Friday, August 11, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (STX Entertainment, 2017) – Director: Luc Bresson. Writers: Luc Bresson (s/p). Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book). Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer, Peter Hudson, Xavier Giannoli, Louis Leterrier, Eric Rochant & Benoit Jacquet. Color, Rated PG-13, 137 minutes.

What has fabulous stage sets, mind-boggling special effects, moves like the latest video game and has acting that mannequins could out-perform? Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

The trailers were so very promising. Unfortunately, this movie, based on the comic book Valerian and Laureline was better delivered and more believable on the page than on the screen.

Alpha Space Station in the year 2020 has not only become International but Intergalactic and, with the hundreds of add-on modules, has become too heavy to remain in Earth orbit. So, they turn on the engines and jet off into interstellar space (where traffic is not too much lighter).

Meanwhile, on a far-away planet called Mül, a peaceful population of opalescent, pearly people are living a happy, simple existence on white sand beaches with palm trees and little friendly creatures called “converters.” They spend their days harvesting power pearls from the ocean and feeding them to the converters who multiply all they are fed, thus returning the gift to the ocean. Until one day, a space war overhead sends ships crashing through their atmosphere, destroying their planet. The royal family of Empress Aloi and others take shelter in a crashed spaceship, but it is too late for Princess Lihio-Minaa. She literally sends out her spirit in a powerful pulse of energy that hits Major Valerian (DeHaan) in a dream.

Valerian can’t get this dream out of his head, even on a mission with his agent partner, Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne). The mission is to retrieve a converter stolen by space pirate Igon Siruss of Kodar’Khan (Goodman), who, by the way bears a striking resemblance to Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars – The Return of the Jedi. Two of the pearly people are trying to bargain with Igon when Valerian not only apprehends the converter but also swipes the “power pearl” they offered in trade.


Alpha Station has its own problems. An “infection” has been discovered in the core of the generally spherical station that is mysteriously growing and will encompass the whole place in weeks. Valerian and Laureline are assigned to Commander Arun Filitt (Owen) as guardians when he speaks before the World State Federation members, but lose him when the “pearlies” attack and encase everyone in sticky pods and make off with the Commander.

Why did the peaceful pearlies attack? Why did they kidnap the Commander, and where did they take him? These are Valerian’s and Laureline’s tasks for the remainder of the movie. Oh, and besides all that, Valerian is repeatedly, clumsily trying to propose to Laureline. It would be funny if it wasn’t done so badly. Maybe Director Luc Besson should have left the film in French. It might have made more sense.

I busied myself in enjoying the computer generated aliens and the wonderful imaginative sets and effects. When Laureline is abducted by degenerate humanoids who look a lot like Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age animated series, Valerian has to kill Jolly the Pimp (Hawke) in a section of Alpha Station which is obviously a red light district. Then he must free Bubble (Rihanna), a glamopod who can morph into any character she chooses, and use her to infiltrate the humanoids and save Laureline from becoming the blue plate special for Emperor Boulan Bathor – he only likes her for her brains.

The movie was entertaining, but often lame. The greatest part was everything that didn’t involve live actors. The two young men sitting next to me were unimpressed. The one thing that impressed me was that the film was squeaky clean of vulgarity, gore and unnecessary love scenes. Maybe if it were made into a musical, it might be much better. The scenes on Mül would be excellent fodder for Broadway song writers. And if they threw in a few hastily written melodies and some ill-choreographed dancing for Valerian and Laureline we might have had a better movie than La La Land.

Rating 1 1/2 out of 5 Martini glasses


Bâtard
239 West Broadway, New York

Why would anyone rename the space formerly known as “Montrachet” (one of the premier wine areas of France) with the French word for bastard? That was my question when this three-year-old appeared on OpenTable.com.

About two blocks south of Canal Street one could miss the small maroon entrance of Bâtard, whose only identification is the name in gold letters engraved on the window. Inside, all is golden with bare-topped tables and glittering crystal chandeliers that look like they should be hanging on walls rather than suspended from the ceiling. The gold wallpaper has bas-relief designs of white birds roosting on elegant vines.

Although a distinguished, tall man named David was my main server, I was waited upon by at least three others. While David went for water another server took my drink order. I chose the Sazarac Cocktail – Bache-Gabrielsen cognac, St. George absinthe and Peychaud bitters – a bewitching red potion with a spicy flavor and the mysterious effects of the green fairy.

The menu has prices determined by how many courses you choose and was sufficiently intriguing for me to have three courses ready when David next returned. The wine list was a laugh a minute. I have never seen so many grossly overpriced wines in my life. The “under $100 a bottle” group were a distinct minority. I had just made my decision when the sommelier sidled up to my table. I told him that I had found a burgundy that I adored and ordered the 2009 Bourgogne Rouge Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix. He didn’t bat an eye but seemed stunned that he couldn’t go into a spiel. It was not like any burgundy I’ve ever had. It was a rich, almost bright, ruby red (not the dark garnet I’m used to), had a woody nose and high tannins – surprising considering the color. It was delicious, especially in the tall, artistic wine glass with a slender stem.


My first course was actually chosen when I looked at the menu online for its outré name. The “octopus pastrami” was a slice of a larger loaf (tentacles lengthwise) that resembled a good head cheese rather than a pastrami and was garnished with braised ham hocks, pommery mustard, new potatoes and one giant caper. I’m always fascinated how chef can make octopus so tender that it can behave like a cold cut. The sweet ham hock meat vied for attention with the vinegary and spicy ingredients to continue the image of eating charcuterie. My wine was a perfect match.

Next was an order of rabbit sausage. Three decent-sized slices resting on a rich, gooey risotto, and garnished with spigarello (a kind of wavy broccoli) and Meyer lemon. The sausages had the wonderful gamy quality of rabbit with the slightly salty, cured herbal flavors of a good French sausage. Mated with the equally salty risotto it was amazing, while I wondered how much water I would drink.

Where you would find Bugs Bunny, you would likely find Daffy Duck, especially in Rabbit Fire (1951)where each tries to tempt Elmer Fudd with dishes from a cook book. My rabbit sausage was ably followed by the duck breast, juicy, tender slices of duck with crispy skin sided with braised salsify, cara-cara orange (a breed of navel orange), crispy quinoa (made into a kind of egg-roll), and garnished with baby carrot and basil. The presentation was so attractive it prompted a young woman at the next table to ask if it was good. I told her it was wonderful, which it was. Cooked medium rare (per the chef) it was truly a delight. The crispy quinoa was a taste tour de force an most unusual, but it did not interfere with the duck.


I had asked David to wait on my choice for dessert until I was ready for it (they were listed on the main menu) and now I was ready. Though there were some inviting sweets the cheese list was much more attractive, especially the last four. Again, the price depended upon how many you select. I chose the “Nancy’s Camembert”: ewe’s milk triple cream, Ossau-Iraty (natural rind, raw ewe’s milk), Calderwood (1-year-old, hay-wrapped raw cow’s milk), Middlebury Blue (blue-veined raw cow’s milk), and Ewe’s Blue (blue-veined ewe’s milk), with honey, apricots, balsamic vinegar dots and celery slices. It was like a carnival of cheese, the soft, almost earthy camembert, the solid, assertive Ossau-Iraty, the subtle Calderwood and the two tangy bleus were creating a party in my mouth between bites of toasted raisin baguettes.

My usual double espresso followed and a beautiful crystal glass of Garrison Brothers Kentucky Bourbon finished a fancy, yet down to earth meal. Although Bâtard appeared snooty when I made the reservation, there was nothing high-brow about the service or the atmosphere. The food was definitely a cut above the average and the choice of wines, though ludicrously priced, was impressive. The raspberry marshmallow bon-bon served after dessert in its gilt-edged crystal bowl was a nice touch.

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