Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for February 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

As we know, TCM is devoting the month of February, along with the first three days in March, to its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival. Unlike last year, there’s little that’s new this time around. They have changed the format this year, showing the movies in alphabetical order, but once again, it’s mostly the same old films. Because of this, we here at Cinema Inhabituel are changing our format for the month. We will feature a different film each day and try to find those we feel are usually not discussed and sometimes overlooked. Barring that we’ll do what we can.

February 1: Let’s begin with one of the greatest action films ever made: The Adventures of Robin Hood (12:15 am). Robin Hood was a role Errol Flynn was born to play. In fact it’s perfectly cast all around, with Claude Rains as the devious King John, Basil Rathbone at his villainous best as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and Olivia De Havilland impossibly beautiful as Maid Marian. One of the delights of the film is its inability to take itself seriously, as the cast seems to be performing their roles with a wink and a nod. The casting genius even extends to the minor roles: Can anyone else than Alan Hale play Little John? And no one but Eugene Palette can play Friar Tuck with such confidence. Warner Brothers had three strokes of genius in making the film: First, they replaced the staid William Keighley during filming with Michael Curtiz, who knew how to get the action into an action film. Second, they cast Errol Flynn as Robin. Believe it or not, James Cagney was the first choice for the role. Cagney’s good, but this is out of his league. We could no more see him as Robin Hood as we could see Flynn playing Rocky Sullivan in Angels With Dirty Faces. And thirdly, they shot the film in Technicolor, which made it even more mesmerizing and appealing. We’ve seen this movie more times than we can count, but we’re always willing to see it again.

February 2: Though it’s being aired at the late hour of  3:30 am, The Battle of Algiers is definitely one worth catching. Directed by Gilleo Pontecorvo, it’s a reconstruction of the events of 1954 to 1957 in the struggle of the guerrillas in the National Liberation Front against the French authorities. As portrayed by Jean Martin, Col. Mathieu isn’t so much a character as a representation of the repressive power of the regime against the feral heat generated by the inhabitants as they fight tooth and nail against their oppressors. What the French accomplish in the end is to win the battle against terrorism while losing the concurrent battle of ideas. It’s a lesson of history that has been repeated since then from Vietnam to Iraq. The device of Col. Mathieu is a clever stroke from the director and co-writer Franco Solinas in that the revolutionaries do not need to spout revolutionary consciousness since the Colonel is given such a counter-revolutionary consciousness that he says it for them. He is a fatalist, knowing that history has always been on the side of the oppressed, but at the same time realizing that he is a part of an imperialistic holding pattern ultimately doomed to failure. The movie never comes right out and espouses these feelings; rather it takes us along in the revolutionary fervor we see on the screen, with events happening so quickly that we don’t have time to pause and think. some may even accept the N.L.F.’s philosophy that violence s there only path to liberation. The French government complained that the film’s politics were anything but “fair and balanced.” They were right – it's a paean to revolution, which while documenting violent extremes on the part of the N.L.F., never retreats from its position that the Algerian side is right. The ethical questions raised by the film are still with us today and are the best reason why this is required viewing.

February 3: Here’s a strange choice. In a night of better known (and better) pictures, our recommendation is the seldom seen Blues in the Night. This overheated, fermented mix of jazz and melodrama from 1941 stars Richard Whorf as a pianist in a jazz band that includes Jack Carson (the band’s leader) on trumpet, Priscilla Lane on vocals, Elia Kazan on clarinet, Peter Whitney on bass, and Billy Halop on the drums. Along the way they run into escaped convict Lloyd Nolan, which leads to big trouble down the road when former girlfriend Betty Field succeeds in making Lloyd jealous. Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer composed the score, which includes the Oscar nominated “Blues in the Night.” Some may not recognize it from the title, but it begins with “My momma done told me, when I was in knee pants, My momma done told me, son...” I can still remember Daffy Dick and Porky Pig singing it in My Favorite Duck from 1942. This was Elia Kazan’s last acting role before he turned to directing, and as for Billy Halop, next stop was Poverty Row after starring in a couple of Universal serials.

February 4: Of all the ‘70s and beyond musicals our favorite by far is Cabaret, which will be shown tonight at 1:30 am. It’s easily Liza Minnelli’s best performance and most likely her most memorable one. Based on “Sally Bowles,” a short story by Christopher Isherwood (from his collection Berlin Stories), the movie captures perfectly the setting and mood of early ‘30s Berlin, just before Hitler became chancellor in 1933. Minnelli is Sally Bowles, a bohemian young dancer who performs at the Kit Kat Club. Joel Grey, who steals the film, is the emcee at the club. Michael York plays Brian Roberts, a bisexual writer (based on Isherwood), who shares his bed with Sally and Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem). Director Bob Fosse took the Broadway musical on which the film is based and increased the focus of the film on the Kit Kat Club, cutting all but one of the musical numbers that took place outside the club. The number he kept in was the harrowing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a folk song spontaneously sung by young Nazis at an outdoor café. I have seen this film numerous times and the scene still sends a chill down my spine. A point of trivia that’s worth mentioning is that when the musical opened in London’s West End in 1966, the role of Bowles was played by Dame Judi Dench. Cabaret was nominated for 10 Oscars, with Minnelli winning Best Actress, Joel Grey winning Best Supporting Actor, and Bob Fosse walking away with Best Director.

February 5: To recommend any film other than Casablanca (8:00 pm) this night would be sheer blasphemy. Ingrid Bergman was never more popular or beloved than when the world’s most famous saloonkeeper was treating her like a whore. There has been much written about this beloved film, and we think every film buff is familiar with the backstory: how it was improvised from day to day (Ingrid Bergman reportedly didn’t even know until the last minute whether her character would be going away with Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henried), and the famous story of how it was to originally star George Raft, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan (which was just a story) before cooler heads prevailed. At any rate, there is no doubt about the hold it as had not only on film fans but also the American public at large since the early ‘60s, when a small theater in Massachusetts began showing it for three weeks every year to bigger and bigger crowds. Since then, Casablanca has rightfully earned a place as a staple of American pop culture. Even those who haven’t seen it can quote lines of dialogue, such as “Here’s looking to you, kid,” and “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Captain Renault’s line, “Major Strasser has been shot ... Round up the usual suspects,” was turned into a hit movie by Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and Best Writing, Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch). Another famous story told about the film concerned its director, the Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz, who was famous for mangling the English language. One day he supposedly wanted to see how Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa Lund, would look with a pet dog. He decided on a French poodle and sent a young stagehand to scour the studio for one. The young man returned over an hour later with a different breed of dog, telling an annoyed Curtiz that he couldn’t find a French poodle. “Never mind,” Curtiz supposedly shot back. “The next time I send an idiot out for something, I go myself.”

February 6: Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand, especially when 1967’s Cool Hand Luke is scheduled to play (8:00 pm). Paul Newman was never better than as Lucas Jackson, a man who just doesn’t fit in, no matter where he is, and this time he’s in jail for sawing the heads of parking meters while drunk. His natural inclination to stand up for his principles makes him a hero of sorts on the road gang, especially after he’s befriended by convict leader Dragline (George Kennedy). He gets along fine at first with the powers-that-be until they break his honor code by punishing him for something he hasn’t done. Then it’s war, even though he knows he will lose in the end. Part of the fun of the film is watching for familiar actors in supporting parts, such as Wayne Rogers, J.D. Cannon, Strother Martin, Lou Antonio, Jo Van Fleet, Richard Davalos, Harry Dean Stanton, Joe Don Baker, James Gammon, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, and, of course, Dennis Hopper.

February 7: How about a TCM premiere tonight, namely Dreamgirls, from 2006. Loosely based on the story of the Supremes, it stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Knowles, Hudson and Anika Noni Rose are members of an all girl R&B group called the Dreamettes. Foxx is the man who discovers them and finagles them a job as backup singers for charismatic R&B superstar James “Thunder” Early (Murphy). The film follows the girls’ rise to the top and all the shenanigans that accompany it, such as payola along with the inevitable break-up that occurs after success has been achieved. The performances are all top notch, especially Hudson, who deserved her Oscar, and Murphy, who was nominated and should have won, but didn’t. It’s a movie well worth the time with great tunes and a riveting storyline.

February 8: Our pick this day, from 1956, is Forbidden Planet at 4:00 pm. One of the classics of science-fiction cinema, it boasts excellent special effects and an intelligent story. A group of space troops, led by Leslie Nielsen, has come to the planter Altira-4 to relieve the members of the Bellerophon mission 20 years earlier. But upon landing, they learn that the only survivors are Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), along with Robby the Robot, which Morbius had pieced together years ago. Nielsen must phone home for further instructions as how to handle this new situation, while Morbius wants him and his crew gone as soon as possible. Nielsen, however, is suspicious. Something’s not passing the smell test, and when several of his crew meet their deaths, things heat up fast. Those new to this classic will love it while us old hands can certainly watch it once more.

February 9: We’re in a bit of a quandary today, with so many wonderful films on the slate. But our recommendation is G’ Men with Jimmy Cagney from Warner Bros. at 6:15 pm. Cagney is in top form as “Brock” Davis, a lawyer put through law school by powerful gangster “Mac” McKay (William Harrigan). When Davis’ friend, FBI agent Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey), is gunned down by gangsters, Davis joins the FBI. After receiving his training, he travels to New York City and tells the mobsters, including McKay, that he will return to get each and every one of them. And get them he does, putting his knowledge of the gangland to good use with both guns blazing. Margaret Lindsay and the underrated Ann Dvorak are on hand to supply the eye candy, and Robert Armstrong and Lloyd Nolan (in his film debut) are part of the good guys at the Bureau. Barton MacLane is main heel Brad Collins and plays the role only as Barton MacLane can. By the way, note the absence of submachine guns. The newly enforced Production Code outlawed the use of the weapon as it was thought it would corrupt the youth of America.

February 10: The best choice for today is Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty, from 1940. Brian Donlevy is in top form as a bum who is given a ticket to vote in a crooked election. As each ticket is worth two dollars, he votes in as many wards possible, delivering almost a bucketful to the political boss. The boss is not impressed, but asks if he wants a job. Donlevy wants to know what he’s supposed to do and he’s told to collect from those behind in their graft payments. From here, he’s made an alderman, and when the mayor is found wanting in the polls, the Boss, nicely played by Akim Tamiroff, asks him if he want to be the Reform Party’s candidate for mayor. “Since when do you have anything to do with the Reform Party?” he asks. “I am the Reform Party,” the Boss replies. “Since when?” “Since always. What, I should starve just because the city changes administrations?” Donlevy’s even given a family, in the form of Muriel Angelus and her children. After awhile they fall in love and marry, which proves to be his downfall, because she reforms him. This is a finely tuned satire of politics which is just as fresh now as it was in 1940. It airs at 10:30 pm.

February 11: How about another musical to liven thing up a little? Our pick for today is A Hard Day’s Night, from 1964, starring the Beatles. When the group hit it big in 1963, it was only a matter of time before they would do a movie to appeal to their legion of fans. Put together quickly, in fear that the group might just be a passing fad, directorial chores were given to Richard Lester. Before tackling this project, Lester had worked mainly in commercials and television, with only two movies to his credit: It’s Trad, Dad! (a 1962 film about jazz youth) and Mouse on the Moon (1963). Quickly realizing that neither film could serve as a model, he instead drew from his work in commercials, with its quick cutting and energetic pacing. Writer Alun Owen followed the boys around, careful to adapt his screenplay to words and phrases the Beatles actually spoke. (It was said the John Lennon ad-libbed many of his lines while the others stuck to the script.) What Lester ended up with was a semidocumentary about a day in the life of the Beatles, the main plot being that they had to make a television show set for later in the evening and, of course, almost don’t make it. A subplot was added for Paul in the form of his grandfather, nicely played by television and music hall star Wilford Brambell. Throughout the film everyone remarks on what a clean old man he is, a reference to his hit television series Steptoe and Son (the basis for the later American sitcom Sanford and Son), in which a popularly repeated line is that he’s “a dirty old man.” Lester’s quick cutting style and pacing liken the film to the style of the French New Wave. And it still holds up well. Tune it in at 10 pm if you don’t believe us.

February 12: Today’s choice is a wonderful film airing at the despicable hour of 3:45 am, I Vitelloni. Directed by Fellini in 1953, and released in America under the title The Young and the Passionate, it’s the story of five young friends and their struggle to escape from the boredom of their small town in Italy. According to the TCM essay, the film’s title translates to “five big slabs of veal.” Actually, a literal translation is “The Bulls,” but checking with our resident European, Christine (who is fluent in Italian), a more fitting idiomatic rendering would be “Young Slobs,” an apt description of the protagonists: five very immature sons of indulgent, middle-class families, living off their parents and wasting their lives away on the Atlantic seashore town of Rimini, waiting for the world to come to them, rather than vice versa. The summer tourist season has just ended, which means all there is to do for Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste), Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini), Alberto (Alberto Sordi), and Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) to do is hang out on the town streets, play pool, and await the coming of Carnival, all the while telling each other what they tend to do in life – a series of childish pipe dreams. As with many of his films, I Vitelloni is autobiographical. He observes the human farce without being condescending. Although the tone of the film is satirical, at the same time a genuine warmth emanates, making the humor richer. Of the five, Moraldo (the stand-in for Fellini himself) is the only one with courage enough to escape this farcical existence. The others will succumb to the pressures of provincial life. Fellini grew up in the town of Rimini and Riccardo is played by his brother, who the director cast because he felt that Riccardo would best understand the sensibilities of living in the small town. Think of American Graffiti or Diner, only much, much better.

February 13: For those looking for a nice change of pace, we suggest 1948’s Key Largo. Airing at 12:30 am, it’s always worth seeing. Or simply record it for later. Eddie G. Robinson is mesmerizing as deported crime boss Johnny Rocco, who is up from Cuba to deliver some counterfeit money. But an approaching storm has delayed his contacts. His stopover at James Temple’s (Lionel Barrymore) hotel on Key Largo proves to be fateful, as returning veteran Humphrey Bogart has come to pay his respects to Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall), the widow of an army buddy killed in Italy. The drama just keeps building from there, with the hurricane ratcheting things to the boiling point. Claire Trevor won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Gaye Dawn, Rocco’s alcoholic former mistress.

February 14: None other than Francois Truffaut was once quote as saying the French New Wave might never have come into being if not for “the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie, The Little Fugitive.” The Little Fugitive, which airs at 1:15 am, was the first effort of director Morris Engel and his collaborator – and later wife – Ruth Orkin. Made in 1953 and shot on a tiny budget with non-actors on location (mainly Coney Island), it’s a delightful tale about the adventures of seven-year old Joey (Richie Andrusco), whose brother Lennie (Richard Brewster) has him believing that he shot him to death. Joey runs away to Coney Island, where he mingles with the crowd and later hides under the boardwalk. Eventually a carnival employee obtains Joey’s name and address and calls his home, reaching brother Lennie, who comes to bring him home right before Mom arrives and real trouble breaks out. The Little Fugitive was obviously filmed in a more innocent era, when a kid could walk around safely, and the carnival employees who takes an interest in him is genuinely concerned about a lost little boy. Engel shot the film on a shoulder-mounted 35 mm camera as he follows Joey around the amusement park. He also shot the film without sound, dubbing in the dialogue later in the studio. The background sound was all done by professional sound editors, who create a very lively soundscape for the film. Eddy Manson composed and played the score on harmonica. Although the film did scant business in the States, it won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. We can almost guarantee that viewers who come to this quaint picture for the first time will be charmed out of their socks, especially those old enough to remember the Coney Island of their childhood. 

February 15: Director Stanley Kubrick and novelist Vladimir Nabokov did the near impossible when they wrote the screenplay for Nabokov’s novel about pedophilia, Lolita, which airs at 12:30 am. James Mason gives an excellent, nuanced performance as Nabokov’s tortured protagonist, Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged academic so obsessed with sexually precocious nymphet Lolita Haze that he marries her overbearing mother, Charlotte, just to be with her. When Charlotte is killed after being hit by a car, Humbert takes charge of Lolita, figuring he has finally realized his dream. However, he loses his dream girl to equally amoral television playwright Clare Quilty, who has wooed her away from Humbert. This leads to a tragic chain of events that end with Quilty’s death and Humbert in prison. Mason’s supporting cast is excellent: Shelley Winters as Charlotte, Peter Sellers as the devious Quilty, and Sue Lyon, who turned 13 during filming, became a major star overnight. Kubrick shot the film in England to avoid meddling from both the studio and groups such as the Legion of Decency, even though they earlier approved the script. Errol Flynn proposed both himself and his teenage love, Beverly Aadland, for the lead roles, but Kubrick declined the offer as he already had trouble enough. The film did not fare well with the Academy; its only nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for February 1-7

February 1–February 7


BONNIE AND CLYDE (February 3, 4:15 am): A groundbreaking film in terms of style, content and graphic violence from 1967, which I consider to be among the two or three finest year in cinematic history. The leads – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – are outstanding in their roles as the famed outlaw duo oozing passion, raw sexuality, violence, charisma and charm at every turn. The supporting cast – notably Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons with Gene Wilder in a small but memorable role – are equally strong. The movie's violence goes from almost comic to intensely graphic. The final scene in which the two are shot dozens of times is outstanding, particularly the quick looks of horror Beatty and Dunaway give each other when they realize they're about to die a very brutal death. It conveys more emotion and intensity than almost anything you'll seen in film.

THE DEER HUNTER (February 6, 12:30 am):  Ever since I first saw The Deer Hunter in the theater when I was 11 years old, I have been captivated by this impressive film. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies, and is one of the three best films of the 1970s. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three western Pennsylvania steelworkers who goes to fight in the Vietnam War. The movie, a shade over three hours long, takes its time showing us what life is like for the three leads, their friends and families. Their worlds are centered on working at the mills (which were closing around the time of this film's release at a staggering level, destroying the economies of towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and escaping reality by hunting deer. The three are gung-ho to fight in Vietnam, but quickly learn the horrors of the war. The film is shocking, hard-hitting, tragic and captivating. The actors are fantastic and the film captures the authenticity of living in a steel town and attempting to survive a war.


AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (February 2, 7:30 am): Louis Malle based this film on a boyhood incident he experienced while at a Catholic boarding school in wartime France. 12-year old Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) is a student at an exclusive Carmelite boarding school in the Ile de France. Privileged and intellectually precocious, he keeps his classmates at a distance, until one day, three new students are admitted to the school. Julien finds a kindred spirit in one of the boys, Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) and the two strike up a friendship. Curious about his friend’s ambiguous answers to questions about his background, Julien snoops through Jean’s belongings and discovers that all tree new students are Jewish refugees being hidden by the monks. A student, looking for revenge after getting expelled, informs to the Gestapo on the activities of the headmaster and the school is raided. Julien inadvertently gives the game away and the boys are taken. This is a powerfully moving film, with excellent performances all around and taut direction from Malle. It won the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Film and remains one to catch.

BLAZING SADDLES (February 3, 10:30 pm): Mel Brooks’ famous send-up of the Hollywood Western staring Cleavon Little as a Black sheriff (replete with Gucci saddle) sent to the town of Rock Ridge to restore law and order. Needless to say, the reception he gets from the townsfolk is less than enthusiastic. With Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid, a famed gunslinger who fell prey to the bottle, Harvey Korman as the evil Hedley Lamarr (whose name becomes a running gag), Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp in a hilarious parody of Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again, Slim Pickens as Lamarr’s dense henchman Taggart, Alex Karras as Mungo, and Brooks himself as Governor Lepetomane (named for a French entertainer who could fart out popular tunes). Nothing is sacred with Brooks and his writers (who included Richard Pryor, who was originally cast as the sheriff). The film is so frantic that it runs out of steam about three-quarters of the way through, but it’s still a solid laugh riot. Those who offend easily should skip this, as it’s mostly politically incorrect. But for the rest us, it’s still a solid laugh-getter.


ED: A++. It’s a rare occurrence when the sequel is as good as the original; rarer still when it exceeds the original. But that is exactly the case here. The Bride of Frankenstein is the best horror movie ever made and one of the best movies ever made. Director James Whale, who was very reluctant to take this project on, as he feared being typecast as a horror director, gives us a stunning mixture of horror with macabre dark comedy. He also gives us the first anti-hero in the Monster, who in this film learns to speak with the help of a lonely blind hermit. Karloff may have thought it was a mistake for the Monster to speak, but he turns in one of his finest performances. Colin Clive, who in every picture, acts as if he’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown, is back as Henry Frankenstein, with lovely Valerie Hobson as his bride. Elsa Lancaster does double duty in the prologue as Mary Shelley and later as the cobbled together female made as a companion to the Monster, giving us pause to consider exactly who is “The Bride of Frankenstein.” However, is spite of Karloff’s performance, the movie is stolen outright by the wonderfully over-the-top performance of Ernest Thesiger as the deliciously desiccated Dr. Pretorious. Whale supplies the necessary requirement of Gothic horror with a healthy helping of shots at religion, sex, and authority. Also in the cast are Una O’Connor as the hysterical maid, Minnie; E.E. Clive as the pompous burgomaster; and John Carradine as a hunter. Walter Brennan is also in there somewhere. With lots of inside jokes (check out the homunculi king), a memorable score by Franz Waxman and a great script from John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut. As films go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

DAVID: B. This is a very good film, better than the 1931 original. It's very original and clever to have Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), the author of Frankenstein, explain that the original ending in which the Monster is killed was not how she wanted the book (and the movie by extension) to conclude and then go on to tell how he survives rather than die. Boris Karloff, who played the Monster in the original as violent and destructive, is excellent in this 1935 sequel as a creature with human emotions. But over-the-top and borderline ridiculous performances by Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein (who is also lousy in the original) and Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, along with the way Pretorius forces Frankenstein to work with him to create a woman for the Monster really requires the audience to suspend belief. Yes, the entire concept of making a monster out of an artificial brain and various human body parts – as well as creating miniature people and creatures – requires the audience to suspend belief. But this film takes that concept well beyond any definition of reason and doesn't stop even after it hits absurd and campy. Also, the "Bride" is in the film for about 10 minutes, played by Lanchester with the iconic shock-looked hair featuring white streaks. Giving the Monster human emotions and the ability to speak, unlike in Frankenstein, left me unsettled. Even Karloff objected to having the Monster speak calling the decision "stupid." As I mentioned at the start, this is a very good film. The hermit scene is wonderful. I'd recommend seeing it. It's very good, but I don't consider the movie to be an all-time great. 

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

La La Land

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Given a choice of Monster Trucks and La La Land, which would you choose? Of the movies playing at the right time in the right location, that was my dilemma. I’m that rare kind of guy who loves a good musical. Yes, they’re often sappy and sometimes a stretch to the imagination, but just as often they can be memorable and even endearing. When this happens, situations in life recall a show tune and make one laugh in a sad time or get misty in a happy one. Granted, some of them make you wonder what the producers were thinking but, thankfully, those are few and far between. Enjoy!

La La Land (Lionsgate, 2016) – Director: Damien Chazelle. Writer: Damien Chazelle. Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amiee Conn, Terry Walters, Thom Shelton, Cinda Adams, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Claudine Claudio, Jason Fuchs, D.A. Wallach, & Trevor Lissauer. Color, Rated PG-13, 128 minutes.

Growing up I’ve been accused many times of being in “La-La Land,” a kind of disoriented state bordering on confusion and indecision. So naturally I took the title of this film to indicate a crazy, anything-goes trip set to music and I delayed seeing it. Then I heard that it won all seven Golden Globe Awards it was nominated for and that piqued my curiosity. On top of that, it was nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards. Hoping it was a parody or a satire on Hollywood musicals, I took the chance.

The movie opens on a traffic jam on the on-ramp to a Los Angeles freeway. No vehicle can move. So what do they do? Get out of their cars and start the big opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” of course. All the drivers can sing in harmony, dance lightly between and on the cars, skateboard and bicycle to the joyous music coming from nowhere and everywhere. The typical opening for a typical Hollywood show and mildly humorous considering the situation.

However, the film coasts downhill from there. It follows a familiar formula with a few twists. Boy meets girl, girl snubs boy. Girl meets boy again, this time he snubs her. They meet a third time and gradually fall in love. They tell each other their dreams and give each other encouragement. The dreams don’t sync with each other. Boy loses girl and they both dream about how it might have been if they could do it over. That’s it.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a jazz pianist and purist who wants to open his own club, not just anywhere, but on the spot occupied by a Samba/Tapas restaurant. He resents the concept, especially because the building has historic jazz heritage. Mia (Stone) is not exactly the stereotypical waitress auditioning for parts in plays. She’s a barista in a coffee shop on a Hollywood lot and doesn’t have to walk far for her auditions. She’s been at this for six years and wants to put on a one-woman play she wrote, which is doomed to failure.

Needless to say, including musical numbers, this movie should not be two hours and eight minutes long. Especially, when the featured song, “City of Lights” insinuates itself into every scene after its first appearance, like “Lara’s Theme” in Doctor Zhivago. If it was as good as “Lara’s Theme” it would not be that intrusive. Yet it won the Golden Globe. Randy Newman, where are you this year? At least his songs are memorable.

I was squirming in my seat telling myself, they can’t be serious. It must be a spoof. But aside from the opening, it’s didn't pull me in like a hooked fish. The dialogue is hokey and should evoke laughter but only does so occasionally. The acting is forced and the choreography (with the exception of the waltz) was cramped and clumsy. I understand that Ryan Gosling learned tap dancing just for this role. It was good for the three seconds he got to demonstrate his expertise. There were many missed opportunities for glory, late dance steps (even in the waltz through the stars in the Griffith Observatory) and too many dead spaces that had me mentally shouting, “Move it!”

Gosling was a believable character most of the time, but despite her big eyes, Emma Stone’s wooden acting could have been accomplished by a department store manikin.

The one song I did like, “(What a Waste of) A Lovely Night,” sung gazing at the typical view of L.A. from the Hollywood Hills, was cheapened by the dance routine involving (for some, hopefully comic reason) dragging of feet as a part of the “style.” If this was parody, it wasn’t funny.  

Did I have a favorite character? Yes, when J.K. Simmons shows up as a restaurant owner who fires Sebastian for disobeying his rule of “Christmas songs only” at his establishment. La La Land promised more than it delivered and could have been a really great comic musical with the right stars, choreographer and editor.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Havana NY
58 W. 38th St., New York

With the change in relations between the governments of the U.S. and Cuba, and the nearness of this restaurant to my theater on a rainy night, I chose to visit my sixth Cuban cuisine restaurant. Havana NY advertises itself as “authentic” Cuban food and has been in operation since 1991 for good reason. It’s that great.

A cool blue glow emanates from the bar on the left as I confirmed my reservation. I was led to the main dining area, a beautiful room made to look like an arcade with faux fieldstone arches leading to a street scene in Havana, complete with a parked 1950’s style car, and was seated on a leather banquette facing the arches on the opposite wall.

My server, Jesus, introduced himself and asked if I would like a cocktail. I asked him what a typical Cuban would order. “Mojitos, of course!” I agreed to this refreshing cocktail (meaning “a little wet” in Spanish) consisting of rum, lime, mint leaves, sugar and club soda. As I generally eschew the flavor of mint except in certain dishes, I was careful where I order this drink. It was excellent and I told Jesus it was the best one I’ve ever had. (I just didn’t have the heart to tell him it the first one I’ve ever had.) Jesus beamed with pride.

I mulled over the many selections on the two-page menu while sipping my drink. And just when I had my choices made, another server appeared to take my order. The efficiency was impressive. No wonder no table sat vacant for long, even though I viewed this crowd as theater-goers who would disappear in a half-hour.

I wanted to choose dishes new to me, and since black bean soup was familiar, I chose Sopa de Frijoles Rojos (red bean soup). It was the definition of “hearty” with a thick broth, chunks of potato, onion and of course, lots of red beans. Very good.

Obvious to me was my choice of wine, a 2014 Campo Viejo Tempranillo from Spain (I really did look for a Cuban wine, but there were none) and it was delightful. The delicate spice of the nose and the medium body red accompanied all of the dishes with a flamenco flair.

My second course was new to me. The Papas Rellenas de Carne – potato puffs stuffed with beef – was as unusual as it was tasty. Imagine mashed potatoes formed into a ball around ground beef and then deep fried, served with a creamy dressing, and garnished with red cabbage and corn. People have asked me if it was spicy. No, none of my dishes were spicy in the least. Just good, honest, natural flavored food. The closest Cubans get to spice is garlic. These were wonderful. I was rapidly becoming full and I knew what was yet to arrive. Both of the people at the next table had ordered it and I saw the size of the portion.

As Jesus had listed the specials of the day, the last one hooked me: a fist-sized pork shank served with a mesa of browned rice and black beans and garnished once again with red cabbage and corn. The meat was tender enough to fall off the bone and just fatty enough to be rich. The rice and beans were a little dry, but mixed with the meat and the dark gravy, they were great. I finished the pork shank and bravely challenged the remaining rice and beans, but even with my wine, could not finish them. I had to save room for dessert.

Jesus was enthusiastic about dessert and touted the Churros (think sugar-coated doughnuts formed into logs with a sweet dipping sauce). They would prove too heavy for me. 

Then he cited the Pan Leche as being very good. I agreed. A true Pan Leche is a sweet bread made with milk and looks something like a Parker House roll when finished. This was actually a Tres Leches cake with a white icing made also from milk on a beautiful square white plate decorated with a white and dark chocolate sauce skillfully placed to look like an ornamental border. The cake was moist, sweet and was heaven when dipped in that attractive scrolls of the sauce.

I asked Jesus if there was such a thing as Cuban coffee and soon I had the cross-breed between espresso and cappuccino, a dark Cuban Espresso with a foam topping. Next to it was a sweet confection made from coconut. Very nice. And how to finish off an authentic Cuban dinner? Jesus knew, and brought me a snifter of Vizcaya VXOP rum, a true taste of old (19th century) Havana. I think, If I liked cigars and they were allowed, I would have been totally Cubanized. The manager gave me a nod and offered to get me a second glass. I took a rain check on that for my next visit.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Disembodied

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

The Disembodied (Allied Artists, 1957) – Director: Walter Grauman. Writer: Jack Townley. Stars: Allison Hayes, Paul Burke, John Wengraf, Eugenia Paul, Joel Marston, Robert Christopher, Dean Fredericks, A.E. Ukonu, Paul Thompson, & Otis Greene. B&W, 66 minutes.

The beautiful Allison Hayes is the only reason to watch this tepid jungle exploitation drama. Alert – or desperate – viewers will recognize the set as one from Allied Artists’ Bomba series, and a few of the situations are almost identical to plot devices used in those films.

Author-lecturer Tom Maxwell (Burke), accompanied by companions Norman Adams (Marston) and Joe Lawson (Christopher) are in the middle of a photographic safari in Africa when the unfortunate Joe is mauled by a lion. As their jeep is disabled, Tom and Norman, aided by native guide Gogi (Thompson), bring Joe on a stretcher to the compound of Dr. Karl Metz (Wengraf). As the doctor attempts to save Joe’s life, Tom and Norman are introduced to the comely Tonda (Hayes), Metz’s much younger wife. What they don’t realize is that they interrupted Tonda’s plan to rid herself of Metz by sticking pins into a voodoo doll made in his likeness. 

Metz at first wants to turn them away, but the condition of Joe is such that he lets them stay while he tends to the wounded man. Tonda is immediately attracted to Tom and attempts to seduce him. Caught in the act by Suba (Fredericks), Metz’s manservant, Tonda seduces Suba to keep him from informing to the good doctor. Mara (Paul), Suba’s wife, sees them embracing and is enraged. However, she keeps it to herself for the time being.

During the night, the noise of drums awaken Tom and Norman. Along with Gogi, they steal over to find where the noise is emanating. They find a voodoo ceremony in progress with Tonda as the main attraction, dancing wildly in a tight-fitting sarong with a leather belt and a dagger conspicuously positioned over her navel. Wearing makeup more suitable for an entertainer, Tonda is accompanied by two black dancers and a line of drums. Replete with talismans, and with dead chickens being thrown at her feet, Tonda ends her performance by striking a pose; the whole thing looks like something right out of an L.A. nightclub. Gogi informs them that Tonda is no mere go-go dancer. She is none other than the Voodoo Queen herself. 

The next morning, Tom and Norman find Joe completely healed, but still in a state of shock. They question Metz, who cannot explain how Joe's wounds healed completely overnight. Later, Suba’s body is found with his heart cut out. Tom and Norman return to the site of the voodoo ceremony and determine that Suba was killed there as part of the ritual. What they do not know is that Tonda had Suba’s heart cut out in a ceremony to cause his soul to migrate to Joe’s body.

Norman is anxious to leave and takes Gogi with him to try to bring their disabled jeep to the compound. Metz tells Tom that he is actually a doctor of psychology; he wouldn’t know a scalpel from a butter knife. This prompts Tom to ask him if he has any knowledge of voodoo. Tom accuses Metz of dabbling in voodoo, telling the doctor that he experienced it while researching a book in Haiti. Metz states that he has made some notes on the local practices, but warns Tom that further inquiry would prove dangerous. Only later does Tom realize that Tonda is the agent, with a plan to trade-in her aged husband for the much more desirable Tom.

Joe, with Suba’s soul within him, in now in a trance-like state and under Tonda's control. When Joe sees Tom and Tonda kissing, he attacks Tom with a knife, but Tom overpowers him. Tom questions Metz and threatens to kill the doctor unless he explains Joe's condition. Metz replies that he is not responsible for Joe's state. Later, the doctor accuses Tonda of meddling in voodoo and of being romantically involved with Tom. 

Norman and Gogi manage to revive the jeep and return to the compound. While they make preparations to leave, Tonda persuades Joe to take her along. However, she insists that Tom kill her husband. When Tom refuses, Tonda threatens him with a knife. He slaps her and tells her to stay away from him. Early the next morning, Tom and Norman find that Gogi has been stabbed to death and all their guns are missing. 

That night, when Tom attempts to steal some of Metz's weapons, Metz surprises him, gives him a gun and requests to accompany them. When Metz tells Tonda that he’s leaving, she stabs him. Soon after, Tonda kills Kabar (Greene), another servant, and tries to frame Tom for the murder. As Norman is about to leave to get help for the wounded Metz, he props up Kabar's body in the jeep to make it appear that Kabar is still alive and that Tonda's voodoo has failed. Confused by her apparent failure, Tonda conjures up another ritual, commanding Joe, who is still under her spell, to kill Tom. But just as Joe is about to attack and dispatch Tom, Mara appears and conveniently stabs Tonda to death, thereby releasing her control over Joe. Later, as Metz recovers, Tom, Norman and Joe head back to civilization.


There are some pictures with bad reputations that, at second glance aren’t as bad as their reputations would have one believe. However, The Disembodied is just as awful as its reputation warrants. A standard B-jungle exploitation following in the tracks of MGM’s White Cargo (1942) and Fox’s White Witch Doctor (1953), the film features an uninspired screenplay that shows its cards way too early and must depend on creating tension between the characters to lead it to a conclusion. (Hayes’ character of Tonda seems to have been named after Lamarr’s character of Tondelayo in White Cargo.) But nothing like that occurs as the script slowly meanders to an unsatisfying end. 

Even though it’s only 66 minutes long, the movie contains too many dull stretches where there’s nothing happening. Dependent on action after telling us what’s coming so early in the film, The Disembodied is loaded with characters just sitting or standing around talking about what they’re going to do, with the result that the audience is bored to tears. It was the first assignment for director Walter Gruman, who later went on to a long career, mainly in television. He was best known as the director of Barnaby Jones. The producer was Ben Schwalb, who took over the producer’s reins for the Bowery Boys franchise after original producer Jan Grippo left the series. Schwalb also has other films like Queen of Outer Space, The Hypnotic Eye, and Tickle Me on his resume.

The Disembodied is unusual for its genre in that it uses no stock footage of animals in its establishing shots. It’s clear to see that the film is firmly set on a backlot, as one can easily spot plastic plants among the foliage. Also, the film features both black and white natives. I know it’s supposed to be Africa and the white natives were placed there so that any hint of miscegenation can be avoided. It’s all part of the beauty of a bottom-of-the-barrel B-jungle adventure.

In fact, it seems so generic that film buffs sometimes confuse it with the AIP bottom-of-the-barrel jungle feature, Voodoo Woman, made the same year, but released earlier (March as opposed to August 1957). But Voodoo Woman (originally titled Black Voodoo) at least boasts a monster, even if it is Paul Blaisdell in his She-Creature suit sporting a blond wig. For the trivia fans out there, Otis Greene appears in both pictures.

Unlike Voodoo Woman, however, The Disembodied is reasonably well-acted, boasting a cast that was a Who’s Who of psychotronic actors: Paul Burke (Psychic Killer, Valley of the Dolls), Allison Hayes (The Undead, The Unearthly, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman), John Wengraf (Gog, The Return of Dracula, 12 to the Moon), Joel Marston (Point of Terror), Robert Christopher (Spook Chasers, Creature of the Walking Dead, Frankenstein Island), Dean Fredericks (The Phantom Planet, Jungle Jim TV series), Paul Thompson (Jungle Man-Eaters, The Leech Woman), and Otis Greene (Voodoo WomanPretty Maids All in a Row).

The odd one out is Eugenia Paul, who began her artistic career as a ballerina, but who ended up mainly guesting on television in addition to doing a few B-movies. The Disembodied was her only venture into the psychotronic. She was married to Robert Strauss; not the actor, but the heir to the Pep Boys auto store chain.

The writing is generally dull and filled with cliches. There’s one point in the film where our heroes, Tom and Norman, are roused from a peaceful sleep by the sound of drums. They come outside to investigate, stuck as they are in the middle of nowhere with nothing but vegetation around them. Tom looks around and with all the seriousness he can muster, says, “Seems to be coming from the jungle!” No kidding.

But as I said before, it’s the performance of Allison Hayes that makes the film watchable. Femme fatales don’t come any better. It’s actually fun to watch her as she changes from a malicious wife sticking pins in a doll supposed to be her husband to a sultry seductress to a scared innocent and finally to an enraged woman bent on revenge when her plans go awry. She brings more than her share of conviction, which combined with the intensity of her performance, makes her character all the more believable. She could have simply gone through the motions and it wouldn’t have mattered a bit. Decked out as she is through most of the film in a leopard print sarong with a halter top, and with every motion, every movement, reeking of sexuality, Hayes has us entranced right from the beginning.

This may come as a surprise to some out there who go by the old adage that only bad actors are in bad movies. And Hayes had done more than her share of her bad movies. But in her case it just isn’t true. She came along at a rather awkward time in Hollywood history. The twin punches of the Supreme Court anti-trust ruling against the studios and the advent of television caused the studios to cut back. In the ‘30s and ’40s, new talent was openly welcomed and allowed to flourish. However, in the ‘50s, newcomers had to come with a loaded resume – a proven track record on Broadway or other theater cred. Hayes was a beauty contest winner: Miss District of Columbia, which she represented in the Miss America pageant. With no real resume, she wound up in bit parts for Universal, who released her in 1955 as the outcome of a lawsuit she filed against the studio for injuries received while filming Sign of the Pagan (1954), starring Jack Palance.

She then signed with Columbia and actually had a decent role in the Civil War drama Count Three and Pray (1955), but the reviewers ignored her performance and concentrated on the film’s star, Joanne Woodward. She was loaned out for a few low-budget actioners and signed with Roger Corman for her role as Erica Page in his Western, Gunslinger, opposite Beverly Garland, with whom she is often compared for the title of “Queen of the B’s.” However, a broken arm sustained when she fell off a horse on set kept her inactive for a period of time. After recovering, she began appearing in supporting roles in television productions. Her last film for Columbia before they released her was a supporting role in the low-budget, ridiculous thriller, Zombies of Mora Tau (1957).

After appearing in MST 3000 favorite The Unearthly (1957), and needing work, she freelanced at several Poverty Row studios in a slew of films that can be described as “wretched” at best. She began to expand her horizons into television and became a frequent guest star in several series, with a recurring role as “Ellie Winters” for seven episodes of the Gene Barry Western, Bat Masterson (1958-59). She also parlayed a friendship with Raymond Burr, whom she met on the set of Count Three and Pray, into several guest shots in the ‘60s, while also earning a paycheck as “Priscilla Longworth” for two years of the soap opera General Hospital (1963-64).

But as the ‘60s rolled on, her health began to give way and she was eventually unable to walk without the use of a cane. She landed a very minor role in the Elvis Presley film, Tickle Me (1965) and made her final screen appearances as a guest on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1967).

Hayes had traced the origin of her illness to the ingredients of a calcium supplement that a doctor had prescribed. When she hired a toxicologist to examine the ingredients contained in the pills, he replied that the calcium pills contained extremely high levels of lead and concluded that Hayes most likely was suffering from lead poisoning. The actress later began a campaign to have the FDA ban the import or sale of the food supplement.

Reduced to an invalid, Hayes moved to San Clemente, California, as her condition continued to get worse. In 1976, she was diagnosed with leukemia, for which she was treated regularly at La Jolla. While at the hospital receiving a blood transfusion, her condition unexpectedly and rapidly deteriorated as she experienced chills, combined with flu-like symptoms and intense pain. She was transferred to the University of California Medical Center in San Diego on February 26, 1977, where she died the following day, one week before her 47th birthday. Ironically, in a letter that arrived after death, the FDA informed her that amendments were being made to the laws governing the importation of nutritional supplements, largely as a result of her situation.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hidden Figures

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox, 2016) - Director: Theodore Melfi. Writers: Theodore Melfi & Alison Schroeder (s/p). Margot Lee Shetterly (book). Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kimberly Quinn, Olek Krupa, Kurt Krause, Ken Strunk, Lidia Jewett, & Donna Biscoe. Color, Rated PG, 127 minutes.

A superb cast, brilliant directing and scripting make this uplifting film one to catch, as its two hours and seven minutes go by in a flash.

The year is 1961 in Langley Research Center in a still segregated Virginia (the property was originally a plantation). The Russians have launched four versions of Sputnik and America is desperately playing catch-up. NASA is recruiting the finest minds as “human computers” to get a man into orbit before the Russians.

Enter three young black women, Katherine Johnson (Henson) a widow whose husband died of a brain tumor and mother of three daughters, Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) a single mother with two sons, and Mary Jackson (Monáe) wife of Levi Jackson (Hodge) and mother of one son and a daughter. They join a group of about 30 other talented black women working in the west wing at Langley, computing and checking figures that come from the all-white, all-male east wing.

Katherine is a prodigy whose love of numbers and abilities with analytic geometry soon get her transferred to the east wing where she not only has to prove her superiority in deciphering and factoring, but she has to deal with being the only black woman in the building other than the custodial staff. Al Harrison (Costner), the director of the Space Task Group and her boss, soon recognizes her capability and sets her to the task of checking the figures of Paul Stafford (Parsons), his number one mathematician. Despite the excessive redaction Paul makes on his work, Katherine correctly concludes that the Atlas rocket is better to put a man into orbit than the one used to put Alan Shepard into low-Earth orbit. The pressure increases when the Russians launch Yuri Gargarin as the first man in orbit.

Dorothy is a natural leader and finds herself delegating the work assignments in the west wing without the title of supervisor, no matter how she explains it to her boss, Vivian Mitchell (Dunst). She learns about the IBM mainframe being built at Langley and how it can put all of her ladies out of a job. She “borrows” a book on Fortran programming from an all-white library before being asked to leave, learns it and can operate the mainframe before the the IBM Technicians can figure it out. She also teaches the west wing ladies how to operate it.

Mary has the mind and heart of an engineer. She also has the schooling credits to be one, until NASA adds one more class at the last minute. “Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line. Every time.” She sighs. But Mary has the encouragement of her co-worker, Karl Zielinski (Krupa), a Polish/Jewish man who is working on the design of the Mercury capsule with her. She gets her case heard in court and is granted permission to attend night classes at an all-white engineering school.

Though Hidden Figures is about higher mathematics, physics, and engineering, it is never dry. Though it’s about segregation and racism, it’s never oppressive. The dialogue and the sometimes humorous lengths the three women go to get their work done keep the forward motion of the film barreling ahead. For the life of me, I don’t know how Taraji ran back and forth from the east to the west wing in high heels (once in the rain) just to use the segregated restroom while carrying an armload of paperwork. The three portrayals are a delight to watch and their characters are true role models for young girls.

Bring a box of tissues. This film has multiple tender moments, most poignantly, Lt. Colonel Jim Johnson’s (Ali) marriage proposal to Katherine. John Glenn, convincingly portrayed by Glen Powell, relies on Katherine’s figures before he will board Friendship 7. My favorite moments? When Katherine uses Euler’s formula to calculate the reentry of Friendship 7, we hear, “That’s ancient!” from Stafford. To which Katherine replies, “But it works.” And when it takes Katherine 45 minutes to race to the restroom across the compound and back, Harrison takes a crowbar and removes the “Colored Women’s Room” sign saying, “Here at NASA we all pee the same color!”

This is a very special movie, to be seen by everyone. It gets all of its lessons across cleanly and effectively, and gives us a peek not the history we were never taught in school.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Henry’s End
44 Henry St.
Brooklyn Heights, NY

Some think that in order to be good, a restaurant must be expensive, luxurious, in a posh location and impossible to get a reservation. I could go on and on about the devastating faults of many such places. Though Henry’s End doesn’t take reservations for parties under four, I’ve never been turned away. It may look like a bricked-up hole-in-the-wall from the outside with just its bright red neon scripted name in the window, and confusing décor inside (some say it has none), but I’ve never been more comfortable. The only thing close to the first description is that the people of Brooklyn Heights consider their neighborhood to be posh. No matter, for every time I go to Henry’s End I’m greeted warmly, if not by Manager/Chef Mark Lahm, then by one or more of the staff. They remember how I like my martini and duplicate it each time. This is my version of Cheers.

This is why I make it a point to start every New Year with a dinner at Henry’s End. This year, I had two lovely ladies joining me for dinner, one of whom has not experienced the remarkable cuisine and intimacy of the place. We got a table almost halfway down the length of the restaurant, between the makeshift nook that serves as a bar and the wine dispensary.

October starts the Annual Fall/Winter Game Festival at Henry’s End (even though, by popular demand, certain dishes are on the menu year-round) and I was eager to see which ones my dining companions would choose. Let’s start with the appetizers. 

The newly initiated tried the Kangaroo Potstickers, which was more like tender ravioli than dumplings and was served Japanese style with chives and mushrooms and a soy dipping sauce. If you’ve never had kangaroo, this is the place to try it: light in flavor, and the texture more like pork.

My more adventurous companion chose the Game Charcuterie Plate – country game pate, wild boar belly, and rabbit sausage. Even though I was eyeing the pate, I didn’t get a taste before it was gone. I’m guessing it was really good.

I had gnocchi with buffalo short rib ragout over mashed potatoes. It seems redundant to have a pasta made from potatoes and then rest it on more potatoes but this dish worked. The ragout infused the gnocchi with its savory taste and the buffalo meat was juicy and tender. The mashed potatoes were creamy and performed the part of an accent to the dish.

We ordered the Pan Roasted Vegetables — corn on the cob, carrots, Brussels sprouts, onions, baby eggplant and artichoke hearts with fresh herbs, polenta, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar glaze for the table and enjoyed every bite.

In the same order, our neophyte chose the Salmon Moroccan – grilled salmon steak topped with a spiced compound butter and served with mashed potatoes. It was flaky and moist, lightly spiced, and, though I’m not a fan of salmon, I liked it. The lady born under the sign of Aries, just newly introduced to lobster, picked the Penne with Lobster Tomato Cream,  chunks of lobster in a brandy tomato cream sauce. It looked fantastic.

I had the Blackbuck Texas antelope with braised red cabbage in a juniper sauce, over mashed potatoes. I’m very particular about mashed potatoes; if they’re not right, I don’t eat them. But at Henry’s End. Mark flavors them so that they’re irresistible. The antelope is the only game dish on the menu I’ve never seen or tried. It was like a fine steak marinated in that wonderful juniper sauce – very tender and juicy, and easy to cut, nicely seared on the outside and pinkish-red on the inside.

Martinis, though perfect, are not the only drink at Henry’s End. I ordered a glass of Troublemaker varietal (Petit Syrah, Mourvedre, zinfandel and grenache), a deep dark red with rich tannins and tart fruity flavor.

Surprisingly, two of us had room for dessert. The newest person to Henry’s End was sated, but the other chose the Dark and White Chocolate Mousse – half Valhrona white chocolate and half bittersweet. My dessert was the Banana Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream. All it needed was rum, but I took care of that with my after dinner drink: Kirk and Sweeney 23-year old rum, served in a snifter. It was almost like a fine grappa, but not as strong. The ladies were already planning a return trip to try more of the exotic game dishes and I’ll probably join them. After all, it is my version of Cheers.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.