Jeanne and Gaston Have a Frankenweenie
By Steve Herte
Note: Will somebody tell me where all these children are coming from? And please don't give me the obvious answer. I took my brother's advice and sat in the second to last row of the theater to avoid seat kicking and it worked. However, getting there was a bigger problem. The air-headed adult supposedly supervising a hoard of thirsty whiners was using the first platform of the only stairway as a beverage cart, pouring out smaller cups of soda from a larger one. I could not pass until she straightened up enough to start serving. Forget about saying "Excuse me," because it would either have made her spill soda everywhere, or it wouldn't have been heeded, or at worst it would have been taken as an insult. After the show, that platform was the messiest I've ever seen in a movie house. That said, the 3D effect still worked in the row where I sat and the movie was still enjoyable. So, without seat kicking please enjoy the latest Dinner and a Movie.
Frankenweenie 3D (Disney, 2012) Director: Tim Burton. Starring the voices of: Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Schaffer, & James Hiroyuki Liao.
I admit I had my trepidations about seeing this Tim Burton animated film based on a 1984 short starring Shelley Duvall. The title is ridiculous, the characters are unattractive bug-eyed stick figures (except for a few who are morbidly obese) and the story revolves around the second ugliest representation of a dog since Arrow in Harry Nilsson’s The Point.
Accepted, it’s the basic Frankenstein story (hence the black and white filming) as told from the “a boy and his dog” angle. In the town of New Holland (which looks remarkably like the neighborhood of Edward Scissorhands, except for a windmill on the hill in the background instead of a large, creepy old house) we meet young Victor Frankenstein (Tahan) and his dog and only friend, Sparky. Victor is a loner and a genius, though he is attracted to Elsa (Ryder) the girl next door, who happens to be Mayor Van Helsing’s daughter. Sparky is attracted as well to her French poodle, Persephone (and after an electric zap from Sparky she receives the white lightning bolts in her hair a la Elsa Lanchester). Victor’s father (Short) thinks he spends too much time on science and enrolls him in Little League baseball. Reluctantly Victor joins and steps up to the bat for the first time, two strikes go by. Then he remembers the prediction of Mister Whiskers, a white Angora cat who poops in the shape of letters – “V” was the latest. He is owned by a weird neighbor girl (O’Hara) and when he does his “prediction,” something major always happens to the boy whose initial gets excreted. Victor hits the next pitch high and out of the field. Sparky’s favorite plaything is a baseball so he breaks his leash and chases it, catching it after it crosses a busy street. Upon returning he’s hit by a car and killed. Sadly, Victor has to bury Sparky in the New Holland Pet Cemetery (the obvious Stephen King reference comes later).
Mr. Rzykruski, the science teacher (Landau) at Victor’s school (who by the way is the only character not goggle-eyed, but he is creepy), demonstrates an experiment using electricity to make a dead frog’s legs kick and inspires Victor to bring Sparky back from the dead (yes, you guessed it, the old lightning-based Frankenstein way.) He then announces the Science Fair competition and encourages the children to come up with winning experiments. Victor succeeds in bringing Sparky back, but his secret gets out when Mr. Whiskers appears at the attic window and Sparky does what a dog does naturally; chasing the cat all through the neighborhood.
Knowing that Victor’s experiment will probably win the Science Fair, eventually all the children try bringing something dead back to life, but the outcomes are all different (recall Stephen King?). Young Edgar E. Gore (Shaffer) first tries a dead goldfish, which comes back invisible, then a dead rat and it becomes a vicious blood-thirsty were-rat, the obese kid tries it on his Sea Monkeys and creates a horde of annoying bouncy greenies. But the best and most hilarious transformation happens to Toshiaki’s (yes, he’s obviously Asian, voiced by Liao) turtle, Shelly: he becomes a Gamera-sized monster turtle and terrorizes the townspeople at the annual New Holland Dutch Fair.
Victor and the kids manage to change all the monsters back except for the Cat-Bat transformation of Mr. Whiskers (he grabbed the dead bat when the lightning struck his owner’s kite) and he’s now dragging Elsa Van Helsing to the top of the windmill. The townspeople, led by the mayor, blame everything on Sparky and chase him to the windmill with torches and pitchforks (sound familiar, Frankenstein fans?) and the mayor accidentally sets it afire. After a battle royal, Elsa is saved, while Mr. Whiskers and Sparky are out cold. The explanations are made, everyone is shame-faced and they all hook up their car batteries to Sparky to re-animate him.
Frankenweenie was a pleasant surprise and Burton’s “gifts” throughout the film made it delightful (if you pay attention you will see “Goodbye Kittie” on a tombstone in the Pet Cemetery). Even if there were no dialogue, Danny Elfman’s glorious music would have told the story beautifully. Another favorite scene of mine is when one kid’s re-animated pet, “Colossus” (a foot-long Mothra-like caterpillar) faces off with Shelly and gets stomped, as in “Godzilla Meets Bambi.”
3.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.
3.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.
Jeanne & Gaston
212 West 14th Street (7th/8th), New York City
Chef Jean Claude Godard’s offspring of the Madison Bistro in Midtown is an unassuming Greenwich Village-style bistro fortunately located in the non-seedy part of 14th Street (believe me, the longest street in Manhattan has deteriorated since Luchow’s left its eastern side). The first thing one notices about Jeanne & Gaston is the welcoming marquee lighting on the awning at the entrance. Inside the intimate dining area is enclosed in understated medium wood paneling with soft pumpkin painted walls and maybe a dozen tables. When the captain suggested seating in the garden, even though I do not dine al fresco, I accepted thinking that this might be the last balmy evening this autumn.
The garden is a larger space than the restaurant proper with a very heavy-looking three-tiered fountain in the center surrounded by four tables for two. The rest of the 14 or so tables line the side and back walls. Since the restaurant has only been open for seven months, the garden didn’t have too many flowers except for a fading Hydrangea. The other plants, a few Wisterias and flowering vines would have bloomed in spring and the 20-foot Beech tree next to the fountain was already entering fall foliage. However, it was pleasant with no breeze and free of flies so I chose the table next to the fountain opposite two women diners by the far wall. I faced a mural (so I thought) that reminded me of a World War II aerial battle map with two spider webs (and spiders) superimposed on it. When I saw shadows of waiters climbing stairs behind it, I recognized it as a canvas and appreciated its cleverness.
The cocktail menu had several interesting libations, but the first to catch my attention was the French Martini (vanilla vodka, pineapple juice, cassis liqueur) – a frothy sweet-smelling (and tasting) drink with a drizzle of cherry juice. Choosing a wine was easier than choosing dinner, and being wonderfully well-priced, a 2008 Malbec/Bordeau blend was perfect for whatever I should choose (and it was).
My waiter, who was definitely not French, helped me chose between the Lobster Salad with vegetable and Mango Curry Dressing and the Crab Avocado Napoleon with Lemongrass and Cilantro. The Crab Napoleon, touted as being the most popular, became my choice and was delicious. The finely ground crab meat was folded with the avocado and only lightly affected by the lemongrass and cilantro (two strong flavors that can be overpowering) and delicately formed the bases for two tiers of paper-thin, crisp pastry. Very nice.
The bread basket had only one fresh, warm mini-baguette which was replaced when I finished it. Next, I had my waiter help me choose among Grilled Leg of Lamb with Eggplant and White Bean Salsa, “Le Bourguinon” Braised Short Ribs in Pinot Noir Reduction and Duck Magret with Broccoli Tempura and Olive Oil/Mango Emulsion. The signature dish de la maison was the Short Ribs and thus, my choice. I saw on the list of sides that they had French fries and was curious. When I asked my waiter, he stated that my main course came with mashed potatoes. What he meant was on mashed potatoes. The short ribs were wondrously tender and juicy in dark rich gravy, which also covered the most delicious mashed potatoes I have had in a very long time (I don’t like mashed potatoes, generally) hinting of butter and only slightly lumpy. Seeing that the portion was easily finish-able and still curious, I re-requested the French fries and they were magical. Though not as great as the Belgian originals, they were very hot, crispy and light, needing no dressing other than salt.
By now, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. (A family with a small baby – who was very entertaining – filled the table for six adjacent to mine.) So I chose the Roasted Fig and Crispy Pannacotta dessert and ignored the misspelled “Flotting Island Gaston Style” and was once more delighted with my choice. The tender black figs were arranged on another crisp pastry perched on a cylinder of creamy panna cotta – inspired. This dessert was light enough for me to have a second dessert (amazing one of the waiters – the Li-Chi Sorbet (also misspelled Litchi on the menu), which was delicately sweet and tooth-achingly cold.
The after-dinner drink list offered Armagnac (my favorite) and so I indulged, accompanied by a double espresso. Though not classic French cuisine, I enjoyed the novel recipes at Jeanne & Gaston and am interested in dining at the parent restaurant as well. And even though only one of the three waiters said bon appetit, I appreciated the second glass of Armagnac on the house.