Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel/Disney, 2018) – Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo. Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely. Stars: Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Benicio Del Toro, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, William Hurt & Anthony Mackie. Color, Rated PG-13, 149 minutes.

Don’t let the fantastic special effects and the sweepingly gorgeous intergalactic scenes fool you. The plot is simple. Thanos (Brolin) has a dream: End starvation and overuse of natural resources by killing off half of the life forms in the universe and thus being its savior. He has a specialized gantlet which will consolidate the powers of the six “Infinity Stones” (Wasn’t somebody after them in the last Avengers movie?) and thereby giving him the means of accomplishing his goal. 

He has the Power Stone already on the outset and is after the Space Stone protected by a tesseract and kept by Loki (Hiddleston) who gives it up when The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) is beaten to a pulp and Thor’s (Hemsworth) life is put in jeopardy. But Loki is killed for his efforts. The Time Stone is held by Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) and is his major sorcery source. The Mind Stone is embedded in Vision’s (Bettany) forehead. The Reality Stone is in the dubious safe keeping of The Collector (Del Toro) who lives in a place called Nowhere and the last stone, the Soul Stone’s location is known only by Gamora (Saldana), Thanos’ adoptive daughter and member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.


It’s up to the remainder of the cast, including Ironman (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), War Machine (Cheadle), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland), Black Panther (Boseman), Nebula (Gillan), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), and Falcon (Mackie), among others, to stop Thanos and his minions.

William Hurt plays a pretty good Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross and Stan Lee turns up as a bus driver. Winston Duke reprises his role from Black Panther as the hooting leader of the Gorilla Tribe, and Samuel L. Jackson has a cameo as Nick Fury. The cast is amazing.

The movie is entertaining with lots of action, many cleverly humorous lines to break up the monotonous battles and an excellent soundtrack. It was still too long. And then there is the perplexing end of the movie which had the entire audience saying, “What the…?” Did Thanos win? We don’t know. Will there be a sequel? You can be sure of that.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 martini glasses.


Legasea
485 7th Avenue,  New York

When I first saw the name of this restaurant I thought it was a rogue member of the Legal Seafoods chain based in Boston. But this 10 month old brasserie is with another group, the “TAO” group and is situated in the Moxy Hotel, a Marriott offshoot. Truly, you have to have moxie to open a new hotel in New York City.

The entrance on 7th Avenue leads to a corridor into the hotel with a coat check on the left under a stairway. When you realize you’ve gone the wrong way, you turn around and see the sign overhead for the restaurant up the stairway. The restaurant is sleek with shiny black ceramic brick walls in one room and white in the bar area. The avocado banquettes are comfortable and the tables bare-topped blonde wood. The attractive green glass water tumblers give a hint of the ocean.

My server, Basia, explained all the dishes and I ordered the Moxy Cocktail, a refreshing brew of Finlandia grapefruit vodka, yuzu citrus and a hint of pomegranate. It was pink, perky and perfect. Basia recommended an appetizer that changed my selection ideas.

They were out of my wine of choice, the Greek Assyrtiko, which would definitely have accented my meal more boldly. But the 2015 Chablis from William Fevre Champs Royaux ‘Burgundy’ from France added a dreamy smoothness to the meal.

The next dish was something I would automatically eschew in the best Italian restaurant. But Basia’s description lured me to the Burrata with macerated sliced rhubarb and toasted baguette, rhubarb sauce and balsamic vinaigrette. The mozzarella was fresh and chilled to the perfect temperature, sweet, topped with rhubarb (unheard of) and delicious.


My next dish was Spicy Crab Beignets with chipotle crème fraiche and butter powder. They were wonderful, only a little spicy, stuffed with creamy crab, while the main course was a difficult choice because the list of entrées on the menu did not interest me as much as the grilled fish selections. The Grilled Mediterranean Daurade in lemon vinaigrette and served with quinoa and greens was a filet with visible grill lines and (though attached to the tail) was totally edible (be aware of the occasional bones and you’ll be finished before you know it). But savor every bit. It tasted like the best grilled fish I’ve had in the top Greek estiatorios. The side dish, Haystack Fries with two dipping sauces, (catsup and dijonaise) was excellent, but a little too much to finish. Half went home with me.

I saw the gentleman at the next table get his dessert. It was chocolate, it was decadent, and it was enormous. I chickened out, however, and ordered the Baked Alaska. They were out of it. It was destiny, and I remembered the paper shopping bag sitting on the seat next to me. I ordered the Chocolate Caramel Cake – salted caramel ganache, whipped cream, mint chip ice cream and warm caramel sauce. Sinful, rich, dark chocolate, salty and sweet, with minty ice cream and fluffy whipped cream. Most of it came home with me.

To calm down from this experience my double espresso with a chaser of Remy Martin VSOP brought me out of the clouds and back to my banquette breathing a sigh. I thanked Basia for a wonderful evening and resolved to return to Leagsea.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for May 23-31

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 23–May 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (May 28, 5:00 pm): An authentic film that pulls no punches about three soldiers returning home from World War II attempting to adjust to life. The film features incredible performances by the legendary and lovely Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell (an actual WWII vet who lost both his hands in the war). The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Unlike some multi-Oscar films, this one is truly a classic that remains as real and as powerful as it must have been to movie-goers when it was released in 1946. It's very touching and beautiful. It’s nearly impossible to not be emotionally moved while watching this film.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (May 31, 10:00 pm): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse – or maybe it doesn't – when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock that's heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE THIN MAN (May 23, 8:00 pm): Shot in only 16 days by fast working director Woody “One-Take” Van Dyke, this first pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy proved so popular with the public that it led to numerous sequels. Nick and Nora Charles are investigating the disappearance of an inventor, but the mystery takes a back seat to the romantic and sophisticated screwball comedy. Powell and Loy surprised and delighted audiences with their unconventional doings of the couple, displaying their unique chemistry. Nick Charles was a suave man of the world who only had eyes for his rich, funny and good-natured wife, as they traded witty one-liners and affectionate bon mots, combined with a delightful teasing one-upmanship, all the while downing numerous martinis and tending to their wire-haired pooch, Asta. Adapted from Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name by married couple Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich with cinematography by James Wong Howe with a musical score by William Axt and sumptuous art deco sets by Cedric Gibbons. Plotted at a leisurely pace, it takes its time getting there, but it’s a wonderful ride along the way.

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (May 30, 10:00 am): The Saint, a sort of mysterious Robin Hood created by famed mystery writer Leslie Charteris, has been translated into all three major mediums: film, radio, and television. This is the first of the Saint movies, and in my opinion, the best. It’s also the least known, due to the fact it’s almost never shown on television. In this outing, Louis Heyward plays Simon Templar and never since has Templar been played with such smooth rakishness as that with which Heyward plays him. It’s just plain, good, old-fashioned fun as Templar makes baboons of the bad guys and earns the love of the boss’s moll. Try it and see if you don’t agree about Heyward as Templar.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MANPOWER (May 24, 2:00 am)

ED: B-Manpower is at its heart is a B-movie with an A-list cast as stars. This is the reason I gave it a grade of B-minus rather than C-plus. However, not even the presence of Robinson, Dietrich and Raft and the direction of the superb Raoul Walsh can overcome the weak script. The story of two Southern California power line troubleshooters (Robinson and Raft) in love with clip-joint hostess Dietrich is a testament to the genius of Warner Bros. in recycling an old plot. This was originally filmed by Howard Hawks in 1932 as Tiger Shark, starring Robinson as a tuna fisherman who lost a hand to a shark battling Richard Arlen for the affections of Zita Johann. A box office success, it was remade in 1936 as Bengal Tiger, with wild animal trainer Barton MacLane battling Warren Hull for the affections of June Travis. In 1937 it was again remade as Slim, with power line builder Pat O’Brien battling co-worker Henry Fonda for the affections of Margaret Lindsay. And in 1940 it was remade as King of the Lumberjacks, with Stanley Fields battling John Payne for the affections of Gloria Dickson. So we can safely say that the plot’s been around, and yet it hasn’t gotten any better since Tiger Shark. But although Manpower is not a great film, it is fun to watch old pros like Robinson and Dietrich trying to breathe life into the plot. Even George Raft gives a decent performance (Will wonders ever cease?), which I credit to the direction of Walsh, who certainly knew how to handle actors. (Check out Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim if you don’t believe me.) It all comes down to what you’re looking for: if you want a well-plotted romantic noir with plenty of twists and turns, this ain’t for you. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable B with two great leads, you can’t do better than this.


DAVID: C-. There are very few actors in the history of cinema who are in the same class when it comes to talent, screen presence and charisma as Edward G. Robinson. That's what makes Manpower so disappointing. I've seen Eddie G. in some lousy films – A Bullet for JoeyDark HazardI Loved a Woman to name a few – and yet I enjoyed his performances. I can't say the same for Manpower. It's dull and lifeless – and as Ed points out, had been done several times before – and Robinson adds nothing to the film. The cast alone should make it good as it includes some very talented actors such as Alan Hale (Skipper's dad), Frank McHugh, Eve Arden and Ward Bond, and the combination of Eddie G. and Marlene Dietrich sounds promising. Also, Robinson and George Raft played well together in plenty of other movies despite their personal dislike for each other. In this film, Robinson is the foreman of a crew constructing power lines. He used to be a lineman (for the county?), but moved into management after a near-death accident that left him injured and gave him the politically-incorrect nickname Gimpy. Raft is a buddy who works the line. The two fall for Dietrich and a silly love triangle ensues. The storyline is lifeless and at 104 minutes, it's too long. Despite the attempts at action, it's a boring movie.

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Beauty for Sale

Film in Focus

By Ed Garea

Beauty for Sale (MGM, 1933) – Director: Richard Boleslawski. Writers: Eve Greene, Zelda Sears (s/p); Faith Baldwin (novel). Stars: Madge Evans, Alice Brady, Otto Kruger, Una Merkel, May Robson, Phillips Holmes, Edward J. Nugent, Hedda Hopper, Florine McKinney, Isabel Jewell, Louise Carter, John Roche & Charley Grapewin. B&W, 87 minutes.

Beauty for Sale is an interesting little ensemble film. It differs from the usual MGM fare in that the protagonists are working people and not big industrialists, troubled rich folks, or members of the aristocracy. 1933 was a tough year for MGM. With the Depression at its height, the usual stories weren’t that attractive. Thalberg also noticed that one of their hottest stars, Joan Crawford, was at her box office best playing characters from the other side of the tracks. 

Using Faith Baldwin’s best-selling novel, Beauty, as the basis, screenwriters Greene and Sears scripted a film about working women and their travails. It was also a good vehicle for Madge Evans, who the studio was developing for bigger and better fare. Teaming her with solid supporting actors like Una Merkel, Alice Brady, May Robson and Hedda Hopper would give her ample opportunity to shine.


Evans is Letty Lawson, who rooms at the home of beautician Carol Merrick (Merkel) in New York. She confides to Carol that she has gone through the money her poor parents in Kentucky have given her for beauty school and now needs a job in order to make ends meet. Letty asks Carol to get her a job at her workplace, an exclusive salon owned by Madame Sonia Barton (Hopper). Both Carol and her brother Bill (Nugent), who is in love with Letty and thinks she is too good to work in a beauty parlor, warn her that it’s not a fit place for a woman of good character. However, Letty tells them she knows what she’s getting into.     

Soon after starting at Madame Sonia's, Letty is sent to the home of Mrs. Henrietta Sherwood (Brady), a nervous, bored socialite who pays more attention to her dog than to her lawyer husband. After finishing a manicure Letty goes to leave only to notice that Mrs. Sherwood’s dog has chewed up her hat. Mr. Sherwood (Kruger) kindly insists on replacing the damaged hat with a finer one of her choice. When Carol, a self-professed gold digger who has been dating the older, wealthy and married Freddy Gordon (Grapewin), sees the expensive hat (it cost $22.50, which translates into $425 today), she is instantly suspicious of Sherwood's motives.

When Bill sees the hat he confronts Letty about the relationship and chides her for being no better than Carol. Fed up with Bill’s attitude and the interference of his mother (Robson), Letty moves out and rooms with co-worker Jane (McKinney), who is involved with Madame Sonia’s son, Burt (Holmes).

A later chance meeting with Sherwood leads to a series of dinners. During a dinner on his yacht, Sherwood confesses to Letty that he is in love with her and, although presently unable to divorce his wife, wishes to continue their romance. Letty is unsure about this development and asks for a week to think things over.


Meanwhile, Carol has talked Freddy into taking her with him on a business trip to Paris. Seeing her off at the pier Letty runs into the Bartons, who are also taking the same ship, When she mentions this to Jane the next day, Jane reveals that she is pregnant by Burt, who has promised to marry her the next Sunday. Jane becomes hysterical upon hearing the news and despite Letty’s support she jumps to her death from their apartment window.      

Shocked by Jane’s suicide, Letty now heeds Carol’s advice about seeing married men to heart and ends her relationship with Sherwood. Shortly after, Bill shows up at the shop and shyly asks her for a date. Although she’s not attracted to Bill, Letty agrees to date him and later accepts his proposal of marriage. But when the wedding day rolls around, she cannot go through with it. Letty tells Carol, who has returned from Paris engaged to Freddy, of her change of heart.     

Now that Carol has finally gotten Freddy to propose, the couple goes house hunting. The real estate agent takes them to see the newly completed Sherwood mansion, revealing to Carol and Freddy that the reason it’s on the market is because the Sherwoods are divorcing. It turns out that Sherwood had the mansion built to improve his life with Henrietta, but she has fallen in love with the architect, Robert Abbott (Roche) and asked her husband for a divorce. When Carol tells Letty of the new developments, she rushes over to the real estate office to stop the sale and be reunited with her love as his bride-to-be.

Afterwords

Beauty for Sale is a typical programmer for the time, aimed at the female moviegoer. At times it comes across as a working class version of the later The Women (1939). The New York Times described it as “a strange composite of good and bad” with a story “reminiscent of so many others.” But what saves it is the performances from the cast and the energy of director Richard Boleslawski, which give the picture a freshness and a sense of originality. The script is witty, especially in its depiction of the sexual politics of the workplace, with girls who are just glad to have a job in the Depression. They have to wait hand and foot on wealthy, bored customers, who give the girls a yearning of a piece of the good life for themselves. However, the last third of the film sadly becomes predictable, as comedy and romance take over for drama, with the ending  being one of those contrived happy coincidences. 


Evans shines in the film, providing a breath of fresh air into what could have been just another part. She enjoys solid support from the always delightful Merkel as the gold digging Carol and Kruger, who makes for a most unusual romantic lead, to say the least. Hopper turns in an especially inspired performance as Madame Sonia, who will do anything to protect her weak-willed son and who regards her employees with such contempt that she cannot see the relationships forming under her own feet. And watch for Isabel Jewell as Hortense, the shop’s receptionist. Her fast speech and pseudo posh accent  enable her to nearly walk away with the movie. 

The camerawork from James Wong Howe is extraordinary. His use of lighting and depth give the film a look of a more expensive production. He also photographs Evans beautifully; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking as beautiful as she does here. 

As for Madge Evans, she remains a prime example of actress noted for their beauty and ability, but who came up just short of becoming stars. Signed by MGM in 1931, she was strongly pushed by Irving Thalberg as an up and coming star, but aside from starring roles in lesser productions, she worked in supporting roles in the bigger films. Perhaps with such stars as Shearer, Crawford, Harlow and Garbo on the lot there wasn’t really much opportunity for another star, especially as she was in something of the Harlow mold. When her MGM contract expired in 1937 she freelanced at Universal and Republic before retiring to the stage after marrying playwright Sidney Kingsley in 1939. When television took off in the ‘50s and needed actors for its ever expanding product, Evans found her career revitalized. She remained married to Kingsley until her death on April 26, 1981.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 16-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

NEWS

Jon Saia informs us that his latest film project, Extraordinary Machine, about one woman's relationship with alcohol and her decision to take back her life, is up and available on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNhD-fQ3X-4). It’s a beautifully assembled short film starring dancer Nikki McCabe, and she is the reason to watch. Gorgeous and graceful, she dominates the camera. You’ve heard the expression “the camera loves her,” of course. In this case the saying is true. She reminded me of Cyd Charisse in her movements and motion. The accompanying soundtrack of “Extraordinary Machine,” by Fiona Apple, fits perfectly with each movement of her lissome frame. Give it a view. It’s short, but beware, it is addictive. Ms. McCabe is enchanting and you may find yourself watching this multiple times.

THE B-HIVE

May continues on TCM with even more B-movie series - and a few A series as well.

May 16: 6:30 am - 8:00 pm: The Hardy Family. 8 pm - 1 am: The Five Peppers. 1:00 am - Dr. Kildare.

May 17: 6 am - 3:15 pm: Dr. Kildare. 3:15 pm - 8 pm: Dr. Gillespie.

May 22: 8 pm - 1:30 am: Nancy Drew. 1:30 am - 6:30 am: Miss Marple.

May 23: 8:45 am - 8 pm - Torchy Blaine.  8 pm - 6:45 am: The Thin Man.

May 24: 6:45 am - 3 pm Perry Mason. 3 pm - 8 pm: Dick Tracy.

May 29: 8 pm - 2:15 am: Boston Blackie. 2:15 am – Bulldog Drummond.

May 30: 6:30 am - 10 am: Bulldog Drummond. 10 am - 8 pm: The Saint. 8 pm - 7:45 am: Lassie.

May 31: 7:45 am - 4:30 pm: Adventures of Rusty. 4:30 pm - 8 pm: Flipper.

ALASTAIR SIM - MAY 18

Alastair Sim stars in a double feature beginning at 8 pm. First up is the hilarious School for Scoundrels (1960). Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is a poor soul and the newest pupil at The College of Lifemanship in Yeovil. The owner of a small family business who is bullied and humiliated by almost everyone he deals with daily, he even lost his girl, April Smith (Janette Scott), to his rival, Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas). After a short course in Lifemanship under Potter's paternal supervision, Palfrey is a new man, getting back at all those who made his life miserable. He even wins back April Smith. As the film ends, the College acquires a new pupil: Raymond Delauney. Also with Dennis Price and the talented Hattie Jacques.


At 10 pm Sim stars in The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954), a hilarious adaptation of Ronald Searle's cartoons about a completely crazy school for girls. The unruly and near bankrupt school is run by dotty headmistress Millicent Fritton (Alastair Sim), who is delighted to have a new pupil, the daughter of a wealthy race-horse owner. But Millicent’s bookmaker brother, Clarence (also Sim), plants his daughter, Arabella (Vivienne Martin), in the sixth form to pick up racing information from the new girl. Over the course of the film a valuable race-horse is kidnapped and must be found, for Millicent has bet the school funds on the horse. Belles of St. Trinian’s is a delightful farce, faithful to the vision of its creator, Searle, in its madcap antics, and a comedy that will actually make one laugh. 

ERMANNO OLMI - MAY 20

Italian director Ermanno Olmi is featured in two films beginning at 2 am with his neorealist classic, Il Posto (The Job, 1961). The film follows the story of two suburban Italian youths, Domenico (Sandro Panzeri) and Antonietta (Loredana Detto, who later married the director) who are no more than 17 or 18 and meet while applying for a job in a big Milan corporation. They endure a bizarre screening process of written exams, physical exercises and weird interview questions such as “Do you drink to forget your troubles?” and “Does the future seem hopeless to you?” Accepted for employment, Domenico and Antonietta are assigned, respectfully, to the “Technical Division” and “Typing Services.” Smitten with each other on the first day at their new job, the two are separated, working in different buildings with different lunch hours and clock-out times. 


Because there are no vacancies in his department, Domenico works as an underutilized errand boy until a clerical position becomes available through the death of an older employee. From there, he takes his place as one of 12 clerks in a small windowless room overseen by a manager from a desk at the head of the room. He hopes to meet up with Antonietta at the company’s holiday party, but is bitterly disappointed when she fails to show. Olmi perfectly captures the soul crushing corporate existence in a maze of hallways, staircases and claustrophobic offices, as employees perform monotonous tasks and jump to the lunch and quitting time buzzers for their only source of relief. The last scene in the film sees Domenico sitting at his tiny desk in the back of the small windowless room, the only sound being that of the mimeograph machine as it runs off carbon copies next to the manager's desk. 

Il Posto is based on the director’s own experience working as a clerk for the Edisonvolta electrical company. The beauty of the film lies not in the shared experience of the self-conscious bittersweetness that comes with starting a new job and remembering what it’s like to meet a new co-worker, hoping in time they may becomes more than a friend. Critic Matt Bailey brilliantly makes the point that while Fellini, Visconti, and Antonioni show us our lives as we might like to imagine them to be, with lots of whimsical romance, earth-shaking melodrama, and periods of insufferable ennui – Olmi shows us our lives as they truly are: mundane, unimportant, but touched with the occasional small moments of sublime pleasure and crushing heartbreak. This is a finely crafted, unassuming and gentle film, but one with the clarity of insight into the human condition. 

Following Il Posto at 3:45 am is Olmi’s 1963 romantic drama, I Fidanzati (The Fiancees) a deeply affecting, bittersweet film that could be subtitled “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Relationship.” Long-time sweethearts Giovanni (Carlo Cabrini) and Liliana (Anna Canzi) have reached the stage in their relationship where passion has given way to habit. The Milanese factory where Giovanni works has offered him a promotion if he will transfer to Sicily for 18 months or so to help with the new plant. He accepts the offer and we see him arrive in Sicily, where he leads a solitary and lonely life between his work and what passes for his leisure time. He is an outsider who never quite fits in. (One of the most poignant moments in the film is when he attempts to join in the late-night antics at the factory’s residential hostel, as things go from bad to worse.) In his solitary moments he hinds himself constantly thinking about Liliana, as his melancholy moods stir up memories, including those that aren’t particularly happy, as when he treated Liliana poorly. Olmi uses a delicate parallel between Giovanni’s situation and that of his elderly father, whom he placed in a nursing home before he left. The caretakers assure him that life will be good for his father, but the elderly can have a difficult time, feeling abandoned when left on their own in this manner. If they don't adjust, they will waste away. Giovanni realizes that here in exile he could suffer the same fate. It is Liliana who throws him a lifeline in the form of letters from home. As they correspond they draw closer through the openness of this new form of communication. Liliana notes the irony that when they were together, they didn't talk nearly as much, which sets up a beautiful ending from the director the offers hope for the couple. 

PRE-CODE

May 18: At 8:45 am Ivan Lebedeff is sent to Bucharest to capture a Mata Hari type spy in The Gay Diplomat (1931), but many different women fit the bill and are attractive enough to make him question his allegiance.

Speaking of Mata Hari, Garbo stars as the famous spy, along with Lionel Barrymore, in Mata Hari (1932), at 6:15 pm. 

May 21: A morning and afternoon dedicated to Robert Montgomery contains the following Pre-Code gems: Private Lives (7:30 am), But the Flesh is Weak (9:00 am), Made on Broadway (10:30 am), and When Ladies Meet (11:45 am). 


May 22: At 6:00 am, Sylvia Sidney stars in Elmer Rice’s adaptation of his play about life in the New York tenements, Street Scene, directed by King Vidor. Beautifully realized and heartbreaking.

Marion Davies poses as a French maid to win singing star Bing Crosby away from tempestuous screen star Fifi D’Orsay in MGM’s Going Hollywood at 12:15 pm. However, it’s Patsy Kelly who walks away with the picture as a wisecracking, out-of-work actress who befriends Marion.

May 25: Kay Francis is a doctor who has a secret to keep from her partner Lyle Talbot in Mary Stevens, M.D. at 7:30 am. Following at 8:45 am, Greta Garbo is the title character in Queen Christina. And at Noon Barbara Stanwyck schemes her way up the corporate ladder by jumping in and out of beds in Baby Face. Look for Theresa Harris as her BFF Chico.

PSYCHOTRONIA 

May 19: Red Barry continues his quest for two million dollars in stolen bonds at 9:30, followed by Tarzan and the Huntress, from 1947 at 10:00 am.

Barry Newman is an ex-cop Vietnam hero who bets he can drive his Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours despite being chased by the police in 1971’s Vanishing Point at 1:30 am. Cleavon Little and Dean Jagger also star. Following at 3:30 am, it’s Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) versus vigilante motorcycle cops in Magnum Force, from 1973.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for May 15-22

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 15–May 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE THIRD MAN (May 15, 2:30 p.m.): This is, no doubt, one of the finest film noirs ever made. I'm a huge fan of Joseph Cotten, and while his performances in many movies are great, his best is in The Third Man. The 1949 film noir has quite the pedigree. In addition to Cotten, it stars Orson Welles, Trevor Howard and Alida Valli, is directed by Carol Reed with a screenplay by Graham Greene. The acting is outstanding as is the cinematography, particularly the use of shadows, and a brilliant plot with great pacing. Cotten is Holly Martins, a pulp fiction novelist who travels to post-World War II Vienna to take a job offered by Harry Lime (Welles), a longtime friend. But before they meet, Lime dies in what appears to be a car accident as he is walking across a street – or is he? Martins asks a lot of questions and get some disturbing answers about Lime selling diluted penicillin on the black market, which has led to a number of deaths. This film has two scenes that are among cinema's best – one is on the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna's famous Ferris wheel, with Cotten and Welles, and the climax in the sewers of that city.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (May 21, 8:00 pm): Only a year after John Steinbeck's 1939 classic story of the Joad family, Okies who travel to California after the Dust Bowl wipes out their family farm, Life doesn't get much better for the family on their drive to California and even worse once they get to the state. The book is good, but the film is excellent. The film and book are certainly left-wing, pro-labor union and pro-Communist. It's odd that director John Ford and executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck, both conservatives, made this film. Despite the tragic story, the movie is beautiful and very moving. You'd be hard-pressed to find better acting than the performances in this movie by Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), John Carradine (Jim Casy, a former pastor turned union organizer) and Jane Darwell (Ma Joad). 

ED’S BEST BETS:

A FAMILY AFFAIR (May 15, 8:00 pm): The first in the popular Andy Hardy series. Lionel Barrymore is Judge Hardy, Spring Byington is Emily Hardy, Mickey Rooney is Andy and Cecelia Parker is Marion. There’s an older sister, Joan (Julie Haydon), whose character was dropped after this film. In this installment, Judge Hardy must fight an uphill battle for re-election after making an unpopular decision. The reaction to the film from exhibitors and public was so great MGM made it into a very profitable series. Lewis Stone and Fay Holden took over the roles of Judge and Mrs. Hardy for the sequels.

IL POSTO (May 20, 2:00 am): A clever and perceptive satire about how the white-collar world crushes the hopes and ambitions of those that work for it. As the director, Ermanno Olmi, wrote in 1964, “ . . . everything – epic adventure, humor, and a feeling – is contained in the normal human condition.” Indicative of the new wave of Post Realist Italian directors, the film stars Sandro Panseri, a non-professional actor. The female lead is another non-professional, Loredana Detto, who later became Signora Olmi. (Way to go, Ermanno!) It’s funny, touching and compelling. Watch for the end scene when a worker dies and his desk is up for grabs. Real? I’ve seen it. It’s all too real.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . TO BE OR NOT TO BE (May 20, 11:30 am)

ED: A+. They didn’t call it “the Lubitsch Touch” for nothing, and it’s in full regalia in this film, an extremely witty send up of Hitler and his Nazi thugs. Black comedy has never been better than here in the hands of a true master like Lubitsch. Jack Benny has a role of a lifetime as the egocentric Polish actor Joseph Tura, who in reality is one of the biggest hams ever to appear on stage. Carole Lombard, tragically in her last film, is Tura’s co-star and suffering wife. When the Germans invade Poland, Tura’s theater is closed and his troupe put out of business – until they become involved in espionage trying to save Polish underground fighters from being handed over to the Gestapo by a traitor, and they find their acting skills put to a real test. Lubitsch took quite a beating from critics over this film, and it was not a success at the box office. Many felt that treating the Nazis as comical characters was in poor taste, but Lubitsch defended his position by saying that "what I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless how dangerous the situation might be, which I believe is a true observation.” Today the film is viewed as a classic and the 1983 Mel Brooks remake is faithful to the original both in letter and spirit. Brooks himself echoed Lubitsch by saying that if one were to argue with a dictator, he would lose because the dictator has the fanaticism of his ideas, but if one were to take both the dictator and his ideas and make fun of them, it’s far more effective in discrediting both. Look for the great opening gag with Tom Dugan parading around as Der Fuehrer. This is a film not to be missed.


DAVID: B-. To Be or Not to Be is an enjoyable, but not a fantastic film. Its storyline is rather bold: a comedy about Nazis while World War II was ongoing, released in 1942. But it's nowhere near the quality of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 masterpiece, The Great Dictator, which is also a satirical film about Nazis during wartime. It's not entirely fair to compare the two – even though I just did. My problems with To Be or Not to Be are I don't find it to be exceptionally funny, entertaining or clever. I'm not a Jack Benny fan and the film was written with him in mind and plays off of his comedic persona. It's a style that becomes somewhat annoying the longer I watch the film. Also, I have trouble keeping track of who is who as Benny and others use many disguises. After a while, I'm wondering who I'm watching and what are they doing. And because of that confusion, I start to lose interest in the movie. There are a few funny moments, including one in which an actor in Benny's troupe, dressed as Adolf Hitler, orders Nazis to jump out of an airplane without parachutes and they, of course, comply. Carole Lombard was a wonderful comedic actress, who tragically died in a plane crash shortly after this film wrapped. She provides a few sparks of entertainment, but not enough to make this film memorable.

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

Friday, May 11, 2018

Ready Player One

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Ready Player One (WB, 2018) – Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Zak Penn (s/p), Ernest Cline (s/p and novel). Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, Susan Lynch, Clare Higgins, Laurence Spellman & Perdita Weeks. Color, Rated PG-13, 140 minutes.

The last time a movie made me want to read the book was 2001, A Space Odyssey. I came out of the theater saying, “What was that all about?” Especially, the psychedelic ending. When I read the book, I received clearer insights. 

This time, it’s the reviewers who read the book of the same title by Ernest Cline back in 2011 and who saw the movie after, who compel me to go to the source. Their reactions ranged from disappointment in Steven Spielberg to outrage.


Nearly everyone in the cast has two persona, one in the real world and one in the virtual world. 18-year-old orphan Wade Watts (Sheridan) lives with his mother’s sister Alice (Lynch) and her abusive boyfriend Rick (Ineson) in 2045 Columbus, Ohio. It’s decades since the collapse of society, and Earth’s denizens escape the desolation by donning goggles and escaping into the virtual world of the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) developed by James Halliday/Anorak (Rylance) and his partner, Ogden Morrow (Pegg). It’s a place where you can be anyone or anything you wish, do anything you can imagine and go anywhere.

The late co-creator of the OASIS, Halliday, announces a quest in the OASIS for three keys which will lead to an “Easter Egg” hidden there. Whoever attains the egg will gain full control of the OASIS and a great sum of money. No one so far has found the first key or even made the scoreboard. The first trial is a race with hundreds of other contenders on a highway that keeps changing, breaking up and reshaping. If that weren’t bad enough, contestants have to get past the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and King Kong. Wade (aka Parzival) and Samantha Cook/Atr3mis (Cooke) are the only two who get to the last stage but can’t get past Kong.

Wade goes to the Halliday library and figures out the riddle to getting the key. From there, a group dubbed the “High Five” comprised of Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and two of Aech’s friends, Sho (Zhao) and Daito/Toshiro (Morisaki) continue to the next level.

This attracts the attention of Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn), CEO of IOI (Innovative Online Industries). Nolan wants total control of OASIS as his company manufactures all the hardware keeping the program running. He sends a bounty hunter named I-Rok (Miller) and his tech-savvy gal-Friday, F’nale Zandor (John-Kamen) to stop Wade any way they can.

Wade and his group learn that another key means another riddle. The second level takes them into a freakish version of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining  reproduced in meticulous detail. The object is to find Karen “Kira” Underwood (Weeks) who appears in the famous photo of the ballroom with Halliday.

The soundtrack is great and features a variety of pop songs by Van Halen, Rush, Twisted Sister, A-Ha, Hall and Oates, Joan Jett, Tears for Fears, the Temptations, and Blondie, among others.

But what it scores in flashy special effects and pop references it fails in dialogue and award-winning capability. The characters are not developed to endear them to the audience; at two hours and twenty minutes, there was enough time to do so. We don’t care what happens to whom as long as it happens and it dazzles us. Also, the 3D is once again not used to its fullest.

Like I said, it’s entertaining, but I’m going to read the book.

Rating: 2 out of 5 martini glasses.

Ortzi by Jose Garces
120 West 41st Street, New York

Basque cuisine is becoming more popular in New York City. Once, only a few restaurants were dedicated to it and now several Spanish restaurants are incorporating Basque recipes into their menus. This one-year-old on a street divided in half by Bryant Park and the main branch of the New York Library is a stand-out.


The electric blue lit awning is striking and below it is a large front window completely open to the street where one could see patrons enjoying themselves at the bar. I was cheerily greeted by a young bearded man and had my reservation checked. He led me past the bar and to the dining area in back featuring an open kitchen.

A young woman presented me with the menu, pointing out that the drinks were on the opposite side of the food menu. I ordered the Hirune Cocktail – Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin, Maurin Quina (a Liqueur made from macerated cherries, quinine and bitter almonds), and Priorat Natur Vermouth and garnished with orange zest. I found it to be quite pleasing, fruity and citrus with a slight gin kick.

Having previewed the food menu online I wondered where the main courses were until Freddy, my server arrived and noticed I had the wrong menu. He dashed to the far corner of the room and returned with the correct one. Once I established which dishes were small or large (it was as easy as left side, right side) Freddy helped me compose a three course meal.

The appetizers Freddy helped me choose arrived when I had finished the Amuse Bouche as did my wine. The sommelier had to assist me with wine choice because they were all out of the Basque wine I wanted. The 2014 Bernard Baudry Chinon “Les Grézeaux” from the Loire Valley more than made up for the missing vintage. It was a deep red color, technically a cabernet franc, and had a smooth, semi-full-bodied flavor that accented all my dishes.

The Bonito Del Norte – (preserved Spanish tuna) Remoulade, caper berries and sliced cornichons – reminded me of a fancy version of the tuna salad I make at home. It was creamy, with just enough tuna to dominate and had the nice vinegary tangs from the capers and pickles. It was served in a bowl on a wooden board along the three crisp fingers of crust-less bread.

The other appetizer was Brochetas De Cordero – Lamb loin Brochettes – Eggplant, bacon and Sherry jus. These were heavenly from first bite to last. It was hard to tell where the bacon ended and the lamb began, they were that closely wrapped. The sauce was a masterwork in itself.


My main course was listed under Cazuelas (a South American term, Spanish for “cooking pot”) what we might call a casserole dish. But this was no casserole in presentation. The Costillas De Cerdo (Pork ribs) – Alubias de Tolosa (Black beans with chorizo), and Guindilla peppers – was a black and brown mound with white globs of sour cream and crowned with vegetable ribbons and shredded carrots. It was a savory, rich, slightly spicy dish cooled by the sour cream with the exciting crunch of the vegetables. So this is Basque cuisine? I love it.

Cuajada means “curdled” in Spanish and partially explains my dessert., a mix of fresh cheese with cherries, formed into balls and topped with apricots, cinnamon and black cherry compote. It was lovely and light at the same time.

The Garces and Sons coffee was excellent but a Lustau Solera Brandy afterward topped off the meal in grand style. I’m getting used to “hotel restaurants” surprising me and breaking the bad reputation. I might even stay at the Luma because of Ortzi.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.