Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer in 3D

Dinner and a Movie

The Giant Slayer of Tribeca

By Steve Herte

This has been a week. I finished the Christening set I was making for my goddaughter's child (to be born in May) and I had a great Friday evening's dining. The New York Gem show was this weekend but I couldn't find the time for it. Looking forward, I'm anticipating the karaoke contest I've entered, and maybe I'll practice a little at my usual session. But for now, it's Dinner and a Movie time. Enjoy!

Jack the Giant Slayer in 3D (New Line, 2013) Director: Bryan Singer. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Tim Foley, Tandy Wright, Sydney Rawson, Michael Self, Christopher Fairbank, Simon Lowe, Craig Salisbury, Ewen Bremner, Eddie Marsan.

It must be the fashion for re-telling fairy tales. We have Once Upon a Time and Grimm on television and Hansel and Gretel, several versions of Snow White, and Red Riding Hood on the silver screen. Now it’s time for Jack and the Beanstalk to get a dusting off and re-mastering.

Right off the bat it must be said that even though this version is non-bloody and the “f” word is only used once, it is still not for toddlers – no matter how sophisticated you think your child is.

The backstory of the fairy tale – what we never learned as children – is told at the beginning simultaneously by Jack’s father (Foley) and Princess Isabel’s mother, the Queen (Wright). The story inspires the young Jack (Self) to be one of the King’s Guardians when he grows up. The young Isabel (Rawson) is inspired to run off and have an adventure rather than become Queen. The tale they both tell is of a race of giants who descend the beanstalk with the intent of having all mankind as (not for) dinner and with the intent of ruling the Earth again. A crown is made by the learned men of the time from the heart of a slain giant and whoever wears the crown can control and rule them. King Eric (Salisbury) wears the crown and commands the giants to return to their land suspended between Heaven and Earth and, when they obey, he has the beanstalk cut down.

Time passes and this story fades into legend and Jack (Hoult) grows into manhood. He’s living the life of a poor farmer in a leaky cottage with his Uncle (Fairbank) who assigns him to go into town and sell the horse and cart (not the family cow as in the original) to get some thatch to fix the roof. The Uncle knows Jack’s propensity for flights of fancy and warns him not to get “distracted.” But we know better. He attends a play where little people reenact the legend of King Eric (Warwick Davis of Star Wars fame plays Old Hamm in this troupe). Princess Isabel (Tomlinson) is also in attendance (in disguise, of course) and is accosted by some lusty ruffians. Jack attempts to defend her honor and, fortunately for him, the King’s guardian Elmont (McGregor) appears on horseback and whisks the princess away before he can be trounced. He realizes what has just happened and who he was defending, and leaves the tent only to discover that his cart has been stolen but the horse is still there. (Sounds like a New York scene to me.)

He meets up with a monk (Lowe) who has just been rummaging through Guardian Roderick’s (Tucci) apartment in the castle and has retrieved the magic beans. He convinces Jack to trade the horse for the beans with the promise that he can redeem the beans for money at the friary and gallops off, only to be recaptured by Roderick’s men. Roderick is relieved that the monk didn’t find the legendary crown hidden in the flowerpot but still wants the beans back. Jack goes home to an angry Uncle who can’t believe how stupid he was to trade a good horse for beans and for being convinced that monks have any money.

Meanwhile, Isabel has her own problems. Her father, King Brahmwell (McShane) has betrothed her to Roderick and she wants to decide her own fate. Once again she dons a disguise and gallops away into a rainy night and winds up (guess where?) at Jack’s cottage. Eventually they both recognize each other. The roof is leaking in many places (because Jack did not purchase the needed thatch) and it happens that one of the beans falls between the floorboards and germinates quickly. The next scene, though dramatic, is a little long but depicts the rapid growth of the beanstalk as it rockets the cottage and the princess into the sky. Jack winds up on the ground to face the King and his men, and to explain why he has the princess’ bracelet. (It slipped off when he was clinging to her wrist trying to get back into the cottage.)

A 12-man rescue party is chosen to retrieve the princess including Roderick and Jack and they climb the beanstalk. A little more than halfway up, some of the men slip (it looks like three, but is actually six) and they’re dangling from the rope begging to be hauled up when Roderick orders his henchman Wicke (Bremner) to cut the rope. They go plummeting to the ground. “We can always say the rope snapped” says Roderick. At the top of the beanstalk we get our first view of Giantland, an enormous stone head with a waterfall gushing from its mouth. (I wonder where all that water goes? There are several cataracts pouring from the cliffs.) The princess is nowhere to be found. They track her to a place where she was obviously picked up by a giant and split into two parties of three to continue the search. Roderick proves his evil nature by pushing the guardian Crawe (Marsan) accompanying him and Wicke off the edge of Giantland. They confront a giant who eats Wicke and Roderick almost joins him in his fate before donning the crown. Meanwhile, Jack has befriended Elmont, but a different giant finds the group and captures both guardians. Jack escapes by hiding underwater in a pond.

Eventually, Jack makes it to the hall of General Fallon, the two-headed leader (voiced by Bill Nighy) of the Giants (the smaller of the two heads is an idiot who babbles) and finds the princess in a cage and Elmont about to be made into a pig-in-a-blanket (along with two live pigs – that is until he jabs them with a toothpick.) by the giant cook (voiced by Philip Philmar). Roderick, on the other hand, is telling the army of giants: “Tonight we feast.” (Seriously? On Elmont, two pigs and a skinny princess?) Fallon eats one guardian whole when he expressed defiance, spitting out his armor, and announces “and tomorrow we attack at dawn.” Jack manages to slay the cook using one his own knives, frees Isabel and Elmont and they escape, only to find another sleeping giant (sporting a Don King style hairdo) blocking the way to the beanstalk. Jack finds a beehive and, with help from Elmont, uses a stick to place it into the giant’s helmet. The bees wake the giant who goes berserk and totters dangerously close to the edge of Giantland when one last bee attacks and over he goes. Jack and the Isabel start climbing down and Elmont stays to fend off any attack. (Again, really?)

Once on Earth, the King and his men witness the thunderous impact of the falling giant and decide to cut the beanstalk down rather than have more giants climb down. (This must have been before the Age of Enlightenment – nobody considers where a giant beanstalk will fall once cut down.) Nevertheless, it’s close. Jack and the Isabel make an Indiana Jones style landing through a haystack while swinging from a vine and stop just short of being hewn in two by a harrow, and Elmont catches the falling beanstalk as it clears the reach of the angry giants and trashes part of the town and the castle wall. He luckily bails out into the moat.

Did I mention that this movie is a little too long? That’s not all. The giants find the remainder of the magic beans and strew them on their land thus creating three beanstalks which, using their combined weight they force to grow downward to Earth. Fallon, who now has the crown after Roderick was killed by the Elmont (he wears it like a ring) is first into battle but winds up in the flaming oil covering the moat. The rest of the giants are in a tug-of-war with the King’s men to get the drawbridge open (Oh, brother!) while slinging flaming trees over the wall. (Why didn’t they just walk in on the downed beanstalk?).

Back in the palace, Jack and Isabel are trying to get to the tower to light the beacon to alert other kingdoms of the giants’ attack when Fallon bursts up through the floor. They try to escape but he grabs Isabel. Jack leaps to save her and is grabbed as well. Now what? It seems that Jack has one more ace up his sleeve, one last magic bean. As Old Double-ugly tries to eat him he pops the bean down the giant’s throat. It germinates and explodes the giant immediately after the smaller head says its only intelligible word, “F!” Jack retrieves the crown off of the giant’s fingers and wears it to victory over the humongous hoard that has just breached the castle gates. Needless to say, he marries Isabel and they’re telling the tale to their children at the end.

At one hour and 54 minutes this tale could have been told in less. The 3D effects were used less for amazing and startling the audience than for emphasizing the size dimensions, especially in a giant’s eye view of the King’s army and vice-versa. The costuming was excellent and kept to the period of the story. The computer graphic giants were wonderfully done and the sound effects and voices timed nicely. The musical score soared with glorious choral backgrounds and orchestral beauty, enhancing the action on screen. Ewen McGregor was his usual wonderful self and Stanley Tucci made for a great villain. Even with all this, it lacked the “Wow” quality that would give it the fourth martini glass and the character identification that would give it the fifth. Jack the Giant Slayer is an innovative telling of a familiar tale that needs no sequel (hopefully). (Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.)

Tribeca Canvas

313 Church Street (at Lispenard), New York City

When I heard that Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto was trying his hand at “comfort food” in his new downtown restaurant, I couldn’t wait to reserve a table. Downtown has been experiencing a renaissance since construction of the Freedom Tower began and chi-chi restaurants have been sprouting up (as well as disappearing) in the most unlikely of places. In the last few years I have dined at six or seven excellent restaurants on Church Street where previous to 9/11 it was fortunate to find a greasy spoon or a dumpy bar.

The unassuming entrance leads to a marvelous space decorated with canvas (walls and ceiling) painted to represent black trees growing up and across. The lighting is from large bare bulbs suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by exotic Indonesian tangled vines painted black (except over the bar, where they are red) in a ball-shape casting forest-like shadows on the walls. There are grey banquettes along the walls stitched with occasional red flowers and chairs at the bare, black pedestal tables preset with candle and a white oblong dish containing the silverware.

A déjà vu came over me at first sight and I realized that this was the former space occupied by Dennis Foy’s, an Asian fusion restaurant Helene and I dined at years ago. My waiter, Wesley, explained that Tribeca Canvas has only been there since last Thanksgiving as he brought a glass of water and took my drink order. The Crimson Mimosa tingled on the tongue as the champagne and blood orange juice danced with an intriguing spicy flavor.

The menu featured Snacks, Appetizers, Pasta, Rice and Bread (there is a Pan con Tomate), Salads, Entrees, and Sides. Wesley was very helpful in assisting me select my three courses. I started with the Lotus Chips – thinly-sliced Lotus flower heads deep fried in delicately flavored oil and lightly salted, served with an excellent Wasabi Guacamole dip. The full, sweet flavor of the avocado was tamed by the spice of the wasabi and went perfectly with my second Crimson Mimosa.

The wine list was categorized into reds and whites but the sub-categories were illegible in the low lighting, being printed in yellowish-orange on a white background (I let them know this). But no matter, the titles of the wines were perfectly readable. I chose a 2010 Pinot Grigio from La Viarte vineyards of Friuli Italy, which, strange to say became the most popular white wine that evening. It was crisp and light and accented every dish.

Even though Wesley advised me that my appetizer was small I chose the Hamachi Taco – yellowtail, guacamole, jalapeno and pico de gallo with cilantro in a crisp taco shell. Yes, five bites and it was a memory, but such a lovely memory. 

My main course was the special whole fish of the day, Rainbow Trout. The presentation was amazing. It stood on its belly, snaking across the plate open-mouthed through the translucent spicy orange sauce with islands of soft tofu and draped in shredded pickled vegetables and a sprig of cilantro. I had to take its picture before eating. A side dish of grilled Brussels sprouts cut into nice halves and quarters were a wonderful accompaniment. Knowing trout to be a bone-fest I gingerly used the fork and knife to pry the meat off into the mildly spicy sauce and enjoyed the flaky, tender texture and excellent taste. Soon, I realized that between the head and tail there was not a bone to be found. “Where are all the bones?” I asked Wesley. They were removed through the back (dorsal) of the fish before serving. I was truly thunderstruck. And then I discovered the lime slice inside the head. My respect for Morimoto’s talent doubled in that instant. But, being my mother’s son, I did find one or two small bones.

The desserts all looked inviting but I chose the Coconut Rice Pudding with Rum Raisins and Passion Fruit Sorbet (wonderful) and a cup of delicious green tea. After that, a glass of 10-year old Tawny Port finished a delightful (but not unexpected) meal. Wesley assured me that the chef was not in residence but that he was at his namesake in the Meat Packing District (between Hudson Street and 10th Avenue). I assured him that will return for the meat dishes. There is a tripe stew with my name on it.

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