Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Star of the Month this May is Robert Ryan. It’s a good choice because Ryan made a lot of war films and this is the month of the Memorial Day marathon. On the other hand, Ryan made a lot of run-of-the-mill programmers, so there’s not really a lot of choice pickings.

May 6: The entire day is devoted to Ryan, with the better films being shown in the evening. During the day, Ryan films worth viewing include the anti-red hysteric, The Woman on Pier 13 (1950) at 12:15, Clash By Night with Barbara Stanwyck (1952) and directed by Fritz Lang, at 1:30 pm, and Berlin Express (1948) with Merle Oberon at 4:45 pm.

The evening’s choices include Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) with Spencer Tracy at 8:00 pm, and the superb boxing noir, The Set-Up (1948) at 4:00 am.

May 13: The best of the night include Billy Budd (1962) at 8:00; the bizarre The Boy With the Green Hair (1948) at 12:15 am, followed by God’s Little Acre (1958) at 1:45.


The evenings of May 2, 3, 4 & 5 are devoted to a festival of films from expatriate actors and directors.

May 2: The evening begins at 8:00 with the superb 2009 documentary, Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood. Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, the film presents a solid overview. It’s followed at 10:15 by the ultimate expatriate film, Casablanca (1943), Three Smart Girls (1937) from director Henry Koster, Ninotchka (1939), written by expatriate Billy Wilder and directed by expatriate Ernst Lubitsch, and finally, at 4:00 am it’s Carnegie Hall, directed by expatriate Edgar G. Ulmer. One of the interesting stories about Lubitsch was that Joseph Goebbels had considered using a photo of him for a poster of what the ultimate Jew looked like to be placed in public areas and in textbooks.

May 3: The evening starts off slowly at 8:00 with Joe May’s 1934 Music in the Air from Fox starring Gloria Swanson and John Boles. At 9:45 comes Fritz Lang’s superb look at mob mentality, Fury (MGM, 1936), starring Spencer Tracy as the unfortunate victim who manages to survive and return for revenge. Then it’s an encore of Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood at 11:30, followed by Karl Freund’s wonderful slice of gothic horror, Mad Love (1935), a remake of The Hands of Orlac starring expatriate Peter Lorre as the maddest of mad doctors who grafts a murderer’s hands onto concert pianist Colin Clive, whose own hands were crushed in an accident, because he’s in love with Clive’s wife. At 3:00 am, it’s the Bogart vehicle, All Through the Night (1941). Bogart is gangster “Gloves” Donahue, whose investigation of the murder of his favorite cheesecake baker leads him to a nest of Nazi spies. With Peter Lorre, Kaaren Verne, and the movies’ naughtiest Nazi, Conrad Veidt. Veidt was a most interesting character. A renowned actor in Germany (He played Caesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, among other great move roles.), Veidt’s beloved wife, Ilona, was Jewish, and when he had to state his ethnicity on employment forms he always put down “Jude” (Jewish) even though he wasn’t. When the Nazis came to power, he and Ilona fled to England. He became a British subject in 1939. He was Carl Laemmle’s choice to play Dracula in the 1931 film originally scheduled to be directed by Paul Leni. 

May 4: We begin at 8:00 with MGM’s 1944 The Seventh Cross, Austrian expatriate Fred Zinnemann’s first “A” film, starring Spencer Tracy, with German expatriate Felix Bressart in support. At 10:00 pm, it The Killers (1946) from German expatriate director Robert Siodmak, followed at midnight by director Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair with German expatriate Marlene Dietrich. At 2:00 am, it’s Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) with expatriates Albert Bassermann and Martin Kosleck, and Comrade X (1940) starring Hedy Lamarr and Felix Bressart.


The TCM Spotlight this month shines on American International Pictures. The studio grew out of American Releasing Corporation (ARC), a company founded by former sales manager of Realist Pictures, James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff. The duo served as executive producers while Roger Corman and Alex Gordon handled the production – and sometimes directorial – duties. Among the company’s writers were such names as Charles B. Griffith, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont. The company also served as a springboard to young actors, counting Fay Spain, John Ashley, and Jack Nicholson among its roster of stars. 

The company got off to a rocky start until Arkoff began quizzing film exhibitors. They told him adults were home watching television while the teenagers were the primary moviegoers. Using that information, AIP began targeting the teenage audience. They would pitch a proposed title to the exhibitors, ask them what they thought, and if the response was positive, have in-house artists such as Albert Kallis create eye-catching posters, and assign a writer to create a script.

Observing that the majors were ignoring the lucrative drive-in marker, AIP made it the focus of their early output, releasing youth oriented double features with titles like I Was A Teenage FrankensteinHigh School HellcatsHot Rod GirlBlood of DraculaTeenage Caveman, and The Cool and the Crazy.

In the ‘60s, AIP contracted Corman’s Poe cycle of films and hit box office gold with 1963’s Beach Party, starring the duo of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. They also made several motorcycle gang films, including Devil’s AngelsThe Born Losers (which introduced the character of Billy Jack),  and Hells Angels ’69. The studio also exploited the hippie/psychedelic scene with The TripRiot on Sunset StripMaryjaneWild in the Streets, and Psych-Out.

In addition, AIP served as the U.S. distributor for many Italian giallo, sword and sandal, and what were referred to as “macaroni combat” films, usually with a faded or young American star and an Italian or Spanish cast. Japanese and South Korean sci-fi films were also added to the roster, including many Godzilla sequels and Korean products such as Yongary, Monster of the Deep

During its heyday, AIP was a major force is what used to be known as the “B-Movie” market, cashing in on pop culture trends and creating some of their own. Frankly, it’s about time TCM celebrated this groundbreaking studio and one can only hope that more AIP films will be added to the playlist in the future.

May 5: The is the best night for psychotronic fans with The Fast and the Furious (1954) leading off at 8:00, followed by The Beast With a Million Eyes (1955) at 9:30, A Bucket of Blood (1959) at 11:00, High School Hellcats (1958) at 12:15, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959) at 1:45 am, Attack of the Puppet People (1958) at 3 am, and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) at 4:30. 

May 12: The scene shifts to the ‘60s, beginning with Pit and the Pendulum (1961) at 8:00, ”X” – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) at 9:30, Dementia 13 (1963) at 11:00, Black Sabbath (1964) at 12:30 am, The Comedy of Terrors (1964) at 2:30 am, and Master of the World (1961) at 4:15 am. 


May 8: A double feature of Italian Director Michelangelo Antonioni begins at 2:00 am with L’Avventura (1960), with Monica Vitti, Lea Massari, and Gabriele Ferzetti, followed by Blow-Up (1966). L’Avventura, a favorite of the art house crowd, begins with Anna (Massari), who’s in a troubled love affair, on an ocean cruise with a yacht full of rich passengers. When they disembark on an island near Sicily, Anna is not among the passengers, and for much of the film, Anna’s best friend (Vitti) and her lover (Ferzetti) search for her while dealing with the emotional impact of her disappearance. Blow-Up has been shown several times. It concerns a photographer (David Hemmings) who may have inadvertently photographed a murder. Its easy my favorite film from the director with excellent performances from stars Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave.


May 13: At 6:00 am, it’s the seldom seen Shooting Straight (RKO, 1930) with Richard Dix as a compulsive gambler wanted for murder who attempts to redeem himself for the love of a minister’s daughter. Following at 7:30 is Loretta Young, Winnie Lightner and Norman Foster in Play Girl (WB, 1932), the story of a young innocent (Young) who falls hard for a compulsive gambler (Foster). It’s a good film with a good cast.


Though the tribute to American International was entirely composed of psychotronic films, there are still several other good ones on the schedule. 

May 9: There are few things I enjoy more than an Old Dark House thriller, and at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am, TCM is running one of the earliest, if not the earliest, made with sound. It’s The Bat Whispers, directed by Roland West and released by United Artists in 1931. Yes, it’s old; yes, it creaks; and yes, it still entertains. A sound remake of West’s classic silent, The Bat from 1926, it stars Chester Morris and Una Merkel. The search is on for the notorious thief known only as The Bat and he may be hiding out at a spooky old countryside estate populated by a wealthy dowager (Grayce Hampton), her lame-brained maid (Maude Eburne), and her fortune-hunting niece (Merkel). Morris is a detective looking for The Bat. Not until every plot possibility is overturned will we learn the identity of The Bat, which makes the film so much fun. Also, the visuals are fantastic, as is the use of miniature sets. At the end of the film, Morris comers out from behind a curtain to implore the audience not to divulge the plot’s secrets. If Old Dark House mysteries enchant you, this is a Must See. If not, see it anyway; you might be entertained.

May 14: Gerald Mohr takes over the role of Michael Lanyard from the ailing Warren William in The Lone Wolf in London (Columbia, 1947). The main problem with the film is that Lanyard is supposed to be suave and charming and Mohr is anything but.  It’s followed at 10:30 by the Bowery Boys in Ghost Chasers (Monogram, 1951). The boys are after a fake medium in this appealing installment.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

TCM TiVo ALERT for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


FURY (May 3, 9:45 pm): Director Fritz Lang's first American film, this is filled with suspense, revenge, mob rule, hostility, intolerance and action. Spencer Tracy plays Joe Wilson, accused of a crime he didn't commit. While he sits in jail, waiting for the police investigation into the crime, the local townspeople get worked up and go to lynch him. Unable to get inside, they torched the jail with Wilson killed in the fire – or so it seems. The great plot-twist is that Joe escapes, but presumed dead, with the people responsible for the incident facing murder charges. With the help of his brothers, Joe seeks revenge against his would-be killers. Tracy does a great job going from a hardworking, mild-mannered guy into one obsessed with anger and vengeance. The film moves from a love story to suspense to a courtroom drama.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (May 6, 6:30 am): In Seven Days in May, Burt Lancaster teams up with Kirk Douglas (the two co-starred in seven movies during their cinematic careers) to make a memorable and outstanding film. Lancaster is the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is leading several of its members in a conspiracy to remove the president (Fredric March) from office because he signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Douglas is a Marine Corps colonel and military adviser who finds out about the proposed coup and tells the president. It's among the best political thrillers ever made. An interesting tidbit: the shots taken outside the White House were done with the permission of President John F. Kennedy (those scenes were done in 1963 before his assassination that year), but Pentagon officials weren't cooperative, refusing to permit Douglas to be filmed walking into that building. 


THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (May 7, 6:15 pm): The 1951 original, of course, is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made and a courageous retort to the hysteria of the day. Michael Rennie is pitch perfect as Klaatu, an alien who comes here on a good will mission and is shot for his troubles. He wants to convene a confab of scientists and world leaders. The government, on the other hand, want to keep him prisoner in order to pump information from him. There are two things they hadn’t considered, however. One is that he is a vastly superior being, able to see through our heavy-handed trickery, and his robot, Gort, capable of burning the planet to a cinder. Klaatu easily escapes the government’s attempts at imprisonment, and grabbing a briefcase with the initials “J.C.” (How’s that for symbolism?), ventures out into the world to contact the people he needs to see by himself. It’s when he stops at a rooming house run by Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee!) that he meets young war widow Patricia Neal and her son, Billy Gray. They provide the humanity and drama as the government launches a manhunt for Klaatu. Director Robert Wise captures the hysteria of the times perfectly, and the film is the first to feature a rational being from outer space who is not out to kill or enslave us, though he does give the nations of Earth a stern warning at the end. If you haven’t seen this one, catch it by all means – and ignore the lame 2008 remake.

ALL ABOUT EVE (May 7, 8:00 pm): One of the great films about the theater with knockout performances from leads Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders. Sanders won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role. Sophisticated and cynical with a brilliant script by director Joseph Mankiewicz based on the short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. Life ended up imitating art when Baxter pulled strings to be nominated for Best Actress in addition to Davis. If she had stayed in the category of Best Supporting, it is likely both she and Davis would have taken home statuettes. It's one of those films that can be watched again and again with no lessening of enjoyment.


ED: A. This is a most unusual film, to say the least. A meditation on suicide in an Islamic country where, by Islamic law, suicide is verboten. A brooding man rides on the outskirts of Tehran in his Range Rover looking for someone who will accept a large fee to bury him after he commits suicide. His encounters with several candidates comprise the story of the film, for the film is a meditation on death. The protagonist, faced with his countrymen’s rejection of his proposals, offers a gamut of rationalized arguments and enticements, from philosophical to pathetically humorous. Slowly the film turns into a celebration of life and all the heartaches and irrupting errands it entails, such as death. The ending is left intentionally ambiguous – was the director inviting us to muse on the characters in the film and their arguments, or was the director leaving it unfinished to escape the inevitable consequences to which the film was leading, and by this ambiguity, escape the wrath of the Iranian authorities? It’s left to the viewer to come to terms in this most interesting introspective film.

DAVID: C. This is a film I really want to like as it appears on many lists and in several books as being a classic though it's less than 20 years old. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, and the subject matter – a guy trying to find someone to toss dirt on his body after he commits suicide and instead meets people who want to save him – is fascinating in concept. However, the execution falls short, leaving me uninspired and disappointed with the end result. It could be so much better. I don't hate it as passionately as Roger Ebert did when he described it as "excruciatingly boring" and a "lifeless drone." The reason is I'm not interested in the characters in the film, including the man trying to find someone to cover him up after he commits suicide. I honestly don't care if he lives or dies. I just want the film to either be better or be over. Some of the dialogue – done in Persian – is interesting, but there really isn't much of a quality film to watch. The story evolves at a snail's pace and by the time we get to the finale, I'm left feeling nothing. If that's the film's goal then mission accomplished. But I can't imagine that was the intention.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

On opening night, I was glad to have an assigned seat in the movie theater, though it was nowhere near full. It was the same theater I where saw The Maze Runner featuring the Regal RPX sound system. A good feature providing there are no explosions on screen. The fun was spotty in the theater but started seriously at dinner. Enjoy! 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal, 2016) – Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Writers: Evan Spiliotopoulos & Craig Mazin (s/p), Evan Daugherty (characters). Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu, Sam Hazeldine, Sam Claflin, Robert Portal, Nana Agyeman-Bediako, Sophie Cookson, Conrad Khan, Niamh Walter, & Fred Tatasciore. Color, Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.

Until my waiter at dinner after the theater told me this movie is a sequel, I was confused by all the unexplained asides and non-sequiturs in the script. Now that I know that Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) is its predecessor, I’m even more confused. The knowledge explained some things but put others in question. Following so close on the heels of Disney’s Frozen (2013), I’m forced to separate the concepts of Snow Queen Elsa from the Ice Queen. Add to that the scene where Queen Freya (Blunt) leads her army astride a polar bear-like creature and I need to separate her from the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005) whose chariot was pulled by three polar bears. All three are wintery characters.

The narrator at the beginning of the film tells us there are stories we have heard over and over, but there are some we’ve never heard. And this story begins with the evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) killing her king (Portal) by remote control using a chess game. When she says, “Queen takes King…” she means it and the chess piece begins to bleed as the human king collapses.

Ravenna is still obsessed with her brass serving plate “mirror” and her vain good looks, but she’s turned to mind games rather than special effects to get her way. When the mirror tells her that her sister Freya will give birth to a child that will be more beautiful than she, she forces the father to destroy the baby (thank goodness we don’t see that). However, the trauma releases the magic powers in Freya, which up until now she has denied having, and she becomes the Ice Queen. She moves out, heads north (why not?), and establishes her own kingdom in a frozen wasteland. (Sound familiar, Disney fans?)

But Freya is not like Elsa. She’s ruthless and wants an army. She conquers the kingdoms around hers (with what?) and steals all the children, who will then be trained as her huntsmen. When one terrified child exhibits love for his parents, Freya scars his cheeks with her freezing fingers while lecturing him about love being an illusion and a weakness.

Eric (Khan) and Sara (Walter) excel in their training beyond the other children and gain her favor. They grow up to be Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. Tull also grows up to become Sope Dirisu and their best friend. But when Eric and Sara fall in love and marry each other neck deep in a pool of water they incur Freya’s wrath. Freya has a white feathered Mardi Gras mask she wears when she spies on her “children,” and a ceramic snowy owl was perched above the marriage pool. Freya sets the rest of her huntsmen against Eric and Sara and, when it looks like they would successfully fight them all off, builds an ice wall between them, using deceit to drive them away from each other. Eric sees Tull kill Sara (something he knows in his heart Tull wouldn’t do), and Sara sees Eric abandon her and run away like a coward (also something she knows better than to believe). But they both believe what they saw. Sara is locked up in the queen’s castle and Eric is knocked unconscious, taken for dead, and hurled into the river. How in the world is he going to help Snow White regain her kingdom as he did in the first movie? Oh wait, from previous dialogue we learn that Snow White already has her kingdom. Maybe there’s a time warp here somewhere.

But it gets worse. Somehow, Freya has learned that her sister Ravenna is dead and she wants the magic mirror so she can be unstoppable. (Remember, she’s doing all this for the children.) For some strange reason, Ravenna’s brother Finn is neither mentioned in this film, nor does he inherit the mirror. It turns out to have been stolen by goblins.

Eric is not dead. He meets Snow White’s brother, William (Claflin), and is joined by two dwarves, Nion (Frost), one of the original seven from the first movie (eight, if you count the murdered Gus), and Gryff (Brydon). After a pub brawl that looks pretty dire, Eric and his dwarf companions are saved by a hooded figure that turns out to be none other than Sara! They’re both gobsmacked. He delighted she’s alive and she hates him for leaving her. Now they have to join forces to get the mirror before Freya does. On the way, they encounter two female dwarves, Mrs. Bromwyn (Smith) and Doreena (Roach), who know the way to the goblins’ lair. They want the gold and gems already there in payment for their tour guide service.

Hence my confusion? Some say it’s a fantasy and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. I say that it’s a story and the storyline should be consistent and whole; not broken up into whatever the writers want to throw in. The first movie has Eric’s wife as dead and Ravenna promising him to bring her back if he’ll kill Snow White (who doesn’t even appear in this movie). Ravenna doesn’t even consider Snow White when she conspires to kill Freya’s baby. And what would Sara say if she saw Eric give Snow White “true love’s kiss” in the first movie?

Eventually, I started ignoring the main characters except for the dwarves, who were much more real to me (and funnier), and paying more attention to the CGI background effects, which were marvelous – especially in the dark forest. If you decide to see this film, look for the python made of grass and white flowers, the large tortoise and the flitting pixies artfully woven into the scenes. On the good side, this film was 12 minutes shorter than the first one, but one still had to dig through Chris Hemsworth’s thick Australian-verging-on-Scottish accent to decipher what he was saying. Jessica Chastain also sounded like she was channeling his accent. Thank goodness Ravenna and Freya spoke clearly.

My applause goes to the costume designers and make-up artists once again for superlative work on Ravenna and Freya’s gowns and accoutrements. The CGI effects were top notch to the point that I wish this movie was in 3D. Parents warning: there is a good share of violence in this movie as well as bloodshed (did you know that goblin blood is like tar?), and then there’s the hokey love scenes. But the best part of all – there is no hint of another sequel.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

New York Yankees Steakhouse
7 West 51st St.New York

In the Sixties, I became a Yankee baseball fan and followed the careers of both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. My uncle took me to ball games and I enjoyed being there. In the Seventies, I was still a fan when I joined the Westchester Golden Chordsmen Barbershop Chorus and found out that most of them were Yankees fans as well. My Dad was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they moved to California and disappointed him. He latched onto the New York Mets when they surfaced in 1962, but that’s another story.

When I started dining out and trying new restaurants, eventually, you know that Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on Central Park South near 6th Avenue (opened 1988) would be one of them. Unfortunately, it was geared to children who consider a hot dog with sauerkraut to be haute cuisine. I was not impressed. Though the food was solid and good, it wasn’t my kind of dining. Later, I gave the Mets equal time when Rusty Staub opened his restaurant on 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1989 and a sister restaurant on Third Avenue at 73rd Street. Pretty much the same thing. Mantle’s closed in 2012, Staub’s uptown place closed in 1991 and the Fifth Avenue one went out of business in 2011.

So one might guess I was leery about something called the New York Yankees Steakhouse, which is only entering its third year of existence. It’s said first impressions are the most important, and the flashy entrance to this restaurant made it look very important. Set back from the sidewalk and recessed within the building line, the 12-foot front windows flanked a snazzy steel awning stretching to the curb with the restaurant name in black raised lettering on both sides. OK, it has my attention.

Inside, the maple wood paneling and tastefully displayed Yankee memorabilia offset the dramatic stairway leading to the second floor. The bar on the far left had a canopy of silver, gold and copper chains swaying like fringes on a flapper’s skirt. Shirts with the number 6 (Joe Torre), 23 (Don Mattingly), and 44 (Reggie Jackson) were interspersed with two World’s Series Trophies in glass cases. There were flat-screen television monitors at several places showing baseball games, but they were not oppressive, just a part of the décor. The tables had white cloths and navy blue napkins (team colors), stemmed glassware, and unusual rock-like table lights (though it was bright enough to see without them). The atmosphere spoke “class” to me. This is not a run-of-the-mill sports bar.

Two young ladies at the Captain’s Station took my reservation and one led me up a second set of stairs to the right onto a level overlooking 51st Street. I sat on the navy blue banquette and settled in. I knew I wore my white shirt with the blue pinstripes for a reason.

Andrew, my waiter, appeared and handing me the wine and drink list and food menu. He recommended a cocktail that sounded interesting, but I saw one that was more appropriate. As this was my first time at the New York Yankees Steakhouse, I ordered the Yankeetini – Veev vodka, blue curacao, and white cranberry juice with a twist of lemon. Too bad there were so few patrons on my level, just three other tables of the possible 15. No one to notice that this drink was a vivid greenish-blue that even my camera couldn’t catch, but it was sweet and delicious, with blue sugar rimming the glass.

The menu read like a first class steakhouse menu (several of which are in the same part of town) featuring Raw Bar, Salads, Appetizers, Pasta, U.S.D.A. Prime Steaks, Butch Cuts, Fresh Seafood, and Sides. Andrew told me that Chef Braden Reardon is obsessive with freshness and can guarantee that everything I order will be as fresh as can be. 

He described many items and the myriad combinations and sauces, not once saying, “we’re all out of” anything. I liked that. After explaining that my table lighting was an actual block of salt used in curing the steaks, he left me to consider.

Meanwhile, another server brought something to the two gentlemen sitting window side that caught my eye. It appeared to be a stack of seven or eight fresh doughnuts held in place by a thin black rod. I learned from the server that they were indeed onion rings! I think I decided to come back then and there. After a short discussion with Andrew, I had my three-course meal ordered and he knew which would come out when. He recommended the house wine and I told him I’d let him know.

By now you might know that I am pretty predictable in a steakhouse and two of my dishes were just that. The appetizer, oysters on the half-shell, arrived first on a large stemmed stainless steel platter. There were three from the west coast and three from the east coast. On a separate oblong white dish were ramekins of cocktail sauce, horseradish, and herb oil. Talk about freshness, the east coast oysters were not in the least bit briny. They were all wonderful, and frankly, I couldn’t tell one coast from the other. They were almost the same size. And with the tangy sauces, they were perfect.

Deciding to go Yankees all the way, I agreed to Andrew’s wine recommendation and ordered the 2013 Paso Robles New York Yankees ‘Reserve’ cabernet sauvignon. It was surprising in many ways. There was a cork, it was a deep red, had a great nose, and was full-bodied enough to take on the rest of my meal. Another home run.

The crab bisque, an almost corn chowder/puree kind of soup of the day, arrived in classic style with blue crab bits in the middle of the bowl. The server poured the bisque around it from a stainless steel pitcher. It was a beautiful pumpkin-colored, savory delight that was not fishy at all and gave a nice spicy aftertaste. Did I mention they served pretzel-rolls? When Andrew asked if there was anything else he could get me, I told him to keep the pretzel rolls coming. (By the way, the bread dish was in the shape of a baseball diamond.)

Next, but not least, in presentation was the 12-ounce filet mignon, seared black and crispy on the outside, rare on the inside (termed Black and Blue – just the way I love it), accompanied by a dish of bleu cheese topping. Sheer heaven. This steak was comparable to the one I had at Uncle Jack’s (Look out Jack!). The Yankees hit another home run. To make it a triple header, there was the side dish, decadent truffled Parmesan fries with barbecue dipping sauce. Perched in a paper cone inserted into a stainless steel server, they were crisp, earthy, cheesy and tangy with the sauce.

By now I was becoming full. The colossal chocolate cake sounded beyond my capacity, so I chose the strawberry and chocolate-marshmallow gelato and mango sorbet trio. Again, another home run. It was bigger scoops than I expected but the mango was excellent and the two gelatos were creamy and just as good as ones I tasted in Rome. Once again, the predictable double espresso was mine and Andrew recommended the Taylor Fladgate 20-year-old port wine, the pinnacle of meal-toppers.

New York Yankees Steakhouse is a class act from beginning to end without being stuffy or pretentious. I mentioned the time when George Steinbrenner loaned real Yankee uniforms to my chorus for our competition package and another server was happy to tell me about George and his friendship with him. I wore Dave Righetti’s shirt and Dale Berra’s pants. (Remember them?) I had a great time, ate a grand meal and will be returning for those onion rings (among other dishes).

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Intern

Gallagher’s Forum

By Jon Gallagher

The Intern (WB, 2015) – Written and Directed by 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 Vinovich, & C.J. Wilson. Color, Rated PG-13, 121 minutes.

So what do you do when you’re 70 years old, just lost your wife of 42 years, and are bored out of your skull with everyday activities? If you’re Ben Whittaker (De Niro), you find an upstart internet company founded by 30-something Jules Ostin (Hathaway) and staffed by a bunch of 20-to-30-year-olds who are long on technology, but short when it comes to common sense, and you become a “senior intern.”

Jules’ company, a web-based clothing retailer, is an overnight success story, reaching their five-year goals in a record-setting nine-month period. She runs the company her way, working long hard hours, keeping her hand in every facet of the business while her husband (Holm) stays at home to raise their daughter Paige (Kushner). Ben is hired as an intern, much to Jules’ chagrin, and manages to chip away at her shell to become a trusted confidant, and, by the end of the movie, her best friend.

The film has some very funny moments. In one instance, Jules sends an email to her mother by mistake. The email complains about how controlling her mother is and has the potential of destroying their relationship. Jules goes to her staff to ask their help in getting the email back before her mother gets home from work and checks her personal email.

It’s Ben who comes up with the perfect solution in our digital world: Break into her mother’s house and steal the computer. Ben and three others from the company set out to do just that. It’s a hilarious scene that makes good use of Murphy’s Law and still leaves me with a smile on my face just thinking about it as I type this review.

Jules’ investors aren’t sure she’s the one to run the company and suggest she find a CEO who would then become her boss. She’s resistant, but still explores the possibilities including taking a trip across the country (with Ben) to San Francisco to interview one of the top candidates.

Midway through the movie, I was set to complain about how predictable the movie was, but to my surprise, it wasn’t predictable at all. That was quite a shock, actually, but in a good way.

De Niro shows off his talent with this role, playing the wise old man who still knows a trick or two. Hathaway does a wonderful job as well, and the two play well off each other, creating an onscreen chemistry that we don’t see enough of nowadays.

Rene Russo plays Fiona, a masseuse who works for the company (of course, a modern start-up company needs to employ a masseuse) who develops a relationship with Ben. Zach Pearlman and Andrew Rannells also turn in good performances as another intern and a company manager, respectively.

My only real complaint about the movie is that it seems to end in the middle. There are some decisions that are made at the end, and although we’re pretty sure we know what they are, the characters never quite come out and say what those decisions are for sure. In fact, I was taken aback when the credits started to roll; I thought there had to be at least another 10 minutes of movie remaining.

I enjoyed the movie. I thought the clash of cultures between the generations was well worth exploring and would like to have seen more.

I’ll give the effort a solid B, with the only thing holding it back from a better grade being the ambiguity of the ending.

Friday, April 22, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

April 23–April 30


FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES (April 23, 4:15 am): This is one of Ingmar Bergman's darker films, which is saying something because he made a lot of dark films. It's also one of his more fascinating movies and largely goes under the radar. This was originally made for German television in 1980 with two characters seen briefly in his 1973 film Scenes From a Marriage, which was a Swedish TV miniseries later cut when released in theaters. It's a complex film with Bergman taking a deep dive into the themes of many of his works – love, sex, marriage, death, regret and tragedy. The marriage of Katarina and Peter Egermann is in shambles with the couple arguing and the wife having other lovers. Peter sees a prostitute who has the misfortune of having Katarina as her first name. In a fit of rage, Peter kills her. The film questions what drove Peter, a respectable businessman, to commit murder. As he did in several other films, Bergman gives his viewers a lot to ponder and leaves it to them to determine what they are viewing.

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (April 29, 1:15 am): I've recommended this film a few times over the year, and with good reason: it's a must-see. A large ensemble cast of legendary actors – Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell – and memorable smaller roles played by Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich make this drama one of the most riveting films made. It also makes you question the responsibility of people who commit atrocities or do nothing to stop them. It's about a post-World War II military tribunal in which three American judges (Tracy as the chief judge in an extraordinary role) are hearing the cases of four former German judges (Lancaster is the main ex-jurist) accused of committing war atrocities for passing death sentences on people during the Nazi regime. The film is horrifying, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches, including showing real footage of piles of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. You have to decide for yourself if being German during the regime of Adolf Hitler is a war crime. 


THE SEARCHERS (April 25, 1:00 pm): It’s an old axiom among serious film buffs that John Wayne was a limited actor. While that’s true to a certain extent, just give him a good script and a director like John Ford or Howard Hawks to keep him in line and milk a good performance out of him and he’s not only good – he’s compelling to watch. Wayne is a Civil War veteran obsessed with tracking down the Comanches that killed his family and slaughtered his niece. He also hates Indians with a passion, and Ford paints an interesting character study as Wayne pursues the kidnappers. Not to be missed, even for those that aren’t exactly crazy about Westerns.

DUCK SOUP (April 26, 9:15 am): There are very few comedic masterpieces in film history. This is one of the best and probably the best antiwar movie ever made. Imagine – Groucho becomes dictator of Fredonia at the whim of Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), to whom the government owes large sums of money. Chico and Harpo work as spies for Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighboring Sylvania, which has its eyes on Fredonia. Trentino hopes to marry Mrs. Teasdale and take over Fredonia, but Groucho stands in his way. Eventually their rivalry leads to war. And what a war! Every vestige of nationalism is lampooned, from Paul Revere’s ride to the draft. It has great dialogue and sight gags galore, each managing to top the previous one. It’s incredible to believe, but this film bombed at the box office so badly that Paramount cancelled the Marx Brothers’ contract. Today it’s a classic of the genre. With the gorgeous Raquel Torres and the hysterical Edgar Kennedy, whose encounters with Chico and Harpo are truly side-splitting.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WOMAN IN THE DUNES (April 24, 2:00 am)

ED: C. The Japanese are the last people I would have expected to make an “art” film. Simply, they don’t need to, for directors such as Ozu, Kurosawa, and Kenji Mizoguchi made their superbly crafted films into masterpieces simply by following everyday stories or adapting classic works of literature, as Kurosawa did with Shakespeare. Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964) is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Kobo Abe. Abe’s novel is a complex tome about the meaning of freedom in today’s society, a variation of the Myth of Sisyphus as elaborated by Camus. Like the novels of Henry James, many of which are internally, as opposed to externally, driven, it really does not translate into a movie, for movies cannot capture the necessary depth that makes the story work. Metaphors only go so far; one needs a solid storyline to move the film along, otherwise it tends to become mired in its own heaviness, which is the case with Woman in the Dunes. Yes, I know that Abe adopted the screenplay himself. His other adaptations of his works, The Face of Another and The Man Without a Map, work because they are externally based and entail movement towards a goal. Woman in the Dunes only proves that what works in a novel does not necessarily work in film, as both a separate crafts.

DAVID: A. I first saw this film a couple of years ago and was very impressed. That Ed thinks it's worthy of only a C gave me pause. Was my memory of Woman in the Dunes faulty? So I watched it on Hulu the other day. It's absolutely brilliant. The story is a parable about an entomology teacher out in the sandy dunes of a small rural village in Japan collecting beetles. He oversleeps and is stuck there for the night. The villagers invite him to stay in a deep sandpit with a woman who lives there. It turns out to be a trap, and no matter what he does, he cannot escape – kind of like a sandy Hotel California. On top of that, the sand on the pit's walls fall making life in the house at the bottom very dangerous. He manages to escape once, only to be caught because he does not know how to leave the village to get help. He decides to take on various tasks to pass the time, and after seven years in the pit, the man has the chance to legitimately escape. But he's found his purpose, and after all that time, the life he had in Tokyo is long gone. Why do some of the people in the village live in sandpits and others don't? Damn if I know. However, watching the film, it is something I never question. That's what makes it work. It takes an impossibly unlikely scenario and makes you believe it is actually happening. As Roger Ebert wrote in his glowing review of this 1964 film: "There is never a moment when the film doesn't look absolutely realistic, and it isn't about sand anyway, but about life." A few other items about the film: the music score heightens and sometimes mocks the tension, it's surprisingly erotic and the visuals of the sand are extraordinary.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Jungle Book

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Jungle Book (Disney, 2016) – Director: Jon Favreau. Writers: Justin Marks (s/p), Rudyard Kipling (book). Star: Neel Sethi. Voices: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose, Emjay Anthony, Max Favreau, Chloe Hechter, Asher Blinkoff, & Knox Gagnon. Color, Rated PG, 105 minutes.

Do you like Kipling?” “I don’t know, I never kippled before.” Familiar lines from the Laugh-In television series. I was a pre-teen when I read “The Jungle Book” and I loved it. Of course I saw the Disney animated version in 1967 and the real-life remake in 1994. My favorite quote from 1994 is “Why do you suppose he (the panther) stares at us like that?” “Because to him, you are food.” The animated version was an entertaining, typically Disney bit of fluff that sugared the original story and topped it with a cherry. This time, Disney Corporation appears to be getting serious with the dangerous life of a child raised by animals in the jungle.

Mowgli (Sethi), as we learn from Kaa the python (Johansson) about halfway through the film, is the son of a traveler who is beset by Shere Khan the tiger (Elba) one night in their cave shelter. The father blinds the tiger in one eye and burns him with a torch before the tiger kills him. Shere Khan leaves the cave without noticing the orphaned child still there. The bewildered child is found by Bagheera the panther (Kingsley), who raises him and teaches him the ways of the wild. Eventually, he entrusts the “man-cub” to Akela (Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Nyong’o), the alpha male and female in a wolf pack. They care for Mowgli as one of their own cubs.

My ticket had a “4DX” after the film title. Frankly, I paid no attention to it when buying my ticket. I only wondered why this movie cost more than double what I usually pay. When I arrived at the theater, I saw a list of rules posted outside the door. Things like age limits, medical condition warnings, how to sit, what to do, and so forth. Sitting in my assigned seat I noticed a button on the armrest with “water on” lit. Not wanting to get wet, I immediately changed it. But I was not prepared for what was to come.

The movie opens with Mowgli running a race with his fellow wolves, he in the trees and they on the ground. Every seat in the theater followed his motions, up, down, back and forth. And when the tree branch broke under him you felt it on your left leg. When the breeze blew on screen, you felt it. When you saw flowers, you smelled them. And when it was misty onscreen, or when the vengeful Shere Khan kills Akela and takes over the pack, the audience is squirted with water.

Mowgli decides to leave the wolf pack and follow Bagheera to a “man-village” when he sees the pack in danger because of him. Separated from the panther, and alone in the misty rain forest, he’s saved from the hypnotic and hungry Kaa by Baloo the Bear (Murray). Up until now, the computer-generated animals are spectacular. They move like real beasts and talk with only a minimal movement of their mouths. Baloo even looks like Bill Murray, with the same sleepy eyes. But when Mowgli is captured by the monkeys and taken to the Hindu temple where King Louie the orangutan (Walken) sits on his throne, things get a little less believable.

King Louie is immense, very much larger than the largest male orangutan ever created. But considering his gigantic size, his head is disproportionately small. The effect is ridiculous.

Speaking of the ridiculous, I mentioned Disney “trying” to get serious in this film. The drama is not just broken, but outright dropped as Murray has to sing “Bare (Bear) Necessities” while doing the backstroke with Mowgli riding his chest, and even more laughable is Walken croaking his way through “I Wanna Be Like You.” Forgive me, but Phil Harris and Louie Prima they are not. Fortunately, Kaa’s song, “Trust in Me,” is left for the credits at the end and sung very well by Johansson.

When I was reading the book, all the characters were real to me, Bagheera being my favorite. I even liked Kaa, whom I totally misunderstood. It didn’t matter to me that this was a fantasy jungle. Nowhere on earth do you see tigers, wolves, bears, pangolins, orangutans, macaques, one lonely male peacock, rhinos, elephants, Ikki the porcupine (Shandling), and a giant squirrel together in one part of the world. I didn’t wonder why Mowgli could talk to all of the animals, though there are some in this film he cannot talk to, like the monkeys. Yes, it’s an allegory and a family film that teaches loyalty and right from wrong – great for viewing with children. However, I don’t believe the thrill of “being IN the movie” is worth the cost. I enjoyed The Jungle Book as a 3D movie with stunning CGI. I just want my seat to stay put and not to be spritzed with water.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

119 E. 18th St., New York

After a movie involving multiple animals, it was great to find a Tex-Mex restaurant only four blocks away with the name of another animal. A Javelina is a wild pig about the size of a large house cat. If you’re still curious, they have a stuffed one over the bar.

Javelina is striking at street level. The Southwestern cross-hatch pattern on the gray and white tiles framing the front windows is easy to see, and the name in big green letters on a wood background contrast nicely. Inside. I had to squeeze past the Happy Hour crowd to get to the Captain’s Station and then move downstairs to the bar itself past a lively crowd to the dining area. My server, Samantha, supplied me with both the drinks menu and the food menu, and a glass of water at the same time as an apology for quickly zipping off to take care of other diners. All 20-plus tables were occupied, and the piped-in music found itself seriously competing with the ever-growing chatter. I didn’t mind, though, for I had a good view of everything.

I was still reeling from the bucking bronco that was my seat in the movies when my eyes cleared up enough to find an interesting margarita on the cocktail side of the drinks menu. When Samantha was free, she took my order for a prickly pear margarita on the rocks and asked me what tequila I would like. I was speechless for a second; I’ve never had that kind of a choice. I thought of my favorite tequila, but didn’t think “Two Fingers” was being produced anymore. All I could say was “Wow!” 

She suggested a top-shelf brand, Casamigos Blanco, sang its praises, and added that although it cost a couple of dollars more, it was worth the extra price. Excellent salesmanship. I ordered it. I guess I made an impression on the man I took to be the manager who, at the time was assisting the bartender. He brought me the guava-pink drink with only half the rim encrusted with salt and a lime slice perched on the unsalted rim. It was beautiful and, I thought, very considerate to people who can’t have too much salt. Not only that, it was delicious.

The food menu is four pages long with several intriguing and different dishes I found nowhere else (such as brisket tacos?). I told Samantha that I liked everything and that I was putting together a three-course meal. I asked her about the size of the taco dishes and she answered that it depended upon how many I ordered. That settled my decision. I gave her my selections, she suggested the order they should come out, and I ordered a second margarita.

Another server brought the first course, tortilla soup – shredded chicken in pasilla (the dried form of the chilaca chili or chili negro) broth with tomatoes, avocado, creama (sour cream), fried tortilla strips and cheese. It was hearty, rich, and only mildly spicy. I remembered the last tortilla soup I had and made the suggestion of using blue-corn tortillas in the recipe. Samantha said she’d tell the chef. Otherwise, it was excellent.

I had kept the drinks menu for my wine choice and ordered the 2015 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon “Alto” Riserva, Los Romeros, Colchagua Valley, Chile. When the manager/assistant bartender arrived with the bottle, he apologized for the screw-top bottle. As he poured I explained that quite a few times I’ve experienced wonderful “corkless" wines, and as I tasted it, said, “like this one.” Samantha had joined us and I told them about last week’s restaurant being all out of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and the week-long craving that resulted. They both smiled and acknowledged that now, I have it. I knew it would go with the soup, but it had a poblano pepper “meaty” flavor, verging on spiciness as well as a deep cherry fruitiness that would match my main course perfectly.

My second course was one of the unusual dishes, fried oyster tacos wrapped in soft fresh-made tortillas, with shredded cabbage, tomato, cilantro and lime. Something weird happens to oysters when they are cooked. This dish recalled to mind my first taste of oysters at a Japanese restaurant called Kabuki (no longer in business). Then, as now, the cooking process brings out the metallic zinc flavor in oysters. I had ordered two of these tacos and, after finishing the first I dowsed the second in fresh lime juice, which helped a lot. I think I’ll stick to fresh oysters on the half shell.

No dish arrived at the same time as the previous one and I credit Samantha with a great job of choreographing the meal. In several places on the menu, the words chile and chili were interchangeable though they mean distinctly different things. The main course was an example. The chili (chile – their spelling) relleno, a large poblano pepper battered and fried and stuffed with beef picadillo (ground beef, onions, green bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes), and topped with melted cheese, toasted pecans, raisins and tomatillo sauce, was a wonder to behold. 

The colors of this dish were vibrant and the aroma enticing. I decided to start at the stem end of the pepper (where the spiciest part is) and discovered it was uniformly mild throughout. The chef made sure to exclude the seeds. Unlike the first one I had at the Caliente Cab Company in Greenwich Village, this dish did not make me empty the accompanying red rice dish or the refried black beans just to put out the fire in my mouth. It was savory, cheesy, beefy and wonderful throughout. I told Samantha that it reminded me one I had in San Antonio, Texas. She liked that.

Javelina has been open for a year now and has yet to get a dessert list. Samantha offered a complimentary sopapilla with a honey dipping sauce. A sopapilla is something like a cross between a fluffy doughnut and Italian zeppole, coated with brown sugar, and best eaten hot and fresh. Samantha asked how it I liked it and I asked for more. She brought two more. However, coffee was strangely missing from the menu, much less the fancy coffees I see in Mexican restaurants. But just as strange, I didn’t need any. I considered an after dinner drink but changed my mind. I was satisfied.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.