Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Imitation Game

Dinner and a Movie

Imitation, The Sincerest Way to Curry Favor

By Steve Herte

You may have noticed from my last review that people I meet can't seem to place me, and are surprised to find out that I'm a native of Queens, New York. It's happened at several restaurants (including this week's) and trips I've taken. One year, while Helene and I were on the Cape May, New Jersey, to Lewes, Delaware, ferry heading to Ocean City, Maryland, we got into a conversation with a man who, upon learning our birthplaces, said to me, "Funny, you don't have a New York accent." and to Helene, "But you sure do!" I can only accredit this to my training in grammar school where the Sisters of Notre Dame insisted on proper English.

When I went to high school I learned much later on that my classmates thought I was from England. And yet, I still had to attend a special speech course there to correct my "dentalizing." The result is no one knows where I come from. In Groton, Connecticut, I was speaking with my cousin Stefan from Dienheim, Germany, (who had comparable English training) and a tourist came up to us saying, "Is that a British accent I hear?" I realized it had to be. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

What did I gain from all this? Well, it's a lot easier to understand Monty Python slang. It's fun to see people's faces when I tell them I'm born and bred in Queens. And I love movies where English, real English, is spoken, such as the one I saw this past Friday. Enjoy!

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Co, 2014) - Director: Morten Tyldum. Writers: Andrew Hodges (book, Alan Turing: The Enigma), Graham Moore (s/p). Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knghtley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Jack Tarlton, Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon, & Tuppence Middleton. Color, 114 minutes.

The scene is Manchester, 1951. An apartment belonging to Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) has been robbed (or at the very least, ransacked), but Alan tells Detective Robert Nock (Kinnear) nothing has been taken. This makes the detective suspicious and, believing Alan to be hiding treasonous doings, he begins his investigation into what Alan did during “The War.”

It is now 1939 and Alan is sitting in Commander Denniston’s (Dance) office awaiting an interview for a job with the military. His off-putting demeanor and mirthless but seemingly insulting answers almost make it the shortest interview in history. That is until Alan mentions Enigma. He has reasoned that the Commander called him there to solve the unsolvable puzzle, even though he has no military discipline and can’t speak a word of German. He is taken to Bletchley Park under the guise of a radio repair serviceman and meets the fellow members of his team (whom he neither needs nor wants), and he promptly alienates them all. However, after being introduced to Stewart Menzies (Strong) of the very secretive “MI6” (James Bond, anyone?) he is convinced that he must work with the other men.

But not for long, for Alan feels that the team is holding back progress. He goes over the Commander’s head with a letter to Winston Churchill and is granted leadership of the team. He immediately fires two of them and recruits replacements with a crossword puzzle in the newspapers: “If you can solve this in 10minutes, we have a job for you.” This fills a classroom with about 20 men and one woman, Joan Clarke (Knightley). He gives them a task to solve in six minutes (acknowledging to a friend that it took him 10 minutes). Joan completes it in 5 minutes 34 seconds, thus impressing him.

Joan becomes a part of the team, along with Hugh Alexander (Goode), John Cairncross (Leach), Jack Goode (Northcote), and Peter Hilton (Beard). Their assignment: to break the Enigma Code created by the Nazis – a code that has "159 million, million, million" possibilities before midnight, when it changes again. While Alan builds a digital computer to speed up the process, the four men agonize over the daily messages and Joan builds a closer relationship with Alan while trying to keep her parents happy.

As the main story progresses, a backstory is told about Young Alan Turing’s (Lawther) time in Sherborne School and his being bullied for being “different” by his fellow students (they nail him under the floorboards at one point). His only friend is Christopher Morcom (Bannon), who sets him onto solving codes with a book. They pass notes in class in code, much to the teachers’ dismay. Alan and Christopher are inseparable until the Headmaster calls Alan into his office and explains why Christopher has not returned from holiday. He died of bovine tuberculosis.

Alan names his decryption machine “Christopher” in his honor. And when growing pressure from her parents keeps Joan from Bletchley Alan fashions an engagement ring out of wire and proposes to her. Even though it is eventually revealed that Turing is gay, this is the best move he’s made in his career –because without Joan, the machine would keep running without producing a solution. It is Joan who reduces the variables by using the repeated weather forecasts and the words “Heil Hitler” in every message.

Unfortunately, now that the code is broken it has to be used carefully, even if it means (and it did) not notifying the American ships that an attack was imminent on a convoy carrying (among many other civilian passengers) Peter’s brother. Alan and Joan stress the importance of the cautious leaking of information to Stewart Menzies, lest the Germans’ learn their code has been broken. Were this to happen two years of work would have been for nothing.

The team is ordered to destroy all their papers, all their work and never to discuss what they accomplished, leading Detective Nock nothing to discover but Alan’s homosexuality. He’s given the choice of two years in prison for “indecency,” or treatment with oestrogen, a form of chemical castration. He chooses the latter but, as we learn during the credits, he committed suicide in 1954 and his accomplishments were not recognized until Queen Elizabeth issued a posthumous pardon in 2013.

The Imitation Game is a marvelous movie, well acted and well directed. Cumberbatch even looks like the real Alan Turing in a blue-eyed, thinner body. Knightley does a splendid performance as Joan. The entire cast is believable in their roles. Interspersed with the live film are stock monochrome reels of German soldiers marching, people saluting Hitler and assault forces landing at Normandy. Though I guess intended to stress the seriousness of Alan’s team’s job, they only served to detract from the credibility of the story with the exception of one scene, where a tank runs over an American helmet. The aerial scenes of bombers attacking London were much more realistic.

Because of its violent and controversial content I would advise caution to parents on whether or not your child can handle this film. But the lessons it teaches are painfully important. The most quotable line is when Alan is convincing Joan to join the team. “Sometimes, the ones people don’t imagine much of are the ones who do things people can’t imagine.”

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses

Curry Kitchen
40 West 8th Street (bet. 5th and 6th Aves.), New York

On their website, Curry Kitchen, open since 2008, cites “Every meal a great deal.” I certainly won’t dispute that. You’ll see why.

From their storefront window on 8th Street one can see the entire restaurant: the 12 tables, the tiny bar at the back, the ochre walls decorated with elaborately framed mirrors and butterfly motifs. You can also see how many people are dining.

When I arrived, only three other tables were occupied and I was not surprised when Sonam greeted me by name, for I was the only reservation. He gave me my choice of tables, and though he said it was warmer in back I chose the one in the front window (my favorite spot in any restaurant). Though the nook was small, I inserted myself into the chair, adjusted the table to keep it from rocking, and was comfortably cool. Sonam was not only the greeter but also the only server, and he brought me a glass of water, the wine and beer list, and the food menu.

Having dined at 136 previous Indian restaurants, it’s difficult to find unusual and unique dishes to try. I recognized nearly all the entries on the menu, which was an impressively large selection. It was categorized into Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Vegetable Curries, Biryanis, Chicken Curries Lamb Curries, Seafood Curries, Traditional Favorites, Breads from Tandoor, Sides, Desserts and Beverages. For those who “don’t like curry,” I would be compelled to ask which one they don’t like, for there is absolutely at least one on this menu that could be a mind-changer. They even have a Prix Fixe menu.

I told Sonam that I usually have a nice red wine with Indian food and chose the 2012 Montrose Shiraz from Australia – a rich, deep garnet wine with a full body accented with the flavor of cherries. This wine complimented all my dishes, including the Pappadum: a cracker-like bread served with mint and tamarind chutneys.

I started this meal, as I have so many others, with Mulligatawny Soup – made with yellow lentils, chicken broth and lemon grass (cooked perfectly for the first time I can recall – usually it is woody and inedible). This dish varies with Indian chefs. Sometimes it’s red, sometimes a greenish color, and sometimes yellow, as in this case. Always mildly spiced, it usually comes with a half lemon to squeeze into it. The lemon grass was a complete surprise. Thai restaurants use this condiment much more than do Indians and it adds a subtle lemon flavor.

My second course arrived a little early for my tastes, but both dishes retained their temperature until I finished them. The Malmal Kebabs – Chicken seasoned with ginger, garlic and lemon, with greens (albeit limp) and carrots, and the same two chutneys as served with the pappadum. This dish was one of the few I had not tried before and I loved it. The kebabs were dense enough to cut with a knife but tender enough to break apart when dipping into the chutney. Even more mildly spiced than the soup, the chicken could be tasted above the accents of garlic and ginger. Very nice.

My main course was a tribute to a co-worker. Knowing what part of India she hails from, I deliberately chose the Kerala Boat Man’s Crab Curry – with black peppercorns, red chilies, mustard seeds and coconut, onion and cumin over Basmati rice Pulao. Another first. For one, it was not an unfinishable bowl of rice (although I adore Basmati rice), and the shredded crabmeat was mixed into the once again mildly spiced curry and was easily spoon-able onto my plate (once I reminded Sonam that he took my spoon when he cleared the first two dishes). How mild was this dish? Marylanders wouldn’t touch it and couldn’t taste it.

I acknowledged that my bread choice, the Peshawari Nan, was a Pakistani recipe, but I love the fruit and nut stuffed flatbread baked in the tandoor oven. I was having wonderful memories of Indian dinners past and friends I knew who enjoyed them with me. Sonam asked how I was enjoying myself. I asked him if he ever had a meal that was so good he started crying. He said yes and brought the chef out to meet me. After kissing her hand and raving about how excellent everything was, I heard from a table in the middle of the restaurant, “I’ll have what he’s had!” The chef graciously accepted my praises and returned to her duties.

Sonam asked if I wanted dessert and after looking at the short list, chose my favorite, Gulab Jamun. The menu describes it as a dumpling (not really, their only mistake). It’s a malted milk ball in a honey/rose water sauce. And Sonam assured me that it was on the house. I asked for Masala Chai (spiced tea) to go with it. Both were perfect; the tea reminded me of the place in Flushing where I first tasted and loved Indian food, Kalpana. It has long ago closed and I miss it. Remember the “great deal” mentioned on their website? Everything I had (without tip) totaled under $70.

After finishing the tea I was surprised to see the chef come over to my table once again and sit down to talk. She offered a glass of wine but, the time was getting close to ten o’clock and I politely thanked her and demurred. She understood and thanked me for dining with them. I told her would tell my friend from Kerala about the restaurant, donned my coat, opened my umbrella and stepped out into the rainy streets of Greenwich Village.

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