Thursday, June 5, 2014


Dinner and a Movie

The Maleficent Peacock

By Steve Herte

This past week was my first vacation week of the year and what I affectionately call “my planting week.” Due to necessary conditions at work it was a week later than I would want but everything turned out perfectly. I had great weather every day and managed to get six rose bushes, 43 dahlias, and seeds for tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, string beans, Lima beans, marigolds, forget-me-nots, Shasta daisies, zinnias and Delphinium all in place with room to spare. Of course the weeding is the worst part, but when you don’t have to rush anywhere and are not obligated to spend any length of time at it, it was easy. I even managed to trim the hedges in front and spruce up the lawns. I almost felt as if I were retired – only worked from 9:30 am until noon (until 1:00 pm on Thursday because of church duties). I even remembered to plant marigolds around the base of each rose bush to ward off aphids.

On Tuesday, I finally fulfilled my promise to a waitress at my karaoke place and sang “Skyfall,” by Adele (the waitress’ name is also Adele) and I think I did a good job. She liked it.

Friday, I took advantage of the fact that I didn’t have to schedule my evening by when I got off from work and attended a 3:00 pm movie and had an early dinner. I guess this is what retirement feels like. Enjoy!

Maleficent (Walt Disney, 2014) Director: Robert Stromberg. Writers: Linda Woolverton. Based on: The story “La Belle au bois dormant” by Charles Parrault; the story “Little Briar Rose” by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm; the motion picture Sleeping Beauty story adaptation by Erdman Penner, screenplay by Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, & Milt Banta. Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharito Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham, Sarah Flind, Hannah New,  Isobelle Malloy, Michael Higgins, Ella Purnell, & Jackson Bews. Color and 3D, 97 minutes.

What mankind doesn’t understand, he seeks to destroy. This could very well the moral of this new twist on the Disney version of an 1812 tale of Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm (which they adapted from a French fairy tale, “La Belle au Bois Dormant” by Charles Perrault). And since Disney gave the name “Maleficent” to the “bad” fairy and the name “Aurora” to the princess who would become Sleeping Beauty (neither were named as such originally, although “Briar Rose” was applied to the princess by the Grimms) I surmise it appropriate that Disney creates this surprisingly different slant on their 1959 animated feature.

The narrator explains at the beginning that there were once two kingdoms, the kingdom of men and the kingdom of the “fair people” (magical beings), and that the two realms did not get along with each other. Maleficent is a young fairy girl (Molloy) who joyfully soars through the air on her powerful wings greeting all the strange creatures as she flies by. The audience takes flight with her thanks to remarkable cinematography. One day, young prince Stefan (Higgins) crosses the border between realms and is cornered by two enormous “tree warriors.” When Maleficent flies to encounter him and warn him to stay away, they strike up a relationship instead. Upon discovering when he takes her hand that iron burns fairies (he wears an iron ring – important to remember later on in the movie) he removes the ring and throws it away, impressing her. He vows to return but gets caught up in the “ways of mankind.”

When next the two meet they are teenagers (Purnell and Bews) and it looks like love in bloom. Unfortunately, King Henry (Cranham), desirous of the “treasures” held by the fairy folk, sends an army to take it by force and is rebuffed solidly by tree creatures and dragons under Maleficent’s leadership. Wounded, he seeks revenge, proclaiming to his captains (including Stefan) that anyone who vanquishes Maleficent will be his successor. Stefan uses his unique bond with Maleficent too lull her into a deep sleep and, when he discovers he cannot bring himself to kill her he cuts off her wings, presents them to King Henry, and is proclaimed successor. The wings are then locked in an iron and glass display case in the castle. Needless to say, Maleficent (now Jolie) no longer believes in “true love’s kiss.” She encounters some young men who have captured a crow in a net and saves the beleaguered bird by transforming him into a human. He introduces himself as Diaval (Riley) and becomes her “wings.” Then she magically builds a titanic wall of thorns around her land to ensure no more incursions by men.

Now we get to the more familiar story of Sleeping Beauty (at least the Disney version). King Stefan and his Queen announce the birth and christening of their daughter Aurora. All in the kingdom are invited to attend, including three fairies, Flittle (Manville), Knotgrass (Staunton), and Thistletwit (Temple), but not Maleficent. (There were seven fairies in the Grimm story, six of which endowed the princess with the gifts of beauty, wit, grace, dance, song and music.) This princess is slightly short-changed when, after all this beauty and happiness, the third fairy is interrupted by Maleficent’s grand entrance. She literally blows people aside (one of several great special effects), and then curses the child with pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and falling asleep (not dying) forever (not for just 100 years). She then adds the clause, “and no power on Earth shall be able to revoke this curse,” which is another important thing to remember later on in the film.

The rest we pretty much know. The king orders all spinning wheels to be destroyed, burnt, or stored in a dungeon in the castle (bad idea). The three “good” fairies take the baby princess to a safe cottage in the middle of nowhere, believing they can raise her for 16 years and one day (without magic), but they are ill-equipped for the task. Throughout the entire period of time Maleficent keeps watch at a distance and better provides for the needs of the child than the three bumbling fairies. The last thing she suspects is that she will develop a caring (and loving) bond with the princess. And when on the day before her 16th birthday, Aurora (Fanning) confronts Maleficent in the barrier wall around her kingdom and addresses her as “my Fairy Godmother,” Maleficent begins to think about revoking the curse.

Maleficent stands the Sleeping Beauty story on its head and asks “what if?” and proceeds from there. As I’ve said before the cinematography is spectacular in 3D (and probably dizzying in IMAX). The soundtrack intensifies the many moods in the film and keeps you on the edge of your seat in the final battle (yes, of course, there’s a dragon – but not who you think). Yes, there is also a Prince Phillip (Thwaits) but his character is totally eclipsed by Jolie’s powerfully dominant role. The magical CGI characters inhabiting the “Moors” are beautifully done and the 3D effects provide depth rather than shock value. There is minimal bloodshed and only innocent love scenes and the well-placed humor breaks up the serious moments wonderfully. My only questions would be what was the third fairy going to bestow on the princess before she was interrupted and how come Stefan had an English accent as a teenager and a distinctly Scottish burr as a king? It’s still a marvelous movie and as the narrator explains at the end, sometimes the greatest villain can also be the greatest hero.

Rating: 5 out of 5 martini glasses.

The Peacock at The William
24 East 39th Street (Madison Avenue)New York

The four-story 1890’s era brownstone on 39th Street had its first rebirth in 1924 as the Williams College alumni club and later became The William Hotel in 2010. Early in 2013 two of its major rooms became the restaurant The Peacock and the Club Shakespeare, and in July of 2013 Jason Hicks arrived from Philadelphia, becoming the chef who combined elements of English recipes with modern techniques to create a British cuisine in New York.

For the first time in 41 years I forgot my reservation time and when I arrived at the foot of the front stairs flanked by the elegant wrought-iron banisters and formal black awning reading “The William” in white letters, I was 15 minutes ahead of opening time for the restaurant. The young lady at the Captain’s Station directed me to the Library Bar (which was indeed a library at one time) and I took a seat. 

Michael, the bartender, greeted me and handed me the cocktail list. Imagine my surprise that a British bar did not have Beefeaters gin? There was a young English couple also seated at the bar and as soon as I decided to switch to vodka (the gin supply was not to my tastes) the young lady suggested Tito’s vodka, an American-made spirit. Surprisingly after conferring with Michael on my preferences in a martini I had a delightful drink. We chatted and laughed and Michael asked where in England I was from and was amazed to hear I was born and bred in Queens, New York. Apparently I’ve had an English accent since grammar school.

When the restaurant opened, the young lady retrieved me and carried my cocktail as we walked down the hall to the dining room. As much as I regret the destruction of the mahogany forests of South America I have to admit it makes a beautiful statement on a dining room wall. The room was half-paneled with it, the upper half decked with various non-descript “modern” art works and a glittering crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling’s center. The tables were bare wood with woven placemats. I sat on the leather-cushioned banquette on the wall to left of the entrance with a perfect view of the entire room. The waiters’ station was on the left adjacent wall where daylight streamed in from the outdoor patio.

As soon as I was seated a server asked if “local” (tap) water was my preference and I concurred. The manager came by and greeted me and asked me where in England I was from. Same reaction. He brought me the menu and the wine list. The menu is simply organized into Starters (soups, salads and appetizers), Mains, and Sides. Amy, my waitress, arrived soon after and listed the specials of the day, one of which would become my main course. 

Amy’s face and attitude told me I could trust her judgment implicitly and her presence told me she knew good food. I suggested a three-course dinner and she heartily approved my selections. I got the impression Amy liked humor and I was right. When I chose my wine I asked her if she were familiar with the Beatles. She said yes. I told her that the wine I chose was not the “One After 909,” but exactly 909. She giggled and was off to find the 2011 Ernie Els “Big Easy” Shiraz blend from Stellenbosch vineyards, South Africa. But they were out of it. Here’s where my instinct of trust paid off. She suggested the 2010 Ben Glaetzer “The Bishop” Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Australia. It sounded good to me. I asked her if she ever saw the Monty Python routine “The Bishop” and described it a little to her. She remarked about how funny it must have been and went to get the wine. I have to admit that for the second time in a row, a screw-top wine from Australia was perfect. It was a beautiful deep red color, had fruitiness and good body and was not too dry.

It was a lovely compliment to the Tickler Cheddar Caesar Salad – two intact quarters of crisp Romaine lettuce sprinkled with shredded English cheddar cheese, pickles, pickled onions, parsley, and dill with sliced croutons in a spicy anchovy dressing. Normally I eschew the anchovies but the combination of flavors and spices was very pleasing indeed.

My second course was selected for its originality. The Harrogate Loaf was unusual for me because of its mixture of veal, pork, and chicken liver into a terrine garnished with cornichon and caper salad and graced with fruit chutney. There were also toasted baguette slices to top with this delicious trio.

The dish that won me over was the Duck Cottage Pie and the Rabbit Pie with Apple Cider was a Madras Curried Lamb on basmati rice topped with a light yoghurt sauce and garnished with parsley. I told Amy that the chef has a real knack with Madras curry. She said that he might be visiting but I was enjoying my food too much to notice that he never did. When Amy asked if there was anything else I needed, I quickly thought, “Side dish.” The Triple Fried Chips was a cup full of steakhouse fries standing on end ready for plucking and eating and already seasoned just right.

I was thinking that I was rapidly approaching a sated state when Amy brought the dessert list. It was fatal. I saw the word “butterscotch” and ordered the Marianne’s Milk Chocolate and Maldon Seas Salt Tart with butterscotch ice cream and hazelnut cream. Wow! It was sweet, salty and scotchy – almost heaven. Then after a double espresso and a lovely glass of 2013 La Spinetta Moscato D’Asti “Biancospino” from the Piedmont region of Italy (the only item from the Continent), it was easy to decide upon a return visit to the Peacock. The William is a charming place with friendly, fun people and an innovative chef with interesting recipes. My déjà vu proved that I had been there before, when it was still the Williams College Club and the lead in my quartet, Chet, was the chef and we performed to the delight of all.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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