Saturday, February 4, 2017


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Split (Universal, 2016) – Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Writer: M. Night Shyamalan. Stars: James McAvoy, Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Sebastian Arcelus, Lyne Renee, Ameerah Briggs, Betty Buckley, Izzie Coffey, Nakia Dillard, Dann Fink, Jerome Gallman, Kash Goins, Brad William Henke, Rosemary Howard, Neal Huff, Kate Jacoby, Robin Rieger, M. Night Shyamalan, Julie Potter, Peter Patrikios, Christopher Lee Philips, Ukee Washington, Robert Michael Kelly, & Emlyn Morinelli Macfarland. Color, Rated PG-13, 117 minutes. 

The broken are the more evolved” – Dennis (James McAvoy).

Even though there have been movies about young girls being abducted and locked in underground, spooky places, and films about multiple personalities, this one stands out. Maybe it’s because it goes for the Ripley’s award of most identities contained in a single person. Maybe it’s because it proposes a new theory about multiple personae, “An individual with multiple personalities can change their body chemistry with their thoughts,” says Dr. Karen Fletcher (Buckley). Or, maybe it’s M. Night Shayamalan’s Hitchcock touch, where a scene builds the audience up for something scary and leaves them hanging, only to deliver the knock-out punch when they least expect it.

I will admit I was glued to my seat wondering what will happen next, even though the trailers gave away more than I would like them to have done. The opening scene introduces us to Claire Benoit (Richardson), a high school student whose father Dennis (Huff) is waiting to drive her and her girlfriend Marcia (Sula) home from school. Casey Cooke (Taylor-Joy) stands by the window and it looks like her ride isn’t coming. Casey is not like Claire and Marcia as Claire is quick to point out, that she’s been in detention every day that past week. Nevertheless, Mr. Benoit offers to take Casey home too and she accepts. He loads up the trunk of the car while the girls get in, we hear a thump and the trunk closing and Dennis sits in the driver seat. Donning a particle-filter mask, he sprays Claire and Marcia with something to knock them out and later sprays Casey when she attempts to open her door, and drives away.

The girls wake up in a locked room without windows, obviously underground and meagerly furnished. Dennis is strange and brooding and they have only minimal ideas of what he wants with them. Claire and Marcia are near panic-stricken but Casey is oddly calm and detached. Claire wants to rally all three to attack Dennis and escape, but neither she nor Marcia can get Casey to join their cause.

Meanwhile, in another part of Philadelphia (Shyamalan’s seeming favorite city setting) Barry, a talented fashion designer, pays an unexpected visit to Dr. Fletcher, his psychiatrist. Obviously to the audience and to Dr. Fletcher, this is the same man who is Dennis, and she tries to speak to Dennis but Barry will not let her. She humors him, knowing there are 22 other personalities “sitting in chairs” deep down inside him, including the original one, Kevin Wendell Crumb.

We are later treated to several flashbacks in Casey’s life to explain her attitude or lack thereof. She’s five years old (Coffey) and on a deer hunting camping trip with her father (Arcelus) and her Uncle John (Henke). Her father teaches her to shoot a rifle and a shotgun and her uncle teaches her pedophilia and is nearly shot by her for doing so. But Casey is trapped. Her father succumbs to a heart attack and she’s stuck with no recourse but to live with her lecherous Uncle John.

Though there are 24 personalities abiding in Kevin, the audience only gets to meet eight of them, including The Beast. Dennis and Patricia (another of his personalities) have been preparing the way for The Beast and the girls are a part of that preparation, the grisly end. The only personality we see for any length of time is Hedwig, an awkward, shy nine-year-old boy with a distinct lisp whom Casey tries to befriend in hopes of escaping. Later, we glimpse Orwell and Jade on Kevin’s computer and we see the other names in video files on the screen.

James McAvoy does a splendid job switching among his varied personae with an obvious mental effort that seems almost painful and he keeps the attitudes and facial differences so distinctly, you know who has just “entered the light.” Anya Taylor-Joy runs the gamut in acting, displaying at times restrained terror, interested shock, veiled concern and sly bravery. Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula are the perfect opposites from Anya with their over-the-top fear displays and fool-hardy actions. But the great Betty Buckley is my favorite. I remember her from Cats on Broadway. She’s excellent as a psychiatrist, complementing, cajoling, always smiling and concerned, while trying to get Dennis to reveal his (and Patricia’s) secret plans.

As Hitchcock always did, so does M. Night Shyamalan. Look for him as Jai, a young man who loves going to Hooters’ restaurants. Another cameo you can’t miss is Bruce Willis, at the end of the film, answering the question, “Wasn’t there that guy in the wheelchair 15 years ago? What was his name?” with “Mr. Glass.” Split is one of M. Night Shyamalan’s better films. Having seen 10 out of his 14 so far I would put it way above The Village (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006), but just below Signs (2002) and Unbreakable (2000). Though not for the whole family, the gore is kept to a minimum, sexual content is only hinted at and vulgarity is nonexistent. Quite an accomplishment for a 2017 horror/thriller. As I said, I was riveted to my seat. The only negative I can think of was the scene where McAvoy, as The Beast, starts climbing a vertical wall and it’s obvious that there was some kind of wire pulling him up that was edited out – his left foot slides up the wall rather than gripping it. Other than that, I enjoyed it.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Thai Villa
5 E. 19th St., New York

Ever since my parents took me to see The King and I on the big screen I’ve been fascinated by the architecture and ornamentation of classical Siam, now Thailand. That architecture is replicated at Thai Villa, from a large tree with golden leaves etched on it in a circle on the outside to the main dining area, shaded by thousands of shimmering gold leaves, and continuing the image of this mythic tree. 

My server, a slight, friendly young woman named Aui, brought a three-sectioned leather-bound food menu along with a wine list. On the left side on the menu were listed the Classic Thai dishes. In the center are the “Privileged” Thai dishes – gleaned from the royal days of old Siam. And on the right are the chef’s Signature dishes. Looking at the cocktail list I ordered a Pandan cocktail – Old Tom gin, green chartreuse and citrus juices garnished with a pandanus leaf. Very nice. 

While I was choosing my meal another server brought a shot glass of soup as an amuse bouche that tasted like a light pea soup with hint of green curry and yellow lentils. Again, very nice.

The place was nearly full and the servers were bustling back and forth. The next time I could get Aui’s attention, I ordered my dinner: one classic appetizer, one privileged appetizer and an entrée from the same central section. I chose the 2013 Old Vine Garnacha from Breca vineyards, Spain, a beautiful, medium-bodied deep red wine with a peppery after taste.

I’ve always loved Thai curry puffs, filled with minced organic chicken, potatoes and onions, cooked with curry powder and served with a sweet cucumber relish for either dipping or pouring over. The spice level was low and only added a hint of the exotic, while the rice flour shell of the puffs was delicate and crisp and the insides soft, warm and savory. With the sweet cucumber relish it was a great combination.

The “Royal” appetizer was Ray Rai Nah Phu – minced shrimp and rice noodles with curry paste in betel leaves, topped with lump crab meat and garnished with a ring of red chili pepper. I asked Aui if this was finger-food. She said yes, you just wrap the individual contents in the leaf and eat it as if it were a taco. It was amazing. Everything was so minced together I couldn’t distinguish the noodle part, but the shrimp and the crab asserted their flavors and the curry and chili pepper merely added a touch of spice.

My main course was the royal pad Thai, consisting of prawns, shallots, beansprouts, chive leaves, peanuts, bean curd, and dried shrimp wrapped in an egg nest pancake and resting on a red banana leaf and garnished on top with parsley. This dish is never spicy in any Thai restaurant and I’ve had it in several, but not like this. I had a great time with this dish.

Not surprisingly, there were only four desserts, including a selection of sorbets. I wanted to continue in the exotic style and ordered the banana crepes. Nothing like a French crepe, these were closer to Chinese fried bananas, but with a crepe-like, crispy coating and vanilla ice cream. The plate was artfully drizzled the both white and dark chocolate sauces. Excellent. 

In the time I was there, the couple to my left had ordered a spicy tea as a cocktail before their meal and it was served in a beautiful glass teapot with matching glass cups and saucers. I had to have tea after my meal. Aui suggested Oolong tea and I agreed. The teapot had a central repository for the tea leaves and you could watch as your tea slowly darkened as you finished your dessert. I waited until it attained a deep golden color. It was delicious without sugar or milk. I ordered a glass of Bulleit Bourbon to finish off this truly royal meal.

I love restaurants that provide a transporting experience and Thai Villa lived up to everything it promised online. I can’t wait to go back and try some of the “spicy” dishes.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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