Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jurassic World

Dinner and a Movie 

Dinosaurs and Dragon Rolls

By Steve Herte

All is well with the world. My basement and garden are under control, the vegetables and flowers are all growing nicely, nothing aches (knock on wood). I’ve finished a mind-numbing project at work that took two days to complete and nobody bothered me, and I’ve finally seen a blockbuster movie with the “Wow” factor. Why didn’t it get five martini glasses? The science was hilariously wrong, but that added amusement to the film. For instance, what do you get when you splice frog, octopus and velociraptor DNA onto a T-Rex and then super-size it? Answer: A mean, oversized carnivore that kills for sport, can change color to disappear into its surroundings, change its heat signature, and talk to other velociraptors. Ha! I want one. Enjoy!

Jurassic World (Amblin/Universal, 2015) – Director: Colin Trevorrow. Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, & Derek Connolly (s/p). Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (story). Michael Crichton (characters). Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus, Brian Tee, Nick Robinson, & Katie McGrath. Color and 3D, 124 minutes, rated PG-13.

Parents, would you send your teenage son and his pre-teen brother to a remote island where there were live (larger than life) dinosaurs, even knowing that Aunt Claire ran the place? Admittedly, Zack (Robinson) and Gray (Simpkins), Mitchell’s mom and dad are going through a difficult time in their relationship, and Gray is totally addicted to all things prehistoric. However, what were they thinking?

It’s 22 years after the disaster at Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica, but true to John Hammond’s vision, there is now a thriving theme park called Jurassic World. It’s complete with scientists and geneticists making new combinations of DNA splices to create bigger, scarier dinosaurs and incubators to hatch various species’ eggs, to maintain record-paying crowds. The park features monorails, an amphitheater to view the vastly over-sized Mosasaur chomp a full sized great white shark (which looks suspiciously like Bruce, the mechanical shark from Jaws), dinosaur rides for the children, and a petting zoo. Those who wish to roam among the herbivorous dinosaurs can take spherical transparent gyrospheres (two-person vehicles) and roll close up to them.

The more dangerous predators like the Velociraptors (Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo – yes, they have names as well as intelligence), the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the latest genetic freak, the Indominus (properly Indomitosaurus-Rex, “Unconquerable Lizard King”) are kept in paddocks miles north of the park proper to keep them from their natural prey.

The movie opens with a close-up of two hatching dinosaur eggs. A fearsome black claw emerges from one and soon, an eye peers out and the camera zooms in on it. The scene changes and a monstrous three-toed black foot is pounding the ground before us. The camera zooms out to reveal it as a black bird on the lawn in front of the Mitchell residence.

Zack would much rather stay with his girlfriend than travel with his weird dino-loving brother, but off they go. From Costa Rica. they board a special tri-hulled speed ferry to Isla Nublar. On arrival, Zack is dismayed that their aunt, Claire Dearing (Howard), is not there to greet them. She has sent her assistant, Zara Young (McGrath), to take care of them. Gray is a bundle of enthusiasm and anticipation. “Can’t he slow down?” says Zara. “No” is Zack’s frustrated answer. She directs them to their hotel room and Gray cannot wait to open the shutters to the balcony overlooking the park. Zara gives the boys their special wristbands entitling them to free run of the park and in no time loses sight of both.

Meanwhile, Claire is boarding a helicopter flown by Simon Masrani (Khan), an employee of InGen, the company sponsoring and supplying Jurassic World. She learns soon to her terror that this is only his second time flying one and there are several funny moments when he almost loses control. They are going to inspect the progress of the Indominus, alone in its enormous paddock. From their protective glass viewing station they see nothing but jungle. “Where it she?” Claire asks. Suddenly the trees part, the bushes move, and this monstrous face – a combination of Carnotaur and T-Rex, but larger – glares at them. “Why is it white?” Simon asks, as the huge beast moves off camera to another part of its enclosure. Wisely driving a park vehicle back to her headquarters, Claire receives a call from Zack’s and Gray’s mother, Karen (Greer). The boys told her that Aunt Claire was not with them and she insists Claire live up to her promise.

In another paddock, we then see Owen Grady (Pratt) demonstrating his control over the four Velociraptors like a dinosaur whisperer. He’s holding them off and speaking to them, calling each by name. Vic Hoskins (D’Onofrio) is enthralled with this interaction. He secretly sees a future for these creatures as weapons of war and he wants to know if the “big one” can be directed as well. (What fools these mortals be!) Later on, when the boys arrive at this paddock and Owen introduces them to the beasts, Gray asks, “Which one’s the Alpha?” “You’re looking at him,” replies Owen.

Claire and Owen have a “history” and are cautious around one another, but as she needs his talents to evaluate the capabilities of the Indominus, they both go to its paddock. On her first inspection with Simon, she notices the semi-shattered protective glass. This time, Owen notices the claw marks on the wall, as if it had climbed out of the enclosure. Checking the infrared scanner, they discover the beast is nowhere to be found. Owen and a few men enter the paddock to inspect the clawed wall. Suddenly, the control room receives a heat signature. The monster is in the paddock with them. Owen escapes but two of the men become dino-snacks.

This creature is intelligent. It not only figures out a way to escape, but it also rips out the tracking device embedded in its skin. That’s when all havoc breaks loose. All rides and amusements are closed, the visitors are advised to congregate within the confines of the park itself, and the military-like security team is sent out after the Indominus. You just know where this is going when Owen shouts, “You sent them out with non-lethal weapons? They’ll all be killed.” And one by one, the life sign monitors in the control room go to flat-line on the entire team.

The boys are in a gyrosphere when the first alarm goes off closing the rides, and Zack gets the great idea to go where they shouldn’t. Yes, they get to see the Ankylosaurs in the forest, but no, they also meet up with Indominus in a hilariously horrific soccer game with their vehicle being the ball. This scene has a great camera angle as well as dialogue. Zack: “There are only six dinosaurs here.” (Gray counting) “One, two, three, four, five, six” – and we see the reflection on Indominus on the glass, Gray points to it – “seven!”

The rest of the movie is “what do we do now?” The boys temporarily escape by jumping over a waterfall, Claire and Owen join forces to find them, Simon tries to help by once again piloting the helicopter with reinforcements, but crashes it into the “aviary,” releasing the terrified pterodactyls and they (of course) fly into the park proper, causing a frenzy with the attendees. One Pteranodon snatches Zara up by the heels but only makes it as far as the Mosasaur pool before she and it are gobbled up.

Jurassic World is an excellent adventure and stands alone nicely without previous knowledge of the first three films. It kept my attention and sometimes had me on the edge of my seat. The sound effects were not overdone, and the music ranged from majestic to nail-biting excitement. I never once thought about green screens and the CGI seemed as real as the holograph in the main lobby seemed to one of the velociraptors toward the end. They were my favorites and believe it or not, I identified with them. You could see the look of intelligence in their eyes and attitudes – beautifully done.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were perfect in their roles, but the real stars were Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins – both totally believable. Vincent D’Onofrio proved he was equally good at playing an annoying, misguided hawk as he was at playing an annoying, know-it-all detective on Law and Order. Speaking of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, it was nice to see BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu defending his genetic marvels to Hoskins. And the cute little control room romance between Lowery (Johnson) and Vivian Krill (Lapkus) lightened some of the heavy scenes.

Needless to say there’s a lot of violence in this film. Thankfully, most of the worst kills occur off-screen (especially Hoskins), but there is gore, so judge well. On the other hand, there is a tender scene between Owen and Claire and a dying Brontosaur (I checked, it was not an Apatosaurus). I did have questions, however: What did Claire do with her high heels when she realized she needed to run through the jungle? How did the Mosasaur know there was food (Indominus Rex) on the edge of her pool? And why didn’t the T-Rex easily overtake Claire and eat her instead of being led to the Indominus Rex? Otherwise, I had a great time.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 martini glasses.

Chef 28
29 East 28th St. (between Madison and Park Avenues)New York

Timing was a little tighter than I would have liked and Jurassic World increased my appetite – seeing all that chomping and swallowing. I thought (and loped) like a velociraptor and made it from 31st Street and 2nd Avenue to 28th Street and Park in 15 minutes, only 3 minutes late for my reservation. Knowing that “fashionably late” is later than that, I was proud of my achievement, and hungry.

Chef 28 is an old restaurant for New York, and when I learned that it’s been around for 15 years I was not surprised. Outside, the gray and black-framed windows are proudly crowned with the name in big block letters, highlighted in purple neon. Inside, past a wall constructed of lath with Styrofoam balls and backed by leaf-less birch branches, was the Captain’s Station. I announced my reservation – but I don’t think the girl actually paid attention – and was led to a table toward the back of the main area, across from the end of the rather long bar. The stools at the bar looked comfortable but I was glad I had a table. The walls are painted brown with a slightly lighter ceiling and red swag lights over the bar, giving it an atmosphere of a Chinese speakeasy, but not as dark. The chipped paint on the wall near my table attested to the age of the restaurant.

In no time my waitress, Rina arrived, presenting the all-inclusive menu and taking my water preference. She asked if I had a reservation and I affirmed it. (I knew the other girl was not paying attention.) Knowing that the drinks/wine menu was the first couple of pages I was ready with my cocktail order when she returned. Their “specialty” cocktails were ordinary in my experience but I saw they made an apple martini and I was in the right mood for one. Rina left to input the order.

Chef 28 is a combination of Japanese and Chinese cuisines and the menu is an impressive book encompassing everything of both. It’s huge. The selections started with Chinese: Rice & Noodles, Noodle Soup, Appetizers, Dumplings, Soups, Salads, House Specialties, Chef Specialties, Poultry, Beef, Pork, From Our Steamer, Seafood, Bean Curd, and Vegetables.

Then came Japanese: Soup, Salad, Appetizers Sushi Bar, Appetizers Kitchen, Sushi Bar Entrees, Roll or Hand Roll, Sushi or Sashimi A La Carte, Chef’s Special Rolls, Entrees From Kitchen, Bento Special Combination Box, Tempura, Noodles, Donburi, Nabe Mono, Japanese Party Tray, and Side Orders. You get the picture?

With nearly all of my favorite dishes from both cuisines listed, I admitted to Rina that I felt like a kid in a candy shop. At the same time the red light was going off in my head saying, “Too many items on a menu indicate that most of them are not good.” It was tough choosing and I used Rina as a sounding board often. She asked if I wanted to start off with something and I ordered my favorite Japanese dumplings, shumai – tender rice dumplings filled with shrimp and steamed, then served with a simple soy sauce for dipping.

The shumai were delightful, as good as I’ve ever had them in the best Japanese restaurants and I was encouraged. I decided to maintain the menu at my table and choose dishes one by one (to keep them from all coming to my table at one time.) When my second apple martini was finished, I surprised Rina in ordering a bottle of 2012 Le Colline Di San Giorgio Pinot Grigio. I chose it because of the flavors to come in subsequent dishes (if made correctly). The crisp, light taste of this fine Pinot grigio reminded me of the first time I ever loved this wine (The Jones Beach Restaurant). So far, so good.

I love how inventive Japanese sushi chefs are with hand-rolls and I asked Rina’s help in choosing between the “Volcano Roll” and the “Crazy Roll.” Though the first was spicy I opted for the second because of the description – gently fried oysters, sliced avocados and mayo wrapped in seaweed then covered in rice and topped with wasabi and caviar with mayo sauce. I admit I’m a bit of a hedonist, and oysters and caviar locked my attention, but mayo on a sushi roll? Let me tell you, it was nothing at all like the oozing white ingredient we think of as Hellmann’s. In fact it was not even visible. The net flavor was a little salty, a little sweet, and a little spicy as it melted in my mouth. The caviar was the color of tiny peridots. Yes, green. I learned later on that it was not fish eggs at all but a species of seaweed called “sea grapes.” How beautiful it looked sparkling on the white rice. And tasty too! This is dish took no time to finish and the wine complimented it perfectly.

At this point, I switched to the Chinese side of the menu and was torn between “Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce” and the “Crab Rangoon.” Trying to avoid ordering too much food (kid in a candy shop) I remembered how large my past servings of the cold noodles were and how filling a dish it was. I chose the crab rangoon – crabmeat mixed with cream cheese in triangular fried crusts of rice dough. They were light, crunchy, easy to eat (finger food) and sweet inside. My instincts were paying off. While I was eating this dish I heard a couple at the bar talking about the beastly preparations of crab and I nodded to the girl. She looked my way and I told them about the video I saw where the chef took a pair of poultry scissors and snipped the face off of a live crab. “You saw that one?” “Yes, I did. And Helene and I decided not to have crab that night.”

The main course was another major choice between curry chicken with onions and Peking duck – which had the added enticement “as available.” Again, I consulted Rina and when she heard Peking duck, she said, “Yes, available!” Ok, let’s do it. I’ve been craving this dish for a while now and my benchmark for it is at a restaurant called Hunan Garden, which no longer exists, in Rye, New York.

Here, the Peking duck is one half of a roast duck, off the bone, with crispy skin served with steamed pancakes, scallions, fresh cucumbers, and special sauce (hoisin). I’m used to not having to assemble this dish but I watched closely every time I had it in Rye. You take a pancake, slather it with hoisin sauce, sprinkle the scallions and cucumbers on the sauce, layer some duck meat and at least one piece of crispy skin, fold it side to side and fold up the bottom (so that none of that notorious stain-causing sauce leaks out when you bite into it) and enjoy. It wasn’t exactly like my benchmark but darn close and delicious.

Both Japanese and Chinese cuisines have the usual ho-hum desserts but Chef 28 had one of my favorites, fried banana with honey walnuts – rice dough coated bananas deep fried. If they had fried sesame bananas, that would have won out over this dish, but this was good enough. I didn’t need the vanilla ice cream I expected. These two hefty rolls were full of yummy hot banana and I was happy enough to talk like a Minion (they love bananas).

To wash everything down there was iced Japanese green tea – not sweet but refreshing. It didn’t come with sugar and I strangely didn’t need any. I was so delighted I didn’t even think of an after dinner drink (although I could have). It was getting on to 10 o’clock and I should be going. I got the check from Rina and thanked her for all her help. Chef 28 will be a haven for several return visits.

And check out the bathroom sink.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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