Sunday, March 24, 2013

Upside Down

Dinner and a Movie

An Upside Down Tomato

By Steve Herte

Upside Down (Onyx Films, 2012) Director: Juan Solanas. Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall, and James Kidnie. Color, 100 minutes.

“I love her, she loves me, but I don’t fit her society. Lord, have mercy on the boy from down in the Boondocks!”
-- “In the Boondocks,” Billy Joe Royal

This song lyric quite literally exemplifies the story behind Upside Down. In a dual planet system in a galaxy far away we meet Adam (Sturgess) who lives on the poverty-stricken planet while Dunst as Eden (I guess Eve would have been too obvious) lives on the rich planet right above him – in fact a little closer than the Earth is to the International Space Station. He can see the beautiful cities with their sparkling lights while he lives in a drab, almost lightless gray slum exploited for its oil by those in power above. The reason given for this astronomical anomaly is “double gravity.” Anything belonging to either planet is irresistibly drawn to its home world and anything transported from one world to the other (inverse material) builds up so much stress that it bursts into flame.

Adam and Eden meet as preadolescents when they both climb to the highest peak on their respective planets (which oddly enough, are dangerously close). They speak and fall in love with one upside down and one right side up. Adam tosses a rope up to Eden and, with it tied around her waist, pulls her down to his world. They connect for a few moments until her world sends a search and kill (it’s forbidden to travel between worlds) party. He almost has her lowered to her mountain peak when he’s wounded and the rope slips. Eden comes down hard, hits her head and gets amnesia. Ten years later Adam is still thinking of her and gets a job at Transworld, the only company that has built a skyscraper that joins the two planets. He uses his invention of a cosmetic facelift cream as leverage to become a part of the company. The secret ingredient is one he learned from his aunt, pink pollen from the pink bees. They create it by visiting flowers from both worlds. Anything made from this pink powder defies the gravity of both planets.

On floor zero of the Transworld skyscraper (the mid-point between upper and lower worlds) Adam meets Bob Boruchowitz (Spall) who sits in the cubicle directly above him - two huge entire workspaces exist above and below, each a mirror image of the other. Bob is also an innovator and helps Adam design an outfit that will allow him to visit the upper world, but only temporarily (remember the burst into flames bit?). Adam and Eden eventually reconnect (it’s tough, but she regains her memory) and they go on dates. One lunch is at the Dos Mundos restaurant, also at the Zero level where there are dance floors and tables both on the floor and the ceiling (depending on which world you belong on) with an enormous crystal chandelier in the center. All looks like it will work out until Bob is fired and he gives Adam his credentials and pass card and one day the pass card fails. Then in a flash, the authorities know that someone from “down below” is trespassing and the chase is on.

I’m relieved that Upside Down was not filmed in 3D because it would be dizzying to watch. The concept would be best described as Escher meets Salvador Dali. Mountaintop scenes look very surreal indeed with just a touch of Dr. Seuss. The opposing stage sets are remarkable and so beautifully created one would accept them as real despite the physical impossibility of their existence. The lighting and artwork involved in this film is breathtaking and the sound track majestic and sensitive at the same time. Dunst does a great job and Sturgess plays his part beautifully. The special effects elicited a “Wow” several times during the film. I just would have liked more explanation of the weird science going on.

There is some humor in the movie. The director of Transworld is Mr. Lagavullan (Kidnie), which is (as far as I know) a popular single-malt scotch. Also, not only does Transworld sound like the name of a familiar airline, the logo is an almost exact copy of the old blue globe Pan Am logo. Upside Down is a visually entertaining film at a good length if you can remember not to take it seriously. It’s Romeo and Juliet in space with an intriguing zero gravity love scene and without the messy death scene. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Rouge Tomate

10 East 60th Street (5th/Madison), New York City

A long tomato red banner marks the entrance to this three-year old French restaurant diagonally across 5th Avenue from the Plaza Hotel and in sight of the twin towers of the Time-Warner Center across Columbus Circle. The wrought iron filigree work over the door looks like a dark coronet until you open it and the breeze blows the heavy red velvet drapes apart and you appear at the captain’s station. Rouge Tomate is French in name and food preparation only. The dress is smart casual. The staff is friendly, polite and eager to serve. The space is bright with blonde wood tables and chairs, white walls and ceiling and splashes of red here and there. It’s modern in a very Zen sense. The stairway to the lower level lounge and the restrooms ends in two square pools of water with red marbles in them. Booths for parties of four are arranged on the far wall like framed artwork in a museum. I was led to a table overlooking the stairway. The décor was fascinating.

The menu features Seasonal Toasts (actually glorified canapés) and Raw Fish and Shellfish on the left page and Appetizers, Entrees and Sides on the right. I was delighted to see that of the seven main courses, five were meatless and the selection in the other categories was equally great for a Lenten Friday. My waiter, Niko answered my every question – and I had a few – and brought me perfect Beefeater martini and a glass of water. Another server brought two tapenades for the bread, one a tomato/red pepper puree and the other ricotta cheese based. The bread arrived soon after, being a choice of multigrain roll or a wonderful crusty sliced sourdough. I chose both. Confident that choosing one item from each menu category would not be too much food I consulted the wine list over my martini.

The Spaghetti Squash Toast intrigued me most because I’ve always wondered how it tasted and considered growing it in my garden. It was the crowning part of a thin toast topped with Maryland crab and Honeycrisp apple and flavored with jalapeno and cilantro - delightful. The flavor is light, like a butternut squash and the condiments did not detract from that. The seafood choice was Nantucket Bay Scallops served with blood orange slices, raspberry slices, Sicilian pistachio nuts, pomegranate seeds and watercress, and lightly sprinkled with Maldon Sea salt. The combination of melt-in-your-mouth shellfish and fruit and nuts was amazing.

I couldn’t believe they had a 2005 Pinot Grigio from Slovenia (No Irene, not Slovakia, Slovenia – one of the countries that used to be Yugoslavia) and the sommelier, an interesting young woman with an eastern European accent explained that the Movia vineyard is right over the border from Friuli, Italy, on the Adriatic. She continued saying that rather than being aged in steel vats, this Pinot Grigio is aged in oak casks and therefore is more golden and the flavor is more like a chardonnay. Needless to say, it was delicious and complimented every dish.

The appetizer, a Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, (Black Trumpet and Oyster) mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and Black Truffle emulsion was another fantastic dish in a manageable portion (nowhere near the size of one you would get in an Italian restaurant).

The main course I chose after waffling over four others was Atlantic Hake a la Plancha. This is basically a Spanish recipe served with Romanesco broccoli, Brandade (an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil), basil, a citrus Gremolata (chopped condiment) and shellfish Nage (broth with white wine and herbs) – again, perfectly cooked fish and excellent preparation. After four courses, I was finally becoming sated. Although the desserts came in small and regular sizes I was perfectly happy with a double espresso and Marolo’s grappa di chamomile made from Moscato grapes.

The Rouge Tomate made a splendid first impression and I anticipate future visits.

And, check out the sinks in the bathroom.

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