Friday, November 8, 2013

Ender's Game

Dinner and a Movie

Ender the Royal

By Steve Herte

It’s been a tough game of catch-up at the office but I’m proud to say I’m back in control. Now I can focus on the future instead of the past. As I always tell my co-workers, the day you stop learning is the day you stop living. I learned this week how R2-D2 got its name in Star Wars. Apparently a stage manager called for an “R2-D2” meaning Reel Two, Dialogue Two, on the set of American Graffiti while George Lucas was writing Star Wars. Lucas decided it was a great name for one of his robots and it stuck. Just a few minutes ago I learned from my Internet provider that I could unfreeze my Clear Wi-Fi connection with a crochet hook. Who knew?

Friday, when I tried to go through the World Financial Center to the south bridge over the West Side Highway I discovered it was closed, thus my short cut to the restaurant was unavailable. It was a good thing I allowed enough time before my reservation, for I had to walk completely around Ground Zero (I hate that term) to reach the intersection of Rector and Washington streets. But I did get to see the new construction and take some interesting night shots. There’s also a building going up that currently looks like a Stegosaur, and Trinity Square has all the trees decked in white twinkle lights. I find it all very festive.

I learned not to judge a movie by the trailers. This one proved that fact. And . . . there’s no such thing as a monopoly on excellent lasagna. Enjoy!

Ender’s Game (Summit Entertainment, 2013) – Director: Gavin Hood. Writer: Gavin Hood (s/p). Based on Ender’s Game, a novel by Orson Scott Card. Cast: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Khylin Rhambo, Conor Carroll, & Moises Arias. Color, 114 minutes.

Ever notice that science fiction films proliferate whenever America has troops fighting overseas, in particular alien domination films? Well, this isn’t one of them. The flimsy back story to Ender’s Game says these aliens, called “Formics” (probably not what they would call themselves) because of their insectoid appearance (frankly they look more like mantises than ants but it refers to their breeding behavior), came to Earth and made war using superior numbers and technology. It was only through the innovative efforts of one man, Mazer Rackham  (Kingsley), that Earth defeated them by flying his fighter jet directly into a mothership. Assumed dead, Rackham became a legend in the minds of children thereafter.

No years are given, no reasons for invasion are proposed, no attempts at communication were voiced and no explanation as to why the fatal move was successful is made. All we know is that Colonel Graff (Ford) fully intends to prevent a second invasion. He and his second-in-command, Major Gwen Anderson (Davis), are searching for a “new kind of warrior,” one who will out think and out maneuver the “enemy” in such a way as to totally discourage any future visits to Earth. This warrior must be ruthless, cold-hearted, dedicated to saving the human race at all costs, and able to work as a team with his or her comrades as well as create novel defensive and offensive techniques. Who better fits this description than early teenage children? They are adept at video games, possess lightning fast hand-eye coordination, and are laser-focused on winning. And who more fit to lead them than Ender Wiggin (Butterfield) a skinny kid who, when bullied, ensures that the bully knows never to try it again.

I’m thinking that the book by Orson Scott Card must be voluminous because most of this at times tedious hour-and-54-minute movie involves the training a “launchee” must go through before battling the Formics. Ender rises through the ranks like a space-going Harry Potter learning battle techniques from his future crew: Petra Arkanian (Steinfeld), Bean (Knight), Alai (Partha), Dink Meeker (Rhambo), and Bernard (Carroll). Ender also puts bullying commander Bonzo Madrid (Arias) in the hospital, gaining the confidence and respect of leadership.

In his final training stage he meets a legend: Rackham is alive and it is he who will generate the last battle simulations for Ender and his troops. What Mazer and Graff do not tell their young army is that the ultimate simulation is the actual full-scale attack on the Formics’ home world. (Yes, somewhere between the first encounter and this moment Earth has developed interstellar travel, several styles of warships and a $30 billion weapon to annihilate the Formics.) This movie truly is Science Fiction. None of it is possible with today’s technology.

Butterfield is excellent as Ender and it’s refreshing to see Ford as a villain. Steinfeld could easily slip into the character Hermoine in Harry Potter movies, and Kinglsey is his usual untouchable self, even with the extreme facial tattoos. Steve Jabonsky’s musical soundtrack gives an epic and heroic tone to the film, even though it deals mainly with the fear generated by extreme prejudice and the huge burden of guilt accompanying a major act of manipulation. The concept and advertising of Ender’s Game are both good: the first being the intergalactic war with a heart, and the second in not giving away the twist at the end. The special effects were the true stars of Ender’s Game. I just wish it were a shorter movie. Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Regis Royal Ristorante
97 Washington Street (corner of Rector Street), New York

Tucked away a few blocks south of the World Trade complex is this high-ceilinged, bi-level Italian-American restaurant with a black and white theme (including the checkered floor) and one huge red wall at the back setting off an enormous crystal chandelier. The tables are black with white tablecloths and black napkins and the chairs are black wood and cushioned (as are the banquettes) in white. I entered through the 21 Rector Street door and noticed the lack of a Captain’s station. This wasn’t a problem since I was the only reservation they had that evening, though several tables were occupied. The gentleman in charge gave me a choice of single tables and I chose one in the corner in the back for the best view of the scene.

Right from the start I could tell I was over-dressed. Business Casual means a tie, but no jacket to me. Apparently not to most diners there who went the gamut of jeans and team jerseys to sweat shirts and baseball caps. (The table in front of me had two males wearing caps – oh well.) My waiter, the appropriately named Milan, brought a glass of water and the two-page menu and took my martini order.

When I checked out the menu online I saw an item I could not resist. Entitled “our Signature Lasagna,” it directly challenged the lasagna restaurant I dined at two weeks ago. I just had to work this into my dinner, even if it meant taking some home. Milan brought the martini (which was perfect) and helped me assemble a three-course meal. He suggested a soup, a half order of pasta and an entrée. I knew that lasagna is never made into half orders but decided to act on his suggestion.

When Milan brought the bread dish containing three slices of focaccia and a ramekin of olive oil mixed with cracked pepper I ordered the first course, Pasta Fagiole, a hearty fairly large bowl of cannellini beans, prosciutto and tubetini pasta in a nice thick broth. I loved it, finishing every drop. The wine list was a single concise card featuring several well-priced bottles. I asked Milan about the wine from Uruguay and he brightened up like Edison’s light bulb. “I chose that wine for the wine list!” he told me proudly, and enthusiastically described the rich deep red, fruity quality of the 2004 Tannat Roble Riserva del Virrey from Carnelos, Uruguay. “It surpasses all those Malbecs from Argentina,” he confided with almost a sneer, “I’ll give you a taste.” He brought over a bottle, a glass and a clever device I recognized (because I have one) that aerates the wine as you pour it through into the glass. I had to agree the wine was superb and told him to leave the bottle.

Meanwhile, I was ready for the Signature Lasagna: ground veal and beef together with mozzarella cheese and a homemade cabernet tomato sauce. The portion was manageable, the aroma irresistible and after one taste I went into a feeding frenzy. The sauce was delightful and richer than any I had before, effectively matching the lasagna I had recently loved, and it disappeared before I knew it. I even used the remaining focaccia to soak up the last of that fantastic sauce.

Surprise! I was still hungry enough for the main course, Lamb Chops, consisting of five baby lamb chops lightly flavored with mint, and sided with young tender grilled asparagus and roasted rosemary potatoes. Another feeding frenzy until there was nothing left but a few of the less-than-interesting potatoes. I didn’t eat them, telling Milan that everything else had so much wonderful flavor that the potatoes were boring in comparison, which was true.

Dessert?” “Of course.” “Tiramisu?” “Again? I just had it two weeks ago.” “It’s really good.” “Sure, why not.”

My Tiramisu was served attractively – with raspberry syrup scrollwork on the plate – and was as good as it looked. Technically, the other desserts on the menu were pedestrian. I must have impressed Milan because the dessert, the double-espresso and the quaint old-fashioned vial of Grappa, was on the house. (Sorry Dad, no leftovers.) I wondered about the name of the restaurant since Regis and Royal mean almost the same. The business card cleared that up. The owner’s name is Regis Androvic. Now that’s Italian!

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