Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The BFG (Amblin/Disney, 2016) – Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Melisa Matheson (s/p), Roald Dahl (book). Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jermaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Adam Godley, Michael Adamthwaite, Daniel Bacon, Jonathan Holmes, Chris Gibbs, Paul Moniz de Sa, & Marilyn Norry. Color, Rated PG, 117 minutes.

After the Orphanage Matron (Norry) fails to secure all the locks on the front door and leaves half the mail on the floor, we see Sophie (Barnhill) wrapped in a quilt, tip-toe down the main staircase to complete the unfinished tasks. In her monologue, we learn that the “Witching Hour” is not necessarily midnight, or even one or two o’clock. It’s three in the morning, the hour that only Sophie is awake, that she returns to her bed with a flashlight and her copy of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. The other children in three rows of beds are fast asleep. Sophie’s bed is the last one in the center row, nearest the window.

Suddenly, she hears a clatter in the street below and she recites her mantra, “Do not get out of bed…(she does)…Do not go to the window…(she does)…Do not look behind the curtains…(again, she does)…and do not look over the railing!” She finds a few cats have overturned a garbage can.

However, a huge hand appears from around the corner and uprights the garbage can.

The giant (Rylance) hears her gasp, knows he’s been seen and plucks her from her bed, quilt and all, and speedily runs back to Giantland, which is somewhere in the North Sea, beyond Scotland.

Sophie learns that the giant doesn’t want to eat her (as most giants would), but instead eats a noxious stew made from the ugliest cucumber ever (called a snozzcumber). She understands that he’s friendly and because he wants to go about in secret, he kidnapped her to remain unseen. She redubs him BFG for Big Friendly Giant (he never reveals his true name).

Sophie soon discovers that BFG is the runt of a litter of 10 giants who refer to him as “Runt,” and are big enough to carry him like a doll. They have names: Fleshlumpeater (Clement), Bloodbottler (Hader), Maidmasher (Ólafsson), Manhugger (Godley), Butcher Boy (Adamthwaite), Childchewer (Holmes), Gizzardgulper (Gibbs) and Meatdripper (Moniz de Sa), and they do eat children.

BFG’s “job” is catching dreams in Dreamland and blowing them through his trumpet to sleeping people. But when Sophie insists on accompanying him on a hunting foray, the other giants find her quilt and smell her on it. They know BFG is harboring a “bean” (their word for a ‘being’) and when BFG takes Sophie back to London, they figure out his source of their ‘food’ and follow. What to do? Enlist the services of Queen Elizabeth II (Wilton), her aide, Mary (Hall), and Head of Household Mr. Tibbs (Spall). But this plan requires the revelation of the BFG.

The book, written in 1982 by Roald Dahl, was made into an animated film in 1989. This amazing live-action film’s screenplay comes from the pen of the late Melissa Mathison. Under Steven Spielberg’s able direction and with John Williams spectacular musical talents, this remarkably sensitive film needed a telephone book of people working on its stunning visual effects. I remember back when King Kong’s finger bent backward with the struggles of the beauty he caught. Not here. The giants are as real as Sophie and the close-ups are simply mind-boggling.

Frankly, I expected this movie to be silly, and in some short scenes, it was. But the sheer genius behind the production, the message behind the near-gibberish (you can understand it, but it sounds like Jabberwocky) spoken by the BFG and the superior acting by Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill bring this fantasy into reality. There was teary pathos and laugh-till-you-cry visual comedy. Even the most cynical child would be entertained. I know I will still laugh uncontrollably whenever I remember the green brew frobscottle, the volatile potable with downward-fizzing bubbles and explosive “Whizpopping” after-effect. My favorite line? “Dreams are short on the outside, but long on the inside.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Paramount Bar & Grill
235 W. 46th St., In the Paramount HotelNew York

The term “Hotel Restaurant” evokes shudders in some reviewers. They are often known for spotty service, so-so food and cheesy décor. But we all know it’s the exception that proves the rule.

The classy glass and brass awning over the entrance to the Paramount Hotel in midtown Manhattan raises expectations. The soft gold lighting and elegant use of mirrors and black walls makes it an inviting place to stay.

The young man at the station gave me a choice of two tables. I chose the one with more light and was seated on a comfortable gray leather banquette. The operative word at Paramount is comfort. Though obviously a bar, it’s also a stress-relieving lounge. There is an arty silver-gray wine rack on the wall facing the bar. The black, bare-topped tables melt into the overall décor and the white cloth napkins and stemmed water glasses add to the relaxed atmosphere.

My server Thomas arrived shortly and asked if I wanted a cocktail. Though the “Smoky Scotsman” was an attractive brew I went with my favorite martini when Thomas confirmed the availability of Beefeaters gin. It was well-chilled and well mixed.

When Thomas returned, I had chosen a salad but was torn between two main courses. He recommended one over the other but asked if I was really hungry because it was a large portion. I assured him I would pace myself.

While Thomas was registering my order, another server brought a silver basket with warm rolls resting on a napkin and the butter dish on the side. He noticed my finished cocktail and asked if I wanted another. I told him I was switching to wine and had a salad coming. He recommended the 2010 Chardonnay from the Santa Barbara Winery, California. A crisp, well-chilled, golden wine, it went perfectly with my Baby Spinach Salad.

My eyes popped from their sockets at the main course; a 14 oz. Berkshire Pork Chop, sizzling and beautifully browned. It sat majestically on a bed of bright green broccolini in a whole grain mustard cream sauce. It was a good five inches in diameter and a little over an inch thick. The meat was tender and white, not too dry, and savory where browned. I succeeded in slowing down and finished it.

The side dish, called “O’Brien’s Potato Hash,” was way different from hash-browns. Bite-sized wedges of baked potato along with chopped red and yellow peppers and a small dish of homemade catsup. Served Brit-style on faux newspaper, it was kitschy as well as delicious.

Thomas wondered if I had any room left for dessert and I asked him for a recommendation. The “Pastry Bread Pudding” caught my eye and that was his advice. The fluffy pudding was topped with a substantial scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel. It was good, but it was the only dish I didn’t finish. Thomas asked why. “Needs bourbon,” I replied. A double espresso later and my Paramount dinner was finished. I may even try to stay at the Paramount on my next stay-cation.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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