Saturday, February 28, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for March 1-7

March 1–March 7


SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (March 1, 12:30 am): While I'm a classic film fan, my Best Bets this week are newer movies. This 1998 film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, is based on a great premise. William Shakespeare has writer's block as he works on Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter, and becomes inspired by a talented actor (Gwyneth Paltrow disguised as a boy). After discovering her real identity, the two fall in love and he's inspired to write Romeo and Juliet. There's some wonderful acting (I'm not a fan of Paltrow, but there's no denying she is great in this role), and a fantastic story with a witty and clever plot. A winner of seven Oscars, it's a superb romantic-comedy that will be fresh for decades to come.

THE KING'S SPEECH (March 3, 10:00 pm): When it comes to newer films, at least I have good taste. The King's Speech was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning four including for Best Picture. It's well-deserved. The plot is unique and one that you wouldn't think would work – King George VI (Colin Firth delivers an amazing performance) has a stammer and goes to see a quirky speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush also giving a fabulous performance) to solve the problem. The two develop a friendship that is the primary focus of the film. The acting is out of this world with performances that come across as so authentic with beautiful cinematography. It's deeply moving and a must see.


THE ARTIST (March 3, 8:00 pm): A silent film made in 2011? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not, and this is a great film to catch, even considering it’s hook of being a modern silent film. Borrowing its storyline somewhat from A Star is Born, it concerns one George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a superstar of the silent screen. But sound is coming, and George is not only unimpressed, but refuses to do any “talkies.” One night in 1927, at the premiere of his latest hit, George bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) while exiting the theater. They seem to bond instantly, and the next day, Variety runs her photo on the front page as the “mystery girl” in George’s life. She begins her own movie career, first as an extra, but as time goes on, her star rises fast, and as George refuses the talkies, Peppy not only acquiesces, but goes on to become the crossover star that was predicted for Clara Bow. While George falls, Peppy rises. It’s a simple story, and, of course, there’s more to it, but the thing to do is to forget our prejudices and go with the film’s flow. That’s what I did when I first saw it, and soon, I forgot I was watching a silent film. The Artist is a totally enchanting movie.

THE QUEEN (March 3, 2:45 am): The death of Princess Diana was one of those momentous events where we can remember where we were when we heard the news, especially for those in England. It was a time of a schism between the English public, who were bereaved over Diana’s death, and the Monarchy, who were at a loss as how to proceed in the face of mounting public and political pressure to do something -- anything -- to express publicly their grief over her loss. For a moment, it almost looked as if the Monarchy could topple. Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have combined to make a sublime comedy of manners showcasing the Royal Family’s plight in those times. But the biggest coup was the casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. It is the combination of director, writer and star that brings what could very well be an empty sentimental melodrama and makes it into a cheeky look at both the Royals and Prime Minister Tony Blair and his irrepressible wife, Cherri, who views the Royal Family as a bunch of “freeloading, emotionally retarded nutters.” The strength of the movie is its refusal to take sides, instead combing the facts with the suppositions into an excellent kind of docudrama, all riding on the talent of Mirren’s performance as the Queen. Michael Sheen is wonderful as Blair, and James Cromwell a sheer delight as the disdainful Prince Philip. For those who haven’t yet seen this masterpiece, I recommend recording it due to the ungodly hour at which it is being aired.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . A BUCKET OF BLOOD (March 4, 6:00 am)

ED: C. A Bucket of Blood is a watchable, enjoyable little B-horror flick. It’s the typical Roger Corman formula for his horror-comedies: Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a dorky character, works as a busboy at a beatnik café. He envies the more talented customers, such as the poets and artists, but he just doesn’t fit in with the cool scene. Trying to impress the café’s hostess, Carla (Barboura Morris), with whom he’s in love, he decides to create a sculpture, but his clumsiness results in the death of the landlady’s cat. Seeking to hide the evidence, he covers the dead cat in clay. The next day he shows her the sculpture. It’s a hit and patrons demand more of the same, so Walter has to keep upping the ante. But despite a great performance from Dick Miller, the film never rises above the usual level of Corman’s quickies (filmed in five days at a cost of $50,000). The humor is obvious, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude ultimately brings the film down. There’s something to be said for playing a bad film seriously. Like I said, it is watchable and enjoyable, but nothing worth going out of you way about.

DAVID: B+. I've put myself in an awkward position – defending Roger Corman. I was outraged when he was given an honorary Oscar in 2010 alongside Lauren Bacall. The "King of the Bs" made a career by being a lazy filmmaker who let others do most of the work. In the process, he helped launch the behind-the-camera careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron, among others. However, I must admit A Bucket of Blood – the name is another one of Corman's gimmicks; give a film an outrageous name to bring in the audience – is among his two best movies along with Little Shop of Horrors (hmm, another outrageous name). In "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film," Michael Weldon calls A Bucket of Blood "an all-time classic," as well as "a wonderful beatnik horror comedy shot in five days." I suppose there aren't many other movies in the quickly-made beatnik horror comedy genre, but this is enjoyable and charming even for those not looking for films in that category. Dick Miller, who went on to appear in many of Corman's films, plays Walter Paisley, a coffeehouse busboy loser who dreams of being in with the in-crowd. In a ridiculously-quirky twist, Paisley accidentally kills his landlady's cat and covers it in clay making what the beatniks consider to be an amazing piece of art. He ups the ante when he kills people, first by accident and then intentionally. The story is funny and the beatnik "Daddy-O" dialogue is equally amusing. It's funny and suspenseful, and is nicely paced, wrapping everything up in 66 minutes.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Dinner and a Movie
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Found Love

By Steve Herte

With Mardi Gras comes the Lenten Season when restaurant selection on Fridays gets an added limitation of no meat for me. The restaurant I chose featured crepes and a seafood crepe was among them. Ideal. I tried to recall the last time I had a crepe and the memory came flooding back. It was on the Upper West Side, near Lincoln Center, when La Crepe still existed and I was in a quartet called “The Craftsmen.” La Crepe made crepes the old-fashioned way on a special griddle. The cook wore traditional country French caps and costume. I ordered Crepes Suzette for dessert and I should have taken a warning when my young waitress enthused, “Oh goodie! My first time!” She brought the crepes and slathered them with Grand Marnier, even dribbling it on the tabletop. Then she lit it with a match and started singing “Stars and Stripes Forever” (obviously not French) as the blue flames danced from the dish across the table heading for me. Suddenly she noticed her error and my shock and tried to put it out with the napkin. The napkin caught fire. Together, we finally extinguished the flames. “Let me try again. I’ll get the Grand Marnier!” “NOOO, thank you. It’s fine as it is.”

I’ll never forget that. But I still love crepes and the adventure was before me that night. Enjoy!

Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox, 2015) Director: Matthew Vaughn. Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (s/p). Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons (comic book The Secret Service”). Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport, Sofia Boutella, Samantha Womack, Jonno Davis, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, & Alex Nikolov. Color, 129 minutes.

What do you get when you take a good James Bond movie, bring in the suave, umbrella-toting gentleman John Steed from The Avengers, make it all commonplace with liberal vulgarity, include the inconspicuous storefront entrance to the underground headquarters from The Man from U.N.C.L.E., toss in a few outrageous weapons and mention the shoe-phone from Get Smart and, stepping up the gore, borrow a Stephen King story (in this case, “Cell”) for the villain’s plan? Answer? Kingsman: The Secret Service.

From the beginning I frankly couldn’t tell if the makers of this film were trying to be serious or comedic. The movie opens in Afghanistan with two men attacking some (assumed) terrorists on the ground while dangling from ropes on either side of a helicopter. Their main target is a fortress and the opening credits roll off the building after each explosion. It was a nice special effect but it also looked comical.

The scene switches to a remote part of Argentina where another terrorist is loudly interrogating Professor Arnold (Hamill) who cowers under his assaults. Suddenly, Lancelot (Davenport) – a Kingsman (they’re all named after Knights of the Round Table) – appears and dispatches the terrorists. There’s another knock on the door and swish! Lancelot is bisected from head to toe and the two halves peel apart – much like the cow in Stephen King’s Under the Dome. The beautiful but deadly Gazelle (Boutella), a girl with swords for feet is to blame. She and her men take the hapless Professor Arnold to her boss, the slightly effeminate and lisping, multi-billionaire Valentine (Jackson).

Back in London, the Kingsman organization headed, logically, by Arthur (Caine) need to replace their fallen Lancelot. Their remaining main operative, Harry Hart/Galahad (Firth) seeks out 12 candidates for the position, finishing his search with Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Egerton), the unlikely son of a Kingsman living with his mom, Michelle Unwin (Womack), his little baby sister and the abusive thug and gang leader Lee (Davis) taking the place of his dad.

It takes some convincing, but after a pub fight where Galahad subdues a roomful of Lee’s goons, Eggsy follows him to the Kingsman Tailor Shop, where they enter a changing room and, with a pull of a clothes hook descend into the bowels of the secret organization. A high-speed vacuum tube ride later and they arrive at the mansion headquarters outside of London, where he meets the technical genius Merlin (Strong). Merlin leads him to the “dorm” room where the other 11 are waiting, gives them his orientation speech and ends with, “On each of your beds there is a body-bag. Fill out the slip attached with all information, including next-of-kin, because only one of you will survive to be a Kingsman.” (Did I hear a similar line in Hunger Games?)

The 12 are put through grueling tests to prove their worthiness. All fail the first test when the dorm room fills with water, the test of Teamwork. Marksmanship goes a little better. They are told to pick a puppy (where you go, it goes). Eggsy chooses a pug thinking it’s a bulldog and that it will get a lot bigger, much to the amusement of the others. After several eliminations Target Skydiving leaves only Roxy (Cookson) and Eggsy. When asked to shoot their dogs, only Roxy succeeds and becomes the new Lancelot. Eggsy goes home. But not for long.

Meanwhile, Valentine is rounding up all the leaders of the world, intelligentsia, movers and shakers (some whether they want to or not – those who don’t are locked up in dungeon cells), including a brief scene with President Obama. (We assume. We only see his back and a shot of the White House.) He brings them all to his Arctic hideaway inside a mountain and is implanting a special chip at the base of their skulls. This chip will make them immune to his second chip, which he markets to the whole world in the form of a SmartPhone with free Internet, free minutes, free texting, FOREVER! There are lines all over the world and people eagerly snap up these free phones. Little do they know that Valentine plans to send a “pulse” through these phones that will turn each of them into a bloodthirsty killer, which will consequently wipe out most of the Earth’s population. (Remember the book, Cell? Same story.), He explains this as, “Global Warming ith the Earth developing a fever to kill off the viruth (people) that is making it thick. I’m just providing a thervice to the Earth.”

After a test of this pulse on a white-supremacist church where Galahad – also affected by it – slays the entire congregation (extreme gore), he exits only to be shot by Valentine. Eggsy is horrified. Then he discovers that Arthur also has the chip implant. Using sleight of hand to switch glasses of poisoned brandy (a Get Smart routine) Eggsy finds that it’s up to him, Merlin and Roxy to “save the world.”

This was the movie the guys wanted to take their dates to for Valentine’s Day last week? I admit, I thought it would be better than it was. I admire Samuel L. Jackson’s never losing that ridiculous lisp and voicing the best two lines in the movie, “Beijing? You would think the Chinethe would have a better thecret title for their thecret thervice,” and “This ain’t that kind of a movie.” No, it wasn’t. I’m surprised that Michael Caine agreed to do this movie but he did so elegantly. Like I said, I didn’t know if it was comedy or serious drama. Any class the movie had was brought low by the repeated vulgarity and returns to the gross-out factor. Parents, be aware. The fast action violence is graphically slowed to accent the brutality and blood involved almost to ludicrous extent. I’m glad I saw it, but I would never own it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Love Café and Bar
430 2nd Avenue (between 24th and 25th Streets)New York

When I looked at the menu online I concluded (rightly) that this seven-month-old restaurant was indeed Ukrainian. When I arrived at its neon-lit front windows I wasn’t too sure. The two front windows announced “Delicious European Cuisine,” “Crepes, Belgium (that’s how they spelled it) Waffles, Perogies, Chicken Wings, Home Made Corned Beef, Chicken Kiev…” and other international delights.

There was no Captain’s Station, but there was no room for one. Around a large central column that appeared strong enough to ward off a category 8 earthquake, there was only space enough for the bar on the left and eight tables on the remaining walls. The young woman who greeted me at the door led me to a table as far away from the front door as possible, but still in the front window. I found out why. The front door doesn’t close all the way by itself. With every entrant a gust of arctic air swept in and continued until someone (usually my greeter) closed it completely. However, I didn’t mind. I was dressed for cold.

To those not familiar with Polish decorators (yes, she told me the nationality of the decorator), the room might seem garish. The walls and central column are festooned with large, folksy floral patterns and the bar bedecked with bold clown stripes. Under the glass topping, the tables are beautiful rose patterned tablecloths. The globe swags lighting the place look as though they might have been formed by a pastry chef’s icing extruder. Last, and best, the flat-screen television on the back wall is playing non-stop hilarious Russian music videos. The songs included “I Will Survive” and “Ochi Chornya” and sung with gusto by impressive vocalists, but with a Benny Hill-like comedy. You didn’t need to understand Russian to laugh.

Having supplied me with the all-inclusive menu and a glass of water, my greeter became my server and asked if I preferred a drink to start. I ordered the first thing that caught my eye, the Old Rasputin Imperial Stout (9% alcohol) – North Coast Brewing Company, California – focusing on the name, not the place of origin. It was impressively delicious and full of flavor without any bitterness. I explained to my server that I was considering a three- course meal and she agreed to stop me if I’d ordered too much. When I asked how many perogies were in a serving she answered simply, “Twelve.” “Twelve?” I queried. “We are not Polish, we’re Ukrainian. They’re small.” Good enough for me. I made my order, finishing it with my wine selection, a 2012 Casarena Malbec from Mendoza Vineyards Argentina. The selection of wines, while not large, was of sufficient quality and the prices were excellent, especially for this nicely balanced red.

My meal started with Hungarian cream of mushroom soup – sautéed mushrooms with light cream, Madeira wine, chopped dill, sour cream and a pinch of Hungarian paprika. The soup was served in a bowl I recognized from my own home collection. It was a stemmed affair with two lion heads as handles, only this one was a bright lipstick red. The soup was hot, thick and loaded with juicy mushroom slices – definitely not from a can – and slightly red from the paprika. I loved it.

The perogies came next and were served in a similar bowl garnished with cooked cabbage and onions with a bacon-y flavor. They were mixed, as requested, with stuffings of potato and fried onions, potato and mushrooms, potato and cheddar cheese and potato and bacon – all al dente and delicious with a little sour cream.

The main course arrived before I was finished with the pirogies but fortunately both dishes retained their heat despite the front door problem. The seafood crepe – mussels, scallops (bay), sautéed shrimp and crabmeat served with house-made seafood sauce (creamy and green, tasting of chives) – was a perfect Lenten dish. It nearly covered the tomato-red plate it was served on and was soft, but not too sweet. The seafood inside was cooked to succulence and was so good (even the shrimp) I nearly forgot my wonderful wine.

My server asked how everything was and I commented on how excellent the soup was and how happy I was with the perogies and crepe – I hadn't had either in a long time. It was then I learned from her how long Love has been on Second Avenue and that their original restaurant was in Florida. (She still did not reveal her name.)

She asked if I wanted dessert, and when I nodded, she brought back the menu indicating the dessert crepes. I chose the Lord Michael Dessert Crepe – strawberry preserves, vanilla ice cream and chocolate “designer” sauce. It was equal in size to my main course but it vanished quicker. I adore strawberry preserves as much as I love a good crepe. When she asked if there was anything more she could bring I said, “Let’s see. What is traditional? Tea!” “With honey or lemon?” “Honey.” She brought a selection tray and told me the Papaya Tea is her favorite. I chose it. No wonder it was her favorite. I’ve never tasted anything like it, only slightly floral with a good strong tea flavor. And with the honey, it was excellent.

I was ready with my I-Dine gift card when I received the check, but when I discovered that, with tip, the bill was still under $100 I didn’t use it. I was amazed. I dined like a Tsar. I will definitely be back, probably on one of my stay-cations for breakfast. But with only eight tables I’m sure I’ll have to make a reservation.

The menu at Love reads like a diner menu – breakfast first, with Belgian waffles, lunch sandwiches, Zakuski (hors d’oeuvres) including 8 ways of serving chicken wings, soups and salads. Their Hungarian Goulash is served in freshly baked bread, the meat dishes include Beef Stroganoff, and of course there’s one of my all-time favorite poultry dishes, Chicken Kiev. For vegetarians, there is a dish called a Taste of Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) served over Basmati rice.

Yes, they are true to their claim on the front windows. They serve Crepes Suzette, Veal Schnitzel, Italian Wedding Soup, Norwegian Pickled Herring, and Mac and Cheese, truly international. And, after my movie, I was the spy who came in from the cold.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


By Steve Herte

What’s it like to witness the gunning down of both your parents and suddenly find you’re the wealthiest orphan in the big city? Ask young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). How do you play two powerful gangster Dons against each other while trying to take over the night club belonging to a deadly, power-hungry Harpy? Ask Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). When you’re the most brilliant mind in the entire corrupt Gotham police department and the only girl you love thinks you’re creepy, what do you do? Ask Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). If you’re a young girl surviving on her instincts in the street and you’re the only witness to the Wayne murders, where do you go? Ask Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). And if you’re the only honest cop in a lawless town run by mobsters and you have to buck the system daily just to keep your ideals and perform your duty, how do you maintain your optimism? Ask Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie).

Gotham is one of the most innovative, creative and fascinating series ever. It’s the prequel to end all prequels. Batman is decades in Wayne’s future. Robin and Batgirl aren’t even born yet. Catwoman is a child herself, as is “Poison” Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley). The Penguin is a boot-kissing lackey honing his criminal skills, the Riddler is an overlooked police department employee and Commissioner Gordon is a zealous detective trying to clean up his beloved Gotham. There is so much evil even the sky is never blue. Between Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas), the town is carved up into territories and the mayor and police commissioner are both in their pockets. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is just as ruthless as the two Dons and thinks it’s her time to take over.

Meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Manor, faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) finds himself a single parent to a young boy obsessed with solving his parents’ murders.

But crime never rests in Gotham. An inmate at Arkham Sanitorium escapes and uses electro-shock treatment to create a blindly loyal henchman to help him on his evil spree. A member of a support group for people with phobias starts murdering them one by one using their specific fears against them. An unknown vigilante kills people he deems as corrupt by attaching them to weather balloons. Even Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) waivers between his love for Fish Mooney and what’s left of his righteousness.

Not only does Gotham hint at really being New York, it uses New York landmarks and then adds buildings via computer to fool the savvy viewer. It looks like New York, but it’s not. From moment one you’re caught up in the dire situation of a big city gone horribly wrong and line up behind Detective Gordon in his Sisyphean task of righting it. The woman he loves, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) leaves him when he seriously neglects her for the pressures of his job. When he tries to expose top level misdoings, he gets demoted to security cop at Arkham Sanitorium where he meets his current fascination, Doctor Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). Where this will go is anyone’s guess.

The series is totally addictive. The acting is excellent – baddies are believably nasty and the good are few and far between, but recognizable. So far there have been 15 different directors and 24 writers creating engaging episodes that make you look forward to the next Monday evening at 8:00 pm on Fox. I know I do.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for February 23-28

February 23–February 28


SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (February 26, 9:00 am): In a three-year span, director John Frankenheimer was on an incredible role: The Birdman of AlcatrazThe Manchurian Candidate both in 1962, Seven Days in May in 1964, and The Train in 1965. Burt Lancaster stars in all except The Manchurian Candidate, and is great in the three films. In Seven Days in May, he teams up with Kirk Douglas (the two co-starred in seven movies during their cinematic careers) to make a memorable and outstanding film. Lancaster is the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is leading several of its members in a conspiracy to remove the president (Fredric March) from office because he signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Douglas is a Marine Corps colonel and military adviser who finds out about the proposed military coup and tells the president. It's among the best political thrillers ever made. An interesting end note: the shots taken outside the White House were done with the permission of President John F. Kennedy (those scenes were done in 1963 before his assassination on Nov. 22 of that year), but Pentagon officials weren't cooperative, refusing to permit Douglas to be filmed walking into that building. The movie premiered  in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 1964, less than three months after JFK's murder.

THE FISHER KING (February 28, 4:00 am): This is an excellent film that masterfully blends comedy and tragedy thanks to superb acting from Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, a creative screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, and Terry Gillam, who doesn't get the praise he deserves for his talents, as its director. Bridges is a former shock jock whose on-air comments leads a listener to commit a mass murder at a restaurant. Unable to get over the tragedy, he attempts suicide only to be mistaken for a homeless guy by a group of thugs who assault him. He's saved by Robin Williams, who is homeless and apparently deranged. Bridges finds out that Williams' condition was caused by the death of his wife at the hands of the guy who opened fire at the restaurant years earlier. Williams is so lost and shaken by his wife's death that his life's mission find the Holy Grail and in his mind he is tormented by a red knight trying to stop his quest. It's a beautiful film with a great ending.


BEING THERE (February 24, 10:00 pm): It’s one of the great political satires with Peter Sellers as Chance, an illiterate gardener who knows nothing except what he sees on television. Dispossessed when the master of the house dies he wanders the streets until picked up by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), who is the wife of influential industrialist Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas). Ben Rand and his circle take Chance’s simple utterances as profound wisdom, and he rises to become an influential pundit in Washington. Sellers is brilliant as Chance and it is sort of refreshing to see him assay only one role at a time. But the real bravura performance comes from MacLaine, who plays the sex-starved wife. She excels in several difficult scenes that, if not handled right, would bring the film down. That she wasn’t nominated for an Academy is surprising, and yet expected.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (February 25, 2:00 pm): An excellent black comedy from writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Arthur Hiller starring James Garner as Charlie Madison, a WWII “dog robber,” one who procures various goodies for his superiors in the Navy. Part personal assistant and part black marketeer, he procures whatever scatterbrained Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) desires, from restocks of his liquor cabinet to personal massages. When he runs into prim and proper war widow Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), his life changes - and hers as well. She is totally entranced by Charlie, whose proclamation of cowardice appeals to a woman who lost a husband, father, and brother in the war. Just when things couldn’t be better, Charlie and “love ‘em and leave ‘em” roommate “Bus” Cummings (James Coburn) are assigned to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day to film the landing for public relations purposes. A great plot and a great cast makes this film one to catch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE ENGLISH PATIENT (February 28, 1:00 am)

ED: C. The English Patient is a long (though it seems even longer), intensely involving, but rather emotionally shallow movie. It is the perfect example of what happens when filmmakers attempt to adapt an extremely dense and layered novel: they can only capture the superficial, intellectual aspects of the plot while the inner life of the book remains beyond their reach. I’ve read the novel by Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel. It is a wonderful story about how the pressures of war shake up conventional notions of personal betrayal, loyalty, integrity, and even identity, none of which is adequately captured in the film to the depth required in the novel. Instead, we get a fairly conventional romantic melodrama spiced up with adultery that was filmed amidst the sumptuous backgrounds of pre-war North Africa and the end of the war in Italy. Ralph Finnes is the title character, the survivor of a fiery plane crash, who is being attended to by nurse Juliette Binoche, who lost her closest friends in the war and is concentrating on Fiennes, possibly as a way to some sort of solace. It later turns out that “the English patient” is really a Hungarian count and mapmaker who fell in love with a married woman. There sub-plots concerning Willem Dafoe, a wounded Canadian who may have been sold out to the Nazis by Finnes, and two British bomb-disposal experts, one of whom has a fling with Binoche. Even at 162 minutes, there’s not enough time to fully elaborate the plot and the film seems rushed as a result, and some of the secondary characters do not get the attention they need to get the movie over. This, combined with the fact that much of the novel takes place within the characters allows for only a superficial reading. This is the sort of novel that demands the multi-part mini-series approach Masterpiece Theater is famous for bringing forth. As for the movie, sit back and enjoy the scenery.

DAVID: A-. For years I avoided seeing this 1996 film. While it won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, I was apprehensive to watch as it's 162 minutes long and people I know who saw it, not just limited to Ed, didn't think that highly of the movie. But I had a free month of Amazon Prime in December and noticed it was available at no cost so I took the plunge. Yes, it's really long – like many epic movies – so I saw it over two viewings. Unlike Ed, I've never read the book so I don't know what I missed. You have to pay close attention to the film or you could get confused at times. But overall, I found The English Patient to be an exceptional film for the storyline, the acting and the amazing cinematography. It's told in a series of flashbacks that are flawlessly linked together. I can't stress how exceptional the actors are in this film. Ralph Finnes as the title character, who's actually a Hungarian count, is great and is able to tell a lot just by the expression on his face; a face that is scarred from burns he suffered in a plane crash. Juliette Binoche as his loyal nurse, who latches onto the dying patient, is fantastic as is Kristin Scott Thomas as the married woman who falls in love with Finnes' character. Perhaps the best performance comes from Naveen Andrews, who plays a Sikh who is a bomb diffusing expert and Binoche's love interest. The desperate attempt by Finnes to get back to the dying Thomas is absolutely heartbreaking and extraordinary moving. The length of the film kept me from watching it for 18 years, but I was very pleased that I gave it a chance as it's a memorable movie.

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

Louis Jourdan: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea
Louis Jourdan, the handsome, doe-eyed actor best known for his role in Gigi, and who to many seemed to be the epitome of everything French, died on February 14 at his home in Los Angeles, according to his official biographer, Olivier Minne.

For audiences from the ‘40s through the ‘60s, Jourdan’s good looks and sexy French purr made him the most popular French export since Charles Boyer. He specialized in playing the smooth Continental type, whether in musicals, dramas, or comedies. He became so identified with this role and such as his popularity that he was later spoofed by Christopher Walken as "The Continental" in a series of sketches on Saturday Night Live.

He was born Louis Henri Gendre in Marseilles on June 19, 1921, one of three sons of hotelier Henri Gendre, who organized the Cannes Film Festival after the second world war, and Yvonne, whose maiden name of Jourdan Louis took as his stage name. Henri’s work necessitated frequent travel, and the family followed him. Thus Louis was educated in France, Turkey and Britain, where he learned to speak perfect English, while being savvy enough to keep his slight soft French accent.

Jourdan knew from an early age that he wanted to be an actor and studied under Rene Simon at the Ecole Dramatique in Paris. While studying, he began to appear on the professional stage, where he caught the attention of director Marc Allégret, who hired him as an assistant camera operator on his 1938 film, Entrée des Artistes (The Curtain Rises). A year later, Allégre cast him in his film debut, Le Corsaire (1939), starring Charles Boyer. But the outbreak of World War II interrupted the production, and the movie was never completed.

Jourdan continued to make films, before and after the German Occupation. But when he was ordered to make German propaganda films, he refused and fled to the Unoccupied Zone, where he continued to work in film. However, when the Gestapo arrested his father, Louis and his brothers went underground and joined the French Resistance. Louis helped print and distribute Resistance leaflets during this time.

With the Liberation in 1944, Jourdan found film and stage work easier to come by, the main reason being that, as he was in the Resistance, he was not tainted by having worked for Marshal Petain and entertained the Germans, as had many of his contemporaries.

In 1946, Jourdan married childhood sweetheart Berthe Frédérique (known as Quique) and went to Los Angeles after producer David O. Selznick promised he could make more of himself in Hollywood than he ever could in Paris. Selznick cast him as the slightly sinister valet suspected of murdering his employer in The Paradine Case (1947), starring Gregory Peck. This was done over the objections of director Alfred Hitchcock, who conceived of the character as a rough, earthy type. Hitchcock referred to Jourdan as “a pretty-pretty boy,” complaining that his casting “destroyed the whole point of the film.” But Jourdan’s relationship with Hitchcock was far better than his relationship with Selznick, who put him on suspension many times for refusing roles.

Jourdan followed up with a starring role in his next film, Max Ophüls’s masterly Letter From an Unknown Woman in 1948. Based on the story by Stefan Zweig, he played the debonair, womanizing pianist who seduces and abandons Joan Fontaine. The role allowed him to make the most of his smooth charm, and to play a complex character: an empty man who comes to realize in the end how much this emptiness has cost him.

In 1949, he starred in director Vincente Minnelli’s glossy version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, as Rodolphe Boulanger, the lover of adulterous Emma Bovary, played by Jennifer Jones. 1952 saw him co-starring with Boyer in director Richard Fleischer’s The Happy Time, about a French family in Ottawa during the 1920s.

Jourdan returned to France in 1953 for Rue de l’Estrapade, and La mariee est trop belle (The Bride is Too Beautiful), with Brigitte Bardot, which wasn’t released until 1956 with the title Her Bridal Night. While in Italy in 1954 he appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain, playing the dashing Prince Dino di Cessi.

When not making movies, Jourdan kept busy in television, playing a police inspector in the ABC series Paris Precinct (1955). He guested on such prestigious programs as Studio OneThe Elgin Hour, and Celebrity Playhouse. He also made his debut on the Broadway stage in 1954, starring in an adaptation of Andre Gide’s The Immoralist, playing a repressed gay man embarking on marriage. Although his reviews were generally excellent, he found himself upstaged by the performance of a striking young supporting actor: James Dean. He returned to the New York stage the next year in Tonight in Samarkand, letting Hollywood know that he was not getting more of the serious film roles he wanted.

In 1958 came the role of a lifetime, playing Gaston Lachaille in director Minnelli’s Gigi. The film, which co-starred Maurice Chevalier and Leslie Caron, won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and made Jourdan an international celebrity, as he sang the title song. But Jourdan did not receive a nomination (for this or any other movie in his career). Gigi did earn him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.

In the ‘60s, the suave, Continental types that Jourdan specialized in began to fall out of favor with American moviegoers. He played the suave Philipe Forrestier in Can-Can (1960), starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, and Chevalier. He also played Continental types in 1963’s The VIPs and the 1966 Made in Paris, as a fashion designer, before the bottom finally fell out.

With each passing year, Jourdan found himself cast more as the suave, charming villain than the suave, charming hero. He also made more of a living on television than in the movies, finding himself in demand as a guest star. In 1977, he gave a memorable and seductive performance in the title role of Count Dracula, a movie directed by Phillip Saville for the BBC. It was the closest version of the venerable vampire tale to Bram Stoker’s novel. In 1983, he appeared as the villainous Kamal Khan in the James Bond opus Octopussy. He also played the evil and oily Dr. Anton Arcane in Wes Craven’s 1982 Swamp Thing and its 1989 sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing.

In the mid-80s, he would return to Gigi, this time in a touring show and in Chevalier’s role. To the frequent criticism that he lip-synched his songs, he answered: “If I sang them live, the fragile little voice I have would go.”

His final film appearance came as a suave villain in director Peter Yates’s Year of the Comet (1992), an excellent caper about a rare bottle of wine. In 2010, he was named as a chevalier, or knight, of the Légion d’Honneur.

Jourdan was well liked in Hollywood, but noted for keeping his private life private. In 2014, he lost wife Berthe Frederique after 68 years of marriage. Son Louis Henry died in 1981 from a drug overdose at 29. Pierre Jourdan, a brother who was an actor and a theater director in France, died in 2007.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Dinner and a Movie
From Crowded Bikini Bottom to Cold Turkey

By Steve Herte

Have you ever had the hubris to think you know what your fellow humans are going to do in a given situation and been proven horribly wrong?

That was exactly what happened this past Friday, February 13th. I should have taken a clue from the date. On Friday the 13th anything can happen, no matter how unlikely. I thought that with temperatures in the low teens and substantially below zero wind-chill factors I could walk into my movie theater and breeze through the ticket kiosk and zip up to my choice seat. Seriously? There were more people out and about on 42nd Street than I have ever seen and they were more clueless about where they were than ever. The movie theater had four lines of people waiting to buy tickets, two for the kiosks on either side. The lines reached to the front doors and almost spilled out into the street.

Literally, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I’ve never seen this even on a beautiful day. I was concerned whether I would make my movie time. Strangely enough, I did. Most of the people were there to see Kingsman, but my show was amply populated as well. Who knew? It was a good thing I dressed for the weather because my restaurant was three long blocks and three short blocks away and I had to dodge the tourist crowd, now made larger by the Michelin-man clothing they wore to stave off the cold. It was a learning experience for sure. Enjoy!

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount Animation/Nickelodeon Films, 2015) Director: Paul Tibbitt. Writers: Glenn Berger, Jonathan Aibel (s/p); Stephen Hillenburg, Paul Tibbitt (story); Stephen Hillenburg (series “SpongeBob SquarePants). Voices: Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbaake, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Mr. Lawrence, Carolyn Lawrence, Jill Talley, Matt Berry, Mary Jo Catlett, Eric Bauza, Tim Conway, Eddie Deezen, Rob Paulsen, Kevin Michael Richardson, April Stewart, Cree Summer, Billy West, & Paul Tibbitt. Color & 3D, 93 minutes.

Even failure doesn’t feel so bad if you do it as a team.”  SpongeBob

I admit it. I’m a SpongeBob Squarepants fan. Been that way since I saw the first cartoon. I can even tolerate his annoying laugh, which is much more than I can say for any of his fellow characters, especially Plankton. The only exception to this is his best friend, Patrick Starfish, who also has an annoying laugh. Why then do I love the absorbent yellow creature? Three reasons: the animation is well done, the writing is clever (even the puns), and the situations are so wacky they’re funny.

No exception here. From the first camera shots there’s no doubt about this movie being a comedy. “Nickelodeon Films” rises dramatically from the ocean draped in seaweed and the audience is flown over the waves until…where are we? We look right, we look left, and suddenly we see Bikini Atoll and we’re thrust into the dense foliage (where before we only saw a lone palm tree) and spy a pirate following a treasure map.

The pirate, who will later be known as Burger Beard (Banderas), seeks a magic book and dodges Indiana Jones-style obstacles and fights a skeleton to obtain it. Once safely back on his one-man pirate ship he reads the story of Bikini Bottom (down below the waves) to a group of talking (and singing) seagulls (one of which is voiced by Conway). As he reads, the scene changes to the Krusty Krab diner on the ocean bottom where SpongeBob (voiced by Kenny) and Patrick (Fagerbakke) are under orders from the proprietor, Mr. Eugene Krabs (Brown), to defend the secret formula for their only product, the Crabby Patty, against the constant onslaught of Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), owner of the failed Chum Bucket diner across the street.

Plankton uses a bomber plane to drop a jar of tartar sauce on them and they reply with a barrage of potatoes, which are sliced by the plane’s propellers and rain down as fries on a fish citizen of Bikini Bottom. He uses a tank to fire pickles at them and SpongeBob replies with a machine gun shooting catsup and mustard while Patrick literally “holds the mayo.” He hoists a large jar of mayonnaise until he gets tired and hefts it at the tank, entrapping it.

The food-fight battle goes back and forth until it seems that Plankton has lost. He leaves in tears after giving his last penny to the avaricious Mr. Krabs, who promptly puts it into his safe. Bad idea. The Plankton weeping outside the diner is a robot and the real Plankton is inside the last penny. He gets the formula (tucked inside a bottle resting on a weight-sensitive platform) by switching it, Indiana Jones-style, with another similar bottle with a note inside. But SpongeBob catches him and the two are locked in a tug of war with the bottle between them – when it vanishes. Of course Plankton gets the blame, but SpongeBob sticks up for him because he knows Plankton is innocent.

Without the secret formula all social order in Bikini Bottom is destroyed, the citizens go rogue and start looting and fire breaks out all over town (this takes place entirely under water, mind you). SpongeBob blows a huge bubble around Plankton, steps inside and they float off to find what happened to the secret formula, much to the chagrin of the angry mob.

Meanwhile, on the pirate ship, Burger Beard repeatedly ends the story to the dissatisfaction of the seagulls. It turns out that the book is magic and whatever you write in it will happen. In this way Burger Beard magically gets the secret formula and transforms his pirate ship (it has wheels) into the most successful burger stand on the beach. If not for a tussle with one of the seagulls, a page would not have been torn out and sunk to the bottom, where it comes to rest on Sandy Cheek’s (Lawrence) airtight dome (she’s a squirrel living at the ocean bottom). This page is instrumental in retrieving the formula.

SpongeBob and Plankton form a team (although Plankton has a tough time even pronouncing the word) and decide to build a time machine to return to the moment before the formula vanished thus saving Bikini Bottom. They rescue Plankton’s computer, Karen (Talley), and she becomes the brain in a photo booth time machine with a cuckoo clock timer. For a quarter, they can travel through time. There are several crazy kaleidoscopic wrong turns. In one of them they meet Bubbles the Dolphin (Berry) who rides in a spaceship, stands on his tail and wears a cape.

Eventually, they figure out that the formula is at “the surface” and Bubbles provides SpongeBob, Patrick, Plankton, Mr. Krabs, and Squidward (Bumpass) with the ability to breathe air by forcing them through his blowhole, while Sandy just takes off her helmet. They use a seagull feather, Squidward’s ink and the page from the magic book to re-write themselves as super-heroes and together do battle with Burger Beard.

Yes, I know it’s totally ridiculous, but that’s the charm of a SpongeBob adventure. The story is just there to be a story. It can take any turn imaginable. As Bugs Bunny says, “Anything can happen in a cartoon.” The jokes and puns are sprinkled throughout and, in case the audience doesn’t understand one, Mrs. Puffs (Catlett), the schoolteacher, is ready with a drum set to play a rim-shot. “Somebody had to do it.” She says.

This movie can be a little confusing if you don’t pay attention to the first scenes. The book is central to the whole plot. The animation is excellent as usual, especially when the main characters go from their undersea shapes to more 3D shapes out of water. There are several good laughs and a lot of clever jokes. The scene where Patrick complains that his feet hurt and SpongeBob points out that a starfish doesn’t have feet sparks a hilarious argument. Yes, of course there’s a song about teamwork. There’s always a song. “You’re not going to sing again?” says Plankton, when SpongeBob pulls out his pitch pipe. The kids in the audience loved it and I heard the adults laugh as well. Don’t try to explain it. Just get on board and have a good time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

An Talia
17 West 45th StreetNew York

Named for the An Talia province of Turkey, this four-year old Mediterranean restaurant has been touting “The Best Turkish Food in New York” and this is no idle boast. Though it doesn’t look like much from the street under its burgundy awning and garish red and white-lit sign, it’s a treasure chest of Turkish delights inside.

It was an extremely cold night (below zero wind-chills) and the restaurant has no airlock to keep out the cold. Therefore, the bar area was deserted. The greeter led me past the bar with its pale chartreuse walls and a mirror seemingly framed in parsley to the warmly lit dining area in back. My table couldn’t have been more centrally located. All around me were people enjoying dinner and conversation.

It was difficult to determine which of the four young men my main server was because all were attentive to my slightest gesture. The water already poured, one asked if I wished a drink other than water. Having read the menu online, I decided to try the Turkish dark beer named “Efes.” It was delightful, not too “hoppy” or sour – a good, solid beer. Though he didn’t offer his name, this young man became my primary server.

The menu features standard categories: Soups, Salads, Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, Entrées, Seafood, and Sides but, when you read them they all sounded exotic, with names like piyazhaydariyaprak sarma, and sucuk izgara (don’t ask me to pronounce any of them). All dishes are clearly explained and translated below the titles. I asked my server which of the two soups he would recommend and he responded, “The Red Lentil, no contest.”

For one, it’s not really red, but reddish-yellow and is a good hot hearty soup with a wedge of lemon on the side for squeezing into it. The wine list had a small selection of both reds and whites by the glass as well as by the bottle and, since I was going Turkish, I chose the 2010 Kavaklidere “Ancyra” from Kalecik Karasi in Turkey. Believe it or not, I’ve had Kavaklidere before and now know it to be a reliable red with intense fruit and spice flavors. I made sure not to tell my server that I had it previously in a Greek restaurant.

The wine was the perfect accompaniment with my appetizer as well. It’s been a long time since I’ve had baba ganoush: puréed smoked eggplant mixed with garlic and sesame oil, and eaten with bread, and this was undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had. I luxuriated in it on the freshly baked Turkish bread served in a wicker basket.

After a movie, my appetite is at its keenest and, in the effort to try as many dishes as possible, I ordered the Mixed Grill – a large plate featuring tender lamb and chicken shish kebabs, doner (the Turkish version of a gyro, a vertically grilled and sliced lamb recipe), lamb chops, rice, vegetables and a small salad. I savored every bite. My server warned me about the jalapeno-like pepper on the side of the dish and I sliced it, carefully removing the seeds and used it to spice up the already wonderful dish. He must have seen me do that because he offered to bring yoghurt sauce (to put out the fire – he don’t know me very well, do he?) and I agreed. When he brought the yoghurt sauce, he also brought a Turkish hot pepper sauce (biber salçasi) that was spicier than the pepper. (Maybe he does know me.) I was in heaven.

When I had finished every drop of food my server brought the dessert menu. I heard the couple to my left order the baklava (a dessert common to both Turks and Greeks, but one never says so) and when it arrived, I was horrified at the small portion. There were two half-dollar sized cakes on the plate. The gentleman said they were very filling but I was not about to believe him. I chose the Turkish Custard. How to describe it? It was a four-inch by three-inch rectangle of golden brown caramel-y sweetness with a creamy center suggesting a more solid version of a flan but with coconut and honey overtones.

My Turkish immersion did not end there. I chose Turkish tea, served hot in a beautiful, stemless tulip-shaped glass (tulip comes from a Turkish word meaning “turban”) and was flavorfully brewed. The after-dinner drink was not to be out-done. It was a fortified wine (like a port) made from Kavaklidere called “Tatli Sert” Öküzgözü from eastern Anatolia. The deep peach-colored drink blended smoothly with the tea and my wonderful dinner was complete.

An Talia may be a small restaurant but it’s huge on good quality food and low prices. Everything I had was amazing and, from my conversations with the people on either side, there are many more dishes to be tried, specifically the Turkish meatballs. This is another must-return place.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

MasterChef Junior

By Jack Webster

MasterChef Junior (Fox Network, 2013-Present) Cast: Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot, & Gordon Ramsay.

I admit it. I’m a sucker for reality shows. Yeah, I know they’re not real, but there’s still something fascinating about them that makes it near impossible for me to turn away.

Right now one of my current favorites is MasterChef Junior. The last season wrapped up December 16, and this eight-episode season's finale is February 24. The show, as you already know, is a spinoff of MasterChef; only the contestants are kids from ages 8 to 13. And, of course, they’re all cute and such, as they interact with Gordon, Graham and Joe (who is leaving the show). Actually, I’m not used to Gordon speaking without dropping f-bombs all over the place, so for me this is something out of Fantasy Land.

The show also appears to be some thing that can play on Nickelodeon, with the hosts resembling kiddie show hosts. Last season, in a pancake-cooking contest, the winners were allowed to pour huge vats of syrup on the hosts, and this season all got to hit the hosts with lemon meringue pies. To me, the real contest seem to be who can be cuter, the kids or the hosts.

But one important distinction between this show and the adult MasterChef is that while the contestants on MasterChef are a mean and bitchy lot, rooting on camera for the others to fall on their faces, the kids on the junior edition are nice and supportive of each other. They’re still competitive, of course, but this is a gentler, kinder version.

I’m also amazed at how well some of them can cook, and skeptical, also. When I was their age, I was lucky if I could make a peanut-and-jelly sandwich. These kids can cook steak several different ways, break down a salmon, and use technologically advanced equipment. Who has liquid nitrogen just hanging around in the kitchen? I find it hard to believe that 11- and 12-year olds can cook the salmon he just broke down using advanced methods and add two or three side dishes within an hour time limit. There was this one kid last season who was using sriracha foam. At his age, he should be playing with his Mr. Destructo junior chemistry set and blowing the neighborhood to smithereens. I noticed on one episode with a cupcake-making challenge that they were clearly pouring pre-measured amounts of flour and other ingredients into the bowls.

Another thing that raises flags is how well spoken these kids are at their age. Here are some of the quotes I wrote down during last season:

I think my palate’s pretty awesome.”
I’m a little jealous I’m not in the top three (of one challenge). I felt like my dish was really going to be the thing to propel me to great heights.”
This sense of euphoria and relief passes over me because I have redeemed myself and I’m going to be taken a lot more seriously now.”

And here’s the capper: When Gordon questions one of the contestants as to what he’s making, he replies, “It’s a five-spice marinated chicken wings with some lemongrass and cilantro rice, pickled vegetables, and sriracha foam.” Gordon is perplexed, “Why foam?” “Because I think it adds some textural interest to the plate.” (Textural? I had to ask my uncle what that meant. I still don’t know how it applies to his dish.) Gordon then asks, “Have you thought about reining it in a little bit and focusing on one or two things as opposed to five things?” To which our young contestant answers, “I think there’s enough brain capacity now to get everything done.”

These comments are not just precocious, but too precocious for kids their age. I think adults wrote these, especially when the show cuts away to a contestant, and the kids read them off cue cards. Some have written that the kids are actually actors chosen to pretend to cook, but I don’t believe that; it’s too easy to check out. I do think they take the more outgoing kids and focus on them.

Supposedly, the father of one of the contestants on the Australian version blew the whistle on how the show is done. Of course, he cannot be identified because of the confidentiality agreement he signed (suspicious), but he said that while the kiddies were talented, their skills were sharpened prior to the dishes being prepared. He also added that some of the contestants took professional cooking and acting lessons before the show started. He admitted he hired a private chef for three days a week over six weeks to teach his kid. The kids were informed in advance what they would be cooking, so that while the kids look surprised, they’ve all had the recipes for weeks beforehand. While everything looks spontaneous, the reality is that the kids have cooked their dishes over 50 times.

Food for thought no pun intended. But do we reality show junkies really care? Do those who tune in care? No, we’re just interested in the contest. It’s like professional wrestling: we know it’s fixed, but the fun is in watching it take place.

Besides, the kids are cute.