Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Dinner and a Movie

At Long Last - Capital Epic

By Steve Herte

Epic (20th Century Fox/Blue Skies Studios, 2013) Director: Chris Wedge. Starring the Voices Of: Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Beyoncé Knowles, Christoph Waltz, Amanda Seyfried, Aziz Ansari, Chris O’Dowd, Judah Friedlander, & Steven Tyler. Color and 3D, 102 minutes.

If Blue Skies Studios want to receive a better reaction from reviewers, they should do one of two things:

1. Get better writers.

2. Do not allow trailers of superior films to precede the debut of a new movie like this one.

I must admit that when I saw the trailers for Rio 2 and Despicable Me 2, my expectations for Epic were affected. In fact, upon viewing Epic I was surprised to learn that its creators were the same as those for Ice Age and Rio.

This reaction has nothing to do with the situation of my viewing the film. The rainy, dismal day, the missed bus, the location of the multiplex in one of the worst parts of Queens, the inability to order my ticket through Fandango and thus avoid the quadri-folded “snake-dance” line of humanity awaiting purchase of tickets at the inept, two-person staffed box-office which left me with five minutes to find my theater and get a seat - none of this affected my opinion.

It was delightful to leave the mob scene headed for Fast and Furious 6 and Hangover 3 and join a more civilized audience of 15 (mainly children, but behaved) and locate a good, comfortable seat.

The movie starts with a narration about a forest being the scene of a constant war between “Life and Rot” (Whoa! They almost lost my attention right there!), and that it was fought unseen by human eyes. The scene magnifies until we can see little soldiers in bright green armor, the “Leaf Men,” riding hummingbirds at high speed and dodging the arrows of the gray army of Mandrake (Waltz). Everything an arrow hits turns into an oak gall (even if on a maple tree) giving the impression of rot and decay. The leaf men fend off the enemy and return to the secluded glen that is their home. The leader, Ronin (Farrell) enters the dwelling place of Queen Tara (Knowles) and even though the entire audience knows by her innuendoes that these two are an “item” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), he‘s all business. He’s more concerned about her being the “Life” of the forest and how the battle went, and the fact that his ward, Nod (Hutcherson), under his care since Nod’s father died, doesn’t follow orders, preferring reckless deeds instead. Queen Tara tells Ronin that the time has come for her to choose an “heir,” which means she has to go to the lily pond supervised by Mub – a snail (Ansari), and Grub – a slug (O‘Dowd), and select a “pod” (basically an unopened lily bud) to bloom under the full moon during the summer solstice. Stop me if you’ve heard this plot before.

Cut to the bad guys’ encampment. Mandrake’s son is very proud to have found a rat’s skin to wear so he will look more like Dad, and it has the desired effect. The plot is hatched to snatch the pod, kill Queen Tara and force the pod to bloom in darkness, thereby dooming the entire forest to eternal rot. Happy happy joy joy! They ready for the ambush and battle.

The scene changes to a taxi wherein a redheaded teenage girl named Mary Katherine (Seyfried) – she calls herself MK – is going to see her father and hopefully talk him out of his crazy, antisocial ways. The cab pulls up to a rickety two-story Victorian in the middle of nowhere and the cab driver (Friedlander) has the best line in the movie, “That’s a house? That’s termites holding hands!” He gives her his card suggesting she call him if she needs a quick retreat. MK’s dad is your typical Absent-Minded Professor, totally involved in his research and wearing a ridiculous helmet bearing several magnifying devices (which, by the way make it impossible for him to run in the forest without tripping over something). He whisks past MK blindly three or four times before realizing she’s there, and is followed by Ozzie, an aging but quick, three-legged, one-eyed pug.

Dad thinks she’s come to join him in his work and she’s trying to make him see the error of his ways and become a father to her once more. It doesn’t work either way. She decides to go home but as she leaves, Ozzie scoots out the door and she tries to retrieve him. This leads her right into the thick of the ambush and battle for the pod. The dying queen tosses her the pod and it shrinks her down to leaf-man size and gives her a new destiny (I guess you could say Beyoncé made her Destiny’s Child). She now has to protect the pod and bring it to Nim Galuu (Tyler), a zany caterpillar/seer who acts like the Wizard of Oz (I see the plots of two other movies here) for protection. Nim Galuu is the only member of the cast who gets to sing. By now, you get the idea.

Epic is a pretty, colorful movie with a superb soundtrack by Danny Elfman (which is how I will remember it best), good animation, some really great camera angles during the chase scenes, an interesting (but done-before) concept (hey, it’s a fantasy!) and the occasional funny quip thrown in my Mub or Grub. The rest of the dialogue is tired and hackneyed; the sunlight glare effect is good but used too often, and the whole movie seems to be a Fantasia wannabe without achieving the magic that was Disney at the time. It is based on the book “The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs” by William Joyce. The film is an unbelievably squeaky-clean (no sex, no vulgarity, no blood, and definitely no gratuitous violence) fairy tale for the children (and they will love it) but there’s virtually nothing there for adults. Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

206-12 Hillside Avenue, Queens Village, NY

As Aretha Franklin sang, “Let’s go back, let’s go back, let’s go way on back when…” My first experience of Indian cuisine was in the late 1970s at a charming little restaurant called Kalpana, on Main Street in Flushing, Queens. The exotic décor, the wood carvings of the gods, the wonderful aromas, the pleasant musical voices of the servers and the delicious spicy food prepared lovingly and proudly brought to the table hooked me for life. Over my several visits, I tried every dish on their menu and many became benchmarks for comparison to future restaurants’ food.

I’ve passed Rajdhani (the name means “Capital” in Hindi) many times over the past couple of years on the bus going to and returning from work and I knew it was a catering house, but when I saw the word “restaurant” I started looking for an opportunity to try it out. The next thing I did was find its website. When the dishes listed in the online menu echoed the ones in the now absent Kalpana it was only a matter of timing and placement before I would dine there. Then the United States Congress had the wisdom to furlough everyone in my place of business and the opportunity presented itself.

Surprisingly, Rajdhani is more charming on the outside than inside (they’ve only been a restaurant for five months). You walk through the beautiful wooden doors with etched glass and enter a bright spotless room with large white tiles on the floor, ivory walls accented with maize-yellow, a good-sized maple-wood bar on the right with a matching ornamental room-divider in the back, 10 to 12 tables covered in white cloths with stemmed water glasses, silverware and napkins on top, and comfortable wooden chairs with green seats.

At 7:00 pm on a Friday I was the first customer, so the manager indicated my choice of tables and I chose a table for two on the same wall as the bar and one table removed from the doors (this way I could see who else arrived). Behind me was a wide shelf that stretched from the bar to the front and around the corner past the front window to the doors, apparently for the Indian Buffets. The waiter took my water preference and brought the impressively-large menu and a basket of Papadum (wafer-thin, crisp peppery bread) and a tray of two Chutneys, mint and Tamarind. (Just like Kalpana, except they usually included onion chutney.) 

Then I noticed the cocktail and wine list on a two-sided sandwich card standing on the table. The “Bombay Tiger” leapt out at me from a memory of my favorite Indian restaurant, the Bengal Tiger (now also gone - burned down), and I ordered one to sip while reviewing the menu. Bombay Sapphire gin mixed with both sweet and dry vermouth, tamarind and lemon juice was intriguing, tangy and a beautiful shade of tiger-orange.

Assuring (I thought) my waiter that I am a slow eater and that I had all the time in the world I ordered my dinner. In spite of my assurance the appetizer, Fish Pakoras (fritters) - light flaky fish filets in the reddish-orange crust indicating the spices and the cooking in the tandoor oven - arrived at the same time as the Mulligatawny Soup (an almost exact copy of Kalpana’s - a mildly spiced chicken-based soup with pureed chick peas and lentils) but I didn’t mind. The temperature of both dishes was steamy hot and by the time I had finished the fritters, the soup was almost perfect. The lemon slice included with the fritters squeezed into the soup added just the right touch.

At this time my cocktail was finished and I noticed that all the wines on the list were available by the glass as well as by the bottle. I ordered the Black Swan Merlot and it proved to be the exact fit with the flavors of the appetizer and soup, thus changing my previous opinion about Merlots. The main part of the dinner was being brought to my table and I shifted the water glass and pre-appetizer to accommodate it. The Rogan Josh – a Kashmiri lamb dish in a rich, mildly spiced tomato gravy – and the Pulao Rice – aromatic Basmati rice with the usual hidden cardamom pod – were both served in attractive square bowls. The Onion Kulcha – a flatbread stuffed with onions and parsley baked in the tandoor – was in a basket served in quarters. The Raita – a yoghurt dish made with shredded cucumbers and carrots (the perfect cooler of spices) – was in a round bowl. All brought blissful memories of Kalpana. For this segment of the meal, the Cellar 8 Pinot Noir replaced the Merlot and took authoritative charge while complimenting the flavors.

By now I had finished the lamb but there was still some gravy, rice, bread and raita, and I was approaching fullness. When the Pinot Noir ran out, I switched to the Cabernet. The difference was like a nuclear explosion of gustatory pleasure and it proved a wonderful companion to the sauce-covered rice accented by the yoghurt. I still wanted dessert, so I had my waiter pack up all that remained in a carry-out bag and ordered the Ras Malai – fluffy white homemade cheese balls in a creamy coconut sauce – delicious. The one surprise was that they didn’t have Masala Tea (or as we now call it, Chai). “We have only regular coffee and tea.” “A selection of teas, maybe?” “Lipton.” “Ugh, I’ll have coffee, thank you.” The coffee was actually quite good.

Just before I left is when I learned of their five-month existence and that they still didn’t have a business card. A take-out menu substituted nicely, and … they deliver! “Do you live in the neighborhood?” “Yes, I’m just south of Jamaica Avenue.” “See you again.” Definitely, and I happily walked home with my booty anticipating another great meal and knowing that my 128th Indian restaurant successfully replaced the first.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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