Tuesday, April 29, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (May 1, 3:45 am): Orson Welles' brilliant follow to Citizen Kane stars Joseph Cotten (one of film's greatest actors in only his second movie) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer in the early 1900s. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love with Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is widowed. But Isabel's son, George (played by Tim Holt), steeped in his family's tradition and name, interferes in the love affair between his mother and Eugene, who want to marry. The film is beautifully shot with incredible acting and a compelling storyline about those who go to unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families.

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (May 6, 12:30 pm): Leslie Howard is perfectly cast as the title character in this film about the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious hero who saves the lives of French nobles during the height of that country's revolution. Howard is an effete English nobleman who is so meek that even his wife doesn't suspect he is the heroic Scarlet Pimpernel. The storyline is entertaining and smart with a wry sense of humor, the film is fast paced and the acting is excellent. Howard's ability to go from the weak English aristocrat to the heroic Pimpernel is remarkable and makes this film a fun one to watch.


WHITE HEAT (May 1, 10:15 pm): Jimmy Cagney was never better than in this gangster saga of a psycho gang leader dominated by his mother. Edmund O’Brien is also great as the federal agent that goes undercover to help catch him. And don’t forget Margaret Wycherly in probably her best performance as Cagney’s mother. With Virginia Mayo as Cagney’s disloyal wife and Steve Cochran as gang member “Big Ed,” a man with big ideas and nothing else. It boasts one of the best endings in the history of film.

GALLIPOLI (May 2, 10:00 pm): Peter Weir’s masterpiece about the failed invasion of Turkey in World War I, recreates not only stirring battle scenes, but also the culture of patriotism and mythology that led a volunteer army of Australians and New Zealanders to fight in a European war that meant little or for both nations. Mark Lee and Mel Gibson are exceptional as the two Australian buddies who enlist, one out of patriotic fervor, and the other out of comradeship and a chance at glory and promotion. The Battle of Gallipoli is still remembered and commemorated today in Australia and New Zealand as “Anzac Day.”


ED: C+. The professional wrestler known as The Rock used to have a slogan, “Know your damn role.” The slogan fits this remake of the 1934 original perfectly. This film is a lot slicker and boasts better production values than the original, but in the end it’s a maudlin, preachy, lifeless, and rather shameless piece of celluloid notable only for the performances of a talented cast. In this version, Lana Turner as a movie star replaces the hard-driving executive Claudette Colbert played. Lana is bad because she devotes so much time to her career that she neglects daughter Sandra Dee, who winds up playing patty cake with Lana’s boyfriend, John Gavin. Turner’s maid, Juanita Moore, is subservient, which is good (she knows her damn role) and has a daughter who can pass for white, as in the original. But the kid is ambitious and doesn’t want Mommy around to inform people that she is black (bad - she doesn’t know her damn role). The kid thus becomes the villain of the piece; she degrades her mother at every turn and ends up worrying Mother to death. Only then is the kid truly sorry, realizing she didn’t know her damn role. The film fits the classic definition of “contrived,” for I can’t buy into one second of this suds-filled melodrama. The original’s also no favorite of mine, but I can let it pass because of the time it was made. Back then it’s theme almost seemed liberating, as it pushed the African-American characters to the forefront with little or almost none of the usual stereotyping to common to films of that era. But this is the late ‘50s. We should be beyond that point in dealing with race relations, and the fact that Hollywood still doesn’t get it at this late point is yet another indictment against an industry that should have us looking forward rather than backward.

DAVID: B+. Ed makes a persuasive argument and I agree with some of his points. The film's cast is talented, actually very talented. As for the production values, they are exceptional, and the storyline holds a lot of promise. Based on those attributes, this movie should rate an A+. But for some of the reasons Ed articulated – I personally felt frustrated watching the supposedly enlightened Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) employing only "House Negroes" after making it big and never really treating her maid/best friend Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), who is black, as her equal – I dropped it a full letter grade to B+. But make no mistake about it, this is a fine film with many levels of a sophisticated story shown in very subtle ways that the viewer may not pick up on them watching it one time. The most significant examples occur when Johnson is dying. In one case, Meredith is hugging Johnson as she dies and the camera shows for just a few seconds a photo behind them of the dead woman's smiling daughter, the same girl who rejected her mother's love because of her color. The daughter, Sarah Jane, is so light-skinned that she passes for white and enjoys the benefits of not being black except when people see her mother and reject the daughter. The other is while Sarah Jane is devastated by the passing of the mother – who died of a broken heart because of her daughter's rejection – she is also almost relieved, hoping that will change her life, which has already spiraled out of control. The movie's strength isn't in its attempts to show racial tension, but in its presentation of the breakdown of family bonds. Turner is the star and gets top billing. However the best performances come from Moore and Susan Kohner, who plays Sarah Jane when she's older.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Animation Nation

By Steve Herte

Up (Disney/Pixar, 2009) – Directors: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson. Writers: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson & Thomas McCarthy (story); Pete Docter & Bob Peterson (s/p). Voices: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, John Ratzenberger, Jeremy Leary, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, David Kaye, & Elie Docter. Color, 96 minutes.

Recently I have been talking about “the one that got away” – the animated film that left the theaters before I could see it. Imagine my surprise when that very film appeared on network television.

Up is one of the marvelous productions from Pixar that seriously separate the animated feature from the cartoon. The differences are so obvious that even the biggest cartooniphobe (new word) could recognize them. The characters are three-dimensional and move believably as actual people and animals. There is nothing flat about it. The digital details can be seen in the movement of hairs, feathers and eyelids, and articulation of joints. This all combines to make characters not just credible but identifiable personalities.

The movie starts with an old-time newsreel in a movie theater touting the intrepid explorer and naturalist, Charles Muntz (Plummer). Muntz has just returned from South America with incredible skeletons of huge beasts and an enormous bird thought to be extinct. Upon inspection of the bones, however, scientists pooh-poohed his discovery, and he angrily vowed to take his zeppelin back to retrieve a live specimen. Little Carl Fredericksen (Leary) is in the front seat of the theater cheering his idol on while wearing an aviator’s leather cap and goggles. On his way home he hears a girl’s voice coming from an abandoned Victorian-style house and he sees the weather vane atop the roof turning in a purposeful manner. He enters and is bowled over by Elie (Docter); she is adventure personified and an extroverted tidal wave. She shows him her “Adventure Book,” turns to the page marked “Stuff I’m Going To Do,” and tells him she’s eventually going to Paradise Falls in South America. He has now become hooked and in love.

Fast-forward and we see them get married, buy and fix up the old Victorian house, save their money (from his job as a balloon salesman in the park) in a jar for their adventure, and grow old together. However, each time the money mounts up, something happens to require its use. They never make it to Paradise Falls and Elie passes away before they can. Now Carl (Asner) is elderly and alone; fighting a development company building skyscrapers all around his property. He speaks to the mailbox and the house as if Elie’s spirit inhabits them. He’s grouchy and even sends Russell (Nagai), an aspiring Junior Explorer, on a “snipe hunt” just to stop the kid from bothering him about his merit badge for helping an old person. When he clobbers a construction worker with his cane, thinking the guy was stealing his mailbox, the court sentences him to be placed in a nursing home.

The orderlies that come to pick him up don’t even notice the abundance of helium tanks littering his front lawn. As he distracts them with his suitcase and re-enters the house, the chimney blossoms into thousands of colorful helium balloons and lifts the house into the air. He’s off to South America. What he doesn’t know is that Russell was tracking the “snipe” under the house at the time and is clinging to his front porch. Grudgingly, he lets Russell in.

From there it’s the adventure of a lifetime, navigating a flying house to South America (Carl thinks he’s going to drop off Russell by cutting loose a number of balloons), landing only a few miles from Paradise Falls. Now they have enough to keep the house off the ground but not to fly the last few miles. They start walking, dragging the floating house. On the way they meet Dug (Peterson), a dog with a collar that allows him to talk, and the colorful giant bird, which is the object of Muntz’s search. Russell befriends it with chocolate and names it Kevin – although it turns out to be a female.

The real surprise is when they discover that Muntz is there as well his zeppelin and an army of talking dogs all trained to seek out the bird – now known as Kevin, and who has a brood of his own chicks to care for.

Up is one of those rare animated films that successfully mixes comedy, action and pathos into a blended treat that makes the viewer suspend rational reality and willingly fly into fantasy and fun. Yes, even I was surprised that Muntz was still alive when Carl was an old man (and could still handle a sword), but I too was caught up in the story, and it didn’t matter what was real or not. When Carl opens the Adventure Book for the last time and sees the “Stuff I’m Going To Do” part filled with photos of his life with Elie, I also got teary-eyed. Pixar did their usual excellent job in producing a film enjoyable by both children and adults. I’m glad I was home to see it, finally.

Friday, April 25, 2014

2-Headed Shark Attack

The Z Files

By Ed Garea

2-Headed Shark Attack (The Asylum, 2012) – Director: Christopher Ray. Writers: Edward DeRuiter (story), H. Perry Horton (s/p). Cast: Carmen Electra, Charlie O’Connell, Brooke Hogan, Christina Bach, Morgan Thompson, Anthony E. Valentin, Gerald Webb, David Gallegos, Geoff Ward, Ashley Bissing, & Mercedes Young. Color, 88 minutes.

There are good movies and there are bad movies. And then, there’s this atrocity, released direct to video for reasons that become obvious when one watches it. It seems the company that made this gem is in competition with the SyFy Channel to see who can make the worst shark movie, and, based on the terrifically cheesy graphics, I can say this one takes the cake (such as it is).

We know we’re in for a bad movie experience once we see the cast. With stalwarts such as Carmen Electra (the ex-Mrs. Dennis Rodman), Charlie O’Connell (brother of Jerry and whose career is pockmarked with other works of art on this level), and Brooke Hogan (who is every bit as good an actress and her father, Hulk, was a wrestler), all we need is a bad script and lousy direction. But wait! Included in this movie are some of the worst special effects I’ve ever seen.

As for direction, behind the camera is Christopher Ray, son of legendary Z-movie director Fred Olen Ray, and living proof that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. The screenwriter, Horton, received an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University’s (Colorado) Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, whatever that means. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he simply took a correspondence course in screenwriting instead.

We open with a group of young people wakeboarding (a combination of water skiing and snowboarding). Soon they become a tasty meal for our title creature. Cut to a boat called The Sea King, where a group of students, led by married professors Franklin and Anne Babish (Carmen and Charlie), are studying marine biology. Electra as a marine biologist. Now this is science fiction. From the dialogue she spouts in the movie one would surmise that Carmen thinks marine biology is studying the private parts of Marines. Not to worry, for this collection of students is even more brain dead than she.

The gang is cruising along merrily; Jerry points out the local sights in the ocean and the girls and guys relax on deck, showing off their abs and silicone. Suddenly, Anne, driving the ship, hits an object in the water. Professor Jerry spots it as a Megamouth shark. Wait a minute, he tells the students, Megamouths are deep-water sharks. Not only that, he’s also dead. This is an attempt, and a poor one, at creating some sort of early tension. They try to bring the shark carcass on board, but it drifts back and is sucked into the boat’s propeller, damaging the hull and causing the boat to take on water. (Things happen fast in a Z-movie.) This is where the cheesy special effects come into play. We do not actually see the shark torn apart, but rather something akin to a shadow cutout of a shark in front of the propeller and a lot of red water gushing forth.

Jerry ponders why all this is happening. Suddenly, our two-headed hero appears and attacks the boat as well, conveniently breaking the ship’s radio antenna. Co-captain Laura (Thompson) is prevented from summoning help. The group then spots a deserted atoll nearby, so Laura and Anne pilot the boat close enough to the shore as to allow Franklin to take the student to the atoll via a dinghy while Anne and Laura remain on the Sea King, along with the ships crew, Han (Webb) and Dikilla (Valentin).

While the Prof and the gang explore the atoll, looking for scrap metal with which to repair the hull, Laura enters the water to see if she can make repairs. This gives the shark an instant meal and a taste for silicone. Now, for reasons known only to the writer and director, three of the students decide to take a break and go skinny-dipping, giving our shark even more of a meal. Meanwhile, the group finds and repairs two small speedboats as an earthquake strikes the atoll, injuring the Prof, who is brought back to the Sea King by students who are later devoured.

After a few more students are eaten, Anne, the Prof and the crew leave the Sea King for the atoll. Suddenly, another earthquake hits, and Anne and the Prof begin to suspect that the island is collapsing on itself. What a plot device. In the meantime, Kate (Hogan) and Cole (Ward) return to the Sea King and fix the hull. Cole, a thoroughly disreputable sort, drives off in the Sea King, forcing Kate to swim back to the atoll. The two-headed shark attacks the Sea King and sinks it, causing it to send an automatic distress signal. Cole attempts to escape in a lifeboat, but the ringing of his cell phone attracts the shark, and exit Cole. Helping the atoll to rapidly sink is our shark, who is eating the atoll from below. The Prof and Anne then spot a small tsunami coming (What else?), which overtakes the atoll and leaves the Prof and Anne as a meal for the hungry fish. After all, he has two mouths to feed.

The survivors flee on the shrinking atoll to an abandoned hut, but the shark breaks in and devours another four. Now only three are left: Kate (Hogan), the nerdish Paul (Gallegos) and Kirsten (Bissing). By using a gasoline tank they found earlier, they manage to blow their visitor to kingdom come, but not before losing Kirsten. A helicopter rescues Kate and Paul, the only survivors in a group of 23 people, as the movie mercifully ends.

The only reason for a bad movie fanatic to want to see this is for camp value, but there’s precious little of that. Simply stated, it’s a movie that’s so bad, it’s bad. I’ve seen better special effects made with an Etch A Sketch; although most of the cast is devoured, it’s done in the same fashion as when the Megamouth hit the propeller. We never actually see the shark eat anyone. All we do see is their bodies in front of the shark, accompanied by a lot of blood fogging the water, and later perhaps a totally unconvincing hand or a leg. As for the shark, it’s predictably ridiculous, and seems to increase and decrease in size during the movie: one minute, the cast is being attacked in shallow water, while later they are safe because they are in shallow water. At one point the shark is big enough to smash against and sink the atoll, while in the next scene he’s small enough to fit in the tiny hut along with the surviving students.

As for the plot, it has more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese. Students wander off and on, doing the dumbest things. The writers seem to have collected every obvious plot device and even a few more that defy logic. For instance, at the end, the gasoline bomb has a wet t-shirt for a fuse and Kate manages to light it anyway. Earlier, a crowd is standing in the water wondering what to do. “Why not climb the rocks behind you?” I say to myself. After all, even this shark cannot climb rocks. But no, they decide to swim for it instead. If your idea of dialogue is “Wait a minute! What was that?” or “Hurry up! Go, go, go!” then this is the movie for you.

2-Headed Shark Attack is meant for those who are either bad movie connoisseurs, or bored teenagers looking for something – anything – to watch. Otherwise, pass this one by. Any movie where the best performance comes from Brooke Hogan is a movie worth missing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Dinner and a Movie

Transcending the River

By Steve Herte

In my younger years I traveled much to Europe and Mexico and many cities in the U.S. (mostly thanks to the Barbershop Harmony Society). Yes, for 30-some-odd years I sang with barbershop choruses and in 15 different barbershop quartets. I continued that until rehearsals became more work than fun. I guess age does that. Also, my fear of flying grew rather than abated and now you couldn’t get me on a plane unless you drugged me. Thank goodness someone invented the word “stay-cation.” I’ve had a few in my later years. Allow me to explain. I live in Queens, a borough of the “City that Never Sleeps.” For one week a year I check into a hotel in Manhattan (Midtown preferably) and I make it my base of operations for sightseeing for the whole week. A “stay-cation” is a vacation in which you never really “leave town.” Granted, my “town” is a large one. But I have not run out of sights to see or things to discover.

In my travels I have developed my own opinions and standards, like my movie ratings. People have questioned why I rate a film higher than my reviews appear to sound. They’re really not. I’ll try to make this clear. My symbol is the martini glass, my favorite cocktail, and I rate films from one to five. They stand for these qualities: 1. The title and the trailers make me want to see the movie. 2. The visual photography, soundtrack and special effects are attractive. 3. The storyline and writing is clever and with minimum vulgarity (unless needed for the plot). 4. The acting and cast is so good as to make the characters believable. 5. I am so drawn into the film that I identify with a character. Of course there are half gradations when necessary. Can any film receive less than one martini glass? That will only be possible when I am not the one choosing what film I see (and paying for it).

I hope this helps. Friday I was drawn by an actor I fondly call “The Modern Man of a Thousand Faces” and a restaurant whose location holds memories. Enjoy!

Transcendence (WB, 2014) – Director: Wally Pfister. Writer: Jack Paglen. Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Gillian Murphy, Kate Mara, & Cole Hauser. Color, 119 minutes.

The Internet was created to make the world smaller. Now it seems the world is smaller without it.” Thus ruminates Max Waters (Bettany) as he stares at a sunflower in a garden created by his friends Will and Evelyn. Then the film whisks us five years into the past.

Dr. Will Caster (Depp) is a genius who wants to create an Artificial Intelligence with full emotional feelings and a comprehensive knowledge of literally everything and he has had some success uploading the consciousness of a monkey. Evelyn, (Hall) his wife and biggest supporter, has her own dream of saving the world, eliminating hunger and disease and protecting the environment. Unfortunately there is an organization called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) dead set against any computer becoming sentient (and especially all-powerful) and, led by Bree (Mara) performs terrorist attacks on Caster and his organization, including shooting him with a bullet laced with radioactive elements which are killing him from inside. Evelyn realizes that RIFT is going to attack their main laboratory and swipes a few of the “cores” from the prototype computer PINN (Physically Integrated Neural Network) and with Max, sets up a safe, secret laboratory to continue Will’s work. When she realizes he’s beyond saving and his knowledge will be lost, she convinces Max to help her upload Will’s consciousness into the computer. Secretly hoping they will fail, Max is astonished and horrified when they succeed.

Max’s premonitions about absolute power corrupting absolutely are realized when Will uses the capability of PINN and the Internet to go global and extend his reach, money-making capacity, and technological evolution to a point where he becomes God-like. Evelyn stays with him until he starts curing poor people of any and all illnesses and infirmities only to incorporate them into his mind and have them become subservient to him. His nano-technology becomes a kind of instantaneous creation power, rebuilding anything that is destroyed and repairing any injury suffered by his people.

Freeman plays FBI Agent Joseph Tagger who recognizes both the good that Will is doing and the potential evil that such power can generate. With Max (who has now turned against his friends and joined RIFT) they calculate that only a virus uploaded into Will’s system will stop him. Not only that, Evelyn is the only way to transmit the virus and she won’t survive the process. But wait, there’s more. When the virus is successfully uploaded it will cause a global blackout and totally destroy the Internet.

Transcendence had possibilities of being a great movie but unfortunately it will join the ranks of other potentially global computer disaster movies like Colossus (1970), War Games (1983), and the slightly less global Demon Seed (1977). The film takes 50 minutes of its hour-and-59-minute length before it takes off into fantasy depending heavily on the excellent musical soundtrack. Depp is almost as moody broody and mirthless as Edward Scissorhands, which he does well and it prefaces his incorporation into a computer nicely, but it detracts from the believability of his character. Freeman is stock Morgan Freeman, a great actor but been there, done that.

This movie is all about Evelyn and Rebecca Hall and does a superb job of displaying the love and devotion for Will, and later the shock and horror in what “they” created. Evelyn is the only character with a hint of reality. The storyline is good but the conflict is lame. The only reason RIFT has for their existence is that A.I. is an abomination. Seriously? The special effects are wonderful and used judiciously throughout the movie, especially the last scene where we rejoin Max and the sunflower in the garden. There are scenes of gun violence and bloodshed so parents, be aware. This is not a kiddie film. I for one have enjoyed Depp much more in his previous films and hope has better scripts coming.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Merchants River House
375 South End Avenue – Hudson River Esplanade (between Liberty and Albany Streets) Battery Park City, N.Y.

Four years ago, Steamers Landing occupied the prime real estate now occupied by Merchants River House. The elongated space starts with an informal covered porch dining area leading to the bar in the middle, the dining area attached to the bar and last, the outdoor café section in the garden. It is almost impossible not to get a window view of the majestic Hudson River as it empties into New York Harbor and the impressive skyline of Jersey City as the sun sets behind it.

I entered through the door to the bar and met the girls at the first of two (yes, two) Captains Stations. They directed me to the second just past the bar. I was seated at the last table in the rear facing the window with my back to the restrooms – and the rear door from the garden. It was comfortable until the Battery Park City resident diners arrived and I had cold and hot flashes as the door periodically opened and closed. The blue and white checked tablecloths gave the place a homey look under the small shaded sconces and faux tin ceiling. Real candles would have been a nice touch but someone must have a monopoly on selling battery operated electric candles.

My server Skip and his attendant trainee Katie took my water preference and brought me a bottle and the menu. The menu is organized in three columns – Soups and Salads, Burgers and Sandwiches on the left, Entrées, Sides and Desserts on the right, and Starters in the center under the title. The reverse side shows the beverages, cocktails, beer and wine lists. I had my eye on the Blue River Martini – made with Zyr vodka and bleu cheese stuffed olives – but Skip told me they didn’t have the olives and couldn’t make that drink. Strike one. My back-up choice was the Mystic Malbec Martini – Primo Malbec wine floating on a blend of key lime juice and Malbec – and at first Skip told me that drink could not be made either because of lack of Key limes. But when he checked with the bartender he found that it was untrue and I ordered the drink. It was an amazing drink with the burgundy-colored wine capping the cloudy white tart lime mixture.

Katie arrived halfway through the cocktail to take my dinner order. I asked her how large the salads were and she gave me an indeterminate answer so I decided against them. Then I asked about soups. “Buffalo Chicken and Beef Barley;” Neither of which I could have on Good Friday. Strike two. 

I returned to the menu and chose a starter, the Pan Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels – made with shaved garlic, flat-leafed parsley, thyme and red pepper flakes in a creamery butter and chardonnay sauce. It was served in a heaping bowl steamy hot and fragrant. When I removed the tender mussels from their shells it made a pleasing soup that I finished to the last drop with the crusty baguette slices that came with it.

Prior experiences with striped bass had me eager to try the dish from the time I first saw it on the website. I ordered the Pan Seared Striped Bass – over a bed of Ratatouille, potato cubes and spinach in a horseradish/mustard sauce. 

Unfortunately, my prior experiences did not prepare me for the lackluster flavor of this dish. Was there horseradish or mustard? My tongue didn’t tingle the slightest bit. The fish was well cooked and flaky but the bread coating was flavorless. The spinach was the best part of the dish. Even the ratatouille was uninspiring. Strike three. It was a good thing the 2011 Ergo Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain, was excellent and kept the meal exciting.

At dessert time, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was hoping I didn’t have to tell Skip to skip it or not. When Katie floated by I ordered the Chocolate Mousse Pie. “Do you want ice cream with that?” “Yes please.” And so it was: A smooth chocolate-y slice of pie accompanied by a ball of gooey homemade vanilla ice cream (later I learned it was a $2.50 ball of ice cream). But it was delicious. Skip arrived soon after asking if there was anything else I wanted. I suggested an after-dinner drink but he said they only have a “house brandy.” That was fine with me and I told him. A few minutes later, Katie came to my table with the check. Hmm. I waited an appropriate amount of time until Skip came back. I handed him my payment with the question, “Out of the ‘house brandy?'” He looked taken aback and offered to bring it but I demurred. Is there such a thing as “strike four?”

Being an impulsive eavesdropper I had heard over the course of my dinner several other people at other tables ordering the same martini that they were out of when I came and getting the same answer. It made me wonder why if the drink was so popular. Did not four years of experience teach them? When Helene and I sat at nearly the same table years ago we had a wonderful time at Steamers Landing. I will remember that.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

TCM TiVo Alert
April 23-30


SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (April 26, 3:45 am): An unusual and very compelling British film from 1964 with Kim Stanley as a mentally unstable medium who convinces her weak-willed, hen-pecked husband (played by Richard Attenborough) to kidnap the young daughter of a rich man. She wants to help the police solve the kidnapping so she can become famous. Nothing goes right as Stanley's character gets more and more crazy, and has her husband kill the girl. Stanley and Attenborough are splendid in their roles in this outstanding psychological thriller.

THUNDER ROAD (April 28, 10:30 pm): There are few actors with greater screen presence than Robert Mitchum. In this 1958 film, he's a fearless Korean War vet who makes the high-speed and dangerous car deliveries for his family's moonshine business. His family and the other moonshiners with illegal distilleries in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee are feeling the heat from not only the feds, but from a big-shot, big-money gangster who wants to buy them out at a fraction of their business profits. Those who resist wind up either having their business destroyed or are murdered. Mitchum, who co-wrote the story and produced the film, is outstanding in one of his finest roles. He's got to make his last run even though he knows he's got little chance to succeed. It's an excellent film with tons of action. End notes: Mitchum wrote his son's character for Elvis Presley, who loved the script, but his manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, killed the idea by asking for a ridiculous amount of money for Elvis to take the role. This was a common with Parker, who never wanted Elvis to act in serious films. Instead the role went to James Mitchum, Robert's son. Also of note, the title of one of Bruce Springsteen's best songs, Thunder Road, (originally called Wings for Wheels) came from this movie. Springsteen hadn't seen the film before writing the song, but saw a poster for the film in a theater lobby and thought it sounded cool. He's right. Imagine if he saw the movie. He probably would have also changed the name of the album from Born to Run.


RIO BRAVO (April 25, 5:15 pm): Howard Hawks produced and directed this wonderful Western with John Wayne as a sheriff who must prevent a killer with wealthy family connection from escaping his jail. Wayne can only enlist a drunken Dean Martin, gimpy Walter Brennan and tenderfoot Ricky Nelson to help him. Oh yeah, he also has the beautiful Angie Dickinson on his side. Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman wrote the script. The French critics fell over themselves praising this when it came out, but never mind, it’s a classic anyway.

MAN HUNT (April 30, 10:00 pm): A great thriller from director Fritz Lang has Walter Pidgeon as a big-game hunter who infiltrates Hitler’s Berghof in Berchtesgaden, has Der Fuehrer in his sights, but is interrupted and arrested by the Gestapo. They don’t buy his explanation that he wasn’t preparing to shoot Hitler, but offer him freedom if he signs a confession saying the British government put him up to it. When he refuses they torture him and shove him over a cliff to make his death appear “accidental.” He survives and makes it to England, but soon finds German spies are hot on his trail. Thus the hunter becomes the hunted. Besides Pidgeon and George Sanders as the Gestapo official, the film also boasts a breakthrough performance by Joan Bennett as a prostitute who becomes Pidgeon’s ally in his fight against Sanders and the Nazis. Don’t think through the logic of the plot; just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.


ED: A+. This film was planned in 1942 as a morale booster and a plug for the PT Boat, but by the time he got around to shooting it in 1945, John Ford had experienced the war first-hand, which greatly affected his point-of-view. This was one of a group of war films made in 1945 that reflected the real war instead of the glory-winning heroics featured in earlier morale films. In addition, many of the men in the cast had also experienced the war first-hand, which lends an air of authenticity to the film. The star, Robert Montgomery, actually commanded a PT Boat during the war. (During filming, when Ford fell from a scaffold and broke his leg, Montgomery took over the directorial duties.) The film has the usual stirring action scenes, but it differs from earlier war film in its attitude. There are none of the usual patriotic speeches about fighting for God and Country, no maudlin references to the home front and those praying for the safe return of their loved ones, none of the usual monkeyshines between the boys, and most surprisingly, no depictions of the Japanese as robotic and sub-human. The best war films pull no punches. They do not wallow in jingoism; there is no over-the-top heroism designed to manipulate the audience into action. The dialogue is subdued. As the title suggests, this is a sober film about those left behind in the Philippines to fight the Japanese after MacArthur was evacuated to the safety of Australia. This film is so good that it manages to wring a decent performance out of John Wayne, the super patriot who served not a minute in the real war. As such, I regard it as one if the finest war films ever made.

DAVID: B-. This film is interesting and authentic, but it's not very entertaining. The movie tells the story of PT Boats and their usefulness during World War II. The film is fine and Robert Montgomery is very good, as usual. There are long drawn-out scenes that honestly bores me. That doesn't bode well for a movie that runs for two hours and 15 minutes. While I've grown to appreciate some of John Wayne's performances over the years, after unfairly dismissing his entire cinematic career, this is not one of his finest moments. He's not terrible, but Wayne is far from good in this particular movie. His acting is largely stiff and the lines he is given do not help. For example, he's in hospital for an infection in his arm and a nurse, trying to calm him down, suggests they'll eventually dance together. Wayne's response: "Listen, sister, I don't dance and I can't take the time out now to learn. All I want is to get out of here." It's one of the corny lines he delivers throughout the film. Don't get me started on his embarrassing effort to recite poetry in honor of a fallen soldier. Despite that, I admire director John Ford's effort to make an authentic film about World War II shortly after it ended. The film is good, but far from great.

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rio 2

Dinner and a Movie

Almost Home to Rio Via Pennsylvania

By Steve Herte

This time of year is the busiest for me at work because I print up thank you letters and certificates for all the volunteers who provided free tax preparation services in partnership with us. Lately I’ve been doing more than 2,000 a year and I find it interesting, especially the Asian names that I have to think carefully about and not always know if they’re spelled correctly. Currently I’m only up to 381 but our major partners haven’t checked in yet.

My Facebook page is filling up rapidly with pictures and photos (thank you Mary and Maggie!) and I don’t have to update anything but my movie section. It has kind of taken a life of its own. Mary and Maggie are friends I met at karaoke along with my dance partner Betty. If I had a dull work life it would be one of the two highlights of my week. Fortunately, I love my work and though I could retire tomorrow, I won’t. Not yet.

I just learned that on my next stay-cation I have got to take the Dinosaur Safari again at the Bronx Zoo because they’ve added more dinosaurs! Yay! This is my year for prehistoric creatures. After the spectacular exhibit on pterosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, I’m ready for more.

Friday was a great evening – a movie I eagerly anticipated and enjoyed and a restaurant deserving a second visit. And – luckiest of all – the short I forgot to review two weeks ago played before this movie as well. Enjoy!

Almost Home (Dreamworks, 2014) – Director: Todd Wilderman. Writer: Adam Rex (novel). Voices: Steve Martin, Tom McGrath, & David Soren. Animated, Color, 4 minutes.

This is actually the second time I’ve seen this hilarious animated short about a spaceship full of aliens trying to find a new world to live on. The first planet we see is a beautifully colored peaceful place until these giant worms surface and try to eat the new arrivals. On the second planet only one alien is forced out of the spaceship and as soon as he gives the OK, a giant claw snatches him up. The next one has carnivorous fish, the next is volcanic (and this is in winter) and the next has brain-sucking cephalopods. The leader, Captain Smek (Martin) seesaws back and forth from triumph at “his” discovery to singing the alien death song. After almost visiting a Saturn-like planet, which gets destroyed by an incoming planetoid right before their eyes, they head to a planet called “Errrrrth” whose name sounds, “like you’re trying to cough up a hairball.” It’s a beautiful job of animation and great comedy. Too bad it’s only 4 minutes long.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Rio 2 (20th Century Fox/Blue Sky, 2014) – Director: Carlos Saldanha. Writers: Yoni Brenner (s/p), Carlos Saldanha (story and characters), Don Rhymer (story). Voices: Jake T. Austin, Carlinhos Brown, Kristin Chenoweth, Jermaine Clement, Jim Conroy, Rachel Crow, Bernando De Paula, Nola Donkin, Jesse Eisenberg, Miguel Ferrer, Jamie Foxx, Pierce Gagnon, Andy Garcia, Anne Hathaway, Philip Lawrence, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Rita Moreno, Tracy Morgan, Rodrigo Santoro, Amandla Stenberg, & Will I. Am. Animated, Color, 101 minutes.

Welcome to Rio! Once again, 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky blow us away with a large-scale musical opening to Rio 2 in a surging samba, crowds dancing on the beaches and the rainbow of colorful birds dancing in their own venue. Blu (Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway) are now the proud parents of three young blue macaws, Carla (Crow), Bia (Stenberg) and Tiago (Gagnon). Blu is still a city macaw making pancakes for the kids and Jewel is trying to give their brood a taste of the wild. Their happy home life in Rio de Janeiro is suddenly set on end when their former owner, Linda Gunderson (Mann), along with her husband, Tulio Monteiro (Santoro), appear on television announcing the discovery of a flock of blue macaws deep in the Amazon jungle.

Jewel immediately wants to go but Blu takes some convincing. He visits his friends Nico (Foxx), Pedro (Will I. Am) and Rafael the Toucan (Lopez) who are busy auditioning talent for this year’s Carnival show but are having very little luck. In fact the only act that shows any promise is the light bulb-shattering notes of Rafael’s wife. When Rafael gives Blu the maxim, “A happy wife – a happy life,” Blu is convinced, but he takes a fanny pack full of modern implements (including a GPS device) much to Jewel’s chagrin. Nico, Pedro and Rafael join them on their journey and convince Carla to go (at first she thinks it will be lame) on a talent hunt for the show. Luiz (Morgan) also wants to go, but being a bulldog, is left behind by the little flock.

Meanwhile the villain from Rio, Nigel the cockatoo (Clement) is performing dockside in Rio as a fortune-telling bird when he sees the flashes of blue overhead and recognizes the bird that made him flightless in the first episode. Vengeance boils up inside him once more. He escapes his keeper on the back of Charlie, a tap-dancing anteater and accompanied by Gabi (Chenoweth), a poison-dart frog desperately in love with him.

We meet a secondary villain in this episode in the person of a ruthless Headman for a logging concern (voiced by Ferrer) who will do anything to get the trees, including eliminating Linda and Tulio.

When Blu’s GPS announces, “You have arrived at your destination,” there’s no flock in sight. Instead, the whole group are bird-napped and taken to a secluded but beautiful glade in the jungle where the other Spix’s macaws live under the leadership of Eduardo (Garcia) and his older sister Mimi (Moreno). Jewel is delighted and Blu shocked when she recognizes Eduardo as her father. Then, to Blu’s dismay, the dashing Roberto (Mars) shows up and rekindles the childhood friendship he shared with Jewel.

Try as he might, Blu’s efforts to “fit in” with the wild flock go awry each time. He’s clumsy at the aerial ballet they perform in welcome (another Busby Berkeley showpiece), his initiation flight with Eduardo leaves him covered in mud, and when he tries to fetch a Brazil nut for Jewel he incites a “war” with a rival tribe of Scarlet macaws under the leadership of Felipe (Lawrence). The “war” is really an aerial soccer match between the two tribes using a Brazil nut as the ball. When Blu finally enters the score-tied game he succeeds in making a goal, but for the wrong side.

The only way to pull his tail feathers out of the fire is for Blu to use his friendship with Linda and Tulio to stop the loggers and convince Eduardo that people are not all bad.

I loved Rio 2 and was rather sad to learn that a noted reviewer dubbed it an “unnecessary sequel.” It is just as colorful as the first one, just as outrageously staged as the first one, and just as funny. Nigel does a hilarious spoof of the song “I Will Survive” as his audition for Nico’s and Pedro’s show. Gabi sings a beautifully arranged love song to the sleeping Nigel that will be nominated for Best Song in the next Oscars (mark my words). And who can listen to the throbbing beat of the samba without moving in your seat? Not Lou Costello. The animation and digital effects are pure genius. Note the close-ups where every little feather is visible and moving in the breeze. There’s even a Shakespearean death scene between Nigel and Gabi. Bring the family, bring the kids (but not babies – one was there crying) and don’t forget the old folks.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Pennsylvania 6
132 West 31st Street (6th / 7th Avenues), New York

With Daylight Savings in full force, the cool blue awnings and white lettering outside Pennsylvania 6 do not prepare you for the cavernous darkness within. The dark wood paneling and antique Art Deco swags give a speak-easy savor to the high-ceilinged room filled partially by a huge bar and partially by marble-topped tables attended by red leather chairs and banquettes. An impressively large multi-screen video monitor over the bar shows live sports of varying kinds while playing movies and commercials simultaneously. The crowd sounds at the bar are extremely lively as well as non-stop, but one can still hear and be heard. The young lady at the Captain’s Station heard me and, thankfully led me to a table far from the bar which was well lit.

When restaurant searching, the name of this place stood out as the beginning of a famous Jazz hit song and the phone number for the Hotel Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania 6-5000. Indeed there was music being played there but it competed unsuccessfully with the crowd. Opened by the owners of the Union Square Café, Fountain and 13 Barrow in February 2013 it is as close as you can get to the famous hotel and Madison Square Garden as possible.

Sitting at my table, my eyes adjusting to the lighting, I tried to see up the dark stairway to my right leading to the upper level when Victor, my server arrived and took my water preference and cocktail order. One thing I couldn’t help but notice about Victor was that the reason for his wearing suspenders was not primarily to hold up his pants. They further defined his athletic physique. After my dinner I wondered if he ate the same things I did – if at all. The cocktail menu offered some pretty interesting potables but I stuck to my favorite when Victor confirmed the presence of Beefeaters gin. The martini was perfect and I complimented the bartender.

The menu is standard American categories and divided into appetizers, soups and salads, plates, pizzas and flatbreads and sides and had enough diversity to attract my tastes. I cautioned Victor that I am a slow eater (after the Thai restaurant last week I wasn’t about to have everything come out at once) and he understood. When I listed my choices he said, “Oh, you’re hungry eh?” and I wondered if I ordered too much but I’ve learned. You can always take the leftovers home.

I started with Blue Crab Mac and Cheese made with elbow macaroni, lump crab meat and gooey Fontina cheese served in its own black iron skillet. It was heavenly and I took my time eating it. Next was the Caesar Salad (without those hairy fishes that do not belong in it in the first place). I was happy the size of the portion was not “steakhouse” huge but Romaine arranged on a decent-sized plate with crispy croutons. One taste and I thanked Victor for the rare Caesar Salad that I didn’t have to ask for more garlic in the dressing. Pennsylvania 6 has joined the club of two places that understand Caesar dressing.

The main course attracted me not just by the type of fish but the unusual preparation. It was Monk Fish “Osso Buco.” What arrived at my table could have been a meat dish for all appearances in the dark stew-like sauce but it had the poor-man’s lobster as the star. And yes, there was a bone but it was easily removed as in the dish of the same name with meat. It was excellent. I decided to have a glass of Alta Vista Malbec with it and it was a love match. The side dish I chose was “Spicy” Broccolini – beautiful dark green, long stemmed broccoli with a light peppery flavor that crunched and didn’t need the slice of lemon that came with them. When I was down to nothing but sauce in the bowl Victor suggested some bread and soon even that was history.

I was ready for dessert but I need a “think drink” to mull things over. I ordered a glass of Benz Corners Chardonnay and that did the trick. A nice crisp chardonnay helps the decision-making process every time. The unusual title “Bananoffee Pie” caught my eye and I ordered it. Shouldn’t have. The whipped cream and banana topping and the blackberry garnish were wonderful. The hard strangely-flavored cupcake underneath was not. I left it.

A nice double espresso and a glass of Ramazzoti Amaro brought my taste buds back to life and I was content. Victor offered to buy me an after-dinner drink and, already in an extraordinary mood, I accepted. I’ve never had a martini at the end of a meal before.

Pennsylvania 6 will be worth visiting again (outside of the Lenten Season, thank you very much) for several dishes. I saw Spicy Beef Buns, Skillet Fried Shishito Peppers, Lamb Shank with Goat Cheese Orzo, and Corn and Scallion Spoon Bread. But for dessert I’ll stick to what I know. Maybe the S’Mores Sundae or the Butternut Cheescake. What do you think?

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Particle Fever

Dinner and a Movie

Particles of Lantern Light

By Steve Herte

What a whirlwind week! On Monday night I had to tell my Dad that it was the only night he would see me. Tuesday night is karaoke night at Gabby O’Hara’s Pub and I was celebrating my friend (and dancing partner) Betty’s birthday by (she wanted to do this) letting her pick all my songs without telling me what they were. Helene and I started this tradition long ago but it was more interesting when Helene was around because she knew me and could (and did) pick songs I could sing but would never pick for myself. Betty was much more conservative.

Wednesday night I attended a Members-Only preview of Pterosaurs - First in Flight, the new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It was awesome! Up until this exhibit I only knew three names of flying dinosaurs. Now I know there were 150 species of them ranging in size from a hummingbird to the Quetzalcoatlus, which was the size of a two-seater plane! I know, they had a full-sized model of one suspended from the ceiling. The children there had great fun at an interactive video where they could control the pterodactyls on the screens before them. I spent an hour and a half there and then had dinner at Swagat, my 134th Indian restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue.

Thursday, my sister (the nurse) was able to free up her busy schedule to slot me in for her 60th birthday dinner (which I promised her on December 9th). We went to Nancy’s Fireside on Jericho Turnpike and had a great evening of conversation and good food and drink. At family gatherings we never get to talk that much, so it was a fun evening.

And Friday? Well, you know what I do Fridays. Read on and enjoy!

Particle Fever (Anthos Media, 2013) – Director: Mark Levinson. Cast: Martin Aleksa, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos, Monica Dunford, Fabiola Gianotti, David Kaplan, & Mike Lamont. Documentary, Color, 99 minutes.

Why is the universe so big? Why is it expanding at an accelerated pace? Is there such a thing as a “Multiverse?” Why is gravity the weakest of all forces? What holds the nucleus of an atom together? Are there particles outside the electron orbits to be discovered? These are among the questions to (hopefully) be answered when the Large Hadron Collider powered up for the first time on September 10, 2008. This 17-mile-long loop of technology under Switzerland and France near Geneva is the focus of this new documentary.

Produced by David Kaplan and directed by Mark Levinson, this beautifully photographed, majestically scored film attempts to compress the 18-year building, the first testing, the crucial power-up and the resulting data involved in the creation of this complex marvel of modern science.

The movie starts in rural bucolic Switzerland and the camera pans a peaceful scene until it focuses on the alien dome that is CERN (“Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” – in English, the European Council for Nuclear Research). CERN was founded in 1954 and has been accelerating proton beams in the first Synchrocyclotron, the Proton Synchrotron and the Large Electron-Positron Collider until the late 1980s when ground was broken for the Large Hadron Collider. We see the gargantuan machine being assembled and hear from various international scientists of their first impressions regarding the enterprise.

Kaplan is a Theoretical Particle Physicist and professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University. Martin Aleksa received his PhD in Physics at the Vienna University of Technology and works on the ATLAS project at CERN. Nima Arkani-Hamed is an American/Canadian theoretical physicist on the faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Savas Dimopoulos is a particle physicist at Stanford University, California. Monica Dunford is a young post-doc from the University of Pennsylvania working on the ATLAS experiment. Fabiola Gianotti is an Italian particle physicist from the University of Milan who also works on the ATLAS project. Mike Lamont is the LHC Machine Coordinator at CERN and head of machine operations. We hear impressions and insights from all these participants throughout the film, share their excitement and awe and even chuckle at their humor. At one point at a lecture an audience member asks David what possible economic benefits could come from the LHC. His response: “I absolutely don’t know.”

On the American side, the audience is treated to the reasons why the proposed collider in Waxahachie, Texas, (which would have been bigger than the LHC and finished first) was scrapped. Congress canned it with comments such as, “Understanding the universe is not important…” and “Let the Europeans build it first! We’ll steal their technology…”

We see the great anticipation when the first particle beam is set in motion (a year or two before the grand start up) and the tension in the room waiting for that first “blip” of light on the view screen. We watch as digital graphics depict the two particle beams as they draw closer and closer to collision and exult when the ATLAS, CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), LHCb (Large Hadron Collider Beauty), and ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment – to detect quark/gluon plasma) particle detectors start lighting up their respective screens with collision data. We wonder at the initial measurements when the Higgs Boson is detected and it weighs in at 140 GeV (Giga-electron-volts), meaning there are no new particles to be discovered and the “Multiverse” has been proven. The scientists explained that they were hoping for it to be 114 GeV at which weight the Standard Model of physics would be complete with the Higgs Boson at the center and “Supersymetry” proven. Then, the final measurement comes in at 125 GeV, right in the middle and we know that neither extreme has been proven. We wonder with the physicists where to go next.

Lastly we applaud Peter Higgs, who appears in the movie teary-eyed that his particle has been discovered in his lifetime (he’s 79 at the time), and as he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics with François Englert in 2013 "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."

Particle Fever, though it tries with animated graphics to make the topic “user friendly,” is not for the uninitiated. No matter how the director attempts to entertain, the topic becomes dry and sleep inducing. Fortunately, the musical score is quite explosive at crucial times to bring the audience back to life. In the hour and 39 minutes we see David and Nima furiously scribbling Greek lettered equations on blackboards which are cryptic at best, a pictorial graphic of the Standard Model with the “H” for Higgs at the center but without any further definition of terms, and we can’t help but notice that physicists all seem to have dreadful hair. I guess they have a lot of other things on their minds besides grooming. Also, the four collision points and data detectors were not decrypted as to how they received their names. I would have liked to see that. I’m glad that I saw the movie, since my minor in college was physics, but I needed a little more information.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Lantern Thai Kitchen
311 2nd Avenue (at 18th Street), New York

The glass-fronted property on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and 18th Street with the tastefully small neon sign merely saying “Lantern” over the door is almost unnoticeable. Had I not been searching for it I might have missed it. Inside, the two chandeliers with faux candles and the skinny foot-long incandescent bulbs suspended from the recessed white ceiling compete (unsuccessfully) with the street light coming in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Three artfully constructed “trees” form the centerpiece of the restaurant and divide the rows of tables into two. 

The young lady at the Captain’s Station met me and asked if I would like to eat at the bar. I told her I prefer a table for dining and she led me to the last table in the front window where the bar began. I thought it was perfect, cozy but isolated, warm but drafty (though far from the entrance) and unfortunately (as Arthur Schwartz would describe it) “Mongolia.” “Mongolia” is where you are seated and no one sees you right away (or in the worst case ignores you) and service is what you make it. I had no problem with that. I know how to get attention.

It turns out that the one who seated me, Tong, was my prime server. Four different servers attended me during my stay, but hers was the name on the check. Tong presented me with the menu, the drinks and wine list and a glass of water. Shortly before I started reading she asked if I wanted a cocktail. I explained that I hadn’t had time to read the menu yet and she left. The time it took to decide on my Strawberry Long Island Iced Tea (Grey Goose Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Patron Silver Tequila, Bombay Sapphire Gin, cola and strawberry garnish) and the time it took for her to reappear gave me an idea of how long my entire dinner would take.

There were 16 Appetizers, 7 Salads, 3 Soups (with a choice of chicken, vegetable, tofu, or shrimp), 7 Noodle dishes, 6 Wok-Fried dishes, 4 “Curry” dishes, 4 Rice dishes, 9 Poultry and Meat dishes, 12 Fish and Shellfish dishes, and 9 Sides. Lots of choices. I chose Lantern Thai because of the several vegetable and seafood dishes listed on the menu. 

Little did I know I would find two of my favorite Thai appetizers. From previous experience, I have loved Curry Puffs (onions, potatoes and curry powder) and Cheese (actually, Crab) Rangoon (yes, I know Rangoon is in Burma – or Myanmar if you’re a revolutionary) and there they both were. I decided to order both. A different girl delivered my towering drink (which was delicious) and took my dinner order. I noticed right away we had not only a language problem, but a hearing problem as well. The noise level in the restaurant was not that bad, but I think her hearing was. Between my shouting and her repeating my order we established communication.

The Curry Puffs and Cheese Rangoon arrived first on matching long rectangular platters. The finely mashed potatoes and onions in the Curry Puffs were only lightly flavored with aromatic curry and sealed in a crisp rice dough and came with a white coconut dipping sauce. The Cheese Rangoon had a crab stick wrapped in home-made cream cheese wrapped again in crispy rice batter and came with a sweet duck sauce. My Vegetable Tom Kah Soup made its appearance at the same time. I prayed that my main course was not right on their heels but suspected it would be at my table way before I finished what I had (and had room for it). I tasted everything first to see what was hottest in temperature and to determine which would cool down first. The soup was indeed hottest. The coconut-based broth was delightful and a treasure trove of broccoli, zucchini, celery, onions, tomatoes, string beans and some vegetables I’ve never seen before. It was excellent: alternating between appetizers and spoonsful of soup worked out fine.

Oh no, here comes a third server with my main course! It’s too big to fit on the table with the three less than half-finished prior courses. I sent it back wondering how long it would take to recover it. But, as I said, I know how to get attention. I enjoyed the food that I had and carefully sipped my drink until they were all finished. Then when Tong came to ask if I wanted another drink I ordered a glass of Malbec and let her know that I was ready for my fish. It didn’t take that long.

The Three-Flavor Red Snapper was a golden-fried whole fish and the three flavors were chili, basil, and spicy “tamarind lava.” It was topped with slices of red and green pepper and the tamarind lava made a bloody-looking sauce on the plate. Granted, this dish looked appetizing only to me. When I tried photographing it the closest I could come was “ghastly,” but it tasted great. The spice overwhelmed the basil and tamarind (usually sweet) and the frying made a super crispy coating on the outside that required a steak knife to cut the flesh from the bones. It was work, it was delicious and I had no problem with “surprise” bones (ones that suddenly appear in your mouth and have to be removed). Although it looked daunting at over a foot long, I finished it proudly and the Malbec served to compliment it perfectly, adding its spicy flavor to the chili.

Server number four cleared my table and asked if I wanted dessert. I said yes and he brought me the menu. I thought the Home Made Volcanic Ice Cream topped with pineapple sauce sounded the most interesting and ordered it with a pot of Hot Green Tea. The tea arrived almost immediately in a remarkably heavy black iron pot accompanied by a handle-less white ceramic cup. It was wonderful. I waited for the dessert, and waited, and waited, but as nine o’clock arrived I asked for the check. When Tong brought it, sure enough the dessert was not there. Server number four did not record the order.

Slightly disappointed, but sated, I paid the check and asked number four where the restroom was. Though not surprised at the cardboard “Out of Order” sign on the men’s room urinal, I used the other available facility in the room, returned to my now less accessible (two people were sitting on stools at the end of the bar) table, got my coat and bag, snagged a business card and left Lantern Thai.

I believe that if I ever decide to return to Lantern Thai Kitchen, it will be with a small group. I still love Thai cuisine and there are enough interesting dishes to try, but I’m not sitting in that corner again.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.