Friday, December 9, 2016

Trolls

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Trolls (DreamWorks/ Fox, 2016) – Directors: Walt Dorn, Mike Mitchell. Writers: Jonathan Aibel & Mike Mitchell (s/p). Erica Rivinoja (story). Thomas Dam (creator, Good Luck Trolls). Voices: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Funches, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kunal Nayyar, & Quvenzhané Wallis. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 92 minutes.

The trailers prepared me perfectly for this saccharin-sweet sappy story. The movie opens in Bergentown at the time of year called “Trollstice.” King Gristle Sr. (Cleese) has promised his son the future King Gristle (Mintz-Plasse) his first literal taste of happiness by eating a troll. 

The Chef (Baranski) has just picked the right troll from the huge Troll Tree growing in the town square. but it proves to be a fake, as do all the trolls on the tree. For this, the Chef is banished and thrown out of town.

The real live trolls are escaping through a series of tunnels led by their King Peppy (Tambor) and his repeated calls of “No troll left behind!” Not surprisingly, he’s the last troll out of the tunnel with his daughter and heir Poppy.

About 20 years later, Poppy (Kendrick) has grown into the role of princess and leads her life singing, dancing and hourly hugging people in party after party. That is except for Branch (Timberlake). He doesn’t believe they’re safe from the Bergens and lives in an underground bunker. He doesn’t sing, dance or hug and he reproves Poppy for making the parties increasingly loud for fear of attracting the Bergens. And it does attract the attention of one Bergen, the exiled Chef.


In the confusion of scattering trolls, she manages to snatch up Creek (Brand), DJ Suki (Stefani), Biggie (Corden), Cooper (Funches), Satin (Jawo), Chenille (Hjelt), Guy Diamond (Nayyar) and Harper (Wallis), and puts them into her fanny pack for delivery to the king and reinstatement as Chef.

Poppy is shaken but determined to save them. She begs Branch to help her, but when he refuses, she invites all the other trolls into his bunker. Rather than experience “hug time,” Branch accompanies Poppy on her quest just in time to save her from a group of spiders that may just have come from the movie Queen of Outer Space (1958), only the animated version.

When they gain access to the castle, they discover that the lowly scullery maid Bridget (Deschanel) is in love with King Gristle and, in return for their freedom, the trolls give her a Cinderella-style makeover. They transform her into Lady Glitter-Sparkle and it’s love at first sight for the King. What do Bergens do on a date? They go roller skating, of course.

If it weren’t for the exceptional animation and music (sometimes forced into the scenes) this film would have the rubber stamp of “been there, done that” all over it. The use of color versus Branch’s gray, gloom and doom attitude is remarkable, especially when things look worst and the entire cast of trolls go gray one by one. Popular tunes mixed into the movie include “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” “Sounds of Silence,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,, “Celebrate” and Zooey Deschanel gets to sing Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.” The one original song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake will probably be nominated as Best Song, but it has tough competition.

Children, especially little ones will love this movie. Adults may find it levels more juvenile than the Smurfs. It’s colorful, musical, technically fantastic and hackneyed, all at the same time. It’s the kind of film you watch when you don’t want a show that makes you think. I’m glad I saw it, but once is enough. Oh, in case you’ve seen the trailers and heard a yellow peanut-shaped character say, “Oh snap!” that’s Mr. Dinkles (voiced by Walt Dorn – along with five other characters) and his only line.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Agern
89 E. 42nd St.New York

While singing with the Westchester Chordsmen barbershop chorus, I spent a lot of time in Grand Central Station and I thought I knew every nook and cranny of it. I was wrong.


The name is Scandinavian and means “acorn” in Danish. Compared to the other major restaurants at Grand Central, it’s much more intimate. There is a square open kitchen in the center of the single room and tables to the left and right. The décor is definitely Nordic, all blonde wood, bubble-like swag lights and zig-zag tiled square columns.

I made an instant friend of the perky young woman slicing and dicing in the open kitchen and she answered my every question as she placed a crusty loaf of bread on the shelf in front of me in its own wooden bowl and a large dollop of “sour butter” plopped on a stack of flat rocks with a wooden knife propped up in it. Then, without warning, my server, Jen, appeared behind me with a “Hi!” She presented me with the food and beverage menus, both curiously bound like a secretary’s notebook. I was thoroughly enjoying the bread and butter as I flipped through them.

After a quick glance at the cocktail list, I ordered the Cornelius Vanderbilt. After all, he was one of the team of architects for Grand Central. Somehow this drink combined “smoke from oak” with Taconic Founder’s rye and Amaro. It looked like a dark red Manhattan, smelled like a smoke house and tasted like whisky with a cherry accent. Intriguing.

After consulting Jen on the more unusual dishes, I soon had a three-course meal representative of the Chef’s style. I ordered the 2010 Coturri Carignane, Testa Vineyards, Mendocino California, a medium-bodied red with light tannins to accompany the varied flavors I was about to enjoy.


The last time I had mackerel was in a Greek restaurant and they served them by how many fish you wanted. They arrived lined up on the plate like soldiers on parade. Not here. The sushi-grade filets were nestled in a polished black wooden bowl with sprigs of fennel and kohlrabi and thinly-sliced horseradish. The dish was more Japanese in presentation than what I knew to be Nordic. The fish was ultra-fresh, delicate and only slightly chewy. The more powerful ingredients were understated enough just to add excitement to the dish. And the wine worked beautifully with it.

My next dish was one I had to ask about beforehand. I’ve never seen it in any place I’ve been and wanted to be sure I would like it. Jen was very helpful, and when she described it with the word “carpaccio” I was hooked. The beef heart with crisp salsify, dill and elderberry was indeed like a carpaccio both in texture and flavor. At first, I couldn’t even see it for the other ingredients. But there it was, glowing redly under the forest green dill and French-fry colored salsify. The elegant pebbled glass plate it was served on almost upstaged the dish. It was excellent. Jen assured me it was the most popular item on the menu.

My next dish was one of my favorites, rabbit, served with carrots, lobster mushrooms, and carrot cress. The seasonal autumnal colors of this dish competed with the exceptional taste. The rabbit was tender and juicy – not the least bit gamy, while the carrots were fresh and sweet and the mushrooms added a forest-like flavor when combined with the caramelized sauce. Another dish I did not expect to be what it was.


The dessert menu had only four entries. I went with the first and was served another work of art. The dark berries consisted of lingonberries and cloud berries soaked in Dorothy Parker gin and surrounding red and pink mounds of homemade berry ice cream and beet root. The artful use of oak smoke was a fascinating part of the flavor of this dish as well. Again, served in a polished black wood bowl, the color contrasts were striking. It was tart and sweet (but not too sweet), crunchy and soft, all in turn.

Afterward I had a cup of lovely Earl Grey tea. And to finish off a Nordic meal like that, a thistle glass of Brennivin Aquavit from Iceland. The whole affair was elegant. I was charmed, despite the fact that most of the wines on their extensive list had ridiculous price tags. I could dine there reasonably (for New York) and would again.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for December 8-14

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 8–December 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ON BORROWED TIME (December 10, 6:30 pm): Like he did in numerous movies, Lionel Barrymore plays a grumpy old wheelchair-bound man (Gramps). He's raising his grandson, Pud (played by Bobs Watson; yeah Bobs as in more than one Bob), in this one. Pud's mother and father die in a car accident before the film starts, and his aunt wants to raise him, primarily to get her hands on the money left to the boy by his parents. But Pud and Gramps can't stand her, see right through her, and share an exceptionally close bond. Gramps has an apple tree and the fruit is constantly being stolen so he makes a wish that anybody climbing the tree gets stuck up there until he permits them to come down. Well, Death (masterfully played by Cedric Hardwicke) comes calling for Gramps and is tricked into climbing up the tree. Not only can't he take Gramps, but he can't take anyone else. The aunt thinks Gramps is crazy and sees this as an opportunity to get him committed and have Pud – and his money – for herself. As the movie progresses, Death tricks Pud into climbing the tree with disastrous results. Just thinking about the film's conclusion gives me chills. On Borrowed Time has a wonderful storyline, with many funny scenes, as well as a loving and touching message. Also, the acting is outstanding. Barrymore proved yet again that he never gave a bad performance.

3:10 TO YUMA (December 13, 11:30 am): One of the best Westerns I've seen, 3:10 to Yuma stars Van Heflin as down-on-his-luck farmer Dan Evans in desperate need of money to dig a well. He accepts an assignment to secretly transport notorious gang leader Ben Wade (Glenn Ford, who was made for Westerns), to a nearby town where Wade will be placed aboard a train that will take him to Yuma. This is a tense, psychological drama directed by Delmar Daves that concentrates on the relationship between captor and prisoner. The story departs from most other Westerns of the time in that much of it takes place not in the great wide open, but in a single room where the characters battle it out as Wade stalls for time so his gang can come to his rescue.

ED’S BEST BETS:

EMMA (December 9, 12:30 pm): Marie Dressler was never better than is this story of a housekeeper for would-be investor Frederick Smith (Jean Hersholt), who must suddenly become the caregiver for three children and a new infant after their mother dies in childbirth. She does a spectacular job of raising the children, and 20 years later, when Smith’s inventions have made the family wealthy, she marries her employer – to the disapproval of the children, who, except for the youngest, Ronnie (Richard Cromwell), are a spoiled and ungrateful lot. When Smith dies and leaves everything to Emma, the children, except for the loyal Ronnie, sue in court to invalidate the will. This is a wonderful soaper with Dressler’s down-to-earth housekeeper one of the best remembered characters in film. Leonard Praskins and Zelda Sears penned the screenplay based a story by Frances Marion, who knew what would sell for her friend Dressler and what wouldn’t. In the hands of a less talented actress, Emma would be a crashing bore, but Dressler pulls it off with just the right amount of restraint and panache.

KING KONG (December 10, 8:00 pm): Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this film? Along with The Lost World, it’s the granddaddy of the “monster-on-the-loose” films and still holds its grip on us to this day. The search for and capture of a gigantic ape on a previously unknown island is stuff of our childhoods and I know of few people who aren’t in love with this adventure. Animator Willis O’Brien created one of the classic creatures of filmdom which, combined with an intelligent script, continues to dazzle with each viewing. The addition of Fay Wray only ratchets up the mythic heat with a modern take on Beauty and the Beast: She and co-stars Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot do an admirable job of acting, but it’s Kong we’ve come to see. And when he finally dies in a hail of bullets atop the Empire State Building, there’s not a dry eye left in the house, for he proves to have more humanity than his captors.

WE AGREE ON ... IKIRU (December 13, 11:30 pm)

ED: A+. Although Akira Kurosawa tends to be best remembered for his forceful and excellent samurai films, his best film may well be this thoughtful, moving and intensely affecting account of an ordinary man’s struggle to find meaning in his life during the days he has left after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a longtime minor bureaucrat in Tokyo’s postwar government who, along with his co-workers, has spent his entire working life without accomplishing anything of importance. Once he learns that his time is limited, he begins to realize that he has gone through his life without any meaningful relationships with family, friends, or even strangers. As he continues to examine his life, he is led to the belief that perhaps he can make a difference by arranging for the construction of a playground in a poorer section of the city. Central to the success of the film is the compelling performance by Shimura as the dying bureaucrat. Shimura injects the character of Watanabe with just the right amount of existential angst to keep Watanabe firmly planted in reality instead of simply going overboard and milking it for every last tear from the audience. Watanabe comes to embrace the hope that by giving something back he can begin to atone for his miserable, wasted existence. Ikiru is best viewed through recording and viewing at an earlier time, for I guarantee that for those who do watch at this late an hour will get little sleep while pondering what they have seen over the course of the last two hours.


DAVID: A+. Ikiru is a masterpiece of cinema – beautiful, poetic, tragic, moving and transforming. At the same time, it's also a damning indictment of government, particularly its bureaucracy and politics, as well as doctors and most importantly, the time we all waste in life wasting time. Sure, we all have jobs to do – and often times, we're not doing anything terribly important but cashing a paycheck and marking time – but Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film shows we can sometimes do something that makes an impact in someone's life, even if it's small. Kurosawa was a legendary director who made numerous classic films, but none are finer or have more of an impact on the viewer than Ikiru, translated from Japanese to mean: to live. Takashi Shimura, a regular Kurosawa player, stars as Kanji Watanabe, a mid-level bureaucrat who focuses his entire life on stamping approval seals on paperwork day in and day out, not missing a single day of work for nearly 30 years. He's not feeling well as the film opens and despite a doctor telling him he has a minor ulcer, Watanabe knows better thanks to a man in the waiting room who informs him he has stomach cancer and that doctors will tell him it's nothing – which is exactly what happens. (The film begins with a narrator telling us Watanabe has stomach cancer.) From there, Watanabe goes from one minor adventure to another, trying to pack a lifetime of emptiness into the short time he has left to live. Shimura is able to perfectly capture the haunting look of impending death with his facial expressions. While Watanabe stops going to work regularly, he is able to make an impact on the lives of those in an impoverished neighborhood with a diseased swamp. At the request of the women in that community, who get the bureaucratic runaround, he is able to turn the swamp into a playground. While those in government are resistant to give him any credit for the playground after his death – which comes with about an hour left in the film – some finally realize that one man can indeed make a difference. In flashbacks at his funeral, we see the lengths Watanabe went to for complete strangers. And that is the beautifully tragic lesson Kurosawa teaches us in Ikriu, a film that stays with the viewer long after it ends.

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

Men Are Such Fools

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

Men Are Such Fools (WB, 1938) – Director: Busby Berkeley. Writers: Norman Reilly Raine, Horace Jackson (s/p). Faith Baldwin (story). Stanley Logan (uncredited). Stars: Priscilla Lane, Wayne Morris, Humphrey Bogart, Hugh Herbert, Mona Barrie, Johnnie Davis, Penny Singleton, Marcia Ralston, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Donald Briggs, Nedda Harrigan, Eric Stanley, Claud Allister, & Renie Riano. B&W, 69 minutes.

After his somewhat unexpected breakout in The Petrified Forest, it seems that Jack Warner had absolutely no idea what to do with his new budding star, Humphrey Bogart. Looking over Bogart’s movies from 1936 to 1940, it was not an impressive resume. His best work was in two films made outside the Warner’s environment: Dead End, and Tay Garnett’s comedy Stand-In

Back at Warner Bros. he ran the gamut from A to B, usually playing a cardboard crook in such forgettable films as The Amazing Dr. ClitterhouseKid GalahadKing of the Underworld, and You Can’t Get Away With Murder. Even when he played a good guy, as in Marked Woman and Crime School, he failed to rise above the material, which was poor at best. (Who even remembers Bogart in Marked Woman?) Give him a role with a little room to maneuver, such as Angels With Dirty Faces and The Roaring Twenties, and he acquitted himself well. (It was said at the time that nobody dies like Bogie.) But these also were few and far between. 


Typical of the crap he was assigned during this period was Men Are Such Fools, a comedy so lightweight it practically floats away; one of those films you have a hard time describing the plot of even 90 minutes after you’ve seen it. According to Bogie’s biographers A.M. Spearer and Eric Lax, this was his first assignment after signing a new contract that would pay him $1,100 a week for 40 weeks with an option for two more years at $2,000 per week. At one point after watching the dailies, producer Hal Wallis contemplated scrapping the whole thing, but it was purchased specifically for Busby Berkeley, the studio’s genius in residence concerning musical comedies, and Berkeley wanted to stretch his wings, so to speak. He should have stuck to his choreography.

Bogart is billed third, after Priscilla Lane, the doyenne of the Cutesy-Poo School of Acting, and Wayne Morris, the latest block of clay the studio was prepping for stardom. The plot revolves around Lane. She plays Linda Lawrence, a secretary at an advertising agency with an eye on bigger and better things, and writes some copy for a drink called “Fruit Tea,” a cure for hangovers, which she hopes will win her a larger and more prominent role in the company. Already in with her boss, Harvey Bates (played by Hugh Herbert in his usual absent-minded style with much emphasis on the “hoo-hoo-hoo’s”), she finagles a dinner with him in which she hopes to bowl him over with her charm and intelligence, such as they are.

However, Linda has a stalker of sorts in the person of Jimmy Hall (Morris), who works for another agency. He’s head over heels about her, although she doesn’t share the same level of enthusiasm for him because she believes that he’ll never rise to be anything in the business world. His idea of courting is to barge unannounced into her office and annoy her while she’s trying to get work done. Somehow Jimmy learns of her dinner and invites himself to the restaurant. He manages to get her drunk and she mistakes her resulting hangover the next morning for love.

Through her connection with Bates, Linda has moved up to copywriter. Jimmy, now her beau, wants to get married immediately, but Linda is more interested in pursuing her career. Because she’s attractive, men in power positions tend to listen to her ideas. Eventually she meets the agency’s only other woman copywriter, Beatrice “Bea” Harris (Barrie), who at first distrusts her new co-worker, but they quickly form a friendship. 


Bea invites Linda to a weekend party at her country home. Linda drives there with Jimmy, who is still trying to get her to marry him. This clod’s idea of getting her to accept his marriage proposal is to stall the car on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train, then restart it after she agrees to marry him. Somehow, Linda is taken with this approach, which tells us more about her mental faculties than we need to know.

At the party, Linda meets Harry Galleon (Bogart), a big shot at the agency in charge of radio. Harry’s ex-fiancee, Marcia Ralston (Townsend), is there too. She still carriers a torch for Harry, but he has a roving eye for the ladies and is currently playing post office with Bea. Linda turns on the charm and flirts with Harry, hoping to get her ad played on the radio. Jimmy, watching Linda throwing herself at another man’s feet, goes into a sulk and attracts the attention of Marcia. When Linda sees this, she becomes upset, and by the end of the weekend she and Jimmy have decided to get married immediately.

At first, Linda keeps her job with the agency. But one night she’s working late with Harry, while Jimmy’s cooling his heels at home. She and Jimmy are supposed to go to dinner to meet his old frat brothers. As she’s about to leave for the evening, Harry stalls her, claiming he’s getting the necessary signatures from the bosses to get her Fruit Tea spots on the air. Jimmy calls. She promises to meet him and his buddies for dinner. Harry stalls some more, and when he finally returns he does so with a mission – to make a pass at Linda. She is angry. Although she’s been leading him on at every turn, she acts to his pass like an insulted virgin. Harry follows her out the door, where Jimmy is impatiently waiting. He flattens Harry and demands Linda quit her job and settle into the role of housewife.


Linda agrees and takes up her new role as “the woman behind the man.” At first she’s happy, but friends notice a restlessness. She makes friends with a neighbor, Mrs. Dalton (Kathleen Lockhart), whose husband Bill (Gene Lockhart), owns a financial marketing firm. The dinner goes well and Bill and Jimmy adjourn to another room to talk. When Linda asks afterward if Bill offered Jimmy a job, Jimmy says that he did but he turned it down. Linda is dismayed. Jimmy explains that the job seemed too speculative and he had a good, secure position now. Besides, he’s a married man with responsibilities. Linda’s comeback is to the effect of asking him if he would have taken the position if he were single. When he nods in agreement, it’s too much for Linda, who packs up and moves out. Jimmy is astounded and asks her if she doesn’t like it with him. She answers that at first she did, but has grown to hate it because Jimmy has become too smug, refusing to move up in the world.

Berkeley uses a newspaper column to note the passage of time. The gossip column notes that Jimmy and Linda have separated and the Jimmy is now a partner with Nelson Sales Promotions. Linda is back with the agency and dating Harry, who wants to marry her. However, Linda finds she’s still carrying the torch for Jimmy.

Out to dinner at a restaurant before their big broadcast, Harry proposes, but Linda is reluctant. Shortly after, Bea and Harvey Bates arrive and invite themselves over to sit with Linda and Harry. Bea wants to speak with Linda privately and asks her to come to the powder room. On the way there, who do they run into but Jimmy and Marcia, who are now a couple.

Later that evening, during the broadcast, Linda announces that she’s off to Paris to be married. Jimmy is listening over the radio and hurries down to the studio, where he punches Harry out again and hectors Linda to stay with him. Linda’s reaction is to immediately leave for her boat with Jimmy in hot pursuit. Harry is already there, waiting for Linda. When he asks a steward if the party he was expecting is in their stateroom, the steward tells him she is. Harry rushes off to the stateroom as the boat sails only to find that it’s Marcia who is waiting for him. Jimmy is downcast as he sees the boat sail away, but he hears a voice from the shadows. It’s none other than Linda, who tells him she wasn’t sailing after all, but wanted him to think so in order to see if he really loved her. They finally reconcile as the film fades to black.

Afterwords

The best thing that can be said about this film is that Bogart is in it. True, he has a small, supporting role, but at least here he looks somewhat comfortable, unlike other B’s he made at the time where he plays cardboard-cutout gangsters, or the following year, when he plays a most unorthodox vampire in The Return of Doctor X



Cast in the unenviable role of the cad, he nevertheless comes off as a more interesting character than the two leads. And at the party, check out his bathing robe. It looks like a trench coat. It was a scene he reportedly didn’t want to do, but he doesn’t look all that silly in his two-piece bathing suit.

The leads, Priscilla Lane and Wayne Morris, are less than enticing, though in their defense they don’t have much of a script to work with. The main problem here is motivation. What makes these two characters decide to do what they do? Why would a career woman such as Linda fall head over heels for a clodhopper like Jimmy? Not that Linda doesn’t come with her own baggage. She comes off most of the time like an immature, manipulative control freak. For instance, at the party it’s okay for her to flirt shamelessly with Bogart’s character, but when Jimmy is targeted by another woman her jealousy is piqued to the point where she wants to get married immediately. And what woman is thrilled by a proposal that takes place while stalling a car at a grade crossing in front of an oncoming locomotive? Isn’t she in the least concerned that she may be affiancing herself to a psychopath?

For his part, Jimmy comes of as one of the most unlikable leads in a romantic comedy. His idea of charm is to be annoying and invite himself right in to whatever function where he sees the object of his desire. His best move is to stand around and try to look impressive. Every time he opens his mouth he loses credibility. And what a couple they make. He has to overcome his general stupidity and need for thuggish browbeating while she has to overcome her incessant need for control, constant game-playing and emotional distance. Both have this need to always be right and both are utterly incapable of compromise.

The best character in the movie by far is that of Bea Harris, the acerbic copywriter who helps Linda in her climb up the corporate ladder. As played by Mona Barrie, Bea is a Dorothy Parker type who looks askance at the world with her poison pen ever at the ready. Before telling Linda that “all men are polygamists,” she tells of her past as an abused wife and lonely divorcee almost offhandedly, as if it is the rule and not the exception. Although her minutes are few in the film, she gives a brilliant, delicately layered performance that brilliantly contrasts her with Lane’s character. Were this a Pre-Code movie she would have had a lot more screen time and a lot more to say.

This was the second film Lane and Morris were paired with the first being Love, Honor and Behave (1938), in which Morris played a milquetoast husband to Lane’s assertive wife. They would be paired again in Brother Rat (1938) and its sequel, Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). As the studio was pushing them as the next big romantic leads, the publicity team went so far as to cook up a romance between the two. They were frequently photographed at nightclubs and parties. The two dated briefly, but nothing came of it.

Critics were unimpressed by Men Are Such Fools. The normally supportive Variety called it “routine,” and The New York Times got in a good dig by describing this 69-minute long picture as “about an hour too long” and “sad and aimless.” The film netted Warner Bros. a profit of $10,000.


It’s recommended only for Bogart fans and Busby Berkeley completists. By the way, look for Carole Landis in a bit part as “June.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Moana

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Inner Workings (Disney, 2016) – Directed and written by Leonardo Matsuda. Voice: Raymond S. Persi. Animated, Color, Rated G, 7 minutes.

This animated short tells the story of a day in the life of a man stuck in a boring, repetitive job as well as a daily routine from the inside out. In fact, it’s the same concept as Inside Out (2015) only not as clever, entertaining or well-drawn. His purple rectangular brain rules his other bodily organs and keeps him from adventure, love and excitement with the same promise of outcome, death. The only organ with a vocal part is the stomach, voiced by Raymond S. Persi, who also plays the monk canting over the man’s coffin at the end of each thought.

It succeeds in getting its point across and the running gag of the monk chanting quasi-Latin is funny, but it looks more like an instructional video trying to be a Disney short.

Rating: 1½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Moana (Disney, 2016) – Directors: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, & Chris Williams. Writers: Jared Bush (s/p). Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kendall, & Jordan Kendall (story). Voices: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Knightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho, & Louise Bush. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 103 minutes.

Disney’s got another princess even though she doesn’t like to be considered a princess. This one’s Polynesian. It starts with a narrative of how the demigod Maui (Johnson) steals the pounamu stone, which is the heart of Te Fiti, the Island Mother and source of all life. He then has to battle Te Ka, the lava monster, and loses both the stone and his magic fishhook (from which he derives his shape-shifting powers) to the depths of the ocean.

The people of Motunui island have everything they need: ample fishing and coconuts until the fish leave the lagoon and the coconuts turn black inside. The daughter of Chief Tui (Morrison) and Sina (Scherzinger), Moana Waialiki (Auli’I Cravalho) has had a special relationship with the ocean. She communicates with it, and it reveals pretty conch shell for her. Her name even means “Ocean” in a few dialects. She sees the problems of her people and longs to take a canoe past the reef to find fish for them but her father forbids it. We learn later on that he once rowed past the reef as a young man and lost his best friend to the unfriendly sea.

But the sea reveals the “heart” to Moana and, after a few consultations with Gramma Tala (House) she discovers a cave behind a waterfall where the men of Motunui hid their ocean-going canoes. Things do not improve on the island, and Gramma Tala urges Moana to go from her death bed. Despite her father’s misgivings, Moana sets off to find Maui and make him take her across the great ocean and give Te Fiti back her heart. Once past the reef, Moana discovers a stowaway, Heihei (Tudyk) the rooster. This fowl is easily the dumbest character Disney ever created. He eats rocks, has to be shown where food is and repeatedly walks off the canoe into the ocean and has to rescued.


Maui, however, has been stranded on a desert island for millennia and is not quite ready to do a girl’s bidding. Though without powers, he’s more interested in escaping captivity than saving the world and being a hero again. He’s too full of himself and even argues with the many tattoos covering his upper body. We learn later that his own parents abandoned him.

But Moana’s persistence breaks through his armor and not only do they sail across the ocean together, he teaches her “wayfinding” – the art of navigation using currents and gauging the stars. They defeat the fearsome (but also self-centered) Tamatoa (Clement) the giant evil coconut crab, to regain Maui’s fishhook and escape hordes of attacking Kakamora pirates (really just animated coconuts – there are many uses of coconuts in this film).

Though this movie starts slow and is exceptionally Disney-cute at the beginning, it gains momentum with increasing interaction of water and people. The soundtrack is powerful and the big musical numbers are majestic and glorious. Look for “How Far I’ll Go” sung by Cravalho as a number one contender for best song at the next Academy Awards ceremony. The song is on a par with “Let It Go” from Frozen. The choral numbers in the Tokelauan language compare in sheer emotion and splendor to those in The Lion King. Though technically not a musical, there are a few reprises of the main song and, just when it threatens to become a musical, Maui snidely remarks to Moana, “You’re not going to break into song are you?”

Maui is the best role for Dwayne Johnson I’ve seen so far. The character can do all the physical acting his voice implies. It’s a perfect combination. Cravalho has an exceptional voice, with the strength and timbre of Idina Menzel’s. Her character Moana is an example for all young girls who aspire to greater things. The movie is a constant build of emotion until the end, where it almost leaves the audience breathless. It’s one of two movies this year where I heard the audience applaud at the end. Bring the family to this one. Once you get past the “cute” you’ll love it.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.


Thai Select
472 9th Ave., New York

It took 10 years and 24 previous Thai restaurants to discover this “Alternative Thai Cuisine” gem. Outside, the name is on the front three times; once in red and white illuminated letters on a gold background, once in white script on black, and once more in the front window in white block letters on black for “Thai” and in colorful circles (like the MTA subway train letters) for “Select.”


Inside, the first thing you see is the beautiful back wall depicting a banana-leaf forest and the plastic tarp covering the ceiling made to look like blue sky with wispy clouds. A Lucite wall painted with the same banana leaf design separated me from the bustling servers and cooks, but not from the enticing aromas. Noting the cheap tin-like chairs, I chose to sit on the more comfortable banquette against the wall.

My server TuK-ky arrived and I put in my cocktail order. Though the Blue Lagoon was attractive and reminded me of the movie I had just seen, I couldn’t resist the Earthquake Cocktail, a 12-inch-tall glass of gin, rum, tequila, lemon juice and absinthe garnished with a wedge of orange and a cherry. It was very much like a Long Island ice tea, but without the cola for color. The absinthe remained at the bottom glowing greenly until I mixed it up.

I gave my selections to TuK-ky and soon a young man brought me two appetizers. The one I had ordered was the peanut dumplings – almost translucent rice dough stuffed with sweet turnip and ground peanuts, and served with a dish of soy sauce. They were fantastic. They were sweet, not spicy (Thai food can surprise you with spice), topped with chopped peanuts and garnished with shredded carrot and Romaine.


The second dish was shrimp dumplings served with a sweet soy sauce, but not what I thought I had ordered. The next time TuK-ky came by, I asked her if this dish was the shrimp dumpling soup. No. She took it away and soon it was replaced with a bowl of steaming broth with king mushrooms and chopped scallions floating in it. Again, not a spicy dish. The broth tasted like a beef stock. The shrimp dumplings were tender and fresh. In fact, everything about the dish tasted fresh, right to the crunch of the scallions.

The presentation and delicious aroma of my main course the crispy duck was served with Tamarind sauce on a bed of steamed bok choy. It was irresistible. The duck was crispy and flavorful while at the same time tender and juicy. The tamarind sauce added a sweet-tart accent to the duck and the bok choy was a crunchy companion.

The dessert list, not surprising for an Asian menu, was limited. But I saw fried banana – crisp rice dough purses filled with banana surrounded a large ball of vanilla ice cream that was itself topped with a crown of whipped cream. The plate it was served upon was decorated with swirls of chocolate sauce. It was a beautiful to look at as it was delicious. I ordered a pot of Chrysanthemum tea, but TuK-ky told me they were out of that flavor. I chose green tea. It was good, a little weak for me but satisfying.


Before I left I just had to take a picture of the little fountain just beyond the wall to the restrooms. There was a female deity sitting and playing a horn to the mermaids in the water below, very attractive. I thanked TuK-ky for her help and service and remarked that I was remiss in not finding this wonderful restaurant until now. The menu has many reasons to return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cinéma Inhabituel for December 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

It’s the Holiday Season and TCM will treat us to a mixture of beloved old holiday favorites and some others that will sure to please.

The Star of the Month is Myrna Loy. There couldn’t be a better choice. Loy was one of the most talented and beautiful actresses ever to grace the silver screen. She began just as the Silent Era was ending and it took her a while to get established as talkies came in, even though her voice tested just fine. In fact, it wasn’t until 1934 and her starring role as Nora Charles in The Thin Man that her studio, MGM, realized they had another star in their stable. Because she made so many movies and most are familiar to our readers, we will concentrate on her early work and the lesser-known films in her catalog. 


December 2: Today’s Myrna-thon begins at 11:15 am with the 1929 Warner’s musical The Desert Song. John Boles stars as Pierre Birbeau, the seemingly weak and scatterbrained son of the French commandant of an outpost in the Moroccan desert. But our Pierre moonlights as The Red Shadow, the swashbuckling leader of a troop of Riffs horsemen. Myrna has a small role as an exotic. It’s followed at 1:30 pm by The Great Divide, a nonstarter of a Western from 1929 starring Ian Keith as a businessman who disguises himself as a bandit to kidnap flapper Dorothy Mackaill and put an end to her wild and wooly days. Besides Mackaill, the only reason to watch is the performance of third-billed Myrna as the hot-blooded Mexican vixen Manuella. 

At 4:45 pm it’s Show of Shows (1929), a series of musical and dramatic vignettes designed for the express purpose of showing the audience that Warner Bros. stars can actually speak. Myrna is a Floradora girl in a sketch near the beginning. Look closely.

And following at 5:00 is Myrna Loy: So Nice To Come Home To, a 1991 retrospective of her life and films hosted and narrated by Kathleen Turner. 

The evening is loaded with Myrna’s films from 1929 to 1931. Begin with The Devil To Pay (8 pm), a witty comedy from 1930 starring Ronald Colman as Willie Hale, the devil-may-care son of Lord Leland (Frederick Kerr) who returns home after his gambling debts forced him to sell his property in Kenya. Though his father threatens to throw him out of the family home, Willie still manages to get up to his old tricks. Though he is in the midst of a affair with actress Mary Cradle (Loy), he falls in love with the free-spirited Dorothy Hope (Loretta Young). One problem: Dorothy is engaged to a Russian count. The film has solid performances from Colman, Kerr, Loy and Young, and despite its staginess, it is one to catch.


At 2:15 am, it’s Loy and Young once again in The Squall, a interesting drama from Warner Bros./First National. Loy stars as Nubi, a Gypsy beauty who finds sanctuary with farmer Josef Lajos (Richard Tucker) and his family after running away from her camp. Once installed within the household, she proceeds to tear the family apart, with the men fighting over her favors. She is the squall of the title. It’s interesting to watch Loy playing an exotic and her acting is wonderful as she seduces the men and plays them off against each other.

December 9: We are treated to a day and night of Myrna, beginning at 10 am with The Naughty Flirt (1930). The film stars Alice White as a flighty heiress with Myrna as a seductress who tries to take Alice’s boyfriend away. It’s not much of a movie save for Myrna, who acts rings around the lightweight White.

At 12:30 pm, Loy plays one of the children raised by housekeeper Marie Dressler in the superior soaper Emma (1932). Following at 2:00 pm, Loy is Fah Lo See, the daughter of the evil Fu Manchu in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Boris Karloff is in fine form as the Chinese warlord who wishes to conquer the world and Loy doesn’t miss a beat as his helpful daughter. Fu needs the sword and mask of Genghis Khan, which have supernatural powers, to complete his task. Standing in his way is British agent Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) and British Museum official Sir Charles Barton (Lawrence Grant). Karen Morley plays Barton’s damsel-in-distress daughter, and Terrence Granville is along as her fiancé, Charles Starrett, whom Fah Lo See has her eyes on as well. 

The evening offers Loy’s work from 1932 to 1933. Most notable is The Prizefighter and the Lady, a 1933 comedy with Loy as a gangster’s girlfriend who succumbs to the charms of heavyweight boxing contender Max Bear and marries him, only to have him take her for granted. Though everything comes out right in the end, the way there is fraught with bumps. Directed by Woody Van Dyke, this was a breakout film for Loy, showing what she could do if given the chance as leading lady in an MGM picture. 

At 12:30 am, Loy is the villain in the delightfully psychotronic Thirteen Women, from RKO in 1932, with an excellent ensemble cast, headed by Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez. Loy is fun to watch as Ursula Georgi, a Japanese-Indian half-caste who is seeking revenge against the sorority sisters who ostracized her in school. This would be Loy’s last role as an exotic. Look for Peg Entwistle in the role of Hazel Clay Cousins. This was the would-be star’s only film and she committed suicide shortly after the film opened by climbing a ladder up the HOLLYWOODLAND sign and jumping to her death. She was only 24.

At 2:45 am, Loy shines in MGM’s 1933 Penthouse. Warner Baxter stars as lawyer Jackson Durant. Framed for the murder of his fiancee (Mae Clarke), he searches for the guilty party with the help of call girl Gertie Waxted (Loy). Baxter may be the star, but Loy walks away with the movie.

The TCM Spotlight for December is “The Golden Years,” highlighting films focusing on the elderly.


December 6: At 8:00 is one of the saddest and most heart-wrenching films ever made, Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play an elderly couple who have just lost their home in a foreclosure and have to be taken in by their grown children. But no one child has enough room for them both, with the solution being that two of their five children, who live 300 miles apart, each take one parent. Though the split is looked upon at first as only temporary, the children's own lives and families combine with their selfish attitudes to transform the presence of their parents into a burden, and eventually there is talk of placing them in an old-age home. McCarey doesn’t let up and there is no happy ending, which makes the film even more poignant.

At 1:30 am it’s Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). Considered by critics as one of the best films ever made, it’s the story of an elderly couple (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama) who travel to Tokyo to visit their children. But the children have no time for them. The daughter (Haruko Sugimura) is a beautician who owns her own busy parlor, and their son (So Yamamura) is a pediatrician with a thriving practice. The only one who has time for them is their widowed daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara). Slowly the parents realize they have become a burden for their children. The ending is very poignant as the elderly wife passes away after the couple return home and their Tokyo children are only interested in taking their possessions. The film was Ozu’s statement on the increasing Westernization of Japan after the war and its effect on the Japanese family and culture. It is a beautifully made, finely-layered film, and despite the subject matter it does not sink to the level of a soap opera. Ozu does not point fingers at either the parents or the children; instead it is a finely textured thoughtful meditation on the changing values of life in modern Japan.

December 13: Three all-time classics are on tonight’s bill. Leading off at 8 pm is director Vittorio deSica’s Umberto D (1952), the tale of a pensioner whose meager retirement check is not enough to keep him from being evicted from his apartment with his beloved little terrier. DeSica considered it his best film and it did spark a debate over retirees’ pensions that led to reforms. At 9:45 pm comes Ingmar Bergman’s brilliant and moving Wild Strawberries (1957). Victor Seastrom stars as Isak Borg, an elderly professor who, in the course of travel to his alma mater to receive a prestigious award, recalls the people, places and memories over the course of his life, which leads him to re-examine his life. He comes to realize how his choices and career led to a growing isolation from other people and how it kept him from taking advantage of the many opportunities offered him in his youth. 

Finally, at 11:30 pm it’s Kurosawa’s thoughtful Ikiru, from 1954. Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a longtime minor bureaucrat in Tokyo’s postwar government who, along with his co-workers, has spent his entire working life without accomplishing anything of importance. Now diagnosed with terminal cancer, he examines his life and comes up empty. To atone for his lack of engagement with others he decides to fund the building of a playground in a destitute section of the city. Kurosawa avoids easy answers in favor of a situation where the more difficult road must be traveled in order to make amends and inject meaning into a lifetime remarkably absent of any such emotions.

KEISUKE KINOSHITA


December 13: It’s a rare treat with a double feature from acclaimed director Keisuke Kinoshita beginning at 2:00 am with his 1958 drama of death and culture, The Ballad of Narayama, and followed at 4:00 am by his 1944 early drama, Army. The first, which I must confess I haven’t yet seen, is a story about a poor village whose people have to be carried to a nearby mountain to die once they get old. Instead of simply telling you to watch a movie I haven’t seen, I am including part of a review by Francois Truffaut, included in his book, The Films in My Life

When the old people of a certain village where a bowl of rice feeds a man for several months reach seventy, they are left on the summit of Narayama mountain so they will no longer burden their families. When the moment comes, and she asks, the dutiful son must carry his aging mother there on his back. The hero of this film must carry his father, too, on his back like a mountaineer’s knapsack. He puts the old man down in a crevice in the rocks and descends to the village, lighter in his body, if heavier in his heart. Vultures begin to fly around the summit. When it begins to snow, the hero, filled with remorse, turns and goes back to find his father dead, turned into a statue. It is a sight we don’t see every day.

The astonishing thing is that this cruel and inhuman legend is treated only in its most human aspect. There are evasions, exceptions, procrastinations. The old man doesn’t want to go to the mountain and so and so again he delays his departure. The old woman wants to go, but before she does so she breaks her teeth on a stone so that she will no longer be able to eat solid food. . . My God, what a beautiful film.

Army I’ve seen. It’s a beautifully moving film about one family and their military legacy. Their son is about to be shipped off into battle and the film shows their desire over the possibility of the son being killed. Look for the scene near the end where the mother (Kinuyo Tanaka) trying to find her son among those marching. It is very emotional and ends with her close-up. Although ostensibly a propaganda film (the money to film came from the Japanese Army), the film cheesed off the military to the point where they would not allow Kinoshita to direct another film. He had to do that after the war, when he could freely express himself. It is a film definitely worth watching for its subtle unwinding.

WHO WATCHES SHORT SHORTS? WE WATCH SHORT SHORTS

December 5: The entire day is devoted to Vitaphone shorts as TCM celebrates the 90th anniversary of Vitaphone. There are around 37 shorts in all, plus The Jazz Singer (6 pm), which marked the beginning of talking pictures. So if shorts are your thing, this is a feast. Be aware, however, that these are only the shorts made by Warner Bros.

OTHER NOTABLES

December 4: Akira Kurosawa shines a light on Tokyo slim dwellers in Dodes’Ka-Den (1971), at 3:30 am. The title comes from the sound a trolley makes going down the tracks, and is chanted again and again at the film’s opening by Roku-chan (Yoshitaka Zushi), a mentally handicapped slum dweller who spends his days conducting an imaginary trolley. His is only one story in this tar papered part of the city, as each dweller spends the day finding ways to cope with the crushing poverty. 


December 11: A double feature of sorts begins at 2 am with director Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1965), a tale of a mother and her nubile young daughter in 14th century Japan who survive during a civil war by selling the weapons and armor removed from bodies of exhausted samurai and soldiers they have ambushed and murdered. The woman comes to distrust her daughter after she takes up with a deserter. Attempting to break up the couple she uses a facial mask taken from a slain samurai and appears to her daughter, who takes her for a demon. Simply put, this is an intensely atmospheric, erotic, sensual, savage and creepy a horror film as one is going to find. Superbly directed and proving that the worst horrors are the horrors of the mind. 

Following at 4:15 am is Kenji Mizoguchi’s classic, Ugetsu (1953). The tale concerns two peasants who try leave their wives behind to make their fortune during a civil war in 16th century Japan. One, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), is a potter who hopes to make money selling his creations, while the other, Tobei (Sakae Ozawa), hopes to become a samurai. Genjuro is diverted from his road by a mysterious noblewoman who is not what she seems. Tobei archives his dream, but only through deceit. It will be their wives who pay for their trespasses. This is a beautifully written and directed tale of war, greed, and sexual desire, with the realms of fantasy and realism blended so seamlessly they appear to be one and the same. Record and watch at your leisure.

PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE

December 3: The Bowery Boys fight crooks for control of a uranium mine in Dig That Uranium! (1956) at 10:30 am. This was the last film for Bernard Gorcey, who played Louie Dumbrowski. Shortly after filming wrapped he was killed in an auto accident. Look closely for Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer.

At 8 pm is Douglas Sirk’s first American movie, Hitler’s Madman (1943), based on the story of Czech resistance fighters and their assassination of Nazi overlord Reinhard Heydrich, the man responsible for planning the Final Solution. Literally ripped from the headlines (Heydrich was assassinated in 1942; the film came out in 1943), the film remains true to the facts for the most part. John Carradine makes for a very effective Heydrich and Patricia Morison is excellent as Jarmilla Hanka, the sweetheart of assassin Karel Vavra (Alan Curtis). Solid support from Ralph Morgan, Edgar Kennedy and Elizabeth Russell make us forget this is a low budget film from Poverty Row studio PRC. In fact, the execs at PRC realized themselves that the film was too good for them and sold it to MGM for distribution. 

December 8: John Barrymore is a deranged ballet teacher and Marian Marsh his protege in The Mad Genius (1931), a follow up to their previous hit Svengali. And it’s almost as good. Look for Boris Karloff as Frankie Darro’s sadistic father. The film airs at 6:45 am. 

December 10: An entire evening of psychotronica, beginning at 8 pm with pioneering animator Willis O’Brien still dazzling us today with his creations in the 1933 classic King Kong. At 10 pm it’s Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion classic Clash of the Titans (1981), and Harryhausen returns to create more stop motion creatures designed to terrify prehistoric babe Raquel Welch in Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (1966). 

Late night finds Bertrand Tavernier’s look at the dark side of reality TV in Death Watch (1980), airing at 2 am. Roddy (Harvey Keitel) has been hired to film a documentary about terminally ill Katherine Mortenhoe (Romy Schneider), but without her knowledge. He has a camera specially impacted into his brain for the project. The results will be shown on the popular TV series “Death Watch.” It’s a highly original, eerie and beautifully photographed film that foresees the age of reality TV and is one to catch.


Following at 4:15 is a film much in the same vein, The Sorcerers (1967). Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as as elderly couple who develop a technique that allows them to control the minds and feel the emotions of their subjects. They use it on bored, swinging Londoner Ian Ogilvy, experiencing everything he does. It’s a surprisingly effective piece of entertainment, with Karloff and Lacey in fine form as the practitioners who become hooked on another person’s life. Lacey becomes so hooked with each thrill that she takes it to the next step, willing him to steal and murder. With Susan George.

PRE-CODE

December 2: Get your Warren William fix early (6:15 am) as he plays Perry Mason in The Case of the Howling Dog (1934). Great cinema, it’s not, but it’s a great time-waster as Mason becomes caught between two feuding neighbors who claim to be married to the same woman.

Then sit back and hold on to your hats, for at 7:45 am, it’s one of the great Pre-Code envelope pushers, Massacre (1934). Richard Barthelmess is Joe Thunder Horse, a college-educated Sioux, a Wild West trick shooter in denial of his Sioux roots whose eyes are opened when he returns to the reservation to visit his dying father and sees the corruption perpetuated upon the poor residents by unscrupulous businessmen from outside the reservation. He becomes a champion for Indian rights, and after his sister is raped by one of the guilty parties Joe hunts him down and kills him. Eventually he escapes custody to take his case all the way to Washington, D.C. This is a stark and brutal film with a great performances from Barthelmess and Ann Dvorak as Lydia, a college-educated Sioux nurse and Joe’s sweetheart. When we think about the Pre-Code era, we may think about Norma Shearer, Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Blondell as the Queens, but as for the king, the choice is clear: it’s Barthelmess by the proverbial mile. Mostly known for his work in silents, Barthelmess hardly looks like a screen idol – stoop-shouldered and a little overweight, but his choice of films was second to none during the era: The Dawn Patrol (1930), The Finger Points (1931), Alias the Doctor (1932), The Cabin in the Cotton (1932), Heroes for Sale (1933), and Massacre (1934). Quite a resume. 


December 15: It’s a poor hour for such a great movie, but at 6 am it’s Warren William giving one of his best performances in The Match King (1932). Based on the life of Ivar Kreugar, the real life Swedish match king whose creative financing and swindling deals helped deepen an already rough Depression. As Paul Kroll, William is delighting in one of the roles for which he was famous, playing the suave villain whose unscrupulousness will stop at nothing – even murder – and railroading an innocent inventor who comes up with an inextinguishable match into the asylum while breaking hearts along the way until he overreaches and his business fails. But it’s a helluva ride until then. With solid support from Lili Damita, Glenda Farrell, Juliette Compton, Claire Dodd, and the underrated Murray Kinnell.