Friday, June 3, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

I can’t understand how people say they’re bored when they retire. There’s always something to do around a house or even an apartment. With the warm weather came the responsibilities that my Dad used to assume. Now they’re mine. It’s remarkable how fast grass grows when the conditions are right. I’ll never say “about as exciting as watching grass grow” again. Not now that it’s up to me to mow it. And then there’s always something that breaks and a minor repair is in order. I just don’t think I’ll be bored when I do retire. As long as I can keep up my lifestyle at the same time. Karaoke, movies and dining out are a part of me. Enjoy! 

Alice Through the Looking Glass (Disney 2016) – Director: James Bobin. Writers: Linda Wolverton (s/p), Lewis Carroll (books). Stars: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Lindsay Duncan, Leo Bill, Geraldine James, Andrew Scott, Richard Armitage, Ed Speelers, Stephen Frye, Alan Rickman (voice), Timothy Spall, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Sheen, Wally Wingert, & Barbara Windsor. Color, Rated PG, 113 minutes.

It was a long time ago that I read Alice in Wonderland, but I never got to the sequel and thus cannot confirm or deny anything I saw in this remarkable movie. All the characters I remember from Lewis Carroll were there with the exception that now they have names. Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) is a skilled ship’s captain of the appropriately named “Wonder” who evades three pirate ships in the Straits of Malacca by going full sail in a storm and tipping over sideways through a shallow gap in the deadly shoals. This is 1875 and it’s her father’s ship, otherwise no one would hire a female captain.

She comes home to her mother Helen (Duncan) only to learn that her devious and spoiled cousin Hamish (Bill) has convinced Helen to sell her shares in the family company to him, and now they have the choice of giving up the ship or their home. Though uninvited, they attend a gala thrown by Hamish and his snooty new wife Lady Ascot (James) to hopefully discuss terms. Alice doesn’t help her case by wearing a gown which would be the height of fashion in China, but is only frowned upon by all the guests as a carnival clown costume.

Unable to change Hamish’s mind and disappointed in her mother’s lack of support (suggesting that a clerk’s job is more than a woman could hope for in 1875), Alice storms off and hears her name spoken by a blue butterfly. It’s none other than Absolem, formerly the Smoking Caterpillar (Rickman). He informs her that Hatter Tarrant Hightopp (Depp) is madder than ever (in a bad way) and needs her to help find his family. But weren’t they all killed by the fearsome Jabberwock? (For some reason they add the “y” at the end of the creature’s name.) Alice follows Absolem through a mirror to Wonderland, where she’s directed to open a door and to mind her first step, for it’s a lulu.

From high above, she plummets through a flowering tree, arriving with a plop at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. There she is welcomed by her friends Mirana the White Queen (Hathaway), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both Lucas), Bayard the dog (Spall), Thackery the March Hare (Whitehouse), McTwisp the White Rabbit (Sheen), the Cheshire Cat (Frye), and Mallymkum the Dormouse (Windsor). The Hatter is locked in his hat-shaped house, but he opens it to Alice and the two come to believe that a travel back in time would save Tarrant’s family.

Mirana tells Alice that in order to time travel, she needs the Chonosphere owned by Time (Cohen) himself, but the journey is very dangerous. It isn't for our Alice, the sea captain. She agrees and finds out that Time is making overtures to Iracebeth (Carter) the Queen of Hearts and Mirana’s sister, who only wants the Chronosphere for herself and her greater power. Her adventures include bumping into Humpty Dumpty (Wingert), causing him to fall off the chess table and break on the floor (again, he says). And, appropriately, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men (from the chessboard, of course) set to the task of reassembling Humpty. The most important thing Alice learns is from Time himself: you cannot change the past, you can only learn from it. After several mishaps in time, this finally gets through to her when Iracebeth gets control of the Chronosphere and nearly destroys Underland by confronting herself in a horrendous time anomaly.

It’s a tale of many morals, belief in real friendship, that sometimes the impossible really is just that, and the importance of family. The special effects in 3D were almost like a drug trip in this film. Sailing across the oceans of time was exactly that, oceans both above and below. The script, which could have been written by Lewis Carroll himself, was cleverly funny in several places. 

Congratulations to Johnny Depp in not mumbling his lines too often. Though this is a Disney production, Alice is quite the opposite character from the prim cartoon Alice in the gingham dress. The animation is beautiful and the voice match-ups excellent. Anne Hathaway was close to being over-the-top as the White Queen. (I almost expected her to start giggling like Billie Burke as Glinda.) Helena Bonham Carter, however, is great as the Queen of Hearts; at times performing a Bette Davis cover.

Though there were no characters I could identify with (well, maybe the Cheshire Cat), the characters were all believably done and I would have liked to meet any one of them (including the Jabberwock). Alice Through the Looking Glass is squeaky clean from a language and gore point of view. There are only a few intense scenes, but most kids today can handle them. The ones in my audience were imperturbable. It’s an exciting movie with no dead space and no jarring anomalies. Even the soundtrack kept its place and was non-intrusive. I enjoyed it, and as soon as I can, I’m reading the book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Osteria del Principe
27 E. 23rd St., New York

The name of this restaurant intrigued me from the first. An “osteria” is an informal eatery featuring a long counter displaying prepared meats and cheeses. Principe means “prince” in Italian. So which is it: Fit for a commoner or for royalty?

Inside, the cherry-wood tables and oak-paneled walls kept the sleek look. The right side of the restaurant is dominated by the immense counter lined with modern, oak wood stools. Beyond a gauzy curtain at the end of the counter, one can see the party room or main dining area. I was seated at a table midway across from the counter and in direct view of appetizingly displayed meats.

Placemats with the restaurant logo have replaced tablecloths, but the votive candle was very real, as was the glassware, and the brown cloth napkin. Soon, my server, Carlotta, arrived reciting the specials of the day, all of which sounded wonderful. Carlotta is not just a server., but also a passionate foodie and a professional promoter of the dishes made by Osteria del Principe.

I perused both the menu and the drinks and wine list. When she returned I ordered a grapito cocktail. To imagine this cocktail, think of a mojito. Then replace the tequila with grappa and the mint with basil. It was a fascinating flavor and definitely an acquired taste.

Carlotta explained that the company hails from the Trieste Area of Northern Italy on the Adriatic Coast and the dishes reflect that regional influence. The way she enthused about food almost made me want to talk with her more, but then, I wouldn’t get to eat. I gave her my choices and she lit up my table with her smile and was off to submit the order.

First was the bresaola – a beautiful 14-inch diameter glass plate of thinly sliced, air dried salted beef with shaved bella lodi cheese, cherry tomatoes and arugula in a lemon/olive oil dressing. The tomatoes were cherry-sized and hidden under the beef at the center of the plate. They were deep red, sweet and fresh. I asked Carlotta if they were locally grown and she confirmed my suspicion. 

I realized I had forgotten to select a wine. I chose the 2012 Pinot Nero “Red Angel on the Moonlight” from Jermann vineyards, Venezia Giulia, Italy. Carlotta mentioned that my next course would be perfect with it.

She was right. The lasagna alla bolognese was not like any I’ve ever had. The house-made pasta was thinly layered with beef ragu and béchamel sauce, and graced with the flavors of rosemary and marjoram. The square of baked pasta was crisp around the edges, had grated cheese on top and a world of savory flavor inside. I noted the extra virgin olive oil made especially for the restaurant.

The main course displayed the Triestina influence with neighboring countries: Ljubljanska (pronounced Lee-oob-Yahn-skah) – veal, pounded thin, filled with ham and cheese, breaded, and pan-fried and served with salad and fried polenta. The dish, named after a town in Slovenia, was better than any schnitzel or scaloppini I’ve ever had. As with the lasagna, the crispy parts were just as good as the tender center. The wine helped and made additional flavor accents with it.

Carlotta then presented me with the dessert list. I had seen one of the desserts at the next table. It was the millefoglie (a thousand leaves) – pastry covered in mascarpone cheese and studded with strawberry pieces. Though it was tempting, I asked Carlotta about the cheese platter. “Only two cheeses?” “I’ll get you more,” she replied. In fact, she brought five: Asiago D’Allevo, Fontina, Bella Lodi, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola, accompanied by a raspberry sauce, sliced green apples and honey as palate cleansers.

Of course, a double espresso is de rigueur after a dessert like that, but Carlotta informed me that the bar stocked Strega, which I preferred. This restaurant that was previously an enigma passed every test I usually present to an Italian place. 

If that weren’t enough, Carlotta brought over these lovely chocolate drops filled with grappa. Again, not for just anyone’s tastes but perfect for me. I can’t wait to return, if not for Carlotta’s food passion, but for the special gnocchi and those prosciuttos.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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