Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Shack

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Shack (Lionsgate, 2017) – Director: Stuart Hazeldine. Writers: John Fusco, Andrew Lanham & Destin Daniel Cretton (s/p). William P. Young, Wayne Jacobsen & Brad Cummings (book). Stars: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw, Radha Mitchell, Derek Hamilton, Megan Charpentier & Gage Munroe. Color, Rated PG-13, 132 minutes.

When searching for that element I affectionately call “The Wow Factor” in a movie, it’s sometimes surprising to find it in a film classified as a “Christian Drama.” But that’s what The Shack had in spades. The story, though a little long, (two hours and 12 minutes) only lagged in a few places but was interesting throughout. It never contradicted the Catholic dogma I was brought up in so much as interpreted it in a very simple, comforting way.

MacKenzie “Mack” Phillips (Carson Reaume later, Worthington) is the product of an abusive father (Nicholas Holmes later, Hamilton), an “elder” of their church, and an abused mother (Tanya Hubbard). He leaves home at age 13 and starts a life of his own.

He has his own family, wife Nan (Mitchell), son Josh (Munroe) and daughters Kate (Charpentier) and Missy (Amélie Eve). Missy is the apple of his eye. They all go to church on Sunday, but Mack is noticeable as the only adult who doesn’t sing with the congregation.

One weekend, Mack takes his children on a camping trip to Wallowa Lake (somewhere in Oregon) and things are going great. Missy is happily coloring at a picnic table while Josh and Kate row a canoe on the lake. That is, until Kate stands up in the canoe to show off for her Dad and overturns the canoe, dumping Josh into the water under it. His life vest is caught in the canoe webbing. Mack rescues Josh and uses CPR to bring him back, but while everyone’s back is turned, a serial killer makes off with Missy.

The police investigation ends at an abandoned shack in the woods where they find Missy’s blood-stained red dress. Mack goes into a depressed state, Kate blames herself and becomes distant, and the whole family is rocked and changed by the horror and loss.

Then one wintery day, Nan is off with Josh and Kate, and Mack is clearing the snow from his driveway when he slips and falls, temporarily losing consciousness. When he come to, he sees a letter in his open mailbox, no postage, no return address, and no tracks in the snow. It’s an invitation from “Papa” (the name Nan uses to refer to God) to spend the weekend at that very same shack where he found Missy’s dress.

His best friend Willie (McGraw) offers to go with him, but after sending Willie to get fishing poles, Mack drives away alone. On the way, he nearly gets killed in a crash with an 18-wheel trailer truck. Willie packed a revolver in the car “just in case” and Mack is sure he’s going to meet his daughter’s killer at the shack, but no one’s there. He throws an angry fit and lies down on the floor. A noise rouses him. It’s just a deer. He walks outside and sees a man approaching (Avraham Aviv Alush). Instead of retracting in fear of the man pointing a gun at him, he beckons Mack to follow him into a sunlit, flowered place where the shack is fully repaired and furnished and has a rambling rose climbing its porch.

Mack is stupefied. This should be snow-covered Oregon, but every kind of flower is blooming here from every season. Inside the shack he meets a woman he knew briefly as a child who introduces herself as Elousia (Spencer) and a beautiful Japanese woman named Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). Mack’s amazement increases when he figures out that Elousia is “Papa” and the author of the note he received. The man is introduced as her son and Sarayu is introduced as his “Spirit.” Together, the “Trinity” work to heal Mack’s troubled soul and change his life for the better. Jesus leads him to a cave where he encounters Sophia (Alice Braga) who calls herself “Wisdom” and Papa, as a father figure (Graham Greene), leads him to where Missy’s body is hidden.

But did all this really happen? Mack wakes up in a hospital. The crash was real!

The Shack is based on the book of the same name by William P. Young written in 2007. The movie is all about Mack’s burden and how it is lifted by supernatural powers of healing. It is remarkably well acted, and dazzlingly photographed. The special effects are magical. The only thing that causes this film to pale are the oft-times mumbled or whispered dialogue which becomes unintelligible. Octavia Spencer is marvelous. Sam Worthington, even with his unheard lines, was a Pandora’s box of mixed emotions. And if I ever met Jesus, I would like him to be like Aviv Alush. As I said at the beginning of my review. The Shack left me saying, “Wow!”

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Oyster Bar at Grand Central
89 East 42nd Street, New York

The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station is a New York icon and one of my favorite restaurants. With the Lenten period beginning I decided that a familiar place would be a great place to start.

The restaurant’s entrance is entirely glass surmounted by a graceful arch where the restaurant’s name is seen in elegant black letters with the menu posted between the doors under the familiar logo “Oyster” in blue, green, yellow, orange, red and purple letters.

Inside, vaulted ceilings are lined with incandescent bulbs and tiled in a herringbone pattern. The restaurant is a-buzz with conversation and it seems like every table is occupied. After a short wait, my lovely dining companion and I were seated opposite each other with a stereotypical red-checked tablecloth between us. We toasted each other with a Kir Royal (champagne and cassis) and a Beefeater martini while we set to the task of reading the menu.

The menu at The Oyster Bar is a large single sheet of paper with food on one side, drinks on the other. Anyone reading it for the first time is mesmerized by the baffling amount of choices, for it seems like every fish in the sea is listed, as well as soups, stews, salads, desserts, sides and about 30 to 40 species of oyster. It took a little while for us to decide. Though the lobster cocktail was enticing, my companion chose the jumbo shrimp with yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil pesto oil. It was beautifully arranged on the plate and looked like a lighthouse manned by shrimp. The yellow tomatoes were crunchy and fresh, not as acidic as red tomatoes. The mozzarella was creamy and soft and the shrimp perfect.

I chose oysters Rockefeller, a favorite of mine. The spinach, cheese and seasonings combined with the fresh oysters in a savory, slightly salty mix that sometimes took two forks full to eat. They were excellent. I ordered a glass of chardonnay to go with the main course. 
Our two main courses were broiled monk fish with jade blend rice and string beans for the lady and broiled shad roe with roasted tomato and string beans for myself. People say that monk fish is “the poor man’s lobster,” but I would not denigrate it that way. It has a much better flavor than lobster and you don’t have to work hard to eat it. The texture is similar to lobster, but that’s where the similarity ends. 

The rice was a fluffy mixture of brown and white rice, the string beans crisp and garlicky. But my special treat was the shad roe. Though it looks like some internal organ from an autopsy on the plate, the two pods contain millions of tiny beige fish eggs with a nutty, only slightly fishy, flavor. It tastes even better with bacon but, this is Lent. This was my companion’s first taste (and sight) of the dish and, after a sample, she asked for a second. I might have made a convert.

After the Delmonico’s experience, I think my lady has become hooked on baked Alaska, because she ordered the flourless Kahlua chocolate baked Alaska with blood orange compote – a tangy, sweet twist on the original recipe. Since I don’t order it often I thought it was time for me to again experience a New York cheese cake. It’s a dense, creamy cheesecake, simply made and served with a plume of raspberry sauce on the plate. I had almost forgotten how good it is.

After a while, the crowd around us thinned out and we didn’t have to raise our voices to be heard above them. We enjoyed our coffee and double espresso while finishing our desserts. The best part of dining at the Oyster Bar is that neither of us had to go out in the cold to travel home. The subway is linked to Grand Central Station by a separate passage at the top of the ramp. Just another reason why The Oyster Bar has seen me so many times and will in the future.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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