Dinosaurs With Tamarind
By Steve Herte
I’m working on a Ten Best and Ten Worst list of movies this year and I could only recall 44 of the 50 I should have seen by now. It’s really no problem, just perplexing and the movie I saw Friday might just make the latter list. Well, you decide. Enjoy.
Walking With Dinosaurs 3D (20th Century Fox, 2013) – Directors: Barry Cook & Neil Nightingale. Writer: John Collee. Voices: Charlie Rowe, Karl Urban, Angourie Rice, John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Skyler Stone, & Tiya Sircar. Color & 3D, 87 minutes.
Having been among the thousands of awe-struck audience members gaping at the amazing animatronic dinosaurs on parade in Madison Square Garden one year I was eagerly anticipating this movie. Unfortunately, it did not deliver. My rating comes from two positives: they got me to want to see it with the trailers, and the beautiful animation (what I could clearly see) of long-gone prehistoric beasts. The story idea was good – growing up with a Pachyrhinosaurus (like a Triceratops, but with a more ornate frill) from runt-hood to leader of the herd. But the pre-school juvenile manner of telling this tale not only left me cold (and wanting to leave early) but also insulted (hopefully) the audience’s intelligence.
Even the children present (which it was obviously geared to) were strangely silent. It is told through the voice of Leguizamo who appears as a crow to Ricky, (Rowe) the teenage nephew of an archaeologist who refuses to go to a dig site with his Uncle Zack (Urban) and younger sister Jade (Rice). Zack shows the children the tooth of a Gorgosaurus (a fierce predator of the late Cretaceous Era, like, but smaller than T-Rex) and the back-story told by the crow is how the Gorgosaurus lost that tooth. The crow convinces Ricky to hear his tale and reverts to his ancestor, Alexornis (from which he gets the nickname of Alex), and weaves the storyline in his new persona.
Patchy (Long), his older littermate Scowler (Stone) and Juniper (Sircar) get separated from the herd during a Gorgosaurus attack when they fall into a river and are washed downstream. As they grow to adulthood, they learn quickly how dangerous the land they live in is and how many predators are lurking everywhere. After a Gorgosaur kills their father it becomes obvious that the herd needs a new leader. Scowler fights off (a head-butting contest) the reigning leader and he’s in. But when he leads the herd across a frozen lake, Patchy realizes the danger and leads the herd back to shore. Scowler doesn’t like his authority challenged. He head-butts Patchy into a ditch and a tree falls across him, immobilizing him, and leaves him for dead. If not for Alex’s pestering and psychology (when did birds become so smart?) he would not have survived to call the herd to take on the Gorgosaurs, knock out the tooth, and send them away in defeat. Sounds good, no? The story of Bambi was better told. In fact Godzilla Meets Bambi was more entertaining.
Every time a new creature enters the stage the film stops, its name appears below it, what it means and whether it’s a carnivore or herbivore is explained. Each time this was done the movie lost momentum and a “who cares” sigh came from the audience. These “educational moments” failed when they labeled a Quetzelcoatlus (the largest flying creature ever) simply as a Pterosaur. Huh? Why go to such detail on the others and gloss over this one. Any child who went on the Dinosaur Safari at the Bronx Zoo this summer would know the creature by name.
Another unnecessary scene was just after the baby dinosaurs fall into the river and Patchy states that he “dove in.” The film rewinds to that moment to prove he did not. Really? But the biggest problem with Walking With Dinosaurs was the 3D system. I kept a pair of Real 3D glasses from the first 3D movie I ever saw. Both lenses are grayish, like sunglasses. The glasses I was provided obviously had one red lens and a bluish (or greenish) lens which made some scenes clear and others woefully like seeing double. My emergency pair didn’t work at all. This further lessened my enjoyment of the film.
Next time I consider a film about dinosaurs it will be at the Museum of Natural History. Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.
106 Lexington Avenue (27th Street), New York
The 14-block walk from the theater to this month-and-a-half old Indian restaurant specializing in the dishes of Southern India was well worth it, and I had over-estimated the time needed. It was a nice stroll. The owners of Kokum (Tamarind in Hindi) have six other restaurants to their credit, three of which I have visited: Dhaba, Chole, and Chote Nawab; and three I’ve yet to enjoy: Malai Marke, Bhojan, and Jaipore (I really have to get going on these).
When I arrived, the smallness of the space was remarkable, just 12 to maybe 14 tables and a captain’s station in the back with an elephant’s festival forehead ornament hanging over it. The lighting is from several bare incandescent bulbs (though muted) in dark wood bent to form onion-shaped lanterns. There is a repeating mural of colorful Indian fishing boats on one wall and a mirror on the other. It looked as if people of Indian extraction were occupying many of the tables (a good sign), but the closeness made it impossible to be subtle about taking photos. The young man who greeted me at the door seemed a bit confused by someone reserving a table for one, but there was indeed a reserved sign on a single table near the back and it was mine.
My waiter, Sanjeep, brought my water and asked if I would like to start with a drink. There were several interesting cocktails on the menu but knowing that Kerala is a main source of South Indian recipes I chose the Tropical Kerala – gin, Triple Sec, St. Germain, and lemon juice, with coconut water and a curry leaf garnish. Let me tell you, it was one of those pretty, delicious drinks that could be dangerous later on. I had two. The menu was quite extensive and (dare I say, after 130 Indian restaurants) surprisingly unfamiliar to me. It was printed on pale grey paper with a darker grey watermark of fishermen and their nets. This made it difficult to read the fine italic descriptions of dishes and impossible to read certain sections.
The menu was organized by “Starters” (soups and appetizers), “Breads,” “Dosa Stall” (Dosas are very flat golden breads sometimes rolled, sometime folded over various savory ingredients), “Munyandi Dosa Vilas,” “Chicken,” “Lamb,” “Goat,” “Seafood,” “Vegetables,” “Famous Malabar Biryani” (Rice dishes), “Rice on the Side,” “Sides,” “Desserts,” and “Drinks” (other than alcoholic). So many choices, so little time. I asked Sanjeep if there were particular dishes the chef was especially proud of. He suggested the Kochi Fish Fry appetizer listed as “spicy” – Pan-fried fish in Red Masala (spice). It was flaky, delicious, not too spicy and served with shredded carrots.
I told Sanjeep that the next course must be the Rasam Vada – Lentil Donuts in a light Tamarind Lentil Soup – and he agreed. It was served in a beautiful white-stemmed bowl with lion-head handles (I think they knew who was coming). It was piping hot, hearty, mildly spicy and good to the last drop.
By now I was ready for a glass of wine and they had a Malbec from Aruma vineyards in Argentina that was perfect. It was time for the main course. Sanjeep guided me to the Soft Shell Crab Roast – Kerala style crab roast with black pepper and shallots – Wonderful! My cousins in Maryland should taste this! I ordered the Kerala Paratha – Multi-layered Pan-Grilled Bread served in a bamboo steamer, but Sanjeep said the Appam – Fermented rice crepe – goes better with the crab. I had both. He was right, but I loved my choice too.
My rice dish was Paripu Podi Rice – steamed rice with lentil powder and Ghee (Water Buffalo butter). The people of India have an amazing way with rice. The side dish was Thir Pachadi – a cold, pumpkin-colored mixture of rice, coconut, puréed carrot and yoghurt – basically a raita. It would have cooled down the spiciest dish and was delicious.
By now I was becoming sated and there was still bread, main course, side and rice leftover. I had Sanjeep pack it all up for home and ordered dessert. At this time the couple next to me asked if I was a restaurant reviewer and I confessed. They took the address of the blog with them after I left. There were three desserts, two unfamiliar to me. Well, you know me; I had the Rava Kesari – Hazelnuts, Semolina, with saffron and Ghee – which sounds very strange until you see it. All the ingredients are chopped finely until it looks like pink shortcake shaped in a mold. It was a little denser and heavier than my usual Indian desserts but it was sweet and perfect.
What! I didn’t have tea? Nope. Completely forgot about it. I was having such a wonderful time I just called for the check, told them how lovely their restaurant was, complimented them on the gold statue of Ganesha (the elephant-headed protector god of Hindu mythology), said goodnight to the young couple next me, picked up my leftovers and headed for home, perfectly content.
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