Dinner & a Movie: We Regret to Inform You...


Dinner & a Movie: We Regret to Inform You...

  • Dinner & a Movie: We Regret to Inform You...

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    Bad news or good food should be delivered in the same manner.
    The Dinner: No. 40 beef curry, beers, and chicken satay at Tup Tim Thai (118 W. Mercer St.).

    The Movie: The Messenger, at the Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N.).

    The Screenplate: Iraq war movies continue to underperform at the box office, which is a real shame. War fatigue from newspapers and TV has taken its toll on the filmgoing public. The Hurt Locker was a notable exception, and it's on many 10-best lists and headed to likely Oscar nominations. But The Messenger, less seen and with no battlefield scenes at all, deserves praise, too. It's a homefront movie, about the Army's casualty notification squads charged with quickly delivering the worst possible news--that a loved one has died in Iraq or Afghanistan. As the detail's commanding officer (Woody Harrelson) tells his new sergeant (Ben Foster), recently injured in combat, their job is to be courteous, brisk, and to the point. Which, in very different circumstances, could be the motto at TTT...

    Whether delivering good food or awful news, protocol is everything. The waiter or messenger should defer to the food or news at hand. The recipient should be treated the same--with courtesy and respect, not excessive fawning or sympathy. A certain impersonal mask of propriety is required. The plate or envelope is the important thing.

    The staff at TTT generally adheres to those protocols. One of the cheapest (and best) dining joints in Lower Queen Anne, TTT understands that its patrons are often in a hurry to events at Seattle Center, to catch a play or movie, or a show at KeyArena. Get in, get out, but don't make people feel rushed--that's the attitude. No pressure, but also no awkward lingering. Don't be too solicitous. Don't invite yourself into the table conversation.

    Those words also apply to the grim tasks executed by Capt. Stone (Harrelson) and Sgt. Montgomery (Foster). The grief counselors will follow them later, Stone explains. Their mission is different--not to console but to inform. No hugs, no touching, no tears of commiseration. Even if both men, being soldiers, feel the pain, they're under orders not to show it. Except, of course, when they're off the base and out of uniform. Then they can drink and carouse and express their anger and sorrow. One of the better movies of the year, The Messenger was written and directed by an ex-military man: Oren Moverman, who served in the Israeli Army during 1980s combat. His script is full of silent moments that demonstrate how servicemen generally choose not to discuss the thing that disturbs them most, even though it's always an acknowledged presence in the room.

    Thus, though Foster's character was wounded in combat (and decorated for valor), he doesn't want to talk about it. And though Harrelson's garrulous captain can hardly keep his mouth shut about his own desperately lonely, alcoholic life, he doesn't ask about the younger man's injuries or dead buddies. Moverman lets them tiptoe around the issue of their very different Army experiences until the very end of the movie. First, we have to witness them delivering their terrible bulletins to blindsided, instantly bereaved family members. The movie doesn't rush. It takes its time.

    Likewise, if you want to tarry at TTT, that's fine. You can order more Singhas or tea after your meal (there is no bar); and the restaurant is seldom full enough to require a swift turning of the tables. Having eaten there regularly for the 10 years I've lived in Uptown, I can't remember ever spending over $40 for two people (the tab is usually less). Regulars skip the menu and order by item number, e.g. the No. 40 (Mussaman beef curry) or No. 61 (phad Thai with whatever you want). Three stars means three stars; ask for four, and you'd better be prepared for the consequences. You can fill your stomach with a lot of food, or box it for later at home. This makes TTT an excellent launching-off point to LQA bars and late-night conversations. You exit feeling fortified for the next big task at hand.

    Of course, the big challenge for The Messenger is to find and keep a small audience through the awards season. Harrelson got a Golden Globe nomination for supporting actor, well deserved, and I'd love to see the Academy recognize him, too. (Foster is less flamboyant but equally fine.) The Independent Spirit Awards has nominated the film in several categories; again, it would be nice for the AMPAS to follow suit. Nominations will be announced on Tues., Feb. 2 (the awards are March 7); with a little luck, they'll bring The Messenger back into local theaters. (Sadly, it just ended its run after two weeks.)

    Although maybe not to the Uptown. Parent company AMC is better at running large suburban multiplexes. Its Seattle trophy hall is Pacific Place, with all that subsidized parking. The three-plexed Uptown came with an old merger, and AMC has never shown it much love. The neon sign isn't always working, and the snack bar lags way behind the Pacific Place operation. Popcorn, soda, and candy are adequate; this is not the place for cheese nachos or hot dots or boutique menu items. A few years back, the Landmark Theatres chain (owners of the Harvard Exit, Seven Gables, and their siblings) gave serious thought to buying the Uptown. If the economy ever improves, maybe that deal will be reconsidered. The place could use better bookings, better coffee, better use of its good-sized screens and nicely raked seating.

    My suggestion for the snack bar if that deal ever goes through? The chicken satay skewers from TTT. They'd be happy to deliver.

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