Thursday, April 27, 2017
TCM TiVo ALERT
May 1–May 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (May 1, 6:15 pm): An excellent JD movie with Glenn Ford as a teacher trying to put high school kids on the right track. Sidney Poitier and Ford work exceptionally well with Poitier as a defiant and intelligent student who Ford sees promise in and tries to help. Vic Morrow plays the worst of the worst kids to near perfection. The scene in which Morrow’s character cruelly destroys a teacher's most-beloved items, his record collection, in class as the teacher tries to reach the kids, is an incredibly haunting piece of cinema. And the soundtrack is great, particularly the opening credits with “Rock Around the Clock.” While many think of the film as the first with a rock-and-roll song in it, it is so much more than that.
LOGAN'S RUN (May 6, 2:15 pm): I'm a huge fan of early and mid-1970s futuristic dystopian films such as this, Soylent Green, Omega Man and Rollerball. In Logan's Run, it's the year 2274 and some sort of apocalypse has occurred leaving people to live in a domed society with everything they do is handled by a super-computer. That leaves them a lot of time for wine, women (or men, though futuristic sex is a little strange) and song. There is one catch to this society: once you get to be 30, you go through a ritualistic death in a place called "Carousel." The plot is compelling, and while some of the special effects look straight out of 1976, they're effective and enjoyable. The acting is solid with Peter Ustinov exceptional as an old man living outside the dome. It's a fun science-fiction film with a lot of action and women in very mini miniskirts.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE (May 1, 11:15 pm): The films of Max Ophuls are noted for their subtlety, and this film is a prime example. Taking a simple premise, that of a French woman whose series of white lies does her in, Ophuls raises it to the level of high tragedy. Although it opened in the U.S. to mild praise, the film is viewed today as one of the greatest gems of movie history, and perhaps the acme of Ophuls’ career. Of course, a good cast helps, and Ophuls has a terrific one with Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica as his leads. Ophuls is in his element here, painstakingly designing mies-en-scenes that frame and define his characters, and combining that with close-ups that allow us some psychological insight into the characters. The plot is beautifully staged, opening and closing on the consideration of the eponymous piece of jewelry that passes from owner to owner until returning to Darrieux. This is a film of charm and beauty with a marvelous subtext of the pain that goes hand in hand with vanity and which no amount of lies can cover or explain.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (May 4, 3:15 am): The late Ray Harryhausen’s great f/x epic about a dinosaur thawed out on the Arctic and now on the loose in New York City. It boasts an intelligent script, credible performances, and one helluva great monster. My only complaint is that it’s too short, but it was just what the doctor ordered for the Warner’s box office at the time. I can watch it again and again . . . wait a minute – I have.
WE AGREE ON ... MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (May 2, 11:30 pm)
ED: A+. A big, sweeping ocean adventure done only as MGM could do it. Loosely adapted from the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall books, the story of the H.M.S. Bounty has stirring adventure, a tyrannical captain, seamen pushed to the point of mutiny, and Clark Gable. It also has a theme popular with audiences: the revolt against a tyrant. However, producer Irving Thalberg avoids the mistake made in many other such adventures of pitting a strong hero against relatively ineffectual villains. Captain Bligh, as portrayed by Charles Laughton, is not just an excellent sailor, capable of astounding feats of seamanship, but he is also a capable tyrant, courageously facing down the mutineers. He is also corrupt and terrifyingly sanctimonious; the strongest figure on the ship. Clark Gable is in his element as Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutineers. His rawboned defiance is a match for Bligh’s villainy. As Byam, the officer who returns with Bligh to England to face trial, Franchot Tone gives an engaging performance, though in the courtroom scene it seems that he’s campaigning for an Oscar. Director Frank Lloyd also gives room to the supporting cast and their stories, making the film a much more compelling human drama than a mere Us versus Them confrontation. The supporting cast includes such familiar names as Herbert Mundin, Donald Crisp, Ian Wolfe, Dudley Digges, Francis Lister, and Spring Byington, as well as Movita and Mamo Clark as the Tahitians. It’s one to catch, even if you’ve already seen it innumerable times.
DAVID: A+. An incredibly strong cast – led by Charles Laughton, who is masterful as the vicious Captain Bligh, and Clark Gable as the cunning Fletcher Christian – combined with a spare-no-expense set and some of the sharpest cinematography I've seen in a black-and-white film make Mutiny on the Bounty a timeless classic. Laughton's Bligh is completely ruthless and unforgiving, which we see almost immediately when he insists a sailor's flogging punishment be carried out even though the man is dead. The tension builds over time with Bligh showing no mercy to anyone. Things finally explode in a full-blown mutiny by many of those aboard the Bounty when the ship's beloved doctor (played by Dudley Digges) dies because Bligh pushes him too far and the captain cuts the water rations. This isn't a swashbuckler film, but one with a fascinating and approachable storyline. What adds to the film is Bligh is also a brilliant seaman who somehow manages to not only survive being placed on a small boat with about 50 loyalists set to drift to a sure death, but returns to Tahiti in an attempt to exact revenge on Christian. I can't say enough about Gable's acting skills in this movie as he's been accused at times of being one dimensional. The scenery is also wonderful and there are subplots of about a dozen or so of the shipmates stories to tell. The film captured the Oscar for Best Picture and was the last film to do that without winning any other golden statues. One of the problems was Laughton, Gable and Franchot Tone were all nominated in the Best Oscar category and essentially canceled each other out. Because of that, the Academy the following year created the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Dinner and a Movie
By Steve Herte
Smurfs: The Lost Village (Columbia, 2017) – Director: Kelly Asbury. Writers: Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribon (s/p). Peyo (characters and works). Voices: Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Mandy Patinkin, Dee Bradley Baker, Frank Welker, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Julia Roberts, Ariel Winter, Meghan Trainor, Bret Marnell & Brandon Jeffords. Color, Animated, Rated PG, 90 minutes.
Would you see a movie where the main characters are called “Les Schtroumpfs?” That’s what the Smurfs were called when Peyo (Pierre Culliford), a Belgian cartoonist, created them in 1956. They take the diverse personalities of the Seven Dwarfs to the extreme. Supposedly there are 100 Smurfs and, to date, only 83 have been named. All have a qualifier in their name to justify their attitude or their profession. Imagine your many different emotions becoming a separate personality and then have to rally them all as a team to solve any difficulties.
From 1981 to 1990 they starred in a television cartoon series and become a fad beloved by many. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a fan. Looking back, I realize I don’t know how or why I got to like the Smurfs, but I did. I even played a computer game based on a Smurf adventure with my niece. When the game descended into a cave and the music went from major to minor, she would always say, “This is the scary part.” It never was, but the music hinted at it.
This is the third Smurf movie and the first one completely in CGI animation. The Smurfs (2011) and The Smurfs 2 (2013) were both live-action movies with animated Smurfs mixed in. The evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his cat Azrael (Mr. Krinkle) were both live performers. But the way the Smurfs were drawn was wrong, along with their voices. Smurfs 2 was a box office failure.
“Accurate” is the word to describe this film, as it’s cinematically beautiful, masterfully animated, and well cast. From the start, the camera takes the audience on a Smurf’s-eye-view trek through a colorful forest to the familiar village of mushroom houses. Like a newscast, the proposition is posed that every Smurf knows who and what he is or does by his name. But what does Smurfette (Lovato) do? According to Farmer Smurf (Durham): “We know Smurfette is a Smurf. All we have to do is figure out what an ‘ette’ is.”
Even Smurfette wonders. Then she meets another Smurf in the forest wearing a jungle camouflage outfit. The other Smurf doesn’t say a word but runs off, disappearing through a chink in the stone wall marking the boundary of the Forbidden Forest and dropping a characteristic Smurf-cap. Papa Smurf (Patinkin) has strictly warned all of his Smurfs not to venture into the Forbidden Forest, but Smurfette is convinced there are Smurfs living there. The audience knows from the previous films that Smurfette is not a true Smurf, but was created from a lump of clay by Gargamel as both his spy and a lure to capture Smurfs. It was Papa Smurf’s magic that converted her into the loving, gentle creature we know.
Shortly after her encounter, Smurfette is captured by Gargamel (Wilson) and the cap provides him an ingredient to add to his cauldron (Jeffords), which provides him a hint as to where the Lost Village is. Azrael (Welker) finds the same hint on a tapestry on the castle wall, thus making it a map for Gargamel. Hefty Smurf (Manganiello), Brainy Smurf (Pudi) and Clumsy Smurf (McBrayer) rescue Smurfette and, thanks to a ladybug called Snappy Bug, voiced by Bret Marnell (who by the way, was also film’s editor), the Smurfs have a picture of the same map.
When Papa Smurf refuses to allow the four to seek out the Lost Village and warns them of Gargamel’s plan, they sneak out and go on the adventure of their lives. They find flowers that snap them up and spit them out, fire-breathing dragonflies, luminescent rabbits, a river that acts more like a rollercoaster, and a village of Smurfs – all female. From there on it’s their job to outsmart Gargamel, Azrael and their newest crony, a goofy vulture-like bird named Monty (Baker), and thwart his plans.
Peyo would be proud of this film. We all miss Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf and Grandpa Smurf in the cartoon (he died in 2013), but Mandy Patinkin fills in marvelously. Joe Manganiello does a provocative Hefty Smurf and his interest in Smurfette is undisguised. Jake Johnson leaves George Lopez in the dust as Grouchy Smurf. And who could not find humor in Gordon Ramsay voicing Baker Smurf? The only voice that’s off is Gargamel’s. Paul Winchell set the bar in the cartoon and Hank Azaria matched it. Rainn Wilson needs more rehearsal.
On the other hand, Jokey Smurf is a tribute to the original cartoon voice, June Foray (remember Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Cindy Lou Who, and Warner Brothers’ Granny and Witch Hazel?). Also, the 83 named Smurfs has been increased to 84 with the addition of Nosey Smurf, who finds everything interesting and hears “None of your business, Nosey!” as a running gag.
I enjoyed Smurfs: The Lost Village and so will children, once you explain it to them. It was entertaining, funny, and even had pathos. While you’re explaining, you may have to eventually tell the kids who Alan Young was (Farmer Smurf in the cartoon).
Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.
924 2nd Avenue, New York
French cuisine is a whole other thing. I knew I wanted to try French food from the first day in high school French class back in 1964. I watched Julia Child every chance I could get and savored every moment. My first French restaurant was Le Quercy, back when 52nd Street was entirely French (not any more) and tried frogs legs (and liked them) way before a friend convinced me to try escargots (loved them ever since).
The brick red awnings at Matisse looked like they’d seen better days, even though the name in white letters was still bright. There was no sidewalk café and only a single open door on 49thStreet. I entered and announced my reservation to the young lady who would become my server, Alissa. Given a choice of tables, I sat by the window and immediately noticed a framed photograph of John Lennon on the wall. The’60s music playing made me comfortable though they sounded alien in a French bistro.
When Alissa asked me my cocktail choice I chose the signature cocktail, the Matisse – gin, champagne, cassis, tequila and fresh mint – a Kir Royale with a kick. After Alissa cited the specials and explained the sizes of the dishes I made my decision to order crestfallen. I thought about the ravioles de royan (petit raviolis), but a red flag went up in my mind. Why order a pasta that would probably not be made fresh? I gave my selections to Alissa and we decided the order they should arrive.
While waiting I took a quick look around. Photos hung on every wall except the one occupied by the bar, but not even a hint of a copy of a painting by Matisse! Hmmm. Another server brought the bread and a small dish of olive oil. The olive oil served a real purpose because the bread was partially stale and not a bit warm. Another red flag, though the scalloped silver serving bowl the bread was attractive. My first course, sweet pea soup, was a daily special. Its pleasing yellow color and consistency made me dismiss the stale bread as an accident. Hot and flavorful with an almost nutty, sweet pea taste, it was very nice.
My wine selection was a 2014 Simonnet Febvre Chablis de Borgogne, with a delicate golden color and light nose. It tasted crisp, fresh and light in tannins, perfect for my dinner choices.
The baked camembert was served next and came on a cutting board with paper-thin green apple slices, raisin pumpernickel bread slices and a honey drizzle. Though camembert isn’t as aggressive a flavor as brie, it was still nice and warm and the rind tender. The Chablis proved itself on this dish.
I knew their Boeuf Bourguignon was Julia Child’s recipe and suspected the filet of sole as well. I asked Alissa if the Thai curry for the mussels was spicy. She said no, “but we can make it spicy!” That sold me. The mussels were served in a large earthenware crock whose lid served as the repository for the shells. As soon as it was opened I could smell lemongrass, coriander and coconut milk as well as sharp Thai peppers. I set to work removing the mussels from their shells so that they could absorb as much flavor as possible from the spicy soup at the bottom of the crock.
They were served with a side of French fries with fresh catsup. Alissa asked if I wanted mayonnaise and I said yes. The fries were not as crisp or as hot as I would like them, but they were not the main event. The Thai curry mussels were so good I almost forgot my wine. At one point, when I had finished all the mussels, it became more of a chore spooning up the savory soup. I ran out of bread and asked for more. The first piece was satisfyingly warm, but still stale. Good grief! I asked to have the soup wrapped up to go home. I would create something later with it.
My dessert was also a special of the day, a strawberry-rhubarb panna cotta drizzled with strawberry syrup, served with blueberries, and garnished with mint leaves. It was exactly what I wanted, not too sweet and not too tart, just right. I noticed they had special coffees and I chose the Monte Cristo with Kahlua and Grand Marnier. The other tables were starting to fill in, the conversation low and discrete. I hardly knew other diners were there until I looked up.
Before leaving I asked Alissa how old Matisse was. “Seven years.” That young? It looks a lot older. It was formerly the Café de Paris, which explains it. I asked about the missing Matisse artworks. She had no answer. I told her about the stale bread and she apologized. I may return to Matisse, maybe when they mature and learn French.
For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.
For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
TCM TiVo ALERT
April 23–April 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
BRUTE FORCE (April 23, 10:00 am): This is one of the best films about life in prison. The central focus is the tense-filled relationship between Hume Cronyn, the prison's chief of security, and Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, the tough inmate who cannot be broken. Lancaster, as usual, is brilliant, compelling and authentic in Brute Force, only his second film. This is easily Cronyn's best performance. The lessons of the film are important, particularly that nobody can truly escape prison even upon release as the scars stay with ex-cons forever. It's brutal and realistic and well worth seeing.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (April 26, 1:45 am): Among the classic films released in 1967 were The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Point Blank and the best of the bunch, In the Heat of the Night. The latter pairs one of cinema's most under-appreciated actors, Rod Steiger, with one of film's most respected (and rightfully so) actors, Sidney Poitier. In the Heat of the Night gives the viewers an authentic view of racism in the South during the era of the Civil Rights movement. Steiger is the sheriff of a racist town working with Poitier, a police detective from Philadelphia, to solve a murder while overcoming significant challenges. The film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steiger.
ED’S BEST BETS:
FLESH (April 27, 12:15 pm): An odd little number directed by John Ford, about Polakai (Wallace Beery), a simple, good-hearted wrestler in Weimar Germany who falls for recently sprung, hardboiled moll Laura Nash (Karen Morely). She plays the good-natured slob like a fine-tuned fiddle, getting him to spring her criminal boyfriend Nicky (Ricardo Cortez) by telling him that he’s her brother. Pregnant by Nicky, she talks Polakai into marrying her, convincing him into believing the baby is his own. They move to America, where Polakai wrestles professionally and pursues the world’s championship. But with Nicky as his manager, Polakai is receiving advice to throw bouts instead of actually trying to win legitimately. In the end, Polakai gets wise, a discovery that – in spite of his gullible good nature – he has a will of his own, a discovery that has fatal consequences for Nicky. The film was the basis for the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink, about an esteemed writer convinced to come to circa 1941 Hollywood, only to find he’s been assigned to write a Wallace Beery wrestling picture.
HE WALKED BY NIGHT (April 30, 10:00 am): An amazing noir based on the true story of Erwin Walker, a World War II vet who turned to crime and terrorized Los Angeles in 1946. Told in semi-documentary style, the film follows the career of Davis Morgan (Richard Basehart) a man with a taste for electronic equipment who, caught in the act, kills a policeman and becomes a wanted killer. The film focuses on his pursuers and the methods they use to track him down, highlighted by great writing and meticulous camerawork, especially in the final scenes when Morgan is hunted down in the drainage systems of L.A. Jack Webb, who had a minor part in the film, later built his radio and television hit, Dragnet, around it.
WE DISAGREE ON ... FUNNY GIRL (April 24, 8:00 pm)
ED: A. This is an amazing tour-de-force for the young Barbra Streisand, long before the days in which she reincarnated herself as a Deep Thinker and began to spout on every subject under the sun. No, in those days she was simply Streisand, a wonderful singer and song-stylist. Since she starred in the Broadway musical of the same name, it was a simple task to move her over to the film adaptation. Sure, the sets look particularly phony and to say that the script is contrived is to put it lightly, but who goes to see a musical for the sets and script? We go to see a musical for the performances, and most of all, for the music. And the film doesn’t let us down. A strong supporting cast backs Streisand, with Kay Medford, Lee Allen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Frank Faylen giving solid turns (I would have included Omar Sharif, but the longer the movie goes on the more annoying he gets to me), and the great William Wyler as her director. A great score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill gave us songs (“People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star”) that are standards today. Now, if you’re looking for a real biography of Fanny Brice, I suggest you buy a bio of her life. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable two and a half hours, this is the perfect ticket and a great example of the ‘60s musical.
DAVID: C-. In my never-ending quest to see all the films in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made book (I've seen about 750 of them) I have to endure some real stinkers such as Funny Girl. There's very little that's funny about this film. The plot is dull and lifeless – and this is after they fictionalized the life of Fanny Brice to make this more interesting. They failed. The movie is too much of a bad thing. To quote Roger Ebert's original review, the 1968 film "is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long." It clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, and is a chore to watch. The movie is slow paced and only gets worse as it goes on. I generally dislike musicals and this one did nothing to change my mind. While "People" is a good tune, the rest of the songbook is forgettable. William Wyler was a wonderful director, but he did an awful job with this film. Most critics have kind words for Barbra Streisand's performance in this movie, but she's just too much and Wyler fails to reign her in, and the rest of the actors are simply awful. It's far from being the worst movie or musical ever made, but it's a bad film that fails to entertain.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.