Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mr. Holmes

Dinner and a Movie

Sherlock and Tommy

By Steve Herte

My grandfather on my mother’s side always celebrated his birthday for a week thereafter and I’ve been doing exactly that ever since I heard of the idea; one day is certainly not enough. It’s been fun. I experienced a new park, visited two new restaurants, and used a coupon to my all-time favorite restaurant, Henry’s End in Brooklyn Heights. Besides a lovely present from Monica, I also ordered a few birthday gifts from me to me. Does anyone besides me ever do that? And aren’t they the best gifts? They’re always what I wanted; after all, my experience has been that I’m the easiest person to buy for.

I’ve received several email greetings (thank you all) as well as several cards. At Henry’s End, I discovered that the chef/owner, Mark Lahm, has reinvented himself once again by having wild game dishes on the menu year-round, not just from October to February (popular demand). (No, they don’t serve lion. I’m not a cannibal.) I had ostrich and quail. 

Ah, but I digress. I missed Mr. Holmes when it opened, and was glad to see it lasted and was available at the right time. Tommy Bahama’s was just the icing on the cake (did I mention I blew out two candles this past week?). Enjoy!

Mr. Holmes (Roadside Attractions, 2015) – Director: Bill Condon. Writers: Jeffrey Hatcher (s/p). Mitch Cullin (original story and novel A Slight Trick of the Mind). Arthur Conan Doyle (characters) (uncredited). Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam, Philip Davis, Frances de la Tour, Charles Maddox, Takako Akashi, Zak Shukor, John Sessions, Michael Culkin, & David Foxxe. Color, PG, 104 minutes.

It’s 1947 as the movie opens and we see Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) returning home on a train in a booth with a mother and her son. The son sees a wasp on the window and suddenly Sherlock says, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” “Do what?” “Tap on the glass, as you were planning to do.” The mother says, “It’s only a bee.” “It’s a wasp. They’re quite different creatures.” This theme runs through the whole movie.

Mr. Holmes is now 93 years old. Watson is married and living elsewhere, brother Mycroft is deceased and for 35 years Holmes is living in this lonely, far off place near the English Channel with just a housekeeper, Mrs Munro (Linney) and her young son, Roger (Parker). Sherlock’s hobby is the apiary he keeps and he’s wondering what is killing off his bees. He’s also trying to re-write his last case, “The Lady in Grey,” because he feels that Watson got it all wrong when he “fictionalized” him as a hero. But he’s having trouble with his memory as if he’s experiencing early stages of Alzheimer’s (he writes people's names on his shirt cuffs to remember them). He’s taking royal jelly (made by the bees) in hopes it improves his memory and he’s learned about an herbal remedy from the prickly ash plant.

When Doctor Barrie (Allam) comes to visit, the doctor asks, “Did you find your ashy prick?” “Prickly ash!” Holmes corrects. The doctor is concerned about Holmes’s forgetfulness and gives him a notebook, instructing him to make a black mark on a page each day and each time something is forgotten. Reluctantly Holmes takes it. At home, he unwraps the only package he’s carrying from his trip and takes out a small potted plant (the prickly ash in question), and places it on a stand.

There is a flashback to his trip to Japan to procure the prickly ash from Mr. Tamiki Umezaki (Sanada), whose father had come to England to work for the government but never returned to his wife and son. He takes Mr. Holmes to the wasted city of Hiroshima and in a blackened forest they find the prickly ash.

There are several flashbacks to the case of the lady in grey, including a scene where Holmes views a movie made from the book (with disapproval of how he’s portrayed). Bits and pieces of memory drift in and out of his mind and he writes them down as he thinks of them. Roger is very interested in everything Holmes does, learning bee-keeping from him, as well as reading his rendering of the case and helping with questions about the plot.

The case involves a certain Ann Kelmot (Morahan) – the lady in grey – who is married to Thomas Kelmot (Kennedy) and who has unfortunately miscarried two children and been advised against trying to have any more. When she repeatedly talks to her unborn children in front of her horrified husband and consults Madame Schirmer (De La Tour), she learns how to play the glass harmonica. Her husband, thinking her obsession with playing this instrument is tantamount to calling up the dead, forbids her from playing it. But when she repeatedly sneaks out of the house, he has Sherlock follow her. This leads her to think he doesn’t love her anymore, and she makes a play for Mr. Holmes. When Holmes advises her to return to her husband she commits suicide by standing on the tracks in a dark tunnel while a train is speeding through. This case so affected Holmes that he retired to where he lives now.

Mrs. Munro wants to move in with her sister in Portsmouth and take her son with her, hopefully to make a better life for him than hanging around with a crazy old washed-out detective. But Holmes becomes impatient and desperate to get his memory back to the point where he tries to inject the prickly ash subcutaneously and passes out. His housekeeper is now stuck taking care of him while he’s bed-ridden. But does he stay in bed? Certainly not. In one scene he drops a paperweight and falls out of bed trying to retrieve it. Roger has to quickly patch him up before his mother sees his bloody pajama top.

Mr. Holmes is an excellent film, superbly acted, but it falls short in certain scenes where nothing is happening and I found myself nearly lulled to sleep. The writing is clever, especially Holmes’ brilliant analyses of various situations. McKellen is amazing as he switches back and forth from lucidity to near incoherence and, at one point, goes into a blank stare. It’s almost scary. The last scene, when Roger is unconscious from being stung repeatedly and has to go to the hospital, is intense. The mother blames the bees but Holmes knows better: bees leave their stinger in a wound while wasps do not. The son had found what was killing the bees – wasps – and tried the wrong method to eradicate them.

The running gag (if you will) in the film is that people are always stopping and doing doubletakes when he passes by. “Is that…?” they ask, and rightly so. He wears either a top hat or a Homberg, but never a Deerstalker cap. “You’re NOT Sherlock Holmes!”  shouts Madame Schirmer at one point.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Tommy Bahama NY
551 Fifth Ave. (45th Street)New York

I discovered this restaurant chain on my last visit to Raleigh, North Carolina. I had so much fun dining there that when I saw it appear on I had to make the reservation. The theme is tropical, as is the clothing line, and the dishes are exotic Caribbean recipes.

The Tommy Bahama clothing store is on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street, an expensive location for any store, with the restaurant and bar right next door. The Marlin Bar occupies the ground floor, and an elegant dark wood spiral staircase leads to the restaurant on the second floor. The rather loud music issuing from the live band had me shouting to be heard by the young lady at the Captain’s Station. She understood and led me to a table as far away from the musicians as possible.

The décor at a Tommy Bahama restaurant is pretty consistent – cream colored walls lit by unobtrusive spots, bare-topped, blond wood tables and cushy chairs, and banquettes. Here and there are potted banana palms for that tropical atmosphere.

I was presented with the specials list and the nicely bound menu (including the drinks/wine list). My server, Lealem, appeared and took my water preference and asked if I wanted a drink. I looked quickly at the specials list and chose the Blueberry Thyme Smash, a mixture of gin, sour mix, thyme leaves and smashed (appropriately) blueberries. It was the color of pink lemonade and tasted very refreshing, but not a cocktail to my tastes.

Choosing a meal from a Tommy Bahama menu is not easy, for every dish sounds interesting. There are the standard categories of Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Entrees, Sides, and Desserts with the added enticement of Bungalow Favorites (dishes popular with the clientele) and dessert wines. I knew I needed Lealem’s help when I had chosen an appetizer and the wine before anything else. The wine list, by the way, is remarkably affordable.

I asked her what a Caribbean rub consisted of and she explained that it was mild spices. On a scale of one to ten it would be a four. I told her I love spicy dishes (hint, hint). She noted that my drink was finished and I ordered a Zombie (a reliable cocktail), made here with Brugal Blanco, Mount Gay Eclipse & over proof rum, pineapple, lime, house-made grapefruit syrup, with Angostura Bitters. Though it was served in a brandy snifter rather than a tall Tiki glass, it had a remarkably different herbal flavor and a decent kick. I now knew I was having a real drink.

Several explanations later, I had a meal planned, thanks to Lealem’s patience, and after she left to put in the order another server brought bread with cinnamon-honey butter. The butter was nice, but the bread was fantastic – a single roll with four points (like a priest’s Biretta) making it easy to divide; the golden glaze on it making it even more appetizing.

The first dish was the Crab Bisque – lump blue crab, sherry, cream, and crushed croutons. It was a lovely golden color and very tasty, not too crabby. The crushed croutons floated in the center as a garnish and added a nice herbal crunch to the dish. I used the bread to mop up every last drop. When Lealem came to check on my progress I ordered my wine, a 2012 Prisoner Wines “Saldo” Zinfandel, from Napa, California, a rich, full bodied spicy, deep red wine that enhanced the entire meal.

The second course was Macadamia Crusted Goat Cheese – with mango salsa, sweet soy and flatbread. When I ordered this dish I was intrigued by the macadamia nut crust on the goat cheese but was wondering about the size of the portion. Nowadays, what is called “flatbread” is a meal unto itself, more like an individual pizza than an accent. Fortunately, this was not the case. They were long, thin cracker-like breads and I used them to scoop up portions of the two-inch diameter cheese. It was fun to eat as well as delicious.

One of the questions I had asked Lealem was how a swordfish could become “Bronzed.” Her answer was, “with spices.” I ordered the Bronzed Swordfish – with a warm farro (a grain related to wheat) salad, rainbow carrots, and jalapeño-lime butter – as my main course. I love swordfish and this one did not disappoint me. It was firm, meaty and spicy. The carrots added a sweet tone to the dish and the farro supplied an earthy foundation.

Whenever I see the word “butterscotch” on a dessert menu I ask the server about the intensity of the flavor. Lealem told me that the Butterscotch Pudding – chocolate ganache, scratch caramel, white chocolate mousse – was her favorite dessert and I instantly ordered it. Yes, it was real butterscotch and not some light imitation. It looked like something out of a Willy Wonka movie and tasted dreamy. Of course the solid chocolate at the bottom of the dessert glass didn’t hurt.

The double espresso at Tommy Bahama’s is a hefty cup of coffee. but the dessert wines were uninteresting. I went instead to the cocktail list and chose the Holy Molé – Tanteo Cocoa Tequila, Los Nahuales Mezcal, Grand Marnier, Molé Bitters, aged 7 weeks in barrel – as my after-dinner drink. Strangely enough, even though another drink mentioned “jalapeño” as an ingredient, this drink was just spicy enough to cap my meal perfectly.

Aside from the loud trio (a guitarist, a saxophonist, and a woman vocalist singing out of her range, you should have heard their version of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?”) – they took a break while I ordered and ate most of my meal, thankfully – my dining experience at Tommy Bahama’s New York was almost as much fun as the first time in Raleigh. I have Lealem to thank for much of it. She was very gracious when I pointed out a misspelling on the specials menu (the Braised Pork Tenderloin on Pappardella was spelled “Brasied” and “Parpadella”) and promised to let someone know about it. I can’t help it. I dated a legal proofreader for 35 years.

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