Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost River

Dinner and a Movie 

I Lost Jane on the River

By Steve Herte

Every time I see a movie at the Angelika Theater I feel like I’ve been a part of the Tribeca Film Festival, even though it’s not technically located in Tribeca. The feel of the place is intimate and conveys the sense of being at a private screening. The individual theaters (there are seven of them) are all below ground and you can hear the subway rumbling. The capacity of each is maybe 60 to 70 seats. I don’t feel lost in a crowd (something I despise) at the Angelika.

Thus, after the most difficult workweek of the year, I was ready for that sense of being special and having an enjoyable, but casual evening. I used Helene’s theory of life before going out, “Have no expectations and you’ll never be disappointed.” Enjoy!

Lost River (WB, 2014) – Director: Ryan Gosling. Writer: Ryan Gosling. Stars: Christina Hendricks, Landyn Stewart. Ben Mendelsohn, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Torrey Wigfield, Saoirse Ronan, Barbara Steele, & Reda Kateb. Color, 95 minutes.

The scene opens on the Town of Lost River to the strains of 1938 “Deep Purple.” The camera focuses on one after another dilapidated, deserted house – some nearly falling down in disrepair. An adorable tot, Frankie (Stewart) exits the front door of one such hovel and uses the rickety banister to descend the front steps and goes to play in the weedy patch that serves as a front yard.

His mother, Billy (Hendricks), is behind in her payments for the house she inherited from her grandmother (otherwise she would join the throngs of neighbors who’ve already left town), and she goes to hopefully reason with Carl, the bank manager. But Carl no longer works there. The new bank manager, Dave (Mendelsohn), is not as easy-going as his predecessor and he explains that she has a choice: make the payments or leave.

Billy’s other son, a young man going by the handle of Bones (De Caestecker), knows the family is in dire straits and goes out on forays to strip the deserted houses of parts and copper to sell at the junk dealer and hopefully ease his mother’s burden. This activity however, is not without peril. Another young man, appropriately called Bully (Smith), who rides around in a plush blue armchair perched over the back seat of a white 1970s Cadillac, believes he owns the town and everything in it and will do anything to anybody who disagrees.


Bully’s driver, a young man who comes to be known as Face (Wigfield), is a pyromaniac. As Bones emerges from a house with his duffle bag full of copper tubing, he knows Bully and Face are there when his bicycle crosses the street in front of him on fire. He drops the bag and runs.

The only other “family” in Lost River is a young girl nicknamed Rat (Ronan) – she has a pet rat – and her grandma (Steele). It is from Rat that we learn the fate of Lost River. Her grandfather was killed during the construction of the dam that created the nearby reservoir while inundating an entire town and a prehistoric theme park called Prehistoric Forest. Grandma hasn’t spoken a word since then and only sits in her chair, veiled as if for a funeral, and watches videos of her wedding. Rat believes the town is under a curse and that the only thing that can break the curse involves “bringing the beast up from the bottom of the reservoir.”

Sleazy Dave has designs on Billy and offers her a job in his creepy club. How creepy is it? For entertainment, people are bloodily “murdered” on stage to give the depraved audience their thrills. Against her better judgment (and shock at the performances), Billy agrees to work there. Her only friend, known only as “Cab Driver” (Kateb), worries about her working in a place where the front door is shaped like gaping jaws of a ghoul.

Bones and Rat have a friendship that is developing further and Rat tells him her theory of salvation. Bones, still annoyed that Bully stole his duffle, manages to retrieve it and elude both Bully and Face (for which error Face has his lips brutally snipped off by Bully), finding himself on a street that leads into the reservoir. The over-arching streetlamp poles are the only indication that there once was a street there. Otherwise, it’s overgrown with weeds. Naturally, after what Rat told him, he’s curious. He gets an inflatable boat and an old fish tank, rows out a bit into the reservoir and peers down at the bottom. Upon seeing what he believes is “the beast,” he’s startled back into the boat. Now he knows his mission in life.

Though billed as a science fiction/fantasy, there is nothing scientific in Lost River. The fantasy that is there is the whole curse thing and how Bones resolves, and breaks, the curse. The only “fantastic” moment in the film occurs after Bones has successfully sawed off the head of a submerged dinosaur and, as he’s returning to shore the streetlamps mysteriously light one by one. The film is more arty-farty than outré, and more brutal than thought provoking. If ever there was a movie demonstrating man’s inhumanity to man, this one makes for a good example.

The acting seems dull and listless (except for Bully, who is way over the top), but it’s forgivable when the camera continually bombards the audience with the deplorable conditions of living in Lost River. Barbara Steele is the only member of the cast whose famous name I recognized. As a beautiful young actress, she could be considered the Queen of Gothic Horror – both Italian and American. I loved her as Dr. Julia Hoffman in the 1991 remake of Dark Shadows after Grayson Hall created the role in the TV series (1960s-70s). She didn’t get a word of dialogue and yet she spoke volumes with her face as Face set her house on fire right before her eyes.

Christina Hendricks gives us the best performance in this film with the widest range of emotions, from fear and horror to love and tenderness. Ben Mendelsohn is pretty good at playing the creepy pervert and he performs an incredibly degenerate version of the song “Cool Water.” Did I mention that this film is not for children? It nearly gave me nightmares.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Jane
100 West Houston Street, New York

In my many years of living in New York City (yes, I know we in Queens call Manhattan “The City,” but we’re still a borough, and hence, a part of it), I’ve learned a general rule that even-numbered addresses are usually on the South sides of streets and the East sides of Avenues i.e. 290 Broadway – East side, and 110 West 44th Street – South side. This theory goes out the window below the neat gridlines and into the “named” streets of southern Manhattan.


My guess that 100 West Houston would be on the south side was incorrect and I wound up re-crossing the wide street to get to my destination. The deep green awning outside Jane overhangs a park bench, providing shade for weary tourists, and two were taking advantage of it upon my arrival. Inside, all is aglow in shades of blonde wood and light tan, with one charcoal wall at the back graced by a large abstract painting of a field. The two large mirrors on one sidewall give the illusion of it being a much larger space, and the woven shades on the rectangular swags float lightly over the dining crowd. A young lady at the Captain’s Station acknowledged my reservation and led me to a bare-topped table (dining is casual here) near the back at a comfortable banquette. On my way over from the theater I noted that the many restaurants I passed on Houston were all doing good business that evening and Jane was no exception.

Leah, my server, soon appeared, took my water preference, and gave me the menu. It was a two-sided plastic-enclosed affair with food on one side and drinks on the other. When Leah asked if I wanted a cocktail I chose something called “Sweet Heat” – jalapeno infused tequila, orange liqueur, charred pineapple, and coconut water. Leah noted that this was one of their newer cocktails and that it was rapidly becoming quite popular. I could see why. It burned and at the same it satisfied my sweet tooth, and the bits of pineapple were fun to spear with my swizzle stick.

Leah described the specials of the day and I almost chose one appetizer, an asparagus salad with prosciutto wrapped around the spears and a poached egg on top whose yolk becomes a part of the dressing. But as I read the entire menu, I found more dishes equally as enticing. I sipped my drink while deciding on two “starters,” a main course and a side.

After discussing with Leah about the order my dishes were to arrive and when, I was ready to enjoy, and another server brought the breadbasket. The bread was so good, fresh and crusty that I completely disregarded the bottle of olive oil standing in the center of my table until much later.


The roasted meatballs – with local mozzarella, in a spicy tomato sauce, garnished with cilantro – arrived first (as agreed), still sizzling in a square iron skillet. Though they were a quarter of the size of the ones I had at Umberto’s in Little Italy, they were every bit as juicy and flavorful. The sauce was rich and thick, not particularly “spicy,” but delicious. I left only the skillet.

The 2014 Malbec, Enrique Foster “Ique” Mendoza, Argentina, though incredibly young for a Malbec was perfect with my meal. Its tannic touches and medium body accented the tomato sauce nicely as well as that of the dishes to follow.

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered the mushroom soup “gratinée” – with caramelized onions, crostini croutons, and topped with melted gruyère. It was more like a French onion soup (with the right cheese, I noted to Leah) though heavier on the mushrooms than onions. Once I convinced myself that it really wasn’t onion soup I enjoyed it thoroughly (the resemblance was striking, though).


My main course, the blackened pork chop, was served on a bed of cheddar jalapeño grits and crowned with three smoked tomatoes and a spring of watercress. It was tender and easy to cut, though a little bit more well done than I would prefer. The blackening process, however, added a Southwestern flavor to the meat. I told Leah my pork chop story from the “famous” Palm Restaurant where professional hockey players could have used my dish as a puck. The jalapeños were not pronounced in the grits and the net effect was “mild” spicy. The side dish was one of my all-time favorite vegetables, Brussels sprouts. But these were enormous. Halved, seared and partially caramelized, they were like candy to me. I asked if the chef had a time machine to the Jurassic era, remarking on the size of these jumbo veggies.

With nothing left but the memories of these fine dishes, I turned to dessert. Having seen the desserts the two young men at the next table ordered, notably the “Key Lime Pie in a Jar,” and (the enormous) “Milk and Cookies,” I chose the “Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate” – chocolate ganache tart, mini whoopee pie, chocolate pot de crème. This turned out to be eminently manageable and satisfying. I would have liked the pot de crème to be more liquid, but the other two were perfect.

To finish, I ordered the “Lord Bergamot” Earl Grey tea and a snifter of Chateau de Pellehaut Armagnac. Alas, they didn’t have enough left for a full snifter, but Leah gave me what they had (on the house) and asked me what other choice I had. The Busnel Calvados filled the bill adequately.

I thanked Leah for a wonderful serving job and, on my way out, I learned that Jane has been in operation for 13 years! I know that Manhattan is a big city and that, at any one time there are approximately 7,000 restaurants serving the hungry public, but it still amazes me when I find one that I might have found earlier. There is much to like about Jane and several reasons to return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 23–April 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE APARTMENT (April 24, 3:15 pm): Director Billy Wilder's follow-up to the overrated Some Like It Hot, this wonderful comedy-drama stars Jack Lemmon as an opportunistic office worker who sort of sleeps his way to the top. Well, he lets his office managers use his apartment as a place to have sex with their various mistresses. Because of that, he gets promoted to the personnel department, where his supervisor, Fred MacMurray, excellent at playing sleazy characters, convinces his new assistant to let him have the apartment on an exclusive basis. MacMurray's latest mistress is the company's elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), who Lemmon likes a lot, but doesn't say anything to her. A fabulous cast with one of Hollywood's best directors and an intelligent, funny script, and you have 1960's Oscar winner for Best Picture. It was nominated for nine others, winning four of those. Incredibly, MacMurray wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (April 26, 10:00 pm): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that later took a toll on his body. The plot isn't exceptionally strong, but it's quite clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.

ED’S BEST BETS:

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (April 23, 2:00 pm): A great vintage Pre-Code horror film from Warner Brothers in two-strip Technicolor process with Glenda Farrell as a reporter investigating the sudden disappearance of young women. Could it have something to do with wax sculptor Lionel Atwill? He has his eyes of Glenda’s friend, Fay Wray. Tune in and find out. This film was later remade in 3-D as House of Wax, starring Vincent Price, but I much prefer the original. It has that ‘30s sass, especially from Farrell in the lead that the later version completely lacks.

THE BIG HOUSE (April 25, 10:45 pm): Technically, it wasn’t the first prison drama to come from Hollywood, but it was the first one that talked, and it was certainly one of the most powerful, setting the template for years to come. They’re all here, the prison characters that have become cliché over the years: the innocent (Robert Montgomery), jailed for vehicular manslaughter and thrown into a cell with two of the hardest convicts ever to break a rock: forger and thief Chester Morris, and the totally uncouth and murderous Wallace Beery, aptly nicknamed “Machine Gun” for his antics outside the walls. Lewis Stone is the warden, trying hard to keep a lid on this simmering pot that could explode at any minute. Directed with innovation by George William Hill and written by his wife, Frances Marion, who toured San Quentin with notebook in hand to record observations of prison life and conversations with convicts and officials alike. The best thing about this film is, except for an unnecessary romantic subplot, it still packs quite a punch when seen today, which is quite a compliment.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW THE WEST WAS WON (April 24, 4:30 am)

ED: AThis epic Western, boasting four directors and an all-star cast, follows four generations of one family, told in five segments beginning in 1839 as they travel through the Erie Canal on their way West. Other segments chronicle their experience in homesteading, surviving the Civil War, witnessing the expansion of the railroad, and facing notorious outlaws. It all spells E-p-i-c, and even more foreboding is that it was made especially for Cinerama. It’s also 165 minutes in length. So the recipe for disaster is in place: four directors, all-star cast, Cinerama process, and a lengthy running time. However, for all that baggage, the film acquits itself nicely. The directors happen to be John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and Richard Thorpe, who directed the connecting segments – directors experienced not only with action movies, but also some damn good Westerns. Despite its length, the film never fails to keep our attention, the atmosphere is grand, the photography downright awesome, the characters clearly defined, and the picture never lets up with the action. One factor that definitely worked in its favor was in splitting the film into segments and using a different director for each segment, as directing a film this long can become a Herculean task that can wear down the best director. The film also touches all the bases: runaway wagon trains, daunting river rapids, buffalo stampedes, The Rockies and Monument Valley, the coming of the telegraph and the Pony Express, Indian attacks, railroad barons, and dangerous outlaws. Ford’s direction of the Civil War episode was John Ford at his best. The audience is always taking a chance when watching an epic; many of them turn out to be long, tedious affairs. But How The West Was Won could also be subtitled “How To Make an Epic.” And that’s why it’s a favorite of mine.


DAVID: B-. This film comes with an impressive pedigree. It's a Western with John Ford as one of its directors and an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The movie poster touted "24 Great Stars in the Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed!" Spencer Tracy provides the narration, and it's beautifully filmed in Cinerama, a very advanced, very expensive process for 1963, when it was released. It's a good film, thus my grade of B-, so I'm not going to trash it for argument's sake. However, for nearly every step forward, it take a step back. While the cast is great, we don't get to spend much time with them. It seemed like the movie was trying to fit in as many film legends as possible just to say they're in it. There's little to no character development and most of the actors either have cameos or small roles. Because of that, the viewer can't get attached to the characters as they leave the screen almost as fast as they entered a few minutes prior. There's some nice work such as Ford's Civil War segment, which, surprisingly, lasts about 15 minutes in a film that is ridiculously long – almost three hours. The overall length would be fine if portions of it weren't also boring and pointless. Epics tell the story of a character or two or three, and allow the audience to see the development of that person or people. That doesn't happen here as it's a story of four generations of one family. That wouldn't be an issue if there was a solid storyline. There's a lot of potential in this movie, and some of it is realized. Of all the great actors in the film, a decent amount is dedicated to a character played by George Peppard, who is quite good. The movie has great scenery and a beautiful look, but it should have been tighter (shorter!) with more focus.

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Fear

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

Fear (Monogram, 1946) - Director: Alfred Zeisler. Writers: Dennis J. Cooper & Alfred Zeisler (s/p); Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel, Crime and Punishment), uncredited. Cast: Peter Cookson, Warren William, Anne Gwynne, Francis Pierlot, Nestor Paiva, James Cardwell, Almira Sessions, William Moss, Ernie Adams, & Charles Calvert. B&W, 68 minutes.

Dostoevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, is without a doubt one of the classics of literature and, as such, it’s been adapted into movies over the years, with the most famous being the 1935 Columbia production starring Peter Lorre. The next American production came in 1946, made by Monogram, of all studios. Although Dostoevsky is excised from the credits, perhaps to make viewers think the writers came up with it all on their own, one gander at the film is enough to remind anyone who read the novel or had seen one of the movie adaptations that it was indeed Dostoevsky’s story, even if he didn’t get credit.


That being said, how does the film play out? All in all, not bad, considering that its star, Cookson, is blander than a loaf of store-bought white bread. Director Zeisler keeps everything moving and everyone in play, while the film has some good actors in supporting parts to help overcome the deficiencies of the leading man, particularly William - as Porfiry to Cookson’s Raskolnikov - and Gwynne, though she has practically no reason for being in the film other than to give Cookson someone to talk to in order to stretch out the running time. The film also contains the typical Monogram plot holes (it just wouldn’t be a Monogram film without them) and a novel plot twist at the end, which for cinephiles becomes the movie’s raison d’etre.

Medical student Larry Crain (Cookson) lives in a shabby one-room flat. He also owes everyone: his landlady, his friends, and now his school, which has sent him a letter telling him his scholarship has been revoked because the school is revoking all scholarships (in reality that's about as likely to happen as the moon being found to be made of green cheese). At any rate, the landlady (Sessions) has been bugging him, and out of desperation he goes to see Professor Stanley (Pierlot), who doubles on the side as a pawnbroker.

Stanley looks over the watch Larry has brought, noting that Larry owes him back interest for the last item pawned. Larry promises to pay that off, and Stanley gives him $10 for the watch, which actually translates to $8, as Stanley deducts the interest on this item ahead of time. A trusting fellow, he is. But the scene also serves as a set-up for what is to follow, for Stanley goes to his wall safe to retrieve the money. What, for only eight dollars? No, to show us the strongbox he removes from the safe and which contains oodles and oodles of dough, as well as other pawned items. We notice that Larry is getting the urge to whack the professor right there and then; he’s fiddling with a fireplace poker as Stanley places the box on a table. He doesn’t go through with it, but he’s definitely thinking about it.

The next scene finds him in the local eatery, where he runs into some of his fellow students, and more importantly, the Girl. It’s Gwynne, and when the proprietor asks her to pay for her coffee, she searches her purse, in which she seemingly keeps everything except money. No matter, for Larry’s a gentleman, and he gladly pays for her coffee while she promises to repay him the next time they meet. They exchange introductions: she is Eileen, he is Larry.

Larry returns home to find two pieces of bad news: a tuition bill from the school and an ultimatum from his landlady - either pay up or hit the road. His mind now made up, Larry returns to Professor Stanley’s apartment, carrying an old ashtray he wrapped to make to look like something worth pawning. He hides in the hallway shadows until a painter working on an empty unit leaves. Stanley is reluctant to open the door for Larry (weren’t you just here yesterday?), but Larry convinces him he has something else to pawn. 



As Stanley lets him in, Larry shows him the tightly wrapped ashtray. The safe is open and the strongbox is on the table. Stanley is struggling with the wrapping as Larry sneaks up behind him and lets him have it with the poker. It’s the best scene is the film, for we never see Larry land the poker on the prof’s noggin, but see Stanley’s hands as they unwrap the ashtray, and as he’s hit, the ashtray slip from his hand, land on the table, and knock over a glass of wine, which stains the white table cloth like blood. It’s an effective use of the camera, giving the scene a noirish aspect.

As Peter is about to help himself to the loot, there’s a knock at the door. At the door are some other students who have come to see their friendly pawnbroker. They start to leave until one notices that the lights are on inside. Larry hears them talking about getting the manager, and after they leave he grabs the ashtray and books it out of there - cashless. When he hears someone coming up the stairs he ducks into the empty unit, getting paint on his jacket sleeve. He makes it back to his place, stuffs the jacket under his bed and drops off to sleep.

The next day, he’s rousted out of bed by the landlady and Detective Schaefer (Paiva), who has come to haul him down to the station. On the way out, the landlady hands him a letter that has just come in the mail. At the station, Larry meets Captain Burke (William), who informs him about an announcement in the previous day’s paper requesting Stanley’s customers to come down to the station to reclaim their possessions; Larry was the only one not to do so. Larry’s excuse is that he slept through the entire day and did not see the paper. While waiting on Burke, Larry opens his mail to discover a check for $1,000 from a periodical for an article he submitted. He tells Burke the news as he leaves, and heads for his favorite hangout to celebrate. There, he finds Eileen now working behind the counter. As they renew acquaintances, they decide to go on a picnic, but Schaefer enters with orders to bring Larry back to the station.

At the station, Burke compliments Larry on his article, “Men Above the Law,” in which he argues that if enough good results from an evil act, the act is justified. Burke questions Larry as to whether or not that is an argument or his personal philosophy: that some men are above the law. Larry states it's his personal philosophy and leaves to return to the restaurant. His friends inform him that the college has learned about his article and decided to renew his scholarship. He’s also going on that picnic with Eileen. Everything is going his way at last.


Now if only he could get Captain Burke out of his hair, for it seems that no matter which way he turns or where he goes, Larry keeps running into Detective Schaefer, who brings him to the office to confer with Burke. Burke tells Larry that he found clothing fibers clinging to the paint inside the vacant unit. Larry weasels his way out with a contrived explanation, but once he gets home, he makes sure to burn the incriminating jacket.

He eventually winds up at Eileen’s home, where he confesses all. She advises him to confess to the police and he agrees. But when he returns home, Burke is waiting there for him with a copy of that day’s newspaper. The headline? “Painter Confesses Murder.” Burke explains that innocent people sometimes confess to others’ crimes. He calmly asks Larry to drop by the station and Larry agrees, but once Burke leaves, Larry starts packing. He arranges to meet Eileen at a travel agency. When he sees her waiting, he is so anxious to get to her that he dashes across the street and is hit by a car.

Is this the end of Larry? Not so fast. Cut back to Larry’s room, awash in harp music and a swirling vortex. He’s sleeping. A knock at the door rouses him out of his slumber. It was all a dream! At the door is Professor Stanley, who gives Larry a loan of $120 and news that his scholarship has been renewed. As Larry step out of his apartment he bumps into Eileen in the hallway. Only her name isn’t Eileen, see? It’s Cathy, and she has tracked him down to repay his 60 cents before compound interest sets in. While she’s there, she decides to rent a room from Mrs. Williams, the landlady. As she repays him, he asks her out. And he also asks if he can call her “Eileen.” Creepy, huh? Completely unmoved, she remarks that “he sure must have been in love with that girl!” Larry responds by telling her he’ll tell her all about it one day as the movie fades to the end title.

Talk about disappointing. The movie, which already has a decent ending, decides to tack on a cheesy coda. Was director Zeisler trying to add on time to the film? Or, perhaps he was imitating his idol, Fritz Lang, by copying his trick ending from his 1944 film with Edward G. Robinson, The Woman In the Window. It’s now 1946, who’s going to remember a 1944 film? Or, just maybe, he was trying to leave the audience with something to talk about as they left the theater. If that was his intention, I’m sure he succeeded, for they probably muttered, “What a cheesy ending,” to each other as they walked up the aisles.

Afterwords

As mentioned before, Fear is the Poverty Row version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Warren William, who does not make his appearance until almost one-third of the film is gone, is Porfiry. Peter Cookson is obviously Raskolnikov. One wonders why the studio does not acknowledge its debt to Dostoevsky. It’s not as if they had to pay any royalties. But then again, it just wouldn’t be a Monogram production if they resorted to that type of thing. Anne Gwynne got the worst deal playing an updated Sonia, as she was little more than window dressing.

As Crain, Cookson put in a decent, if unspectacular, performance, one that would be expected given his lack of acting experience at the time. He began his career at Universal and floated around the studios. His second appearance was an unbilled part in the Spencer Tracy-Irene Dunne wartime soaper, A Guy Named Joe, for MGM. He soon ended up at Monogram, which would be his home base until he left the Silver Screen later in 1946, his last appearance being a starring role in William Beaudine’s morality play, Don’t Gamble With Strangers. He moved to Broadway and made a name for himself starring in the original production of The Heiress. He later split his time between Broadway and the television studios of New York City, guest starring in assorted series and teleplays. In addition, he also became a producer of Broadway and off-Broadway plays. In 1949, he married fellow thespian Beatrice Straight, a marriage that lasted until his death in 1990 from bone cancer.

Of course, to the surprise of no one, it’s Warren William who steals the movie, even though, as mentioned before, we do not see him until the film is well underway. Born Warren William Krech in Atkin, Minnesota, in 1894, he was one of moviedom’s great, unappreciated actors, beginning his career as William Warren on Broadway in 1924, with a small role in the H.G. Wells play, The Wonderful Visit. He would go on to appear in 17 more Broadway productions, along with a couple of silent pictures under the name “Warren Kretch.” He joined Warner Bros. in 1931, assuming the role of the underhanded businessman in many a Pre-Code feature. His patrician looks and manners were showcased in Cecil B. DeMille’s production of Cleopatra, in 1934, where he played Julius Caesar to Claudette Colbert’s titular character. Also, while at Warner’s he gained fame as the screen’s first Perry Mason. After making Stage Struck in 1936, William left to join the rolls at MGM as a character actor. From there it was on to Columbia, where he was noted for his portrayal of Michael Lanyard in the long running “Lone Wolf” series. After his run in the series ended, William continued in character parts, but his failing health caused other major studios to avoid him, which is the reason why he landed at Monogram. He died in 1948 at age 53 from multiple myeloma, a form of cancer of the blood.

Although Fear was his next-to-last film before his death, as the cancer took its toll, he still managed to turn in a delightful performance as Burke - sly, yet most amiable, stroking Crain’s ego, making him feel more like a colleague than a suspect, all the while gathering information. He may have been deathly ill, but it didn’t show in his sprightly performance.

Gwynne, a Universal starlet who gained fame as a pin-up queen during the war, is given little to do as Eileen, becoming almost peripheral to the plot. Her only interaction is with Crain, and her scenes almost throwaway, as if the film could well go on without her presence. If she was meant to be a type as Joan Bennett played in The Woman in the Window, Zeisler needn’t have bothered.

The only other actor of note was Nestor Paiva, as lead detective Schaefer, whose character seemed to exist only to tell Larry that Burke wanted to see him. Paiva would turn up at Universal in the ‘50s, appearing in numerous science-fiction films. Also look for the unbilled Darren McGavin, in only his fifth film, as one of Larry’s fellow students congratulating him on the publication of his article.

Fear is typical of the Monogram output at the time, a forgettable thriller meant only as a diversion for its audience until the main attraction unspooled.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

While We're Young

Dinner and a Movie
 
Staying Young with Charlie

By Steve Herte

What looks like a chubby, eyeless bear with an anteater’s tube-like mouth and six fearsomely clawed feet, and can be boiled or frozen solid and still survive?

According to the American Museum of Natural History, this “tough guy” is the Tardigrade. (Don’t worry, this monstrosity is also microscopic.) But it’s the headliner for a new exhibit at the museum entitled “Life at the Limits,” a multimedia hall demonstrating the lengths that nature will go to adapt to conditions on this planet.

There are videos of birds doing the “Moonwalk” as a courtship display or building a “Bower” out of sticks and blue ornaments, along with live nautilus, mantis shrimp, axolotls (a salamander with external gills), and a huge fiberglass elephant seal. At the entrance, the viewer is greeted by three enormous Tardigrades and progresses through the other exhibits until arriving at an interactive video for the kids. In this video the idea is to pick up and toss clams to the mantis shrimp for it to break open and eat. There’s a section on the tubeworms that live around volcanic vents under the ocean and the reproductive cycle of corals as well as the African Lungfish and how it can survive a drought.

It’s a fascinating display that I experienced on April 4 in a members’ preview. It opened to the public on the 6. I loved it.

Extremophiles remind me that there was a phenomenon called a “blood moon” recently. I missed it, but I think I experienced the results. People are usually a little crazier during and after a full moon but last week, if it was idiotic, it happened. I think it even affected my quartet (which planned a reunion last week, but broke up instead – the end of an era). Has anything like this happened to any of you? The culmination of all this strangeness was the movie I saw after having re-scheduling my evening. See what you think. Enjoy!

While We’re Young (A24, 2015) – Director: Noah Baumbach. Writer: Noah Baumbach. Stars: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Matthew Maher, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz, Maria Dizzia, Amanda Seyfried, Dree Hemingway, Dean Wareham, & Brady Corbet. Color, 97 minutes.

Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts), a couple in their early forties, tried to have children and suffered more than one miscarriage. They say they’re happy with their lifestyle and freedom to go anywhere they want whenever they want. They just don’t. Josh is working on a lengthy documentary with Tim (Maher), his cameraman and technology expert. Tim is wondering when he’s going to get paid and Josh keeps delaying him with “when we receive the grant money…” Needless to say, the money never comes.

Cornelia’s father, Leslie Breitbart (Grodin), is an established documentary producer up for an award, and Cornelia doesn’t understand why Josh doesn’t ask her father’s advice. Josh believes that Leslie doesn’t like him personally and only tolerates him because he married his daughter. Actually, Josh is secretly jealous of Leslie’s success while he’s still struggling.

Josh and Cornelia’s best friends are Fletcher (Horovitz) and Marina (Dizzia). They have a little baby to care for and constantly encourage Cornelia to keep trying. But the more they market their opinions the further away they drive Josh and Cornelia.

Then one day at a lecture he’s giving, Josh meets Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried), a couple of 25 year olds who claim to be “auditing” his class. They have seen his first documentary; were awestruck by it, and they wish to learn from him. Cornelia isn’t sure how to take this “hero worship” from such a young couple but is drawn in – as is Josh – by their free-spirited lifestyle. They ride bicycles everywhere and have a sexy roommate, Tipper (Hemingway), who unabashedly walks around scantily clad. They also keep a chicken in their apartment and attend strange “events” around town.


Eventually, the influence of Jamie and Darby re-sparks the flame in Josh and Cornelia’s love life and they start doing things together. Darby takes Cornelia to a hip-hop Zumba class, and Jamie and Josh go bicycling (until trying to ride with no hands aggravates Josh’s arthritis – a condition he doesn’t understand how he could have). After attending an Ayahuasca ceremony (a hallucinogen made from the bark of the Shiwawaku tree, served in tea – supposedly to bring on spiritual revelations, but which usually results in vomiting) complete with a Shaman (Wareham), Josh agrees to help Jamie with his documentary. They even go up to Poughkeepsie to interview Kent (Corbet), a former soldier who served in Afghanistan who tried to commit suicide after returning home.

Josh and Cornelia’s former friends (all who have babies) worry about them hanging out with such a younger couple, but they don’t listen. Jamie’s documentary is a huge success while Josh’s six-hour clunker languishes. Leslie even called it boring.

Finally, it dawns on Josh that his meeting Jamie and Darby was more than a coincidence and that he was manipulated because of Cornelia’s relation to Leslie. None of the “facts” in Jamie’s documentary are true. All of the “facts” were from other peoples’ lives, none from Jamie’s, and Josh is outraged. He believes that true documentaries should be factual. And when he makes a scene at Leslie’s award dinner, he’s horrified that Leslie agrees with Jamie.

I must admit that the trailers did not prepare me for the drug-less drug trip this movie was. I exited the theater not remembering the name of the restaurant I was going to next. It’s designated as a comedy, but like so many “comedies” being produced currently, there’s only a chuckle here and there and no hilarity at all. It might be considered a comedy in the Shakespearean sense. I didn’t recognize him at first, but Peter Yarrow appears as Ira Mandelstam with Bonnie Kaufman, as one of the married many couples. I love Ben Stiller and am sad that the Night at the Museum series is over. They were funny and worth watching more than once. This film tries too hard, gets too metaphysical and falls flat. The flippant vulgarity at the beginning becomes more vicious toward the end and only works part of the time.

The funniest part of this comedy is watching Naomi Watts trying to do hip-hop dance moves.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Charlie Palmer’s at The Knick
6 Times Square – 4th Floor (42nd Street and Broadway)New York

After braving the teeming mobs on 42nd Street and following a walking signpost for a “Gentleman’s Club,” I gradually arrived at the Hotel Knickerbocker. Opened in 1906 by John Jacob Astor IV, its historic New York status radiates from its steel-supported brown awning. My mind was still reeling from the movie and I was taken by surprise by the young doorman zipping from outer to inner door to hold them for me. Frankly, I’m not used to this service.

Inside, all is sleek, shiny, and modern in rich browns and golds. I walked up to the front desk and announced I was going to the restaurant (whose name escaped me) “Patrick, or someone’s name.” “Charlie Palmer’s?” they said and pointed me toward the elevator. The distinguished-looking elevator operator (I haven’t seen one of those in New York in decades) asked me for the floor. “Four, I believe, the restaurant.” “Yes, sir.” And up we went, me still trying to clear my head and speak like a cultured resident, and failing.


Exiting the elevator it was obvious that a left turn was needed and I saw the Captain’s Station, presided over by two lovely young girls. I announced my reservation and one of them led me to a table by a chain mail curtain separating the dining area from the private function room beyond. My table was at the end of a soft gray velour banquette running along the wall. The room was lit beautifully in shades of beige to light brown, and the chairs were smoke gray with metallic silver threads running vertically down the fabric. The lamp on my table was unique: an aluminum colored, cylindrical base from which a pencil-thin support projected to support the disc-shaped light. There was a touch-sensitive spot on the base, which regulated its light in four gradations. (Helene would have loved it.) That (and the yellow calla lily looped in a clear glass vase) was charming.

My server, Lucy, introduced herself and took my water preference. When she brought the water, she presented me with the food menu. I was a little surprised that there was no cocktail and wine menu, but Lucy was a busy girl. I had almost made my choices by the time she returned and asked what I would like. I told her I would like a cocktail. Acting like an absent-minded professor, she apologized and procured the needed list.

I chose the Knickerbocker Martini – Tanqueray 10 gin, Dolin dry vermouth, Cocchi Torino vermouth, orange bitters and a lemon twist garnish – a delightful change from my usual and served in a stunning Waterford crystal glass. The golden color of the drink from the Torino vermouth matched the restaurant décor nicely.

When Lucy returned, I had a question whether a special dish at the bottom of the menu was an appetizer or a main course. She thought main course, but said she’d check. I had judged by the price of the dish that it was an appetizer, but I awaited her confirmation. Shortly she brought back the answer I expected – appetizer. “It’s brand-new! Do you want to start with that?” She asked, almost excitedly. “Yes.” And then I gave her my dinner selections.


The appetizer in question was boudin moir over frisé and toasted bread topped with a poached egg. I’ve had boudin noir (a black sausage, usually a blood sausage) before and it’s familiarly left whole for the diner to slice up and luxuriate in. This dish was pre-sliced and crisped on a grill and surrounded the snow-capped mountain formed by the remaining ingredients. It was very tasty and unusual, just not what I expected.

Lucy had mentioned in her listing of the specials that my next course, the oyster soup was excellent and she was right. Served in a bowl with two lion heads for handles (yes, the same one I have at home), the soup was more like bisque: creamy, aromatic and musky with croutons floating in it. The oysters were small and delicate and already in the bowl before Lucy poured the “soup” over them. I commented that the Oyster Bar at Grand Central now had competition.

The wine selection by the glass was impressive and I ordered a glass of 2010 Blanquet Merlot Dry Bordeau from France. No one makes Merlot like the French. It complimented the soup beautifully and welcomed the main course.


Being thankful that Lent was over and I could once again eat meat on Fridays, I asked Lucy about the difference between the two steaks offered on the menu. She responded that the ribeye had more marbling and that was all I needed to know. I ordered the Snake River Farms (Boise, Idaho) ribeye steak with butter potato, roasted winter roots (carrot, parsnip, winter squash, red onions) in red wine jus. It looked amazing! The tender beef was a glistening, appetizing seared color. The butter potato formed a graceful lagoon to its left. And the vegetables were lined up like soldiers on the right. Everything was heavenly and when Lucy asked me about it, I just rested my head on the arm of the banquette as if dying and going to Heaven. I saved those beautiful onions for last.

While I was enjoying my steak I noticed that the Merlot was being overpowered by the flavor of the meat. I changed to the 2011 Carpe Diem Cabernet, Napa Valley. The full-bodied wine was a perfect match for the dish.

The desserts were all things I’ve had before, but the cheese platter intrigued me. I love cheese and am willing try any kind. Here were four selections I’ve never of. I didn’t even recognize the names, looking them all up when I got home. The Four Murray’s Cheeses – Cooperstown (in Milford, NY) Creamery Alice (a soft, yet firm, ripe cow cheese), Bellweather Farms San Andreas (a sheep cheese made in California near the fault line), Coach Farms Rawstruck (a soft ripened raw milk goat cheese), and Hudson Valley, New York, Jasper Hill Hazen Bleu (named for a Revolutionary War road in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom – Stilton-esque) were all spectacular from first to last. They were served with raisins (still on the vine), honey on the comb and a red fruit sauce with slices of toasted baguette.

Getting the OK from Lucy on Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee (25 Jay Street), I ordered a cup and followed it with a glass (the Empire State of cordial glasses) of Cloudy Bay New Zealand Late Harvest Riesling. The coffee was rich, dark and flavorful and the Riesling generally sweet, but with tart, dry overtones.  

I learned later on that Chef Charlie Palmer was originally from the restaurant Aureole. It’s been so long since I dined there I forgot. This new place is a little over one month old. The décor (including the chain-mail curtains) was designed by Gabellini Sheppard. The restaurant not only has the elegant Waterford stemware but a Carrara marble bar top. The wine racks form a backdrop to the bar – very impressive. I know I have to return to this hotel sometime in the future, because there is another restaurant called “Jakes” somewhere in it (named after the founder) and they plan to open a rooftop bar this spring called St. Cloud.


For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cinéma Inhabituel for April 16-30

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea 

STAR OF THE MONTH: ANTHONY QUINN

Well, it seems TCM has shot their load of good Anthony Quinn flicks in the first two weeks. Now we’re left with the also-rans, and a few good pics where he has a small part.

April 22: It’s a night devoted to Quinn's Westerns, with his dark Western, Man From Del Rio (1955), at 8:00. Quinn plays an uneducated Mexican gunfighter who wins the town over with his courage. At 9:30 pm, it gets a little better with Guns for San Sebastian (1968), with Quinn as a Mexican bandit masquerading as a priest who is roped into helping defend a town against an Indian attack. At 11:30, it’s Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (1973) with Quinn as a deaf gunfighter who fights for Texas independence. At 1:45 am, Quinn is again a Mexican bandit in the Robert Taylor-Ava Gardner vehicle, Ride, Vanquero! (1953). Finally, at 3:30 am, Quinn is Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On (1942), starring Errol Flynn as George Custer, late of the Battle of  Little Bighorn.


April 29: At 8:00, it’s The Wild Party (1956). This is one of the few Quinn films I’ve missed over the years and I’m looking forward to watching it, as everything I’ve heard about it is bad. But then again, it co-stars Carol Ohmart, and she’s always worth looking at in a movie. The plot has Quinn as a former pro football player who has fallen on hard times. Look for Nehemiah Persoff as a hipster, of all things, and Jay Robinson (Caligula in The Robe) as a psycho who swings a mean switchblade.

At 9:45, it’s another mediocrity, The Naked Street (1955). Quinn is Mob boss Phil Regan, who goes to elaborate lengths to help little sister Anne Bancroft, who is preggers by lover Farley Granger, but Granger is currently sitting on Death Row. So with a little finagling, Quinn manages to get Farley sprung, but later lives to regret it. It’s another bad film for Quinn, and one so bad I recommend it to all bad film fanatics.

Quinn then stars in a movie that was a pleasant shock to me when I first saw it. Flap (1970), which airs at 11:30 pm, stars Quinn as Flapping Eagle, a dim-witted tribal revolutionary and con man who takes on the U.S. government over the mistreatment of his tribe. It’s funny and touching, thanks in large part to a excellent script from Clair Huffaker (from his novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian) and its director – Sir Carol Reed. It’s one to watch, even at this late hour.

Following at 1:30 am is The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) with Quinn back in form in a slob role playing the mayor of a small Italian town that has hidden a million bottles of wine from the Germans during the waning days of World War II. It’s produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, so we know it’s of dubious quality, a mechanical film with not one moment of spontaneity.

To wrap up the evening, it’s Quinn in a supporting role as an engineer in the John Wayne-Laraine Day quite watchable action-adventure, Tycoon (1947). This was Quinn’s last film in Hollywood as he was taking a hiatus to start a Broadway stage career. He would not appear in another film until The Brave Bulls in 1951.

FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

The Friday Night Spotlight in April is devoted to special effects man and art director A. Arnold Gillespie. As we mentioned previously, Gillespie worked with special effects at a time when CGI was just a dream. His skill, though, was such that he was nominated 13 times from 1939 to 1963, winning four of those times, for special effects work. Today, with the advent of computer graphics and green screens replacing mattes, it’s a different, and some would say less interesting, world.

April 17: Beginning at 8:00 pm, it’s Green Dolphin Street (1947, Special Effects). 10:00 pm – Royal Wedding (1951, Special Effects). 12:15 am – Scaramouche (1952, Special Effects). 2:30 am – The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959, Special Effects).

April 24: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with Forbidden Planet (1956, Special Effects). 10:00 pm North By Northwest (1959, Special Effects). 12:30 am – Ben-Hur (1959, Special Photographic Effects). And at 4:30 am – How the West Was Won (1962, Special Visual Effects).

OUT OF THE ORDINARY


April 19: At 3:30 am, it’s the stunningly gorgeous The Makioka Sisters from Toho Studios and director Kon Ichikawa, from Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s 1943 novel, Sasameyuki (Fine Snow). Made in 1963, it had been filmed twice before in 1950 (by Shintoho Film Distributors) and in 1959 (by Daiei) as Sasameyuki. The film is set in prewar Japan and chronicles the activities of the four Makioka sisters, Tsuruko, Sachiko, Yukiko, and Taeko, who hail from a wealthy industrial family in Ozaka and gather each year in Kyoto for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The family, once powerful, is in a period of decline, and with Japan’s defeat, all the sisters really have left to hold onto are the traditional rituals and customs, which the eldest sisters believe will preserve the family’s greatness. Director Ichikawa shows most of the exalted customs to be outdated, archaic, and inflexible to the point of absurdity, especially seen in the light of a changing Japan in the postwar era. As one who read the original novel and seen this version, I can say that it is an excellent illustration of what happens when filmmakers try to adapt a classic of literature. Characters and their motives as described in the novel are not fully translated to the screen, with the result that they seem to come out of empty space with no real relevance to the plot. I have also read that the studio forced changes in the script from the director to sanitize the plot and give it happy ending. My only comment is that I take all film adaptations of classic literary works with a grain of salt. (Literature is art, film is craft.) I do recommend this film highly, though, for its photography and the performances, especially Keiko Kishi, who was magnificent as the office flirt, “Goldfish,” in Ozu’s Early Spring (1956), as the eldest and most rigid sister, Tsuruko.

April 21: It’s an evening devoted to the great Sophia Loren and features three of her best films: Marriage, Italian Style (1964), at 8:00 pm; Two Women (1961) at 11:00 pm, for which Sophia won the Best Actress Oscar; and The Gold of Naples (1954) at 1:00 am, a film by Vittorio DeSica composed of six stories of life in Naples. Going against the grain is the 1972 H-Bomb Man of La Mancha, at 3:00 am. Loren was the only one in the damn thing who gave a good performance, not to mention she was the only one that could sing. Kicking the evening off at 8:00 pm is a short, Human Voice, directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti. It’s based on Jean Cocteau’s one-woman play of the same name, with Sophia as Angela, a woman in the twilight of her years on an emotional roller coaster in her last conversation with the man she loves, who is leaving her for anther woman. Son Edoardo, by the way, is married to Sasha Alexander of Rizzoli and Isles fame on TNT.

April 26: From Czechoslovakia comes the 1966 Pearls of the Deep, airing at 2:00 am. It’s an uneven anthology of five stories, each based on a work by the noted Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. The problem with omnibus compilations, especially with each segment being directed by a different filmmaker, is that the quality can vary widely. (Think of the Edgar Allen Poe-based film, the 1968 Spirits of the Dead, with three segments directed by Vadim, Malle, and Fellini.) Vera Chytilova, who directed the wonderful Daisies in 1966, helms one of the episodes, but as I haven’t as yet seen this one, I’m proceeding with caution.


A much better Czech film follows at 4:00 am, A Report on the Party and the Guests, from 1968, directed by Jan Nemec. It’s a stunning, Kafkaesque allegory about a group of picnickers psychologically forced into submission by a group of strangers led by Rudolf. The picnickers are led into a clearing where they are interrogated. When one of the men objects to Rudolf, he is abused until another man shows up to apologize for Rudolf’s behavior, explaining that it was only a practical joke. He invites the “guests” to his birthday banquet and they trek to a lake, where they are joined by others. When the meal begins it’s discovered that not everyone is in their proper assigned seats, and they are told to reseat themselves. When one of the guests becomes upset because her husband has left the table due to Rudolf’s rudeness, Rudolf declares that he has ruined the banquet and organizes a search party armed with police dogs and guns to look for him. When the film premiered in Prague, it was quickly banned and taken out of circulation. The director himself was later exiled for his documentary short, Oratorio for Prague, which shows the invasion by Soviet tanks. He would not return until 1990.

PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE

April 18: A psychotronic double feature is on tap for today, beginning at 12:25 pm with Children of the Damned from 1964, no relation to the excellent 1960 Village of the Damned, but once again starring those wonderful space children with their wonderful special powers. It’s followed by the 1958 crap classic, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, at 2:00 pm.


Victor Buono has given us some eccentric performances over his career, none weirder, though, than his turn in the 1964 horror film, The Strangler, which airs at 4:30 am. Buono is a rather corpulent 30-year-old lab technician with a fetish for dolls and a hatred for women. He’s already killed 7 of them, all nurses, before the film opens with him dispatching number 8, another nurse, by strangling her with her own stockings while she undresses to go to sleep. He strangles number 9, who happens to be his invalid mother’s dedicated sanitarium nurse, and the shock of this gives mom (Ellen Corby), who treated our protagonist horribly as a youth, her final, fatal heart attack, which was probably the whole point of his rampage. The cops are now onto him, too late to save victim number 10, but in time to save number 10’s co-worker before she buys it.

April 20: The evening’s theme is “Hitching a Rise,” and several good films are on the agenda, starting at 8:00 pm with Robert Aldrich’s noir classic, Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which served as an inspiration to the French New Wave. Other films to catch this night are Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962), at 1:45 am; Edgar G. Ulmer’s B-classic, Detour (1945), at 3:30 am, and director Ida Lupino’s genuinely creepy The Hitch-Hiker, from 1953 at 4:45 am.

April 22: It’s an entire morning and afternoon of Andy Hardy films, beginning at 6:00 am with the last in the series, Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958). They travel backward in time, with the best of the bunch being The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942), featuring a young Donna Reed, at 1:00 pm; Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary (1941), at 4:30 pm; and Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), at 6:15 pm.

April 23: A double feature of horror begins at 2:00 pm with 1932’s The Mystery of the Wax Museum, starring Glenda Farrell, Fay Wray, and Lionel Atwill. It’s followed at 3:15 pm by its remake, House of Wax, from 1953, starring Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, and a young actor named Charles Buchinsky, who later gained fame as Charles Bronson.

April 25: Another double feature, this one of monsters, begins at 7:30 am with 1933’s sequel, Son of Kong, followed at 8:45 am by the 1958 Japanese classic, Rodan.