Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dark Shadows

Dinner and a Movie

Shadows of Ivy

By Steve Herte

Dark Shadows (2012)

The new “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Johnny Depp adds another character to his resumé as Barnabas Collins, the master-turned-vampire of Collingwood mansion in Collinsport, Maine under the direction of Tim Burton. Being a fan of the gothic horror soap opera that was the TV series, I had my doubts about it being transformed into a camp comedy. Hoping that Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas) had a sense of humor, I’m sure he would have enjoyed the performance. Johnny is just as stiff and stern looking most of the time until Angelique (Eva Green) repeatedly tried to seduce him (once successfully, but they trash an entire office in the process). 

The story starts in 1762 when Barnabas is a child and his father builds the Collins Empire, starting with the fish cannery and ending with the construction of Collingwood mansion (which appears to be a cheap stage-prop building compared to the original, which still exists in Newport, Rhode Island). Angelique is in love with Barnabas but he loves only Josette (Bella Heathcote) and, being a witch, curses him to become a vampire, exposes him to the townspeople, and has him chained and buried in an iron coffin.

Almost 200 years later, the remaining Collins family, Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his son David (Gulliver McGrath) are barely getting along in their dusty, crumbling home with two aging servants – Clarney (Christopher Lee) and Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley), Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) the caretaker, and Dr. Julia Hoffann (Helena Bonham Carter) a psychiatrist for David. The cannery is floundering (literally) and cannot compete with the rival business set up by Angelique. Yet they hire a governess for David, Maggie Evans, who changes her name to Victoria Winters (also Bella Heathcote) – separate characters in the original – who repeatedly sees the ghost of Josette sweeping through the halls and falling backward off the chandelier in the main hall to be absorbed by the floor.

Angelique’s construction crew accidentally digs up Barnabas’ grave, freeing him and the craziness begins. Barnabas is determined to restore the Collins’ glory while wondering why Victoria looks exactly like Josette and Angelique is determined to stop him, kill her and rekindle the love she thought they had. Eh!

Why only two martini glasses (out of five on my rating system)? One is for the concept and one is for Depp’s performance. Everyone else paled in comparison. Second prize goes to Haley’s excellent Loomis – totally looney. 

Nearly everyone else appeared to be trying to hold back laughter. The writers (there were four of them) tried to fit seven years of episodes into one hour and 53 minutes and it was difficult to sit through. The jibes to the original started as subtle tongue-in-cheeks at the beginning and escalated to the incredibly silly battle between Barnabas and Angelique at the end (a battle he might have lost, if not for the intervention of the ghost of Laura Collins – Josephine Butler). Tim Burton did another great job and I loved the over-use of the crashing waves on the rocky cliffs near Collingwood – something the original used for time-lapse purposes. Gratefully there is no promise of a sequel.

Ivy’s Bistro
385 Greenwich Street (at North Moore Street), New York

This five-year old corner bar has become a cozy comfort food zone with a welcoming atmosphere, minimal décor, comfy banquettes and door/windows that open to the street. I would imagine defining “comfort food” would be familiar American home-cooking recognizable as “what mother used to make and everybody loved.” Ivy’s puts just a little twist into the concept.

While sitting in the front window sipping a well-made Beefeater Martini with six (overkill) olives I contemplated the single card, double-sided menu and the two page wine and cocktail list. My perky waitress was as helpful as possible though she didn’t know if they made half-orders of the pastas (a sort of “no” answer, but depended on the kind of pasta and the kitchen), I asked what size portion they were (again, depends on the pasta) but we determined that the size generally was dinner size. She then listed the specials of the day and I made my decision.

The appetizer was Macaroni and Cheese Croquettes, a delightful new idea, rolling the Mac & Cheese into balls and coating them with bread crumbs and deep frying them. This was served with slices of green apples – wonderful. 

I’ve become a fan of Argentine Malbec and Ivy’s had a bottle titled The Seeker which was a delicious wine with my dinner. The main course was a special, Grilled Swordfish steak resting on sliced yellow and green zucchini and asparagus and topped with a light, lemony/vinegary chunky tomato sauce and garnished with a sprig of broccoli. The charcoal grilled flavor was unmistakable on this meaty three quarter inch thick wedge of fish and the sauce and accompanying vegetables enhanced that nicely.

The side dish deserves a paragraph of its own. The home-made potato chips were simply to die for (I had two orders). Lightly salted and sooo bad for you, they arrived in a cone of rolled paper inserted into an aluminum coil. I haven’t had potato chips like these since the Waterworks restaurant in Philadelphia.

Lastly, the homemade Blueberry Crisp takes 15 minutes to make, but it’s well worth the wait – steaming in its own crock with cinnamon-y buttery flavor – taking me back in time to my childhood. With a glass of Grand Marnier and an espresso the meal was complete. Ivy’s may not look like much, but they serve comfort with a smile and are worth a return visit.

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