Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Dinner and a Movie
Goosebumps in a Black Barn
By Steve Herte
It's autumn so I've closed up our attic for the winter. We've had cold weather but not a hard freeze yet (the dahlias are still green and growing). My Christmas cactuses are back in the house and the little one has at least 10 buds on it already. The trees are just starting to turn color and the evenings have that beautiful glancing sunlight and warm smell of leaves. I'm ready for Halloween.
Speaking of Halloween brings me to the movie this past Friday night. Several good costume ideas there. Unfortunately, I'm not built like the werewolf. But I had a good time watching him. And where else can one enjoy an autumn dinner than in a barn? Enjoy!
Goosebumps (Columbia, 2015) – Director: Rob Letterman. Writers: Darren Lemke (s/p); Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski (story). R.L. Stine (Goosebumps books). Stars: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Halston Sage, Steven Krueger, Keith Arthur Bolden, Amanda Lund, Timothy Simons, Karan Soni, R.L. Stine, & Caleb Emery. Color and 3D, rated PG, 103 minutes.
In the opening scene we see a car with a U-Haul trailer heading down the highway to Madison, Delaware. Gale Cooper (Ryan) is driving and her son (Minette) sits wondering what kind of a nowhere place they’re moving into. His Dad died a year ago and now he has to move, start a new school and meet new friends and neighbors. Upon arrival at the house, Zach is unloading boxes when one dumps its contents on the sidewalk through the bottom. The window in the house next door opens and Hannah (Rush) welcomes him to the neighborhood. Zach is pleased to see such a pretty girl next door, until a crazy, stern man (Black) replaces her at the window and warns him to stay away from her and he or “something very bad” might happen.
No sooner do they enter the house and they’re surprised by Aunt Lorraine (Bell) – Gale’s kooky sister – and immediately Zach is inspired to unpack his things in his room. Gale has been hired as the new vice principal of the high school Zach will be attending and, on the first day, he begs her to give him a 60-second lead when he leaves the car so that the other kids do not see the “new kid” walking in with the new vice principal.
Champ (Lee), probably the least popular kid in school, makes the acquaintance of Zach during orientation in the gymnasium. It seems they are destined to be best friends. Champ feels that if he hangs around with Zach he may have a chance with Taylor (Sage) for the school dance (though she already has a boyfriend, played by Caleb Emery – who may or may not be on the football team but is definitely a jock).
Back at home, Zach is taking out the garbage one evening and Hannah appears behind a loose board in the fence between their houses. They talk and she’s inspired to show him somewhere special she goes to be alone. He follows her reluctantly through the forest to a semi-cleared space. She flips a switch and the lights of a long-abandoned carnival amusement area turn on, including a large Ferris wheel. She gingerly climbs the ladder and the structure to the highest gondola and Zach follows, still wondering about tetanus from the rusty ride. At the top, he’s impressed by the view but concerned about how to get down.
The next night, Zach hears Hannah shouting with the strange man next door. When he hears her scream, he calls the police. But when the man answers and denies the presence of Hannah in the house, goofy Officers Brooks and Stevens (Lund and Simone) are satisfied but Zach is suspicious. The following evening, he recruits Champ with the promise of a double date to the dance and tricks the next-door neighbor into reporting to the police station. They enter the house through a basement full of bear traps and find a room with a shelf full of locked books by R. L. Stine, the “Goosebumps” series. Curiosity gets the better of them and Zach finds the key (conveniently located in plain sight) and opens one just as Hannah enters the room.
A powerful flash of light and shock wave send the three to the floor around the room and they look on helplessly as the words on the pages coalesce and a 10-foot tall abominable snowman rises from the book and hits his head on the ceiling. Hannah warns them to be quiet but the clumsy Champ topples a lamp and the creature sees him. When it lunges, Zach pulls Champ out of the way and the snowman goes out the window into the forest beyond. Hannah follows it and the boys chase after Hannah, not knowing that the creature has toppled another book onto the floor in the dangerous open position.
Where else would an abominable snowman go but to the local ice skating rink? This is where the three wind up trying to get the monster back into the book. They fail, but the crazy man next door, who is indeed R. L. Stine, succeeds. In the car driving back they learn that the characters in his books became more than just words on a page, they became real; hence, the locks on the books. Back at Stine and Hannah’s house, they see the other open book and Stine realizes with horror what character has been set free. It’s Slappy (voiced by Black) the evil ventriloquist’s dummy – who, by the way, hates being called a dummy.
Slappy is the most dangerous character because he’s able to teleport quickly. He snatches the book from Stine’s hands and burns it to prevent his returning into it. Then he somehow swipes the rest of the books, escapes in a car (don’t ask me how he reached the gas pedal, he admits later on that he can’t reach the brake) and simultaneously opens and burns them all over town, releasing a giant praying mantis, a werewolf, a crowd of malevolent garden gnomes, the invisible boy, zombies, the snowman, and a myriad other creepy crawlies, including the “Blob that ate everything.” Slappy is taking his revenge for being locked up for so long.
Stine realizes that, with all the burned books, the only way to get all the monsters back into captivity is to write another book. But it must be written on his special typewriter, which is currently on display in a trophy case at the high school. The group manages to fight off various creatures and obtain the typewriter and Stine retreats to the auditorium stage to start writing. In the car, Champ insulted him by accusing him of “playing Stephen King” and now he has to sit on a stage set of The Shining.
Zach, Hannah and Champ set off to warn the rest of the town’s populace, who are all at the school dance, about the disaster that has occurred and they eventually make it to the DJ’s stage. But no one believes them. That is until the giant praying mantis smashes the window and reaches in, snagging a heckler. From this point on, it’s panicked people trying to stay alive until the new book is finished.
Goosebumps is based on the book series written by Stine who appears in the movie and claims that the character played by Black is “just not me.” My first exposure to it was the television series. I dismissed it as kids have incredible, silly adventures. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer seemed like a more mature version of the theme. Though there are many monsters in this movie, none of them are particularly scary, not even the clown. The werewolf, a beautiful CGI representation, stupidly grabs a piece of meat from the frozen food section of the supermarket and tries unsuccessfully to tear into it, and then “woofs” before chasing the kids. Have you ever heard a werewolf “woof?” It’s disheartening at best, even when he’s the only character to come straight at the screen in 3D. I would have preferred they used the 3D to make his jaws come out into the audience. But no, this is a kiddie film. The small crowd of kids in the audience didn’t believe it.
The giant praying mantis not only uses its “praying” limbs for walking (like crutches), but jabs with them as if they were knives. I liked the garden gnomes. If shattered, they could reassemble themselves. Still, Columbia Pictures, coupled with Sony Animation, did a great job bringing these multifarious monsters to life. I can’t blame Disney for this one.
As far as acting goes, Black outdid himself and eclipsed the other characters that were merely following the script. He was a raving lunatic in the beginning and he mellowed out into a distinguished professor toward the end. Speaking of the end, I’m hoping there won’t be a sequel, but there probably will. The Invisible Boy (also voiced by Black) was still around to type on Stine’s typewriter, “The Invisible Boy’s Revenge.”
Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.
19 East 26th St. (between 5th and Madison Aves), New York
A barn, in New York City, across the street from Madison Square Park, is a concept so outré that I just had to try it. When I learned that it replaced the old eatery SD26 and was a little over a month old, my mind was made up.
Though it has a large window on the street, Black Barn does not reveal itself all at once, for the glass is smoky. Inside, there is a cozy bar with several small tables occupied by young people all engaged in conversation while low-down blues slinks from the speakers. The walls are black and the tables are black wood. The fiberglass armchairs are a rusty deep red.
The young lady at the Captain’s Station took my reservation and politely asked me to wait until the hostess returned to seat me. The hostess greeted me cordially and, while I followed her down a short corridor, she asked if I’d dined with them before. I said no. She said, “Prepare to be amazed!” I love a challenge.
The corridor opened onto the main dining area, a cavernous open space dominated by muscular blonde-wood two-by-fours arranged overhead as if supporting a roof. But one could see that the ceiling was much farther above. It was black, so where the walls. To the left is an open kitchen sparkling in silver and aluminum. Next to it is a table for perhaps 16 called the “Kitchen Table” where a special five-course prix fixe menu with wine parings is served to adventurous groups. It was unoccupied that evening. Above the kitchen, I could see the windows of their private room, referred to as “The Loft.” The hostess seated me at a table toward the end of the blonde-wood superstructure and across from the booths at the back. Various rustic farming tools decorated the walls behind the booths. OK, I was charmed, so much to see.
Soon, Jorge, my server, appeared and handed me the single-card food menu nicely framed in a leather blotter and took my water preference. I had already perused it online, but you never know what can change in a short time. When he returned with the water he asked if I would like a cocktail. I said yes, and he placed an electronic tablet in front of me indicating that I should touch the word “cocktails” and, when I scrolled through them and found one I liked, I just had to touch the price and return the tablet to him.
I chose the “Pear Necessity,” a bewitching brew of Bar Hill gin, Merlot Pear liqueur, absinthe and fresh lemon served in a gorgeous stemmed glass. I loved it. When he had served the drink, Jorge noted the specials and announced a truffle festival. One of the pastas and one of the entrées could have truffles included for an additional cost. I expressed my love of truffles without gasping at the thought of adding $20 to any of the dishes and thanked him. (The pasta dish alone would have been $61.) But now I knew the caliber of the restaurant I was in.
The food menu is divided into the following categories: To Share, Appetizers, Garden (salads), Ocean (seafood), Slow Cooked, Wood Grilled and Sides. Though there were only four entries in each category, it was a tough choice. When Jorge returned I told him that, since it was my first time there, I wanted to go with the most exotic signature dishes. He was pleased with my choices and went off to input my order while retrieving the tablet for the wine.
Other servers brought the bread basket with two slices of fresh crusty bread, a soft roll and two spicy, thin breadsticks, a ramekin with a cube of sweet butter surrounded by cooked garlic cloves, and the amuse-bouche, a crispy wafer with a seafood and chive mousse. It and the buttered and garlicked soft roll that followed it were delicious.
The appetizer arrived next. The Tarentise (properly, Tarentaise, a unique cheese from Vermont) Cheese Soufflé was served in its own little crock and was golden brown on top. The server lovingly parted the top with a tablespoon and carefully poured the hot speck-chive cream into the center. It was heavenly, a crisp crust over soft, hot zesty cheese inside. The cream sauce made it erotic. The bread sticks helped get the last of the sauce from the small, black pitcher.
Jorge returned with the tablet and I scrolled through the ample selection of wines and found the perfect pairing. The 2011 Proprietor’s Blend “Ernie Els” from Stellenbosch, South Africa, a full bodied cabernet sauvignon with a smooth but assertive flavor and fruity aftertaste. It was excellent with all my dishes.
My salad was next. But this dish was a couple levels up from the basic salad. Even its name, Curried Cauliflower Steak, was a cut above. Imagine a thick slice of cauliflower cooked, cooled and dusted with curry powder, then surrounded with crisp salad greens, halved plum tomatoes and topped with a slice of Bermuda onion, then sprinkled with pickled white raisins and dressed with a cilantro yoghurt raita. The result is cauliflower exploding with flavors I never conceived. Later, the chef arrived at my table and I raved about this dish. He echoed my amazement.
My main course was from the Slow Cooked section of the menu. The Vermont Shivanne Farm Baby Goat was an impressive mound of sliced rare-cooked, juicy meat over roasted rosemary potatoes and braised artichokes. Sided with a lovely red ceramic bowl of sautéed mushrooms it was sheer delight. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t finish the dish. Jorge wrapped the remaining vegetables and mushrooms to go in a fashionable Black Barn tote. Even the take-away was beautiful. But I had my eyes on dessert.
Hold onto your spoons! The Chocolate Soufflé with vanilla sauce topped with rum butterscotch ice cream crowned a royal meal nicely. It was everything I expected, warm, chocolatey, sweet and homemade. The double espresso and thistle glass of Galliano were just sprinkles on the sundae.
Black Barn is named after a property in the Hamptons of Long Island owned by designer Mark Zeff, a friend of co-owner John Doherty (the chef I spoke to). The cuisine is described as an American restaurant serving local, artisanal food in the comfort of a modern barn. True and definitely worth a return visit.
For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Films in Focus
By Ed Garea
Two Seconds (WB, 1932) – Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Writers: Elliott Lester (play), Harvey F. Thew (adaptation and s/p). Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Vivienne Osborne, Guy Kibbee, Preston Foster, J. Carrol Naish, Frederick Burton, Harry Beresford, Dorothea Wolbert, Berton Churchill, William Janney, Edward McWade, Gladys Lloyd, & Adrienne Dore. B&W, 67 minutes.
Two Seconds is an ordinary film with an extraordinary performance by its star, a performance we wouldn’t expect in a mere programmer. But Edward G. Robinson gave a performance worthy of a bigger movie and it’s the main reason to tune in.
The film opens with a group of reporters sitting in to watch a prison execution getting a speech on how to behave from the warden (Churchill) as the condemned man, John Allen (Robinson), enters the chamber and is being prepared for the electrocution. Among those there is a young man witnessing his first execution, who asks the doctor how long it will take for the condemned man to die. The doctor replies that a powerful man such as Allen won’t die immediately; he’ll survive for two seconds. The warden speculates that during the time it takes to be electrocuted, two seconds, John Allen’s life will flash before his eyes.
As the camera focuses on the switch the movie cuts to a close up of Allen’s drill and an earlier time in his life as an ironworker earning $62.50 a week. This is more, he boasts, than most college professors earn. We are also introduced to his best friend, Bud Clark (Foster), who also happens to be his roommate.
Allen and Clark make for quite a mismatched pair. Clark is a free spirit who enjoys life and all that goes with it, namely women, playing the horses, and booze. Allen, on the other hand, is reluctant to join Clark in his frivolity; he sees himself as above all that, believing with a certain sense of naivety that he will meet an educated woman, one that, like him, will reach for the higher things in life, as he does.
Bud is engaged to Annie (an unbilled Dore), and they are continually search for a girl for John. The problem is that John isn’t interested in any of the blind dates they dig up, calling them “firewagons.” He reluctantly goes along with Clark one night to meet Annie and a new girl she’s bringing along for John, but when John gets a look at her from afar, he quickly ducks into a dance hall to escape what he sees as an ignominious fate.
In the dance hall he meets a world-weary, streetwise taxi dancer named Shirley Day (Osbourne). He dances with her and they hit it off. When he goes to the cashier to buy more tickets, another patron comes by and chooses Shirley for his next dance. She tries to get out by telling the would-be patron that she’s waiting for her date to return, but her boss, Tony (Naish), tells her to get moving. When he tries to make a move on her, John sees her struggling and socks the interloper in the eye, which causes Shirley to lose her job as Tony (who we later learn is more than a mere boss) fires her on the spot.
John takes Shirley to a soda fountain for refreshments and begins telling her about himself. She picks up quickly on the vibes John is sending and realizes he’s a naïve mark. He believes her when she tells him she’s the sole support of her parents living in Idaho. (In reality, they are residing in a nearby speakeasy.) Feigning interest in his quest to find an intelligent woman she tells him she’d love to attend some lectures at the public library with him. When John tells Bud about the new girl he’s met and how perfect she is, Bud smells a gold digger and tells John to steer clear of her. However, John continues to see her as they have a date to go to a lecture. Instead of going to the lecture, Shirley steers him to a nightclub, where she gets him drunk on “tea.” She then seeks out a justice of the peace and bribes him to marry them, with John so drunk that he can't even utter “I do.”
When she moves in with him at his apartment, she throws Bud out. Bud, who sees her for what she is, tries to wisen up John. Even though the reality of the situation has come down hard on him, John still continues to defend her, telling Bud, “What she’s done before we got married, that’s off, see? You and me ain’t been no lilies ourselves.”
It becomes clear that Shirley has no intention of honoring her marriage vow. She’s soon back at the dance hall in the afternoons, when John is working. Meanwhile, the tension that has been building between John and Bud comes to a head at work when Bud tries to set John straight on Shirley, telling him about the lies she’s been spinning, and informing him that she’s been spending her afternoons back at the dance hall with Tony. Furious, John lunges at Bud, who falls to his death in a scene that even today, leaves us unnerved.
Bud’s death crushes John, leaving him a nervous wreck and unable to work. Totally overcome by grief, he has quit his job. Shirley, now the breadwinner, begins to spend more and more time at the dance hall and lords it over her husband, who is in no condition to do anything about it as he sinks deeper and deeper into despair.
But a bet on the horse with Bud’s old bookie (played with his usual panache by Kibbee) pays off enough to shake John out of his stupor. When he learns that Shirley plans to tutor Bud’s old fiancée, Annie, in the dance hall trade, it finally moves him to action. Believing that Bud has guided his hand in choosing the horses, John goes to the hall and “squares things” by paying his wife and her pimp the money he owed her over the months. He then takes out a pistol he recently bought, and fatally shoots his wife.
At his subsequent murder trial, John goes from simply ranting wildly to presenting a weird rationale for his actions, proclaiming to the court, “You’re killing me at the wrong time. You should have killed me when I was taking his money. It ain’t fair to let a rat live and kill a man. It ain’t fair. It ain’t . . .” In other words, he should have been found guilty before, when he was at his nadir, and not when he has finally found personal justice. As he continues to move closer and closer to insanity, John grasps his head as if in pain, seemingly seeing his dead friend standing in front of him. “Bud, wait for me!”
The camera now cuts back to the thrown switch; two seconds have passed. Cut to a close-up of the young reporter’s face. We can see beads of sweat forming on his brow as he has just witnessed his first execution.
Though Two Seconds is a harrowing movie to watch, it isn’t especially a good movie. It takes its time getting started. For the first 20 or so minutes we’re treated to what almost seems like one prologue after another: the prison scene followed by scenes of Robinson and Foster establishing their characters by throwing street lingo back and forth. What works on stage doesn’t necessarily work in the movies. However, once Robinson meets Osbourne and she begins pouring “tea” into him, the film changes gears, and until the end of the movie Robinson completely dominates, giving us in the audience a performance for the ages.
This is Robinson’s film. Foster, reprising his role from the stage, and Osbourne both give solid, credible performances, but pale next to the star, who acts with such energy that one would think the studio doctor shot him up with methamphetamines. Though he comes dangerously close to crossing the line into the land of ham, he reins himself in and manages to come off as realistic; a man tormented to the edge of insanity by his guilt over killing his best friend and his mistake in falling for Shirley.
Mervyn LeRoy’s direction is ordinary, to say the least. Except for two memorable scenes, the film has a tendency to drag, especially during the beginning. But those great scenes help rescue the film from total mediocrity. First is the scene of Bud falling off the building to his death. As we see him from above flailing his arms helplessly as the emergency horn sounds, we look on horrified. It is quite a moving scene. The other scene is at John’s trial, where a single spotlight catches him in imitation perhaps of Fritz Lang’s M, as he goes forth, agonized and tortured in a monologue driven on by its own unique sense of logic. Robinson plays his descent into madness brilliantly, spewing forth his tangled ideas of revenge, justice, and punishment in a four-minute scene that few actors of his time had the skill to pull of without completely going over the top.
Another plus for the film is its grittiness. Set in the heart of the city, we are treated to the gaudy, lowbrow pursuits that pass themselves off as proletariat entertainment: the taxi dance palace, the bookie that seems to be an essential part of life, and the “nightclub” that serves Prohibition hootch, passing it off as “tea.” Art director Anton Grot deserves praise for his dark, almost expressionistic sets, including his design of the execution chamber. He would reach further heights in design in two later films, both in the horror genre: Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).
LeRoy and cinematographer Sol Polito also collaborated on other striking scenes, such as the dance hall, which looks especially dark and tawdry, almost like a crime waiting to happen, and the arresting shot of Shirley in a white slip standing triumphantly over a drunken Robinson caught through the bars of the bed frame; a shot that stays with us long after the film ends.
Two Seconds cost $310,000 to make and grossed an estimated $822,000 worldwide, not bad for a mere programmer. Opening in New York at the Winter Garden on May 18, 1932, Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote, "It is a production that is minus any comedy relief, being glum and gruesome, but adroitly done, a film that compels attention and one that is ably cast . . . In spite of its drab tale, it calls for admiration, for it never falters."
That it never falters is due to Robinson alone, but Hall does have a point: it’s difficult to find a darker film.
The marketing of the film was somewhat bizarre, to say the least. The poster for the film claims that it’s “Edward G. Robinson in his first great love drama!” This might be true for, perhaps, the Addams Family, but not for the normal audience.
Gladys Lloyd, who had a small role and was billed simply as “woman” in the film, was married to star Edward G. Robinson at the time. They were married from January 21, 1927, to July 20, 1956, when they divorced. The couple had one son, Emmanuel (1933-74), who broke into acting as “Edward G. Robinson, Jr.” However, he had nowhere near the success his father did, working mainly in television. He died a little more than year after his father.
Vivienne Osbourne, who played Shirley Day, is best remembered to psychotronic and MST 3000 (“Mysties”) fans as the alcoholic mother in PRC’s inept morality tale, I Accuse My Parents (1944). Two years later, she appeared in her last film, Dragonwyck (20th Century Fox, 1946) as Vincent Price’s gluttonous first wife.
Shirley (to the waiter at the speakeasy): “Another cup of tea, and bring the bottle this time!”
Thursday, October 22, 2015
TCM TiVo ALERT
October 23–October 31
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (October 23, 10:30 pm): Of the numerous Hunchback films, including two animated versions, this is clearly the best. Charles Laughton is brilliant as Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer at the Notre Dame cathedral, in this 1939 adaption of the classic book. The story is familiar yet Laughton is so exceptional that despite knowing what's going to happen, you can't help but enjoy a master at his craft. Laughton gave cinephiles many wonderful performances and this role ranks among his finest. Also of note is Maureen O'Hara's Esmeralda, the free-spirited gypsy who is loved by Quasimondo, and Cedric Hardwicke as the deliciously-evil Frollo. Quasimondo's rescue of Esmeralda from the gallows and screaming "sanctuary" as he protects her in the church is one of the most iconic moment in cinematic history.
JAILHOUSE ROCK (October 25, 6:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that with the right material, he was a good actor. Unfortunately, roles like this rarely came along for Elvis. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special. It doesn’t get much better than this.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 23, 4:00 am): This was Hammer Studios’ first attempt at the reimaging of the classic Universal horror films of the ‘30s. And to an audience that was starved of good horror films, it was a box office hit. Much of the credit for the success of the film must go to Peter Cushing for his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein. Cushing hits all the right notes, brilliantly conveying the underlying decadence beneath the aristocratic façade. Though it’s not as good as James Whale’s 1931 original, Cushing should be commended for playing Frank as a cad rather than an idealist, as Colin Clive portrayed him. Christopher Lee, as the Monster, has a thankless role, with little to do but act scary. However, he does manage to get the point across, looking murderous rather than just plain silly. The success of the film begat a series of Frankenstein films with Cushing in the center of the action. And, with the success of Frankenstein, a remake of Dracula was just around the corner.
THE GOLD RUSH (October 26, 9:45 am): A beautifully whimsical film by Chaplin that rates with his best. The Tramp decides to prospect for gold in Alaska, and Chaplin uses every stunt, every trick, to bring out the underlying comedy, with some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in any film. Caught in a storm he heads for the only shelter he can find, a wooden cabin in the middle of nowhere. But it turns out the cabin is already inhabited by a big criminal named Black Larson, no less. The scene where Charlie and Big Jim, another miner, tell Larson they’re going to stay is one of the best in the film, as is the scene where Larson has drawn the lot to go out in the storm for food and Charlie is stuck having to eat his shoe. Later, after Charlie has struck it rich, there is a memorable scene on the boat where he tries to win over the fair Georgia. This is where he does his famous “dance of the dinner rolls.” The amazing thing about it is that it still remains fresh; one of the most stirring depictions of man’s battle against the elements and nature, and Chaplin’s genius was to milk every joke he could from every situation without taking away any of the suspense. It’s a film that may seem familiar even to those new to it because the gags have been so played up over the years, but it’s also one worth watching time and again.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE HURT LOCKER (October 29, 11:45 pm)
ED. A. The Hurt Locker goes beyond most other films in its genre by being both a serious character study and a suspenseful thriller. Director Kathryn Bigelow squeezes every drop of tension inherent in its premise as the film progresses, never letting up or giving us a rest in the process. One other point I enjoyed about the film was the fact it was apolitical, using Iraq as a backdrop for the human drama rather than as a pulpit to reach. This drama could have played out in any war. Jeremy Renner is magnificent as a bomb technician who becomes hooked on his own adrenaline stemming from his everyday duty, resulting in an arrogance that clashes with his otherwise peaceful and compassionate nature. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd uses the camera as a way of heightening the tension and keeping us on the edge of our seats. Best of all is Bigelow’s staging of the interaction between Renner and mates Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as she throws stereotypes to the wind, substituting interactions that are instead unpredictable. This is a film whose impact will remain long after the final credits roll and one that will stick in the memory.
DAVID: B-. I saw this film for the first time a few months ago on Netflix. It's a fascinating look into what makes a bomb technician tick (pardon the pun even though it's a good one). But I expected a lot more based on the widespread critical acclaim and six Oscar wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow. Maybe that's unfair as I was anticipating seeing something really special and spectacular, and instead I got a pretty good movie. One aspect that works and fails is there's not a story arc as the film goes from one scene to the next. The snippets are interesting and maddening at the same time. Also, many of the scenes are repetitive though there's one with an Iraqi civilian with a bomb locked to his body that is incredible. The character study of Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is compelling. He is an adrenaline-rush bomb technician who is very talented at what he does. But he often takes unnecessary risks that put his life and the lives of the two soldiers on his team at risk during the Iraq War. He comes across as suicidal and reckless, and as the film progresses, it's obvious he's lost touch with everyday life. Again, it's good, but the movie seems to just kind of be there with little to show for it except a nearly crazy guy doing a very crazy job that impacts him far greater than he knows.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Dinner and a Movie
The Internal American
By Steve Herte
The Intern (WB, 2015) – Director: Nancy Meyers. Writer: Nancy Meyers. Stars: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, Celia Weston, Steve Vinobich, & C.J. Wilson. Color, rated PG-13, 121 minutes.
Ben Whittaker (De Niro), a retiree and widower of three and a half years, travels the globe, tries yoga and various hobbies but still comes home to “nowhere to go from here.” Whatever he does to occupy his mind, it’s not the same as a regular job. It’s not like he doesn’t have friends. Patty (Lavin) would like him to spend more time with her, but he needs to have a daily routine similar to the 40 years he worked managing the publishing staff at a company that made telephone books.
One day he notices a flyer from an online fashion company called At the Fit hiring “Senior Interns.” He reads it, likes the idea, makes a video resumé (with the unseen help of his grandson) and applies for the job. After a few hilarious interviews with twenty-somethings, he and two other seniors get the available positions along with Davis (Pearlman) who applied for a regular young intern spot. On the first day, the new interns are assigned different areas of the company in which to begin working. Ben is assigned to the boss, Jules Ostin (Hathaway), who rides through the office on her white bicycle to save time.
The “Senior Intern” concept was hatched by Cameron (Rannells), and was something he and Jules had discussed in the past, though Jules is so busy she doesn’t remember it. Now, she has this neatly suit-clad, polite 70-year-old as an intern and no idea what to do with him. But as the days go by, Ben finds things to do, eventually endearing himself to the entire staff. When he clears off a table piled high with junk, Jules notices (she’s complained about the growing, horrendous pile every day). So does the company masseuse Fiona (Russo), who eventually sees him as the first man she’s wanted to “hang out” with in a long time – much to Patty’s dismay when Ben later brings Fiona to a funeral.
When Ben sees Mike (Wilson), Jules’ driver, drinking from a flask before she arrives, he talks him out of driving intoxicated and becomes Jules’ driver. From there, Ben meets Jules’ husband Matt (Holm) and adorable daughter Paige (Kushner) and becomes a part of the family. So much so that at one point he accepts Paige’s plea to take her to a friend’s birthday party when the babysitter is unavailable. “What’s your friend’s name?” “Maddie.” “Which one is she?” “The one right over there, wearing pink.” The camera cuts to the jungle gym and all of the little girls are in pink.
Back at the office, Cameron and the other assistants think the company is growing too fast for Jules to handle alone and suggest hiring a CEO to help with the administrative end of business. Jules doesn’t like the idea, but agrees to interview the candidates. Ben is very impressed by what she’s done so far and doesn’t think she needs help managing the company, but he keeps it discreetly to himself. One by one, Jules rejects the CEOs until one applies who needs her to fly to San Francisco to conduct the interview. Matt can’t go with her because of a commitment with Paige and Paige suggests Ben accompany her.
Over the course of the short trip, Ben and Jules share backgrounds and, after a fire alarm empties their hotel, the two return to Jules’ room. The resulting conversation turns to the fact that Matt is having an affair with the stay-at-home mother of her daughter's schoolmate. Ben knows, because he saw them together when he brought Paige home from the birthday party, and Jules has known for months. This concern is what has been affecting her recent performance, which in turn spurred Cameron’s CEO hiring idea.
The Intern is a wonderfully engaging film that allows Robert De Niro to display the full range of his acting talents. He’s charming, stern, sentimental, and the quintessential “Dutch Uncle.” At one point, Jules notices that he’s not at his workstation and asks where he is. “Oh, Ben? Mr. Congeniality? He’s over there helping Justin.” Anne Hathaway does an excellent job playing the competent manager of a start-up industry, while being the caring mom and sensitive, injured wife who loves her husband as well as her job. Zack Pearlman and Rene Russo are both delightful and look like they both enjoyed their roles.
As for me, I loved the movie, all two hours and one minute. It was easy to believe all the characters and identify with the male lead. I knew what he was going through, being his age and working in a company run by much younger people. When Ben revealed to Jules that the company was located in the exact same location as the one he retired from, I loved the twist.
The Intern is squeaky clean, full of humor sprinkled with pathos and excellent direction by Nancy Meyers. I can see nominations coming it.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.
363 Greenwich St. (between Harrison and Franklin streets), New York
Something about the address of this seven-month old steakhouse opened by Iron Chef Marc Forgione was strikingly familiar. I decided to pass by it on my lunch-hour constitutional. Once I saw the black-framed windows one-step up from the sidewalk on a black steel grating with matching rails, I knew I’ve dined there before. The last time it was an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Cinque and the times before (I loved this place) it was the Devin Tavern, an innovative American cuisine restaurant.
At dinner time I walked in like I owned the place and indeed, the layout hasn’t changed too much over the years. The open-brick walls were still mostly there. The bar was in the same place at the front. The opening from the bar into the main dining area had been closed in and the fireplaces in the main dining area had also been bricked in and closed off. The new chandeliers are large, art-deco affairs in monochrome white. But I was seated just beyond the bar, next to the window onto the main area. This was approximately where I sat in Trattoria Cinque and, if I were on the other side of the window, I would be sitting at my favorite table of Devin Tavern.
When I realized this, I told my server, Tamas after he asked me if I’d dined with them before. I let him know that I chose this restaurant on Marc Forgione’s name alone because OpenTable.com did not have a link to their menu or their website. Tamas assured me he’d let management know. He brought me my water and presented me with both the food menu and wine list and then explained the unique dishes of American Cut. When I had a chance to look at the specialty cocktails list in the wine book, I ordered the bacon apple boom – maple bacon infused VDKA 6100, green apple garnish, tarragon, and lemon. The drink had a smoky citrus flavor to it with overtones of tarragon, but was disappointingly lacking in any bacon flavor. This would not normally bother me if I hadn’t had a drink at the Hurricane Club (now closed) that tasted exactly like drinking bacon.
While I was choosing my dinner, another server brought the bread. It was a single, large buttermilk biscuit topped with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onions, and went well with the soft herbal butter that shared its place on a slab of black marble.
The wine list prices were so insanely inflated, that it was much, much cheaper to have wine by the glass. This is what I did.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice was that the entire staff was on the move almost constantly. No one lingered in one space for too long and maybe only half the tables were occupied. I can understand efficient service, but I almost had to tie Tamas down to make sure he got my entire order. He was like a greyhound after the rabbit.
My first dish was one of the signature recipes of American Cut, called Chili Lobster. When Tamas described it he mentioned that it was spicy – “It has a little heat.” In a beautiful bowl, the one claw and tail of a lobster were cut up into sections easily pried out with a special fork and bathing in an orange sauce along with four triangles of “Texas toast” (thick cut bread, deep fried). The sauce was quite spicy and comparable to a Thai coconut curry. It made the tender lobster very tasty (Sorry, lobster lovers, I was never a fan). The wine I chose for this course was a lovely, 2013 Turley Juvenile Zinfandel from California.
Though American Cut’s menu described an interesting twist on a Caesar salad, I decided on the fall salad, which sounded lighter. Served on a plate were red and green fall greens, thinly sliced pickled squash, a drizzling of goat cheese, and thinly sliced and toasted pumpernickel bread. The bread was an interesting addition to a salad and was nicely presented, but I had to use my knife to cut the large pieces of leaf lettuce and, after one or two bites, there was not a speck of goat cheese to be found. I thought it should have had more. Otherwise, it was very good. The wine of choice was a 2012 Piero Busso Nebbiolo, from Langhe, Piedmont, Italy. It was not as assertive as the Zinfandel, which was perfect for the milder flavors of the salad.
Even though Tamas had me interested with his description of the New York cut steak (the most expensive one on the menu I chose my favorite, the 10 oz. filet mignon cooked “black and blue” (very rare and crisp on the outside) because I wanted to compare Marc Forgione’s methods with ones with which I am familiar. Again, it was beautifully done and cooked correctly but a little on the dry side.
To go with it, I ordered another signature dish, the Latkes. I love potato pancakes and I like them in a particular way. These were served stacked like lasagna, only with layers of gribenes (rendered chicken fat), apple, and sour cream. I found the thickness of the latkes was about twice what I’m used to and they were kept from being crisp by the liquids from the other ingredients. Occasionally, I found a crisp spot, but I would have liked them to be all through the dish. Granted, they were tasty, but far from what I expected. (Maybe I should have gone for the hash browns.) But the wine was fantastic. The 2013 Fiancetto Gravelly Loam Cabernet from Napa Valley was rich, full-bodied, thick with fruit and had a strong, delicious after taste.
As dessert time rolled around, much like the cocktail list, one item’s title caught my attention: The AC Car Bomb. Its ingredients alone were fascinating: chocolate bread pudding, Jameson butterscotch, bananas, and Guinness ice cream. It was excellent, though not as strong on the butterscotch as I would like (nothing ever is, except for Ben and Jerry’s newest ice cream flavor), but is still a wonderful dessert. To finish I had my usual double espresso and, in this case, a nice glass of Montenegro Amaro.
American Cut is a good restaurant, but needs to slow down. I couldn’t help but feel I was being rushed. Tamas never had time to talk, which took away the personal side from the service. As a steakhouse, it might make my top 10 if I return and try the New York cut steak, but right now Uncle Jack’s in New York and Prime Rib in Philadelphia have nothing to worry about.
A final note, the restaurant is only nine blocks from 1, 4 and 7 World Trade Center, which looked beautiful lit up at night. Judge for yourself.
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