Saturday, March 31, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for April 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM BIG SCREEN CLASSICS is featuring the 40th anniversary of 1978’s Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It will be screened at selected theaters on April 8 and 11. And as we always says say: remember, no big-screen TV can match the thrill of actually seeing a classic where it was meant to be seen – in the theater. It’s a perfect way to relive seeing it on its initial run or a chance to see it on the big screen after years of watching it on the small screen. 

Staff member and valued friend Jonathon Saia has launched his very own web site at and it’s a keeper. Don’t worry, he’s not leaving us. On the site is a wonderful and entertaining series of short articles called “Females of Film,” which covers everyone from Lois Weber to Frances Marion to Dorothy Arzner to Ida Lupino. He also provides information on his film projects. “The mission of my work is to explore the strange and the unknown; the hated and the taboo; and to color outside the lines with the brightest of crayons.” So take a peek. You know his work from our site and his new site only continues the project and the passion he has for film, it’s history,  boundaries and immense imaginative potential.


The TCM Spotlight for April features the films of director Michael Curtiz. Born in Budapest on December 24, 1886, he began acting in films in 1912. Shortly after, he began his directorial career. Moving to the U.S. in 1926 he began directing for Warner Bros., remaining with the studio until the early ‘50s. After leaving Warner’s he freelanced, and his last film was the 1961 Western The Comamcheros. He returned to the director’s chair in 1967, helming an episode of MGM’s family TV series Off to See the Wizard on ABC. While at Warner Bros, he directed such classics as Captain BloodThe Adventures of Robin HoodYankee Doodle DandyCasablancaMildred Pierce and Flamingo Road. Curtiz’s true value was realized in the early ‘30s, when his films saved the studio from bankruptcy.

April 4: Enjoy an entire day of Curtiz films with the morning and afternoon devoted to such Pre-Code classics as The Cabin in the Cotton (7:30 am), The Keyhole (10:15 am), Private Detective 62 (11:30 am),  The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (12:45 pm), Doctor X (2:15 pm; read our essay on it here), The Mystery of the Wax Museum (5:00 pm), and The Kennel Murder Case (6:30 pm; read our essay on it here). The evening features such Pre-Code fare as 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing (10 pm), Jimmy the Gent (3 am), Mandalay (4:15 am), and Female (5:30 am).

April 11: More from Curtiz, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) at 8 pm, Captain Blood (1935) at 10 pm, and Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) at 2:15 am. All the films this night star the studio’s action star, Errol Flynn.


April 1: TCM is airing a repeat showing of Ingmar Bergman’s superb family drama Fanny and Alexander at the usual time of 2 am. Oskar and Emilie Ekdahl, along within their two children Fanny and Alexander, comprise a happy theatrical family in Uppsala at the turn of the 20th century. During the Christmas season Oskar falls ill and passes away, leaving Emilie devastated. Shortly afterwards she marries Edvard Vergerus, a rigid and demanding bishop. Their once happy home is now cold and cheerless and the two children are miserable – especially Alexander. Extremely imaginative, but also very stubborn, he frequently butts heads with his  unyielding stepfather. Isak, a Jewish antique shop owner and longtime friend of the Ekdahl family, agrees to help rescue the children and return them to the warmth and happiness of the Ekdahl family residence. Fanny and Alexander premiered in theaters in 1982 during the Christmas season as a 3-hour release. The following year it was broadcast as a 5-hour miniseries on Swedish television. Many film buffs and critics regard it as Bergman’s best.


April 6: A sparkling green-eyed blonde who was one of the leading ladies of Pre-Code cinema Leila Hyams was an excellent and versatile performer, able to take on any role. TCM runs four of her best-known movies, beginning at 8 pm with Freaks (1932). Following at  9:15 pm is the classic comedy, Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), starring Charles Laughton as an English valet won in a poker game by rancher Charlie Ruggles. At 11 pm, when carnival barker William Haines is caught conning the local cowboys, he's forced to work off his sentence on the open range in Way Out West (1930). Hyams is Molly, the owner of the ranch. And finally at 12:30 am, Hyams is an admirer of magician John Gilbert, who is accused of murdering her father in The Phantom of Paris (1931).


April 5: At 4 pm Davis is a flighty heiress who gets into a marriage of convenience with reporter George Brent in the rarely seen The Golden Arrow (1936). A lame knockoff of It Happened One Night, it’s known among film buffs as The Straw That Broke Davis’ Back (or Warner Bros. contract). After she finished retakes on the film she immediately fled to England and tried rot get out of her contract with Warner’s. As she told an interviewer in England, “I knew that, if I continued to appear in any more mediocre pictures, I would have no career left worth fighting for.” She ultimately lost and had to return to the studio, but in 1943, Olivia de Havilland brought a similar case to court and won. Studio contracts were limited to seven  years, period. No more could the studios add the time for a which a performer had been suspended to the end of the contract.


April 14: At 9:30 pm it’s derring-do in the air during World War 1 in Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels (1930). Starring Ben Lyon and James Hall as daredevil pilots and best friends and Jean Harlow perfectly awful as Helen. Looking at her performance, it’s hard top believe that only two short years later she would become the hottest thing in Hollywood and a terrific actress.

At 3:45 am a common friend's sudden death brings three men (Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and John Cassavetes), married with children, to reconsider their lives and ultimately leave together. But their regained freedom will be short-lived in Cassavetes’ Husbands (1970). Read our essay on it here.

April 15: Rita Tushingham gives a sensitive performance as a teenager impregnated by a sailor in the Kitchen Sink drama, A Taste of Honey, Unable to rely on her alcoholic mother (a marvelous performance from Dora Bryan), she turns to a gay would-be textile designer, played by Murray Melvin. It’s a Must See for those who haven’t had the pleasure.

At 8 pm Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers are a young couple who inherit a debt-ridden old movie theater, appropriately nicknamed "The Flea Pit," and the three eccentric senior citizens (Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers and Bernard Miles) who work there in the 1957 comedy The Smallest Show on Earth (aka Big Time Operators).


April 15: Barbara Stanwyck is a nurse who uncovers a scheme to starve two children to death for their trust fund in William A. Wellman’s 1931 Night Nurse at 6 am.


April 5: Is the new roomer at the boarding house none other than Jack the Ripper? That’s the question poses in The Lodger, a 1944 mystery from 20th Century Fox and director John Brahm. Merle Oberon, George Sanders and Laird Crager star. 

April 6: Stranglers dominate the early morning fare with Night of the Strangler (1975), starring Mickey Dolenz (!?) at 2 am, and Victor Buono as a lab technician terrorizing freeman nurses in The Strangler (1964) at 3:45 am.

April 7: At 8 am B.O. Skunk tries desperately to win the love of a girl, any girl, even going to such lengths as imitating Frank Sinatra in Tex Avery’s Little ‘Tinker (1948)

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan return as the jungle’s favorite couple in Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) at 10 am, preceded by a 1933 B&W Popeye cartoon, Seasin’s Greetink’s.

April 8: A night of Gidget starts at 8 pm with Sandra Dee as the precocious teenager in 1959’s Gidget, followed by Deborah Walley taking over the role in Gidget Goes Hawaiian, from 1961.

April 10: Amnesiac Robert Webber stumbles right into a murder plot in Hysteria (1965), directed by Freddie Francis.

April 12: Robert Montgomery is so convincing as a psychopathic murderer in Night Must Fall (1937) that it sometimes seems as if he’s not acting. Rosalind Russell and Dame May Whitty co-star. The fun begins at 6 pm.

April 13: Oliver Reed is a mad psychotherapist whose technique of Psychoplasmics, a treatment that encourages patients to give form to their inner conflicts and anger, has unexpected results in patient Samantha Eggar in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) at 2 am. Following at 3:45 am, Catherine Deneuve is a Belgian manicurist repelled by sex who slowly goes mad when her sister goes on vacation with her married boyfriend and leaves her alone in the apartment in Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychotronic masterpiece, Repulsion.

April 14: Tex Avery’s 1954 cartoon, Drag-a-Long Droopy, airs at 8 am.

At 10 am it’s the last in MGM’s Tarzan series, Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942). The King of the Apes would move over to RKO for a series of  increasingly funny B-features, but without O’Sullivan, who was glad to shed her sexy frock. Preceding it is another B&W Popeye cartoon, Wild Elephinks (1933).


April 8: Norma Shearer shines in a dual role as Molly, a woman of the streets and Florence, the pampered daughter of an affluent judge in Lady of the Night (1924). As fate (and a shamelessly sentimental script, TCM’s Bret Wood notes in his essay) would have it, both fall in love with the same man: David (Malcolm McGregor), an ambitious young inventor. The film sealed Shearer’s status as a leading lady at the recently formed MGM and won the notice of Irving Thalberg, who Shearer would marry a few years down the road.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for April 1-7

April 1–April 7


EXECUTIVE SUITE (April 2, 10:00 pm): A fascinating look inside the cutthroat world of the business boardroom as allegiances are formed through a variety of ways, including blackmail and seduction. Top executives at a major furniture company are fighting it out to see who will run the company after the president drops dead on the sidewalk. The dialogue is riveting and the storyline is compelling. A large part of the film takes place inside an office, particularly the boardroom, which normally detracts from a film. But this is quite the engaging movie. The film's greatest strength is its all-star ensemble cast – William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March and Walter Pidgeon at the top of the bill.

CHINA SYNDROME (April 3, 9:15 pm): This 1979 anti-nuclear film is anchored by excellent writing and a cast of terrific actors, most notably Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas, who also produced it. A television news crew goes into a nuclear power plant by chance during an emergency shutdown. We later find out that the plant is about to go into meltdown mode. We get corporate greed, government corruption and how the demand for energy results in people compromising their integrity. By coincidence, the film was released 12 days before the infamous Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, giving credence to the message of the China Syndrome during the height of the "no-nukes" period. 


DOCTOR X (April 4, 2:15 pm): Art Deco meets German Expressionism in this early exercise in horror from Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz. It’s worth watching for more than its curiosity value as a film made in the early two-strip Technicolor process; it’s an interesting exercise in Grand Guginol – and where else would Warner Brothers stage a horror film but right in the city? Lee Tracy is a wise-cracking reporter hot on the trail of the “half-moon murders.” The trail leads him to the mysterious Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill), the head of a medical academy located on Manhattan’s lower East Side. When Atwill moves his staff to his Long Island country estate for an elaborate reenactment of the murder, Tracy suddenly shifts from mere observer to actor when the killer threatens Atwill’s lovely daughter, Joanne (Fay Wray), with whom Tracy has fallen in love. I have often thought the comic element was introduced to keep the critics at bay, for this film has something for everyone: cannibalism, rape, dismemberment, and even necrophilia. The two-strip Technicolor process, added to the sets by Anton Groh and the makeup from Max Factor, heightens the eeriness already present, and once we hear the words “synthetic flesh,” they’ll remain with us always.

THE KENNEL MURDER CASE (April 4, 6:30 pm): William Powell shines as Philo Vance is this excellent pre-Code adaptation of  S.S. Van Dine's popular mystery. Archer Coe is found dead in his locked bedroom. It looks like a clear case of suicide, but it’s murder. After bring brought in on the case master sleuth Philo Vance deduces  that Coe could not have killed himself. For one thing, he was  bludgeoned and shot. And stabbed in the back to boot. For another, Vance had seen Coe the day before and he was looking forward to his dog’s entry in the kennel show. Based on their meeting Vance deduces suicide is psychologically unlikely. Coe’s brother is later found murdered and stuffed in a closet. And as things weren’t complicated enough, a Doberman pinscher was found unconscious from a blow to the head. There’s an abundance of suspects, including Mary Astor, Ralph Morgan, James Lee, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Hohl, Helen Vinson, and Jack La Rue, each of whom had ample motive to want Coe dead. So whodunit? Tune In and find out. I guarantee you’ll be thoroughly entertained.

WE DISAGREE ON ... OUR TOWN (April 2, 12:00 am)

ED: A. Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners in the years 1900 through 1913 is one of the theater's best-loved examples of Americana. Producer Sol Lesser and director Sam Wood have turned it into a film, and a pretty good one at that. You see, it all depends on how you look at it. One thing is for sure – it can’t be taken at face value because it depicts an America that most likely never existed. In that respect it’s like the Hardy Family series. So we look at other aspects, such as the performances, the mise-en-scene, the art direction, the scoring, sound, and photography. The performances are superb, led by a young William Holden and Martha Scott, who came over from the Broadway production. The film also has a treasure-trove of excellent supporting actors, led by Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, and Stuart Erwin. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Scott). The score, by Aaron Copland, is memorable, and was also nominated, as was William Cameron Menzies for Art Direction. Wood is a competent, if unspectacular, director, whose job was to implement producer Lesser’s plan. A large part of that plan involves changing the end from tragic to happy. It’s 1940, and we’re pretty sure that World War II is only a matter of months away, so who needs a downer? Take it for what it is, enjoy the performances and revel in Holden, so young and full of life.

DAVID: D+. If corny, sappy, dated films about life in a small town that's about as authentic as a $3 bill is your thing, then Our Town is your movie. Only William Holden's performance and a nice musical score saves this film from being a complete bomb. But I'm not watching a movie for the musical score or to see a single actor do a good job. The play has probably been done by thousands of high schools nationwide during the past 75 years and I'm sure several of them are as "good" as this 1940 film. Among the most annoying aspects of this movie is Frank Craven, the narrator who tells us more than anyone could ever want to know about the good people of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, during the early years of the 20th century. There's nothing interesting about the film and the characters. It's as if the film's plot is intended to be boring, and the folksy message beats the viewer over the head repeatedly to the point you give up hope of being entertained. In the play, Martha Scott's character, Holden's wife, dies during childbirth. In this film, she starts to drift into death, sees her deceased loved ones, remembers some of her memories and recovers to deliver the baby. Simply put: it's a bad movie.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Not So Dumb

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

Not So Dumb (MGM, 1930) – Director: King Vidor. Writers: Edwin Justus Mayer (dialogue), Wanda Tuchock (continuity), Lucille Newmark (titles - uncredited). George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly (play). Stars: Marion Davies, Elliott Nugent, Raymond Hackett, Franklin Pangborn, Julia Faye, William Holden, Donald Ogden Stewart, Sally Starr & George Davis. B&W, 76 minutes.

One of columnist Franklin Pierce Adams’s most popular characters was an endearing dingbat by the name of Dulcinea, or Dulcy. The character enjoyed a brief vogue during the early ‘20s, when George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly turned it into a Broadway hit starring Lynn Fontanne and running for 241 performances. In 1923, Constance Talmadge and Associated First National turned it into a film adapted by the husband and wife team of Anita Loos and John Emerson and directed by Sidney Franklin. 

The glow had long since worn off the character before Marion Davies selected it as her second talkie (after her sound remake of the silent Marianne). Her director was King Vidor, also making only his second talkie (after the musical Hallelujah). As with other early talkies, the silent influence can be seen in the use of title cards, the frozen camera, and the clumsiness of the dialogue.

The plot is rather simple, Dulincea “Dulcy” Parker (Davies), the eccentric but well-meaning fiancée of up-and-coming businessman Gordon Smith (Nugent), is hosting a party at her palatial estate to impress Gordon’s cantankerous boss, Mr. Forbes (Holden). A title card with the words “Sunny California” introduces both the location and the film. Standing under a small umbrella in a driving rain, Dulcy and Gordon await the train carrying Forbes and his family. Gordy must carry out a merger of his jewelry factory with Forbes's company in order to stay in business and have enough money to marry Dulcy. 

He warns Dulcy that Mr. Forbes is sensitive and asks her not to talk too much or attempt to interfere with the merger. Of course, we know Dulcy will ignore this advice, proving an immediate irritant to Mr. Forbes with her chatter keeping the family standing in the rain. A photographer swoops in for a picture of Forbes. Dulcy knocks over the camera and spoils the photograph.     

Mr. Forbes and his family weren’t the only ones invited and Dulcy individually introduces the other guests beginning with her brother, Bill (Hackett), who is annoyed because she persists in calling him “Willie.” Bill knows, and is attracted to, Forbes’s daughter Angela (Starr). Dulcy’s butler, Perkins (Davis), is awkward and untrained, and had to be instructed by Dulcy in the proper manner of greeting guests. Unknown to the guests, he is a convicted robber who has been paroled to Dulcy's custody. Next to arrive is Skylar Van Dyke (Stewart), rich, highly eccentric, and an avid golfer. He is followed by Vincent Leach (Pangborn), a rather prissy film scenarist who has been courting Angela.     

After the arrival of the Forbes family, Dulcy’s attempts to entertain Mr. Forbes causing him to become increasingly annoyed and grumpier than usual. The antics of Van Dyke and Leach add to Mr. Forbes's irritation. His irritation peaks when Dulcy inadvertently brings about both the apparent theft of Angela's pearl necklace by the butler and the elopement of Angela with Vincent.     

Gordon, distraught about the events Dulcy has precipitated, despairs about the merger with Forbes. At this point Van Dyke offers to back Gordon’s business with better terms than those Forbes has offered. Gordon wastes no time informing Forbes about the offer. But as Gordy and Dulcy are rejoicing in their good fortune, a well-known attorney representing the Van Dyke interests arrives. He’s looking for his insane cousin Horace Patterson, who goes about posing as a rich man under the aliases Mr. Morgan, Mr. Rockefeller, or Mr. Van Dyke. Dulcy and Gordon are taken aback by the news.     

But just when everything has gone wrong beyond repair, all the pieces of the plot are brought together for the requisite happy ending. As the lawyer is taking his cousin away, Forbes enters and recognizes the lawyer as representing the actual Van Dyke interests. He realizes he has misunderstood the situation, and makes Gordon a new and better merger offer. Bill and Angela return without Leach, telling everyone that a wedding has indeed occurred, but Bill is the groom. The butler arrives and returns the necklace. He explains that it was carelessly dropped and that he had taken it for safe keeping. Dulcy and Gordon kiss. Fade out.


Because Vidor filmed Hallelujah as if it was a silent, Not So Dumb was his first entirely talking picture and it stands as an example of the difficulties encountered by a director completely new to the technology, with facial expressions, and body movements dominating the comical situations. The stage origins of the film are obvious, with the characters standing (or sitting) and talking in range of the microphones. As the camera is immobile, any variety of movement can only be accomplished with different groupings of the cast. As a result, the acting is stiff and forced and the film reduced to a crawl (death for a comedy) that is not very funny.

As for the performances, Davies, Nugent and Holden dominate the film, with the others having little or nothing to do. Marion Davies is excellent despite the problems. It’s considered fitting today to rip her acting – mainly courtesy of her fictional portrayal in Citizen Kane. But so-called “good friend” Donald Ogden Stewart didn’t help matters either, telling an interviewer that she wasn’t a good actress. In reality, she was a gifted comedienne (the reviewer for Variety noted that “comedy is her forte”), and if Stewart is looking to cast dispersions, he should begin with his own performance in the film, which could be generously described as “embarrassing.” The sight of him walking up and down on a garden hose or playing golf indoors would suffice as a definition of the term “not funny.” It all looks so forced and he’s not helping matters any. This was his only credited performance, after which he prudently stuck to writing. Ironically, Davies was not expected to make a successful transition to sound because of her stutter. But she successfully overcame it to turn in many fine performances.

Holden is fine as the perpetually annoyed Forbes and Nugent provides solid support to Davies’s character. As Leach, Pangborn is excellent, though shortly later he would be typecast as the prissy fusspot. 

If we want to stretch the point more than a little, Not So Dumb could be viewed as a direct ancestor to the screwball comedies off the ‘30s and ‘40s. However, there is one major difference: while screwball heroines such as Lombard, Stanwyck, Gracie Allen and Katharine Hepburn use madness as a cover for their method, there's far more madness in this film than method. A telling question is asked of Dulcy by Gordon after everything turns upside down: “My God, are you smiling?”

It’s claimed that Not So Dumb was also released as a silent. If so I haven’t been able to find any evidence of it. Also, Davies wouldn’t have made so many unnecessary pauses in the film while looking at the camera, She never did that in any of the silents I saw her in. 

Although Not So Dumb garnered mainly positive reviews from the press, the public, viewing Davies as someone being pushed on them by her rich boyfriend/benefactor William Randolph Hearst, stayed away in droves, with the result being a financial loss for MGM of $39,000. For all its problems, though, Not So Dumb exudes a sort of goofy and campy charm. As such it’s a treat for those who are fans of early talkies. And Pre-Code fans, take note: in the course of the film, Mr. Forbes, asked about pictures, replies, “I don’t care a damn about pictures!”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

A Wrinkle in Time (Walt Disney, 2018) – Director: Ave DuVernay. Writers: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell (s/p). Madeleine L’Engle (novel). Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Bellamy Young, David Oyelowo & Conrad Roberts. Color, Rated PG, 109 minutes.

Up to this point in my life I had never seen Oprah Winfrey act in a movie. 

My guess is that the script didn’t give her enough to work with or she didn’t achieve her motivation. She was never more than distantly pedantic, flat-lined emotionally. No up, no down. The movie kept its promise of a colorful special effects ride and there were a few surprises along the way but in general, I found Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) to be infinitely more believable.

The protagonist is a young girl. Meg Murry (Reid) has the capability – has proven so – to be an “A” student at school but has devolved into unpopularity and low grades after the disappearance of her astrophysicist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Pine). He and his equally brilliant scientist wife Kate (Mbatha-Raw) performed the calculations and unveiled the concept of traveling between worlds in the universe using a tesseract way too soon for the scientific community to accept except with laughter. In my movie experience I thought a tesseract was something you would discover at the center of a black hole (see Interstellar - 2015) with many doorways to different times and worlds. But that’s just one way of looking at it. Alex uses no spaceship or a black hole to access the tesseract, only his mind. Whoops, there goes belief!

Alex has been gone for four years now and girls at school led by Veronica Kiley (Blanchard) – oddly enough, Meg’s next-door neighbor - mock and bully Meg saying her Dad left because of her and is not coming back. Only heart throb Calvin O’Keefe (Miller) believes and befriends poor Meg.

The movie stays pretty close to the book but only leaves out Meg’s twin ten-year-old brothers. It keeps her youngest (adopted) brother Charles Wallace, who is wise and intelligent beyond his young years. This character gives the best performance in the film, but I cannot be sure because Deric had six doubles in the cast. Let’s say the composite acting was great. Storm stays true to her name. She’s stormy in the beginning but sun-shiny towards the end. A nice gradual transition.

As the book begins “one stormy night…” Meg, her mother and Charles Wallace are visited by a mysterious redhead dressed in dazzling white, who introduces herself as Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon). Despite Mrs. Murry’s concerns about a home invasion, Whatsit declares that her theory about a tesseract is correct. Ms. Witherspoon’s performance is so over-the-top (think Billie Burke in The Wizard of Oz - 1939that she makes the other characters seem dull in comparison.

Later, Charles Wallace boldly runs up to and enters an “abandoned” house followed by a concerned Meg and Calvin, where they meet Mrs. Who (Kaling) in a room full of crazily stacked books that look like they will topple at any moment. Mrs. Who is busily stitching a quilt and lovingly greets the children. Speaking all in quotes and sometimes unintelligibly, she tires out like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland and the children have to leave her house.

It’s not until the three children meet all three Mrs. in the Murry backyard that we meet Mrs. Which (Winfrey),  a glam-rock 50-foot woman. Hope is stoked that Meg’s and Charles Wallace’s father is alive but trapped somewhere out there and the children have to travel using the tesseract to bring him back. This is where the special effects crew takes over and the costume, make-up and hairstylists go into overdrive. They travel to a planet populated by animated flowers to ask for directions. “Flowers are the biggest gossips around!.” Mrs. Whatsit. Mrs. Whatsit transforms herself into a large flying Leaf Creature and takes off with the children on her back on a wild roller-coaster ride through the sky. Calvin falls off when they encounter a writhing black thing identified as “The IT” and has to be rescued by the flowers.

Using the tesseract again, everyone travels to see an Oracle with the improbable name the Happy Medium (Galifianakis) who manages to put Meg’s thoughts back in balance (while also balancing on a teetering rock, standing on one foot) and reveals that her Dad is being held by The It (Oyelowo). Mrs. Which explains that the It is an evil negative force infiltrating the universe and causing people “of the light” to turn to darkness. “The only thing faster than light is the darkness.”

They travel to the planet Camazotz where Who, Whatsit and Which cannot stay and, giving them “gifts” leave them on their own to seek out and rescue Alex Murry. Though they are advised to trust no one and nothing they see, Calvin tries eating a hero sandwich made of sand and Charles Wallace is taken into thrall of The It by Red (Peῆa}, a garishly dressed con-artist with red eyes.

Ultimately, it’s up to Meg to save everybody as her brother literally becomes The It and does his best acting performance. Chris Pine was able to prove that there are no small parts…etc. He made the best of what he was given.

Among the best thing I can say about A Wrinkle in Time is that it never slowed down. The somber scenes were never too long and there were no dead spots. The acting in general did not keep pace with the special effects except for Zach and Reese, who managed to gallop ahead of it.

The movie is geared mostly to children and I might think anyone above the age of toddler would be entertained by it, though there were none in my audience. The soundtrack featured a song by Sade and made a beautiful accompaniment to the visuals. Mrs. Whatsit’s transformation was the best special effect I’ve seen in a while. I enjoyed the movie and was thrilled at the moment of pathos, but a film cannot win on pathos alone.

Rating: 3 out of 5 martini glasses.

3 Bryant Park, New York

Tucked away on a breezeway between the building housing number 4 and other tall buildings is where I found this eatery. 

The entrance is dominated by its name in bright blue light. Inside, a receptionist confirmed my reservation and directed me to the elevator to the second floor, where is where the Captain’s station is. It is well lit and the high ceilings have lit panels with sensuously moving liquid patterns. The large rectangular bar is in the center of the room surmounted by dozens of amber glass tubes strung from wires attached to the ceiling. It reminded me of the décor at the restaurant in the Hyatt Regency except the tubes there are some kind of shiny silver metal.

I was led to a high table in one corner of the bar whose stool looked comfortably padded and had a back support, so I didn’t complain. I’m used to eager service in Chinese restaurants and my server did not disappoint, asking me if I wanted a cocktail even before I had read the list. Eventually I chose the Famous Wardrobes Cocktail – Palo Santo-infused Hudson Rye, Forthave Marseille Amaro, dry and sweet vermouth – dedicated to C. S. Lewis. All the drinks were associated with someone famous who was born in the Chinese Year of the Dog. Though the preferences I communicated were “strong” and “spicy,” this drink was neither. It was smooth and herbal (garnished with a sprig of rosemary), and pleasant.

My wine was the 2014 Saffer Wines “Smiley” Chenin Blanc, Swaartland, South Africa. It has a dramatic spicy nose and is a superior Chenin Blanc. Crisp, buttery, with some citrus, an authoritative white wine.

My first course was one I had hitherto avoided up until now. Though a bit pricey, the DaDong braised Sea Cucumber with young wheat grains and leeks looked like something a Klingon might eat on Star Trek, but it smelled heavenly and tasted even better. The delicate meat of this black mollusk was akin to the texture of sweetbreads, but a little softer. The flavor was a savory mix of soy, garlic and an almost earthy, mushroom-y accent. It also was complimented generously by the wine.

Next was an equally pricey dish with which I was more familiar: Truffle Braised Whole Abalone with Chinese iron yam and slices of ginger. Though a little chewy in texture they were as delicious and meaty as my first memory of the shellfish. The Chinese Iron Yams are not related to the sweet potatoes we know as yams but are shaped more like carrots and were sliced into short cylinders. They had a subtle flavor of their own and melted in the mouth.

There were only a few seafood main courses available and so I ordered the Baked Chilean Bass filleted with pink peppercorns and roasted garlic. Again, the now familiar red iron crock pot arrived filled with flakey, delicate chunks of fish resting on Chinese green vegetables and supported by dozens of baked garlic cloves. The fish was so tender it was difficult to pick up with chopsticks without breaking, but I managed. It was wonderful. The side dish was Sautéed Bean Sprouts and Green Chilies, two sections of tender, white bean sprouts flanking julienned green chili peppers. The crunch of the mildly flavored sprouts was enhanced by the soft spice of the chilies. A little bit of white rice in a separate bowl was all that was left of my meal at the end.  

It was time for dessert. The couple at the next table were eating the dessert called “Frost” – chocolate leaves with candied cherries – but it didn’t lure me. I ordered the Multi-flavor White Chocolate Shells. The presentation was everything. On a large white plate these scallop-shell confections were strewn in a semi-circle with pearls of tapioca like shells on a beach, confectioner’s sugar masquerading as the sand. Some tasted like fruit, some tasted like wasabi and some were just creamy chocolate.

Open only since December 2017, I understand why DaDong is big in Chef Dong’s hometown of Beijing. On a special occasion it’s a very impressive place to dine. In warmer weather, they have an outdoor garden on the second floor as well as an outdoor terrace on the third floor. 

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for March 23-31

March 23-31


FLAMINGO ROAD (March 23, 11:00 am): Joan Crawford plays a carnival dancer (who is supposed to likely be about half her real age) who stays in a small town when the show moves on. She quickly becomes the object of attraction of a number of the men, and chooses a businessman with a drinking problem (played by David Brian) to marry. They move to Flamingo Road, the richest section of the town. While Crawford is solid and her name is above the title, it is clear that Syndey Greenstreet, who plays Sheriff Titus Semple (the corrupt local political boss), is the best part of the movie. Greenstreet, who was ill when making this film and comes across as a guy who is dying, is listed not only below Crawford, but Zachary Scott, who plays a sheriff's deputy. Greenstreet is perfect as the sleazy political boss who creates and ruins careers and lives. The confrontational scenes with Crawford and Greenstreet are outstanding. This was the second to last film for Greenstreet, who died less than five years after this 1949 movie was released.

ON THE WATERFRONT (March 25, 2:00 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple - the struggle facing Terry Malloy as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Marlon Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions – anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well.


BOMBSHELL (March 24, 6:15 am): A tour de force by star Jean Harlow in this no holds barred send-up of Hollywood stardom. Lee Tracy is the studio’s publicity agent who makes her life hell with his schemes and his meddling. Harlow’s character, Lola Burns, is modeled after Clara Bow, but it’s not too far removed from Harlow’s own life. Frank Morgan is superb as her father, the patriarch of her boorish family of entitled spongers. But Harlow is the reason to tune in. She shows a brilliant flair for comedy with rapid-fire delivery of lines and adds to the film’s bite. All in all, an insightful look at how both a studio and the star’s own relatives exploit and take advantage of her talent and stardom.

THE H MAN (March 26, 3:45 am): Leave it to the Japanese to bring something different to the table. A nuclear test in the Pacific has created radioactive creatures - H Men – who ooze like slime and dissolve anyone they touch. While this is going on we cut to Tokyo, where police are battling narcotics dealers. After a suspect disappears, leaving nothing but his clothes, police question his nightclub singer wife and stake out the club, A professor puts two and two together and concludes the suspect was killed by coming into contact with the H Men. The climax is a letdown, but the film itself is so bizarre it warrants a look see. The films Japanese title, Bijo to Ekitainingen, roughly translates to “Beautiful Women and the Hydrogen Men.”


ED: A. No one made Westerns like John Ford. He singlehandedly restored the genre to the A-side of the bill in 1939 withStagecoach after it had been banished to the B’s after the colossal failure of The Big Trail in 1930. She Wore a Yellow Ribboncontinues the magic. Considered the second part – and the best – of Ford “7th Calvary” trilogy, after Fort Apache and before Rio Grande, the film begins with the aftermath of Custer’s Last Stand. The subject of the film is the duty and burden of command. Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne), on his last mission before retirement, is a man who, unlike Custer, is worthy of command. Now in the twilight of his career, he has made peace with himself and he can now seek that peace with his foes without feeling the need to apologize for it. As with Ford’s other epic, poignant Westerns of this period it’s not a plain actioner, but rather an illustrated piece, an stylishly sentimental work focusing on the set rituals of an army post. As with many an excellent film, there are slow spots contrasted with great set pieces. As with many of Ford’s films, there is a tad too much tedious Irish comedy (think Victor McLaglen’s Sgt. Quincannon, whose “comedy” offset one of his finest performances), and the usual annoying pair of young lovers (John Agar and Joanne Dru). But the work as a whole transcends its faults; beautifully photographed in Monument Valley by Technicolor specialist Winton Hoch (who won an Academy Award for it). it evokes a Frederic Remington work in its breathtaking beauty. The performances are excellent, and Wayne has never been better. Though not the greatest actor, he rises to the occasion when guided by a strong director such as Ford or Hawks. This is an essential Western.

DAVID: C+. This Western, directed by the legendary John Ford, is beautifully filmed in Technicolor with spectacular scenery. But the plot is flimsy at best and the acting at times borders on the ridiculous. While John Wayne was largely a one-dimension actor, he was capable of some fantastic performances. Wayne had great moments in StagecoachThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Red River. I digress to give you some context for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. As I previously wrote, the scenery is incredible, which counts for a lot because as far as Westerns go, this one is nearly devoid of action. Ford could be a stickler for historic accuracy, but what is shown in this film is largely a work of fiction. That's fine, but Wayne unconvincingly playing a man much older than he, and the silly love story falls miserably short in a movie with some excellent cinematography. It's pretty to see, but ugly to hear.

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Glam Masters


By Ed Garea

Glam Masters (Lifetime Network, 2018) – Host: Laverne Cox. Judges: Mario Dedivanovic, Kandee Johnson, Zanna Roberts Rassi. Color, 1 hr.

For a reality series to succeed, it needs contestants who are not only passionate about what they do, but also possess the creativity to pull it off. Now add fashionable and slightly wacky and we’re moving the needle forward.

Glam Masters follows in the footsteps not only of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, but also Face Off on the Syfy Channel, which pits special effects artists against each other. With Glam Masters the competition revolves around fashion makeup. Hosted by Laverne Cox, it occupies a Wednesday night niche on Lifetime.     

In the premiere, we meet four makeup artists: Robin Shanael, Argenis Pinal, Taylor Steingold and Solange Nicole. Over the course of the episode they will face with three makeup challenges with one contestant eliminated after every challenge. The final contestant left will advance to the semifinals, with the ultimate prize being a collaboration with Kim Kardashian West on a makeup collection and a booth at BeautyCon.

In addition to hosting, Cox is one of the judges, along with Mario Dedivanovic (makeup artist to Kim Kardashian West), Kandee Johnson (a major makeup influence on YouTube) and Zanna Roberts Rassi (senior fashion editor at Marie Claire.) The stakes are high, as the contestants mention their number of Instagram followers. Some also discuss what makeup has meant to them – for instance, Shanael tells the judges that makeup saved her life.

In the first challenge the contestants are taken with creating a dramatic metallic drip look in one hour. Then they must take an Instagram-worthy selfie and have their makeup judged in-person by the judges.

In the second challenge they have and hour to create a look inspired by one of the seven deadly sins – the one they most identify with – on a model.

The final challenge, where the final two contestants go head to head, asks them to create makeup looks that turns their model into a living doll. a trends big on the internet.

During each challenge, drama unfolds as an artist can’t get the right lipgloss consistency to get a good drip or another sees the gold leaf applied continuing to fall off. And this is what makes the show so interesting: the level of unpredictability in their challenges draws us in and makes us feel as if they’re entirely worthy of our interest.

The judges provide technical critique along with snarky commentary. Dedivanovic is more or less the Simon Cowell of the group; Johnson and Cox play it nice and offer support.

Wearing both hats of host and judge Cox handles it superbly. She’s great at teasers such as the one after the drip challenge, when she asks,“Which of our contestants is dripping with talent, and who should be melted out of the competition?” But lest we write her off she also provides some spot-on insight. Seeing one look, Cox compares it to an Edvard Munch painting.

In the final analysis, Glam Masters entertains us with its bizarre challenges and provides the one thing a reality show needs to succeed: likable contestants and judges. I’m not a Kim Kardashian West fan, but I can’t help rooting for this show to succeed.