Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Host

Dinner and a Movie

The Host From Zio

By Steve Herte

With another busy working week aside, I was a little tired and hoping for entertainment. Well, I got some, but not where I expected it. This generation's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was nowhere near as good but the restaurant had many more possibilities. You'll see.

The Host (Chockstone Pictures, 2013) Director: Andrew Niccol. Cast: Rachel Roberts, Shyaam Karra, Brent Wendell Williams, Scott Lawrence, Jalen Coleman, Max Irons, Jake Abel, Marcus Lyle Brown, Saoirse Ronan, Chandler Canterbury, Boyd Holbrook, Diane Kruger, and William Hurt. Color, 125 minutes.

As The Host begins, we see a vision of outer space as the Earth draws near. The voice-over tells us that there is peace, the environment has been healed, there is no poverty and humanity has been perfected – all because of our successful invasion. The scene changes and we meet Melanie (Ronan) and her little brother Jamie (Canterbury) trying to elude the “Seekers” (humans already hosting alien beings) who are trying to make them hosts as well. Melanie lures them away from her brother and tries to kill herself by launching herself through a high window to the ground below but she doesn’t die from the fall and an alien is implanted in her. It’s an easy operation. She’s sedated, a slit is cut into her neck and the luminous writhing puffball alien enters through the slit, healing it from the inside.

The alien calls itself “Wanderer” and normally would take over all functions of Melanie’s body, but Melanie is still in there and fighting. The head Seeker (Kruger) tries to find the locations of other humans using Wanderer’s search of Melanie’s memories but Melanie’s will is strong enough to repress everything except her brother’s name and an outline (drawn on paper) of the butte formations where her uncle has a house in the desert. Melanie continues to plead with and reason with the alien until she convinces her to escape, borrow a car (no one steals anymore) and travel to her Uncle Jeb’s (Hurt) place under the guise of going to her “healer’s” (Brown) in Tucson. Along the way, the alien realizes she’s not going the right way and tries to turn around but Melanie takes over and reverses direction so suddenly that the car flips and is totaled. Then it’s a long desert walk to what looks like Monument Valley.

While sleeping under the only tree, her uncle finds her and gives her water. When he finds out she’s now a host (all hosts’ irises glow eerily) he’s not that happy. Neither is anyone at the refuge they’ve built inside the towering buttes. Melanie get slapped and punched by everyone until, one by one they realize that her consciousness is still alive. They shorten the alien name to “Wanda” and show her around the refuge, which includes an immense indoor wheat field using an array of mirrors that can be opened and closed mechanically to provide sunlight. As Wanda slowly ingratiates herself with the humans, Ian (Abel), one of the young men, falls in love with her. This doesn’t go so well with Melanie or her boyfriend Jared (Irons). But they work around it.

When Wanda helps with the harvest and with going into town for supplies, she saves Kyle (Holbrook) from drowning in the underground river below the refuge (after he tries to kill her). At that point, she’s pretty much accepted by all. That is, until she witnesses the resident doctor (Lawrence) killing her alien kind by trying to surgically remove them from their hosts.

Meanwhile, the head Seeker has not given up and travels by shiny silver sports car (looks almost like a Corvette), helicopter and motorcycle to find the hidden humans and is thwarted time and again.

The Host is a strangely conceived movie with beautiful scenery and soundtrack but very little else. The acting is juvenile and the script pedestrian. What few special effects there are harken back to the Star Trek movies and the plot begs more questions than it answers. There are several sleepy occasions where the pace of the film slows to a crawl and more than one “Oh brother!” moment. It’s based on a novel by Stephenie Meyer and directed by Andrew Niccol (known for Gattaca and The Truman Show), who also wrote the screenplay. If you happen to be a teenage girl and loved the Twilight series you will probably love The Host. I just left the theater wondering how the first alien (which could easily be stomped by a human) get implanted without someone else to make the entry slit and what happened to all the other races on other planets that these creatures made into hosts. (Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.) 

17 West 19th Street (near 5th Avenue), New York City

A red banner with the name in white hangs over the entrance to Zio, a charming two-room Italian restaurant with bare wood tables, strange angles and warm, soft lighting. The bar in front draws a lively crowd and the wall behind it displays the bottles on tilted shelves to match the odd-angled décor. The dining area in back is colored in warm shades of brown and orange with a pale ceiling using spots for lighting as well as a lit column in the center. The hostess gave me a choice of several tables and I settled on one along the back wall from where I could see everything and she left the cocktail and drink menu, the wine list and the food menu.

My waiter, Daniel, brought a glass of water and took my martini order to the bar while I read the menu. The menu is arranged on a single oblong card as follows: Antipasti (literally, before pasta), Dall Orto (soups and salads), Pizza Alla Griglia, Primi (pastas), Le Carni (meats), Pesce (fish) and Contorni (side dishes). When Daniel returned with my frosty cocktail he listed the specials of the day, which included a sausage Ravioli and swordfish steak, all very appetizing. But, being Good Friday, the ravioli was out of the question. Nevertheless, there were ample choices to make a three-course meal. The wine list was impressive and it was easy to find a well-priced bottle of Bucci Verdichio (2009) to go with a seafood dinner.

I started with Crocchette – three fluffy croquettes of flaky filet of sole in a sesame seed coating served on tartar sauce – and I realized I’d forgotten how good sole was. Daniel agreed it’s one of their best dishes. Half orders of pasta depend upon which pasta you choose. After asking Daniel if the Fusilli was indeed the pasta I thought it was and being assured by him that it was, I ordered it. What arrived was a delicious pasta dish with chunks of sea scallop, tender eggplant and tomato in a white sauce, but it was definitely not fusilli. It was once again Strozzepreti. (Doesn’t anybody know what fusilli is anymore?) I explained it to Daniel feeling like a pedant. The dish was very filling so I had them wrap up half of it to take home and awaited the main course.

The manager arrived with the main course, Orata – a whole pan roasted Sea Bream – and joked, “We saved the Bass-t for last!” Then he offered to filet it but I chose to enjoy that occupation myself. The fish was rejoined with the artichoke hearts, Taggiasca olives and cherry tomatoes in the rich red sauce and it was great. Eventually it was just a skeleton and a small pile of delicate bones. Daniel was impressed.

Good thing I wrapped up the pasta. I still had room for a delightful Panna Cotta and a cup of espresso. Zio (“uncle” in Italian) was a perfect place for a Good Friday dinner and this uncle will be back for those sausage ravioli.

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