By William Wolf

THE BEST TEN FILMS OF 2016  Send This Review to a Friend

(Selected from films released in New York theaters during the year and listed in order of preference,)

1.I, DANIEL BLAKE

2. LA LA LAND

3. LOVING

4. THINGS TO COME

5. LION

6. THE INNOCENTS

7. FATIMA

8. JACKIE

9. THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER

10. MARGUERITE

Other favorites among 2016 films, listed in no special order:

Fences, Neruda, 13th, Elle, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, The Measure of a Man, OJ: Made in America, Denial, Snowden, Sully, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, Art Bastard, Mia Madre, Sand Storm, Indignation, Café Society, Florence Foster Jenkins, Toni Erdmann, The Pickle Recipe, Finding Babel, Fire at Sea, A Tale of Love and Darkness, The Birth of a Nation, War Dogs, A Man Called Ove, Anthropoid, Genius, Dough, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, Louder Than Bombs, Rules Don’t Apply, Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?, Hell or High Water, I Am Not Madame Bovary, I Am Not Your Negro.

FRANCESCA CAPETTA SINGS DEAN MARTIN: A CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION  Send This Review to a Friend

It probably is a long time since the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall was jumping as much last night (July 12, 2017) when Francesca Capetta produced and starred in a centennial tribute to Dean Martin, with songs that he sang making up the program. Capetta is an attractive, vibrant force with a strong voice, an entertaining style both as a singer and host, and she set a fun tone to the Dino tribute. Having come here from Italy four years ago, she still displays a charming, slight remainder of accent that adds flavor.

Capetta enhanced the concert with additional performances by Stacy Sullivan and the renowned Broadway star Liliane Montevecchi, plus a nine-member back-up chorus, the accompaniment by pianist and musical director Ian Herman, plus Russell Farhang on violin and Charlie Caranicas on trumpet. And Martin was certainly there in spirit, thanks not only to the recollection of his songs but via the anecdotes Capetta spun about him, including his long-running television show that earned him millions. (Alas, there was no mention of the Martin’s popular roasts that can still be seen on Youtube.)

I had first heard Capetta in a Broadway Rising Stars performance at The Town Hall, and in my review praised her for dynamically singing “God Help the Outcasts” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Last night she demonstrated how adept she could be in conceiving and staging a concert. She excelled, for example, in singing such Martin stalwarts as “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes,” and “Volare.” She also resorted to her native Italian in singing “Senza Fine” by Gino Paoli.

Stacy Sullivan took the stage with her customary vocal expertise in singing poignant renditions of “On the Street Where You Live” and “Blue Moon.” Then she and Capetta joined for some mutual fun. “I’m from Oklahoma and Francesca is from Italy, so together we make a spaghetti western,” Sullivan cracked, and they proceeded to sing a lively “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Montevecchi’s participation was a hoot. Clad in a tight-fitting black outfit, the legendary Broadway star began by bending over and touching the floor with her hands to prove she could still do it at her stated age of 85. More importantly, she showed that she could still deliver a song in a respectable voice, singing “C’est Magnifique” and “I Love Paris.” Montevecchi seemed to be having a great time playing up to an adoring audience.

Capetta capitalizes on her Italian heritage. She got a big laughs recounting a story about her mangled accent when she first came to the U.S., a story she has probably dined out on over the years. She told how when she stayed at a hotel with an unmade bed she called down to the desk and said she needed to have a sheet. After being advised to use the toilet, she clarified, “No, I need a sheet on the bed.” That only made it worse, so she had to go in person to explain.

The hour-long tribute came across more like a nightclub or theater staging than a concert, and it breezed by with well-coordinated pizzazz and the appeal of Capetta and her stars. At the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 154 West 47th Street. Reviewed July 13, 2017.

FJK FUSION OF CULTURE AND DANCE  Send This Review to a Friend

Once again Fadi Khoury Dance, the company founded in 2014, has displayed elements reflecting the approach to which it is dedicated in an effort to be different from other dance companies. Its “A Message of Peace” program, celebrating its recent tour of 31 cities in China, was presented last night (June 13, 2017) at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Its latest offering was billed as “From classical ballet to ballroom and Middle Eastern to jazz.”

The make-up of the company reflects its international outlook, with emphasis on the culture of the Middle East. Artistic director, choreographer, dancer and co-founder Fadi J. Khoury, was born in Bagdad, Iraq. He has followed in the footsteps (no pun intended) of his father who, also a dancer and choreographer, was artistic director of the National Iraq Ballet.

The company’s co-founder Sevin Ceviker, associate artist and principal dancer, is from Istanbul, Turkey. She trained in classical ballet at an early age and eventually performed at the Istanbul Opera House. Both Khoury and Ceviker have vast international performing experience.

In addition to creating works with Middle East attachment, the company also looks to Latin America and other cultures to blend into its commitment to mix classical ballet with modern dance and ballroom. Among the many stops along the way in Khoury’s career was a stint teaching ballroom as lead instructor, dancer and choreographer at the Arthur Murray Dance Center in New York.

The Mid-East connection was illustrated prominently in last night’s final dance number, “Echoes,” which was said to be inspired by Dabke, a folkloric traditional Bedouin dance from the mountains of Lebanon and Syria. The accompaniment was heavy on percussion as the dancers, with sashes suggesting the region as part of their smart black and white costumes, provided dynamic interpretation. (Khoury designs the company’s costumes).

I found the entirely different opener especially intriguing. “Mundo” was described as “a work in progress which joins Latin American social dancing and folkloric movement.” Providing the accompaniment with a score by Paco de Lucia and Diego Amador was jazz pianist Frank Abenante and his NYC Latin Jazz Ensemble. The work was marked by high energy of couples and solo turns and a build-up of great intensity with the fusion of styles.

In the middle piece, “Reflections” the costumes puzzled me. Men were dressed in skirts in their pairing with the women and each other, and I was attempting to grasp the point. Was this an effort to symbolically break down gender identity? As for the dancing, the program partly described the piece as having images that “hint of the evanescence of life and beauty.” At the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, East 68th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues). Posted June 14, 2017.

DE NIRO, HONORED WITH FILM SOCIETY AWARD, DENOUNCES TRUMP BUDGET PLAN TO TAKE AWAY ARTS FUNDING  Send This Review to a Friend

In accepting the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 44th Chaplin Award at the Society’s annual gala last night (May 8, 2017) at the David H. Koch Theater, Robert De Niro blasted Trump administration budget plans to take away funding from various arts organizations. De Niro was eloquent in making his point.

Citing the importance of art, he lauded the long line of Chaplin award recipients before him for their contributions to art, and especially cited the art of Charlie Chaplin, the Society’s first recipient and the man for whom the annual award has been named. Taking a dig at President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, he pointed out the Chaplin came here as an immigrant “who probably wouldn’t pass today’s extreme vetting.” He expressed hope that “we are not keeping out the next Chaplin.”

De Niro also mocked the administration’s excuse for cutting arts funds--that they were supposedly just going to “the rich liberal elite.” The audience then erupted with applause when he said, “This is what they now call an alternative fact.` I call it what it is—bullshit.”

De Niro wryly lauded the annual Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual film festival as “my favorable uptown festival.” De Niro, of course, has been a prime force in establishing the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival downtown. There was generosity with respect to the Tribeca event expressed during the gala that raised funds for the New York Film Festival that occurs every Fall. Film festivals in the same city inevitably compete in raising money.

In keynoting the evening, Ann Tenenbaum, Chairman of the Board of the Film Society, announced that $1.7 million had been raised by the gala to support the Society’s work.

During the salute to De Niro an array of clips from the many films he has made were shown, some emphasizing his tough guy and dramatic roles, others reflecting his comedies. Some were keyed to his working with the assembled notables who spoke in his honor.

Among the speakers were Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg, Barry Levinson, Sean Penn, Martin Scorsese, Ben Stiller, Harvey Keitel and Meryl Streep. All were lavish in their praise for De Niro as an actor and as a person.

Penn, for example, told how when he first saw De Niro on screen, it made him forget about his initial idea of directing films to wanting to become an actor. Several speakers had stories to tell about working together on films. Streep, who was honored in 2008 with the Chaplin Award, was effusive in her praise, and looking up at De Niro seated in a box, said “I love you.”

The honor of presenting the award to De Niro fell to Martin Scorsese, himself a Chaplin Award honoree, who had elaborated upon working with De Niro and on their long-time friendship. De Niro had to pause before he spoke after he was introduced as there was a huge ovation from the packed theater. Some were only attending the awards ceremony, others went to a post-Gala dinner.

The more than 100 films in which De Niro appeared have included such especially well known ones as “Taxi Driver,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull,” “Analyze This,” “Goodfellas,” “A Bronx Tale,” “The King of Comedy," "The Little Fockers” and ensuing “Fockers” comedies.

Recipients of the Chaplin Award since Charlie Chaplin was honored in 1972 have included such famous film stars and directors as Fred Astaire, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman.

I’ve been attending an reviewing these galas since the start, and it as been gratifying to see the parade of the honorees over the years. The first award to Chaplin was thrilling because it marked his return to the United States after staying abroad for 20 years, since when as he left for Europe in 1952, he was told he would not be welcomed back until he proved his moral turpitude. He had been broadly criticized as a result of a paternity suit, but the basic reason was for the political bent of his latter films and his support of left-wing causes.

In advance of his return, I had gone to his home in Switzerland to interview him, as he said he would not be giving interviews in the United States. He told me, “I’m going to America, I like America and I’m prepared to be shot.” Instead he was honored as a returning hero. Subsequent to his being celebrated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center he was awarded an honorary Oscar in Hollywood. Posted May 9, 2017.

CAREERS THROUGH CULINARY ARTS PROGRAM (C-CAP) HONORS CHEF MICHAEL ANTHONY AND HOSTS GRAND TASTING   Send This Review to a Friend

On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and Untitled and Studio Café at the Whitney Museum of American Art was honored in front of 700 guests at the 18th annual Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Benefit. Anthony was presented with the C-CAP Honors Award and was recognized for his achievements and contributions to the culinary industry as well as his commitment to nurturing the next generation of chefs.

This grand tasting, held at Chelsea Piers, raised nearly $1,000,000 to support scholarships as well as educational and career opportunities for disadvantaged youth pursuing careers in the restaurant and food service industry. The event showcased cuisine from an all-star lineup of New York City’s major chefs and restaurateurs.

They included Michael Anthony, C-CAP Board Co-Chair and chef Marcus Samuelsson; C-CAP Board Member and restaurateur Michael Stillman; 2016 Michelin Star Chefs, Adam Bissell, Daniel Boulud and Aaron Bludorn, John Fraser, Markus Glocker, Alfred Portale, Michael White; and Javi Estévez of La Tasquería de Javier Estévez (Madrid); as well as C-CAP alumni Giovanna Delli Compagni of Asiate, Cesar Gutierrez of Café Boulud, Betty Peña of Pig and Khao, Swainson Brown of The Writing Room, and Yvan Lemoine of Union Fare. More than 60 New York City C-CAP high school students and alumni, hoping to put their mark on the culinary world, assisted the chefs.

The savory dishes included were Marcus Samuelsson’s spiced salmon with apple dashi and chicken rice salad; Michael Anthony’s citrus and burrata - citrus, burrata cheese, green olives, radicchio, on rice cracker; duck liver mousse parfait, madeira gelée, brioche from Daniel Boulud, Aaron Bludorn, and C-CAP grad Cesar Gutierrez; and Carla Hall’s braised chili pork and plantains, cornbread, shaved radish salad.

Desserts included Miro Uskokovic’s miro’s cookies and milk: triple chocolate chunk, oatmeal, prune rugelach; Sarabeth’s triple chocolate-chocolate pudding; Wayne Harley Brachman’s flourless chocolate tart with mocha cream, and Marc Aumont’s Chocolate éclair au chocolat.

WCBS-TV News Anchorman Maurice DuBois was the master of ceremonies. Marcus Samuelsson presented the C-CAP Honors Award, an original stainless steel sculpture by Philip Grausman, of a germinating fava bean, symbolizing C-CAP’s budding culinary students and recognizing the care and interest chef Anthony has in the mentoring of C-CAP students.

The event also included a silent and live auction by Christie’s auctioneer Chloe Waddington and was coordinated by Harriet Rose Katz of Gourmet Advisory Services.

Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) is a non-profit that provides career opportunities in the foodservice industry for underserved youth through culinary arts education and employment.

Dish List: Philip DeMaiolo, Abigail Kirsch, 24 hour coriander and sea salt cured Atlantic salmon with sauce gribiche.

Jason Weiner and Alex Nieto, Almond, Lamb meatball Moroccan style: ricotta salata, salsa verde.

Christian Pratsch, Giovanna Delli Compagni*, Daniel Coward*, Asiate, hamachi: carrot panna cotta – yuzu gel – pink peppercorn.

Markus Glocker, Bâtard, Caramelle pasta, duck broth, scallions, ricotta.

Daniel Boulud, Aaron Bludorn, Cesar Gutierrez*, Café Boulud, duck liver mousse parfait, madeira gelée, brioche.

Carla Hall, Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen, braised chili pork and plantains, cornbread, shaved radish salad.

Ivy Stark, Dos Caminos, grilled pineapple and toasted coconut guacamole with pepino enchilito.

John Fraser, Dovetail, baby beets and pomegranate salad, charred fennel, bulgur wheat.

Fortunato Nicotra, Felidia, beef tagliata rossini with black truffle.

Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar and Grill, sheep milk ricotta tortellini: braised lamb shank, butternut squash parmesan crema.

Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern/ Untitled, Citrus and burrata - citrus, burrata cheese, green olives, radicchio, on rice cracker.

Miro Uskokovic, Gramercy Tavern/Untitled, Miro’s cookies and milk: triple chocolate chunk / oatmeal / prune rugelach.

Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent, rice crusted bass, kerala, coconut curry.

Marc Aumont, Kreuther Handcrafted, chocolate éclair au chocolat .

Missy Robbins, Lilia, prosciutto, parmigiano butter, balsamic mustard served on bread.

Maria Loi, Loi Estiatorio, Htapodaki stin schara: grilled octopus with red wine-macerated onions, capers, fresh herbs, lemon, and olive oil.

Kyung Up Lim, Michael's, salmon tostada, avocado, puffed quinoa, black truffle aioli.

Abram Bissell, The Modern, “Eggs on eggs on eggs” trout roe, egg yolk, fried egg puree, dill and warm brioche.

Matt Hoyle, Nobu 57, salmon tataki goma miso ponzu.

Bill Telepan, Oceana, Grilled swordfish with pickled lemon and black pepper yogurt.

Zene Flinn, Park Avenue Spring, trout roe on Russian black bread with avocado purée and beet pickled shallots.

Leah Cohen, Betty Pena*, Pig & Khao, Khao soi with wonton noodles, mustard.

Michael Lomonaco, Wayne Harley Brachman, Daniel Rutledge, Porter House New York, Thai beef salad- chang mai and flourless chocolate tart with mocha cream/

Ryan Bartlow, Quality Eats, grilled Nueske’s bacon, peanut butter, jalapeno jelly.

Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth's, triple chocolate-chocolate pudding.

Ali LaRaia, The Sosta, roasted radish with salsa verde and parmigiano reggiano crouton.

Marcus Samuelsson, Streetbird Rotisserie, spiced salmon with apple dashi and chicken rice salad.

Javi Estévez, La Tasquería de Javier Estévez (Madrid), Madrid steak tartar.

David Burke, Tavern 62 by David Burke, grilled zucchini with chili and parmesan.

Thomas Chen, Toume, Shrimp toast with wasabi aioli.

Yvan Lemoine*, Union Fare, whole roast suckling pig, celery remoulade.

Carmen Quagliata, Union Square Café, chicken tortelloni, Umbrian lentils, parmigiano.

Jonathan Kavourakis, Vandal, Shawarma salad cones (chicken, falafel croutons, hot sauce white sauce boss).

Michael White, Jared Gadbaw, Vaucluse, scallop crudo with black truffles.

Swainson Brown*, The Writing Room, Pastrami beef tongue with pickled apple and horseradish.

*C-CAP Alum

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2017  Send This Review to a Friend

There are so many films included in this year’s New Directors/New Films series jointly presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art (March 15-26) that the best I can do is report on what I have managed to sample at press previews amid the hectic schedule of regular film and theater coverage.

Over the years many films in the series have leapt to wider recognition. Those who make the selections have the opportunity to find gems or at least discoveries worth a wider audience, and that is the satisfaction that the series brings annually.

Depending on your capacity for rap, you may find “Patti Cake$,” written and directed by Geremy Jasper, an appealing offbeat film with a magnetic heroine. Danielle Macdonald, seriously overweight, plays Patti, who may lack self-confidence but on the other hand is eager to be a rap performer.

I had no idea of the busy rap scene in northern New Jersey, to which Jasper, a musician and former music video director from Hillsdale, is attuned. He has been inspired to direct his first feature film, and it is alive with passion, rap and the effective depiction of the scene.

Macdonald makes an impression as a likable young woman with heart, and one is seduced into rooting for her. Siddharth Dhananjay is also effective as her hip-hop partner who encourages her, and they acquire as a collaborator Mamoudou Athie. Another major role is played by Bridget Everett as Patti’s alcoholic mother, also a singer. The film is a major entry in the current series.

Although it can sometimes be confusing because of its flashbacks, “By the Time It Gets Dark,” directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong and in Thai wih English subtitles, deals with important issues. The touchstone is a 1976 massacre of Thai student activists at a university. We see a scene in which the students are forced to lie face down, and what happens to many of them became a milestone in Thailand.

Various characters are examined in the film, especially that of an actress who is assumed to be well known. We see her at different stages of her life, and the portrait is linked to the massacre. In some ways “Before It Gets Dark” is a memory story, and in other aspects it appears meant to be of the moment.

“Arabia,” co-directed by João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa, is a Brazilian working class film that zeroes in on conditions and an individual trying to find a path amid the pressures and situations that confront him.

Cristiano has a prison record, a strike against him, and we follow his adventures and struggles as he takes to the road and tries to find his place in life. The film makes a welcome statement about conditions In the country.

I found the film “4 Days in France,” which clocks in at two horus and 21 minutes, extended pretention. Directed by Jérôme Reybaud, the film involves one gay man leaving his lover, who then proceeds to try to find where he went and catch up with him.

What is most interesting, however, is how the film depicts a network of gays through the French countryside connected via smart phones. It would seem that no matter where a gay man is, he can find other gays and rendezvous with them for quickie contacts, or perhaps more than that.

We see all this through the eyes of the lover who has split as he drives along country roads. The scenery is often quite breathtaking, and the film is enlivened by encounters with gays and others not in the network. For example, one woman needs help in burying her pet. Another woman is rather strange and just wants a life.

The trouble is one can tire of the very drawn out journey. Whether there is an emotional kick when the lovers finally meet will depend on how much patience you have.

The South Korean film “Autum, Autumn,” directed by Jang Woo-jin, eventually focuses on a man and woman who meet on a tour. Each is married, but in the course of the film they engage in intimate conversation revealing to each other much about their lives.

He is not very good looking and she is pretty in an ordinary way. What we learn about their respective lives, in the closeness that develops as they express themselves in ways that they have been able to with their mates, is rather tender.

Because of their ties in life, nothing will ever come of this meeting. You might call this a Korean “Brief Encounter,” although it has nowhere near the depth and emotion of the British classic.

A film with particular political interest is “White Sun,” directed by Deepak Rauniyar. It is set in Nepal against the background of the divisions and political rivalries in that country. But the story is a personal one, and that gives the film a very human quality.

The plot involves a Maoist activist who returns home after his father has just died. His father believed in the monarchist regime, which the Maoissts fought in a lengthy civil war. The son’s brother also was on the monarchist side.

What happens in the effort to perform a burial according to the required rituals and the clashing relationship make for an involving and sometimes satirical film. How all is worked out holds one’s attention and tells us much abut human behavior. Reviewed March 20, 2017.

RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA 2017  Send This Review to a Friend

A look at what’s cooking in French Cinema is always interesting, and the opportunity arises each year with the Rendez-Vous With French Cinema Series, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance. The time has arrived again (March 1-12) and out of those I sampled, I find a number of the entries in this year’s batch worth attention.

The most important is “Frantz,” François Ozon’s film based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 “Broken Lullaby.” Set in a German town, a mystery occurs when a Frenchman visits the symbolic grave of a German soldier killed in World War I. He was Frantz, the fiancé of Anna (Paula Beer), who is still grieving about her loss.

She becomes curious and meets the visitor, Adrien (Pierre Niney), who recounts a friendship with Frantz prior to the war. The story grows more complicated, as Adrien meets Frantz’s parents and romantic impulses spring between him and Anna. Of coruse, we suspect that all is not as it seems.

The film is engrossing, but a rather fanciful ending doesn’t seem convincing. Yet on balance “Frantz” impresses and belongs to the category of anti-war films that portray soldiers as victims no matter which side they are fighting on.

“The Odyssey,” directed by Jérôme Salle, is an enjoyable film about the renowned undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, well-played by Lambert Wilson. The film examines Cousteau’s professional and personal life with emphasis on the problematical relationship with his son, Philippe (Pierre Niney). Audrey Tautou plays the elder Cousteau’s wife Simone, who, to her neglect, must endure her husband’s overriding concentration on his exploits.

A vivid plus is the abundance of underwater shots of sea life. There is also the emphasis on Cousteau’s growing commitment to saving the environment from desecration, a passion that develops within him and builds his resulting activism for that cause.

There has been much attention in France to “Nocturama,” Bertrand Bonello’s fim about a group of young terrorists who blow up buildings in Paris. The first half of the film is suspenseful as we follow the secret movements and meetings carried out to make the coordinated destruction happen. But then instead of scattering to safety, the perpetrators inexplicably gather in a department store after closing.

They party in the store while awaiting a certain morning assault by the police. There doesn’t seem to be any philosophical motivation for the terrorists, who just seem to be out to make trouble or prove that they can. Holing up in the department store seems thoroughly dopy, as it can mean certain death, although when it comes right down to the cops killing the terrorists one by one, it is apparent that they really want to live.

“Django,” directed by Étienne Comar, is a compelling drama about famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, impressively played by Reda Kateb. The film concentrates on Reinhardt’s opposition to the Nazi persecution of his Romani people during World War II. Cécile de France has a colorful role as his friend and muse, a woman who fights the Nazis into whose confidence she has worked her way.

Reinhardt’s music becomes a major part of the film, as one would expect, but in that realm there are also revelations that his talent went beyond his playing and encompasses his skill as an orchestra leader as well.

It is always interesting to watch Marion Cotillard, even in the odd film “From the Land of the Moon,” directed by Nicole Garcia. Cotillard plays Gabrielle, who is in an unhappy marriage and is psychologically disturbed. When she goes to a rest home in Switzerland she falls for a fatally ill soldier.

The twist at the end seems more like a joke played on the audience than a logical outcome, and is likely to leave one more annoyed than enlightened. It spoils a potentially effective drama and Cotillard’s impassioned performance goes for naught.

If you enjoy intense medical dramas, “Heal the Living,” directed by Katell Quillévéré, may be for you. A young man is left brain dead after a car accident and his grieving parents must decide whether to allow an organ transplant for someone badly in need of a heart.

The film proceeds to take us into the process of arranging for transplants, involving both the donor and the needy recipient. We go right into the operating room to follow the surgical details. This is only for those who have the stomach for such a film, but for those who do, this is a rewarding experience that is both dramatic and educational.

There are many other films to explore in this jam-packed series. At the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street, unless otherwise noted. Details at filmlinc.org. Reviewed March 5, 2017.

PLANNING A LONDON BANQUET FROM NEW YORK  Send This Review to a Friend

How do you set up a family banquet for 25 guests in London from your desk and computer in New York? The occasion was a birthday celebration for my wife, Lillian, who hails from London and has extensive family there. The answer, I learned from the experience, is to contact an excellent hotel, in this case the well-located May Fair in Stratton Street, and a savvy person on the hotel’s events team, to provide dedicated assistance with every detail.

The person who responded to my request for information is Essie Ryan, Meeting and Events Sales Executive, part of a team catering to such occasions, who undertook the challenge. Her suggestion was the Salon, a private room adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant. Our daughter, Julie, happened to be in London for a few days, and met with Ms. Ryan, who showed her the facilities, and Julie emailed me her opinion that the Salon would work out well. As for the hotel, Lillian and I have stayed there repeatedly and always get the accommodation we request, thanks to the assistance of Botho Stein, Deputy General Manager. So we know the overall ambiance.

There were, of course, agreements to be made, a required deposit, with a minimum expenditure for food and drink, but no charge for the Salon itself. Ms. Ryan promptly replied to every request with emails going back and forth about specific details, from how to set up the room to choosing the menus. Ms. Ryan sent photos of the Salon from different angles and tempting menu choices with every aspect covered, from hors d’oeuvres and drinks for an hour-long reception, to starters, main dishes, desserts and wines, all with a range of prices. The time window for the event was unhurried, from 7 p.m. to midnight.

There turned out to be several dietary requirements cited by the invitees, and Ms. Ryan sent menus with options for each—two vegans, one vegetarian, one lactose-free and even special menus for the two children in the group. All of the choices were honored meticulously and creatively. We discussed how many tables to set up, and there were confidential communications that Julie and I had with Ms. Ryan about equipment needed for projection on a screen via a computer, photos of Lillian that Julie had collected secretly. This was to be a surprise to Lillian and it all worked wonderfully.

I finally met Essie Ryan when Lillian and I arrived at the hotel two days before the event, and was further impressed when she showed me the room and we went over how it would be arranged, with the dining area curtained off from the reception area, the curtains to be opened when dinner was to start. A microphone was to be available for anyone wishing to make comments. Ms. Ryan also introduced me to enthusiastically cooperative Daniele Seggio, Meeting and Events Manager, who would be overseeing the event, including the service by the wait staff. Daniele and the servers did a terrific job and the guests were lavish with their praise, not only for the food chosen, but for the efficiency and friendliness of the service.

In short, on the big night, everything went off without a hitch. It was a joyous occasion with Lillian’s nieces and grandnieces and their families, Lillian’s cousins, our daughters Julie and Karen and their families, who flew in from other cities, and the gathering was highlighted by the appearance of Lillian’s 100-year-old cousin Ethel Fedor, who, assisted by her daughter Rosalind, strode in with a cane. Ethel was among those who spoke in honor of Lillian.

The final bill was totally accurate in accordance with what had been arranged with no discrepancies, and it was properly charged to the credit card on file.

This happy experience showed that in the right place and with the right staff one can arrange a dinner long-distance between New York and London in full confidence. Posted February 12, 2017.

'LOW LIFE LAWYER' WITH LONGING FOR JAZZ  Send This Review to a Friend

When the law and jazz are entwined in a novel, it already marks the work as a different take on life. Author Michael Simmons, a retired lawyer with 50 years of experience, has written “Low Life Lawyer: In The Footsteps of Bechet,” a story with a protagonist who is also a lawyer, but deeply admires jazz icon Sidney Bechet, plays the clarinet and—well, one has to read this compelling and fascinating page-turner to appreciate the life that Simmons skillfully creates.

The story, set in England in the 1950s and 1960s, traces the rise and downfall of the elaborately conceived, colorful Richard Gregory. In a brief author’s note, Simmons insists that what he has written is “pure fiction.” He proclaims, “I certainly make no appearance in it nor do any of my clients, colleagues or friends.” He could have fooled me. I take him at his word, but the characters in “Low Life Lawyer” come to life so vividly on the printed page that they seem straight out of reality.

Simmons has also hit upon a snappy way of telling the story, and the method pulls one into the narrative, helps sustain interest and engenders wonder about what comes next. The author uses a three-pronged way of writing, which comes across as sort of a jazz rhythm in itself. There is a narrative voice interspersed with the individual voices speaking for themselves.

For example, when two characters meet, one will provide a first-person take on his or her reaction. Then we get the other person’s personal take, which is likely to reflect a very different perspective. The technique moves the narrative along swiftly and efficiently and is very different from an approach of one view in a very long section of a novel and then counterpointed by a very long alternate perspective. Simmons has found a way to keep the story clicking and make the reader eager to hear from the various people who become part of Gregory’s saga.

And what a saga it is! He rises with his considerable talent and wiles, including his sexual ability and desire to satisfy women with his vaunted technical expertise. Simmons recounts these sexual escapades with candor that sometimes renders them droll as well as erotic.

Step by step Richard begins to fritter away his advantages by compromising ethically and getting himself into trouble. As well as with respect to behavior as a lawyer, this includes marrying into wealth, a big mistake. But that route also feeds the novel’s originality. Unlike cases in which in-laws spell trouble, a bonding with his father-in-law occurs even while eventually being scorned by the wife and her mother.

Although one can predict some aspects of what will happen to Richard, there is pleasure in following his trajectory because of the skill the author demonstrates in his crisp development of the plot and his gift of using the right language, whether in the objective voice, or in the way every character’s self-expression strikes a true individual note in tune with how that character would speak.

Simmons cleverly accents the jazz theme with song titles as chapter titles, such as “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Keeping Out of Mischief Now,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “High Society,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay” etc.

Much is covered concerning ethics, relationships, struggle, society and conflict. There is humor, tragedy and ultimately a very sentimental ploy. I’ve probably told too much already—further specific revelations would be a spoiler.

I can heartily recommend “Low Life Lawyer: In the Footsteps of Bechet” as an entertaining, involving and smartly written novel with a mosaic of individual portraits and voices by life-like characters, especially that of the protagonist. (First Published in Great Britain in 2016 by the Book Guild Ltd. Available on Amazon and Kindle.) Reviewed January 31, 2017.

CHEF MICHAEL ANTHONY TO BE HONORED AT 2017 C-CAP BENEFIT  Send This Review to a Friend

Michael Anthony, Executive Chef of Gramercy Tavern, Untitled, and Studio Café at the Whitney Museum of American Art, will be honored at the annual Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) benefit on Wednesday, March 8, from 5:45-9:00 p.m. at Chelsea Piers’ Pier Sixty. Anthony will receive the C-CAP Honors Award, granted to individuals within the culinary industry for exceptional leadership and achievements. Funds raised at the event will support C-CAP’s not-for-profit’s mission of providing job training, internships, competitions for culinary scholarships, college advising, college and career opportunities, lifetime career support, teacher training and curriculum enrichment in the culinary arts to at-risk youth.

The event features food tastings prepared by Michael Anthony and over 36 of the city’s leading chefs, including Chef Chair and C-CAP Board Co-Chair Marcus Samuelsson; Michelin Star chefs Adam Bissell, Aaron Bludorn, Daniel Boulud, Daniel Eddy, John Fraser, Markus Glocker, Alfred Portale, and Michael White, as well as C-CAP alumni Cesar Gutierrez of Café Boulud, Betty Peña of Pig and Khao, Kelvin Fernandez of Strand Bistro, Swainson Brown of The Writing Room and Yvan Lemoine of Union Fare. (A full list of the participating chefs and restaurants is given below.) Assisting the chefs will be more than 60 New York City C-CAP high school students and alumni.

The Chair for this year’s event is Mark Weiss, Chief Investment Officer of RFR Holding LLC and C-CAP’s Board of Directors Co-Chair. WCBS-TV News anchorman Maurice DuBois will be the master of ceremonies. The festivities will also include an auction of various dining, travel and cultural packages.

“We are thrilled to honor Michael Anthony for his remarkable achievements and contributions to the industry and for his commitment to culinary innovation,” says Mark Weiss. “The walk-around tasting event raises funds to support C-CAP’s mission to transform lives of underserved youth who are interested in pursuing careers in the restaurant and food service industry.”

Richard Grausman, C-CAP’s Founder & Chairman Emeritus launched C-CAP in 1990 to teach French cooking in 12 New York City public schools. “We now have thousands of C-CAP alumni around the globe and are impacting the lives of a whole new generation of chefs,” Grausman says. “We are so proud that we continue to manage the largest independent culinary scholarship program in the nation and have awarded over $50 million in scholarships.”

Chef Anthony has received numerous accolades, including Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs” in 2002 and Bon Appetit’s “Next Generation” in 2003. In 2008, Gramercy Tavern earned the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Restaurant.” In 2012, Michael won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef in New York City,” and in 2015, he won the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Chef,” a national recognition. In 2016, Michael’s V is for Vegetables won the James Beard Award for “Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian” cookbooks.

“The benefit is our most powerful way in one evening to make a huge difference in the lives of so many young students; C-CAP changes lives by arming at-risk youth with the skills they need to succeed in culinary arts,” says Marcus Samuelsson. “As a chef and longtime supporter of C-CAP’s work, this is an extraordinary program that benefits both its remarkable recipients and the growing market and demand for skilled talent. C-CAP continues to help thousands of qualified students across the country through culinary education opportunities in high school to career placement assistance upon graduation.”

Past recipients of the C-CAP Honors Award include: Daniel Humm, Richard Parsons & Alexander Smalls, Michael White, Tony May, Michael McCarty, Michael Lomonaco, Marcus Samuelsson, Drew Nieporent, Alfred Portale, Lidia Bastianich, Thomas Keller, Charlie Palmer, Danny Meyer & Michael Romano, Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pepin, Egidiana & Sirio Maccioni, Nina & Tim Zagat, and Saul Zabar & Stanley Zabar.

The C-CAP benefit is open to the public. Tickets for general admission are $600 (limited availability). Tickets for VIP admission are $800 and $1,000. The $1,000 ticket includes a signed cookbook from a celebrity chef. For tickets, more information about the event, and sponsorship opportunities, call 212-974-7111 or visit www.ccapinc.org.

Participating Chefs

Philip DeMaiolo, Abigail Kirsch

Jason Weiner and Alex Nieto, Almond

Christian Pratsch, Asiate

Markus Glocker, Bâtard

Daniel Boulud, Aaron Bludorn, Cesar Gutierrez*, Café Boulud

Carla Hall, Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen

Ivy Stark, Dos Caminos

John Fraser, Dovetail

Fortunato Nicotra, Felidia

Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar and Grill

Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern/Untitled

Manish Mehrotra, Indian Accent

Marc Aumont, Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Missy Robbins, Lilia

Maria Loi, Loi Estiatorio

Kyung Up Lim, Michael’s

Abram Bissell, The Modern

Matt Hoyle, Nobu 57

Bill Telepan, Oceana

Zene Flinn, Park Avenue Spring

Leah Cohen, Betty Peña*, Pig & Khao

Michael Lomonaco, Wayne Harley Brachman, Porter House

Ryan Bartlow, Quality Eats

Daniel Eddy, Rebelle

Marcus Samuelsson, Red Rooster

Andy Bennett, Rouge Tomate

Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth’s

Kelvin Fernandez*, Strand Bistro

David Burke, Tavern62 by David Burke

JJ Johnson, The Cecil

Ali LaRaia, The Sosta

Swainson Brown*, The Writing Room

Yvan Lemoine*, Union Fare

Carmen Quagliata, Union Square Cafe

Chris Santos, Vandal

Michael White and Jared Gadbaw, Vaucluse

*C-CAP Alum

  

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