Sunday, June 10, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Dinner and a Movie

Snow White in a Barrel

By Steve Herte

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) 

Walt Disney never gave a name to the Evil Queen in their version of Snow White, originally by the Brothers Grimm. In the TV series, we are introduced to Regina who wants to take “Happily ever after” away from everyone but herself. In Mirror, Mirror, Julia Roberts plays a washed out version of a once again, nameless Queen. Now, in Snow White and the Huntsman, we meet Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron (and coincidentally, she does turn into a flock of ravens and wears one dress completely of black feathers and another whose neckline is studded with bird skulls), who steals Snow White’s kingdom by creating a phantom army for King Magnus (Noah Huntley) to vanquish, using her whiles to seduce the King into marriage and then kill him. 

She locks the child, Snow White, in a tower of the castle and goes about literally sucking the beauty out of the fair maidens in the kingdom and taking gooey (but sensual) milk baths to remain youthful and beautiful. In the battle (this time with a real army) where she takes over the kingdom, Snow White’s brother William (did you know she had one?) escapes with his uncle, Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan), whose castle and lands are just beyond the Dark Forest – a nasty place where nothing is green. Everything is either creeping, crawling or slithering. 

Of course the Queen consults her magic mirror daily, which is what looks like a gigantic brass serving plate that melts to reform itself into a quasi-human shape to give her the answers she needs. She and her brother Finn (Sam Spruell) rule the dying kingdom where nothing grows or blooms (one has to wonder why the townsfolk stayed) until they start to run out of young maidens. 

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is now a young woman and the mirror tells Ravenna that Snow’s innocence will be her undoing if she doesn’t get her heart first.  She sends her lustful brother to bring Snow White to her and Snow White escapes him using a loose nail as a shiv that she pried from the stones outside her window and was alerted to by a pair of magpies (no, not Heckle and Jeckle).

The Queen is outraged at her bumbling brother when he reports that Snow ran into the Dark Forest and none of their men followed her. She learns of a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who has been a drunkard since his wife died and is the only one who knows the Dark Forest. Promising to bring back his wife, Ravenna convinces him to go after her.

Then the fun begins. There are more Rhinoceros Beetles in the Dark Forest than there are in creation. At a bridge spanning nothing there is a troll who looks like a monster from Star Wars. Snow and the Huntsman almost get killed by the eight dwarves – Beith (Ian McShane), Muir (Bob Hoskins), Gort (Ray Winstone), Nion (Nick Frost), Coll (Toby Jones), Duir (Eddie Marsan), Quert (Johnny Harris), (whoops, one of them, Gus played by Brian Gleeson, is killed by an arrow shot by William, played by Sam Claflin). There is an enchanted forest with fairies who look like androgynous, cute versions of Gollum and where Snow encounters a creature larger than a horse, but mostly Rocky Mountain sheep, with tree branches for antlers. This creature is also shot with an arrow and transforms into a flock of butterflies. The special effects department went wild with this film.

This is not your mothers’ or grandmothers’ version of the story. Snow White becomes more of a Joan of Arc, as did Alice in a previous film produced by the same people, donning armor and leading the army against the Queen. The Huntsman, not Prince Charming gives Snow White the kiss of true love when the Queen tricks her into eating the poison apple posing as her brother, not a grizzled old lady. 

At two hours and seven minutes, it is almost too long but it only rarely slows down. The reason I wasn’t “wowed” by it was the thick accent on the Huntsman and several of the dwarves making many of their lines incomprehensible. Otherwise, Snow White and the Huntsman was original, intriguing and entertaining.  But I still vote for Regina as the most evil Queen.

La Barrique
38 West 39th Street (5th/6th), New York

Even knowing the “restaurant desert” of the West 30’s, I was lured by La Barrique’s website. The main photo is of an arched-ceilinged brick wine cellar with rows of enormous barrels (La Barrique means barrel). Upon arriving at the restaurant, however I thought I was in the wrong place, as it looked nothing like that – no barrels at all. Once a waitress confirmed that had indeed arrived at the correct address, she led me to a table in the back (next to the kitchen – otherwise known as Mongolia) from where I could view the whole restaurant. One whole wall is exposed brick and faces a wall of cream edged with walnut woodwork. The lighting is provided by hanging globes invoking the steakhouses of the Thirties and Forties.

My waiter (who, I learned later, spoke French) brought me a very nice Beefeater martini, three baguettes in a basket, the two-page menu and the laminated wine/cocktail list. After re-inserting the paper menu pages in the corner tabs of the plastic folder – they fell out as soon as I opened it – I searched vainly for something new and unusual. Learning from my waiter that the soup du jour was Cream of Asparagus (asperges, in French), I started with that. Fortunately, it wasn’t creamed but pureed and very tasty with a slightly cheesy overtone. The prices were very good on the wines, so I ordered a bottle of Argentinean Malbec (I never go wrong there).

The second course was billed on the menu as “Escargot in Crispy Puff Pastry.” Intrigued, I ordered it. What came out was two small soggy, limp, doughy eggrolls with (yes, I counted) two escargots in each flanked by some limp leaf lettuce and some indeterminate (maybe French) dressing. Needless to say, it was disappointing but the wine helped keep me keep smiling.

The main course per the menu was Lamb Shank over Saffron Risotto with Leeks. The lamb shank was delightful, tender and juicy. The risotto had a surprise in it – corn nibblets. The leeks were quartered and crunchy and scattered at the bottom of the bowl the course was served in. I had to remind myself what they were when I first encountered them. Basically, it was a delicious dish, but it didn’t need the corn. After finishing my wine, I demonstrated to my waiter how stale one of the baguettes was by clinking it on the bread dish, so he brought me an extra glass of wine.

The desserts looked all pedestrian so I asked my waiter which one was his favorite. The “Melting Chocolate Cake” was his answer, and so it was. The dark chocolate cake cup was filled with a loose darker chocolate cream and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. When you cut into the side of this confection the liquid slowly spilled out and it appeared to be “melting.” I almost laughed, but it was very good. The espresso machine was broken (another test failed) so I had a cup of very dark coffee. 

La Barrique deserves a second chance because of the wonderful servers but my first impression says that it does nothing to dispel the dearth of good restaurants in the West Thirties.

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