Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fantastic Four

Dinner and a Movie

Fantastic Four and French Food

By Steve Herte

Regular readers of my columns know that I absolutely love animation and animated films. It’s also known I’m a fanatic Warner Brothers fan, and that extends to the subset known as the Animaniacs. For me, the Animaniacs was the best cartoon production since Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, combining the flawless Warner Brothers animation with the outrageously funny and clever (not geared specifically for children – at least some of the time) humor of Yakoo, Wakko, Dot, Pinky, The Brain, Slappy Squirrel, and The Goodfeathers. (Read Steve’s original essay on Animaniacs here.)

One day while I was in the midst of surfing YouTube, I found the Animaniacs’ version of the Macarena, which they called “Macadamia.” Dot sings the wacky melody backed by the rest of the characters. One in particular, Minerva Mink, only had two or three cartoons made with her as the star because, like Jessica Rabbit, she’s not bad, just drawn that way (way, too adult – sexy, that is). She slinks her way in dance through the song and I realized that she’s my dear friend Monica!

The very next time I was with Monica I told her about Minerva and the uncanny resemblance. I showed her the video and she laughed, agreeing with my assessment. I asked Monica if she knew the Spanish lyrics. The very next day she had them in my email inbox. Any wonder why I love that woman?

I’m about to enjoy a week of vacation. As Helene would say to me when a week was coming up – and it is – “You’re on vacation!" (Actually she’d sing the part, a la the song “Vacation”) So ‘til next time, enjoy!

Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, 2015) – Director: John Trank. Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, & Josh Trank. Characters: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Stars: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Joshua Montes, Dan Castellaneta, Owen Judge, Kylen Davis, Evan Hannemann, Mary Rachel Dudley, Chet Hanks, Mary-Pat Green, & Tim Heidecker. Color, PG-13, 100 m.

Oh boy, another prequel! For most of this film the audience is treated to background information and character development to prepare them for the last 20 minutes. We see the young genius, Reed Richards (Judge) building a matter transporter in his garage. His mother (Dudley) doesn’t know what her son is up to and his abusive stepfather (Heidecker) doesn’t care. All he cares about is being called an idiot by his stepson. Reed needs a transformer to complete his device. Where does one go to find something like that? Why the dump, of course, where his best friend Ben Grimm (Hannemann) lives.

Ben helps Reed bring the bulky, ash-can sized transformer to his garage and Reed hooks it up, places a model car on the transporter platform, and turns the thing on chanting, “Don’t blow up! Don’t blow up!” (This becomes his mantra.) To his best friend he says, “You might want to cover your ears.” There’s a bluish-white glow and an explosion, and the car is gone, leaving a handful of alien soil in its place. He counts this as somewhat of a success.

Many years later, there is a science fair and Reed (now Teller), with Ben at his side (now Bell) has entered his “new and improved” matter transporter in the competition. The judges watch as he swipes a model plane from a competitor’s exhibit, give the judges the same admonition to cover their ears, and turns the machine on. There is a more impressive bluish-white glow, an explosion and the plane is gone! “Now I’ll bring it back.” The machine whines to activity again, again the globe-like glow, again the explosion and the plane returns, missing half a wing and covered in reddish dirt, and…the hum from the machine causes the backboard of the basketball hoop to shatter. Reed believes he’s transported the plane to somewhere else on the planet, possibly China, but the judges are not impressed. They claim that there is no evidence of any real science in Reed’s exhibit and that he’s therefore disqualified and has to pay for the destroyed backboard.

But along comes Dr. Franklin Storm (Cathey), director of the Baxter Corporation and his adopted daughter Sue (Mara). He’s interested in Reed’s machine and wants to build an inter-dimensional transporter. Reed and Ben agree to work with him.

Meanwhile Dr. Storm’s real son, Johnny (Jordan), is more interested in racing cars on the street than in being the genius he is and working for his father. On one such reckless (but not wreck-less) foray, he lands in the hospital and his father has to come and take him home. It’s like the song says, “Fun, fun, fun, ‘til her (his in this case) Daddy takes her T-Bird away.” Johnny loses his ride and has to come work for Dad.

But one more brain is needed for the project, the originator of the concept of inter-dimensional transport, Victor Von Doom (Kebbell). Victor is not a team player but they get him to agree. He also doesn’t like the way Sue looks at Reed. Together, however, the team of prodigies gets the device assembled and ready for testing. They pop a terrified chimpanzee into one of the four pods (the whole thing looks like an amalgam of one of Julia Childs’s kitchen gadgets – possibly a mixer – and stasis chambers for an intergalactic quartet) and the poor beast is sent and retrieved in one piece. Not only that, but they get a glimpse via cameras of the alien landscape on “Planet Zero,” the name given to the extra-dimensional world.

Dr. Storm wants to send professional astronauts through but Reed and Victor protest that they should go first. As soon as Dr. Storm is away, they get together with Ben and Johnny and fire up the machine. On Planet Zero, which, by the way looks like the stage set for Stephen King’s Tommyknockers, only without trees, they leave their pods and go dangerously far from their vehicle to explore. The ground is squishy and lurid, poisonous green energy rivers show in the cracks between stones, all leading to mysterious undulating pools below a Grand Canyon-sized cliff. Victor bends down to reach into one of the pools and all Hell breaks loose, explosions, green geysers, and rocks everywhere. They run and re-climb the cliff (in record time, mind you) while Johnny guides the rest from the top. But, alas, Victor is engulfed in green lightning and falls back into the abyss.

The remaining three stampede back to their pods, have trouble closing one and try to communicate with Sue (sure, now they need their mommy). With her help, they return, but the explosion back at the lab not only destroys the machine, it sprays the four of them with unknown rays of energy. This transforms Reed into the Stretch-Armstrong character, Mr. Fantastic, Ben into the rocky skinned Thing, Johnny into the Human Torch and Sue into the Invisible Woman.

Most of the movie is over by now as the four come to grips with their new and strange powers. The government catches three at Area 57, but Reed is nowhere to be found. He winds up in Central America. Eventually Reed is rejoined with his comrades. Sue doesn’t trust him because he abandoned them. Ben hates him for causing his transformation into a monster and Johnny wants nothing to do with him. He’s enjoying flying around and flaming.

But, they do return to Planet Zero (with the help of the American government, who rebuilt the machine and finished it with Reed’s computer expertise) and discover that Victor is still alive, well just barely. He’s shiny coal black from head to toe with sickly green rivulets up and down his body and, when he wakes up, extremely vengeful. He’s now the dreaded Dr. Doom and he wants to return to Planet Zero – and he does with the help of the new machine. From there, he uses his enormous power to create a device that will suck the entire Earth into a black hole and destroy it.

It’s now the job of the other four to stop him. They have to form a team to defeat him because he’s stronger than any one of them – and proves it when they follow him to Planet Zero. The rest is dazzling special effects.

What can be said about a movie that was less than two hours long but felt like it was more (I shifted in my seat twice before the final scenes)? The acting was as juvenile as the cast was young and several of the lines of dialogue were trite in their attempt at comic relief. It felt more like a 1970’s soap opera but less exciting. The costume department must have gotten hand-me-downs from the sets of the Alien series and supplemented it with Goodwill for Dr. Doom’s raggedy hood. Poor Kate Mara was cursed with cheap, unbelievable blonde wigs, one of which had obviously bad stitching in its random zigzag part.

Please take me back to 2007’s Rise of the Silver Surfer, with Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic, Chris Evans as the Human Torch, Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, and Michael Chiklis as The Thing. Granted, they were all a team by then but they were much more believable. Even the 1994 Fantastic Four – Alex Hyde-White as Mr. Fantastic, Jay Underwood as the Human Torch, Rebecca Staab as the Invisible Woman, and Michael Bailey Smith as The Thing – were more convincing (and with more appropriate voices) than the current cast.

There were only a couple of children in the audience with me this time (and no babies, thank goodness) and they stayed for most of the credits. They couldn’t have seen the two previous movies unless they streamed them. I didn’t hear a peep out of them and it was difficult to determine whether they enjoyed themselves or not, so parents, don’t suggest it if they don’t.

One good thing came from seeing this film. It made me want to re-view Tommyknockers again. I have it on VHS.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Beaubourg Brasserie
225 Liberty St.Battery Park CityNew York

The website for this large French bistro trumpets that it has “stunning views of the Hudson,” and so it does. It just doesn’t indicate its name anywhere on the outside of the restaurant. You have to know it’s there when you arrive. The address 225 Liberty Street is above the doors to an office building and do not lead you to the restaurant. On the Internet we see the address 200 Vesey Street, which is actually the address of the new shopping mall surrounding the yacht basin just west of the Financial Center buildings. The mall includes the 30,000 square feet of real estate owned by the parent corporation “Le District” which, in addition to the restaurant, has a large bar, appropriately named “Le Bar,” and a huge indoor market.

I entered the doors to the left of 225 Liberty and found myself inside the market, where all the areas were marked with French signs, “Le Fromagerie,” “Le Poissonerie,” “Le Boulangerie” etc. It’s quite daunting and a definite visual overload. I kept walking until I saw a sign saying simply, “Beaubourg.” I found a young lady who directed me past the restaurant bar (separate from “Le Bar”) to the Captain’s Station. Whew! I made it in time for my reservation.

The young lady there was very pleased to see me and led me to the outside café (where I didn’t want to be). The noise level was high and she didn’t hear me protest until we arrived at a table. She apologized and found me a table inside facing the sunset. The restaurant proper is a nice size with four large drum-shaped shaded swags in the middle of the ceiling for main lighting, and spots everywhere else. The tables are dressed uniquely by a single white cloth that drapes through slots on either end of the black wood tabletop, leaving the side edges of the table bare. The walls are tiled in a strange green-on-white pattern that looks like a maze one would find on a computer game. The chairs and banquettes are cushioned in a pleasant shade of butterscotch.

My server, Eric, arrived promptly, gave me the single card menu (drinks and wine list on the reverse), and took my water preference. Fortunately for me, I had read the menu online, because he asked immediately if I wanted a drink to start with. Having seen eight aperitifs listed I chose the Wolfberger Fleur de Sommer. Unfortunately for him, Eric was not French and didn’t catch my pronunciation. I pointed it out to him. Before he input the order on their computer system he asked once again what I ordered and I confirmed it. Unfortunately for me the only one of the eight aperitifs they had in stock was one made with ginger and I didn’t want that one. Instead, I suggested the cocktail list and he named the exact one I would have chosen, The “Belleville” – Clement Agricole Rhum, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, green chartreuse, and lemongrass tea. Served in a tall glass over ice and garnished with three blueberries it was an interesting flavor, refreshing and herbal.

I told Eric that I was considering a three-course meal, that I was a slow eater, and I needed more time and he left me to my musings, but not before suggesting oysters. Darn it! I couldn’t get them out of my head. When I made my choices I told him that he made it a four-course meal.

The half-dozen West-Coast oysters were served on the half-shell with a vinegar sauce and the traditional wedge of lemon (useless, for me – I don’t like lemon on my seafood). They were light, delicately flavored and not briny, and gone sooner than I expected. “I thought you said you were a slow eater,” said Eric. “You know oysters go down easy,” I retorted slyly.

My cocktail was finished and I decided to switch to the wine. With Eric’s advice, I chose the 2011 Domaine Thenard Givry, Premier Cru “Clos Saint Pierre,” Burgundy. When Eric brought a glass I realized he misunderstood my order for a bottle. We were back on track in an instant. The wine had a wonderful nose and a full, almost spicy richness that would prove itself over the next three courses.

The soup du jour was a chilled cauliflower soup mildly spiced so that it tasted like a delicate version of an Indian soup. I loved it and used the crusty bread now on my table to get every drop. The bread also helped with the next course, Escargots de Bourgogne, in the traditional server with six mini-pots of garlic and parsley butter. The only slightly disappointing part of this dish was that there was not enough garlic butter to sop up with the bread. The escargots however, were perfect.

Next were golden turnips resting on beautiful string beans and in a light orange sauce. The sauce lent the flavor of maple syrup to the string beans, which was bewitching. The duck was cooked to my specifications and was savory and juicy. The turnips were a delightful touch. They reminded me of the golden beets I grew one year.

Now you know that something’s wrong when the profiteroles were the only interesting dessert on the menu (I’m terribly spoiled when it comes to chocolate mousse). But these two were the only French desserts. They were a surprise though, about the size of pool balls, drizzled with valhrona chocolate syrup, stuffed with French vanilla ice cream and dusted with powdered sugar. The light, crunchy pastry combined with the other ingredients was the only thing French about this restaurant after its name and parent company. The one and only entrée that was vaguely French was the one I chose, the duck magret. It was served to remind me of the first time I ever tried, and liked them.

The double espresso was served in a handle-less glass rather than a cup (strange, but intriguing) but the real star of the meal (aside from the wine and the duck) was the Absinthe. Now I know why it was called the “Green Fairy.” This time it was served neat and it was indeed a lovely shade of green. I couldn’t help thinking back to Planet Zero.

Before leaving I asked Eric where the “toilette” was but had to correct it to “restroom” before he could understand. Then I did remark, “Does anyone speak French in this restaurant?” Unfortunately, the going trend in Manhattan is toward bistros with French-sounding names but things like “Cheeseburger” as one of the entrées. (Yes, they had it here.) The last bastion of real French food is in the east 40s of mid-town Manhattan. Bistros like this one are all well and good for the uninitiated but they make me long for the long gone Lutèce.

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