Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything 1200 Miles Away

By Steve Herte

It’s been six years since I lost my girlfriend, Helene, to cancer. We knew each other intimately for almost 35 years. She was my dinner companion, my fellow movie critic, my duet partner; in short, my everything. We did everything but get married. She was married once for a short time, and we knew that, although we were otherwise compatible, that we weren’t compatible when it came to marriage. She was an “Oscar” and I’m a “Felix,” if you know what I mean, and those two types can never co-habituate for any lengthy period of time. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.

At this week's karaoke night, I did my annual tribute to Helene, as November 14th was the anniversary of her passing. I had with me a list of songs she loved to sing. "We Built This City" by Starship, "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis and the News, and "Sussudio" by Phil Collins were appropriate selections. It was Helene who introduced me to karaoke a long time ago at a restaurant called Casey's Café in Brooklyn (no longer in business). I was nervous. It was the only place where the audience would "Boo" if you were bad. But I was well-received and the rest is history. Then one day we discovered, through a mutual friend, Muldoon's bar and the karaoke host, David Swirsky. Dave so impressed us that we followed him when he moved to Gabby O'Hara's, where I've sung ever since.

As to movies, we never missed a movie featuring Bill Murray, John Goodman or Gene Hackman (her favorites), and she was tolerant of my love of animation. If the movie involved water, such as Deep Impact or The Perfect Storm, we were there (she was a Pisces). She loved trying new foods and would have totally enjoyed my Friday night this week. I hope you do too. Enjoy!

The Theory of Everything (Focus Features, 2014) Director: James Marsh. Writers: Anthony McCarten (s/p), Jane Hawking (book). Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, Sophie Perry, Charlie Cox, Finlay Wright-Stephens, Maxine Peake, Harry Lloyd, Alice Orr-Ewing, David Thewlis, Thomas Morrison, Michael Marcus, Gruffudd Glyn, Paul Longley, Emily Watson, Guy Oliver-Watts, & Simon McBurney. Color, 123 minutes.

Now the Academy Awards ceremony has a contest! If not for the fact that after two weeks of playing in New York nearly every seat in the theater I was in was occupied, but for the superb acting of the entire cast. Mostly it is for the incredible performance of Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. Not since Heath Ledger’s Joker have I been so convinced and slack-jawed by a portrayal.

Based on the book My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, this film begins in 1963 at Cambridge University, just before she met Stephen Hawking. Even though her girlfriends warn her about “scientists” and how strange they are, when Stephen speaks to Jane (Jones), she’s attracted to him from the first.

The relationship grows despite the fact that he prefers not to dance at the Spring Ball and triumphs in his achieving his doctorate in a dissertation on black holes and singularities. Then the ALS that has dogged his life makes its first effects known in a terrifying fall on the pavement of the quad. Called “motor-neuron disease,” the doctor gives Stephen two years to live, but Jane still wants to marry him and fight it.

The marriage is one of the happiest days in his life but the degenerative disease progresses. Jane and he have a son and a daughter before the nearly total paralysis takes over and he’s wheelchair-bound. An electric wheelchair operated by a joystick helps give him more mobility and takes some of the burden off Jane.

The wear and tear of the job of caring for her husband as well as the two children shows and her friend recommends Jane join the church choir, where she meets Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Cox) who not only lifts her spirits, but becomes a friend of the family and actually helps out at home. It’s not until Jane and Stephen’s second son arrives that the talk begins. “Is it Stephen’s or Jonathan’s?” And Jonathan decides to step back.

Stephen is invited to a concert in Bordeaux. He flies there by plane but Jane (who hates flying), Jonathan and the two first children travel by car. Stephen is hospitalized by a seizure at the concert and, when Jane arrives she is told that only a tracheotomy will save him. However, he will lose the capability of speech. Given all the options, and being a fighter by nature, she chooses the tracheotomy.

Conversations have now become extremely difficult, and Jane uses a color-coded “letter board” to speak to Stephen. He, in response to the color, raises his eyebrows to indicate which letter he wants. It’s a slow and tedious method. They hire Elaine Mason (Peake), who, by virtue of her enthusiasm (and good looks) connects with Stephen and succeeds in communicating with him.

Soon a new invention is added to Stephen’s wheelchair – a computer with a monitor and a “clicking” device whereby Stephen is able to construct entire sentences and speak them, albeit robotically. (“It’s American! Don’t you have any other voices?” Jane asks.) But at least Stephen now has a voice and a way to write his book. Originally he entitles it “A History of Time,” but realizing how long it takes to write it using the device, he inserts “Brief” before “History” and it becomes a best seller.

Stephen and Jane drift apart as Elaine becomes closer, and he invites Elaine to fly with him throughout America for a lecture tour. (Actually, more of a question and answer session.) In answer to one question about the fame and fortune he responds, “I was recently asked if I was the real Stephen Hawking and I told them no. The real Stephen Hawking is much better looking.” But when asked about how he deals with the concept of God, he hesitates for a long time before giving a brilliant answer that neither accepts nor denies the existence of a creator.

The film starts and ends with a scrim-shot of the family reunited and about to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II, and Stephen Hawkings’ receiving a knighthood. In the formal garden after the ceremony, Jane thanks Stephen for including her in the presentation and tells him he can always refuse the knighthood. Electronically, Stephen says, “Look what we made,” as they watch their children, Robert (Prior), Lucy (Perry) and Timothy (Wright-Stephens) play on the grounds.

Director James Marsh is to be commended on a wonderfully constructed movie, including his reversal of time through previous scenes at the end. The cinematography was excellent and the soundtrack appropriate for the emotional content of the scenes. In two hours and three minutes I gained a new understanding and respect for Stephen Hawking from the story. The movie is definitely for adults and children able to understand what is happening. Young children will be bored with it. But it will attract several award nominations and probably win a few.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

1200 Miles
31 West 21st Street (bet. 5th and 6th Aves.)New York

I’m glad I keep a database of all the restaurants where I’ve had the pleasure (sometimes not) of having dined, because the feeling of déjà vu crops up more and more. Thankfully, in this case it proved to be false. 1200 Miles may look like other restaurants from the street – large window on the street with the name in gold lettering and white-washed nouveau classical masonry surrounding the entrance but inside it’s a minimalist, sleek, almost antiseptically white expanse with dark hardwood floors, splashes of color here and there, and black pipe railings on the stairways. The unobtrusive lights appear bright because of the reflection from the glazed white brickwork on the north wall next to the bar.

The young lady at the Captain’s Station led me to table near the back with a comfortable banquette on one side and a chair on the other. The lighting was almost ideal. I did need the votive candle on the table to read certain things on the menu but it was not dark. She left me the menu card with cocktails and beverages on the reverse side and the wine book.

My waiter, a genial young man, took my water preference and asked if I wanted a cocktail. I had not even looked at either menu, so he left to give me more time. When he returned I triumphantly announced that I would like to try the “Smoking Pistoleros.” He grimaced slightly and told me they ran out of the Mezcal ingredient. But I had a backup. I ordered the drink called “A Pear Grows in Amsterdam” – Bols Genever gin, Warwick Farms pear liqueur, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, lemon, egg white, angostura. He brought me the drink in a small tumbler. The egg white formed foam on top of the golden potion and one taste proved it to be an excellent Holiday (especially Autumnal) drink. Usually pear-flavored cocktails taste like medicine but not this one. It was pleasant, sweet and slightly spicy in a pumpkin pie sense.

My waiter sang the praises of the duck entrée and the special appetizer of the evening, and I had to agree they both sounded tempting. But I was in the mood for something radically different. I explained that I wanted to make it a three-course dinner, that I had the appetite to do so and all the time in the world so that it would not be rushed. He understood.

I saw the wine first, a 2013 Chenin Blanc ‘Clarksburg’ The Terraces by Quarry vineyards, Napa California. I’ve loved Chenin Blanc since the sixties and it was a delightfully crisp, light wine to go with my meal choices.

The first course was listed simply as “Soup” – Vegetables (i.e. green and wax beans, carrots, and others), chicken minestrone, small elbow-shaped pasta, consommé, pesto –on the menu. “This is one soup?” I asked. “You’re not the first one to ask that question,” he said. “Yes, it is.” It was a tomato-y red and the basil accentuated the combination of tender vegetables and pasta to make a totally unique experience. It wasn’t just minestrone, or consommé; it was all of the above.

If you’ve been following my articles you know I love pasta and the second course was exactly that. The Agnolotti of Butternut Squash – on a Swiss Chard fonduta (a Fontina cheese), stem pickle, garnished with Fiore sardo (grated Pecorino cheese) and candied orange zest – proved to be three lovely al dente pockets filled with sweet creamy squash on a beautiful green cheesy bed. It was so good I forgot I had a delicious wine to go with it.

When my waiter placed a steak knife on my table after removing the previous dish I should have gotten a clue that something was amiss, but I said nothing. Then, when another server brought the perfectly prepared, mouth-wateringly arranged duck entrée, I knew. “This is fish?” “No, it’s duck.” “But I ordered the Rockfish.” He took the dish away.

After multiple apologies from my waiter and an acknowledgment from myself that maybe I should talk nasally and loud like Fran Drescher (most of the patrons spoke that way – it was horrendously noisy in the restaurant), we were at an understanding and he assured me my entrée would not take long.

The Grilled Rockfish – padron peppers, Romanesco broccoli, savory tomato jam, and herbs – was worth the wait. The flaky, tender fish had a delicate, buttery flavor by itself but mixed with the spicy sauce it was heavenly. I contemplated a side dish when I saw the beautiful French fries on the next table but was glad I didn’t. The dish filled me nicely, but not enough to not have room for dessert.

The Banana Brûlée – steamed banana-hazelnut cake, warm chocolate ganache, hazelnut gelato - was not anything like a Crème Brûlée, but was similarly prepared. The dish was made upside down, sliced bananas on the bottom with a ring of cake containing the ganache filling the middle, and the caramelized crust on top. It was served inverted with the homemade gelato and nuts. Wonderful.

I decided to have an after-dinner drink rather than coffee and the menu provided the option called Chocolate & Spice – Michter’s rye, Chopin chocolate liqueur, Ramazotti Amaro, green Chartreuse, velvet falernum (a sweet Caribbean syrup – flavors of almond, ginger & cloves), whole egg, cardamom bitters, and cinnamon. Holiday time again! The drink brought warm thoughts of a fireplace at Christmas time with snow-coated evergreens outside while sipping eggnog. I was happy.

1200 Miles has been open for a little over a year and I learned that the name is the distance from France to Algiers. I guess I’ll just have to return to try that incredible duck dish. Maybe I’ll change my speech pattern. When I spoke to the couple at the next table the gentleman said that he thought I was from New Mexico. Hmmm.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Lion: King of the Beasts and the Silver Screen

By Steve Herte

I can anticipate the first question: Why write about lion movies, that is, movies featuring lions? I can only answer that it all goes back to childhood. Animals always fascinated me; as a child I was surrounded by the stuffed representations relatives gave me as crib and later bedmates. However, as I grew older, it was the big cats that caught my attention. And of the big cats, the most majestic is the lion. I was always glued to the television set whenever a wildlife show was on, and when the show featured lions, I was happier than a pig in mud.

There is something indefinably regal about the lion, and I’m not alone in that opinion. The philosopher Nietzsche was also fascinated with the lion, referring to it as the “blond beast” in his writings. (Many readers thought he was referring to Aryans, but it was indeed the lion, an animal Nietzsche revered for its strength.) Frankly, ever since I learned as a teenager that, according to the horoscope, I was a born under the sign of Leo (and at the time, I liked what I read about the sign as the characteristics all applied to me),  I have been collecting all things leonine. I have figurines in every medium from lead crystal to bubblegum, calendars, clothing, wall hangings, computer icons and sound effects, sun catchers and tableware, even a Pez dispenser, all of them representations of lions. When I visited Las Vegas, I stayed at the MGM Grand and was privileged to see Cowboy – perhaps the great great grandson (maybe another great is needed) of Leo the famous MGM lion who roared at the beginning of every film.

I’ve always made it a point to see any movie including or featuring lions, and was surprised that Kitty-cat did not have a cameo in the most recent Addams Family movie. When it was suggested that I compile a list of lion movies, I pounced on the opportunity, so presented here are my top 10 movies about or featuring lions. It was impossible to rank them from one to 10 because they are all great to me (especially the two that are actually trilogies).

Born Free (Columbia, 1966): A true story adaptation of the book by Joy Adamson about Elsa the lioness, an orphaned female cub raised to maturity by Adamson, but who must be trained to return to the wild. This one is a two-handkerchief movie that had me singing its theme song long after it left the theaters. I considered making it my personal theme song for a while, and Andy Williams performed it beautifully. The film is well made and follows the book (which I read later) pretty closely. Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers are excellent as Joy and George Adamson.

The Chronicles of Narnia (Buena Vista, 2005-2010): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008), and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  (2010): A wonderful adaptation of author C. S. Lewis’ series of fantasy novels set in the fictional realm of Narnia. Four siblings play hide-and-seek in a big house when the youngest, Lucy (Georgie Henley) hides in a wardrobe closet that opens onto the parallel universe of Narnia where the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) rules and has made winter the only season. She convinces her brothers Peter (William Moseley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and her sister Susan (Anna Popplewell) to join her in Narnia where they have adventures with talking animals, meet the enormous lion Aslan (who brings back the Spring to Narnia with the melodious baritone voice of Liam Neeson) and eventually become ruling kings and queens.

My favorite quote from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader spoken to Lucy by Aslan: “Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.”

The Ghost and the Darkness (Paramount, 1996): The notorious “Man-eaters of Tsavo” have been the subject of quite a few movies. This movie is a remake of Bwana Devil (U.A., 1952), the first American movie to be photographed in 3-D and color. It starred Robert Stack as Bob Heyward, the chief engineer on the East African railway project, who must go after the lions that have been killing off his workers.

The Ghost and the Darkness follows the same plot: A railway line is being constructed by the British to facilitate transport of goods between their African colonies but a pair of mane-less male lions team up against them. No matter what was done, or who was hired to rid the workers of this seemly supernatural pair, the lions evaded capture with an eerie intelligence. I found myself cheering for the lions. Before they were shot, they had killed 35 people over a nine-month period. When I saw them posed in the Field Museum in Chicago several years later, I learned that their mane-less condition was due to the thorny bush countryside in which they successfully camouflaged themselves. It had the net effect of literally tearing out their manes. This is the reason several people have mistaken them for females. Michael Douglas plays Charles Remington, the hunter hired by bridge engineer, Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer), who finally thwarts their uncanny attacks.

The Last Lions (National Geographic, 2011): A heart-rending documentary from the husband-and-wife team of Dereck and Beverly Joubert about a female lion and her cubs as she tries to keep them fed and safe from the many dangers in the African veldt, the most dangerous being that of poachers, who have depleted the lion population from half-a-million 50 years ago to only 20,000 today. Jeremy Irons narrates. The Jouberts emphasize the threat of poachers in decimating the number of lions while noting the lion’s pride of place on the list for eco-tourists, an industry that brings in $200 billion worldwide. The Jouberts also make a strong case for both our moral duty to protect lions (as well as other big cats like leopards, tigers, cheetahs, and pumas) and the economic benefit such protection would make. It is a difficult film to watch, especially for such an animal lover as myself. I have no idea how long it took to film this movie but several of the scenes were difficult to watch because they depict in graphic detail how brutal nature can be to the vulnerable cubs. One scene in particular shows the lioness abandoning a cub whose both rear legs were broken in a wildebeest stampede, but who calls pitifully to her while dragging itself forward.

Secondhand Lions (New Line, 2003): A comedy about a great way to spend a summer vacation! Haley Joel Osment plays Walter, a young boy whose mother Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) sends him off to the country to be cared for by his two eccentric uncles Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall). The irresponsible gesture turns out to be a positive influence on his development into manhood as he befriends a full-grown male lion living in the cornfield. Needless to say he isn’t shy at the end of the movie. Don’t ask why the lion is there. It’s just fun.

Madagascar 1, 2, & 3 (Dreamworks, 2005-2012): This animated series features the adventures of Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe, Marty the zebra and Gloria the hippo (respectively voiced by Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Chris Rock, and Jada Pickett Smith), who are convinced by a quartet of scheming penguins to leave the safe confines of the New York metropolitan zoo to return to Africa, but are accidentally re-routed to Madagascar instead. In the second installation they all leave Madagascar and finally make it to Africa where a different set of adventures await. In the third movie the bored penguins decide to leave Africa for Europe and the four main characters chase after them to keep them out of mischief. All wind up in a traveling circus whose final destination is New York.

The Lion King (Buena Vista, 1994): This heralded animated feature concerns Simba, a cub born to reigning Lion King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), and who by birthright is destined to be the next Lion King. But Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) conspires with hyenas to cause Mufasa’s death and convinces Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) that he was to blame for his father’s death. Simba goes into exile on his uncle’s advice while Scar takes over the pride. In exile Simba (Matthew Broderick – adult voice) meets Timon (Nathan Lane), a meerkat and his pal Pumbah (Ernie Sabella), a warthog, and lives the good life up to maturity until his childhood playmate Nala (now also mature and voiced by Moira Kelly) discovers him in the jungle. Love blossoms, and she tries to convince him to come back to Pride Rock and face Scar. But not until a celestial visitation from Mufasa does Simba return to vanquish the usurper. Throughout, the characters Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), a wise, old mandrill and adviser to Lion Kings, and Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), the harried avian care-taker and teacher of cubs, keep the film light with their comic antics.

I knew from the trailers that this movie would be, as Ed Sullivan would say, “Really big!” and would seriously augment my collection with leonine mementos, which it did. I saw the movie when it opened in Radio City Music Hall and the Broadway show in the New Amsterdam Theater while it was in previews in 1997. This resulted in two T-shirts, two baseball caps, several small figurines, a Mache sculpture and a Swarovski crystal Simba. I even went to see an exhibit of Julie Taymor’s costume designs at the World Financial Center before the Broadway show opened.

The Wild (Walt Disney Pictures, 2006): A young lion named Ryan (voiced by Greg Cipes) admires and idolizes his dad, Samson (Kiefer Sutherland) in a city zoo as he tells the tales of his exploits in “The Wild.” Ryan is accidentally shipped back to the wild and his dad, along with Bridget, a giraffe (Janeane Garofalo), Benny, a squirrel (James Belushi), Nigel, a koala (Eddie Izzard), and Larry, a snake (Richard Kind) have to go after him and bring him back. The Kicker – dad was born in captivity and knows nothing of being the King of the Jungle. They are taken captive by a herd of wildebeest led by the evil Kazar (William Shatner) who has decided not to be the prey anymore.  Both Samson and Ryan have to become the lions they really are to escape before the volcano blows.

African Cats (Disneynature, 2011): A docudrama featuring two stories – the parallel “growing up in Africa” stories of Leyla, the alpha lioness, and her single cub Mara in a pride of lions, and Sita, the cheetah (corny) with five cubs and their trials and tribulations while trying to wean their progeny. Leyla’s pride has six lionesses and one male “Fang” (he has one broken tooth and looks like a loser from the beginning, but he challenges a crocodile and wins). Across the river is Kali, an incredibly fit black-maned lion and his four sons “in their prime” (no females – can you guess where this is going?). The story shifts back and forth from Sita’s little family fending off hyenas (once unsuccessfully) and finding food, to Leyla’s injuries when kicked by a zebra and her exile from the pride when Kali and his boys take over. It’s an African tennis match, excellent photography throughout, including the expected Disney happy ending.

Samuel L. Jackson’s narration proves better than Jeremy Irons’ in The Last Lions, but he’s over-the-top dramatic and contributes several times to making a scene predictable. 

The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939): This movie made it into my top 10 because I could see it over and over again and still enjoy it. It’s not a “lion” movie per se, but the allegorical “Cowardly Lion” so beautifully played by Burt Lahr. Later, in 1975, the role was re-created in the Broadway Show The Wiz by Ted Ross. I admit, the concept of a lion being cowardly is distasteful but the story is a fantasy after all. When I read the book I learned of all the liberties Hollywood took with the story (ruby slippers showed up better on screen than silver slippers – corrected in The Wiz, and Glinda is introduced as the Good Witch of the North, not the South – also corrected in The Wiz) as well as the courageous deeds performed by the lion that were not included in the movie. One such instance was on the yellow brick road. In the book, the road was not always continuous and had increasingly serious gaps. At one point no one but the lion was able to jump the gap and he carried the others as he leapt across. Later, the gap was too large even for him and the Tin Woodman had to cut down a tree for them to cross. But I guess the movie would have been five hours long if all the side-stories were included.

With every Top 10 list there can also be additional movies that one might consider as runners-up. This one is no exception. In an inclusive list of “Lion Movies” these cannot be ignored. They vary in degrees of, shall we say, dignity? But with the invaluable help of my editors, I let you be the judges of their merit.

Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion (MGM, 1965): I was 15 when I saw this comedy in the theater, but I remember it fondly. A lion unable to hunt because of its double vision is mistakenly accused of going after villagers but he is only scavenging food where he can. Dr. Marsh Tracy (Marshall Thompson) a veterinarian takes him to his study center and his daughter Paula (Cheryl Miller) adopts him. Together they foil a black market operation on transport of gorillas.

Later, the actually strabismic lion co-starred in the television show Daktari (1966-1969), a spin-off of the movie that starred Thompson and Miller in the same roles. Clarence provided many light moments to the serious business of saving animal life in Africa. The series got its title using the popularity of a John Wayne’s 1962 safari movie for Paramount, Hatari!.

The African Lion (Buena Vista, 1955): This documentary from Disney and narrated by Winston Hibler follows the three-year filming project of Alfred and Emma Milotte in Africa. Though lions figure in the movie, the bulk of the film encompasses the territory they “rule.” As with most Disney films, the narration at times tends to be too “cute” and the music tends to be overstated.

Zebra in the Kitchen (MGM, 1965): Feeling sympathy for the poor caged animals in the zoo, a young boy (Jay North) sets them free. Unfortunately the town isn’t too happy with wild animals turning up all over town. I can see why Jay got the part of Dennis the Manace. Directed by Ivan Tors and starring Martin Milner, Andy Devine, and Joyce Meadows. Not really a “lion” movie as such, but there is a lion in it.

Napoleon and Samantha (Buena Vista, 1972): Major, a former circus lion, cared for by a clown who moves to Europe is taken as a pet by two children (the title couple), and when Napoleon’s grandfather dies they refuse to let Major go. Instead they take him on a journey to a hermit friend of theirs and experience dangerous adventures along the way.

Hercules (Paramount, 2014): The latest attempt at filming a mythological hero features Dwayne Johnson in the title role. Though the hair looks good on him, the story is rather thin and vacillates between myth and reality. Of the Twelve Labors, only four are featured including the first, the killing of the Nemean Lion, which for five seconds was a great special effect. After that, Hercules must have washed the skin in hot water because it shrank severely (including the head), otherwise he never could have worn it.

The Lion (20th Century Fox, 1962): Here’s an interesting situation. Ex-wife Christine (Capucine) summons Robert Hayden (William Holden), a lawyer, all the way from America to East Africa to help raise their 11-year-old daughter, Tina (Pamela Franklin), whose best friend is a full-grown male lion named King that she’s had since it was cub. But what about hubby number two, John Bullitt (interesting name), played by Trevor Howard, who manages the game reserve they live on? We can easily imagine, especially as the love between the two ex’s rekindles.

Before Hayden arrived they were getting along well with the local tribe. But he saves the life of a dying chief left for dead by his people. A huge faux pas! The chief’s son, Oriunga (Paul Odour) has his ambition of taking over the chiefdom and marrying Tina dashed by the resurrection of his dad. Now he has to kill a lion to be chief and his sights turn to Tina’s pet. It doesn’t go well for him as Tina sics the big cat on him. Oriunga is fatally mauled, Bullitt kills the lion, and Tina turns from him to Robert as her father. With one bullet, Bullitt loses a wife and daughter as they both return to America with Robert. Hmm. Sounds like a moral. Don’t get divorced, and if you do, don’t move to Africa. That is unless you have Jack Cardiff as a director. Then all your scenery will be stunning.

Fluffy (Universal, 1965): Scientist Daniel Potter (Tony Randall) wants to prove that a wild animal can become a pet with the right training. (Okay…) His choice is Fluffy, an adult male lion. Look out suburbia! After realizing that he’s creating a mass panic with his neighbors he and Fluffy hole up in a hotel, where they meet the owner’s daughter (Shirley Jones). She’s the only one who is not intimidated by Fluffy. In fact, quite the opposite, she loves the two of them. But the fun really starts when circumstantial evidence gets Fluffy accused of man-eating and the three now find themselves on the run from the police. Not a laugh riot but a cute idea typical of the Sixties.

Pride (BBC TV movie, 2004): As I was watching this movie I was thinking, “How long did it take to make this film? Lions do not pose for you and act out a complete story.” It’s the story of a lioness cub named Suki (voiced by Kate Winslet) who leaves her pride to mate with a male across the river. She learns a lot about pride living there and eventually returns to her home pride to defend it against interlopers. Yes, they’re all real lions, but they’re speaking with the voices of Helen Mirren (Macheeba), Rupert Graves (Linus), Sean Bean (Dark), Martin Freeman (Fleck), Robbie Coltrane (James), Jim Broadbent (Eddie), and John Hurt (Harry). Matching the voices to the computer graphics allowing the lions to look like they’re talking is remarkable. That and the dangerously close photography kept the film from verging on silly.

Fearless Fagan (MGM, 1952): Based on the true story published in Life magazine in 1951 of Private Floyd C. Humeston, this story of a circus clown named Floyd Hilston (Carleton Carpenter) who raised a lion named Fagan from cub to gentle adulthood is endearing. Rather than leave his lifelong friend to a cruel lion tamer, he brings the animal with him when he’s drafted into the Army. At Fort Ord, he hides Fagan in the woods and sneaks off each day to be with him and play his favorite song, “The Loveliest Night of The Year” on the phonograph. At night, Fagan stays in Hilston’s van. His attempt to request time to find Fagan a home is dismissed as bunk by his sergeant.

When singer Abby Ames (Janet Leigh) arrives to entertain the base she has an opportunity to meet both Floyd and Fagan but her fear of Fagan makes her break her promise to Floyd and she tells Colonel Horne (Wilton Graff) and eventually, Floyd is arrested. The sergeant backs Floyd and is assigned the job of finding Fagan a home, but to no avail. Abby starts to like Floyd and, through her suggestion of publicity, the story makes front-page headlines and a nearby farm family agrees to take Fagan in. But when Fagan escapes and terrorizes the WACS in their base, they change their tune and Fagan is remanded to the lion tamer.

It’s not hard to guess what comes next. Fagan is mistreated and attacks the trainer but is injured and runs off. Only with difficulty do Floyd and Abby get him back to his cage. Floyd is hospitalized in the process and Abby takes Fagan back to Hollywood. Upon recovery, Hilston’s sergeant (Keenan Wynn) approves a leave of absence for Floyd to visit Abby and Fagan. He nearly has a heart attack when he sees a lion-skin rug on the floor but his fears are allayed when he goes out back and sees Fagan splashing in Abby’s pool.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (U.A., 1947): In his last appearance in a film, Harold Lloyd plays a kind of precursor to the Nutty Professor movies except he’s not a professor, just a mild-mannered laid-off bookkeeper with very little to live on. The “Diddlebock” is a cocktail that releases him from his inhibitions, and with his newfound courage, he buys a bankrupt circus. This comes with Jackie, the lion whom he brings when he tries to sell the circus to a banker. There is a particularly funny scene on the ledge of a skyscraper with Harold and his friend “Wormy” (Jimmy Conlin) and the lion.

Lions have shown up as a surprise element in many comedies. Just the presence of a huge male behind a closed door, calmly descending a staircase, or sitting quietly behind unsuspecting people can evoke a giggle. Then, when the lion belts out a roar and everyone scatters in fear the laughs really begin.

In The Circus (U.A., 1928), Charlie Chaplin escapes a horse by running into a lion’s cage at the circus. Fortunately the lion is sleeping, but Charlie manages to lock himself in. When he finds a small sliding door he thinks he’s free but it leads to the tiger’s cage (not sleeping) right next door.

Hold That Lion (Columbia1947) features the Three Stooges – Moe, Larry and Shemp – on the run to escape a train conductor because they haven’t the money to purchase tickets. They hide in a crate, which is also housing a lion. Of course, they discover the lion, and, in their panic to get away, they let it loose on the train.

And of course, though not released with the original film, there is the scene where the Marx Brothers take the place of the snarling Leo in the MGM opening logo for A Night at The Opera.

If you enjoy the sheer beauty and power of lions, the way they move and sound, no matter how silly the story is, you can see why they can steal the scene. I was surprised at how many I found in movies and still I can’t help but feel I missed some. No doubt if you look you’ll find many more lion appearances in films not mentioned here, depending on how back in time you go. I seem to remember a lion in an episode of The Little Rascals, but it was only Jack Roach in a lion suit (Buried Treasure, 1926).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for November 23-30

November 23–November 30


THE FRESHMAN (November 24, 11:45 pm): It's a shame that Harold Lloyd is either largely forgotten or most film fans never heard of him because he was a brilliant comedian during cinema's silent days. (Of course his peak was about 90 years ago so it's understandable, but disappointing nonetheless.) In this 1925 film, Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a naive guy who goes to college thinking life on campus is like it is in the movies. He learns out the hard way that the two are not the same and comes across to his classmates as a fool. He tries out for the football team and goes from being the water boy to playing the key role in the big game with hilarious results. Lloyd was the master of the sight gag, typically better at it than Buster Keaton and that's saying a lot, and there are plenty of them in this film. The plot is predictable, but Lloyd makes this a fun and funny film to watch and enjoy.

TOM THUMB (November 26, 9:15 am): A delightful 1958 film based on the classic fairy tale with Russ Tamblyn bringing great energy and an outstanding ability to entertain in the title role. The best part of this film, with a mostly British cast, is the performances of Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers as two criminals who try to exploit Tom by tricking him to be a part of their various swindles. It's geared toward a younger audience though there is plenty of humor, particularly from the two bumbling, very funny bad guys, to keep the interest of adults. The handful of songs are entertaining. While the special effects are dated, they are charming as well as impressive for its day.


LA POINTE COURTE (November 23, 4:00 am): Director Agnes Varda gained international renown with this study of a husband and wife trying to rescue their marriage interwoven with the life and times of Ste, a fishing village on the Mediterranean. Known only as Him and Her, the couple comes to the village because it’s the place where He grew up and still loves, while She is from Paris and has the requisite cosmopolitan tastes. Will they be able to work things out? Meanwhile, we are drawn into the drama that plagues the town: Will the father let his daughter marry the man she loves, even if he's kind of a wimp? Will the cops arrest the guy who harvested his shellfish from an off-limits stretch of water? Will the big-city couple stay together or split up? The movie’s climax takes place at the annual water-jousting tournament (which actually takes place in Ste each year), a sort of slow-motion skirmish where men knock each other off boats with medieval-style lances while onlookers cheer their favorites. This is the sort of film that will pull one in slowly and once in, it never lets up for a minute. The village life and drama is fascinating and the individual dramas compelling.

IL SORPASSO (November 28, 1:30 am): Road pictures are always fun to watch, and this is among the best. One Sunday morning, blowhard Vittorio Gassman demands to use the phone of shy law student Jean-Louis Trintignant’s phone. From this innocuous beginning, the two get acquainted, which leads to a invitation from Gassman for Trintignant to accept a ride that turns out to be a multi-day journey up the Tyrrhenian coast. During their voyage, the contrasting natures of the blustery, hot dogging, middle-aged Gassman and the quiet, conservative, scholarly young Trintignant clash and eventually rub off on one another as they both discover their perceived family lives aren’t what they supposed them to be, and which can only end tragically. Both Gassman and Trintignant are superb, and, along with director Dino Risi’s eye for analogy, make this a film to be caught and savored.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . WINGS OF DESIRE (November 25, 5:00 am):

ED: B-. Wings of Desire, a film about two angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), who amble through Berlin offering solace to those in pain, even though they are invisible. Things go wrong when Damiel is inspired to seek mortality after watching an American actor (Peter Falk) shooting a movie, and a beautiful trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) at a circus. This is a two-hour movie that only seems like five hours. If you want to see this, by all means record it, even of you’re staying up to sit through it. You will fall asleep. Wim Wenders is notorious for his arty-farty films, and this is no different. The idea of two angels wandering the streets of Berlin listening to people’s thoughts is amusing for about 10 minutes max, but Wenders stretches it out for about 90 minutes. The kicker is that none of the thoughts our angels are listening to has any sort of point whatsoever. I’m sure a lot of pseudo-intellectuals will wring their hands over this, looking for Deep Meaning, but take it from me, this is nothing more than pretentious hogwash. Oh well, the cinematography is excellent and it does boast a good performance from Bruno Ganz. For those who can’t quite place Ganz, he probably better known for being a phenomenon on You Tube for his portrayal of Hitler in Downfall, which many clever people have taken and made into parodies of Old Screwball by titling them “Hitler Discovers Hostess Is No Longer Making Twinkies,” or “Hitler Meets the Tralololo Man.” Stick with those - they’re far more entertaining than Wings of Desire.

DAVID: A. If you love film, you will love Wings of Desire, an ingenious and moving picture from 1987. The visually-stunning film focuses on Damiel (Bruno Ganz), an angel in Berlin around the end of the Cold War. He stands on top of tall buildings, in a crowd or nearly anywhere, watching people and listening to their thoughts, many of them quite depressing. Damiel and Cassiel (Otto Sander), an another angel featured in the film, can't really do anything to directly comfort people except touch someone's shoulder to give a little hope to those with troubled existences. It's beauty is in its subtlety. The acting is brilliant, particularly Ganz and of all people, Peter Falk, who plays himself. Falk is in Berlin to film a movie, and it turns out, he was angel who chose to give up his immortality to become a person. Falk's ability to play himself with an unexpected twist is one of the most compelling aspects of this most compelling film. Damiel is growing tired of being an angel and yearns to be a human. He tells Cassiel: "It would be rather nice, coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe; to have a fever, and blackened fingers from the newspaper; at last to guess, instead of always knowing.” Damiel falls in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a beautiful trapeze artist who fears she will fall. For Damiel, it's love at first sight. He longs for the simple things humans experience, but often don't notice, such as touching someone or having a conversation. Damiel risks his immortality to have an opportunity at love. Is the film's tempo slow? Perhaps, but that allows the viewer to better understand Damiel's existence as an angel and the quandary he faces in choosing mortality and love. I agree with Ed about the excellent cinematography. It was done by Henri Alekan, who also had the same job in the 1946 French version of Beauty and the Beast, another magnificent film. Rather than a Deep Meaning, the film provides a simple lesson: It is the small things in life that make it worth living.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Interstellar

Interstellar Butter

By Steve Herte

Interstellar (Paramount, 2014) Director: Christopher Nolan. Writers: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Burstyn, Mackensie Foy, John Lithgow, Timothee Chalamet, David Ouelowo, Collette Wolfe, Francis X. McCarthy, Bill Irwin, Andrew Borba, Wes Bentley, William Devane, Michael Caine, & David Gyasi. Color, 169 minutes.

Seeing a movie a week after it opens can expose you to the criticisms and praises of friends who saw it before you. I usually do not let this affect my opinion of a film, but when all I hear from people is high accolades, it’s difficult to reduce my expectations. And when a film is two hours and 49 minutes long, it’s just as difficult to raise them.

Fortunately, Interstellar is a stunningly beautiful movie from the technical point of view, breathtaking in set design, and cinematography, convincing in the special effects department, and a musical soundtrack that is dynamic and powerful. My time passed without seat-shifting. The story is compelling and strangely reminiscent of space voyages in past films, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey and the TV series Earth Two.

The population of Earth has become so enormous that technology, science, and especially space exploration, are akin to serious crime. The need for food and farmers is much greater than the need for knowledge. NASA has gone underground in order to stay functional and continue operations.

Meanwhile, on a Midwestern farm, amid acres and acres of cornfields, we meet ex-pilot Cooper (McConaughy), his dad, Donald (Lithgow), his son Tom, (Chalamet), and his daughter Murph (Foy). They’re a close-knit family whose intelligence is being wasted on feeding the world. Even when Cooper tries to get Tom into an engineering program at school he’s denied by the counselors, who deem farming as more relevant.

And it isn’t easy for farmers (never was) because the soil has become so depleted that crops are failing one by one, farmers are forced to burn their useless fields, and dust storms the scope of Saharan sand storms are becoming commonplace. One day, Murph, who believes she has a benevolent ghost directing her life, discovers a pattern created by the dust in her library, which translates into a set of global coordinates.

Cooper takes the family truck to find what lies at these (nearby, relatively) coordinates and instructs Murph to stay home with Donald and Tom. She doesn’t. At dark they come upon this locked, gated area (strangely like Cheyenne Mountain in Stargate SG1) and are arrested when they try cutting their way in.

Once inside, they learn that, under Professor Brand (Caine), this is where NASA has been hiding. He’s not only hiding but also conducting space launches to discover a new planet where people on Earth can move. This is where, as my friend Indy advised me, one has to suspend one’s knowledge of current technology, physics and astronomy and enter the realm of science fiction. Not only have they sent three missions to Saturn (three-year journeys each) but, in an accelerating expanding universe, have located a stable wormhole leading to a new galaxy and sent them through it. Cooper is needed to pilot a fourth mission to rescue the survivors (if any) and hopefully bring back news of a habitable world for Earth’s population.

Cooper agrees to go and leaves his family in Donald’s care and against the major protestations of his daughter, promises to return. Together with Smith (Borba), Doyle (Bentley), Romilly (Gyasi), a blocky robot named TARS (voiced by Irwin), and Professor Brand’s own daughter (Hathaway) he leaves for Saturn and the wormhole.

Messages to and from the spaceship go from two-way to one-way the farther they get from Earth. Tom grows up, marries, and has a child. Murph becomes a young woman (Burstyn). Once through the wormhole the intrepid crew have to conserve fuel as well as time and space. The first world they land on is a water planet where the oceans are six inches deep but the waves are miles high. And that’s not the strange part. One hour on this planet equals seven years on Earth. They are swept up by the mother of all tsunamis and spend over three hours there before returning to the mother ship and a 23-year older Romilly.

The fuel expended escaping the first world leaves them too little for both the second and third worlds. They debate which and choose an icy, but beautiful, frozen planet, landing on one of the clouds (yes, even the clouds here are frozen – another quandary for physicists). Here they find Williams (Devane) alive, but seriously mentally deteriorated after being alone for so long.

But wait, it gets even weirder. After the confrontation with Williams, what’s left of the crew have to save the damaged mothership (thanks to Williams) from being swallowed by a black hole. Cooper and TARS find a way into the black hole while Brand sails on to the third world and they discover a tesseract supposedly created by an alien race that represents their five-dimensional universe in three dimensions (so that humans can comprehend it).

All this is fascinating cinema, for sure. I loved the adventure of it all. Why didn’t it get a perfect rating? I blame that on the director, Christopher Nolan. I’m hoping he was sitting in his director’s chair constantly yelling “What did you say?” at McConaughy, but, if he did, it was not enough. I found it very difficult to understand Cooper’s lines; it happened so often I started to become disinterested. Even Burstyn tended toward incomprehensibility at the end of the film. The acting in general was spectacular and the movie excellent. I just wish the script was in tune with it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

70 West 45th Street (between 5th and 6th Aves)New York

I’m often asked how I choose a restaurant. It’s a process that depends on a few factors. The movie is chosen first. Then, depending on how long the movie is (adding 15 minutes for trailers) I add another 15 minutes for walking distance to the restaurant. Opentable.com has New York divided up into local districts, which greatly eases locating a restaurant near a theater. From that point it’s a series of considerations: 1. A place I haven’t been to before, 2. A cuisine I didn’t sample a week ago, 3. The décor on the website, 4. A few interesting dishes on the menu. A contrary answer to any of these can quickly disqualify a restaurant.

Butter had an interesting name, interesting dishes, a good look to it (even though it’s a hotel restaurant) and was only six blocks from the movie theater. OpenTable.com incorrectly placed it between 6th and 7th Avenues and I breezed past it twice before I found it. It looks like a typical storefront on 45th Street, with the name emblazoned in bronze block letters across the glass facing the street. 

Through a green canvas storm door and down two small flights of bare wood stairs is the Captain’s Station. After checking my coat, I followed a young lady to my table in the well-lit area under the high-arched (and sky-lit) ceiling near the bar and rear wall. A backlit large format photo of a forest scene carpeted with blue flowers dominates this wall. The chairs are mostly comfortable Captain’s chairs, except for those at the high tables, which are leather-backed stools. The décor is rustic in woodsy browns and tans and the bare-topped tables continue the color scheme.

A young man soon took my water preference and my server, Vlora, brought me the tri-folded menu and the wine list. After the young man filled my glass with tap water he brought the bread – a fluffy roll accented with sea salt and two crusty slices – in a square wooden bowl, and the butter – two different blends (herbal and regular) resting on a polished rustic tree slice. By the time Vlora returned I had chosen my cocktail. Called a “Straight Up”, it was essentially a martini consisting of Absolut Elyx vodka, Atsby, N.Y., vermouth, and garnished with bleu cheese and thyme stuffed olives. It was smooth, light and classy.

When next I saw Vlora (the place was doing a brisk business, no table was empty for long) she helped me create a three-course dinner. I chose the wine from a list of varied prices (many reasonable) and it was a 2012 Domaine Coillot Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region of France. The deep ruby color and the slight acid tang made this medium-bodied wine perfect for my dinner choices.

I haven’t had a decent salad in a long time and the Belgian Endive and Seckel Pear salad begged to be tried. Served in a long dish, the red-edged, white endive leaves were attractive with the sliced white radish, the pear slices with the golden skin still on, and the toasted hazelnuts, all in a shallot vinaigrette dressing. Every once in a while it’s nice to have a salad that’s not green. I loved it. I guessed that every one of the staff knows how to spell ‘vinaigrette’ since it’s on the menu at least five times.

The next course, chosen from the “hot appetizers” column on the menu was Cavatappi pasta. The curly-queue, ribbed tubes of al dente pasta, colored golden by the yellow tomato sauce, was made even more wonderful by chunks of spicy lamb sausage and topped with slices of cherry tomatoes and grated cheese. I was in heaven. It’s also nice to see a pasta dish that isn’t red.

When I finished mopping up all that delicious sauce with my bread Vlora asked if I was ready for the main course. “Is it better than this dish?” “Oh yes, my favorite!” “I’m ready.”

I admit I didn’t have a clue what to expect when I order this dish. I’ve had Berkshire pork before and loved it, but the sheer presentation of my main dish stopped me in my tracks. The Berkshire Pork Loin “Milanese” was pounded flatter than a pizza on the plate and topped with a forest of golden frill greens in a mustard vinaigrette sauce (see what I mean? There it is again.) It looked like a centerpiece for a Christmas celebration but had the most unbelievable flavor. The pork and the mustard mixed with the salad-like greens to form an experience of being back on the farm having down-home cooking. I was amazed. I had forgotten to order a side dish, but I was glad I didn’t. I had room for dessert. But if I had chosen one, it would have been the Geechie Boys South Carolina Grits. It would have teamed up with this dish like a sidekick in a western movie.

The Chocolate-Marshmallow “Mallomar” dessert was similar to a Tartuffo in a white sauce with nuts and fruit bits. The hard chocolate coating was too firm to just cut into without the whole thing rolling off the plate and onto the floor. Instead, like a good starfish attacking a sea urchin I upended it and dug my spoon into the lovely soft, home-made marshmallow ice cream and let the shell shatter around it. Excellent ice cream, rich dark chocolate. Sipping at my double espresso I checked the time – nearing 10 o’clock. I knew it would be a late night because of the long movie. I paid the check and thanked Vlora for all her help and service and retrieved my coat from the coat check.

Butter has been in existence since 2002 when they opened their first restaurant on Lafayette Street. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, a Food Network star, has been titillating the palates of diners since then. Mine too. Definitely worth a return visit. Maybe I’ll meet her.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for November 16-30

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM’s approach to the Star of the Month in November is not one featured actor, but many. Stars of the Silent Screen is the theme, exposing us to silent cinema and the great faces that drove it.

November 17 - It’s a mixed bag tonight, concentrating on drama. The best bets are the first two films - The Last Command (1928) at 8:00 pm, and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) at 10:00 pm. The former, directed by Josef Von Sternberg, is a wonderful drama of Sergius Alexander (Emil Jannings), a former Imperial Russian general living in Los Angeles after a narrow escape from Russia and destined for a bit part in a movie depicting the Russian Revolution. To add to his misery, the movie is being directed by Lev Andreyev (William Powell), a former revolutionary who recognizes Alexander from their bygone times, and worse, remembers him as a cruel and sadistic bully. The flashback scene to the revolutionary days is superb, as is the ending. I recommend this one highly.

Sunrise is a classic no matter how one slices it, just as powerful and moving today as it was back in 1927. Directed by the great F.W. Murnau, it tells the rather simple story of a country farmer (George O’Brien) seduced by a vacationing woman from the city (Margaret Livingston). She wants him to kill his wife (Janet Gaynor) so that they may dwell happily ever after in the city. As the film unspools, the viewer will quickly notice that the wonderful point about Sunrise isn’t so much the story as the way the story is told. It is a triumph of the director’s art, camerawork (cinematographers Karl Struss and Charles won Oscars for it), performances, and even art direction, with everything being constructed through the viewfinder. Even the furniture was built in perspective. Seen today as an essential classic of the cinema, it bombed financially when released back in 1927, and essentially destroyed Murnau’s career.

November 24: The emphasis this night is on comedy, and the best bets are the incomparable Charlie Chaplin at 8:00 pm in A Dog’s Life (1918), Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances (1925), and Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman (1925). Each film is followed by an interesting documentary about the star. In the wee hours of the morning, shorts starring Charley Chase, Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand, and Laurel and Hardy will be shown. All are highly recommended.


The theme of “road movies” continues. As stated before, many qualify as Psychotronic, but almost all are enjoyable and well worth the time.

November 21: Not really a good selection this evening, with the standout film being one originally made for television and directed by a 22-year old Steven Spielberg, with the teleplay by one of the great storytellers, Richard Matheson, based on his short story. The film is Duel. Made in 1971, it’s the tense, harrowing story of a businessman (Dennis Weaver) driving up the California coast en route to see a client. He innocently passes a gasoline tanker, but the incident turns out to be far from innocent as the truck begins tailgating his car. The unseen driver first taunts Weaver, and later tries to run him off the road, forcing the businessman into a battle of wits to save his life and sanity. Matheson based his story on a real-life incident from 1963 with a trucker on a Los Angeles freeway. Duel has been hailed by critics as one of the best made-for-TV movies, and was released theatrically overseas.

November 28: The Spotlight goes out this night with a great slate of films, beginning at 8:00 pm with the hilarious Hope-Crosby Road to Utopia (1945), followed by the Preston Sturges classic, Sullivan’s Travels (1942) at 9:45, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) at 11:30, and finally, the great Italian road picture, Il Sorpasso (1961), at 1:30 am. It’s definitely a popcorn and wine night.


November 16: It’s an Alberto Sordi double feature beginning at 2:00 am with Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953), followed at 4:00 am with the comedy Mafioso (1962). Of the two, I Vitelloni is the one to catch. Arguably Fellini’s masterpiece, it’s the story of five rather shiftless young men in a small Adriatic town who have to cope with their emerging adulthood. There are definite resemblances between this and George Lucas’s American Graffiti, enough to make me ponder whether or not this film was an influence on the young Lucas. As for Mafioso, read the “We Disagree” in the November 15-22 TiVo listing.

November 21: The morning and afternoon is devoted to the musicals of Eleanor Powell. It begins at 6:30 am with Born to Dance (1936), the only film where Jimmy Stewart warbles; quite badly, by the way. Following, in order, are Broadway Melody of 1936 (1936) at 8:30 am, Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) at 10:15, Rosalie (1937) at 12:15, Honolulu (1939) at 2:30, Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) at 4:00, and finally, Lady Be Good (1941), where Powell does an unforgettable dance with her pooch, at 6:00.

November 23: Two films of note, again being aired in the wee hours of the night. First up at 2:15 am is La Cienaga (2001), from Argentina. I haven’t seen this one, but the plot sounds intriguing: Mecha (Graciela Borges) and Gregorio (Martin Adjemian) are at their rundown country place near La Ciénaga with their teenage kids. It’s a hot summer and the adults drink constantly, which leads to Mecha having an accident that sends her to the hospital, taking Gregorio with her and leaving the children on their own. Inevitably, trouble results.

Following at 4:00 am is director Agnes Varda’s masterful La Pointe Courte (1955), a brilliantly constructed tale of a small fishing community in southeastern France, Ste, its inhabitants and a parallel story of a husband and wife, known only as Him and Her, returning to the town of his youth as they try to repair their marriage. The movie's drama revolves around small but important questions: Will the father let his daughter marry the man she loves, even though he disapproves? Will the police arrest the man who harvested his shellfish from an off-limits area of the water? And will the Parisian couple resolve their differences, or split up? The film’s climax comes at Ste’s annual water-jousting tournament, where men knock each other off boats with medieval-style lances. With this film, Varda does indeed prove that little things can mean a lot.

November 30: Two outstanding films from Japan are on the card tonight, again being screened in the wee hours. First up at 2:30 am is director Keisuke Kinoshita’s Army (Rikugun, 1944), a multi-generational epic about the military legacy of a Japanese family. It is also a moving portrait of two parents (Chishu Ryu and Kinuyo Tanaka) whose sons are serving in the Imperial Japanese army. Never mind the hilarious party-line propaganda and concentrate on the parents. It’s a wonderful and insightful portrait of wartime Japan.

Following at 4:15 am is Yasujiro Osu’s satirical look at the Western-inspired consumerism Japan of his day, Good Morning (Ohayo, 1959). In a Japan where wrestling is the current craze, sales of television sets are booming. Two young boys grow tired of having to watch the bouts over a neighbor’s house and decide to go on a strike, taking a vow of silence until their parents give in and purchase a television. As usual Ozu has quite a few targets to skewer: the kids want televisions while housewives are clamoring for washing machines. The childless couple who invite the children in to watch wrestling on their television set are seen coming home early in the morning, scatting a jazz tune, which hints at a bohemian lifestyle and the influence of Western culture. Other adults simply engage in trivial patter instead of saying what’s really on their minds, and a single man and a single woman have difficulty in finding a way to express their mutual attraction. It’s vintage Ozu, and it’s a wonderful film to boot.


On November 18, TCM is showing Jimmy Cagney’s 1935 drama The Frisco Kid, from 1935. Directed by house employee Lloyd Bacon, it’s set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s wild and dangerous Barbary Coast about 1854. Cagney is Bat Morgan, a sailor who turns on those who try to shanghai him and through sheer determination and a pair of steel fists, bullies and bluffs his way to becoming a major player in the city and its vices. A sterling cast that includes Donald Woods, Ricardo Cortez, Barton MacLane, and Lili Damita provides ample support. It was also his last film with frequent co-star Margaret Lindsay, whom Cagney despised because of her affected faux English mannerisms. (She was born in Iowa.) It’s not that great a picture, and had the misfortune of having to follow Howard Hawks’s superior Barbary Coast, with Edward G. Robinson, and being followed six months later by the vastly superior San Francisco, with Clark Gable in virtually the same role. However, it is rarely shown on television, and for film fans, especially those of James Cagney, it is must viewing.


November 26: It’s always fun to watch John and Lionel Barrymore working together in a film, and Arsene Lupin (8:00 pm), their first as co-stars, is no exception to the rule. John is the gentlemanly thief known as Arsene Lupin, and Lionel is police detective Guerchard, whose mission is to apprehend the slippery Lupin. It’s a wonderful cat-and-mouse game with an offbeat ending that will have the viewer smiling. An excellent supporting cast backs up the Barrymores, including the underrated Karen Morley, John Miljan, Tully Marshall, Joseph Sawyer, and Mischa Auer.


November 19: The morning and afternoon are devoted to the real Queen of the B’s - Allison Hayes, with nine of her films being aired. Born Mary Jane Hayes on March 6, 1930, in Charleston, West Virginia, she represented Washington, D.C., in the Miss America pageant. Shortly afterward, she was signed by Universal, who changed her first name to Allison and stuck her in a series of forgettable B-movies. After her contract expired she freelanced for Warner Bros. and Columbia before finding herself working for a slew of Poverty Row studios, mainly Allied Artists, and starring in such dreck as The Disembodied (2:45 pm), Zombies of Mora Tau (4:00 pm), then exploitation classic, The Hypnotic Eye (5:15 pm), and the all-timer laff riot, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (6:45 pm). Despite her exile to the lower regions of filmdom, Allison was able to keep a good profile via guest spots in such television shows as The UntouchablesPerry MasonDeath Valley DaysRawhide, and 77 Sunset Strip, as well as a recurring guest role on Bat Masterson. She was also a regular on the soap opera General Hospital. As her image improved due to the television appearances, better films came her way, and she had supporting roles in the Dean Martin comedy Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963), and Elvis Presley’s Tickle Me (1965). Unfortunately, her health declined through the ‘60s, and her death on February 27, 1977, remains somewhat of a mystery due either to leukemia or lead poisoning (from doctor-prescribed calcium supplements). She was one of the real beauties of the silver screen, with her natural brunette hair, voluptuous figure and deep sexy voice.

November 20: TCM is devoting the evening to Rod Taylor, and among the films being presented are psychotronic classics, The Birds (1962), from Alfred Hitchcock at 8:00 pm, and George Pal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine at 10:15 pm.

November 22: Four excellent sci-fi flicks are airing in the afternoon, beginning with the original 1933 King Kong at noon. Following are Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) at 2:00, Them! (1954) at 4:00, and Hammer’s Five Million Years to Earth (1968) at 6:00.

November 25: At 8 pm, the documentary A Night at the Movies: George Lucas and the World of Fantasy Cinema premieres, examining in-depth both the director and the world of fantasy cinema that influenced him. The documentary also includes a new interview where the director lists his influences.

November 28: An entire morning and afternoon of Alfred Hitchcock films kicks off with Saboteur (1942) at 7:30 am. Following, in order, are Shadow of a Doubt (1943) at 9:30, Dial M For Murder (1954) at 11:30, Marnie (1964) at 1:30, The Birds (1962) at 3:45, and the classic Psycho at 6:00.

November 29: Start your psychotronic day at 4:00 pm with Howard Hawks’s classic The Thing From Another World (1951). Then take a dinner break and return for a screening of Jean Cocteau’s take on a classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast (1946) at 8:00 pm. And before going to bed, set your recorder for Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) at midnight, followed by Bob Clark’s eerie Deathdream (1972) at 2:00 am.