Monday, May 18, 2015

The Age of Adaline

Dinner and a Movie

An Ageless Beautiful Dream

By Steve Herte

After spending two weekends in my garden, I’ve discovered muscles that never ached before, but the results are rewarding. Azaleas, irises and lilies of the valley are all in bloom in the front garden and tulips, iris, my white azalea and white lilac are all in bloom in back. Thirty-seven dahlias are now planted out back and my three Christmas cacti are in their perennial places until the fall. Next comes the edible garden and choosing seeds.

Busy at work, busy at home, vacation time planned. I was ready for a great evening. I had hoped to see Little Boy but availability and times were not on my side. This turned out to be advantageous. The movie I chose exceeded my expectations. Enjoy! 

The Age of Adaline (Lionsgate, 2015) – Director: Lee Toland Krieger. Writers: J. Miles Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz (s/p and story). Stars: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Richard Harmon, Ellen Burstyn, Amanda Crew, Kathy Baker, Anthony Ingruber, Cate Richardson, Izabel Pearce, & Hugh Ross. Color, 112 minutes.

A cab crosses the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco’s Chinatown to Marin County. This is the beginning and the end of the story of Adaline Bowman.” Thus says the Narrator (Ross) and I cringe a little. I generally do not like narrated movies unless they are documentaries. But in this film, the narration was not overdone, thanks goes to the brilliant direction of Lee Toland Krieger. As the tale unfolded, I was completely drawn in, suspended my beliefs and even shed a tear. (Bring a box of tissues.)

Adaline Bowman (Lively) was born in 1908, met and married Tony (Harmon), gave birth to a daughter and led a normal life until 1928, with the exception of becoming a widow when her husband is killed in an accident during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Driving to her parents’ house in 1928, a freak snowfall causes her to lose control of the car. She plunges into the icy waters of San Francisco Bay and dies. However, her car is struck by lightning and she is revived after two minutes. This series of events has an effect on the telomeres in her genes, keeping her at age 29 indefinitely.

Her daughter, Flemming (played by Pearce at 5-years old, Richardson at 20, and Burstyn as a grown woman) is the only person who knows the truth. This makes life considerably difficult for Adaline. Potential loves are curtailed because she would outlive any man she marries. She has to have several passports and ID cards made to keep from being a potential laboratory experiment. When a policeman pulls her over for speeding, one glance at her driver’s license and he’s suspicious, and she has to move again. Eventually, she has to leave her daughter to avoid the FBI.

Adaline keeps in touch with her daughter and finally gets a job in the main library of San Francisco. Her best friend is a blind piano player who works a New Year’s Eve gig at a fancy hotel. It is there where she meets Ellis Jones (Huisman) on the elevator as she’s leaving the party. Though she tries to dissuade him, he’s obviously attracted to her, even to finding out where she works. He shows up as a wealthy donor of rare books to the library, and using this as leverage, he manages to get a date with Adaline, and the relationship blossoms.

Flemming is delighted that her mother finally has a man she loves and does everything to encourage her to keep him. Against her better judgment, Adaline agrees to meet Ellis’ parents. On the way there she terrifies Ellis with her speedy driving and they pick up his sister Kikki (Crew) on the way. As they enter the Jones’ house Kathy, Ellis’s mother (Baker) greets everyone enthusiastically. William Jones (Ford) is not so enthusiastic. This woman being introduced to him as Jennifer is the perfect twin of the woman he fell in love with in the 1960’s when he gave her car a start back in England. (The young William is played convincingly by Ingruber.) Adaline stood him up at a park bench where he was waiting to propose to her.

William became a noted astronomer and discovered, and named, a comet, but incorrectly predicted its arrival by 50 years. Adaline is disturbed when she learns that he named it “Della,” after her. His new family thinks he named it after the grandma in the family. But when William sees the scar on Adaline’s hand that he stitched up back in the 60s, her cover is blown. William begs her to stay – for Ellis – but she instinctively runs.

Adaline’s tears dim her vision as she’s driving and she pulls off the road. Thinking of the advice from her daughter, she turns the car to go back when a flatbed truck plows into her, inverting the car by the roadside and – once again – killing her at age 107. (Most actors would literally kill to get a death scene. Lively gets two in one film.) But, thanks to modern technology, the paddles of a defibrillator revive her – and correct her telomeres in the process.

It’s a beautiful movie, sensitively acted and remarkably directed. No scene is too long, there is zero vulgarity, and the love scenes are innocent. The camera angles taken from inside both cars during the respective accidents are phenomenal as well as disturbing. The scene where Adaline outlives Reese, her brown and white cocker spaniel, was touching and added to the sentimentality of the film.

And…surprise! The Narrator is actually necessary to explain things. “An asteroid crashed into the moon in 1928, causing huge tides in Argentina and weather fluctuation in western U.S., to cause the first snow to fall in San Francisco in over 70 years,” hence the first accident and our story.

If all this were not enough to keep me interested, playing “Comin' Back to Me” by Jefferson Airplane as Adaline tells the cab driver to keep moving past the park bench where young William is waiting with a ring was heart-wrenching. I told you, bring tissues. Another great use of music was “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group, played as Adaline speeds across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.

The Age of Adaline is an excellent movie with believable science fiction overtones and a love story that is endearing, not cloyingly sweet. I see many nominations in the future.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Belle Rêve
305 Church St. (corner of Walker St.), New York

In Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois tells Stella of her lost ancestral home “Belle Rêve” (French for “beautiful dream”), a beautiful Southern mansion that actually exists in Mississippi. This is definitely not that place, but rather a restaurant on the corner of Church and Walker in downtown Manhattan that couldn’t be more Bohemian if it tried. For instance, the exterior is an unprepossessing charcoal gray with the name hand-lettered in white paint above the main door.

Once inside, it’s a riot of American memorabilia covering the walls: a representation of The Sacred Heart is juxtaposed with a “Miss Subways” poster; a platinum record album with an old Atlantic label competes for space with advertisements for Schlitz and Budweiser beers and a life-saver touting Canada Dry. Stained glass artworks hang in the front windows alongside live plants suspended by chains made of cowry shells. The tables are the old red-topped, aluminum framed ones one would find in an antique diner, and the matching wooden chairs add to the “sports bar” atmosphere. The only thing missing (thank goodness) is the “sports.” Instead of big-screen TVs playing the latest game over the bar, there are guitar cases and a snare drum on a shelf.

The sidewalk café in front, though interesting, did not entice me and I entered. Inside, it’s rather small: the Captain’s Station is an iPad. The young man holding it greeted me, noted my reservation on the little device, and sat me at a table by the window with full view of the restaurant – perfect. Looking around, déjà vu snapped on like a motion sensor. The circular booth in the back was completely familiar. Just last July I dined in the same location, though at a different table. Back then it was a Latino cuisine restaurant called Los Americanos. I later learned that the same owner decided to swap styles and reopened the place as American with a Cajun twist just two months ago.

The young man who seated me took my water preference and presented me with the single card food menu and drink list on the reverse side. My eyes went right to a quote written at the bottom:

The edge… the only ones who know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” Hunter S. Thompson.

Well, that spoke volumes, so let’s see where “the edge” is here. Maija, my server, soon appeared, a perky, grinning young lady wearing a tee-shirt with the word “Materialism” in graffiti across her chest and faux Louis Vuitton ear-rings. She asked if I wanted a cocktail. The five creations on their list were intriguing, with names like “The Grandpa,” “Disco Billy,” “J. Kosma,” “Babo,” and “Do JaJa,” but I wasn’t feeling experimental. Across the room I saw a bottle of Beefeaters gin and I ordered my favorite martini.

The simple menu made choosing equally simple, with no more than six choices per category. There was: “Let’s Get Started” (appetizers), Salads, Soup & Sandwich, Pasta, Meat + 2 Sides (including a fish dish), Veg & Grain (12), and Dessert (3). By the time Maija returned with my martini (served in a chilled, thick-glass, old-fashioned tumbler) I had my decisions made.

For starters, I ordered the Oysters Casino – with spinach and lardons (And yes, you heard that right; not Clams Casino, but Oysters Casino). They were a quartet of good-sized oysters on the half-shell with respectably large bacon pieces and a buttery, spinach-flaked sauce. I wished there were six of them when suddenly they were gone. The slice of baguette helped get every drop of the sauce left on the plate.

After the appetizer, I thought it would be a good time to order wine. The wine list was as simple as the food menu – four wines by the glass and four by the bottle. Good thing I knew my reds from my whites. I chose the Bordeaux. (Seriously, that’s how it was listed.) Maybe I was in an experimental mood, after all. I was delighted to see what Maija brought: a 2011 Chateau du Champ des Creilles “Grand Vin” from Sainte-Foy vineyards, Bordeaux. The deep red, almost opaque color and impressive nose was just the thing for my meal. The flavor was full-bodied, almost heady, and had me wondering, “What’s a great wine like you doing in a place like this?”

The entries on the menu have imaginative titles, but the one that hooked me for my next course was “Devil May Care Lasagna.” It was served piping hot in its own ellipsoid iron skillet and was characterized by the sliced red chili peppers strewn on top and the cilantro garnish. You may have heard me quote the cartoon cat Garfield about “the miracle that is lasagna…” well this dish exemplified that quote. I took my time and luxuriated in every bite. The chili peppers added an “Arabiatta” spicy note to a dish that was almost Cajun. The wine held its own against it.

I had found “the edge” and decided to go over it with the main course. Even the title implied extreme dining. The “Big Bucks Steak,” a grass-fed, dry-aged, bone-in NY Strip steak in whiskey/peppercorn sauce, was served pre-sliced off the bone, but accompanied by the bone and cooked to my temperature preference. It was as tasty and tender as it was appetizing to look at. The sides I chose were Baked Farro (a hearty wheat grain that was a mainstay in Ancient Rome), topped with melted Parmesan and mixed with pesto, and Jerk beets, topped with lime yogurt. Maija’s grin was even bigger at my choices. Both sides were amazing. The farro tasted a lot better than it looked (what’s green and globular and topped with cheese?) and the beets were not as spicy as I expected a “Jerk” recipe to be. They were wonderful.

I was actually surprised that I finished all parts of my main course with only minimal gnawing of the crispy flesh left on the bone. Even more so, I was ready for dessert. The chocolate mousse was heavenly under a mound of artistically extruded whipped cream and topped with a fire engine red Maraschino cherry. When Maija announced that dessert and coffee were on the house, it was my turn to grin.

If Belle Rêve lasts for more than eight months (and I hope it does) I have to return for some other inventive dishes. Maybe I’ll order the “Clams, badly cut pasta, shaved fennel & parsley.” (Is that a title or what?)

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