Friday, January 2, 2015

The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies

Dinner and a Movie

Taking the Hobbit to City Hall

By Steve Herte 

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and a good Chanukah, and anyone celebrating Kwanzaa, a good holiday as well.

My family has a history of buying gifts that either are not liked or never used and eventually returned. Then we tried a Secret Santa scheme where, at Thanksgiving, each member picks another’s name out of a hat. This worked for a while until many of us realized that we still were getting “stuff” that we didn’t actually need. Now, we have a better idea. The grandchildren still get gifts from the grandparents and their parents but the elders and their children do not exchange gifts. Instead, they contribute to a catered get-together the whole family attends.

My dinner and a movie took a bit of scheduling too. Having the day off, I figured I could buy an earlier movie ticket and schedule an earlier dinner. Great idea, but I could only move the time of the show up a half hour with the movie times available, as the location of the restaurant determined the theater. Enjoy!

The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line/MGM, 2014) Director: Peter Jackson. Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, & Guillermo del Toro (s/p). J.R.R. Tolkien (novel, The Hobbit). Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Hugo Weaving,  Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Manu Bennett, Lee Pace, John Tui, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, & Ryan Gage. In color and 3D, 144 minutes.

As you may remember (a year ago), the great dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) has left Erebor, the Lonely Mountain in his fury against the inhabitants of Laketown. The company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) and including the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), have taken possession of the mountain and the endless riches in gold and precious gems it contains (and are hoping the dragon doesn’t return). And last, but not least, the wizard, Gandalf (McKellen), has been taken captive by the powerful Orc Lord, Azog (Bennett), who intends to kill him.

This is the last (and shortest – relatively) part of the trilogy of long, drawn-out movies relating the adventures of the “Halfling” which only took 287 pages in paperback. For those who enjoy saddle sores, if they were shown consecutively, the first, An Unexpected Journey (2012) was two hours, 49 minutes; the second, The Desolation of Smaug (2013) lasted two hours, 41 minutes; and the newest, The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) two hours, 24 minutes. You’ll be in the theater for eight hours.

I enjoyed reading “The Hobbit” and it made me want to read “The Lord of the Rings” as well as all subsequent works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I daresay that now that I’ve sat through all three films, I would not need to give them a second viewing. I was miffed at the end of the first installment when the company hadn’t even gotten to Mirkwood Forest. The second was better because of the scenes with the spiders and Smaug. But for 60 pages they made a third movie?

The best scenes of movie number three are in the beginning as Smaug makes repeated strafing runs at Laketown and sets the island village ablaze. The expert archer Bard (Evans) escapes his prison cell (the town blames him for all their troubles) and climbs the highest remaining tower to bring down the dragon. His son sees him and realizes he doesn’t have the “black arrow” he needs to complete his mission and risks life and limb to bring it to him. His bow broken, Bard uses the structure of the tower as a make-shift bow and Bain’s shoulder as a steadier and sends the arrow directly into the only vulnerable spot on the dragon.

Noticing nothing flying over Laketown, the dwarves conclude that Smaug is dead. But Thorin comes down with a bad case of “dragon sickness” and, contrary to what he promised to the elves and mankind, decides to keep the entire mountain’s wealth. Jack Benny was never so cheap. He has the dwarves barricade the gaping hole Smaug blew out in his murderous rage with heavy stones. But where is the “Arkenstone?” It is the symbol of his dwarfish kingship. The opalescent gem, the size of an avocado, is in Bilbo’s sack. He wants to give it to Thorin but sees how crazed he’s become and one of the other dwarves advises that he would get worse if he had the stone.

Gandalf is rescued from his prison by the combined magic and martial arts of Elrond (Weaving) the Elf King, Saruman the White (Lee), Galadriel (Blanchett), and Radagast the Brown (McCoy) but he doesn’t stay in recovery for long. He must warn the people of Laketown (who are now heading for the city near Lonely Mountain for shelter) and the dwarf company that an army of Orcs is headed their way. Once Smaug was killed the word got out fast and everyone who had their riches stolen by the dragon wants them back – hence the battle of the five armies. The dwarves have an army coming from the Iron Hills under their leader, Dain, brother of Thorin. The Elves have a golden army under Thranduil (Pace) looking to repossess the white diamond jewelry rightly theirs. The army of mankind (vastly outnumbered) under Bard is fighting for survival as well as their share of the gold. And, lastly there is a second army of Orcs and goblins marching out of Gundabad to the North augmented by monstrous bats under Bolg (Tui). Though well choreographed, the battle itself could have been much, much shorter (only six pages in the book).

To lighten the generally dark mood of the movie there is the doomed love attraction between Tauriel (Lilly), a character who doesn’t exist in the book, and one of the dwarves (a forbidden relationship). This is much to the chagrin of Legolas (Bloom) who would rather see himself with her. And then there is the character Alfrid (Gage), adviser to the Headman of Laketown, but a craven coward who cross-dresses to avoid fighting the enemy.

The cinematography of The Battle of the Five Armies is so splendid it almost makes me want to see New Zealand, where most of it was shot. The huge scope and depth of the scenes added to the heroic theme of the film. I have no complaints about the acting either. Just the length of time it took to complete a scene. Even the final sword fight between Thorin and Azog had me wondering, “When will it end?”  

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

City Hall
131 Duane Street (between Church and West Broadway), New York

One of my two favorite places to dine and now my official “Last Restaurant of the Old Year,” City Hall is like a second home to me. I’ve never had anything but fine food and splendid, caring service here. At Christmastime, the building is bathed in pink light while purple twinkle lights decking the boxwoods surrounding the outdoor café. Inside, I’m greeted by name, my coat is checked and I’m given a choice of tables. I tried to choose the one with the most lighting and the most comfortable banquette (I was still sore from sitting through the movie).

My server, Jihane, took my water preference and cocktail order, and presented me with the wine list, specials list and single-card menu. My martini came briefly and was perfect, as usual. I took my time with the menu and the shorter “specials” menu to see if I could find something I have not tried before. Jihane touted the grilled octopus & calamari salad as a starter but sadly reported that they were out of escarole and had replaced it with frisée, which I find highly inferior to any other green vegetable. Then, she recommended the Argentine “grass-fed” sirloin with Chimichurri sauce as a main course. That got my attention. I asked for a few more minutes to make my decision.

Another server greeted me and placed the complimentary plate of pickles before me. I managed to finish the pickled tomatoes, radishes, olives, raw carrots and the sweet dill pickle by the time I was ready to leave. Only the celery was left.

Before my appetizer course, Chef Meer sent out a yellow lentil soup as an amuse-bouche and it was lovely. The light curry flavor in it made it a nice precursor to what was to come. The homemade salt-stick twist accompanying it was just the right touch of bread.

I saw a 2011 Pinot Noir from McCall vineyards of the North Fork of Long Island on the wine list and ordered it. Usually I drink Zinfandel by the glass at City Hall, but I was trying to be different this time. It was a beautiful ruby color and had light tannic accents with medium body, the compromise wine to go with the next two courses.

The appetizer was what Chef Meer calls his “Light Fry,” a combination of tiger shrimp, calamari strips and crispy oysters served with horseradish cocktail sauce, mustard mayonnaise, and basil dipping sauces. The basil dipping sauce tasted like parsley and was indeed a parsley dipping sauce. I enjoyed every bite.

For my main course, I decided on the “grass-fed” Argentine sirloin and added a lobster Tail just to be different. The presentation was elegant. The Chimichurri sauce gave a festive color to the well-browned steak and the fluffy lobster meat protruded from the shell for easy access. A ramekin of drawn butter was on the plate for the lobster, which was excellent. The steak was tasty and nicely pink inside but it was strangely dry. I had it prepared medium rare per the Chef’s recommendation but it was not to my liking. It was a bit overdone for me. For the first time ever at City Hall, I sent a main course back. Jihane asked if she could substitute something. I asked for a hamburger.

Anyone who’s ever sent a dish back knows that you’ve already partially eaten the food and your capacity for eating more is diminished. The hamburger was superb and needed nothing added, but because I was becoming full (must be the curried onion rings I ordered as a side dish – which I am fully addicted to and ate every last one), I could not finish it.

In my younger days, I considered myself as a part of the mythical “Olympic Eating Team.” I could finish multiple entrées at Grossinger’s Lodge in the Catskills and think nothing of it. But now, even though I fasted anticipating this meal…sorry Chef. I still love City Hall and will still return at every convenience and will do so as long as you serve those onion rings, but from now on I’m ordering my steaks my way.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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