Saturday, June 24, 2017
Dinner and a Movie
By Steve Herte
Wonder Woman (WB, 2017) – Director: Patty Jenkins. Writers: Allan Heinberg (s/p). Jason Fuchs, Allan Heinberg & Zach Snyder (story). William Moulton Marston (characters). Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Lily Aspell, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Emily Carey, Ann Wolfe & Ann Ogbomo. Color, Rated PG-13, 141 minutes.
Ever since Gal Gadot's appearance in Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) I’ve been anticipating this movie. I know, technically, it’s not a long time, but to a fan it’s almost an eternity. When I first saw her I knew this version would expose the television series as candy-coated cartoon.
In the ‘70s, we accepted Lynda Carter as a really close approximation of the DC Comics original right down to her star-studded satin hot-pants. We even bought the cheesy disco theme song which, heard today, makes “Ghostbusters” sound like a masterwork. Not this time.
Diana, princess of Themiskyra, daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta (Nielsen), queen of the Amazons is no smiling do-gooder who mugs for the camera every chance she gets. She is serious about helping mankind, even when they do not deserve it. (And this caution is repeated by several characters, including Hippolyta.) We see her as a child of eight (Aspell) watching the women train to fight and mimicking their moves, though the queen disapproves. Eventually, the queen relents and instructs Antiope to train Diana until “she’s better than you.” Diana excels beyond her trainer’s dreams.
The background story told by Hippolyta to young Diana is that Ares, the god of war, killed off all the other gods and battled Zeus to the death. But before Zeus died, he gave the power to kill a god to the Amazons and moved them from an area in present day Libya to the island city of Themiskyra, placing a shield around the island to make it impossible to find by sight. Hippolyta shows Diana the sword, called “the god killer” in its special tower.
Now an adult, Diana (Gadot) witnesses a plane crashing through the protective barrier and into the sea near her island. Pilot Steve Trevor (Pine) fails to unlatch his seat belt and is in danger of drowning. Diana dives in and saves him. He’s the first man she’s ever seen. He tells her about The War to End All Wars (World War I) being fought outside the barrier as the German soldiers follow his plane into the invisible shield. Bad idea. They are slaughtered to a man by the Amazons on the beach (bows and arrows against guns, these gals are good) but Antiope is shot mortally.
Hippolyta knows she cannot stop Diana from returning to the war with Steve – she’s already swiped the sword, shield, armor, and the lasso of truth from the tower – so she makes her a gift of Antiope’s headdress (which is never used as a boomerang in this film) and kisses her goodbye. Diana sees her mission as simple: find Ares, kill him and stop the war. Of course, it’s not that simple for she is entering a world where women are secretaries like Etta Candy (Davis), or stay at home mothers or, in the rare case, evil scientists like Dr. Isabel Maru (Anaya), whose physical disfigurement must have set her on the path to create a deadlier form of mustard gas that not only kills instantly, but melts any gas mask created to protect against it.
Steve has stolen Dr. Maru’s notebook and takes Diana to the British High Command in London. The stodgy group of men refuse to let her into their confidence until she proves she can read ancient Sumerian. But it’s still not that simple, for there is an armistice being drawn up and the end of the war is in sight. Not so, however, for General Erich Ludendorff (Huston). Convinced that once Dr. Maru’s gas is perfected and successfully demonstrated, Germany can win the war. When she learns this, Diana is sure that he’s really Ares. Her mission is clear, but she needs some help.
With the financial assistance of Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis), Steve gathers up a team consisting of Sameer (Taghmaoul), a spy and master of disguise, Charlie (Bremner) a hard-drinking Scottish marksman with PTSD and The Chief (Brave Rock) a smuggler working both sides of the war. “Great,” says Diana, “a thief, a liar, a drunk and a smuggler!” The five arrive at the western front in Belgium and with Wonder Woman drawing the German fire, manage to break through the lines into enemy trenches. Now they only have to find and destroy the factories making the gas and stop Ludendorff from flying an enormous biplane loaded with the gas into London.
Several things about this movie were revealing and enjoyable. The prolog scene at the beginning shows Diana Prince, working at The Louvre in Paris, and receiving a special briefcase from “Wayne Enterprises,” which turns out to be the glass plate photograph taken of her, and Steve’s team when they freed the people of a small town called Veld. It links up nicely to the previous movie as well as to Batman and the Justice League (still to come). During the film, it mentions that the Germans were losing the war because ammunition was running out, and so was food and water for the soldiers.
Still, the time flew by, with lots of action, ninja-like slow-motion fight scenes, amazing stunts and 3D special effects. Gal Gadot combines the incredulous reactions of Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeanie with a strong, single-minded drive to accomplish her goal. She’s funny, lovable, extremely sexy and dangerous. Chris Pine is delightful as the man who is learning that he doesn’t have to protect this woman (though he still tries to) and is falling in love with her. Lucy Davis is a jewel that sparkles with humor each time she’s on screen and Danny Huston would make a great X-Men mutant, though I never believed he was German at any time in the film.
If you loved the television version, you might be shocked by this one, but if you think of Lyle Waggoner’s character being Steve Trevor Jr., you might find that it links up (with slight timeline problems). I had a great time watching this film. I would buy this one for my collection.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 martini glasses.
21 East 47th Street, New York
New York City has a reputation for guaranteed change. Nothing old is new again, except on Broadway. For instance, I’ve dined at the same address six times with six different cuisines in the space of ten years. To find a place that’s been in continuous operation for forty-five years is rare. Maggie’s Place tells the romantic story of its owners on the menu with a certain charm. Its two-story charcoal grey street façade, with a terrace trailing ivy from potted pansies speaks of old world comfort.
Two young ladies with lilting Irish brogues greeted me and gave me a choice of dining downstairs at the bar or upstairs. I chose upstairs and was delighted to get one of two tables on the second story terrace. I’m a people-watcher and this was a perfect location. Kelly, my server, saw my reaction and let me settle in, before returning to take my order for the perfect martini.
The menu stated that the chef is an alumnus of The Culinary Institute of America, which interested me. The appetizer list offered several intriguing selections and Kelly cited a nice soup of the day. But the entrees didn’t call out to me, so I asked Kelly for help. She suggested either the roasted chicken or the grilled rosemary chicken. Sadly, I’m rarely in the mood for chicken and I wasn’t that night. Then she noted the most popular dishes and I had my choice made.
My “thinking dish” was the Über Bavarian Pretzel, with “mother’s milk” mustard and IPA (India Pale Ale) cheese sauce. Pretzels are one of my guilty pleasures and this one was heaven. The mustard was a bit too sharp but the cheese sauce was divine. Kelly held off my second course until I was ready. I broke up the remainder of a pretzel (it was impressively large, but warm, soft, and delicious) and made my own bread plate out of it.
Then Kelly brought my wine. A 2015 Pulenta La Flor Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, it had a woody aromatic nose with a touch of spice, a medium body, fruity and earthy. A surprise for a two-year old Malbec. It went wonderfully with the next course, yellow split pea soup. A special of the day, it was filled with vegetables, had a nice thick consistency and a good hot temperature.
The BBQ Baby Back Ribs – Slow Roasted (“Till they fall off the bone”), served with their own fresh Idaho potatoes (fries) and creole cole slaw, was my choice of entrée. It looked marvelous on the plate and the pork really did fall off the bone. It was tender and tart and crispy on the outside. After the first few bites, however, I found myself reaching for the wine and my water glass for moisture. The meat was dry. I asked Kelly for more barbecue sauce. It only helped for a little while, as the sauce became too much. I finished the spare ribs and the cole slaw but left half of the fries, which became uninteresting. Maybe I should have chosen one of the chicken dishes.
Up until then everything was fine. Kelly cited two desserts and I chose the Crème Brulée. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one and it was very nice, creamy, sweet with a thin, glassy caramelization and topped with a juicy strawberry. I accompanied it with a double espresso, my usual. Later, I saw that they touted their Irish coffee at the bottom of the menu. Maybe next time. I ordered a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey as an after-dinner drink. Smooth.
I was very comfortable at Maggie’s Place and Kelly was very helpful. Maybe next time I’ll go with a dinner of appetizers and bar fare (where the pretzel was).
For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.
For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
TCM TiVo ALERT
June 23-June 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
TOP HAT (June 23, 1:00 pm): As a general rule, I don't like musicals, especially those with dancing. (Don't confuse that with movies with great music in which people don't suddenly break out in song. I like a lot of those.) So what's different about Top Hat? At the top of the list is Fred Astaire. As with most musicals, the plot is secondary. He's a dancer who wakes up the woman (Ginger Rogers) living in an apartment below him with his tap dancing. He falls in love, there are a few misunderstandings, and the two eventually get together. Astaire has great charisma and charm, and his dancing is so natural looking. He makes it look as easy as walking. The storyline is typical of a good screwball comedies from the 1930s (this one came out in 1935). But it's the dancing and the memorable songs, written by Irving Berlin, such as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," that make this movie a must-see and among my favorite musicals.
CAGED (June 26, 2:45 pm): Unlike nearly all the others in the unusual but often-visited women-in-prison film genre, Caged is well acted. Eleanor Parker was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the young innocent Marie Allen, Agnes Moorehead is great as warden Ruth Benton, and Hope Emerson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the deliciously evil matron Evelyn Harper. Almost anything bad you can imagine happens to Marie: her new husband is killed in a robbery, she ends up in prison because she is waiting in the getaway car, she's pregnant while serving her sentence, she's victimized by other inmates and Harper, she has to give up her baby for adoption, and finally becomes bitter and hardened from all of her bad experiences. The story is similar to other women-in-prison movies minus the T&A. We still get a shower scene (no nudity as this is during the Code era) and the stereotypical prison lesbian. But there's a huge difference between Caged and the women-in-prison films of the 1970s. It's not only the excellent acting, but the powerful dialogue and actual plot – it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar – that makes this gritty, stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (June 27, 12:30 pm): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. Garfield has never been better and Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Nicholson-Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (June 28, 2:15 pm): A gruesome and unsettling adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Charles Laughton at his most fiendish as the mad doctor isolated on a remote island who is conducting experiments transforming jungle animals ostensibly into human brings, but in reality coming up with half-human abominations. Moreau's theory is that evolution can be sped up through experimental skin grafting. The man-beasts who populate the island know his laboratory as “the house of pain.” When Richard Arlen, the sole survivor of a shipwreck, arrives at the island Moreau wastes no time in trying to mate him with his most successful creation, a panther woman (Kathleen Burke). But Moreau’s empire comes crashing down after the arrival of Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) and Parker's fiancee Ruth (Leila Hyams) who have come for the missing Arlen. The finale is equally gruesome as Moreau gets a taste of his own medicine from his creations. Banned in England, many film historians credit it with helping to speed enforcement of the Code.
WE AGREE ON ... THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (June 28, 1:00 pm)
ED: A. The original, and of the 18 remakes (!), still the best version based on the classic short story by Richard Connell. Said to be the second most used plot device (boy meets girl is the first), it’s about psychopathic hunter Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who has hunted every species on earth except for one: Man. On his isolated island, surrounded by coral reefs, he hunts any luckless person who happens to crash on his shores, adding them to his trophy case. When renowned big-game hunter Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is marooned there, the game takes on a new life, as McCrea finds himself turned from honored guest to hunted prey. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong are brother and sister, previous shipwreck survivors who are kept on the estate at Zaroff’s pleasure. Director Ernest B. Schoedsack keeps the action and the suspense moving without a let up. (Irving Pichel is listed as co-director, but it was Schoedsack’s film. Pichel worked more as a dialogue director.) Banks makes an excellent Zaroff, and when photographed at certain angles by cinematographer Henry W. Gerrard, he makes for an even more disturbing presence. (Banks had been wounded in the First World War resulting in a partially paralyzed face on his right side.) McCrea is his usual excellent self and Wray adds the required sex appeal. If the sets look somewhat familiar, it should come as no surprise, for the film was shot at the same time as King Kong (which was released later due to the time needed for special effects). One reason Schoedsack was interested in making the film was to show the futility and cruelty of hunting, and what better way for him to make his point? A note to bad film fans: Bloodlust, the 1961 remake, is featured as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
DAVID: A. This is a fast-moving 63-minute movie that has famous big-game hunter and writer Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) on the other end of the hunt. He is the lone survivor of a yacht that wrecks – we later find out it's not the first and it's no accident – and blows up in a pretty good bit of special effects for a 1932 film. After everyone else on the yacht is eaten by sharks, Rainsford ends up swimming ashore to a small island owned by Russian expatriate Count Zaroff (played deliciously evil by Leslie Banks), who lives there with a few henchmen and a pack of hunting dogs. Zaroff recognizes Rainsford and introduces him to two other previously shipwrecked guests, siblings Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her very drunk and clueless brother Martin (Robert Armstrong). That Martin gets it about 25 minutes or so into the film is a good thing as Armstrong's drunk schtick is the lone annoyance of this film. It turns out Zaroff is also a big game hunter, hunting the biggest game of all – he says ominously as he rubs the scar on the top of his head – man. He wants Rainsford to join him, but Rainsford is outraged and refuses. So the would-be hunter becomes the hunted. He and Eve are sent to the jungle to see if they can survive what Zaroff calls "outdoor chess." The action during the hunting part of the movie, filmed at night on the King Kong set, is nonstop and a lot of fun to watch. As Ed wrote, the storyline has been remade countless times, including episodes of TV comedies Gilligan's Island and Get Smart.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.