Friday, November 25, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (WB, 2016) – Director: David Yates. Writer: J.K. Rowling. Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Sam Redford, Johnny Depp, Scott Goldman, Tom Bentnick, Tom Clarke Hill, Tristan Tait, Colin Ferrell, Matthew Sim, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Carmen Ejogo, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Zoe Kravitz, Ron Perlman, Jenn Murray, & Cory Peterson. Color, Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.

How do you catch a beast you cannot see?” “With great difficulty.”

Indeed, trying to catch a “demiguise” when it’s invisible can be challenging but not for Newton Artemis Fido “Newt” Scamander (Redmayne), a magizoologist who is collecting and cataloging rare magical creatures and keeping them in his suitcase. (When visible, a demiguise looks like a blue-furred sloth with big, sad eyes.)

It is 1926 in New York City, 70 years before Harry Potter even got started, according to writer J.K. Rowling. Newt arrives by boat searching for a much rarer creature, a “Niffler" – in appearance, a short-tailed platypus – which has eyes for gold and sparkling things and a pouch to store them in. What he doesn’t know is that an “obscuros" is also loose in the city and it has already destroyed one building and torn up a street.

Newt’s plans are upset when he meets Mr. Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) a man with a dream of opening a bakery and who has an identical suitcase, but his is full of sample baked goods. The suitcases are destined to be switched (and are). Mr. Kowalski becomes curious when one clasp mysteriously pops open and he lets out a few of the creatures within, one of which bites him.

The escape alerts an agent of MaCUSA (The Magical Congress of the United States of America) – an organization of wizards in a parallel universe inside New York’s Woolworth Building. Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Waterston) arrests Newt for breaking the laws of the organization. Unfortunately, her status in MaCUSA is tenuous at best and her arrest makes no impression on her superiors, Seraphina Picquery (Ejogo) and the sinister looking Mr. Percival Graves (Farrell). It is only with clever trickery that they get themselves and the suitcase back to her apartment.

Tina helps Newt find Mr. Kowalski and they bring him to her apartment where Newt can cure him of the beast bite. But Jacob falls instantly in love with Tina’s roommate, a vivacious red-head. After showing Jacob the world he has hidden in the suitcase and demonstrating that these fearsome creatures are really gentle when treated right, the three go in search of the escapees, one of which is an “Erumpent” – a huge rhinoceros-like creature that is in heat and is tearing up the local zoo looking for a mate.

MaCUSA has their own major problem, as witnessed by the opening credits. The evil Grindelwald (Depp) has escaped captivity and threatens to start a war between the wizards and the No-Maj world (people with no magic, or Muggles in the Potter universe). In addition, a No-Maj named Mary Lou Barebone (Morton) is preaching against witches from the town hall steps with her children Chastity (Murray), Credence (Miller), and Modesty (Wood-Blagrove) and whipping up support for her cause.

When presidential candidate Senator Langdon Shaw is killed by the rampaging obscuros, his father joins the movement against witches. This makes MaCUSA’s situation even direr.

Newt, Tina, Queenie and Jacob have to set things right before armed camps form and more deaths result. Their searches take them to meet the mysterious Lestrange (Kravitz) and the avaricious gnome Gnarlack (Perlman) at the Blind Pig Speakeasy. Gnarlack’s information costs Newt his timorous leafy green Bowtruckle – a creature who can pick locks.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a stunningly beautiful film with remarkable special effects and must be seen in 3D, which it uses to full capability. The animation is excellent, the soundtrack powerful and the script is eminently quotable. My favorite line is, “Worrying makes you suffer twice.”

The only weakness in the movie is the delivery of lines. Eddie Redmayne plays the self-effacing and modest collector well but mumbles several sentences incoherently. If I were director David Yates I’d be screaming, “What did you say?” over and over. Katherine Waterston has this problem too. Otherwise, the acting is splendid and the characters are believable. Especially, the police who line up and repeatedly shoot at something that has no body to speak of. The two hours and 13 minutes passed before I knew it. I would like to see a sequel to this film.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Clock Tower
5 Madison Ave., New York

Did you ever wonder what happened to the iconic Metropolitan Life Building (the one pictured on all their stationary – with the golden pyramid on top) after the insurance company bought and moved into the former Pan Am Building? It’s now the Edition Hotel and houses an elegant restaurant called The Clock Tower.

An inducement for my choosing The Clock Tower was the menu. Billed as being British cuisine, the listings on the menu were anything but the expected fare in an English pub.

When I met Carla, my server, I had had just enough time to view the cocktail list. But I knew that there was no place else in the universe where I could get a perfect Beefeater martini if I couldn’t get one here and I was right. The menu had English ingredients in almost every dish but with a stylish twist. I could have had king crab legs as an appetizer, but I wanted to seek the extraordinary.

Like magic, the wine steward appeared and I told him what I had ordered and what qualities I wanted in a wine. He steered me to the red wines from Spain and I chose the 2009 CVNE Viῆa Real, Gran Reserva Rioja. I had specified an elegant, full-bodied red with deep fruits and this one definitely fit the description. It even brought out finer flavor in the first course.

I admit I’m not a fan of salmon. I like Nova Scotia lox and the occasional salmon sushi, but I never order a main course of salmon. But the London gin cured salmon with salt baked beets, fennel pollen, and horseradish ice was on another level of reality. The salmon was delicate and delicious and, when combined with the other ingredients, divine. When a taste of the rioja enhanced that, I was in disbelief.

Next was the “winter leaf salad,” with smoked figs, black walnuts, watermelon radishes and fresh honeycomb. It looked like a bigger portion than it was but that was only the excess of frisée. The figs were julienne cut and the walnuts were candied. The light dressing did not overpower the individual flavors and the occasional honeycomb was a tasty, sweet surprise each time.

The competition between the “Long Island duck” and the “pan-roasted striped bass” was tough but the Colorado lamb chops (medium rare) in a spiced pistachio crust, with mixed grains, caramelized yoghurt, and artichokes won my choice of main course. They were appetizingly crossed and leaning on the other ingredients, the perfect shade of pink, tender enough to cut with a fork and delicious.

My dessert was pistachio soufflé with a ball of chocolate ice cream served separately finished a truly delightful dining experience. I had my traditional double espresso but this time, I had a nice glass of green Chartreuse with it.

But it wasn’t yet over, for Carla brought out a tray of homemade cookies and candies. I haven’t been served like this in many years. I started wondering what it would be like to stay at this hotel and come down here for breakfast. Who knows? Maybe even this will happen.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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