Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Doctor Strange

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Doctor Strange (Marvel/Disney, 2016) – Director: Scott Derrickson. Writers: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko (comic book). Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill (s/p). Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelson, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Topo Wresniwiro, Umit Ulgen & Linda Louise Duan. Color, Rated PG-13, 115 minutes.

I’ve been waiting for a long time for a movie to blow me away and this one did it in spades. The special effects alone are mind-boggling. I’ve never been on a drug trip, but I can imagine one now. Combine elements of a kung-fu film with an Escher masterpiece and sprinkle in a little Harry Potter, then put it all in a blender and splash it on the screen. It’s the first blockbuster to deserve the title this year. And to think the character Dr. Strange first made his appearance in 1963 in Marvel Comics when I was three years old.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), who bears a striking resemblance to Vincent Price, is a consummate neurosurgeon and he knows it. His operations are just as much a stage show as a life and death situation. When fellow surgeon Dr. Nicodemus West (Stuhlbarg) fails to accomplish a procedure, Strange publicly embarrasses him in the operating theater. Strange is super-confident and full of himself. That is until he drives way too fast in his sports car in the rain, and has a horrific accident which leaves his hands virtually useless.

Girlfriend and fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (McAdams) loves Strange and has been patient with him up to this point. But she leaves him when he seems completely out of touch with reality. Strange learns of a paraplegic Jonathan Pangborn (Bratt) who was completely cured after all medical knowledge failed him and begs him to reveal how. (Strange refused to operate on Pangborn because the case wasn’t high profile enough.)

Pangborn eventually tells him, but with a warning, to seek out the Ancient One (Swinton) who lives in a hidden compound called Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal. He spends the last of his savings to get there, pretty much insults the Ancient One by expecting her to be a man, and is thrown out after getting a small taste of her powers. (She temporarily separates his astral form from his body.)

Kamar-Taj has its own problems though. Master Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) has led a small rebellion against the Ancient One and has stolen pages from a book of spells which will open up a doorway to the Dark Dimension and allow Dormammu, a powerful evil into the world. Of course this means killing the librarian at Kamar-Taj. Here the movie almost echoes Star Wars.

After nine days of entreaty and desperate banging on the door to Kamar-Taj, Strange is allowed in again and is permitted to train with Karl Mordo (Ejiofor). His impatience and thirst for knowledge lead Strange to the library and the new librarian, Wong (Wong) tries to dissuade him from learning too fast without knowing the consequences of this knowledge. But when the Ancient One strands him on Mount Everest and he’s forced to use his training to create a “portal” to get back, he uses this power to swipe books from the library.

As a part of his training, Mordo informs Strange that each master has a special weapon, and it’s the weapon that chooses the master, not the other way around. When Kaecilius and his followers attack Kamar-Taj, a red cape floating in a display case chooses Strange – the Cape of Levitation. There’s some hints of Harry Potter here as well. We follow Strange in his mystical progress as he unwittingly becomes a kind of superhero who uses the Eye of Agamotto, a pendant containing an infinity stone to reverse time and fight off Kaecilius and his minions.

Dr. Strange is a visually stunning, sometimes dizzying movie with the forward motion of a runaway train down a mountain. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the best role I’ve seen him in and nails the part. He has the kind of look you want to trust but know you shouldn’t, but you like him anyway. Rachel McAdams is good at portraying the long-suffering, faithful lover who would still do anything for this self-involved genius. Tilda Swinton is a great choice for the Ancient One. She’s inscrutable, yet vulnerable, intensely focused, yet tempted to distraction around Strange. And Mads Mikkelsen is such a stereotypical villain, one expects him to say, “Nyah-ah-ah!” and twirl a long mustache.

Like Tony Stark, Dr. Strange has all the comic lines and sarcasm in the well-written script and some of them are really funny. When Mordo shows Strange his room, he hands him a card on which is written the word “Shambala.” “What is this? My mantra?” says Strange. “It’s the wifi password. We’re not savages,” answers Mordo. The Ancient One gives new meaning to “It’s not all about you.”

The only thing this movie is weak in is pathos, otherwise it’s excellent. The 3D effects work well without throwing something at the audience, the blood is kept to a minimum and there’s no vulgarity that I noticed. Children who can understand what’s going on will love it. I kept thinking how the last scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey would go from lame to “Wow” with today’s technology. And…there will be a sequel. Stay through the first set of credits at the end for proof. My question is, how can they top this film?

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Tuck Room
11 Fulton St. – Third FloorNew York

It’s been four years since Superstorm Sandy devastated downtown Manhattan, with South Street Seaport and Pier 17 beating the brunt of it. The rebuilding process has been long and laborious as well as costly. Some businesses never reopened.

But one month ago, The Tuck Room was established in the newly-renovated Fulton Market Building in South Street Seaport. It was from the east side of this building that the Fulton Fish Market operated until it was transferred to The Bronx. I remember that I could still smell fish when I crossed South Street at lunch time. The three restaurants that were in the market building are long gone, but the place is bustling once again.

I saw the restaurant name in art deco letters over the entrance a little to the right of the main doors to the market. Two escalators later I was at The Tuck Room. The interior featured one wall completely made from stacked books. An artist had painted a dance scene over some of the bindings representing two women dancing with three men who had animal heads; a bear, a horse and an elephant.

A bubbly blond server, Larissa, introduced herself and presented the menu book, bound in leather. She gave me a little time to look through it before asking if I wanted a drink. I exclaimed that it wouldn’t be right to pass up a drink with a name (and detailed description) of Empire State of Mind Manhattan – Hillrock Hudson Valley Estate 20-year Oloroso Sherry, Cask Finished Solera Bourbon, Balsam New York State Single Vineyard sweet vermouth, homemade maraschino cherries and Truffe Amere Winter Black Perigord truffle bitters. It was everything promised, not your usual sweet flavor, but a mature, rich slightly tangy quality.

While waiting for the first course I selected my wine – a 2013 “Baby Amarone” blend “Palazzo Della Torre” from Allegrini vineyards in Veneto, Italy. It’s comprised of 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese grapes for an earthy, mild spice, all-purpose, delicious red table wine. The wine steward proudly brought it out for tasting and offered to decant it. I agreed. It was lovely.

The first dish to arrive was my appetizer. The six “Reuben Croquettes,” basically potato croquettes with crispy pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and a “Thousand Island” sauce provided an unusual twist to a fairly ordinary appetizer. I enjoyed them, very different.

I decided to test the restaurant for the next dish. I haven’t had a Caesar salad in a long time and the reason is that it’s never made right. The Tuck Room calls theirs the Classic Caesar with hearts of Romaine, garlic croutons, shaved parmesan, and Caesar dressing. It was almost perfect. The romaine was crisp and fresh, the cheese visible and sliced right, and the croutons fresh also, not hard as rocks. The best part, no anchovies in sight!

My main course was the Chinatown Duck – shredded with pickled vegetables in a hoisin-sesame glaze with scallions, garnished with watermelon radishes, sided with three ginger and carrot bao (Chinese buns) and served on a cutting board. It was almost like a deconstructed Peking duck and was as much fun to eat as to look at. The buns were exactly as the Chinese would make, soft and moist, the duck tender and savory and the pickled vegetables mixed with the tart/sweet hoisin sauce to create a circus of flavor.

The mixologist at the bar has a device called a Heizenberg that uses liquid nitrogen to cool the drinks and Larissa treated me to their “shot” with the main course. I tasted mild vodka and something like flat ginger ale. It was indeed very cool and it complimented the duck nicely, but I stayed with my lovely wine.

The three desserts on the menu all sounded too large; maybe next time. I was too interested in this Heizenberg thing. I ordered “the cocktail” as a dessert drink. It was strong, citrusy and refreshing and had a large slab of pineapple as a garnish. I definitely have to return, if for nothing else to explore the Market Building and possible movies.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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