Thursday, August 23, 2012

Flying Monsters in IMAX

Dinner and a Movie

Flying Monsters Over New York Call Marcony

By Steve Herte

Flying Monsters in IMAX (2012) 

Now playing at the American Museum of Natural History in the Lefrak Auditorium in Manhattan is one of the most visually stunning documentaries I have ever seen. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough (who actually appears from time to time looking a little like a male Julia Child), it tells the story of the evolution of flying reptiles over a 150-million-year time period. The movie starts with a speculation of why reptiles even needed flight and gave two reasons:

1. Their favorite food – insects – could fly and in order to catch their food efficiently, they would need to fly as well.

2. Larger dinosaurs that would like to have them as their dinner would not catch them as easily if they flew. The question was how?

Using the modern flying lizard Draco as an example, the concept of an easy glide from tree to tree was possible, but powered flight requires specialized bones, muscles and body configuration. These creatures evolved the hollow bones and fibrous material strengthening their skin enough to become wings. Through the magic of digital computer simulation we see living, and believable pterodactyls from Dimorphodon to Darwinopterus to Pteranodon to the immense Quetzelcoatlus with a 50-foot wing span. The visualization is so convincing, the audience has no problem with these giant creatures flying alongside a modern glider (with Sir David in it) as a comparison. The sounds they might have made, the colors of their skin and proto-feathers, along with their seamless movement added an intense realism to the film. The prehistoric settings are beautifully rendered. There’s even a scene that takes the audience on a flight inside the upper arm bone of Quetzelcoatlus to further explain how such a large creature became airborne.

I love dinosaurs and have seen just about every movie depicting them and Flying Monsters clearly demonstrates how far we’ve come cinematographically from the stop-action clay models that jerkily lumbered across the big screen to these graceful soaring creature – an excellent film for the whole family. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

New York Story (2012)

The New York Historical Society has finished their renovations and reopened with a bang. This historical short film (under half an hour) relates the history of New York City from pre-colonial days right up to the present, including 9/11. It touches on the native Lenape Indians, New Amsterdam as a Dutch settlement, the English take-over and re-naming, the city’s role in the commerce of slaves (even after slavery was abolished), the draft riots, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the development of slums, the many growth spurts, nothing is left out. But it’s never boring. 

The eight screens used to tell the story of New York are cleverly combined, split up and re-combined until the end when they form the widest screen I’ve ever seen and take the audience on an aerial flight over modern Manhattan. The musical accompaniment is a dynamic soul-stirrer that pulls one emotionally into the experience. This is my first time at the New York Historical Society and it makes me want to return often. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

184 Lexington Avenue (32nd Street), New York City

White lettering on a Mediterranean blue awning invite you to dine at Marcony. The few small tables of the sidewalk café are charming but do not prepare you for the ambience inside. The blue and white theme continues with the white walls with glass “bubbles” suspended by nylon threads from the sconces. Above is a fabulous blown glass sculpture masquerading as a chandelier in many shades of blue and white glass. It is lit from ceiling spots shining on it. The tables have white cloths and the chairs and banquettes are upholstered in deep blue. I just happened to be wearing an all blue outfit and matched the décor perfectly.

My Serbian waitress brought me a Beefeater martini and impressed me with her incredible memory while reciting the daily specials, three appetizers, two salads, three pastas, three fish dishes, two meat dishes and two chicken dishes. I wanted to applaud. An amuse-bouche arrived, a fried rice ball in a tomato sauce – very nice. After my waitress’ presentation, nothing on the menu sounded quite as good as what she offered, so I started with Stuffed Black Figs wrapped in prosciutto and filled with a combination of ricotta and fontina cheeses – delicious enough to be dangerous. I chose a 2009 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to go with all my courses and it did so famously. 

When my waitress assured me I could have a half-order of pasta I chose the Cannelloni stuffed with ground veal and served in a creamy, cheesy white sauce. I loved it, and thank goodness the bread came out – I left not one drop of that sauce. Then the real love affair began. The Pecan Crusted Halibut on a bed of Gnocchi and Porcini Mushrooms was a dish that made love to me while I was eating it. The halibut was light and flakey, the crust was crispy and nutty, the gnocchi were tender and obviously home-made and the porcini added a sexy kiss to the meal. It might have been banned in Boston.

How far could one go from there? When I heard the word Zabaglione, I was hooked. The fluffy egg white and Marsala wine whip was wearing a crown of strawberry slices on top, a layer of plump blueberries beneath that and raspberries on the bottom – a perfect dessert. That, and a double espresso, and two glasses of Grappa (the manager saw me enjoying everything so much he insisted on treating me to a second) in beautiful, delicate stemmed thistle glasses and I was no longer in New York. I was in Montecasino, Italy. Marcony will definitely see me again but I wonder what I will have, maybe daily specials again? The Lobster Salad sounded really good.

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