Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

A Wrinkle in Time (Walt Disney, 2018) – Director: Ave DuVernay. Writers: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell (s/p). Madeleine L’Engle (novel). Stars: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Bellamy Young, David Oyelowo & Conrad Roberts. Color, Rated PG, 109 minutes.

Up to this point in my life I had never seen Oprah Winfrey act in a movie. 

My guess is that the script didn’t give her enough to work with or she didn’t achieve her motivation. She was never more than distantly pedantic, flat-lined emotionally. No up, no down. The movie kept its promise of a colorful special effects ride and there were a few surprises along the way but in general, I found Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) to be infinitely more believable.

The protagonist is a young girl. Meg Murry (Reid) has the capability – has proven so – to be an “A” student at school but has devolved into unpopularity and low grades after the disappearance of her astrophysicist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Pine). He and his equally brilliant scientist wife Kate (Mbatha-Raw) performed the calculations and unveiled the concept of traveling between worlds in the universe using a tesseract way too soon for the scientific community to accept except with laughter. In my movie experience I thought a tesseract was something you would discover at the center of a black hole (see Interstellar - 2015) with many doorways to different times and worlds. But that’s just one way of looking at it. Alex uses no spaceship or a black hole to access the tesseract, only his mind. Whoops, there goes belief!

Alex has been gone for four years now and girls at school led by Veronica Kiley (Blanchard) – oddly enough, Meg’s next-door neighbor - mock and bully Meg saying her Dad left because of her and is not coming back. Only heart throb Calvin O’Keefe (Miller) believes and befriends poor Meg.

The movie stays pretty close to the book but only leaves out Meg’s twin ten-year-old brothers. It keeps her youngest (adopted) brother Charles Wallace, who is wise and intelligent beyond his young years. This character gives the best performance in the film, but I cannot be sure because Deric had six doubles in the cast. Let’s say the composite acting was great. Storm stays true to her name. She’s stormy in the beginning but sun-shiny towards the end. A nice gradual transition.

As the book begins “one stormy night…” Meg, her mother and Charles Wallace are visited by a mysterious redhead dressed in dazzling white, who introduces herself as Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon). Despite Mrs. Murry’s concerns about a home invasion, Whatsit declares that her theory about a tesseract is correct. Ms. Witherspoon’s performance is so over-the-top (think Billie Burke in The Wizard of Oz - 1939that she makes the other characters seem dull in comparison.

Later, Charles Wallace boldly runs up to and enters an “abandoned” house followed by a concerned Meg and Calvin, where they meet Mrs. Who (Kaling) in a room full of crazily stacked books that look like they will topple at any moment. Mrs. Who is busily stitching a quilt and lovingly greets the children. Speaking all in quotes and sometimes unintelligibly, she tires out like the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland and the children have to leave her house.

It’s not until the three children meet all three Mrs. in the Murry backyard that we meet Mrs. Which (Winfrey),  a glam-rock 50-foot woman. Hope is stoked that Meg’s and Charles Wallace’s father is alive but trapped somewhere out there and the children have to travel using the tesseract to bring him back. This is where the special effects crew takes over and the costume, make-up and hairstylists go into overdrive. They travel to a planet populated by animated flowers to ask for directions. “Flowers are the biggest gossips around!.” Mrs. Whatsit. Mrs. Whatsit transforms herself into a large flying Leaf Creature and takes off with the children on her back on a wild roller-coaster ride through the sky. Calvin falls off when they encounter a writhing black thing identified as “The IT” and has to be rescued by the flowers.

Using the tesseract again, everyone travels to see an Oracle with the improbable name the Happy Medium (Galifianakis) who manages to put Meg’s thoughts back in balance (while also balancing on a teetering rock, standing on one foot) and reveals that her Dad is being held by The It (Oyelowo). Mrs. Which explains that the It is an evil negative force infiltrating the universe and causing people “of the light” to turn to darkness. “The only thing faster than light is the darkness.”

They travel to the planet Camazotz where Who, Whatsit and Which cannot stay and, giving them “gifts” leave them on their own to seek out and rescue Alex Murry. Though they are advised to trust no one and nothing they see, Calvin tries eating a hero sandwich made of sand and Charles Wallace is taken into thrall of The It by Red (Peῆa}, a garishly dressed con-artist with red eyes.

Ultimately, it’s up to Meg to save everybody as her brother literally becomes The It and does his best acting performance. Chris Pine was able to prove that there are no small parts…etc. He made the best of what he was given.

Among the best thing I can say about A Wrinkle in Time is that it never slowed down. The somber scenes were never too long and there were no dead spots. The acting in general did not keep pace with the special effects except for Zach and Reese, who managed to gallop ahead of it.

The movie is geared mostly to children and I might think anyone above the age of toddler would be entertained by it, though there were none in my audience. The soundtrack featured a song by Sade and made a beautiful accompaniment to the visuals. Mrs. Whatsit’s transformation was the best special effect I’ve seen in a while. I enjoyed the movie and was thrilled at the moment of pathos, but a film cannot win on pathos alone.

Rating: 3 out of 5 martini glasses.

3 Bryant Park, New York

Tucked away on a breezeway between the building housing number 4 and other tall buildings is where I found this eatery. 

The entrance is dominated by its name in bright blue light. Inside, a receptionist confirmed my reservation and directed me to the elevator to the second floor, where is where the Captain’s station is. It is well lit and the high ceilings have lit panels with sensuously moving liquid patterns. The large rectangular bar is in the center of the room surmounted by dozens of amber glass tubes strung from wires attached to the ceiling. It reminded me of the décor at the restaurant in the Hyatt Regency except the tubes there are some kind of shiny silver metal.

I was led to a high table in one corner of the bar whose stool looked comfortably padded and had a back support, so I didn’t complain. I’m used to eager service in Chinese restaurants and my server did not disappoint, asking me if I wanted a cocktail even before I had read the list. Eventually I chose the Famous Wardrobes Cocktail – Palo Santo-infused Hudson Rye, Forthave Marseille Amaro, dry and sweet vermouth – dedicated to C. S. Lewis. All the drinks were associated with someone famous who was born in the Chinese Year of the Dog. Though the preferences I communicated were “strong” and “spicy,” this drink was neither. It was smooth and herbal (garnished with a sprig of rosemary), and pleasant.

My wine was the 2014 Saffer Wines “Smiley” Chenin Blanc, Swaartland, South Africa. It has a dramatic spicy nose and is a superior Chenin Blanc. Crisp, buttery, with some citrus, an authoritative white wine.

My first course was one I had hitherto avoided up until now. Though a bit pricey, the DaDong braised Sea Cucumber with young wheat grains and leeks looked like something a Klingon might eat on Star Trek, but it smelled heavenly and tasted even better. The delicate meat of this black mollusk was akin to the texture of sweetbreads, but a little softer. The flavor was a savory mix of soy, garlic and an almost earthy, mushroom-y accent. It also was complimented generously by the wine.

Next was an equally pricey dish with which I was more familiar: Truffle Braised Whole Abalone with Chinese iron yam and slices of ginger. Though a little chewy in texture they were as delicious and meaty as my first memory of the shellfish. The Chinese Iron Yams are not related to the sweet potatoes we know as yams but are shaped more like carrots and were sliced into short cylinders. They had a subtle flavor of their own and melted in the mouth.

There were only a few seafood main courses available and so I ordered the Baked Chilean Bass filleted with pink peppercorns and roasted garlic. Again, the now familiar red iron crock pot arrived filled with flakey, delicate chunks of fish resting on Chinese green vegetables and supported by dozens of baked garlic cloves. The fish was so tender it was difficult to pick up with chopsticks without breaking, but I managed. It was wonderful. The side dish was Sautéed Bean Sprouts and Green Chilies, two sections of tender, white bean sprouts flanking julienned green chili peppers. The crunch of the mildly flavored sprouts was enhanced by the soft spice of the chilies. A little bit of white rice in a separate bowl was all that was left of my meal at the end.  

It was time for dessert. The couple at the next table were eating the dessert called “Frost” – chocolate leaves with candied cherries – but it didn’t lure me. I ordered the Multi-flavor White Chocolate Shells. The presentation was everything. On a large white plate these scallop-shell confections were strewn in a semi-circle with pearls of tapioca like shells on a beach, confectioner’s sugar masquerading as the sand. Some tasted like fruit, some tasted like wasabi and some were just creamy chocolate.

Open only since December 2017, I understand why DaDong is big in Chef Dong’s hometown of Beijing. On a special occasion it’s a very impressive place to dine. In warmer weather, they have an outdoor garden on the second floor as well as an outdoor terrace on the third floor. 

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