Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Into the Storm

Dinner and a Movie

Seeking Haven from the Storm

By Steve Herte

What a stay-cation! My hotel, the "Night Hotel," was the weakest link by far. The only thing "sexy" about it was the lobby with its two columnar fish tanks and writhing chandeliers. My room was small – they had to put the mini-bar under the desk – which left me no place for my legs. But the bed was comfy and there was plenty of hot water. After all, it's just a base of operations. Sorry Ed, they didn't even have pay-per-view, and I couldn't catch up on movies. But the week went well. On Saturday, the street fair on 45th Street changed my restaurant plans to Bobby Van's Grill, which was surprisingly good for a steakhouse chain. My visit to the 911 Museum on Sunday was cavernous and vaguely creepy, but fascinating at the same time. But a visit to my all-time favorite restaurant, Henry's End, that evening made all that go away.

Monday, I took a day trip to Yonkers and played at Empire City casino - fun and not too much money lost. Tuesday was perhaps the highlight of the week with the Turner Classic Movies Tour – a three-hour bus ride (A three-hour tour. That sounds familiar.) around Manhattan – stopping at various place where famous movies were shot. I now know the exact subway grating where Marilyn Monroe's skirt went up. My Karaoke choices that night reflected movie themes.

Wednesday, it rained, and after a breakfast at Ellen's Stardust Diner (singing wait staff), I headed to a packed Museum of Natural History. They couldn't let anyone else in through the main entrance, so I entered through the Planetarium doors. There I saw a great 3D documentary on the Great White Shark and the new Planetarium show, “Dark Universe,” an intergalactic voyage.

Thursday and Friday were two of the most beautiful days I can recall: I spent one at the Botanical Gardens and the other at the Bronx Zoo. From there it was my movie night and dinner which, as you now see follow. Enjoy!

Into the Storm (WB, 2014) Director: Steven Quale. Writer: John Swetnam. Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Alycia Debnam Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Jeremy Sumpter, Lee Whittaker, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep, Scott Lawrence, David Drumm, Brandon Ruiter, & Jimmy Groce. Color, 89 minutes.

If there’s anything this movie states quite graphically, it’s that the weather has gotten more violent and unpredictable. So can acting ability. Into the Storm depends heavily for its credibility on its spectacular special effects and intense musical soundtrack to keep the audience gripping their seats in terror. If there hadn’t been such an abundance of reported tornadoes this year forming in all sorts of strange places (like Boston), the comic relief provided by two “Twista Chasers” would have lightened the mood considerably.

In yet another “hand-held-camera” filming event we meet the Fuller family, Gary (Armitage), Donnie (Deacon) and Trey (Kress), who are going about their usual day preparing for the Silverton High School graduation. The boys are in charge of filming the exercises for a “time capsule” to be opened in 25 years. There is obvious non-communication between the boys and their dad, and Donnie voices his concern several times. But dad is in the world of being the Assistant Principal of Silverton High School and making sure everything goes without a hitch. Little do they know the form and size the “hitch” will take.

The main plot revolves around Pete (Walsh) and his crew of storm chasers, who are depending on a grant to film tornadoes, and who are currently batting zero. Pete blames the newest member of his team, Allison (Callies), a young beautiful woman with a master’s degree in meteorology, for leading them in the wrong directions. The friction between the two is palpable and the rest of the team often tries to intervene. When other storm-chasing group and media representatives are heading to another town in Oklahoma, Allison insists that Silverton is the one that’s going to be hit. At first, it looks like she’s wrong again and Pete is fuming, until golf-ball sized hail starts falling outside their motel and they race to their vehicles.

Pete has designed an armored “tank” he calls “Titan” that can drill into the surrounding pavement and withstand the highest wind speeds of any known tornado. His goal is to position Titan directly into the path of one and discover what the “eye” is like, and record this for posterity (and his individual fame). Be careful what you wish for, Pete!

Donnie talks his brother into an encounter with the girl of his dreams, Kaitlyn (Carey), but doesn’t expect Donnie to volunteer to assist her on re-recording her term assignment, thus leaving him alone to film the graduation. Trey and Kaitlyn go off to an abandoned lumber mill to complete her statement about the environmental hazard of such a building still existing.

Cue the wacky weather. The supercell expands to ridiculous size and starts breeding tornadoes everywhere. Pete is excited and positions his Titan in the path of one that dissipates just before it hits him. Donk and Reevis (Davis and Reep), the redneck “Twista Chasers,, are ecstatic and get drunk to celebrate. A downpour interrupts the high school ceremonies, and everyone heads inside. Whoops! A tornado hits the building and tears off half the roof, raining debris down on the frightened students. The Principal (Lawrence) eventually gets everyone into the storm cellar of the high school. Meanwhile, Trey and Kaitlyn are trapped in the wreckage of the lumber mill.

But that’s not all. Two major tornadoes touch down and merge into a category 5 miles-wide tornado, with wind speeds of up to 300 miles per hour, and heading straight for the school. This breaks a water pipe that starts filling up the well in the lumber mill’s floor where Trey and Kaitlyn thought they would be relatively safe until being rescued. Gary and Allison convince the Principal that they have to get all the students out before this monster hits. A line of school buses filled with terrified kids starts down the road just ahead of the huge tornado as it destroys the school and, in an impressive special effect, the airport.

Gary still wants to find Trey and Allison, and he risks life and limb (quite a few trees are tossed around) to do so. The heroes of our story find themselves in a storm drain as the mega-tornado hits, and Pete blocks the grating with Titan. This works until the eye of the tornado crosses and the back winds (much, much worse) hit. The grappling cable from Titan breaks and Pete is airborne. He travels up and up the funnel until he reaches the top (and this is where fantasy meets fact) and views glorious sunset-hued clouds and bright sunlight (but no land of Oz and no soft wicked witch to land on as he heads back down).

Into the Storm seems to make too light of a serious force of nature. It both scares you and makes you laugh. The storm scenes are very intense and violent, which is something I expected. But when Donk and Reevis are still alive and joking (and hanging from a tree) at the end, I had to say to myself, “Really?” It’s a graphic movie about the havoc tornadoes can cause. Heavy vehicles are dropped randomly and at one point a child’s pink tricycle is shown protruding from the door of a van. Think about how your children will react to this before taking them. I was entertained for the full hour and 29 minutes, but it may not have been what the director intended.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Haven on Rooftop
Sanctuary Hotel132 West 47th StreetNew York

Climb the red-carpeted stairway to the entrance of the ornate façade of the Sanctuary Hotel and a doorman will open the heavy wooden door for you. “Dining on Roof-top?” “Yes.” “Follow this gentleman to the end of the corridor.” “Thank you.” 

The elevator takes you to the ninth floor where you exit left and see a blue door and hear laughter and conversation over the contemporary music above. You climb a short staircase and are now in Haven, an airy open space wrapped around the roof of the hotel. There are plexiglass panels to protect the diners from the wind, and colorful triangles of canvas hung overhead interspersed with plastic sheets to protect from rain. Beautiful people are all around dining at shiny polymer-treated wood tables enjoying cocktails and each other. In a corner of the roof is the bar with a flat screen television above it.

The young lady at the Captain’s Station greeted me and led me to a taller table toward the back flanked by three high stools. She asked me if this was OK or if I would prefer to wait for a conventional table. I saw that there was a wall for me to lean on should I need it and accepted the table.

Soon, Tara, my lovely waitress, arrived with a narrow, single-sided menu card and an accompanying two-sided drink menu. I chose the “Safe Haven” – Absolute mango vodka, passion fruit and ginger beer – and took my order to the bartender. The food menu is divided into Appetizers, Salads, Entrees, Pastas, Sides, “To Share” and Pizzas. Judging that the “To Shares” would be large and seeing for myself as some were served at the next table, I ignored that part of the menu. The cocktail was delightful and refreshing, reminding me of a night in Bermuda. I didn’t know Absolute made a mango-flavored vodka. I’ll have to look for it.

Eventually, I decided on a two-course meal as three would be too much food. I chose the Crab and Avocado Palette as my appetizer. The presentation of certain dishes always amazes me. Here, in the center of an immaculate white dish was a cylinder consisting of jumbo lump crabmeat on the bottom and coarsely chopped avocado on top, crowned with a slice of lemon and with a drizzle of avocado puree on either side. Delicately maneuvering my fork I was able to get portions of both avocado and crab and enjoy them together. It was light and rich at the same time.

At this point I asked Tara why there existed a side of “truffled fries” when two of the four main courses already came with fries. “Oh, those are just regular fries. But some people just like fries and they order both.” I did. The Steak au Poivre made to my order with a Mesclun Salad and “regular” fries was nicely spicy and the vinaigrette dressing on the salad was tantalizing. 

The paper cone of truffled fries was suspended in a steel wire-serving device that also had arms to hold catsup and mayonnaise dipping sauces. As I watched the truffle oil drip slowly onto the table from the paper cone I wondered how I could stop such a waste. But, remembering that I’m on vacation I put that thought out of my head. I just enjoyed my steak and fries, fries, fries and another “Safe Haven.” The day had been beautiful and the evening breeze made a rare al fresco dining experience very special for me.

When I finished my main course there was still quite a bit of the truffled fries left. I ordered a glass of chardonnay to accompany them. But then, Tara brought the dessert menu. “Pack up the fries! I’m having dessert.” The Chocolate Mousse sounded so heavenly I had to order it and the Rice Pudding Martini was inevitable. Both arrived in stemmed martini glasses. I remarked to the server, “Is this decadence, or what?” The chocolate mousse was denser than my brother’s recipe but it was still sinfully delicious. The martini’s main flavor was coconut with a dash of clove. I suggested adding cardamom and bits of cooked rice to add to the mystique. “You should work here.” Tara said.

The limited menu of Haven on Rooftop makes me feel that each dish gets the proper care in preparation and from what I had, that must be the case. I’ll have to find a reason to return. This time with friends I can laugh and talk with.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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