Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Exodus on a Gran Scale

By Steve Herte

Have you ever had that kind of a day when you think it's all going to be easier than the rest of the week, and then it just isn't? That was my day at work.

Oh well, I thought, my evening activities will make up for it. I checked the time of the movie and I was on schedule. It wasn't until I was almost at the box office of the Battery Park Regal Theater (three escalators up) that I checked the ticket and saw "Regal Theater – Union Square." Yow! Good thing I left enough time. I had to really hustle across downtown and catch the Lexington Avenue express (one stop) to Union Square and, miraculously, huffing and puffing only missed the first couple of minutes of the movie. But then I told myself, "You're going to have to go back downtown again for the restaurant!" Sheesh! Thank goodness the movie ended at 7:30 pm and I ran out on the credits. I caught the express train back downtown and made it to 22 Murray Street before my reservation at 7:45. The restaurant wasn't there. It was a block away at 22 Warren Street. Now I ask you, am I getting old or what? Enjoy!

Exodus: Gods and Kings (20th Century Fox, 2014) Director: Ridley Scott. Writers: Adam Cooper, Jeffrey Caine, Bill Collage, & Steven Zaillian. Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Martia Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Hiam Abbass, Isaac Andrews, Ewen Bremner, Indira Varma, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassdan Massoud, & Tara Fitzgerald. Color, 150 minutes.

The one good thing this movie did, aside from its colossal scale and special effects, was to get me to reread Exodus in the Bible. The writers have managed to totally retell the glorious story of the release of 600,000 Israelites from 400 years of enslavement in Egypt by playing up the brutality and violence (on both sides) and nearly eliminating the miraculous.

The film begins with Moses (Bale) as an adult and treated as a brother by Ramses (Edgerton) and together they conduct war against the Hittites. During the battle, Ramses’ chariot loses a wheel and he’s suddenly on foot fighting the ferocious enemy. Moses assists and rescues him to another chariot and the Egyptians are forced to retreat. Seti (Turturro) is grateful for Moses’ saving his son even though he knows Moses is not of his blood. Of course he does. Moses is the only male in Egypt with a beard and mustache. He doesn’t even try to look Egyptian. And forget about high speech. Director Ridley Scott apparently wanted to portray the main characters in some “modern” fashion by allowing Ramses to speak like a thug from some low-class neighborhood (Did I detect a Brooklyn accent?) and Moses’ diction was not much better.

Nevertheless, the slaves are not making the kind of progress Seti expects in the quarries overseen by Viceroy Hegap (Mendelsohn) and he assigns Ramses to check it out. Moses goes instead and agrees to talk with the Hebrew slaves (not punish them as the effeminate Viceroy suggests) and meets Nun (Kingsley) and his son Joshua (Paul). Nun tells Moses the incredible story of how he wound up having Bithia (Abbass) for a mother and Miriam (Fitzgerald) as a nurse. Yes, did you know that Miriam helped raise both Moses and Ramses? Meanwhile, Seti falls ill and dies and Ramses is made pharaoh. Moses tells Ramses the crazy story and agrees that he doesn’t believe it either. It’s not until two Hebrew spies repeat the story to Ramses and Ramses’ mother Tuya (Weaver) steps in that Ramses threatens to cut off Miriam’s hand and Moses admits he’s Miriam’s brother.

Then next part we all know. Moses is exiled to the desert, but this time he has a horse (which dies on him along the way) and he has to kill the two spies, who followed him into the wastelands to get conveyance to the oasis where he meets, and marries Zipporah (Valverde). They have a son and a good life until three of his sheep wander up the mountain (God’s mountain) in the rain (Why? Don’t ask me.). There’s thunder, there’s lightning, there’s a landslide and Moses is buried up to his face in rocks and muck facing a bush burning with blue flame (probably caused by the lightning – or maybe someone forgot to tell Con Ed). But then, who is this child who suddenly appears talking about the enslavement of his people and calling himself “I am?”

Moses somehow is returned to his tent with a broken leg and a concussion from a rock that hit him and Zipporah tries to comfort him, explaining it all as a delusion. But Moses feels compelled to return to Egypt and tell Ramses that if he doesn’t let the Israelites go, bad things are going to happen. Did I mention that in this version Nefertari (Garahani) is not in love with Moses? Well, the 10 plagues happen in rapid succession (but not in the right order). There is a massive attack of crocodiles on boatmen and on each other that turns the Nile into blood. The fish die and the gnats rise up (actually the third plague). Then the frogs pour out of the Nile, horses and bulls die of pestilence (nose bleeds, actually), people (including pharaoh) develop boils, hail the size of baseballs clatters down (but doesn’t burn), locusts eat everything in sight and darkness falls over Egypt. Ramses doesn’t believe that Moses’ God did this and threatens to kill every Hebrew first-born. The child (God) informs Moses and instructs him to use the lamb’s blood over the doors to protect the Hebrews.

Here the story becomes familiar again. Pharaoh’s infant son is dead (as is every Egyptian family’s first born) and he tells the Israelites to go to Canaan. They do. Four days later, he’s still angry and chases them with his army. Moses leads his people via the mountain road (I don’t remember this part in the Bible) because it’s a shorter (but a more dangerous) route to the Red Sea. The Israelites leave their carts behind because they are too wide for the mountain road. Not so the Egyptians. They need their chariots. Almost within sight of the Red Sea, Ramses witnesses the mother of all landslides when the mountain road crumbles beneath his army and sends men and horses tumbling to their death in the valley. (So many horses die in this film!)

The Red Sea recedes and goes dry for the Israelites (not in spectacular fashion, I might add) and they cross. Ramses and what’s left of his army follows. Moses and the men he’s trained for battle form a line against the Egyptians while the rest of the people run for the far shore. Suspense mounts, as does a several hundred-foot tower of water returning to its course while multiple tornadoes (actually waterspouts) form. After a command from Moses, his men retreat and he alone confronts Ramses. Both are wiped out by the monstrous wave, and both make it to opposite shores alive. Nobody else does.

I know. I hear you saying, “But…but…but?” And you have a right to say it. But this is how the story was told this time. Moses was a violent warrior up until this moment. Now he acknowledges the Hebrews as his people. And under the watchful eye of the child (God – who by the way is uncredited) he (Moses) carves the Ten Commandments into stone, they are put in a rudimentary Ark of the Covenant and, with Zipporah and his son Gersham, Moses and his people ride off to the Promised Land.

Two and an half hours since the movie began I’ve shifted in my seat three times thinking, “This could have been done better…that was too long…I would like to have seen this.” But then, I’m not the director. Parents, keep in mind the extreme violence in this movie. Ramses literally hangs whole families for each day that the Israelites do not surrender Moses to him. Moses slays both spies with one sword thrust. The bloodiness is not concealed or glossed over. Maybe there will be one Oscar nomination for this movie, but it won’t be for acting. Even Kingsley was under his game, and I didn’t even know Weaver (one of my all-time favorites) was on screen. I’m just glad there was no hint at a sequel.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Gran Morsi
22 Warren Street (Bet. Church and Broadway)New York

Large Bites” is how the name translates from the Italian and it describes the “elegant simplicity” of this downtown eatery. A simple asparagus green awning with white lettering shades the white wood-framed windows outside; but inside, all is white (ceiling and walls) except for one open brick wall, bare wood tables, and hardwood floors, and lit by inconspicuous glass-globed swags. The only ostentatious decorations are the word “Morsi” on one rear-facing wall done in marquee-style lighting and the rear wall, which  sports a mural of greenery.

The young lady at the Captain’s Station led me to a single table near the back from which I could see that about half of the 20 or so tables were occupied. Soon Zachary, my server appeared and greeted me, presenting me with the menu and wine and drink list and taking my tap water preference. I ordered the cocktail called “22 Berretta” because it sounded interesting – gin, homemade limoncello, port wine, and Prosecco (Italian champagne). It was sweet, slightly lemony and smooth, like the gun it was named after.

The menu was simplicity in itself. Only five categories: Morsi (14 of them), Pasta (5), Parmigiana (3), Grand Morsi (4) and Pizza (4). I explained to Zachary that I wanted to make a three-course meal from this list and he made a few suggestions that were right in keeping with my ideas. I chose the 2011 Villa Antinori “Super” Tuscan wine for the meal and let Zachary know that I had plenty of time and not to rush anything. Then he was off to put in my order.

At this point I feel I need to explain something to my readers. Yes, I am a big fan of both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and love their interactions in all their various cartoons. But I also love eating both rabbit and duck and I count this as a tribute to my favorite cartoon characters. That said, and after the first glass of the beautiful garnet-colored wine, which said me that I’m going to love everything with it, we start with the first course.

The Artichokes Alla Romana were tender, tasty pieces of artichoke sizzling in their own iron skillet on a plate, and sending up aromas of olive oil and garlic along with pecorino Romano cheese. Two slices of toasted ciabatta bread protruded from the skillet like two ears and made the nearly invisible liquid easier to soak up. It was heavenly. Zachary warned me about the oven-hot skillet and he wasn’t joking. This dish never cooled down.

Next it was Rabbit Season. The Rabbit Sweet Potato Gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, chestnuts and caciotta al tartufo (a semi-soft cheese infused with black truffles) was a new twist on a familiar dish. Gnocchi, usually made from potatoes were delicate and sweet but not overpowering, as sometimes sweet potatoes can be and the shredded rabbit meat filling as well as small pieces of meat was more a surprise than an inclusion. Everything was delightful about this dish. The pasta melted in the mouth, the chestnuts provided a country crunch and the mushrooms combined with the cheese, a hearty, foresty flavor. The portion was not small but not dinner-sized either, easily managed.

The main course was from the Parmigiana section of the menu. (Girls, hold onto your boyfriends!) The Muscovy Duck Breast Parmigiana on dates, porto (again, the wine), and roasted Brussels sprouts (halved) was unbelievable by itself, but the Tallegio cheese on top increased the normally strong flavor of the duck and added a smoky, aged accent that almost made me forget my Tuscan wine. It was amazing.

With every morsi finished I was ready for dessert. Zachary started listing them and I stopped him at the second item. The Chocolate Bread Pudding with chocolate gelato and cherries dipped in chocolate sauce sounded like a grand way to end the meal. Unfortunately, it was the only disappointment. The gelato and cherries and chocolate sauce were divine, but the bread pudding was almost dry, very dense, tasting like it was made with cocoa powder and generally unappetizing. I took two bites, finished the gelato and cherries and left the rest. I felt the need to explain to Zachary how spoiled I was with bread pudding in general since my trip to Brennan’s in New Orleans (Best in the World, so far). I suggested that they add bourbon to the recipe but that wouldn’t make up for the lack of chocolate flavor.

All in all, I had a great experience at Gran Morsi and I would definitely return there with friends to try other dishes or even for a repeat of the same. Considering they’re open only three months, they’re doing fine. Oh, and next time I’ll try to get a seat on the banquettes lining the wall. The café chairs are not too comfortable.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for December 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


We continue noting the films of TCM’s Star of the Month, Cary Grant. Now that December is winding down, Grant’s later films are featured, and there’s hardly a runt in the litter.

December 22: A great night of Grant comedies. Start at 8:00 with the thoroughly delightful and sophisticated Howard Hawks film, His Girl Friday, from 1940. Not only is Cary Grant top form in this creative remake of The Front Page, he’s ably abetted with an enchanting performance from co-star Rosalind Russell that matches him note for note. Also starring Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, and Porter Hall in wonderful supporting turns.

Next up is The Awful Truth (Columbia, 1937) at 9:45, with Grant and Irene Dunne as a divorced couple that keeps interfering in each other’s love lives. It’s top-notch Grant and Dunne. At 11:30, My Favorite Wife (RKO, 1940) with Dunne as a shipwreck survivor, thought dead, who returns to find hubby Grant now married to Lee Patrick. A goofy plot, to be sure, but the stars make it work quite well. Howard Hawks’s 1938 screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby (RKO), follows at 1:15 am, followed at 3:15 by The Philadelphia Story (MGM, 21940), and at 5:15 am, 1938’s Holiday from Columbia.

December 23: The spillover from the night before sees Grant in three more films: The most unusual Sylvia Scarlett (RKO, 1935), with Katharine Hepburn, at 7:00 am; Penny Serenade (Columbia, 1941) with Irene Dunne ay 8:45 am; and the classic soaper, In Name Only (RKO, 1939), with Grant caught between Carole Lombard and Kay Francis, at 11:00 am.

December 29: A mixed bag of Grant’s later films. The best for the night are Houseboat (Paramount, 1958) with Sophia Loren, at 10:15 pm, and the Hitchcock classic North By Northwest (MGM, 1959) at 2:15 am.

December 30: Four Grant flicks spill over, with the only ones of note being Arsenic and Old Lace (WB, 1944) at 8:30 am, and Hitchcock’s Suspicion (RKO, 1942) following at 10:30 am.


TCM continues with its tribute to director Charles Walters.

December 19: The best of the night is the first, High Society, at 8:00. This musical remake of The Philadelphia Story boasts strong performances from stars Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. Louis Armstrong and his band also offer solid support. It was Kelly’s last film before she turned in her clapboard for a tiara.

December 28: There are better films this time around. Start at 8:00 with Billy Rose’s Jumbo, combining a decent circus story with some really great musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley. Doris Day, Stephen Boyd and Jimmy Durante star in this 1962 production from MGM. At 10:30 it’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the story of the Colorado woman who struck it rich and survived the Titanic. Debbie Reynolds sings and dances up a storm, dominating the picture and getting a nomination for Best Actress in the process. This 1964 production was a huge hit for MGM. And at 1:00 am, it’s Please Don’t Eat the Daises, from MGM in 1960. David Niven and Doris Day star in this pleasant comedy as a drama critic and wife who leave the city and try to adjust to life in the country. It’s based on the best seller from Jean Kerr, who based it rather loosely on her experiences with husband Walter Kerr, the drama critic for the New York Times.


December 21: The night is devoted to a new feature, courtesy of a deal between Turner and Disney. Treasures From the Disney Vault kicks off a 8:00 with three classic Disney cartoons; Santa’s Workshop (1932), Chip an’ Dale (1947), and On Ice (1935). Also of note: The Reluctant Dragon (1941) at 9:30; Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955), a compilation of three episodes from the Fess Parker classic, at 11:00; and the movie Third Man on the Mountain (1959), starring Michael Rennie, James MacArthur, Janet Munro, and James Donald. MacArthur is a boy who attempts to realize his father’s dream of climbing a peak known as the Citadel.

December 28: Two films from Russian-born French director Sacha Guitry are on the slate. First up at 2:45 am is The Story of a Cheat (1937), which was based on Guitry’s novel Le Memories D’Un Tricheur (The Memoirs of a Cheater). It’s the story of a boy who is sent to his room without supper for stealing. When the family dies from poisonous mushrooms in the dinner, the young man concludes that crime does indeed pay. Look for Roger Duchesne (Bob le flambeur) as Serge Abrasmovich. Following at 4:15 am is Guitry’s The Pearls of the Crown (1937), an anthology about seven pearls that shape the destinies of those who possess them. It’s a lovely, fanciful film that played to great acclaim when released in America. But what happened to Guitry in real life easily eclipsed his films. He was accused of collaboration during the Nazi Occupation, and although cleared of all charges later, suffered both personally and professionally.

December 31: At 10:45 am, it’s one the great British crime classics, Brighton Rock, from the Boulting Brothers, in 1947. Based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, it features a tour de force performance from Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown, the sadistic teenaged leader of a gang decimated by the loss of its leader and top enforcer. While holding his gang together, he romances a shy waitress named Rose, who may have witnessed a murder he committed. His solution is to marry her. Opposing him is the formidable Ida Arnold (Hermione Badderly), whose tenacity ultimately brings him down. Watch for the macabre ending. And watch for the performances of Attenborough and Badderly, who steals every scene she’s in.

Bring in the New Year with a slate of rock ‘n’ roll films, beginning at 8:00 pm with 1972’s Elvis on Tour, Following in order are A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Gimmie Shelter (1970), Tommy (1975), and Jimi Hendrix (1973), a filmed concert of the late guitarist.


December 20: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. At least a psychotronic Santa Claus, that is. At 2:00 am, TCM is airing the Mexican production Santa Claus, from 1959. In this film Santa enlists the help of Merlin to help him save Christmas from the devil. How good is it? Let’s just say that it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The slasher film, New Year’s Evil (1981) follows at 4:00 am.

December 27: For those who love the wonderfully absurd Carry On features, Carry On Teacher (1962) debuts at 10:30 am. Students try to sabotage a popular headmaster’s plans to leave for another job. It features the usual cast: Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, and Kenneth Williams. For those who are new to these films, I recommend them highly as great examples of low British humor - and funny.

At 2:00 am, it’s An American Hippie in Israel (1972). It’s one I haven’t seen, so I’ll supply a synopsis from IMDb: “Incited by a disillusioned young man who has decided to flee from civilization, a group of 4 people go searching for freedom and happiness on an isolated island. When their boat goes astray and they are left without food, their animal instincts take over, bringing the film to its catastrophic end.” You decide.

December 31: Two sci-fi flicks are airing in the afternoon, beginning with 1958’s From the Earth to the Moon at 12:30 pm and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) at 5:30 pm. Both are decent fare and quite watchable.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for December 15-22

December 15–December 22


FANNY AND ALEXANDER (December 18, 3:45 am): This 1982 film was intended to be Ingmar Bergman's last – it wasn't – and was first made as a five-plus-hour miniseries for Swedish television. The three-plus-hour film, which is shown on TCM, was actually released before the longer miniseries. It's a touching tale about two children, Fanny and Alexander, and how their joyful life is turned upside down when their father suddenly dies and their mother marries the local bishop shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. It's classic Bergman meaning it's excellent, comes highly recommended, and is brilliantly insightful into life and humanity. Yeah, it's long, but not as long as the miniseries, and the quality of the story, dialogue, scenery and costumes, the cinematography and Bergman's amazing touch makes this a worthwhile film to see.

THE MORTAL STORM (December 20, 12:15 pm): It's quite surprising that this hard-hitting anti-Nazi film was made in 1940 and released about 18 months before the United States got involved in World War II. It's an extraordinarily powerful film about what happens to a group of friends in a small Bavarian town when the Nazis take over Germany and attempt to conquer Europe. Not only is the acting outstanding, particularly Jimmy Stewart as an anti-Nazi, and Robert Young, who become a Nazi zealot, but the story is uncompromising and tragic. It's one of Stewart's finest roles. It's still as relevant today as it was in 1940.


UMBERTO D (December 15, 7:30 am): Director Vittorio DeSica was known for his realistic portrayals of life in Postwar Italy. Next to The Bicycle Thieves, this is his most important – and best – film from that time. It takes a long, hard look at the problems of the unwanted elderly, the protagonist being a retired professor of linguistics at Bologna who can no longer survive on his meager pension. Thrown out of his apartment for back rent, he wanders the streets with his faithful terrier, Flike, Be warned, this is the saddest owner and pet drama since Old Yeller, and I'm not kidding when I say that this is a five hankie picture. The film was instrumental in helping to reform the Italian pension system into something more humane. Critically lauded in the '50s, it's almost forgotten today, much like it's protagonist.

SIDE STREET (December 17, 4:15 pm): Anthony Mann directed this rather novel noir about Joe Norson (Farley Granger), a postal worker with money worries who impulsively steals $30,000 from a shady lawyer (Edmon Ryan). But, unfortunately for him, though he though he got away with it, he’s in for much more than he bargained, as the money was blackmail from an innocent man framed in a sex scandal and whom the lawyer later murdered. Soon Norson finds himself caught in a web of deceit and murder, which will include his own if he doesn’t act and act fast.  Mann takes us through a labyrinth of cross and double-cross, leading to one of the great chase endings. He uses a great supporting cast, including Cathy O’Donnell, Paul Kelly, James Craig, Paul Harvey, Charles McGraw, Whit Bissell, and Jean Hagen (in an unforgettable performance) to bring the story to life. With the aid of superb cinematography of Joseph Ruttenberg, Mann has created one of the greatest noirs, and certainly one to catch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . PARIS, TEXAS (December 17, 10:45 pm)

ED: C-.. When David and I do this part of the Alert, he’ll send me a film to disagree about. For this week he sent our subject. But in his e-mail announcing his choice of film, he says, “Man, you don’t like Wim Wenders, do you?” Well, David, you’re wrong in your assumption. It’s not that I dislike Wim Wenders. I don’t. It’s just that I don’t think he’s all that and a bag of chips. There are some Wenders films I really like, such as HammettKings of the Road, and The End of Violence, to name a few. And if I didn’t like Paris, Texas, I would have given it a “D” or an “F” as a grade. My take on this film is that it boasts a solid cast, great cinematography, but the direction is bland, a triumph of style over substance, as the rather thin, unrealistic plot isn’t nearly enough to support the move on its own, and Wenders does a piss-poor job of fleshing out the characters and their situations. It could have used a good paring down as it’s too long and waiting for anything to happen can be quite excruciating. It’s not a bad film – just one I can watch and could care less about.

DAVID: B+. A few weeks ago, Ed and I disagreed on Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987). This week, it's Wenders' haunting and fascinating 1984 movie, Paris, Texas, starring Harry Dean Stanton as Travis, who mysteriously emerges from a Texas desert after being missing for years. The viewer is immediately drawn to the stranger, who doesn't want to stop walking, and is unable to communicate well or remember much about himself. It turns out Travis' family life fell apart making him incapable of functioning. He is reunited with his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who, with his wife, has raised Travis' son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Travis and Hunter hit the road looking for Travis' ex and Hunter's mother, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who also disappeared years ago. Travis finds her at a peepshow in which she talks about sex and anything else with strangers who can see her, but she cannot see them. The two take turns delivering fascinating and insightful monologues. The film is unique, original and somewhat bizarre, but always interesting. Wenders does a fantastic job of storytelling with this film, which isn't easy as the story he is telling is complex yet compelling. While certainly different, Wenders and his acting cast are able to make the characters seem so real, exposing the viewers to their frailties, perspectives and personalities. It is both beautiful and tragic. While I haven't seen many of Wenders' films, the ones I've seen leaves me with the strong impression that he is all that and a bag of chips.

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pumping Iron Digital Download Giveaway

Pumping Iron, the classic documentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, is available for download on digital HD with new content and interviews.

Fans wanting it for free should send an email with Pumping Iron in the subject line to by December 15. The giveaway is open to anyone living in the United States or Canada.

The special features include:

Still Pumping: Success in bodybuilding is a mental challenge as well as physical. In these newly recorded interviews, Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about the will power and focus you need to become a champion, and the mental attitude that has shaped his career.

The Hard Science of Bodybuilding: Arnold Schwarzenegger and top bodybuilders give insights into the sport of bodybuilding and tips for building the body of your dreams.

Each household is only eligible to win one digital download code for Pumping Iron via blog reviews and giveaways. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Here's the trailer on this classic documentary.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: The Imitation Game

Imitation, The Sincerest Way to Curry Favor

By Steve Herte

You may have noticed from my last review that people I meet can't seem to place me, and are surprised to find out that I'm a native of Queens, New York. It's happened at several restaurants (including this week's) and trips I've taken. One year, while Helene and I were on the Cape May, New Jersey, to Lewes, Delaware, ferry heading to Ocean City, Maryland, we got into a conversation with a man who, upon learning our birthplaces, said to me, "Funny, you don't have a New York accent." and to Helene, "But you sure do!" I can only accredit this to my training in grammar school where the Sisters of Notre Dame insisted on proper English.

When I went to high school I learned much later on that my classmates thought I was from England. And yet, I still had to attend a special speech course there to correct my "dentalizing." The result is no one knows where I come from. In Groton, Connecticut, I was speaking with my cousin Stefan from Dienheim, Germany, (who had comparable English training) and a tourist came up to us saying, "Is that a British accent I hear?" I realized it had to be. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

What did I gain from all this? Well, it's a lot easier to understand Monty Python slang. It's fun to see people's faces when I tell them I'm born and bred in Queens. And I love movies where English, real English, is spoken, such as the one I saw this past Friday. Enjoy!

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Co, 2014) - Director: Morten Tyldum. Writers: Andrew Hodges (book, Alan Turing: The Enigma), Graham Moore (s/p). Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knghtley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Jack Tarlton, Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon, & Tuppence Middleton. Color, 114 minutes.

The scene is Manchester, 1951. An apartment belonging to Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) has been robbed (or at the very least, ransacked), but Alan tells Detective Robert Nock (Kinnear) nothing has been taken. This makes the detective suspicious and, believing Alan to be hiding treasonous doings, he begins his investigation into what Alan did during “The War.”

It is now 1939 and Alan is sitting in Commander Denniston’s (Dance) office awaiting an interview for a job with the military. His off-putting demeanor and mirthless but seemingly insulting answers almost make it the shortest interview in history. That is until Alan mentions Enigma. He has reasoned that the Commander called him there to solve the unsolvable puzzle, even though he has no military discipline and can’t speak a word of German. He is taken to Bletchley Park under the guise of a radio repair serviceman and meets the fellow members of his team (whom he neither needs nor wants), and he promptly alienates them all. However, after being introduced to Stewart Menzies (Strong) of the very secretive “MI6” (James Bond, anyone?) he is convinced that he must work with the other men.

But not for long, for Alan feels that the team is holding back progress. He goes over the Commander’s head with a letter to Winston Churchill and is granted leadership of the team. He immediately fires two of them and recruits replacements with a crossword puzzle in the newspapers: “If you can solve this in 10minutes, we have a job for you.” This fills a classroom with about 20 men and one woman, Joan Clarke (Knightley). He gives them a task to solve in six minutes (acknowledging to a friend that it took him 10 minutes). Joan completes it in 5 minutes 34 seconds, thus impressing him.

Joan becomes a part of the team, along with Hugh Alexander (Goode), John Cairncross (Leach), Jack Goode (Northcote), and Peter Hilton (Beard). Their assignment: to break the Enigma Code created by the Nazis – a code that has "159 million, million, million" possibilities before midnight, when it changes again. While Alan builds a digital computer to speed up the process, the four men agonize over the daily messages and Joan builds a closer relationship with Alan while trying to keep her parents happy.

As the main story progresses, a backstory is told about Young Alan Turing’s (Lawther) time in Sherborne School and his being bullied for being “different” by his fellow students (they nail him under the floorboards at one point). His only friend is Christopher Morcom (Bannon), who sets him onto solving codes with a book. They pass notes in class in code, much to the teachers’ dismay. Alan and Christopher are inseparable until the Headmaster calls Alan into his office and explains why Christopher has not returned from holiday. He died of bovine tuberculosis.

Alan names his decryption machine “Christopher” in his honor. And when growing pressure from her parents keeps Joan from Bletchley Alan fashions an engagement ring out of wire and proposes to her. Even though it is eventually revealed that Turing is gay, this is the best move he’s made in his career –because without Joan, the machine would keep running without producing a solution. It is Joan who reduces the variables by using the repeated weather forecasts and the words “Heil Hitler” in every message.

Unfortunately, now that the code is broken it has to be used carefully, even if it means (and it did) not notifying the American ships that an attack was imminent on a convoy carrying (among many other civilian passengers) Peter’s brother. Alan and Joan stress the importance of the cautious leaking of information to Stewart Menzies, lest the Germans’ learn their code has been broken. Were this to happen two years of work would have been for nothing.

The team is ordered to destroy all their papers, all their work and never to discuss what they accomplished, leading Detective Nock nothing to discover but Alan’s homosexuality. He’s given the choice of two years in prison for “indecency,” or treatment with oestrogen, a form of chemical castration. He chooses the latter but, as we learn during the credits, he committed suicide in 1954 and his accomplishments were not recognized until Queen Elizabeth issued a posthumous pardon in 2013.

The Imitation Game is a marvelous movie, well acted and well directed. Cumberbatch even looks like the real Alan Turing in a blue-eyed, thinner body. Knightley does a splendid performance as Joan. The entire cast is believable in their roles. Interspersed with the live film are stock monochrome reels of German soldiers marching, people saluting Hitler and assault forces landing at Normandy. Though I guess intended to stress the seriousness of Alan’s team’s job, they only served to detract from the credibility of the story with the exception of one scene, where a tank runs over an American helmet. The aerial scenes of bombers attacking London were much more realistic.

Because of its violent and controversial content I would advise caution to parents on whether or not your child can handle this film. But the lessons it teaches are painfully important. The most quotable line is when Alan is convincing Joan to join the team. “Sometimes, the ones people don’t imagine much of are the ones who do things people can’t imagine.”

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses

Curry Kitchen
40 West 8th Street (bet. 5th and 6th Aves.), New York

On their website, Curry Kitchen, open since 2008, cites “Every meal a great deal.” I certainly won’t dispute that. You’ll see why.

From their storefront window on 8th Street one can see the entire restaurant: the 12 tables, the tiny bar at the back, the ochre walls decorated with elaborately framed mirrors and butterfly motifs. You can also see how many people are dining.

When I arrived, only three other tables were occupied and I was not surprised when Sonam greeted me by name, for I was the only reservation. He gave me my choice of tables, and though he said it was warmer in back I chose the one in the front window (my favorite spot in any restaurant). Though the nook was small, I inserted myself into the chair, adjusted the table to keep it from rocking, and was comfortably cool. Sonam was not only the greeter but also the only server, and he brought me a glass of water, the wine and beer list, and the food menu.

Having dined at 136 previous Indian restaurants, it’s difficult to find unusual and unique dishes to try. I recognized nearly all the entries on the menu, which was an impressively large selection. It was categorized into Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Vegetable Curries, Biryanis, Chicken Curries Lamb Curries, Seafood Curries, Traditional Favorites, Breads from Tandoor, Sides, Desserts and Beverages. For those who “don’t like curry,” I would be compelled to ask which one they don’t like, for there is absolutely at least one on this menu that could be a mind-changer. They even have a Prix Fixe menu.

I told Sonam that I usually have a nice red wine with Indian food and chose the 2012 Montrose Shiraz from Australia – a rich, deep garnet wine with a full body accented with the flavor of cherries. This wine complimented all my dishes, including the Pappadum: a cracker-like bread served with mint and tamarind chutneys.

I started this meal, as I have so many others, with Mulligatawny Soup – made with yellow lentils, chicken broth and lemon grass (cooked perfectly for the first time I can recall – usually it is woody and inedible). This dish varies with Indian chefs. Sometimes it’s red, sometimes a greenish color, and sometimes yellow, as in this case. Always mildly spiced, it usually comes with a half lemon to squeeze into it. The lemon grass was a complete surprise. Thai restaurants use this condiment much more than do Indians and it adds a subtle lemon flavor.

My second course arrived a little early for my tastes, but both dishes retained their temperature until I finished them. The Malmal Kebabs – Chicken seasoned with ginger, garlic and lemon, with greens (albeit limp) and carrots, and the same two chutneys as served with the pappadum. This dish was one of the few I had not tried before and I loved it. The kebabs were dense enough to cut with a knife but tender enough to break apart when dipping into the chutney. Even more mildly spiced than the soup, the chicken could be tasted above the accents of garlic and ginger. Very nice.

My main course was a tribute to a co-worker. Knowing what part of India she hails from, I deliberately chose the Kerala Boat Man’s Crab Curry – with black peppercorns, red chilies, mustard seeds and coconut, onion and cumin over Basmati rice Pulao. Another first. For one, it was not an unfinishable bowl of rice (although I adore Basmati rice), and the shredded crabmeat was mixed into the once again mildly spiced curry and was easily spoon-able onto my plate (once I reminded Sonam that he took my spoon when he cleared the first two dishes). How mild was this dish? Marylanders wouldn’t touch it and couldn’t taste it.

I acknowledged that my bread choice, the Peshawari Nan, was a Pakistani recipe, but I love the fruit and nut stuffed flatbread baked in the tandoor oven. I was having wonderful memories of Indian dinners past and friends I knew who enjoyed them with me. Sonam asked how I was enjoying myself. I asked him if he ever had a meal that was so good he started crying. He said yes and brought the chef out to meet me. After kissing her hand and raving about how excellent everything was, I heard from a table in the middle of the restaurant, “I’ll have what he’s had!” The chef graciously accepted my praises and returned to her duties.

Sonam asked if I wanted dessert and after looking at the short list, chose my favorite, Gulab Jamun. The menu describes it as a dumpling (not really, their only mistake). It’s a malted milk ball in a honey/rose water sauce. And Sonam assured me that it was on the house. I asked for Masala Chai (spiced tea) to go with it. Both were perfect; the tea reminded me of the place in Flushing where I first tasted and loved Indian food, Kalpana. It has long ago closed and I miss it. Remember the “great deal” mentioned on their website? Everything I had (without tip) totaled under $70.

After finishing the tea I was surprised to see the chef come over to my table once again and sit down to talk. She offered a glass of wine but, the time was getting close to ten o’clock and I politely thanked her and demurred. She understood and thanked me for dining with them. I told her would tell my friend from Kerala about the restaurant, donned my coat, opened my umbrella and stepped out into the rainy streets of Greenwich Village.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for December 8-14

December 8–December 14


THE FOUNTAINHEAD (December 8, 4:30 pm): That this movie was ever made is a surprise, particularly by a big studio  Warner Brothers  starring Gary Cooper and directed by King Vidor. That Ayn Rand, the author of the book of the same name, wrote the screenplay is a complete shock. For those not familiar with Rand, she was a novelist who wrote about "Objectivism," a political philosophy of individualism, rational self-interest, not contributing to society for the greater good, and to this day is the darling of Neo-Cons and Libertarians. This 1949 film is based on her 1943 book, "The Fountainhead," and is about Howard Roark (Cooper), a brilliant architect who works in a quarry as a laborer rather than practice his craft because he wouldn't have complete control over the buildings he wants to design. Interestingly, Rand agreed to write the film's screenplay only if she had complete control over it. (She did have to change a couple of things because of the Hays Code such making a rape scene into one of submissive passion, and having a character commit suicide rather than divorce as the latter was a no-no under the Code.) A fellow architect, with inferior ability, asks Roark to design a building. Roark agrees to even give the guy all the credit as long as the structure is built to his exact design. However, the firm that owns the building changes it so Roark purposely blows up the structure. He is arrested, goes on trial and defends himself by delivering a speech about his right to do what he wants with his building. Yeah, the story sounds ridiculous. But it's a fascinating film that looks into the passion and conviction of a principled man in a world with far too few principles. Cooper and Patricia Neal, who's character becomes his lover (and the two had a legitimate affair during the filming of this movie), are excellent. Vidor does a great job making the film believable enough to inform and entertain.

LARCENY INC. (December 9, 10:45 am): No one played Edward G. Robinson's mobster character for laughs better than Eddie G. himself. In this 1942 film, his character, J. Chalmers "Pressure" Maxwell gets out of prison after serving his time with plans to go straight. His dream of opening a dog racing track in Florida is thwarted when he's unable to get the financing because of his gangster background. But Pressure has enough money to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank that rejected his loan request. With the help of a couple of dim-witted buddies, Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) – great criminal flunky names! – they start digging underground to get to the bank's safe. One of the funniest scenes has them breaking a utility line and oil comes pouring out of the hole with Jug and Weepy, covered in the stuff, thinking they struck a gusher . While the luggage store is just a cover for their criminal plans, it becomes a very successful business. There's a secondary plot involving Pressure's adopted daughter (played by Jane Wyman) and an inept luggage salesman (played by Jack Carson) that is amusing, but takes a back seat to Eddie G.'s charisma and comedic skills.


THE TALK OF THE TOWN (December 8, 1:45 am): A splendid, intelligent comedy written by Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman, directed by George Stevens, and brought to vivid life by Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman. Grant is Leopold Dilg, an anarchist who was framed and sent to prison. He’s escaped and hiding in the home of childhood friend Nora Shelley (Arthur). She has rented the house for the summer (and acts as cook-housekeeper) to renowned Harvard law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman). It’s a battle of wits and philosophy between the radical humanist Dilg and the conservative book-bound Colman, and not a word of dialogue is wasted. Arthur acts as mediator, showing Colman’s character that there is more to the law than is contained in the books, as Colman comes to the realization that 100 years of precedents is not the be-all and end-all of justice. Look for Glenda Farrell in a wonderful performance as the local beautician who has important information about Dilg’s case and from whom Colman must get that information (in a wonderfully comic scene), and Edgar Buchanan as Dilg’s lawyer.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (December 9, 10:30 pm): When one looks up the term “action picture,” a still from this film should be under the definition. Quite simply, this is the role Errol Flynn was born to play, and he’s quite good in it. Give him such villains to play against as Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone, and this film just can’t be beaten. Olivia de Havilland shines as Maid Marian, with Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin in fine form as the comic relief. The best thing about the film is its refusal to take itself seriously, which amps up our enjoyment even more. Michael Curtiz directed with a nearly flawless style. It’s simply one of those rare films I can watch over and over without growing bored.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BULLETS OR BALLOTS (December 12, 2:45 pm)

ED: B-. Bullets or Ballots is a pretty good movie. Any film starring Eddie G. and Joan Blondell has to be good. But it’s not that good. Yeah, the vastly underrated Barton MacLane shines as the main heel, but there’s Humphrey Bogart, again being wasted as MacLane’s toadie as yet another one-note supporting character. And this film came right after his breakout performance in The Petrified Forest. It would mark the beginning of a few years stretch in which Bogart essentially played the same criminal character. Nor was it one of Eddie G.’s favorite flicks. He noted in an interview long ago that fans assumed that he rose in the morning, got dressed, ate breakfast, and then shot Humphrey Bogart before going to work. No, this is a film where the cast is good, the script relentlessly ordinary, and the direction lacking.

DAVID: A-. This is a classic gritty Warner Brothers gangster film with all of the right elements. Bullets or Ballots (1936) is the first of five films to team Edward G. Robinson with Humphrey Bogart. Eddie G. is great as a police detective who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang that includes Bogie, who is suspicious of the supposed ex-cop. Bogart shines as the calculating bad-guy character he perfected before becoming the anti-hero a few years later. Joan Blondell is her typical excellent self, and Barton MacLane gives one of his best performances. The ending, in which both of them get it to comply with the Hays Code, is somewhat of a let-down. But the film packs a lot of action and snappy dialogue into 82 minutes, and is such a joy to watch. Based on the true story of a New York City cop, it's an underrated and lesser-known film. But it is must-see viewing for fans of the Warners gangster film genre and lovers of classic movies for the first-time pairing of Robinson and Bogart. Myah!

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Psychotronic Zone: The Scarlet Clue

By Ed Garea

The Scarlet Clue (Monogram, 1945) - Director: Phil Rosen. Writers: George Callahan (s/p). Based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers. Cast: Sidney Toler, Mantin Moreland, Ben Carter, Benson Fong, Virginia Brissac, Robert Homans, Jack Norton, Janet Shaw, Helen Devereaux, Victoria Faust, I. Stanford Jolley, & Charles Wagenheim. B&W, 65 minutes.

In 1942, 20th Century Fox pulled the plug on its long-running Charlie Chan films. A combination of below-par scripts and falling box office returns combined to convince studio execs to discontinue the once highly popular series. But Charlie Chan wasn’t done - not quite yet. Sidney Toler, who inherited the role of Chan after Warner Oland’s death in 1938, shopped the property around until he found a taker in Monogram Pictures. Beginning with Charlie Chan in the Secret Service in 1944, Toler would play Chan 11 times for Monogram before his death in 1947. Roland Winters would then take over the role of Chan for six additional films until the series finally ended in 1949.

While Fox regarded the Chan series as inexpensive “B” features, they nevertheless took a certain amount of care with their production. The plots may have been silly, but the direction (mainly by H. Bruce Humberston) was excellent, the pacing was sharp, the dialogue crisp and witty, and a most featured a good cast, including such actors as Boris Karloff, Ray Milland, Ricardo Cortez, and Cesar Romero. The result was a charming, comfortable series of films that go down in Hollywood history as one of the best “B” series, along with MGM’s Andy Hardy and Dr. Kildare films, and Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series.

Monogram, however, was a different story entirely. The studio had neither the time nor the finances to polish the Chan films. They were simply B-movies, average at best, nearly unwatchable at worst. The only change Monogram did make to the existing formula was to provide Charlie Chan with a chauffeur. Moreland was assigned the role of Birmingham Brown, Chan’s driver and added comic relief for Number Three son, Tommy (Fong).

This film opens with Chan now working for the federal government and on the trail of a spy ring after secret government radar plans, aided by Captain Flynn (Homans) of the NYPD. Unfortunately, Flynn tails Chan’s one lead to the ring, a scientist named Rausch (Wagenheim), a little too closely; the result being that Rausch’s mysterious, unknown boss has him knocked off.

Chan discovers that the killer has given the police the slip and escaped in a car. Getting the license plate number, he traces it to owner Diane Hall (Devereaux), a radio performer who had reported it stolen earlier that evening. Accompanied by assistants Birmingham Brown and son Tommy, Chan visits the Cosmo Radio Center, where he finds a bloody heelprint identical to that left at the crime scene. Meanwhile, studio manager Ralph Brett (Jolley) telephones the spies’ ringleader, who uses the Western Union telegram service to advise Brett to be more careful, lest he meet the same fate as Rausch.

Later, Chan visits the Hamilton Laboratory, located in the same building as the radio center. He is told of numerous failed attempts to break in and steal the radar plans from the laboratory’s safe. Chan informs then that he had placed phony radar plans in the safe, just in case the spies should succeed.

Meanwhile, actress Gloria Bayne (Shaw), having found Brett’s matches in the stolen car, deduces he’s the killer the police are looking for and tries to blackmail him into giving her better parts in the future. Shortly afterward, she is dispatched in front of witnesses, including Chan; her cause of death unknown. Realizing that Chan is onto him, Brett asks his boss for help in escaping. He is directed to a service elevator, where the spy kills him by activating a trap door. Upon finding Brett’s body on an upper floor (a nice touch, considering the trap door would send him right down to the basement), Chan has an impersonator call the spy leader. Thinking Brett is still alive, the leader once again directs him to the service elevator, where Chan discovers the trap door.

Chan goes on to question the people who worked with Brett and Gloria, including Diane, who is acting in a dreadful soap opera at the studio. The sponsor of the show, Mrs. Marsh (Brissac) resents Chan’s intrusions and lets him and the police know in no uncertain terms. She also spends her time giving the producers a hard time about the quality of the show, proving to be an obstacle to Chan because of her obstinacy.

Diane is the next to go, killed in the same mysterious way as Gloria. She is followed by performer Willie Rand (Norton), who is killed while taping a television show after telling Chan that he may have uncovered some information crucial to the case. Investigating further, Chan discovers that a poisonous gas, activated by nicotine when the victim lights a cigarette, is the cause of death for Gloria, Diane and Willie.

After a thorough search of the building, the spy leader's office is found. When the leader returns, Chan, Tommy, Birmingham and the police chase him through the radio studio, only to see the leader meet death by the trap door when trying to use the elevator to escape. In the basement of the building, they discover the dead body of Mrs. Marsh, the ruthless radio sponsor, who turns out to be the spy leader. Chan declares the case solved.

The Scarlet Clue is one of the better Chan films from Monogram, with a steady hand from director Rosen. The director simply used the sets from the previous Chan film, The Jade Mask (the weather chamber was used as a gas chamber in the earlier film). Rosen, who began his directorial career in 1915, worked mainly for independent studios such as Invincible, Mascot, and Republic before settling in at Monogram. In the ‘30s he directed good films like Dangerous Corner (1934) for RKO, and The President’s Mystery (1936) for Republic, with a story by FDR himself (!). Now he was directing B-level assembly line features for the bottom of the bill. His last feature was The Secret of St. Ives in 1949 for Columbia. He passed away in 1951.

George Callahan was a screenwriter who never graduated beyond the B’s before going into television. He wrote several other Monogram Chans in addition to this one. The rather unusual murder method - a toxic gas in a thin glass tube or (as here) a plastic capsule that kills the victim when the vessel is broken and the gas inhaled - goes back to Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), although Callahan probably took the concept from Monogram’s 1938 Mr. Wong - Detective. However, he gives it a neat little twist in that the gas is harmless until the victim decides to smoke, in which case it interacts with nicotine to become fatal. Since practically everyone smoked back in the ‘40s, it was not out of the ordinary. But there are potential ideas in the script that go unrealized. Case in point is the charwoman Hulda Swenson (Faust, with a really rotten Swedish accent) for the radio station, who always seems to be around when something is going down. Is she the killer, or even a suspect? No, at the end it’s lamely revealed that in fact she is a British agent working with Chan to uncover the spy ring.

Another case in point is going to all the trouble to build a prop-laden laboratory and a studio with both a radio and television station that end up as merely background scenery. Much could have been done with these settings, but Monogram is content to use them merely as window dressing.

What it lacks in plot, it must make for with characters. Toler is his usual phlegmatic self, slower than in his Fox days, but not yet reaching the level when the intestinal cancer that killed him took hold, and he gets off his aphorisms with his usual verve. One of his best lines, courtesy of screenwriter Callahan, comes when son Tommy says he had an idea, “but it’s gone now.” Toler replies, “Possibly could not stand solitary confinement.” He also comes up with a quick ad lib after accidentally being shocked by the electrical equipment in the laboratory.

Fong, for his part, is adequate as Tommy, getting into trouble as he tries to solve the case for his father. He began his film career as in extra in 1936’s Charlie Chan at the Opera. Although he would play the role of Tommy Chan six times in the Monogram series, Fong also appeared in such notable films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Flower Drum Song (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (with Elvis Presley, 1962), Our Man Flint (1966), and S.O.B. (1981) in addition to innumerable guest appearances on television.

It’s Moreland, however, who walks away with this movie; not that there’s much to walk away with. He steals every scene he’s in, as his quick, witty repartee keeps us in the movie, especially when it begins to lag, which is to say, often. He also has a couple of splendid scenes with nightclub partner Carter, as the two of them perform a hilarious double-talk routine where one finishes the other’s sentence. It’s every bit as good as Abbott and Costello’s ”Who’s on First?” routine, and the tragedy is that we can only see it in a B-picture from a Poverty Row studio. Moreland, who appeared in all 15 Monogram Chans, saw his move career end when the series concluded in 1949. The emerging civil rights movement and its subsequent shift in America’s consciousness caused Moreland’s humor to be assigned to the trash bin as stereotyping and demeaning. It wasn’t until the 60s that he began to work regularly, appearing with such artists as Bill Cosby, Diahann Carroll and Melvin Van Peebles.

All in all, The Scarlet Clue is a decent time-passer, especially for hardcore Charlie Chan fans. It tends to be rather slow and dull at times, but there are some exciting moments and plot devices that should keep our interest. An entertaining chapter in the Chan saga, though well below the level of the Fox Chan movies.