Sunday, January 20, 2013

Project X

Dinner and a Movie

Project X Diner

By Steve Herte

With my quartet, The Majestics, having a reunion on a Friday, I fore-went my usual movie and dinner night. We had a six-hour rehearsal two days later for a Monday evening performance of a mixed quartet (two men and two women) called Seventh Heaven that I agreed to sub as the tenor when they discovered their regular tenor couldn't make the gig. I had just enough time on Saturday to watch a movie on TV. The mixed quartet found themselves at a diner after rehearsal, so I thought, "OK, this will work." 

Project X (20th Century Fox, 1987) Director: Jonathan Kaplan. Starring Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, William Sadler, Jonathan Stark, & Willie. 108 min.

This movie suckered me into watching it with a title that whispered “possibly a good sci-fi.” It isn’t. But it got a star for the title. Here we have Matthew Broderick as Jimmy Garrett, an incredibly young airman who only wants to fly planes and jets, and because he takes his girlfriend up for a ride, is reassigned to Project X.

From there the scene changes to a very young Helen Hunt who plays Teri, a scientist who has been given a grant to teach chimpanzees sign language. She succeeds beyond her imagination with Virgil (played by Willie) when funding is cut off and Virgil must be transferred to a zoo. She’s heartbroken but eventually concedes. However, Virgil never gets to the zoo. He winds up, as did Goofy, Goliath, Bluebeard, Ginger, Winston, Spike, Razzberry, and Ethel at Project X.

Project X trains chimpanzees to fly planes using customized simulators. When they prove to be proficient at flying they are transferred to a sealed room where they are seated in another simulator and are subjected to ionized radiation (from which they usually do not survive).

Airman Garrett realizes that Virgil knows sign language and learns to communicate with him. At the same time Garrett also bonds with him. He learns about Teri’s project and against all regulations calls her, but doesn’t tell her where he is. She finds out where Project X is located and they meet, much to his surprise. He learns about the final stage of the project and wants to save Virgil from extermination. At one point, Virgil tricks him and gets away into the complex. He eventually sees what happens to chimps that “graduate” the program and, upon returning to the holding area, uses chimpanzee screams to inform the other caged animals.

The rest is almost predictable. All the chimpanzees have to be set free of this cruel experiment and the chimps themselves try their best, but they need Teri and Jimmy. Just when it looks like they will succeed by swiping a plane the guards surround them and force Teri and Jimmy to leave the plane. But we know that Virgil is an expert flyer. He starts the plane and there is a merry chase until he takes off with all his fellow chimps (the scene is quite comical) while making the signs for “I’m flying!” Eventually they land in a bayou and all the chimps escape. Jimmy and Teri look into the tangled branches and sees Virgil and Ethel. Teri makes the signs for “you’re free” and the movie ends.

This has to be the first movie I’ve ever seen (well, maybe the second) where the apes out-acted the people. They were cute, threatening, charismatic and in some cases downright cuddly. The concept of the film is a good one but the screenplay was lame, even for 1987. It was interesting to see the early efforts of Broderick and Hunt but the movie is not worth a second viewing. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Viand Café
2130 Broadway (75th Street), New York City

New York City has several restaurants that classify as diners and this one is no exception. They don’t have the characteristic rotating dessert carousel with elephantine confections but they do have a glass-enclosed shelving in the back to display them. The angular corner of Broadway and 75th Street makes for an unusual-shaped space, but they managed to fit the booths, tables and counter one would expect in a stereotypical diner. Otherwise there was nothing to set the décor off as unique. The lighting was ample – again, as expected.

As soon as we sat down we were served glasses of water. The interesting thing is two glasses had ice and two did not – just the way we would have ordered it. I tasted the water but when I could smell the dishwasher on the plastic tumbler I eschewed the remainder.

The “pleather” (plastic leather) covered menu is not the usual multi-paged confusing tome of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, kiddie foods and desserts but is organized neatly enough to make a decision before your hunger subsides. There are Italian specialties and Greek specialties highlighted separately from the burgers and sandwiches and standard entrees. Though classified as a Greek Diner, Viand is known for their omelets and burgers, neither of which I was in the mood for. I wanted Greek food. But my brakes went on when I saw Chicken Souvlaki (blasphemy!), a dish that should be made with lamb. Immediately the Greek dishes became suspicious to me.

I turned to the Italian Specialties because I love lasagna, but nowhere in the description was “ground meat” mentioned, just a passing blurb about Bolognese sauce – granted, meat is a good part of it, but it wasn’t what I wanted. OK, time to get dangerous and order the Mousaka, which was exactly what it should be: eggplant, potatoes and chopped meat topped with a creamy (and delicious, I might add) béchamel sauce (a simple white sauce made with flour, milk and butter, flavored with slat and nutmeg). Add to that the immense size of the portion and I was impressed. This came with either soup or salad and I chose the Minestrone over the Matzah Ball (even though I was told it was good) and the vegetable soups.

The soup was definitely soupy and not like any I’ve had in Italian restaurants. There were several vegetables in it and some pasta but everything was kind of limp and less than flavorful.

Two of my friends at my table ordered the Mama’s meatloaf which came sliced, dark in color and speckled with bright bits of carrot looking like confetti – way too strange for me. The fourth person ordered the spinach pie, which appeared quite appetizing, and my friend assured me it was excellent.

Dessert time at a diner is always the OMG moment. When I heard they had Peanut Butter Pie I was hooked. The chocolate chips and bits of caramel on top made it even more decadent than the creamy filling and the graham cracker crust. The only other dessert ordered was the Lemon Coconut Cake that was absolutely beautiful. It consisted of layers of fluffy white cake and pale yellow lemon custard and iced both in the middle and outside with snowy white coconut cream. Another winner. The coffee was unusually good, as were the prices.

Viand Café is a great place to duck into in a pinch (like when you need food now and have no reservations anywhere else). It also really attracts me as a breakfast place, in particular the Herbs de Provence Omelet with goat cheese, shiitake mushrooms and asparagus. So, if I find myself on the Upper West Side in the morning, I’ll return to Viand Café.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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