Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Boxtrolls

Dinner and a Movie

Tinkering Trolls and Tasty Tacos

By Steve Herte

Being an obsessive-compulsive I should have known it was only a matter of time before I couldn't stand the mess that was being made of my work area at the office, and Friday proved the breaking point. I set out to update all the forms and publications in our stock and wound up disposing of many items not belonging to my group. It was a little challenging and tiring, but the results were satisfying. I'll never understand how someone can finish a can of V8 juice and just leave it there for someone else to throw away, and forget about cleaning the microwave or the counter space below it. Sticky and smelly. (Maybe a new cartoon for The Simpsons?) I’ve been told this condition will only last until May. Let's hope so.

When Monica heard I was dining at a Mexican restaurant, she made herself scarce. It seems she has the same disdain for Mexican food as for the men that prepare it. I'm glad that's not my heritage. But this restaurant is light years away from tamales and enchiladas (neither of which are on the menu) and seems to be creating a "cuisine" (Chef Chet may have to eat his words on that subject.). The movie was wonderful, as you'll see. Enjoy!

The Boxtrolls (Focus Features, 2014) DirectorsGraham AnnableAnthony StacchiWriters: Irena Brignull, Adam Pava (s/p). Alan Snow (novel Here Be Monsters). Voices: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Nika Futterman, Pat Fraley, Fred Tatasciore, Max Mitchell, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Maurice LaMarche, & James Urbaniak. Animated, color, 97 minutes.

White Hats do not make you, cheese does not make you, you make you.”

The town of Cheesebridge is a fantasy town somewhere in the 19th Century in a parallel universe England. The mountain that the town is built on is so steep it puts Mont Saint Michel to shame. At the top is where white-hatted Lord Portley-Rind (voiced by Harris) lives and administrates town policy with his two equally white-hatted advisers. However, they never seem to accomplish anything beyond tasting cheeses.

Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) is the red-hatted town exterminator with a dream – to wear a white hat and spend all his time in the tasting room. The fact that he is deathly allergic to cheese does not deter him one whit. He deliberately spreads the rumor warning the town about the nocturnal Boxtrolls who prowl the night looking for children to snatch and eat and thus, the curfew is established and observed by all. He bases this rumor on the missing “Trowbridge Baby,” who was taken by a boxtroll and never seen again. He hatches a scheme to make a deal with Lord Portley-Rind to rid the town of boxtrolls in exchange for a white hat and a seat in the tasting room. The Lord agrees to this.

Meanwhile, the Trowbridge baby is being lovingly raised to boyhood by a boxtroll named Fish (Baker – also the voices of Wheels and Bucket) who teaches him their tinkering ways. In this back-story we learn that the boxtrolls are very like The Borrowers (1997): they go out at night taking things thrown in the garbage, pieces of other things, things lying around and sometimes, things that are nailed in place. But unlike the Borrowers, boxtrolls are master builders, and they create new machines with the various items they find. They live peacefully underground and sleep in a neat pile of boxes (the only clothing they know). Whatever is written on the outside of the box becomes the troll’s name.

In my research I learned that cardboard boxes were invented in the mid-1800s, which makes them appropriate to this story.

One night, Winnie (Fanning) in a fit of pique at her father’s (Lord Portley-Rind) inattention to her needs, tosses his white hat out the window where it lands in the middle of the deserted street. She thinks better about it, goes to retrieve it and witnesses a group of boxtrolls along with a boy wearing a box with the word “Eggs” on it. Archibald Snatcher discovers her in the street and takes her in to confront her father (who, of course, doesn’t believe her).

When Fish is taken by Snatcher and his three henchmen – Mr. Trout (Frost), Mr. Pickles (Ayoade) and the nasty Mr. Gristle (Morgan) – Eggs (Wright) decides to dress up as a real boy and go “into the light” (daytime) to look for him. He bumps into Winnie who eventually befriends him and tells her the truth about the boxtrolls. She in turn proves to him – to his amazement – that he is not a boxtroll, but he is indeed the Trowbridge baby.

Eggs tries to rally the remaining boxtrolls but his group is captured by Snatcher and his crew, and taken out of town the Exterminator headquarters. He meets a longhaired bearded man hanging upside-down and gibbering crazily about “if I’m good, they give me jelly!” We learn later on that this man is Eggs’ real father, who was allegedly murdered (by Snatcher) when he was a baby but was actually kidnapped. Being a master inventor he was being used by Snatcher to direct the boxtrolls (the master builders) to create a machine that could be used to forcibly obtain the white hat and the seat at the tasting room table.

The Boxtrolls is based on Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow (the first volume of “The Ratbridge Chronicles” – 2005) and is a hilarious romp through a superstitious town of gullible people. How gullible are they? Well, none of them realize that their favorite performer, Madame Frou Frou, who performs for them from time to time on the village square, is actually Archibald Snatcher in drag reinforcing his negative campaign against the boxtrolls. Lord Portley-Rind is even sweet on her.

The art of “claymation” and stop action photography is taken to new heights in this film. Created by the makers of Paranorman, the characters move so smoothly you forget that they are only clay models being re-posed again and again and laboriously filmed. Make sure to stay through the credits for a very clever and funny demonstration of this technique. Even though obviously not real people, they are convincingly real. The 3D effects add to this dimension of reality.

I recommend this movie for the whole family. Several small youngsters were in the audience with me and, though they didn’t get all the jokes and sight gags, there was enough to make them laugh and keep them entertained for the entire hour and 36 minutes. Several kept repeating the word “jelly” after leaving the theater. Why did I leave off one half of a perfect rating? Two reasons: 1. If you were never a fan of the Monty Python group you may have a difficult time understanding the English spoken in the movie (by the way Eric Idle wrote one of the songs used in it). 2. If a troll, speaking gibberish, raised a baby, where did Eggs learn English and how did they communicate successfully? Eggs never used the gibberish when talking to Fish and Fish never spoke English back but both understood each other. I know. It’s only a movie.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 martini glasses.

Añejo Tribeca
301 Church Street (corner of Walker Street)New York

Friday morning I found myself on the “E” train going to work (instead of my usual “F”) and thought two things; I won’t have to change trains for once, and, I can get off at Canal Street to take the exterior photo of the restaurant in daylight (at 7:30 pm it’s dark and my camera sometimes has trouble with that). Coincidentally, the end of the Canal Street station is on Walker Street and one block over is Añejo Tribeca, on the corner of Church Street in gleaming white.

The evening I arrived for dinner (it was dark), there was a sidewalk café set up (another good reason for taking the photo in daytime) and mounted the three steps to the front door. Inside, the five antique crystal chandeliers cast a sultry light on the 20-table space. The bar on the far wall was backlit in red with a sexy purple light under its rim. It was surprisingly dark for a corner property in New York because, though curtain-less, the huge windows on two sides only allowed in a little of the street lighting.

My first question of the young man at the Captain’s Station was: how long the restaurant has been in existence? One month. I commented that this does not make them old enough for the name (meaning aged in Spanish). I suggested “Nuevo Añejo” and he laughed and brought me to my table, took my water preference and presented the Drinks and Food menus.

Not long after, my server, Scott, appeared and I chose a cocktail called Mexican Firing Squad – Tapatio Reposado tequila, house Grenadine, fresh lime, mole bitters and spiced salt. Basically it was a Margarita minus two ingredients, with added flavor and color. I liked it, but after two I switched to the 2011 Curator Shiraz from South Africa. It was a good choice because the semi-sweet husky flavor of this deep red wine formed an excellent bond with my meal.

I told Scott that when I looked at the menu online the first thing I wanted to do was try the tasting of three Guacamoles – 1. Traditional: avocado, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno, and lime. 2. Pineapple Chipotle: chunks of pineapple, chipotle pepper, and grated Cotija cheese. 3. Verde: tomatillo, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, poblano chilies, and chipotle. It was hard to choose a favorite. The traditional was excellent and as good as any I’ve ever had. The pineapple was very different in being sweet, but not overly so, with a smoky, spicy taste. The verde was uniquely spicier than the other two but not unbearably so and had the tart flavor of the pomegranate as an accent. My love of pineapple made me gravitate toward the second. The dishes were larger than I might have suspected for a tasting and were served with lightly salted, homemade flatbread chips to scoop up the guacamole. I was getting full quickly.

Scott was a big help. I had my eyes on two other dishes to make up a three-course meal but the guacamoles reduced my available capacity to two. He explained that the Sweet Bread Chicharron – crispy sweetbreads in a chicharron (pork rind) crust with pickled jalapeno aioli – would probably be the heavier of the two choices. I concurred with his advice and chose the Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Molé Sauce – with fried bread, sesame, and yellow nasturtiums. The precious goose liver arrived in a white plate, shaved radishes and edible flowers garnishing it in a black pool of lightly spicy chocolate sauce. One taste and I was in decadence Heaven. I told Scott that I thought the concept of dressing a foie gras with chocolate and chili was gilding the lily and this dish proved I was right. It was definitely sinful. The foie gras was a little crispy, which added intrigue to the tenderness inside. I wished I had a tortilla to mop up all of the sauce but I did pretty well.

I noticed that the only dessert on the menu was Flan and long ago I had decided that flan was a “Blah” dessert – not here. This confection was the size, taste and texture of a fine Crème Brulée swimming in a pool of sweet caramelized tequila sauce and crowned with shredded Manchego cheese. I was sated but I greedily finished every drop, rhapsodizing about it to Scott and (I learned) to the Manager who showed up at my table to share in my obvious ecstasy.

The regular coffee was fine enough after such an outrageous dessert and I decided, after perusing their extensive list of tequilas (listed by their characteristic flavors) to choose the Don Julio Añejo 1942 – one to three years aged in oak, flavors of chocolate and dried fruit. It was smooth and redolent of the listed accents. I sipped it slowly. When Scott asked me how I liked it I told him I was respecting my elders, as this drink was eight years older than myself. He laughed again.

Two things I must remember to bring on my return to Añejo Tribeca are a bigger appetite (gotta have those sweetbreads) and a small flashlight for reading the menu.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.


  1. From Stuart Walker in London, England (via email):

    Kudos to Steve Herte, not only for his wonderful review of The Boxtrolls, but for the care with which he writes his reviews and the fact that he is looking out for us parents with young children. It is most difficult these days to know exactly what a movie contains beyond its rating, so we appreciate the care he takes, keeping us parents in mind. There are about 18 of us here at my place of employment and we all read his reviews before deciding whether it is suitable for our children to see. Thank you, Mr. Herte.

  2. From Steve:

    You are very welcome, Mr. Walker. Quite often children are in the audience when they shouldn’t be. I’ve seen it. Thank you for your kind words.