Friday, June 5, 2015

San Andreas

Dinner and a Movie

San Andreas Goes Up in Smoke

By Steve Herte

As Helene would joyously say to me, “You’re on vacation!” She always got excited about being free from work and wondered why I wasn’t as excited as she was. Seriously, if I’m not traveling somewhere, vacation is merely a different kind of work from my normal occupation. People say that they fear retirement because they don’t know what they will “do” when they have all the time in the world. These must be mostly apartment dwellers or slackers. The basement in my house is what the attic would look like in other houses. The accumulated junk of 50 years is down there and it has to be organized and either be thrown out, or sold. In a word, clutter.

That’s my project this vacation week and any other time at home this year. I’m taking a “before” photo to remind myself of what it should never become again and an “after’ photo when (and if) I finish. Oh, don’t get me wrong; my “vacation” will not be all work and no play. It will be, as Helene would say, “work that justifies play.” I have two karaoke sessions, two dinners, one luncheon and a possible trip to the zoo planned as well, so don’t start the “poor Steve” chants yet.

Which brings me to my dinner and a movie. It was a fun adventure in many ways. Read on and see why. Enjoy!

San Andreas (WB, 2015) - Director: Brad Peyton. Writers: Carlton Cuse (s/p), Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore (story). Stars: Duane Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Colton Haynes, Todd Williams, Matt Gerald, Alec Utgoff,  & Marissa Neitling.  Color, 114 minutes, PG-13.

A young girl is driving the mountain roads of California doing everything but paying attention to her driving – digging into her purse, reading texts, just missing on-coming traffic, listening to her tunes. Suddenly, a small avalanche happens and she goes plummeting off the cliff, somersaulting bumper over bumper until the car wedges in some rocks a few hundred feet from the bottom. The audience gets outside, as well as inside, views of her fall, and somehow (Hollywood magic) she’s alive and in the improbable position of wheels down and facing up the sheer escarpment.

She calls for help on her cell phone, remarkably getting reception and soon Ray Gaines (Johnson) and his helicopter rescue crew are on the scene carrying an extra passenger, Serena Johnson (Panjabi) a local TV news reporter. The crevasse is too narrow for a vertical descent and they have to “Tip the Hat,” actually seesaw back and forth to get close enough to send down a rescue line. The girl is saved just in the nick of time after the winch motor blows out and just before the car plunges down the rest of the way.

Thus begins the first true blockbuster disaster movie of the year.

Ray, we learn, has split up with his wife Emma (Gugino) after the accidental death of one of their daughters in a rafting accident. Emma is in the process of “moving on” with their other daughter Blake (Daddario) as she moves in with boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Gruffudd), a rich entrepreneur currently building the most earthquake-proof high-rise in San Francisco. Ray is slightly miffed that she didn’t tell him, but he’s here to bring his daughter her bicycle to take on trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, at Cal-Tech, Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) and Dr. Kim Park (Lee) have developed software that can accurately predict earthquakes by tracking clusters of small seismic activity. Dr. Park wants to test the software at Hoover Dam in Nevada where these clusters are currently occurring. Their tests succeed beyond their wildest dreams but their wildest nightmare soon replaces their joy as the tremors jump from 2.2 on the Richter scale to 7.1 and Hoover Dam proceeds to shatter. Dr. Hayes on top of the dam survives but Dr. Park impales his foot on a protruding rebar and goes down with the demolished dam.

To honor his lost colleague, Dr. Hayes decides to go public with their discovery and calls in Serena Johnson and her news team.

Dan and Blake fly to San Francisco in his private plane and he explains that he knows he can never – and would never try – to take her father’s place. They arrive at his office building where Dan leaves Blake to conduct some business. It’s here she meets Ben Taylor (Johnstone-Burt), an English applicant for an engineer’s job with his younger brother Ollie (Parkinson). Ollie can see that Ben and Blake are “clicking” and performing the best yenta routine I’ve seen since Dolly Levy.

Back in Los Angeles, Emma is at a rooftop party and discussing Dan with his sister Susan Riddick (Minogue) when the second earthquake happens. I’m reminded that this is a Warner Brothers movie when Emma tries opening a door to a stairway and sees nothing but a shear drop with people falling to the street below. (“Don’t go down there, it’s dark!” Bugs Bunny.) And talk about getting out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat! When Emma reverses direction to climb the stairs to the roof (per Ray’s instructions when she calls him), she sees the cook, who has been set ablaze because he stayed in the kitchen too long.
Ray manages another nick of time rescue with his helicopter but falling buildings nick his chopper enough to cause him and Emma to crash land. After stealing a pick-up truck from gun-wielding looters, the two start on the long journey to San Francisco to retrieve Blake.
Dr. Hayes and his team calculate correctly that a spur in the Pacific tectonic plate links the quakes in Nevada and Los Angeles and that the tremors are traveling up the coast to San Francisco. One young member hacks into the news media system and they set up a special broadcast from Cal Tech to warn citizens of San Francisco to evacuate, NOW!
The first tremors hit San Francisco when Blake and Dan are in his car in the parking garage. A piece of the ceiling gives way crushing the driver and pinning Blake. Dan gets out, claims he’s going for help and that he’ll return soon, but that’s all bunk. He’s running away. In his flight, he passes Ben and Ollie, who rightly conclude that he’s left Blake in the parking garage. Using the car jack and puncturing the tires, they free Blake and the trio escape to relative safety. Blake knows her father would seek her on high ground and they use Ollie’s guidebook to find Coit Tower.
Ray and Emma are blocked by a huge, bottomless rent in the ground leading north. Meeting an elderly tourist couple on the way, Ray notices the cap the old man is wearing, advertising an airfield. The foursome drives to the airfield, the old couple gets the truck and Ray and Emma find, gas up, and fly out in a small, two-seater plane. But, there’s nowhere to land in San Francisco and Ray sees AT&T Stadium below. He straps on a parachute and tandem jumps with his terrified wife, landing lightly on second base. (BEST LINE IN THE MOVIE!)  “It’s been a long time since I got you to second base,” Ray says.
Well, the Coit Tower hill fires make it inaccessible, Blake and her group head for Knob Hill, and Emma and Ray commandeer a small boat (actually two steps up from a Zodiac) to hopefully circumvent the damaged hill. Ben meanwhile has been the only one in San Francisco or Los Angeles to receive a deep wound in his thigh from a piece of falling glass. (How fortunate for everybody else!) Ben, Blake and Ollie make it to Dan’s new earthquake-proof building (still under construction) and take care of Ben’s leg.
Ray and Emma have a different problem. A second quake of 9.6 rating has caused a tsunami heading for the Golden Gate Bridge. (The Bay Bridge was taken out by the first quake, only a 9.1) This would have been Helene’s favorite scene. All the boats in San Francisco Bay (including Ray’s) are racing to climb the tsunami before it breaks. Several topple off. Just as Ray says, “We’re gonna make it” an enormous container ship looms overhead dropping containers as it goes. Miraculously, they make it past the ship.
The ship is carried vertically by the wave like a ridiculous surfboard as it heads toward the Golden Gate Bridge. And who is caught dead center on the bridge? Our friend Dan! He looks at the oncoming behemoth like Wile E. Coyote noticing the train about to hit his explosives shack. Only Dan hasn’t got a shade to pull down. I told you this was a Warner Brothers movie.
San Andreas is a good blockbuster film, not a great movie, but fun to watch. The dialogue is often corny (“Now…we rebuild.” Ray’s last line in the movie.), the backgrounds are obviously green-screen and there are several unbelievable moments. But in 3D it’s a thrill ride without having to get sick on a roller coaster. Dwayne Johnson is still learning his craft. He almost sheds a tear when speaking about his first daughter’s accident, but not quite. Alexandra Daddario does a marvelously convincing drowning scene while Dad watches helplessly behind a reinforced plate glass window. Carla Gugino waxes and wanes between reality and cartoon behavior – I would have fallen on the floor laughing if the small pontoon boat Emma charged at the window separating her from her daughter just bounced off with a loud “Boing!” instead of shattering it. Paul Giamatti, on the other hand was excellent – totally credible.
The soundtrack and music are both remarkable and appropriate throughout and the direction of Brad Peyton was flawless. The hundreds of extras all knew when to fall down on cue. One of my favorite scenes was when a San Francisco street cracks open and the far side heaves up high enough to expel a subway train into the throngs of running people.
Say what you will about this film, it has action galore and only slows down periodically to let you catch your breath and peer at the astounding results. I loved it.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Blue Smoke
255 Vesey St. (between West Street and North End Avenue), New York

If, in following my reviews you’ve noticed that I’ve never reviewed a barbecue restaurant, there’s a reason. Many of them are just plain awful, easily surpassed by my brother-in-law’s “burnt offerings” on Memorial Day weekend. True, flavorful barbecue requires time, loving care, and research. My benchmark is Virgil’s Barbecue, on 44th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway. The chef there scours the “barbecue states” for different recipes and accurately reproduces them on his menu. He also entitles each dish with the honorific name of the state that produced the recipe.

Blue Smoke celebrates the barbecue styles of the Southern states from the Carolinas to Texas, and the two-location chain has been in existence since 2002. The flagship restaurant is in the Gramercy Park area on 27th Street and the new one in Battery Park City opened in 2012. The New Orleans touch was added to the recipes when Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois took charge.

I have been curious about Blue Smoke for a while now and when they appeared on and were convenient to the movie theater, I made the reservation. Not only were they convenient, they were on the same block as the movie theater, no rush for me at all. I just descended the escalators, went outside a short distance and rounded the corner.

The gray façade of the building housing Blue Smoke links them with the Mexican restaurant El Vez (Love it!). The only distinction is the red neon for El Vez and the bright blue neon of Blue Smoke. There is a sidewalk café under the burnt orange awnings and most of the inner restaurant is open to the street, making serving patrons easier. Inside, the bar is to the left facing a wall of cordwood with slate gray tables in between. Wisely, knowing how messy barbecue food is, there are no tablecloths and the napkins are a heavier grade of linen.

I had the choice of sitting outdoors or waiting for a table indoors and I chose the latter. The table I was seated at was definitely indoors, but faced a window completely open to the street. Thankfully, no flies came in.

Lexi, my perky server, took my water preference and presented me with the menu card and wine and drink book. After consulting her on the difference between the “Midtown Mule” – mellow corn whiskey, Beach Plum Gin liqueur, ginger beer and lime - and “Only Smokes When She Drinks” – mezcal, aperol, Bénédictine, lime – I chose the second. The name of the cocktail was intriguing enough, but when Lexi told me that the first one was sweeter, that sold me. The smoky flavor of the Bénédictine combined with the mezcal proved it was a drink appropriate to the name of the restaurant.

The menu featured “Snacks,” “Starters” and “Mains,” “From the pit” and “Vegetables and sides.” With Lexi to guide me, I chose a snack, a starter, something from “the pit,” and a side. I needed no help with the wine. The list by the glass was impressive but so were the prices on the bottles. I chose a 2010 Wild Hog Zinfandel, Nova Vineyards, Lake County, Sonoma California. Its tangy, fruity but full-bodied flavor told me that whatever I chose to eat would be fine and dandy with the wine.

The warm barbecue potato chips with a bleu cheese and bacon dip caught my eye first but then I saw the deviled eggs. “What could possibly be special about deviled eggs?” I asked Lexi. “I like them. They’re kind of spicy!” OK, let’s go with the eggs. They were very prettily prepared and presented, but spicy? No. My brother’s deviled eggs have more mustard in the mix. They were good, but not what I expected.

He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” from Jonathan Swift, was written on the coaster on which my water bottle rested. It inspired me to try the roasted oysters – smoked garlic butter, green onions. The quartet of West Coast oysters (the small ones) on the half shell rested on a bed of sea salt and were a lovely golden brown. Good for neonate oyster eaters because you couldn’t see the actual denizens of the shells. They were good, garlicky and tasted like there should have been six.

Lexi informed me that my main course would be an impressive amount of meat and, seeing several patrons leaving with doggie bags I thought, why not? The “Rhapsody In ‘Cue” consisted of spare ribs, pulled pork (in hot smoked vinegar), backyard chicken, and black pepper sausage. It was truly appetizing to look at and had an enticing aroma. My side dish, collard greens with potlikker (the juice left behind by cooking the collards) was served in its own ceramic crock and was cut in long strips. It done perfectly and was slightly crunchy.

Remember what I said about barbecue in my first paragraphs? My main course told me one thing – made beforehand and not fresh off the grill. The pulled pork was nicely vinegary and smoky, but not all the way through. It rapidly became dry and uninteresting (the batch I had in Milford, Connecticut, was much, much better). The chicken was gorgeously browned on the outside but slightly overcooked and dry on the inside. The spare ribs (three bones) were beautifully blackened outside and I expected a sweeter taste, but didn’t get it. They were also on the overcooked and approaching dry side. The black pepper sausage (a half slice) was cooked to almost toughness. Now I know why I don’t do barbecue often. Are they sure the chef is from New Orleans? Maybe I should have had the beignets.

I think that that may have been the right thing to do because the fresh blueberry pie with lemon balm ice cream was so dreamy I started to eat it before remembering to take a picture of it. As Blue Smoke touts having 27 bourbons, I chose to have the Flight of Five – Breckinridge, Basil Hayden’s, Blue Smoke Single Barrel 8 Year, Bulleit 10 Year, and Bookers – instead of coffee. It was another good choice; they were fantastic.

If I ever decide to return to Blue Smoke I believe I will only try the dishes with the word “fresh” in the title. Maybe I’ll try one of their impressive list of beers. Per another coaster, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” – Benjamin Franklin though there is no proof he ever said that.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment