Saturday, April 8, 2017


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Life (Columbia/Sony, 2017) – Director: Daniel Espinosa. Writers: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick. Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare, Jesus Del Orden, Allen McLean, Hiroyuki Sanada, Leila Grace Bostwick-Riddell, Mari Gvelesiani, David Muir, Elizabeth Vargas, Camiel Warren-Taylor, Haruka Kuroda & Naoko Mori. Color, Rated R, 104 minutes.

Life will never be the thriller Alien (1979) was no matter how many parallels they use. The crew of divas cannot compare with the equally “expendable” low-paid flunky crew of the Nostromo for depth of character or comedic relief. You find yourself rooting for the alien life they awaken.  

After American engineer, Rory Adams (Reynolds) makes an almost-tense catch using the robotic arm of the space station, the crew is in a celebratory mode. British biologist, Hugh Derry (Bakare) eventually finds a microscopic single cell, which he obsesses over and nurtures back from dormancy. It’s cute in its early stages and he feels parental. (Aww!) They now have physical proof of extraterrestrial life. Sponsors on Earth are thrilled. A naming contest among schoolchildren results in the name of “Calvin” for the life form.

Japanese pilot Sho Murakami (Sanada) is more concerned about his pregnant wife Kazumi (Mori) and proudly shows the newborn Mei on his tablet to his fellow crew, Quarantine Officer, Dr. Miranda North (Ferguson); Crew Doctor, David Jordan (Gyllenhaal); and Mission Commander, Ekaterina Golovkina (Dihovichnaya). But Hugh is more concerned with his Martian baby after a malfunction in the isolation chamber causes little Calvin to become inactive. He chooses (perhaps unwisely) to reanimate it with an electric shock. Ryan makes a sarcastic reference to the movie Re-Animator (1985) that proves to be all-too prophetic. Not only does Calvin reanimate, he clamps onto Hugh’s hand (fortunately in a thick rubber glove) and crushes every bone in it before Hugh can extricate himself. If someone awakened me with an electric shock, I’d be pissed off too. Calvin then uses the broken electric probe to pierce the glove and escape.

From there, the movie quickly goes downhill, swinging from long dull scenes where nothing is happening but background music to predictable action scenes where one of the cast is killed by Calvin. They don’t even use strobe lights. Calvin grows each time he kills and appears to be an amalgam of octopus, starfish and jellyfish. One character comments, “Every cell is either muscle, brain or eye.” They soon learn how strong and how smart Calvin is.” The audience gets to “see” from Calvin’s point of view in a couple of scenes and it’s definitely his weakest sense.

Eventually we learn that this form of life is why there is no life on Mars and only the lack of an oxygen-based atmosphere kept it in dormancy. It must not be allowed to get to Earth.

Life is violent in parts and quite gory. It goes for the gross-out effect a couple of times, as when Calvin forces himself down Ryan’s throat and consumes him from within while Ryan spouts gobbets of blood in zero gravity. Speaking of zero gravity, which exists throughout the film, it’s mostly done well. But there are scenes where one can guess where the wires are by the tenting of a character’s pants in the rear. My favorite scene is when Calvin devours a captive lab rat.

Maybe it was good acting, but I found myself not caring about any of the crew and rooting for Calvin. Jake Gyllenhaal looked like he was about to fall asleep from start to finish. Ariyon Bakare played a silly role but you believed he was in genuine pain. Hiroyuki Sanada was almost a Samurai stereotype until he thought he was being rescued toward the end. The other three were eminently forgettable. The worst part is, there’s probably going to be a sequel. Go, Calvin, go!

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.
Kiin Thai Eatery
36 West 8th Street, New York

This informal village restaurant is housed in a modern-looking building with a large LED lit, Broadway marquee-style sign on the outside glass. The wall behind the glass is paneling of faux birch wood, as are the second set of doors in the entrance and the walls inside. A blackboard near the bar announces Kub Khao (shared dishes), a traditional Thai meal serving style, with all dishes made “medium” size so that several diners at a table can sample several at a time. 

Kiin (pronounced Kyin), which  means “eat” in Thai has been open a little over two years. Part of its allure is their claim of authentic Thai cuisine from centuries ago, some dishes being rare to experienced diners.

When my server, Nook, handed me the specials, drinks, and food menus I decided to take my time and consider all possibilities. I ordered the Koh Paradise – Grey Goose vodka, Bacardi rum, Bombay Sapphire gin, Patron tequila, Blue Curacao, lime juice and ginger ale – because I’m attracted to blue drinks. Readers may recognize that it has virtually the same ingredients as a Long Island Iced Tea, except it has ginger ale instead of cola and the added Blue Curacao. It’s a potent drink, but fruity and deceptively mild. Not for the unprepared or the non-drinker.

I was surprised at how many dishes had either chicken, pork or beef in the recipe and how few were seafood or vegetarian. I told her I had plenty of time and that if the dishes could be spaced in time, it would be preferable.

I chose two that I’ve never seen before and one that was familiar.

 My first appetizer was shrimp cake “Todd Mun”  ground shrimp deep-fried in yellow bean/egg tofu and bread crumb coating served with a house made sweet plum sauce. The plum sauce was served in a small bowl with a spout to facilitate drizzling it over the shrimp. Sweet and delicious.

Nook brought out my wine, a 2013 Malbec, Domaine Bousquet from Mendoza, Argentina. It’s a nice red, not as full bodied as other Malbecs I’ve had, but with a slightly spicy after-taste. It was another surprise from a screw-cap bottle and went well with my meal.

Hot on the heels of my first appetizer was my second appetizer, “Vegetarian Golden Bags” – potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts, corn, green peas and cream cheese wrapped in rice paper. After confirming with Nook that this dish was finger-food, I picked one up and dipped it into the accompanying sauce and ate. It was lovely. All the main ingredients are contained in the little bulb formed by the wrapping process and the rest crackles and breaks like a Chinese fortune cookie. Tastes like one too. Unusual and great at the same time.

I had finished the shrimp and most of the vegetarian dish when my main course arrived. When a restaurant labels something as a “signature dish” it’s an added attraction for me. Kiin’s Signature Green Curry (listed as “spicy”) was a bowl full of pale green curry in which floated Thai green eggplant, finger root, sweet basil, long hot chili peppers, coconut milk and salted egg yolk, with fish balls below the surface (a “local” favorite which adds a “bouncy texture” to the dish). 

It was plenty spicy for me. I could see the sliced, bright red chilies swimming in the bowl and avoided eating them. There was something I did not recognize at all, a single stem about three inches long with little green nodules all along it, which Nook identified as peppercorns. (I didn’t think the chilies were alone in supplying the heat.)

 I took a spoonful of the white rice supplied separately and placed it on my plate, then spooned fish balls, basil, and green eggplant over it with the coconut-y sauce. It was delicious, but not for the uninitiated to spices. The fish balls were like small dumplings with a yellow center. They were neither fishy nor doughy, just right. For a soupy kind of dish, it filled me quickly and soon I was being more selective in what I dispensed over my rice. 

Another adventure, and a new dish for me, was “Num Kang Sai” Icy Mountain – milled ice with red syrup cream soda topped with sweet milk served with four condiments; red bean, coconut sticky rice, palm seeds, and sweet corn, while resting on a half of a sweet bread roll. I think with my serving they forgot the four condiments as they were nowhere to be found. But I was filled with wonder at this extruded mound of ice tasting like a combination of strawberry and watermelon. As I ate it, it put out the flames in my mouth from the previous dish. I was happy for that.

Normally, I would have tea after a meal like this, but I was quite full. I had experienced new sensations at Kiin Thai Eatery and am curious about the meat dishes. 

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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