact. It was Serling's ending, even though it’s strangely anticipated by Roger Corman in his camp classic, Teenage Cave Man from 1958, and one that seems straight out of an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone.

Based on the film's conclusion and the sequels that are true to the “ape time continuum,” Ape City is somewhere in or near New York City. If the Forbidden Zone is Manhattan, then Ape City is either Staten Island or Long Island – depending on which direction it is.

My first experience seeing the film was on TV. It was a mainstay on WABC-TV's 4:30 Movie in New York City, where I grew up, as part of Planet of the Apes Week. The original was stretched over two days with three of the sequels – Battle rarely aired – shown the other three weekdays. I pop in the DVD every so often and as I mentioned, I've come across it on TV several times.


Thankfully TCM recently showed it on the big screen providing viewers, including myself, who've never seen it in a theater the chance to do just that. It's a movie made for the big screen. The vastness of the Forbidden Zone and the size of the cliffs toward the end of the movie – filmed in Arizona and California, respectively – are incredible sights to see on such a large screen. I didn't truly appreciate the sheer size of the locations until seeing it in a theater. I went with a friend who also loves the films, particularly the original. In between reciting lines to each other and ourselves – there were only about 10 other people in the theater – we marveled at the breathtaking cinematography and the marvelous ape makeup.

The film screamed for a sequel, but Heston barely showed any interest in doing one. The deal struck by Heston's agents on his behalf included that he have a very small part, Taylor would be killed and his salary would go to charity. While Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a very good film, the original is a timeless classic and the best of the entire Apes series of movies.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pete's Dragon

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Pete’s Dragon (Disney, 2016) – Director: David Lowery. Writers: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (s/p). Malcolm Marmorstein (based on a screenplay by). Seton I. Miller, S.S. Field (based on a story by). Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Marcus Henderson, Aaron Jackson, Phil Grieve, Steve Barr, Keagan Carr Fransch, Jade Valour, Augustine Frizzell, & Francis Biggs. Color, Rated PG, 103 minutes.

This is one remake that was worth creating. The 1977 original only served to reconfirm that Disney corporation could mix animated characters with real-life people. But unlike Mary Poppins (1964), it was a silly fantasy with a dragon goofier than Goofy and nowhere near as funny. Today’s technology has provided us with a dragon-sized dragon complete with a wingspread capable of true flight to replace the pot-bellied caricature with the tiny pink wings. We now have a story where we can put aside our disbelief and just enjoy it.

Pete’s parents are driving their young son through the woods and explaining an “adventure” to him when a deer leaps in front of the car. Dad swerves and all we see is Pete’s reaction, securely strapped in, to a car rolling over and landing on its roof. It’s a heart-breaking moment when the two-year-old (we assume) cries when his parents do not answer him but bravely packs his storybook into his back pack and enters the woods. Strange sounds come from everywhere and he’s beset by wolves. Just before they attack we hear the familiar thudding walk of a giant creature (similar to the sound of the T-Rex approaching in Jurassic Park). The wolves scatter and Pete is confronted by a towering green, furry dragon. “Are you going to eat me?” he asks. Wordlessly we know the dragon communicates a no by putting out his left front paw palm up. Pete climbs onto it and the dragon places him gently on his back.

It’s six years later and loggers are working in the forest. Jack (Bentley) and his brother Gavin (Urban) have continued operations in a section of the woods they were not supposed to harvest and forest ranger Grace (Howard) is there to point out the infringement. Her daughter Natalie (Laurence) is with her, wandering around while Mom remonstrates with the foreman.


Now eight years old, Pete (Fegley) watches from the cover of bushes. Natalie spots him and chases him into the forest. They both climb a tree and it’s not until a branch breaks and both go tumbling to the ground that Grace hears her daughter’s screams. When Grace and Jack race in to find her relatively unhurt, she explains that she was chasing Pete and points him out. Pete is captured and the mystery begins.

In a prior scene, we heard Meacham (Redford), Grace’s Dad, telling the children the stories of the “Millhaven Dragon,” and that he himself saw it when he was young. This turns out to be the very dragon whom Pete accredits his survival to and has named him “Elliot” after the main character in his beloved book. Pete wants to get back to Elliot because, “He gets scared when I’m gone,” but Grace makes a deal with him. If he stays the night, she’ll take him back to his “home” in the morning.

Meacham joins Natalie, Grace, and Pete to the section of forest where Grace has never been. (She had claimed previously that, “I know this forest like the back of my hand.”) The three are awestruck at the huge, furry apparition that emerges from under a centuries-old tree, but Natalie steps forward to pet it. Again, wonderful wordless communication comes from the grunts, deep hums and throaty growls from Elliot and they are all convinced he’s friendly. That is, until Gavin bursts onto the scene. He’s terrified, scares Elliot with his rifle, and Elliot does a classic “bend the rifle muzzle back on itself” routine as Gavin retreats.

Gavin is undeterred, gathering the other loggers. Together, they sedate Elliot, chain him onto a flatbed 18-wheeler, haul him out of the forest, and lock him in a barn. But Gavin doesn’t know that Elliot can make himself invisible and he does so when Sheriff Gene Dentler (Whitlock Jr.) arrives. Pete and Natalie free Elliot and, with Meacham at the wheel, break Elliot free and the chase is on.

The new Pete’s Dragon is beautifully done, from the superb special effect of the dragon to the musical soundtrack ranging from tearful sadness to glorious themes in full flight. Both of the children playing Pete are adorable and convincing. Robert Redford does his usual spectacular job and Bryce Dallas Howard depicts the perfect Mom/Naturalist/Protector. The rest of the cast are Disney rubber stamps: predictable. But it’s Elliot who is amazing. The models that were built for the close-ups reveal a facial mobility that succeeds in projecting every emotion. I swore that at one moment he was going to cry.

I guess most New York children had already seen this film by the time I got to it, but the ones that were there were enjoying it quietly and without boredom. They were not scared when Elliot roared or breathed fire. That’s what a dragon is supposed to do, right? But I would also guess that covering him in luxuriant green fur makes him more accessible than the scaly look of a medieval dragon, and he did have distinctly dog-like features. (Remember Falcor in 1984’s The NeverEnding Story?) It reminded me of things I said about Disney films before The Black Hole (1979), where I first saw bloodshed. Before then, it was “survival of the cutest” and that phrase applies to this film as well. But beyond all that, it’s a well-constructed movie with no dead spots, humor mixed in with sadness, and a surprise at the end. I might even add it to my home collection.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Savour Sichuan
108 W. 39th St., New York

Even though this restaurant is across the street from Gabby O’Hara’s, where I go to sing karaoke every Tuesday night, I have never eaten there. The entrance, closer to Sixth Avenue, is garish, intensely Broadway-style, featuring a nearly blinding yellow sign with Chinese calligraphy in white and red. 


Inside, however, the decor is much more sedate, with everything in white walls with dark wood trim. The bar has tasteful Chinese paper and wood swags over it with a large fish tank containing tropical fish at the end of the bar.

My server, Jay, a lovely young girl, took my cocktail order: the Lychee Martini – Lychee-infused vodka, juice and simple syrup – because I wanted a drink served in the arty glass I saw on their website. The drink was deceivingly sweet, and contained two Lychees on a toothpick as the garnish.  

The service is super-efficient and before I had time to page through the food menu, Jay had opened it to appetizers. I chose Mini Crab Meat Soup Buns. Jay advised me that the dish would take five minutes to prepare and I assured her that I had all the time in the world. Another server noticed the length of time I was without and asked if I wanted to order. I assured her I had an appetizer order in. Jay returned when I closed the menu and helped me with my second and main courses. I chose a standard favorite of mine, Szechuan Sour and Spicy Soup, which arrived almost immediately. It was good, but it was standard, nothing special. 

The Mini Crab Meat Soup Buns arrived after I finished the soup, beautifully presented in a light wooden steamer tray resting on a leaf of lettuce and sided by a soy dipping sauce. Very good, but not up to my benchmark for this dish.

Lacking a true wine list, I chose a glass of the house cabernet-sauvignon to go with my main course. It was a nice red, medium bodied wine, suitable to many purposes.


My main dish was Fresh Frog with Pickled Ginger in Spicy Broth. I spooned some onto my serving dish making sure to get as much frog as I could find and started eating. I quickly realized they were not kidding when they labeled this dish “spicy.” It was one of the spiciest dishes I’ve ever had. As my eyes watered I enjoyed the tender white frog meat, scallions and slender mushrooms, carefully sipping my wine so as not to intensify the fire. When I mistook a yellow chili pepper for a piece of meat, I learned that there were three different kinds of chilies in the dish and soon was fishing through the dish with the spoon for the three ingredients I could eat without becoming a smoking volcano. It was most impressive, but the spice killed the delicate flavor of the frog, and  as the frog was hacked into small pieces, each containing a bone or two, caution was called for in the dining process.

After I finished the cabernet and ordered a glass of the merlot to go with the remaining rice and ingredients I could safely eat. A few relaxing breaths later and I was ready for dessert. The Gold and Silvery Buns were true “buns” (not like my appetizer). There were four golden-brown fried and four pure white steamed buns stuffed with almond and sesame paste respectively on either side of a teardrop-shaped bowl of sweet, caramel dipping sauce.

The fire was completely out and I was full. I think I will return, with friends whom I know like exotic foods. Frankly, I’m after that conch soup and tripe main dish. They do have dishes for people who like regular Chinese food, which I would recommend for those too squeamish for brains, intestines and fish maws. However, for those who are adventurous, Savour Sichuan is the place. 

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.