Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maze Runner

Dinner and a Movie

From a Maze to Amazed

By Steve Herte

I've decided to break the bonds of conformity in my garden to include more color. Yes, I love white and yellow flowers but after a while it does become the same old, same old. My new irises arrived in time for planting this weekend. Next year, instead of the uniform purple there will be white, black, blue, yellow and rust irises. When my tulips come they will expand my color palette from yellow and white with shocking pink, orange, purple and bi-color tulips. The Hyacinths will no loner just be blue and white. I'm looking forward to that.

In other news I've finally finished the baby blanket I'm crocheting for my god-daughter's next child (due September 29th). The whole family have a pool going to guess the sex, weight, length and possible name for the child. There are some very interesting submissions.

This week was a partial reconstruction of the 100-foot journey. First introducing my friend Betty to Indian food on Tuesday and dining French on Friday. Between her month long detail to Atlanta and visiting her family in Ecuador I find I have to fit in time for Monica when I can and Friday was the perfect opportunity, knowing how she enjoyed the French restaurant in Atlanta. It was really coincidental that the movie was about an inescapable maze and one of the categories on the menu was French for inescapable. Enjoy!

The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox, 2014) – Director: Wes Ball. Writers: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin (s/p), James Dashner (book). Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Kaya Scodelario, Chris Sheffield, Joe Adler, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Randall D. Cunningham, & Patricia Clarkson. Color, 113 minutes.

When viewing the trailers for The Maze Runner I was thinking Lord of the Flies meets Labyrinth but thankfully the film proved to be much more. In fact, looking back at the previews I appreciate the masterful planning that went into attracting an audience without giving away too much. The colossal scope of the stage sets, the bone-jarring sound effects and the hint (only a hint) of what dangerous creatures lurked in the winding corridors surrounding The Glade at the center all worked together to lure me to the theater. It was worth it.
For three years, teenage boys have been one at a time thrust up a supply elevator into the center of this impossibly high circular maze with no memory of their past (except their name) and with the unspoken challenge to escape it. Although the maze has four entrances from The Glade, only one opens temporarily each day and closes before night. Those designated as “runners” are exactly that, the fastest ones who can see as much of the maze and remember it – hopefully to map it and discover a way out – zip out and return before the gate thunders closed. There’s one problem though, the maze changes its configuration each day. Walls swivel, rise and fall on a ponderous daily schedule.
Alby (Ameen) is the leader of the “colony” (if you will) of boys as he was the first to arrive and spend a whole month alone there. With the help of Gally (Poulter) he has set up a civilization with rules and job assignments for each new boy who arrives. They built their own shelters, grow their own food and explore the maze. That is until Thomas (O’Brien) arrives. Thomas is different. He’s curious and wants to know why the boys are there, who put them there and how to get out. He questions everything. When he hears this blood-curdling sound from beyond the gate he’s told it’s a “Griever” and that he doesn’t want to meet one. This curiosity puts him constantly at odds with Gally until one day Alby and Minho (Lee) are the runners and they do not make it back in time to cross the gate threshold. Thomas runs to help them and is trapped with them in the maze after dark. Alby has been “stung” by a Griever and cannot run with them. They decide to make a rope out of the many vines creeping up the sides of the maze walls (but none to the top) to hoist Alby up and out of danger. A Griever attacks and Minho runs. Thomas hides in the vines still holding the “rope” as the huge bionic scorpion stomps menacingly by.
Fortunately the two are reunited and go exploring (Why not? They can’t go back to The Glade.) and, in the process they are chased by a Griever and manage to trick it into entering a gap of two closing walls and it is crushed. The remaining boys in The Glade are overjoyed and agog that they are the first to survive a night in the maze.
Thomas’ curiosity is not sated and the next day he and a group of runners investigate the slain Griever. A flashing red light inside the gap inspires Thomas to get to boys to drag the creature’s leg out and they retrieve a metal cylinder with a red digital number 7 on it. They bring it back to The Glade. With Minho’s help Thomas discovers that this device is a key to escaping the maze.
Things get worse instead of better. The elevator rises with its final cargo, a young girl Teresa (Scodelario), two syringes of blue liquid and a note saying “She will be the last.” One syringe cures Alby of his sting but at night, the stone gate doesn’t close. In fact the three other gates rumble open and The Glade is over-run by Grievers.
For some reason the Grievers break off the attack and leave a handful of boys. Alby is taken and Gally blames Thomas for all the destruction and pain. Thomas has been having dreams of past events and Teresa appears in them. He realizes that he was among the people who put the boys there in a cruel (but necessary) experiment to train “survivors” who could live on the sun-scorched earth after a pandemic.
The Maze Runner is an engaging movie with a new twist on the doomsday story. I had no trouble believing any of the characters as they were all well-acted. Though fantastic in scale I never once wondered how the maze was built. I just accepted it. The Grievers were well created and the special effects were clever enough to never slow down the action and thus debunk them. They never looked phony. Though there were battle scenes the gore was not played up, nor was the “gross-out” factor. The script was clean and free of unnecessary vulgarity. Everyone spoke and acted their age without it. The hour and 53 minutes passed without my noticing any dead spaces to cut out.
There’s plenty of action and suspense and fairly loud noises (especially if you’re viewing it with RPS) so, know your child’s reactions to these before taking them. I enjoyed the film and stayed through the credits. It looks pretty certain that they are planning a sequel.
Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

O Cabanon
245 West 29th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), New York
According to its website; a “cabanon” is a French word to define a little hut in a garden. In the South of France it is more than that; it’s a small place where you can cook, eat, talk, and have a little nap…
From the street there is no evidence of a garden but the restaurant is completely open to the street with peopled tables almost forming a sidewalk café. The bordering on garish red neon and white twinkle lights on the yellow umbrella announce “O C” with the full name etched onto the glass of the open doors. I strolled in and passed the good-sized bar on the left to the Captain’s Station just past the bar. 
The young lady staffing the reception told me I had a choice of rooms. She walked me through the cozy brick-walled room lit by several strings of white twinkle lights. I could sit there, or, she turned the corner to the left, in this spacious room dominated by a formidable wine rack. She noted that a party of 10 had canceled and I had a choice of seats. I loved the room with its twin optical art paintings on the far wall and the table at a slight angle beckoning me. It was well-lit by a chandelier resembling a minor supernova with light bulbs flaring out from the center at various distances. 
I was charmed. Roxanne, my server arrived, took my water preference and presented the wine and drinks menu card and the even smaller food menu. I chose a cocktail called “Just Like Heaven” – gin, egg white, apricot liqueur or peach schnapps, Drambuie, lemon juice and simple syrup – amazing and powerful. I decided not to have a second, delicious but too dangerous.
The food menu was divided down the middle into two categories; Charcuterie (Delicatessen) Terre Et Mer (Land and Sea) and Les Incontournables (Inescapable). I soon learned that Roxanne did not speak a word of French when I had to point to the dishes after pronouncing them. Later she told me she spoke three languages, two of them Tagalog and Japanese, but none of them French. Together we came up with a three-course meal. I suggested a wine from the Burgundy region of France and she went to put in the order. 
The first dish arrived with a big “Yummy!” comment from Roxanne and was Escargots – baked in parsley, garlic, brandy, pernod liqueur and butter – served with crusty fresh bread. The enticing garlic aroma combined with the other ingredients almost set me on a feeding frenzy. I near forgot to photograph the dish. But with the wonderful bread the seven (I got a bonus) gastropods disappeared in record time with no evidence that the plate had been occupied. 
The wine steward apologized that she was out of the wine I chose and suggested two others; either the 2011 Pinot Noir from Genevrieres, Bourgogne or the 2013 Saint Pourçain, Loire Valley. She brought a taste of both to help me to decide. The Saint Pourçain was a lovely semi-sweet red dinner wine but the Pinot Noir had an undeniable edgy character that made it exciting.
Next to come to the table with an even more enthusiastic comment by Roxanne was the Brie a la Truffe Noir – Brie Cheese refined (and stuffed) with black truffle served with herbal loose greens salad on a cutting board. The cheese was delightful all by itself but the apple slices forming a crown on top added another dimension to its flavor. Again, another disappearing dish. 
My main course was Les Pâtes Farcies (stuffed pasta) – jumbo shell pasta filled with beef stew façon “coq au vin” garnished with watercress. The dish looked very appetizing but was the only one that was slightly off. The pasta shells were baked to almost crispness (I would have preferred them tender) and the “stew” stuffing was on the dry side. The first bite was a strong jolt of rosemary but that tapered off. It was tasty but not what I expected. Pasta should not require a knife to cut it.
Roxanne suggested a dessert but I had a craving (and the appetite left) for the Saucisson Chocolat – a sliced chocolate log with mixed nuts and marshmallow. On a cutting board it truly resembled the sausage it was named after. But the dark chocolate was heavenly. After four slices my appetite waned and I had the remainder packed away. I probably would have been able to finish it had not Roxanne been so sweet as to serve me a Crème Brulée – Madagascar vanilla custard topped with a layer of hard caramel and a dish of Macaroons beforehand. Loved the first, sent back the second. “Don’t tell anyone!” cautioned Roxanne. I didn’t.
The double espresso finished the meal nicely. I would definitely return to O Cabanon to sample different dishes such as the eggplant dish Les Souliers Vernis (Varnished Shoes) or even their lobster bisque.
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