Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

On opening night, I was glad to have an assigned seat in the movie theater, though it was nowhere near full. It was the same theater I where saw The Maze Runner featuring the Regal RPX sound system. A good feature providing there are no explosions on screen. The fun was spotty in the theater but started seriously at dinner. Enjoy! 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal, 2016) – Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Writers: Evan Spiliotopoulos & Craig Mazin (s/p), Evan Daugherty (characters). Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu, Sam Hazeldine, Sam Claflin, Robert Portal, Nana Agyeman-Bediako, Sophie Cookson, Conrad Khan, Niamh Walter, & Fred Tatasciore. Color, Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.

Until my waiter at dinner after the theater told me this movie is a sequel, I was confused by all the unexplained asides and non-sequiturs in the script. Now that I know that Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) is its predecessor, I’m even more confused. The knowledge explained some things but put others in question. Following so close on the heels of Disney’s Frozen (2013), I’m forced to separate the concepts of Snow Queen Elsa from the Ice Queen. Add to that the scene where Queen Freya (Blunt) leads her army astride a polar bear-like creature and I need to separate her from the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005) whose chariot was pulled by three polar bears. All three are wintery characters.

The narrator at the beginning of the film tells us there are stories we have heard over and over, but there are some we’ve never heard. And this story begins with the evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) killing her king (Portal) by remote control using a chess game. When she says, “Queen takes King…” she means it and the chess piece begins to bleed as the human king collapses.

Ravenna is still obsessed with her brass serving plate “mirror” and her vain good looks, but she’s turned to mind games rather than special effects to get her way. When the mirror tells her that her sister Freya will give birth to a child that will be more beautiful than she, she forces the father to destroy the baby (thank goodness we don’t see that). However, the trauma releases the magic powers in Freya, which up until now she has denied having, and she becomes the Ice Queen. She moves out, heads north (why not?), and establishes her own kingdom in a frozen wasteland. (Sound familiar, Disney fans?)

But Freya is not like Elsa. She’s ruthless and wants an army. She conquers the kingdoms around hers (with what?) and steals all the children, who will then be trained as her huntsmen. When one terrified child exhibits love for his parents, Freya scars his cheeks with her freezing fingers while lecturing him about love being an illusion and a weakness.

Eric (Khan) and Sara (Walter) excel in their training beyond the other children and gain her favor. They grow up to be Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. Tull also grows up to become Sope Dirisu and their best friend. But when Eric and Sara fall in love and marry each other neck deep in a pool of water they incur Freya’s wrath. Freya has a white feathered Mardi Gras mask she wears when she spies on her “children,” and a ceramic snowy owl was perched above the marriage pool. Freya sets the rest of her huntsmen against Eric and Sara and, when it looks like they would successfully fight them all off, builds an ice wall between them, using deceit to drive them away from each other. Eric sees Tull kill Sara (something he knows in his heart Tull wouldn’t do), and Sara sees Eric abandon her and run away like a coward (also something she knows better than to believe). But they both believe what they saw. Sara is locked up in the queen’s castle and Eric is knocked unconscious, taken for dead, and hurled into the river. How in the world is he going to help Snow White regain her kingdom as he did in the first movie? Oh wait, from previous dialogue we learn that Snow White already has her kingdom. Maybe there’s a time warp here somewhere.

But it gets worse. Somehow, Freya has learned that her sister Ravenna is dead and she wants the magic mirror so she can be unstoppable. (Remember, she’s doing all this for the children.) For some strange reason, Ravenna’s brother Finn is neither mentioned in this film, nor does he inherit the mirror. It turns out to have been stolen by goblins.

Eric is not dead. He meets Snow White’s brother, William (Claflin), and is joined by two dwarves, Nion (Frost), one of the original seven from the first movie (eight, if you count the murdered Gus), and Gryff (Brydon). After a pub brawl that looks pretty dire, Eric and his dwarf companions are saved by a hooded figure that turns out to be none other than Sara! They’re both gobsmacked. He delighted she’s alive and she hates him for leaving her. Now they have to join forces to get the mirror before Freya does. On the way, they encounter two female dwarves, Mrs. Bromwyn (Smith) and Doreena (Roach), who know the way to the goblins’ lair. They want the gold and gems already there in payment for their tour guide service.

Hence my confusion? Some say it’s a fantasy and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. I say that it’s a story and the storyline should be consistent and whole; not broken up into whatever the writers want to throw in. The first movie has Eric’s wife as dead and Ravenna promising him to bring her back if he’ll kill Snow White (who doesn’t even appear in this movie). Ravenna doesn’t even consider Snow White when she conspires to kill Freya’s baby. And what would Sara say if she saw Eric give Snow White “true love’s kiss” in the first movie?

Eventually, I started ignoring the main characters except for the dwarves, who were much more real to me (and funnier), and paying more attention to the CGI background effects, which were marvelous – especially in the dark forest. If you decide to see this film, look for the python made of grass and white flowers, the large tortoise and the flitting pixies artfully woven into the scenes. On the good side, this film was 12 minutes shorter than the first one, but one still had to dig through Chris Hemsworth’s thick Australian-verging-on-Scottish accent to decipher what he was saying. Jessica Chastain also sounded like she was channeling his accent. Thank goodness Ravenna and Freya spoke clearly.

My applause goes to the costume designers and make-up artists once again for superlative work on Ravenna and Freya’s gowns and accoutrements. The CGI effects were top notch to the point that I wish this movie was in 3D. Parents warning: there is a good share of violence in this movie as well as bloodshed (did you know that goblin blood is like tar?), and then there’s the hokey love scenes. But the best part of all – there is no hint of another sequel.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

New York Yankees Steakhouse
7 West 51st St.New York

In the Sixties, I became a Yankee baseball fan and followed the careers of both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. My uncle took me to ball games and I enjoyed being there. In the Seventies, I was still a fan when I joined the Westchester Golden Chordsmen Barbershop Chorus and found out that most of them were Yankees fans as well. My Dad was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they moved to California and disappointed him. He latched onto the New York Mets when they surfaced in 1962, but that’s another story.

When I started dining out and trying new restaurants, eventually, you know that Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on Central Park South near 6th Avenue (opened 1988) would be one of them. Unfortunately, it was geared to children who consider a hot dog with sauerkraut to be haute cuisine. I was not impressed. Though the food was solid and good, it wasn’t my kind of dining. Later, I gave the Mets equal time when Rusty Staub opened his restaurant on 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1989 and a sister restaurant on Third Avenue at 73rd Street. Pretty much the same thing. Mantle’s closed in 2012, Staub’s uptown place closed in 1991 and the Fifth Avenue one went out of business in 2011.

So one might guess I was leery about something called the New York Yankees Steakhouse, which is only entering its third year of existence. It’s said first impressions are the most important, and the flashy entrance to this restaurant made it look very important. Set back from the sidewalk and recessed within the building line, the 12-foot front windows flanked a snazzy steel awning stretching to the curb with the restaurant name in black raised lettering on both sides. OK, it has my attention.

Inside, the maple wood paneling and tastefully displayed Yankee memorabilia offset the dramatic stairway leading to the second floor. The bar on the far left had a canopy of silver, gold and copper chains swaying like fringes on a flapper’s skirt. Shirts with the number 6 (Joe Torre), 23 (Don Mattingly), and 44 (Reggie Jackson) were interspersed with two World’s Series Trophies in glass cases. There were flat-screen television monitors at several places showing baseball games, but they were not oppressive, just a part of the décor. The tables had white cloths and navy blue napkins (team colors), stemmed glassware, and unusual rock-like table lights (though it was bright enough to see without them). The atmosphere spoke “class” to me. This is not a run-of-the-mill sports bar.

Two young ladies at the Captain’s Station took my reservation and one led me up a second set of stairs to the right onto a level overlooking 51st Street. I sat on the navy blue banquette and settled in. I knew I wore my white shirt with the blue pinstripes for a reason.

Andrew, my waiter, appeared and handing me the wine and drink list and food menu. He recommended a cocktail that sounded interesting, but I saw one that was more appropriate. As this was my first time at the New York Yankees Steakhouse, I ordered the Yankeetini – Veev vodka, blue curacao, and white cranberry juice with a twist of lemon. Too bad there were so few patrons on my level, just three other tables of the possible 15. No one to notice that this drink was a vivid greenish-blue that even my camera couldn’t catch, but it was sweet and delicious, with blue sugar rimming the glass.

The menu read like a first class steakhouse menu (several of which are in the same part of town) featuring Raw Bar, Salads, Appetizers, Pasta, U.S.D.A. Prime Steaks, Butch Cuts, Fresh Seafood, and Sides. Andrew told me that Chef Braden Reardon is obsessive with freshness and can guarantee that everything I order will be as fresh as can be. 

He described many items and the myriad combinations and sauces, not once saying, “we’re all out of” anything. I liked that. After explaining that my table lighting was an actual block of salt used in curing the steaks, he left me to consider.

Meanwhile, another server brought something to the two gentlemen sitting window side that caught my eye. It appeared to be a stack of seven or eight fresh doughnuts held in place by a thin black rod. I learned from the server that they were indeed onion rings! I think I decided to come back then and there. After a short discussion with Andrew, I had my three-course meal ordered and he knew which would come out when. He recommended the house wine and I told him I’d let him know.

By now you might know that I am pretty predictable in a steakhouse and two of my dishes were just that. The appetizer, oysters on the half-shell, arrived first on a large stemmed stainless steel platter. There were three from the west coast and three from the east coast. On a separate oblong white dish were ramekins of cocktail sauce, horseradish, and herb oil. Talk about freshness, the east coast oysters were not in the least bit briny. They were all wonderful, and frankly, I couldn’t tell one coast from the other. They were almost the same size. And with the tangy sauces, they were perfect.

Deciding to go Yankees all the way, I agreed to Andrew’s wine recommendation and ordered the 2013 Paso Robles New York Yankees ‘Reserve’ cabernet sauvignon. It was surprising in many ways. There was a cork, it was a deep red, had a great nose, and was full-bodied enough to take on the rest of my meal. Another home run.

The crab bisque, an almost corn chowder/puree kind of soup of the day, arrived in classic style with blue crab bits in the middle of the bowl. The server poured the bisque around it from a stainless steel pitcher. It was a beautiful pumpkin-colored, savory delight that was not fishy at all and gave a nice spicy aftertaste. Did I mention they served pretzel-rolls? When Andrew asked if there was anything else he could get me, I told him to keep the pretzel rolls coming. (By the way, the bread dish was in the shape of a baseball diamond.)

Next, but not least, in presentation was the 12-ounce filet mignon, seared black and crispy on the outside, rare on the inside (termed Black and Blue – just the way I love it), accompanied by a dish of bleu cheese topping. Sheer heaven. This steak was comparable to the one I had at Uncle Jack’s (Look out Jack!). The Yankees hit another home run. To make it a triple header, there was the side dish, decadent truffled Parmesan fries with barbecue dipping sauce. Perched in a paper cone inserted into a stainless steel server, they were crisp, earthy, cheesy and tangy with the sauce.

By now I was becoming full. The colossal chocolate cake sounded beyond my capacity, so I chose the strawberry and chocolate-marshmallow gelato and mango sorbet trio. Again, another home run. It was bigger scoops than I expected but the mango was excellent and the two gelatos were creamy and just as good as ones I tasted in Rome. Once again, the predictable double espresso was mine and Andrew recommended the Taylor Fladgate 20-year-old port wine, the pinnacle of meal-toppers.

New York Yankees Steakhouse is a class act from beginning to end without being stuffy or pretentious. I mentioned the time when George Steinbrenner loaned real Yankee uniforms to my chorus for our competition package and another server was happy to tell me about George and his friendship with him. I wore Dave Righetti’s shirt and Dale Berra’s pants. (Remember them?) I had a great time, ate a grand meal and will be returning for those onion rings (among other dishes).

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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