Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost River

Dinner and a Movie 

I Lost Jane on the River

By Steve Herte

Every time I see a movie at the Angelika Theater I feel like I’ve been a part of the Tribeca Film Festival, even though it’s not technically located in Tribeca. The feel of the place is intimate and conveys the sense of being at a private screening. The individual theaters (there are seven of them) are all below ground and you can hear the subway rumbling. The capacity of each is maybe 60 to 70 seats. I don’t feel lost in a crowd (something I despise) at the Angelika.

Thus, after the most difficult workweek of the year, I was ready for that sense of being special and having an enjoyable, but casual evening. I used Helene’s theory of life before going out, “Have no expectations and you’ll never be disappointed.” Enjoy!

Lost River (WB, 2014) – Director: Ryan Gosling. Writer: Ryan Gosling. Stars: Christina Hendricks, Landyn Stewart. Ben Mendelsohn, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith, Torrey Wigfield, Saoirse Ronan, Barbara Steele, & Reda Kateb. Color, 95 minutes.

The scene opens on the Town of Lost River to the strains of 1938 “Deep Purple.” The camera focuses on one after another dilapidated, deserted house – some nearly falling down in disrepair. An adorable tot, Frankie (Stewart) exits the front door of one such hovel and uses the rickety banister to descend the front steps and goes to play in the weedy patch that serves as a front yard.

His mother, Billy (Hendricks), is behind in her payments for the house she inherited from her grandmother (otherwise she would join the throngs of neighbors who’ve already left town), and she goes to hopefully reason with Carl, the bank manager. But Carl no longer works there. The new bank manager, Dave (Mendelsohn), is not as easy-going as his predecessor and he explains that she has a choice: make the payments or leave.

Billy’s other son, a young man going by the handle of Bones (De Caestecker), knows the family is in dire straits and goes out on forays to strip the deserted houses of parts and copper to sell at the junk dealer and hopefully ease his mother’s burden. This activity however, is not without peril. Another young man, appropriately called Bully (Smith), who rides around in a plush blue armchair perched over the back seat of a white 1970s Cadillac, believes he owns the town and everything in it and will do anything to anybody who disagrees.

Bully’s driver, a young man who comes to be known as Face (Wigfield), is a pyromaniac. As Bones emerges from a house with his duffle bag full of copper tubing, he knows Bully and Face are there when his bicycle crosses the street in front of him on fire. He drops the bag and runs.

The only other “family” in Lost River is a young girl nicknamed Rat (Ronan) – she has a pet rat – and her grandma (Steele). It is from Rat that we learn the fate of Lost River. Her grandfather was killed during the construction of the dam that created the nearby reservoir while inundating an entire town and a prehistoric theme park called Prehistoric Forest. Grandma hasn’t spoken a word since then and only sits in her chair, veiled as if for a funeral, and watches videos of her wedding. Rat believes the town is under a curse and that the only thing that can break the curse involves “bringing the beast up from the bottom of the reservoir.”

Sleazy Dave has designs on Billy and offers her a job in his creepy club. How creepy is it? For entertainment, people are bloodily “murdered” on stage to give the depraved audience their thrills. Against her better judgment (and shock at the performances), Billy agrees to work there. Her only friend, known only as “Cab Driver” (Kateb), worries about her working in a place where the front door is shaped like gaping jaws of a ghoul.

Bones and Rat have a friendship that is developing further and Rat tells him her theory of salvation. Bones, still annoyed that Bully stole his duffle, manages to retrieve it and elude both Bully and Face (for which error Face has his lips brutally snipped off by Bully), finding himself on a street that leads into the reservoir. The over-arching streetlamp poles are the only indication that there once was a street there. Otherwise, it’s overgrown with weeds. Naturally, after what Rat told him, he’s curious. He gets an inflatable boat and an old fish tank, rows out a bit into the reservoir and peers down at the bottom. Upon seeing what he believes is “the beast,” he’s startled back into the boat. Now he knows his mission in life.

Though billed as a science fiction/fantasy, there is nothing scientific in Lost River. The fantasy that is there is the whole curse thing and how Bones resolves, and breaks, the curse. The only “fantastic” moment in the film occurs after Bones has successfully sawed off the head of a submerged dinosaur and, as he’s returning to shore the streetlamps mysteriously light one by one. The film is more arty-farty than outré, and more brutal than thought provoking. If ever there was a movie demonstrating man’s inhumanity to man, this one makes for a good example.

The acting seems dull and listless (except for Bully, who is way over the top), but it’s forgivable when the camera continually bombards the audience with the deplorable conditions of living in Lost River. Barbara Steele is the only member of the cast whose famous name I recognized. As a beautiful young actress, she could be considered the Queen of Gothic Horror – both Italian and American. I loved her as Dr. Julia Hoffman in the 1991 remake of Dark Shadows after Grayson Hall created the role in the TV series (1960s-70s). She didn’t get a word of dialogue and yet she spoke volumes with her face as Face set her house on fire right before her eyes.

Christina Hendricks gives us the best performance in this film with the widest range of emotions, from fear and horror to love and tenderness. Ben Mendelsohn is pretty good at playing the creepy pervert and he performs an incredibly degenerate version of the song “Cool Water.” Did I mention that this film is not for children? It nearly gave me nightmares.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

100 West Houston Street, New York

In my many years of living in New York City (yes, I know we in Queens call Manhattan “The City,” but we’re still a borough, and hence, a part of it), I’ve learned a general rule that even-numbered addresses are usually on the South sides of streets and the East sides of Avenues i.e. 290 Broadway – East side, and 110 West 44th Street – South side. This theory goes out the window below the neat gridlines and into the “named” streets of southern Manhattan.

My guess that 100 West Houston would be on the south side was incorrect and I wound up re-crossing the wide street to get to my destination. The deep green awning outside Jane overhangs a park bench, providing shade for weary tourists, and two were taking advantage of it upon my arrival. Inside, all is aglow in shades of blonde wood and light tan, with one charcoal wall at the back graced by a large abstract painting of a field. The two large mirrors on one sidewall give the illusion of it being a much larger space, and the woven shades on the rectangular swags float lightly over the dining crowd. A young lady at the Captain’s Station acknowledged my reservation and led me to a bare-topped table (dining is casual here) near the back at a comfortable banquette. On my way over from the theater I noted that the many restaurants I passed on Houston were all doing good business that evening and Jane was no exception.

Leah, my server, soon appeared, took my water preference, and gave me the menu. It was a two-sided plastic-enclosed affair with food on one side and drinks on the other. When Leah asked if I wanted a cocktail I chose something called “Sweet Heat” – jalapeno infused tequila, orange liqueur, charred pineapple, and coconut water. Leah noted that this was one of their newer cocktails and that it was rapidly becoming quite popular. I could see why. It burned and at the same it satisfied my sweet tooth, and the bits of pineapple were fun to spear with my swizzle stick.

Leah described the specials of the day and I almost chose one appetizer, an asparagus salad with prosciutto wrapped around the spears and a poached egg on top whose yolk becomes a part of the dressing. But as I read the entire menu, I found more dishes equally as enticing. I sipped my drink while deciding on two “starters,” a main course and a side.

After discussing with Leah about the order my dishes were to arrive and when, I was ready to enjoy, and another server brought the breadbasket. The bread was so good, fresh and crusty that I completely disregarded the bottle of olive oil standing in the center of my table until much later.

The roasted meatballs – with local mozzarella, in a spicy tomato sauce, garnished with cilantro – arrived first (as agreed), still sizzling in a square iron skillet. Though they were a quarter of the size of the ones I had at Umberto’s in Little Italy, they were every bit as juicy and flavorful. The sauce was rich and thick, not particularly “spicy,” but delicious. I left only the skillet.

The 2014 Malbec, Enrique Foster “Ique” Mendoza, Argentina, though incredibly young for a Malbec was perfect with my meal. Its tannic touches and medium body accented the tomato sauce nicely as well as that of the dishes to follow.

I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered the mushroom soup “gratinée” – with caramelized onions, crostini croutons, and topped with melted gruyère. It was more like a French onion soup (with the right cheese, I noted to Leah) though heavier on the mushrooms than onions. Once I convinced myself that it really wasn’t onion soup I enjoyed it thoroughly (the resemblance was striking, though).

My main course, the blackened pork chop, was served on a bed of cheddar jalapeño grits and crowned with three smoked tomatoes and a spring of watercress. It was tender and easy to cut, though a little bit more well done than I would prefer. The blackening process, however, added a Southwestern flavor to the meat. I told Leah my pork chop story from the “famous” Palm Restaurant where professional hockey players could have used my dish as a puck. The jalapeños were not pronounced in the grits and the net effect was “mild” spicy. The side dish was one of my all-time favorite vegetables, Brussels sprouts. But these were enormous. Halved, seared and partially caramelized, they were like candy to me. I asked if the chef had a time machine to the Jurassic era, remarking on the size of these jumbo veggies.

With nothing left but the memories of these fine dishes, I turned to dessert. Having seen the desserts the two young men at the next table ordered, notably the “Key Lime Pie in a Jar,” and (the enormous) “Milk and Cookies,” I chose the “Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate” – chocolate ganache tart, mini whoopee pie, chocolate pot de crème. This turned out to be eminently manageable and satisfying. I would have liked the pot de crème to be more liquid, but the other two were perfect.

To finish, I ordered the “Lord Bergamot” Earl Grey tea and a snifter of Chateau de Pellehaut Armagnac. Alas, they didn’t have enough left for a full snifter, but Leah gave me what they had (on the house) and asked me what other choice I had. The Busnel Calvados filled the bill adequately.

I thanked Leah for a wonderful serving job and, on my way out, I learned that Jane has been in operation for 13 years! I know that Manhattan is a big city and that, at any one time there are approximately 7,000 restaurants serving the hungry public, but it still amazes me when I find one that I might have found earlier. There is much to like about Jane and several reasons to return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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