Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for January 1-7

January 1–January 7


THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (January 5, 2:30 pm): As an admirer of Akira Kurosawa-directed films, I would normally dismiss an American remake of his work. When you consider The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a Western based on Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai (1954), it's surprising I ever gave it a chance. Thankfully I did because not only is it an excellent movie, it's better than Seven Samurai, which is a classic. John Sturges does a fantastic job directing this film with an all-star cast, including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn (my personal favorite among the seven gunslingers) with Eli Wallach, the leader of the Mexican bandits who terrorize a small rural town. It's filled with action, making the 128-minute film seem like it zipped by. While I rarely pay attention to a movie's score, this is one of the best you'll hear.

THE THIRD MAN (January 6, 9:30 pm): This is, no doubt, one of the finest films ever made. I'm a huge fan of Joseph Cotten, and while his performances in many movies – Citizen KaneGaslightThe Magnificent AmbersonsShadow of a Doubt, and Portrait of Jennie being a few examples – are great, his best is in The Third Man. The 1949 film noir has quite the pedigree. In addition to Cotten, it stars Orson Welles, Trevor Howard and Alida Valli, is directed by Carol Reed with a screenplay by Graham Greene. The acting is outstanding as is the cinematography, particularly the use of shadows, and a brilliant plot with great pacing. Cotten is Holly Martins, a pulp fiction novelist who travels to post-World War II Vienna to take a job offered by Harry Lime (Welles), a longtime friend. But before they meet, Lime dies in what appears to be a car accident as he is walking across a street – or is he? Martins asks a lot of questions and get some disturbing answers about Lime selling diluted penicillin on the black market, which has led to a number of deaths. This film has two scenes that are among cinema's best – one is on the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna's famed Ferris wheel, with Cotten and Welles, and the climax in the sewers of that city.


THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (January 4, 6:30 pm): It’s the scientists (led by Robert Cornthwaite) versus the military (led by Kenneth Tobey) in this sci-fi classic about the discovery of a flying saucer and its occupant near the North Pole. The occupant is alive and represents a wealth of knowledge from an advanced society. One problem: he lives on blood and regards humans as only necessary for his subsistence. Also, he’s busy breeding more of him. Written by Charles Lederer, produced by Howard Hawks, and directed by Christian Nyby (though many film historians assert that it was Hawks who actually directed the movie and gave Nyby, his film editor by trade, a director’s credit). It combines horror and thrills with dark comedy, utilizing its setting well to give the film a claustrophobic feeling. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. And if you haven’t – this is one film you can’t afford to miss. Also of note is composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score, achieved with a Theremin.

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (January 6, 1:00 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. John Garfield has never been better and Lana 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 Jack Nicholson-Jessica 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.


ED: B+. This cute little diversion, meant as a vehicle for the young Marilyn Monroe, but actually starring Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable, is an example of good ensemble comedy and one of the brightest and wittiest of the Fifties. The three beautiful stars, following Bacall’s plan, pool their resources to rent a posh apartment to lure eligible, wealthy bachelors. Of course, the irony is that they end up marrying for love instead of wealth. It’s skillfully written by Nunnally Johnson and directed by the underrated Jean Negulesco, a perfect director for this sort of picture. Watch for Bacall’s scenes with William Powell – they are simply superb. (In fact, I think Powell steals the film.) For us psychotronic fans, Cameron Mitchell is one of the bachelors, and it’s always interesting to watch him in stellar productions rather than the awful Grade-Z films he made later in life. Even Monroe manages not to embarrass herself; she actually had a gift for comedy. The only sour note was Grable. It wasn’t her performance, but rather her looks. Keep in mind that she was only 36 at the time (and already being shown the door at Fox in favor of the younger Monroe), but she looks about 10 years older. I can only attribute this to the fact that she was a heavy smoker, which adds years to a person’s face, and the poodle cut she was saddled with during production also added to the older look. But if you’re looking for about 90 minutes of movie enjoyment, this is for you. (Especially for couples to watch together.)

DAVID: C+. Ed is sort of correct. This film has its cute moments. But it is also filled with cliches, corny even for 1953, with a silly plot, and Betty Grable in one of Hollywood's worst casting decisions. Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall are models. That's a stretch for Grable who was 36 when the film was made, but looks like she's the age of Monroe's mother. Of greater importance, Gable's acting is atrocious. Bacall is attractive in a mature-looking way yet she was only 29, less than two years older than Monroe, when the film was released. The three are tired of their jobs – one scene of the trio modeling has them sitting for most of the time and standing up every so often to show the dresses they're wearing. It's the hard knock life for them. They work a scam to net rich husbands in order to give up their careers and I guess sit in nice homes doing next to nothing. That's about 15 steps in the wrong direction for women's lib. The efforts at jokes typically fall flat and the three characters are largely shallow. The film opens on a terrible note – an eight-minute generic-sounding music prologue before we get to the opening credits. As Ed mentions, William Powell steals the film as an older, wealthy widower in love with Bacall. As he is in every film, Powell is charming here and a delight to watch. Bacall is fine and Monroe delivers a decent performance though the ongoing joke of her banging into things by not wearing glasses because it supposedly would detract from her beauty gets tired quickly.

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

American Hustle

Mel's Cine-Files

By Melissa Agar

American Hustle (Columbia, 2013) – Director: David O. Russell. Writers: Eric Singer, David O. Russell. Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., & Jack Huston. Color, 138 minutes.

For me, there’s no greater period in film history than the 10 years spanning roughly 1968 to 1978. Seriously, go back and check out some of the genius films released in those 10 years – Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, Network, Chinatown, Taxi Driver. I could go on. If you haven’t seen any of those films, open up a new browser window, go to Netflix, and load up your queue with some of the greatest American films ever produced.

Over the course of the past couple years, studios have started allowing directors to revisit the principles of that era, embracing the notion that they can make intelligent, creative movies helmed by visionaries, proving that audiences will go to movies that don’t have roman numerals in the title or are overrun with fart jokes. With the release of David O. Russell’s sublime American Hustle, the argument could be made that we are in the midst of a new golden era of American cinema. 

Like many of the great films of the 1970s (and set in 1978), American Hustle mines its story from the seedy underbelly of American life, specifically two small-ish time con artists named Irving Rosenfeld (a paunchy, balding Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams). Both Irving and Sydney are seeking a sort of escape and re-invention, and gravitate to one another at a party, bound together by their mutual love for Duke Ellington.

The two embark on an affair that becomes wrapped up in their con that finds them offering to help those struggling with bad credit to secure international loans for a “small fee.” It is essentially the 1970’s version of the Nigerian prince scam. Enter eager, hungry young FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper). He arrests Irving and Sydney, seeing in the duo a chance to lure in some bigger, career-making fish. Richie offers them a deal – help him catch four other people lured in by one of their scams, and the duo will go free. Sydney smells trouble and wants to run, but Irving opts to go along with DiMaso for fear of losing his son to his vindictive, unstable wife Rosalyn (Lawrence). Soon, the con begins spiraling out of control as the trio stumble across Carmine Polito (Renner), the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, who is desperate to kick start Atlantic City development and put his constituents back to work, even if it means dabbling in some shady business dealings. Before long, there are fake Arab sheiks, Mafia henchmen, and corrupt politicians running through the con, and Irving finds himself treading deeper and deeper into territory that makes him uncomfortable, especially as he grows to like and admire Polito. 

The film is based on the Abscam operation of the late 1970s, although the script by Russell and Singer takes tremendous liberties – changing names, adding characters, and creating a world that exists somewhere between the grit of Martin Scorsese’s early work and the bada-bing glamour of Ocean’s Eleven. The double crosses and shenanigans are truly entertaining until there are reminders of how real and dangerous the stakes are for these characters. There are some truly funny moments that are undercut by sudden bursts of violence as Irving, Sydney, and Richie struggle to stay in control of the situation. It is a movie that leaves you on edge, never entirely sure when things will fall apart and often pretty certain that true danger is just around the corner. 

Part of the volatility lies in the performances delivered onscreen. Bale, Cooper, Adams, Lawrence, and Renner have never been better. They are not afraid to take their characters to truly ugly places. Bale’s performance stands at the center of the film, as he is probably the closest the film has to a protagonist. His physical transformation for the film is likely to have people talking – the paunchy gut that’s on display in the opening moments, the masterful wigwork that gives him the most complicated and elaborate combover I’ve ever seen – but Bale is so much more than that. His Irving is driven and vulnerable, filled with anger and compassion in equal measures. He is a man driven by a sense of honor, albeit one that is at times a bit warped. It’s taken me a while to get on the “Christian Bale is brilliant” train, and I still argue that he’s capable of some pretty weak stuff, but when he’s allowed to really revel in his art, he is a breathtaking actor to behold. 

It would be easy for all of these actors to coast on laurels and ride their fame and good looks all the way to the bank. All have been involved in major blockbusters or have been connected to significant franchises. They could spend their careers making variations on those greatest hits, and the American moviegoing public would probably line up. Instead, they seek the challenge of working with an artist like David O. Russell and find new places to take their craft. Cooper masks his matinee idol good looks behind a beard and a pretty hilarious perm and gives us a volatile, selfish Richie who bullies his way through the operation, often resorting to violence with his superior (C.K.) who refuses his outlandish requests. While many of Cooper’s more volatile moments are played for laughs, there is something truly unsettling about his Richie every time he’s on screen. It’s a terrific performance and continues Cooper’s quest to break free of his Hangover persona.

Equally mesmerizing is Lawrence. While her Rosalyn clocks significantly less screen time than other characters, Lawrence leaves her mark with her flinty, fidgety performance. Rosalyn is a master manipulator, perhaps the most unlikable character in the movie being played by arguably the most likable actress in Hollywood right now. It is a fearless, bravura performance, proving Lawrence is destined for even greater heights. At times, watching her borders on uncomfortable as you struggle between hating the passive aggressive manipulation Rosalyn often employs and feeling embarrassed for her inability to cope with the life she’s trapped herself in. I dare you to see this film and not be haunted by her lip-syncing to “Live and Let Die.” (This is a good time to give a huge shout-out to the brilliant soundtrack for the film that perfectly combines great 1970s hits like Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” with a haunting Arabic version of “White Rabbit” with lounge hits like Tom Jones’s “Delilah” and just a dash of jazz courtesy of Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk.)

It’s movies like American Hustle that give me hope for American film, that make writing reviews a joy because it’s a chance to celebrate what a tremendous art form film can be. No matter what happens come Oscar-season, this is a film that will surely go down in the pantheon as one of the great films of the decade.

Grade: A

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Top Grossing Movies of 2013

With 2013 coming to an end, here are links to reviews of 17 of the 20 top grossing films of the year.

Some of them were great, some of them were, uh, not so great. But each review is enjoyable, interesting and insightful to read. Click away!

6. Gravity
7. Fast & Furious 6
10. Frozen
15. The Heat
18. The Conjuring

Friday, December 27, 2013

Peter O'Toole: In Memoriam

My Favorite Films

By Ed Garea

It always seems that, while one dies alone, death itself comes in bunches. In just two days back-to-back in December we lost two of the brightest lights in the Hollywood firmament.

Peter O’Toole passed on first, on December 14 at the age of 81, followed by Joan Fontaine a day later at the age of 96. We will cover her career in a subsequent article; for now we’ll concentrate on the great O’Toole and his films.

The thing that always amazed me about O’Toole was that he managed to last so long; one would have thought he would have drunk himself to death long ago. In his last years he sort of resembled an ill-kept grave. But what a talent: O’Toole was easily one of the most talented men ever to set foot on stage or screen. His T.E. Lawrence will always be remembered as one of the greatest performances ever on film, as will his portrayal of Henry II in both Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968).

As far as Oscar was concerned, O’Toole was always a bridesmaid but never a bride. He holds the record – eight – for having been nominated in the Best Actor category without winning.

He cemented his reputation as a brilliant actor in his late 20s, when he became the youngest leading man ever at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford. While there he also cemented his reputation as a hellraiser, fueled by goodly amounts of alcoholic beverages.

It was the latter reputation that almost caused producer Sam Spiegel to overlook him when casting the part of T.E. Lawrence, but director David Lean pitched for O’Toole and was rewarded when Spiegel saw O’Toole’s screen test and admitted to Lean that they had found their Lawrence.

Lawrence of Arabia took nearly two years to film, but upon its release O’Toole was now Filmdom’s latest superstar. Contrary to popular belief, it was not O’Toole’s first movie. He appeared in three previous films, the best known of which was Disney’s 1960 adventure, Kidnapped, in which he had a small role as “Robin McGregor.” He had third billing in the 1960 crime drama, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, about three IRA men in turn-of-the-century England who plan to rob the Bank of England of its gold bullion. O’Toole is the officer in charge of security at the bank.

Below are my favorite O’Toole performances, sorted by year.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Who doesn’t love this movie? Oh sure, we can find some crank on IMDb who hated it. It was overlong, not historically accurate, etc. However, they’re in the distinct minority. Lawrence is a majestic movie, the sort they don’t make anymore (for one thing, CGI may have killed off the epic). It has a great script, wonderful cinematography and pacing, and, most of all, solid performances from its cast. Despite this, however, the film is structured in such a way that if the leading man fails (most of Lean’s other epics rely on the same formula), so does the rest of the film. And O’Toole makes sure the film doesn’t fail, capturing the spirit, if not the history, of Lawrence the man. It’s a film that, despite its length, I can watch anytime.

Becket (1964): So how does one follow up on a triumph like Lawrence of Arabia? Why with Becket, of course. Using Jean Anouilh’s play as a basis, it’s the story of the turbulent relationship between King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, childhood friends who later became bitter enemies when Becket got religion and stood up for the Church against the King, and was ultimately killed for it. O’Toole’s Henry is up against another heavyweight in Richard Burton’s Becket, in the days before Liz and booze destroyed his career. John Gielgud also turns in quite an effective performance in a supporting role as King Louis VII of France.

The Night of the Generals (1967): This is a nice little gem in the O’Toole oeuvre, a tale about three Nazi generals suspected in the murder of a Polish prostitute in Warsaw, now in Paris, where one is in on the plot to kill Hitler. O’Toole, as General Tanz, gives a good, suspicious performance. Could he be the murderer? Donald Pleasance and Charles Gray, as the other two suspected generals, also give excellent performances, as does Omar Sharif as the investigating officer on the case. The film does lose its focus with the kill Hitler plot in Paris, but overall it’s quite good, especially O’Toole.

The Lion in Winter (1968): O’Toole is once again Henry II, but this time the focus is not on his intrigue with Thomas Becket, but with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s Christmas 1183. Henry, aging but still conniving, calls a meeting where he will name a successor. In attendance are his scheming wife, Eleanor, and his three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John. Also called are his mistress, Princess Alais, whom he hopes to marry, and King Philip II of France. All want his empire, but only one will be named. O’Toole is having a field day. Having played Henry before, he is comfortable with the character. Katharine Hepburn is wonderful as Eleanor (she got the Oscar for her portrayal), and a young Anthony Hopkins shines as Richard. Watching O’Toole and Hepburn engaging in their game of political chess (Henry wants John as his successor while Eleanor favors Richard) is mesmerizing: two pros at the pinnacle of their craft. And for those looking for offbeat Christmas movies, the setting of this film should fit the bill.

The Ruling Class (1972): O’Toole is the mad 14th Earl of Gurney in Peter Medak’s wonderful satire on the upper classes. The Earl believes himself to be Christ, wearing glasses because it’s cold, resting himself on a crucifix, and suddenly breaking out into song and dance numbers. His peers and family think he’s quite mad. Yet, when he undergoes a metamorphosis, dresses as a Victorian gentleman while speaking of capital punishment and superior breeding, his peers think him not only cured but prepare him for his seat in the House of Lords. The real point is that the Earl is not cured at all; he now believes himself to be Jack the Ripper. For those who love dark comedy or simply want to see a different O’Toole, this is one to see.

My Favorite Year (1982): O’Toole is in his element in this hilarious comedy. It’s 1954 and King Kaiser (read Sid Caesar) is the biggest thing on television. His guest this week is swashbuckling actor Alan Swann. Now all Kaiser and his staff have to do is make sure Swann stays sober for his appearance, a task not as easy as it seems. As the dissolute Swann, O’Toole dominates the film. Although his character is supposedly based on Errol Flynn, there are a few touches based on O’Toole himself, such as the habit of not wearing a watch (“I don’t trust them, one hand is bigger than the other.”) and his preference for Pinch scotch. In fact, O’Toole’s performance is so true to his real life self that it’s hard to discern where Flynn ends and O’Toole begins. The idea of having junior writer Benjy Stone babysit Swann is based on the real-life incident of having then Caesar show’s junior writer, Mel Brooks, chaperone guest star Flynn around before his appearance on Your Show of Shows.

Ratatouille (2007): Having provided the voice of Sherlock Holmes in a series of animated films for Burbank Studios in Australia, O’Toole was no stranger to the genre. In this heartwarming animated movie from Pixar and Disney about a rat who dreams of becoming a great French chef, O’Toole supplies the voice of Anton Ego, food critic for “The Grim Eater,” and someone whose word can make or break a restaurant. Though he initially comes on as the villain of the piece, his character is the heart of the film because of his love of good food and his honesty. A large part of the fun in watching Ratatouille is listening to O’Toole resonant voice as Ego. Besides, if I didn’t mention this film, Steve Herte would never forgive me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Yuletide Songs from the Celluloid

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Steve Herte

Every year radio, department store speakers and television greet the holiday season with the familiar songs and carols to get us in the spirit. But isn’t a song the same as a carol? Not quite. The original definition of a carol is a “round dance;” carols were meant to be danced. The secondary meaning involves the religious joy involved in a carol. Anything else is just a secular holiday song. Even though several carols are played in various movies, we’re just going to investigate popular Christmas songs associated with movies through time and explore a little of their background.

White Christmas” (1942): from Holiday Inn (1942) and its loose remake, White Christmas (1954). Written by Irving Berlin, it’s the oldest song in my list, and one of the most famous, returns every year to the television screen. Even though the song premiered a year before on “The Kraft Music Hall” radio show, it is more closely associated with Bing Crosby’s unforgettable crooning in Holiday Inn, for which it won the Best Original Song Oscar in 1943.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944): It was made famous by the movie Meet Me in Saint Louis (1944), directed by Vincent Minnelli. It stars Judy Garland as Esther Smith and, as her three sisters, Margaret O’Brien (Tootie), Lucille Bremer (Rose) and Joan Carroll (Agnes). Set in the year before the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the girls learn that their father is being transferred to New York and the family has to go with him. But they’re eagerly anticipating the fair. The scene is Christmas Eve and Esther is trying to cheer up her sister Tootie. However, the original lyrics are not that cheerful, with phrases as “hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” and “Let your heart be light. Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.” The line “Until then we’ll have to muddle through, somehow,” gave the song a sad melancholy tone to fit the movie scene, and “It may be your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were an intrinsic part of the story.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra had lyricist Hugh Martin change the words to the ones we know now.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949): This familiar holiday tune, based on a popular children’s book by Bob May, was recorded by Gene Autry, who made it into a huge hit. The song first made its film appearance in a Jam Handy Organization cartoon, which was also the last from the Fleischer Studios. The most popular version of the book – and song – is the 1964 stop-motion animated television special. Since Autry introduced the song in 1949, it has become the top-selling song of all time for the season and one of the most familiar to children.

Frosty the Snowman” (1950): This song, written by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, is associated most with the television special of same name and sung by Jimmy Durante in 1969. Gene Autry introduced the song on record back in 1950. UPA Studios animated the story of the song explaining how a snowman suddenly became alive by virtue of a magic stovepipe hat as a cartoon in 1954, but the most popular adaptation of the song is the 1969 animated television special from Rankin/Bass Productions.

Silver Bells” (1950): Originally, the title was “Tinkle Bells” until the double meaning of tinkle was discovered. Whoops! Written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, it was sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the movie The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), directed by Sidney Lanfield and Frank Tashlin. Rumor has it that it was inspired by all the sidewalk Santas and Salvation Army workers on the streets at Christmastime.

Snow” (1953): Also written by Irving Berlin, it was composed before being featured in White Christmas (1954) with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Originally called “Free,” it had nothing to do with snow. But in the movie it’s a triumphant moment for the winter resort inn at a crucial instance.

Santa Baby” (1953): This sensual song, written by Joan Javits (niece of Jacob Javits) and Phil Springer, was a big hit for Eartha Kitt and has been heard in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Elf (2003) and Boynton Beach Club (2005). Miss Piggy also performed it in It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) television special.

Christmastime is Here” (1965): From the animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas, it’s a haunting modern song, written by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi, in minor key, sung by the cast and reprised on piano several times in the film. The melancholy tone of the song reflects Charlie Brown’s mood when he sees everyone enjoying the season without him.

Welcome Christmas” (“Fah Who Foraze, Dah Who Doraze”): from the television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), directed by Chuck Jones. With lyrics by Dr. Seuss and music by Albert Hague, it was sung by Cindy Lou Who and all of Whoville while they linked hands around the town’s Christmas tree. Boris Karloff narrated the film and supplied the voice of the Grinch. Hague was born to a Jewish family in Berlin but was raised as a Lutheran to avoid Nazi persecution. He also wrote the music for “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”, “Young and Foolish” and several songs for the TV series Fame. “Welcome Christmas” is the song that cues the change in the Grinch’s heart.

We Need a Little Christmas”: from Mame (1974, originally entitled My Best Girl), music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. The story is based on the 1955 Novel “Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis and is a musical remake of the 1958 film of the same name starring Rosalind Russell. Mame starred Lucille Ball in the title role, with Beatrice Arthur as her best friend Vera Charles. Mame loses her fortune in the 1929 stock market crash and uses her unsinkable style to bolster up the spirits of those around her by celebrating Christmas early (only one week past Thanksgiving Day). Even though the bouncy beat of the song suggests dancing, it is not considered a carol. The up-tempo is meant to brighten a rather dark period in American history.

Somewhere in My Memory”: Written by John Williams with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse for the soundtrack of Home Alone in 1990 and Home Alone 2- Lost in New York (1992), directed by Chris Columbus. A children’s chorus sets the sentimental mood for a child accidentally left home (and in the Plaza Hotel) on Christmas Eve by his way too distracted parents and dozens of relatives. The lyrics reflect his situation and his longing.

Believe” (2004, from The Polar Express): Written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri and sung by Josh Groban, it won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The riotous train trip to the North Pole (including a scary scene where the entire train is off the tracks and skidding on ice) is instrumental in helping a child believe in Santa and all things miraculous as the lyrics say: Believe in what you feel inside, And give your dreams the wings to fly. You have everything you need. If you just believe.

What’s This?”: From The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, written and sung by Danny Elfman) as Jack Skelington is suddenly transported from the land of Halloween to Christmastown. He’s agog at all the strange sights and colors and investigates every nook and cranny. His amazement shows in the lyric:
There are children throwing snowballs here instead of throwing heads,
They're busy building toys and absolutely no one's dead
He later takes over the job of Santa Claus and mixes the chaos of Halloween into the peace and calm of Christmas.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963): This lively swing waltz was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle and recorded by Andy Williams that same year. Though it’s a waltz, it’s still not a carol. It was featured in the Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie of the same name starring Henry Winkler and Brook Burns in 2008.

Yes, for me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Wars stop temporarily for it, people think more of others than themselves and some of the most familiar and beloved songs are sung in every venue. I know there are more movies with holiday songs and even more featuring carols with new melodies being written every year. My intent here is to start the spark of memory. It’s now your assignment to supply your own list.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Walking With Dinosaurs 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Dinosaurs With Tamarind

By Steve Herte

I’m working on a Ten Best and Ten Worst list of movies this year and I could only recall 44 of the 50 I should have seen by now. It’s really no problem, just perplexing and the movie I saw Friday might just make the latter list. Well, you decide. Enjoy.

Walking With Dinosaurs 3D (20th Century Fox, 2013) – Directors: Barry Cook & Neil Nightingale. Writer: John Collee. Voices: Charlie Rowe, Karl Urban, Angourie Rice, John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Skyler Stone, & Tiya Sircar. Color & 3D, 87 minutes.

Having been among the thousands of awe-struck audience members gaping at the amazing animatronic dinosaurs on parade in Madison Square Garden one year I was eagerly anticipating this movie. Unfortunately, it did not deliver. My rating comes from two positives: they got me to want to see it with the trailers, and the beautiful animation (what I could clearly see) of long-gone prehistoric beasts. The story idea was good – growing up with a Pachyrhinosaurus (like a Triceratops, but with a more ornate frill) from runt-hood to leader of the herd. But the pre-school juvenile manner of telling this tale not only left me cold (and wanting to leave early) but also insulted (hopefully) the audience’s intelligence.

Even the children present (which it was obviously geared to) were strangely silent. It is told through the voice of Leguizamo who appears as a crow to Ricky, (Rowe) the teenage nephew of an archaeologist who refuses to go to a dig site with his Uncle Zack (Urban) and younger sister Jade (Rice). Zack shows the children the tooth of a Gorgosaurus (a fierce predator of the late Cretaceous Era, like, but smaller than T-Rex) and the back-story told by the crow is how the Gorgosaurus lost that tooth. The crow convinces Ricky to hear his tale and reverts to his ancestor, Alexornis (from which he gets the nickname of Alex), and weaves the storyline in his new persona.

Patchy (Long), his older littermate Scowler (Stone) and Juniper (Sircar) get separated from the herd during a Gorgosaurus attack when they fall into a river and are washed downstream. As they grow to adulthood, they learn quickly how dangerous the land they live in is and how many predators are lurking everywhere. After a Gorgosaur kills their father it becomes obvious that the herd needs a new leader. Scowler fights off (a head-butting contest) the reigning leader and he’s in. But when he leads the herd across a frozen lake, Patchy realizes the danger and leads the herd back to shore. Scowler doesn’t like his authority challenged. He head-butts Patchy into a ditch and a tree falls across him, immobilizing him, and leaves him for dead. If not for Alex’s pestering and psychology (when did birds become so smart?) he would not have survived to call the herd to take on the Gorgosaurs, knock out the tooth, and send them away in defeat. Sounds good, no? The story of Bambi was better told. In fact Godzilla Meets Bambi was more entertaining.

Every time a new creature enters the stage the film stops, its name appears below it, what it means and whether it’s a carnivore or herbivore is explained. Each time this was done the movie lost momentum and a “who cares” sigh came from the audience. These “educational moments” failed when they labeled a Quetzelcoatlus (the largest flying creature ever) simply as a Pterosaur. Huh? Why go to such detail on the others and gloss over this one. Any child who went on the Dinosaur Safari at the Bronx Zoo this summer would know the creature by name.

Another unnecessary scene was just after the baby dinosaurs fall into the river and Patchy states that he “dove in.” The film rewinds to that moment to prove he did not. Really? But the biggest problem with Walking With Dinosaurs was the 3D system. I kept a pair of Real 3D glasses from the first 3D movie I ever saw. Both lenses are grayish, like sunglasses. The glasses I was provided obviously had one red lens and a bluish (or greenish) lens which made some scenes clear and others woefully like seeing double. My emergency pair didn’t work at all. This further lessened my enjoyment of the film.

Next time I consider a film about dinosaurs it will be at the Museum of Natural History. Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

106 Lexington Avenue (27th Street), New York

The 14-block walk from the theater to this month-and-a-half old Indian restaurant specializing in the dishes of Southern India was well worth it, and I had over-estimated the time needed. It was a nice stroll. The owners of Kokum (Tamarind in Hindi) have six other restaurants to their credit, three of which I have visited: Dhaba, Chole, and Chote Nawab; and three I’ve yet to enjoy: Malai Marke, Bhojan, and Jaipore (I really have to get going on these).

When I arrived, the smallness of the space was remarkable, just 12 to maybe 14 tables and a captain’s station in the back with an elephant’s festival forehead ornament hanging over it. The lighting is from several bare incandescent bulbs (though muted) in dark wood bent to form onion-shaped lanterns. There is a repeating mural of colorful Indian fishing boats on one wall and a mirror on the other. It looked as if people of Indian extraction were occupying many of the tables (a good sign), but the closeness made it impossible to be subtle about taking photos. The young man who greeted me at the door seemed a bit confused by someone reserving a table for one, but there was indeed a reserved sign on a single table near the back and it was mine.

My waiter, Sanjeep, brought my water and asked if I would like to start with a drink. There were several interesting cocktails on the menu but knowing that Kerala is a main source of South Indian recipes I chose the Tropical Kerala – gin, Triple Sec, St. Germain, and lemon juice, with coconut water and a curry leaf garnish. Let me tell you, it was one of those pretty, delicious drinks that could be dangerous later on. I had two. The menu was quite extensive and (dare I say, after 130 Indian restaurants) surprisingly unfamiliar to me. It was printed on pale grey paper with a darker grey watermark of fishermen and their nets. This made it difficult to read the fine italic descriptions of dishes and impossible to read certain sections. 

The menu was organized by “Starters” (soups and appetizers), “Breads,” “Dosa Stall” (Dosas are very flat golden breads sometimes rolled, sometime folded over various savory ingredients), “Munyandi Dosa Vilas,” “Chicken,” “Lamb,” “Goat,” “Seafood,” “Vegetables,” “Famous Malabar Biryani” (Rice dishes), “Rice on the Side,” “Sides,” “Desserts,” and “Drinks” (other than alcoholic). So many choices, so little time. I asked Sanjeep if there were particular dishes the chef was especially proud of. He suggested the Kochi Fish Fry appetizer listed as “spicy” – Pan-fried fish in Red Masala (spice). It was flaky, delicious, not too spicy and served with shredded carrots.

I told Sanjeep that the next course must be the Rasam Vada – Lentil Donuts in a light Tamarind Lentil Soup – and he agreed. It was served in a beautiful white-stemmed bowl with lion-head handles (I think they knew who was coming). It was piping hot, hearty, mildly spicy and good to the last drop.

By now I was ready for a glass of wine and they had a Malbec from Aruma vineyards in Argentina that was perfect. It was time for the main course. Sanjeep guided me to the Soft Shell Crab Roast – Kerala style crab roast with black pepper and shallots – Wonderful! My cousins in Maryland should taste this! I ordered the Kerala Paratha – Multi-layered Pan-Grilled Bread served in a bamboo steamer, but Sanjeep said the Appam – Fermented rice crepe – goes better with the crab. I had both. He was right, but I loved my choice too. 

My rice dish was Paripu Podi Rice – steamed rice with lentil powder and Ghee (Water Buffalo butter). The people of India have an amazing way with rice. The side dish was Thir Pachadi – a cold, pumpkin-colored mixture of rice, coconut, puréed carrot and yoghurt – basically a raita. It would have cooled down the spiciest dish and was delicious.

By now I was becoming sated and there was still bread, main course, side and rice leftover. I had Sanjeep pack it all up for home and ordered dessert. At this time the couple next to me asked if I was a restaurant reviewer and I confessed. They took the address of the blog with them after I left. There were three desserts, two unfamiliar to me. Well, you know me; I had the Rava Kesari – Hazelnuts, Semolina, with saffron and Ghee – which sounds very strange until you see it. All the ingredients are chopped finely until it looks like pink shortcake shaped in a mold. It was a little denser and heavier than my usual Indian desserts but it was sweet and perfect.

What! I didn’t have tea? Nope. Completely forgot about it. I was having such a wonderful time I just called for the check, told them how lovely their restaurant was, complimented them on the gold statue of Ganesha (the elephant-headed protector god of Hindu mythology), said goodnight to the young couple next me, picked up my leftovers and headed for home, perfectly content.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for December 23-31

December 23–December 31


BILLY LIAR (December 26, 10:00 pm): A funny and tremendously entertaining British "Kitchen Sink/Angry Young Man" film with Tom Courtenay in the title role. He's not really angry, but he certainly is restless. His real name is Billy Fisher, but he tells such outrageous stories that his friends call him Billy Liar. The 1963 film goes in and out of Billy's real life as a bored funeral parlor worker and his imaginary world as the leader of the kingdom of Ambrosia. In his pretend life, he's a lady killer. In his real life, he's not doing too bad, but he's lost. Billy is dating two girls, including the incredibly beautiful and talented Julie Christie. It's a comedy, but there are certainly tragic portions as Billy's imaginary life is more interesting and apparently more important to him than trying to improve his reality. 

KES (December 29, 3:30 am): Another excellent British film, Kes is about Billy Casper, (David Bradley), a lonely boy who is bullied, but finds happiness in training a kestral falcon, he names Kes. The bond between the two is incredibly touching, and it helps Billy become more self-confident and less lost and unsure the more time he spends with Kes. It would be easy for this film to become a cliche as the young bird is obviously just like Billy. But it never feels that way as the film makes you cheer for both of them as they experience personal growth and freedom. It's because of that attachment that your heart breaks at the end of the movie. It's a wonderful film that stays with you long after watching it. 


TOP HAT (December 25, 8:00 pm): Not only is this film the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, but it’s also one of the greatest musicals – if not the greatest – ever to come from Hollywood. Everything goes off perfectly in this movie: the score by none other than Irving Berlin, the dance numbers (especially “Top Hat,” and “Cheek to Cheek”), and even Fred’s pursuit of Ginger is fresh and funny. It’s the old formula – Fred meets Ginger, Fred loses Ginger, Fred gets Ginger – but in this film it has not yet run its course. Add to this a supporting cast featuring the always-reliable Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, plus dependable Helen Broderick and Eric Rhodes, and the result is an engaging and charming 90 minutes. Look for Lucille Ball in an unbilled role as a flower clerk.

STAGECOACH (December 27, 8:00 am): This John Ford movie was not only a big hit with moviegoers at the time, but also marked a change in the maturing of the Western, emphasizing character development over mere bang-bang, shoot ‘em up action and bringing the Western out of the Bs and onto the top of the marquee. Oh yeah, there’s lots of action sequences in the film, but they’re nicely balanced by character with depth and about whom we actually care. Even John Wayne does a nice job here, though it took Ford lots of work to wrangle a good performance out of him. Watch for the Indian attack and keep your eye on the peerless stunt work by second unit director Yakima Canutt. In his Westerns, Ford always provided work for neighboring Navaho tribesmen, and even made sure they received union wages. They, in turn (as per his biography) named him “Natani Nez,” which means “Tall Leader.”


ED: A. MGM was on a roll in the early ‘50s with its Musicals Unit, cranking out classic after classic. And this film is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the few musicals that weaves the music, dancing and story together flawlessly and is totally entertaining from start to finish. If I were to expound on the virtues of Cinemascope, I would use this film as one of the prime examples, for although it was one of the earliest Cinemascope films for MGM, it’s technical virtuosity is astounding, as we have up to 14 characters (the seven brothers and seven brides) interacting on the screen at the same time in the musical numbers. For such a huge undertaking, the film works in almost every way, with outstanding performances from Jane Powell and Russ Tamblyn (whose acrobatic dancing is still a marvel to behold today), as well as a beautiful newcomer, Julie Newmeyer. She would later shorten her name to “Julie Newmar,” gaining everlasting fame as the original Catwoman on the Batman television series in 1966. For those who like musicals, this is an Essential, and for those interested in film history, this is an Essential. Heck, if you’re a film buff of any sort, this is an Essential.

DAVID: C-. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I'm not much of a musical movie fan. Ed, who is a huge fan of the genre, tends to give a pass to the plots of musicals because the singing – and in many cases, the dancing – is the main draw for these films. I disagree. Great musicals can have good plots with solid dialogue, such as Singin' in the Rain and the original Muppet Movie, that add to the film. The plot of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is among the most ridiculous and stupid in cinematic history. A woodsman comes into town looking for a wife and finds a woman who barely knows him but marries him. They return home and to her surprise, he's got six brothers who live with him. She teaches them manners and dancing – they pick up the latter a lot quicker than the former– so they can also find women to marry. They find women-folk and eventually kidnap them when things don't go well. Of course women in that situation not only fall in love with their captors, but dance with them. The acting is wooden at best, and the singing isn't memorable. I can't recall any songs from this movie and after looking up the titles, I don't remember the melody or lyrics to even one, and I saw this movie in the last year. The only reason this film doesn't get a D grade is because it is beautifully filmed, I was impressed with how they were able to get all 14 of them into single shots and the dancing is good. But even with those attributes, it's not a good movie.

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sleepy Hollow


By Steve Herte

Sleepy Hollow (20th Century Fox Television, 2013) – Creators: Alex Kurtzman, Philip Iscove, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman. Stars: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Jim McKenny, Katia Winter, Jeremy Owens, Lyndie Greenwood, Clancy Brown. Mondays at 9:00 pm.

Even though deep into the story of this fascinating new twist on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” I’ve been promising a review since its inception. Far from the animated Walt Disney version where Ichabod Crane is a gangly, goofy coward, this Ichabod (Mison) is a handsome well-spoken soldier who fought beside George Washington (McKenny) in the revolutionary war after defecting from the English army. He meets his future wife Katrina (Winter) at a social party and they fall in love, but she’s betrothed to another. Not only that, she’s a witch with her own coven.

In a battle with the “Redcoats,” Ichabod is mortally slashed by the battleaxe of a seemingly invincible masked Hessian soldier (Owens) but with his last strength he beheads the Hessian with a might swipe of his sword. As he lay there on the battlefield Katrina casts a spell over him and later secrets his body to a burial place where no one will find him. Unfortunately, as she’s casting the spell, Ichabod’s blood is mingling with that of the headless Hessian and they become linked by blood in her spell and both awaken 250 years later just outside the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Captain Frank Irving (Jones) of Sleepy Hollow (who deliberately transferred there thinking the duty would be lighter than in the big city, where he was losing touch with his family due to his constant absence) has no idea what to make of this man from the distant past or of the headless horseman that is suddenly making his life more complex. Only Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Beharie) seems to understand him and she gradually discovers that her path and Ichabod’s are linked in a terrible goal of preventing the Apocalypse.

We learn that the demon Moloch is orchestrating the Final Days through the headless horseman and has made him one of the famous biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the character “Death.” He has imprisoned Katrina in a mid-world purgatory and shown himself to the future lieutenant and her sister Jenny (Greenwood) while in their teens, resulting in one being institutionalized in an asylum (no one believes she saw the Devil) and the other estranging herself from her sister into a life of petty crime. But when Sheriff August Corbin (Brown) gives her a fatherly talking to at a diner over apple pie, she decides to change her ways and joins the police force. She later learns after the horseman beheads the sheriff that he had a file cabinet full of strange incidents occurring around town and was secretly investigating them.

Now her fate and Ichabod’s are deeply entwined as she is forced to accept the supernatural events that are happening and the two battle witches, ghoulies, a golem, Moloch himself and of course, the headless horseman in a continuing quest for the salvation of the world from an imminent End of Days.

The tale would have made Washington Irving proud. It is more terrifying than his original and is told with subtle wit to lighten the gravity of the situations. In the beginning episode a policeman is questioning Ichabod and asks, “You fought with George Washington?” “Oh, you know him?” asks Crane. With that the policeman produces a dollar bill with the picture of Washington face up. Ichabod is as mystified at his new surroundings as the residents of Sleepy Hollow are at his presence. All of the characters are believably portrayed and well acted. The sets, costumes and special effects are very well done for a television production. The musical background accentuates the tension in each scene and the cinematography brings chills to the spine. I find myself eager to be home on Mondays to see the next installment.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All Is Lost

Dinner and a Movie

Walking on a Wave's Chicane

By Steve Herte

Those of you who are Electric Light Orchestra fans might recognize the title of the review as a line from “I Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” and keeping things in one’s head has been a recurrent theme this past week. I had brought in extra Christmas decorations from home so that I could deck the halls of the entire unit. Most people in my group noticed right away. One came in on Monday (I decorated two weeks ago today) and didn’t notice until the end of the day on Thursday that there was something different (Sheesh!). The same person called me on the phone last Wednesday to resolve a problem and we did resolve it (so I thought) until she e-mailed me on Friday about the same thing.

I realize at 63 that I cannot multitask four things at once anymore. (Three, maybe, but certainly not four.) I remembered to move my Dinner and a Movie night to Thursday because my quartet was planning a reunion on Friday in White Plains. (By the way, it was glorious. We might even have a paid gig from it.) I remembered all the things I need to do on Friday before leaving the office, i.e. water the plants, check the weather, look at my street Atlas, and lock up. But otherwise, I have to write things down now. The movie and restaurant on Thursday both have excellent reasons for remaining in my memory. Enjoy!

All Is Lost (Roadside Attractions, 2013) – Director: J.C. Chandor. Writer: J.C. Chandor. Cast: Robert Redford. Color, 106 minutes.

In this era where the number 99 is valued higher than 100 (Did you notice? Nothing is $100 or $20, it’s $99.99 or $19.99.) it’s a pleasure to see an actor give 100% (not 99%) of himself in a solo performance depending heavily upon his visual communication skills rather than a clever script. I might have said that the best of animated films are wordless. At 77, Robert Redford proves that live movies can be excellent with minimum vocalization.

All Is Lost begins with a narrative by Redford, which we learn toward the end of the film is his final farewell to the world while a rusty orange hulk of metal floats by on the screen. The words “8 days earlier” appear and the movie starts. The scene is set 18 miles off the coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. Redford is below deck in his sailing ship doing a solo navigation (of what, to where and why are not explained) when we hear a horrendous crunching of wood and a metallic groan. Water begins pouring in through a large hole just above the waterline. On deck, we see the enormous rusty orange shipping container that has punctured his boat. He tries prying it loose to no avail. Then he gets the idea of attaching his sea anchor (a kind of parachute on a thick rope) to the container and that eventually does the trick. He retrieves the sea anchor and sets about repairing the gaping hole and bailing out the accumulated water after discovering that his electricity is gone (no navigation, no computer, no radio).

With the hole satisfactorily patched he sails right into a violent storm. He takes in the main sail and goes below while horrific gales and heaving seas rage outside. A wave upends the boat while he’s down below, sending him ricocheting off the walls. When another wave rights the boat he decides to go on deck and fasten the storm sail. Another wave upends the boat while he’s desperately trying to do this and he’s dumped into the ocean. Once again a wave rights the boat and he scrambles aboard and completes the task. Going below again the random wave motion slams his head into a post and knocks him out.

He awakens with a nasty gash on his forehead and almost hip-deep in water, the hole has broken out again and above deck, his main mast is bent like a twig. Needless to say he eventually has to drag out the life raft, stock it with whatever survived the storm and abandon his sinking ship. Fortunately he has a sextant that was safely packaged and he calculates his position day by day as the raft drifts into the shipping lanes. One huge container ship and one freighter later he’s still marooned (nobody see his flares or hears him shouting). Cue another storm. Two more flips of his vessel.

His survival kit includes a length of fishing line, a hook and a fly. He tries to use it to catch fish (the camera shows a school of fish swimming below the raft). A fish is caught, but when he’s just about to reel it in a shark snatches it first, then he finds himself surrounded by sharks. It is no wonder he lets out a loud and long “F” bomb (the only one in the movie). He then writes his opening narrative, seals it in a jar and tosses it overboard.

Out of the shipping lanes and now out of flares he spots a light on the horizon at night. Using the pages of his journal as tinder and his now carved up water jug as a fireplace he lights a fire in the raft that quickly spreads, causing him to jump overboard.

One might ask why a man would want to go sailing alone. But I have to admire the survival techniques he used. I don’t know if Robert Redford actually has extensive sailing knowledge or that he had to learn it for the movie, but he convinced me that he knew what he was doing. J. C. Chandor’s (Margin Call – 2011, Despacito – 2004) writing and direction – combined with Redford’s superb abilities – made All Is Lost a supreme depiction of the lengths to which the human spirit can be tested in the battle to survive, even against the greatest odds. The film was so engaging I completely forgot that there had to be a cameraman in the picture at all times. As I left the Angelika Theater I heard another audience member say that he liked this film more than Tom Hanks’ Castaway. I agree. Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

430 Broome Street (at Crosby Street) New York

Locating this three-week-old French bistro took my New York navigating skills to new heights. I always check the location of a restaurant relative to the theater on my handy office atlas beforehand. This time, the exact route to take slipped my mind, but I remembered a map of Soho on the wall near the exit of the Prince Street subway station. It was on the way and I checked it. Crosby Street was just west of me, and Broome a few blocks south. However, the street sign for Crosby at the intersection of Prince was missing and I passed it right by. It’s a good thing I knew Mulberry Street was too far. Going south, I missed Broome by one block as well (the sign was there, but it only faced south).

I had left plenty of time for this backtracking because I knew that anywhere south of 14th Street in Manhattan is just a jumble of named streets at strange angles. I did find Chicane on its proper corner, an unassuming establishment three steps up from the pavement under a muted yellow awning with the name in black letters.

At 7:45 pm on a Friday there were only a few diners, and I was seated toward the back of the restaurant near the stairs leading to the restrooms and the lower-level party room. Both areas filled in quickly as I dined. It was difficult to figure out who exactly was my waiter because several people, both male and female, stopped to chat, find out how I was doing, or actually take an order – one was a tall suave black man in leopard-print stretch slacks and a white jacket with the words “Hood-Lums” printed on the back.

Eventually, one person appeared more often and it was Arnaud. His accent was so thick (it wasn’t in any way French) that I abandoned the quest for a Beefeater martini and chose one of their cocktails – the Chicane de Port – instead. It’s a lively golden concoction of gin, pineapple juice and spicy peppers that reset my appetite. (I must admit that after eight days at sea with Robert Redford my stomach was not thinking of food.)

Chicane’s menu is divided into two categories: Cuisine Traditionnelle and Cuisine Nouvelle – both with their appetizers and main courses. I decided to choose my appetizer from the first and the main course from the second. The selection of wines by the glass is nicely varied and the bottle prices mostly reasonable. Being adventurous after the movie. I chose the 2010 Niellucio/Sciacarello, Domaine Maestracci “E Prove” red wine from Corsica. It proved to be a delicate red, light-bodied table wine with a good ruby color and accented, but never interfered with the flavor of the food. Arnaud brought the bread – two slices of baguette and a ramekin of soft butter (that didn’t last long).

While awaiting my appetizer I admired the simple décor of Chicane, sea-foam green and stucco walls, live potted trees (one a Jerusalem orange with fruit) and oblong chandeliers lined with light bulbs reminiscent of a Broadway marquee. Then the Parsley Risotto arrived – a large white bowl with the beautiful pea-green risotto in the center topped by burgundy-marinated escargots, accented with Elephant garlic and in a wreath of Cantal (a French cheese) foam. It was as delicious as it was stunning. When I finished it I wished the portion had been larger.

The restaurant was now full of noisily chatting patrons and I was enjoying several conversations when Arnaud served me the main dish, lamb chops – cooked with black garlic, served over broccoli-rabe, and accompanied by two condiments: charred eggplant and cocoa pimento. The ratatouille arrived at the same time steaming in its own bowl, a lovely mix of squashes and vegetables. The lamb chops were tender enough to cut with my butter knife (a steak knife was not supplied) and I did not complain, that is until I tasted them. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor was spectacular, but they were tepid and cooling rapidly. I got the attention of the gentleman who first asked me how everything was and asked him if this dish was supposed to be served hot. He said yes. “Well, it’s not. It’s tepid. The ratatouille is perfect but not the main dish.” He agreed to have it put in the oven for heating.

I was halfway through the ratatouille when the dish returned, now considerably hotter and with renewed blobs of condiment and (surprise!) a steak knife. Now I could fully enjoy it, even relishing the bones, surprising myself on enjoying and finishing the broccoli rabe (a vegetable I do not normally like). It was now getting close to 10:00 pm and I called home to apprise my Dad that I still had not had dessert and I would be later than usual.

Chicane has three desserts at any one time and the only one that seemed interesting was the Snow Ball – a snowy white, icy “cloud” of pineapple filled with passion fruit curd and rum granite, and served with coconut sorbet. I have to admit it was a nouvelle experience, being sweet and tart at the same time. Having finished I was contemplating an after-dinner drink and coffee when the girl from the captain’s station came over to my table and told me that the restaurant needs my table for the continued influx of patrons. I was mortified, replying that if it weren’t for the exceedingly slow service I would have been gone a half-hour ago. I decided to forego the coffee and cordial, and asked Arnaud for the check.

Chicane is a young restaurant. They have much to learn about keeping patrons. The food is wonderful (when the service doesn’t let it go cold) but their organization is extremely faulty. The cocktail took way too long to serve, as did the main dish. The plates should be heated to prevent food from chilling excessively and the tableware should be served before the dishes. And, just as an aside, it’s a good idea to schmooze with returning customers but not to the point of being distracting to the wait staff (Remember leopard-pants? He was all over chatting to people, and even sat by me while I took his photo. Flattering, but unnecessary.) If this restaurant were in the Caribbean, it would all be acceptable, but certainly not in Soho on a busy night. I’m not inspired to return.

At least, the trees across the street were nicely decorated for the holiday season.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.