Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Dinner and a Movie

Damon = Yogurt and Morton = Steak

By Steve Herte

The Blue Moon this past week had a strange effect on me. My office laptop went “blue screen of death” when the security program caused the Intranet program to fail and I was out of action (well, doing someone else’s filing) for almost two days. Then on Tuesday, I left my house keys in the front door and the charger to my cell phone in the laptop bag at home. I was able to work out the door thing with my Dad but the phone thing wound up in using a public pay phone after karaoke (you never know who’s been on those or even if they’ll work.) But things got better, especially with the surprise restaurant availability.

Speaking of restaurants, it didn’t surprise me when I learned a while ago that the Michelin ratings ignored American restaurants in the past because of their transiency and impermanence. For example, in the early years of my employment I visited the location 148 Chambers Street six times under six different names and varying cuisines:

1.              The Laughing Mountain – Nouvelle Cuisine
2.              Okapi – African
3.              Boomerangs – American
4.              Kansas City Stockyard – American
5.              Elana’s – Italian
6.              Bombay Mahal – Indian

After the last incarnation it wasn’t a restaurant anymore. And yet, some places have been in existence since George Washington’s days like Fraunces Tavern where he made his farewell speech to his troops or Delmonico’s, which was the first restaurant to have white tablecloths, the first to allow women to dine with men, and responsible for the creation of Lobster Newburgh, Baked Alaska, Chicken a la King and of course the Delmonico Steak. But enough about restaurant history, you want to read the latest Dinner and a Movie. Don’t let me stop you. Enjoy!

Elysium (Tri-Star, 2013) – Director: Neill Blomkamp. Writer: Neill Blomkamp. Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Faran Tahir, Emma Tremblay, Josefina Mora, Maxwell Perry Cotton, & Valentina Giron. Color, 109 minutes.

In 1970, Larry Niven wrote Ringworld about a ring-shaped alien artificial habitat in space the diameter of the Earth and with 99.2% of Earth’s gravity encircling an artificial star. Then in 1972, Arthur C. Clarke wrote Rendezvous with Rama, another artificial alien habitat, this one cylindrical in shape, but with the same concept of mountains, streams, trees and meadows all kept in place by the centrifugal force gravity of the spinning vehicle. Niven set his story in the year 2850 AD, Clarke in 2130. Thus, in 2013, we have Blomkamp writing and directing Elysium using the general design of Ringworld and concepts of both stories to depict a haven for the wealthy of Earth while the poor scrabbled for survival on a depleted, polluted and diseased home world in 2154. After his success with District 9, a film that quite obviously states that South Africa learned nothing from the inhumanities of apartheid set in Johannesburg (Blomkamp’s hometown), he now has triple the budget to flog the dead horse conflict between the rich and the poor.

The story opens with an old woman (Mora) telling young Max (Cotton) about the world circling above them (Elysium) in Spanish – after all, they do live in L.A. – and how he should never forget where he comes from. She gives him a locket with a picture of the blue Earth as seen from space inside, something that comes off as both weird and corny. His childhood involves his good friendship with Frey (Giron) as they vow to be friends forever and write this in pen on their arms.

Max grows up to become Damon (poor child) who works at a factory that makes the brutal robot policemen who patrol Earth. His boss knows that he can make him do anything dangerous at the job with the threat of being fired. The huge device he works gets jammed when a palette slips out of place and Max reluctantly squeezes inside to free it. Predictably, he does and is trapped inside and subjected to a lethal dose of radiation. The doctor robot gives him five days to live and he decides that he must go to Elysium where they have machines to cure anything. However, where and how is he to get the money for the costly trip? He visits his friend Spider (Moura), a 22nd century version of a “coyote,” and agrees to do a “job” for him with a trip to Elysium for himself and his best buddy Julio (Luna) as payment.

In preparation for this caper, Max undergoes the extremely painful operation that literally bolts and screws a steel “exoskeleton” to his body and connects a data terminal to his brain. The job is to get the information on how to reboot the entire Elysium system from his boss John Carlyle (Fichtner) by downloading it from his brain.

Meanwhile, on Elysium all is not peaches and cream – although it looks perfect. President Patel (Tahir) is at odds with the homicidal decisions being made by his Security Chief, Delacourt (Foster), who uses her underworld connection with a bounty hunter named Kruger (Copley) to shoot down fugitive space ships attempting to land on Elysium. She doesn’t react well to his disciplinary advice and decides a change in leadership is needed. She contacts Carlyle to bring the reboot data to Elysium in hopes of becoming the new President.

Max and Spider’s cohorts shoot down Carlyle’s transport and download the data into Max’s brain. Deeply wounded by Kruger after a battle, Max knows his childhood friend Frey (now played by Braga) has grown up to be a major doctor/nurse and goes to her for repair. There he learns that Frey’s daughter Matilda (Tremblay) has terminal leukemia and that she also desires to use the healing machines on Elysium.

In the September 2013 issue of Discover Magazine, Blomkamp is quoted as saying “. . . District 9 was not saying apartheid was bad . . .” (Seriously? I must have seen the wrong movie.), and earlier in the interview “ . . . If you have too much science in a film, you could end up in a place where the film doesn’t work very well as a story.” The latter is definitely true of Elysium. There’s not too much science in it. In fact, it is a good thing the main character’s name is Max because the vehicles (hand drawn by Blomkamp) and the scenes on Earth harken back to the movie Mad Max. Elysium hangs visible in the Earth’s sky like the broken moon in Oblivion (good thing there are no tides to affect) and the healing machines are basically fancy gurneys with a “magic wand” that waves over the patients and cures them. And when the entire system on Elysium is rebooted, wouldn’t that turn the atmosphere and the gravity spin, thus killing everyone on the space station? (It is completely open to space on the inner side.)

Foster does a sterling performance as a villain. She seems to be channeling Helen Mirren, which is not a bad thing indeed. Damon on the other hand isn’t channeling anyone but Matt Damon. He garbles his lines and gets to die twice, as a character and as an actor. When his exoskeleton is brutally being attached (without antiseptics, mind you) no one in the audience cringes or cares.

Elysium is a good concept film (thank you, Niven) but a so-so morality play. District 9 was much better at allegory.  

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Morton’s Steakhouse
136 Washington Street (corner of Albany Street), New York

Remember when I asked if anyone knew where the Refinery Hotel was in New York City? Well, if you can locate the Club Quarters Hotel (hint: it’s right across the street from the Marriott Downtown) you will easily find the newest (only two months old) Morton’s Steakhouse. I was delighted to see it appear on www.opentable.com as I’ve dined at three others in White Plains, Mid-Town, and downtown Brooklyn. The Morton’s chain is pretty consistent in quality and price with only minor differences. The Brooklyn version paraded their cuts of meat and their lobsters before the meal, as did Nick and Steff’s Steakhouse. The other Morton’s did not. All have servers that attend promptly to your needs.

I was surprised at how soon Morton’s called me to confirm my reservation, but when the girl explained that they had a limited special on two-pound lobsters for $29, which had to be ordered in advance, I understood. However, I assured her that I’m probably the only person in New York City who does not care for lobster.

Upon checking in with the captain, I was led to a table by the window facing Washington Street (one of my favorite places in a restaurant but I chose the banquette with my back to the window so that I could monitor all the action inside). The décor is basic New York black, white and gray with the only splotch of color being the unusual blown glass chandelier over the captain’s station done in gradient shades of light to dark orange. It was pretty but looked more like a huge alien ray gun poised to blast her into another dimension. The white-clothed tables have pewter reclining pig lamps that were kitchy at best, silly at worst, but I ignored them. A server brought my water and then I met Melissa.

Melissa bubbled with every order and giggled when I explained how I like my martini. The way she jiggled (her blouse revealed her charms adequately) with every laugh and bent over to be able to hear me made me wonder why I ever went to Hooters when this was closer. The martini was OK but needed to be drier. The second was excellent. Noting the small loaf of onion-studded bread and the braid of butter I warned myself to be careful of portion size and my ability to finish anything if I eat too much bread . . . and it was good (I finished half).

The Oysters Rockefeller were four of the second-largest oysters I have ever seen (the first were Belon oysters). They were loaded with a sinful amount of spinach and melted Parmesan cheese with a touch of Pernod and took two bites to finish each. By now I was thinking of wines by the glass and there were several. I chose the 2007 “Secreto” Tempranillo from Robles vineyards first and it was an excellent start, being just fruity enough and not too heavy to begin the meal. 

The meal was an eight-ounce filet mignon cooked “Black and Blue” – crispy charred on the outside, red on the inside – with a side of Sautéed Brussels Sprouts and Parmesan and Truffle Matchstick Fries. Noting the “steak upgrades” on the menu I chose to top my filet with Foie Gras – Cognac Butter. At this point I figured that what I couldn’t finish I would take home. Melissa told me all about the desserts that take time to prepare and should be ordered in advance but I responded that I probably will not want dessert but that we’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

The filet mignon was cooked exactly to my specifications and was surprisingly small but the beautifully-rich butter topping made up for that. The Brussels sprouts were perfectly cooked with prosciutto and had just that little bit of crunch they needed, with no pink visible at all. The silver vase filled with matchstick fries dominated the table and almost made me forget my wonderful wine (which was now a 2010 Pinot Noir named “The Four Graces” from Willamette Valley, Oregon – another winner). The manager arrived at my table asking how everything was and I told him I was just about to enter Seventh Heaven. He said he’d check back when I arrived there.

By the time my second glass of wine dwindled I had finished the steak and the sprouts and wasn’t sure about the fries, but I ordered the 2010 Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) which was so rich it was almost like a dessert and it renewed my appetite temporarily.

Surprise! I was too full to have dessert so I had Melissa pack up the remainder of the fries to go and ordered the Morton’s Coffee – Dark Crème de Cacao, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Amaretto and whipped cream – again perfect. Morton’s always does a reliable and sometimes pricey job of pleasing their customers and I will return when convenient but they did not knock Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse out of first place.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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