Friday, January 18, 2013

The Impossible

Dinner and a Movie

Impossible Bill's

By Steve Herte

The first full work week since the holidays had me wondering what day it was yesterday. The weekend has been even busier. Taking down all the Christmas decorations took quite a while, but not as much time as it took to put them up. And it's always a challenge to fit the ever-increasing collection into the storage bins - this year I added a fourth. Friday night was a wonderful experience even with the rain. Enjoy!

The Impossible (Summit Entertainment, 2012) - Director: Juan Antonio Bayona. Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, and Johan Sundberg. 114 minutes.

Why is a tsunami like a tornado? If you can hear it, you’re way too close.

The devastating tsunami that hit Thailand on December 26, 2004, as a result of an underwater earthquake is the setting for this intense film based on a true story of the Bennett Family, - Henry (McGregor), Maria (Watts) and their sons Lucas (Holland), Thomas (Joslin) and Simon (Pendergast) – their survival and eventual reunion.

Juan Antonio Bayona’s fabulous direction grabs the audience by the throat right from the start of the movie. Imagine you are underwater. The water is so murky and dirty that you cannot see more than a foot around you. You hear terrible, muffled clunking, clanking and tearing sounds, but you have no idea what’s making them and you are unable to surface though you see a dim light above. This is the opening scene. Then a quick cut, and the audience is in the sky over Thailand and jumps as a jet airliner roars just over their heads as it prepares for a bumpy landing. It’s the first ominous clue that something bad will happen.

It’s Christmas Eve and the Bennetts have a beautiful hotel room with an ocean view just beyond a stand of palm trees. They have a lovely dinner and participate in the traditional lit bag flight where dozens of paper bags lit by flames from below soar gracefully into the night sky. Simon says, “Our bag isn’t going the same way all the others are going:” The second omen of things to come.

They exchange Christmas gifts, one of which is a bright red rubber ball that will be a scene linker later on. The next day they’re all enjoying the hotel facilities, Henry is in the pool with the boys and Maria is reading a book lounging on a chair, when a sudden wind comes off the ocean and a page she’s reading flies out of the book and is plastered to a glass wall behind her. Overhead she sees a small flock of terrified birds racing toward the mountains inland: The third – and last – omen.

A terrible rumbling sound is heard growing in intensity, the ground shakes and we see palm trees falling in the onslaught of the tsunami (frankly, at this point I would have been high-tailing it to the hills, no matter how futile that would have been) and they watch as the wall of brown water breaks over the cabana buildings. Henry clutches the boys in the pool and Maria huddles by the glass wall. Then all Hell breaks loose.

The aerial footage of the tsunami hit looks very much like the actual news footage used by the media to cover the event, lending credibility to the film. A small jeep bobbing along in the flow accentuates the power of the water. The scenes below water level with all the dangerous debris and frightening sounds fill in all the terror of the event as Maria is banged and slashed, powerless against the rushing water. She clings to a steadfast palm and just screams at one point. Her son Lucas careens by and she desperately swims to join him. Together they make it to high ground, locate another child Daniel (Sundberg) and spend the night in a tree.

They are located the next day by Thai natives and are taken by pick-up truck to a sprawling hospital complex where hundreds of people are being treated. The agonies experienced by Maria are vividly portrayed by Watts throughout.

Meanwhile, Henry is still at the hotel (how he didn’t get swept away is never made clear), and Thomas and Simon had both climbed trees to escape the water (one of them was too frightened to come down). The three are reunited. Henry is dedicated to searching for Maria and Lucas, not knowing that they’re miles away, and agrees to leave Thomas and Simon in the care of a surviving couple as they, too, are trucked to safety.

The remainder of the movie is concerned with Henry’s travails in searching for Maria; Lucas assisting various people in locating loved ones at the hospital, and temporarily losing his Mom when they mislabel her with the wrong name; Simon’s intensifying need to go to the bathroom; plus scene after scene of devastation and cloth-wrapped bodies. Just as Henry has finally stopped at the right hospital, Maria recognizes his silhouette on the curtain surrounding her bed (but cannot speak at the time). Lucas sees his Dad from an upper floor and chases after him, the truck carrying Thomas and Simon stops, and Simon, who cannot hold it anymore, jumps off followed by Thomas. Just as they remount the truck, Lucas is calling out for his Dad, Thomas recognizes his voice, and the three boys are reunited. Then Henry appears out of the crowd and four are together. Lucas tells his Dad where Maria is and “The Impossible” happens; the entire family is together again.

It’s an incredible tale and I’m sure some dramatic licenses were taken, but the director takes care to see it doesn’t become sappy. When Maria goes under anesthetic for her final surgery before leaving Thailand, she (and the audience) has a horrifyingly surreal dream of the underwater ordeal in retrospect. I heard several “OMGs” from the audience (the theater was quite full) and a smattering of applause at the end. Not only is this a definite candidate for Best Picture, but Naomi Watts deserves an Oscar for her performance. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

47 East 54th Street (Madison/Park)New York City

On a rainy night in midtown Manhattan, it’s a comfort to dry off at Bill’s. Open for a little over a month, it occupies a five-story, 1890’s building that was an infamous speakeasy during the Prohibition Era. The main floor comprises the venerable bar running the entire length of the room on the right. Tables are on the left and period art covers the walls. The original beams from Bill’s Gay Nineties line the ceiling. I chose to dine upstairs on the second floor and, upon seeing the banister, it was easy to date the building to the 1800s. The handrail was at least five inches wide and beautifully shaped, solid, dark wood.

Nestled in a curl of a brown leather banquette at a table with a crisp white tablecloth and stemware, I was quite comfortable. Before me was an antique round table (the wine steward’s station) with a huge vase of pussy-willow branches over which was a large chandelier seemingly made out of Huntsman’s horns. A stuffed mountain goat head is on the wall and the goat motif is repeated on the menu and throughout. (Get it? Billy?)

One of my waiters, John (I had two) took my martini order and provided the usual glass of water and a two slice bread plate with a ramekin of soft butter. The warm, masculine décor told me I would not be disappointed in my cocktail and I wasn’t. Chef Jason Hall’s menu is divided into Raw, Fish and Shellfish, Salads and Appetizers, Meat and Poultry, Prime Aged Beef, Pasta (all homemade), Sides, and For Two. It was only a single page so I read it carefully.

Craig, my second server assisted me with quantities and preparation. With his help I chose the Nantucket Bay Scallops with cauliflower in vermouth butter. I don’t remember how long it has been since I even saw Bay Scallops on a menu, much less tasted these sweet, tender cylinders with the wonderful grilled cauliflower in that sensuous sauce (which I used the bread to finish).

I chose a wine just because I liked saying its name; 2011 Bruno Giacosa, Dolcetto D’Alba Falletto di Serralunga, Piemonte, a delicious, dry Piedmont red.

The two slices of bread went fast and were replaced by three more when I ordered the 18-ounce, 28-year-aged Delmonico Steak, prepared “black and blue” (charred on the outside, rare on the inside) with two side dishes. First was Lacinato Kale Gratin. Forget about your traditional creamed spinach when you luxuriate in this one! Second was Cremini Mushrooms in Escargot Butter – delightful. Between the wine steward’s making sure my glass was never empty and various servers asking about my dinner and if they could offer more I felt like royalty. The Delmonico Steak was almost as good as the one I had at the restaurant where it originated.

How long has it been since you’ve seen Scotch Pudding on a menu? It was delicious, slightly salty, sweet and with a buttery scotch kick. Then a double espresso and a glass of smooth 1994 Laubade Armagnac and I was glad Prohibition was repealed. Bill’s is a charming addition to New York dining as well as its historic preservation. 

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