Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Possession

Dinner and a Movie

The Possession of Half a World

By Steve Herte

Note: With apologies that this edition of "Dinner and a Movie" is later than usual, I do offer an excuse. Here in Milford, Connecticut, where the tourist attraction is the PEZ Visitors' Center (Yes, I did go, and it was fun.), we do our shopping on Sundays when it's less crowded. After that I visited with my godson and his family and we had a Chinese take-out dinner after cocktails, so pretty much for the whole day I was not at the keyboard. Did you know that PEZ comes in 13 different flavors and the first dispenser over 85 years ago was of Santa Claus? I'm now the proud owner of a PEZ dispenser with Tigress from Kung Fu Panda as the character (they didn't readily have Alex the Lion from Madagascar). With that, here is the latest "Dinner and a Movie.”

The Possession (2012) 

So many movies have been made on the topic of demonic possession one wonders what special effects have not been done already. I would call this one the Jewish version of The Exorcist. However Tzadok (Matisyahu), the Hassidic performer of the exorcism, does not have the troubled past that Father Karras had in the Christian version. In fact, none of his brethren even want to attempt the ceremony, but he bravely accepts the duty and it is his first.

The story is of a family where father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and mother, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick), are recently divorced (though they clearly have feelings for each other), and their two daughters, Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Emily (Natasha Calis), shuttle between them. Stephanie already has a new boyfriend, Brett (Grant Show), and Clyde is finishing the process of moving out.

While Hannah and Em are staying with Clyde, they drive past a yard sale and Hannah remembers that Dad needs dishes, so they stop. After donning elbow-length gloves and a big floppy white bonnet, Em discovers a strange old wooden box with writing carved into it that she cannot read (it’s in Hebrew). This should be the first red flag of the movie, but she talks Daddy into buying it for her.

What she doesn’t know – but the audience does – is that the Dibbuk trapped inside the box (we later learn his name, Absei) has already brutally murdered the woman who previously possessed the box (hence the yard sale) when she tried to destroy it with a ball-peen hammer (Really?).

Nobody can open the sinister box, which whispers seductively to Em, until one night she finds the hidden lock and triggers it to open. It takes an inordinate amount of time (the movie is only one hour and 32 minutes long) for Clyde – and even later, Stephanie – to notice that their daughter has changed for the worst. Even after she viciously stabs Clyde’s hand with a fork at breakfast, he thinks she’s going through a phase. She causes violent winds to blow and scares away Brett. She telekinetically flings the religious book from Clyde’s hands when he tries to read from it over her (he finally suspects she’s possessed). And…she nearly causes an electrical fire when both parents bring her to the hospital for an MRI, which reveals the Gollum-like creature living in her (Gee, I thought it was a spirit).

Sorry folks, The Possession has no levitations, no revolving heads and no spewed pea soup – not even borsht. But it still sends the chills up your spine, and I attribute this to Anton Sanko’s masterful musical soundtrack, which supplies the tension and foreboding, makes you jump in your seat, and provides the relief at the end. Ole Bornedal’s direction was good most of the time, but predictable in places. Morgan’s and Sedwick’s performances were a roller-coaster of ins and outs. Kyra can do a very convincing anger but her terror looked put on. Jeffrey’s terror was much better – right down to the tearing eyes – but his love emotion was weak. If Calis did all her own stunts, she was excellent, switching from whining little girl to blood-thirsty demon in fractions of seconds (the scene in Stephanie’s kitchen was the best).

The Possession will join the ranks of other demonic co-habitation films and share the stage (partially) with Silence of the Lambs – you want a Death’s Head Moth? How about a room full of them? – as the thriller it is, but I don’t think it will make classic status, even though it’s “based on a true story.” Why? The trailer literally gives away the last scene. A trailer-truck slams into Tzadok’s car as he drives the box away. 

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Demi Monde
90 Broad Street (Stone Street), New York City

The heavy brass marquee over the entrance to 90 Broad Street gives no indication that Demi Monde is not accessed there but around the corner. A black glass door with the restaurant’s name in barely-legible white script leads you downstairs to what looks like a large sunken living room, with a bar and alcoves on the two side walls separated from the central pit by macramé/hangman’s noose rope constructions. The floors, ceiling and leather banquettes, are black and the stairs are white marble. A four-ringed crystal chandelier dominates a room that still has the appearance of the lounge it was three months ago.

At the captain’s station, a lovely young lady was visibly confused over where to seat me, considering all the reservations they had (a table of eight was occupied in the back and two tables of two were the only others). I was seated in the pit at the base of the three stairs. Another very lovely young lady who spoke with an accent I did not recognize brought my menu: a small binder with pages for cocktails, wines and beers, Snacks, Toasts, Plates and Sweets. I ordered a drink called "The Shark Tank," which arrived in a tall glass and was a vodka/citrus concoction with spicy bite to it. It lived up to its name.

When my waitress assured me the “Snacks” were the small dishes I thought they would be, I ordered the Crispy Popcorn Sweetbreads and the Beef Potstickers. The former proved that sweetbreads can be breaded and deep fried without losing their delicate consistency and rich flavor. They were served with a spicy honey dip. The potstickers were a more traditional Chinese dumpling dish with the ground beef wrapped in a delicate white dough and served with chopped scallions and a soy-based dipping sauce that was a little too salty.

Being that they were out of the Harissa Lamb Chops, I chose the Sliced Strip Steak served with Charred Eggplant and Red Miso (bean sprout) Port Sauce. The steak was tender enough to cut with the cocktail fork they supplied and the eggplant was in bite-sized bits and richly flavored. I was genuinely amazed at how rich and filling all three dishes were.

The experience of Demi Monde was unique in that, when I finished my cocktail and had ordered my meal, I realized that I had not chosen a wine and I couldn’t flag down my waitress to correct this. All three dishes had arrived, sweetbreads first, steak second and potstickers third – notice, wrong order – by the time the water-server arrived and I asked him to get my waitress. It was then I was able to order a bottle of 2010 Pinot Noir, which went very well with what was left of my food. The serving staff, though stunningly beautiful in their abbreviated black dresses, seemed to care more about serving drinks and not falling down the steps in their spike-heeled shoes than in caring for their customers’ needs. The kitchen staff was more robotic. My silverware were brought to my table on the napkin on a square dish and placed where I had to reach for them (the table was bare wood until then), a bit impersonal. The dishes were served unceremoniously with maybe a mumbled “enjoy,” but I couldn’t understand what exactly they said.

Nevertheless, I finished the meal and had some wine left, so I decided on dessert. What could possibly top off all this rich food? Chocolate Truffles, of course – and they would still go with the wine. There was no mention of either coffee or tea on the menu. The six chocolate confections arrived stuck to a slab of slate by a fruity paste, which I tasted after the first and ignored for the rest (too tart). What struck me about dessert was that it was not as rich as the dinner! Seriously? The candies all needed more cocoa butter to even keep pace with what came before. Yes, they were delicious, but it was a little distracting.

Demi Monde needs to learn a few lessons about being a restaurant before they can legitimately call themselves one. For now, they’re still a lounge with great food and beautiful girls.

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