Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Dinner and a Movie

The Dark World of Chickens

By Steve Herte

What a week it was! Wednesday, my computer at work would do nothing but reboot again and again. Thursday, it spent the day in the shop and came back re-imaged. I had lost my wallpaper, my icons, sounds and coursers (yes, I have a lion courser, wallpaper and sounds). Then on Friday, I was locked out of the local area network, and it took over an hour on hold with the I.T. department help desk before it was fixed. I did get my work done and was able to repair the indignities performed on my machine before leaving for the movies. Even then I was in the mood for champagne. Well, I got what I needed, eventually. Enjoy!

Thor: The Dark World (Marvel/Disney, 2013) – Director: Alan Taylor. Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (s/p); Don Payne & Robert Rodat (story); based on the comic book series by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, & Jack Kirby. Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, & Jaimie Alexander. Color and 3-D, 112 minutes.

I seriously have to bone up on my Norse mythology after this one. Thor: The Dark World is as much a tale (extremely loosely translated) of ancient sibling rivalry as one of fantastic (and I mean that with a heavy emphasis on “fantasy”) adventure and conflict. It starts with the back story about “Dark Elves” from a world called “Svartalfland” (appropriately – “black elf land”) who want to throw all nine worlds into darkness using a weapon called “Aether:” a snaky, slithery fire red and black shapeless thing that never stops moving (good special effect) and cannot be destroyed. Their leader, Malektih (Eccleston), battles Odin (Hopkins) and Thor’s (Hemsworth) army for possession of it and loses. The Dark Elves are put into a kind of hibernation in an asteroid field (does this sound like Superman’s arch-enemies to you?) and the Aether is encapsulated in a Tesseract and buried in some unnamed underworld where no one can find it (how about Transformers?). No one, that is, but Jane Foster (Portman) of Earth, who is out with her best friend Darcy Lewis (Dennings) investigating strange phenomena relating to the upcoming alignment of the nine worlds (otherwise called a convergence).

The minute Jane touches the Tesseract she’s infused with the Aether, which wakes up the Dark Elves and re-ignites the battle for the nine worlds. Thor beams down to Earth and retrieves her in hope of destroying the Aether before Malekith can get his hands on it. Malekith, now awake, directs his fleet of drones from his mothership to destroy Asgaard and retrieve the Aether.

Thor’s army is busy imprisoning the malcontents from the last battle when one of them pulls a glowing ember-like egg from his pocket and becomes a Kurse – a huge hulking juggernaut of a creature – who flattens the Asgaard soldiers, frees all the prisoners (except Loki – played by Hiddleston), neutralizes the gate guardian Heimdall (Elba), and disables the force-field shield around Asgaard just in time for the Dark Elves attack. One of their machete-shaped drone ships slices into the corridors of Valhalla and crashes to a halt. Malekith debarks and continues to flatten Asgaard soldiers, ultimately finding Jane in the company of Frigga (Russo) who fights him like a Valkyrie but is killed in the process.

Thor rescues Jane and makes a reluctant pact with Loki to end Malekith’s ambitions forever. Together they return Jane to Earth after a merry chase from the Asgaardian guardians, escaping through a portal only Loki knows. What to do next? Retrieve Doctor Eric Selvig (Skarsgard) from the insane asylum he was put it when he tried to install devices at Stonehenge to counteract the “convergence” while in the nude. (It’s actually sillier to watch than to write about. Thank goodness they de-pixelated his private parts.)

Even though this movie is silly, unbelievable and somewhat confusing (when the convergence happens all sorts of things and creatures zap from one world to another), it’s entertaining in its sheer mindlessness and action. There are no slow parts. The make-up department is to be highly commended. The special effects team had the time of their lives creating wild rides and imaginative beings. The set design people achieved new heights in heroic architecture (except Valhalla looked more like a set of organ pipes, or The Emerald City in gold), especially the interior scenes.

Portman was superb. Hiddleston gets the award for most believable character (I loved it when he transformed himself into Captain America, very funny.) Hemsworth has grown since his silly portrayal in the first movie and looks more the part. He’s lost a lot of the “pretty-boy” appearance – could be the make-up department. Hopkins was his usual dignified, haughty self and Russo was a very convincing Frigga. Thor: The Dark World is a fun ride when you ignore the silliness and…be sure to stay through the credits – there’s an after-story you might be interested in. Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Petit Poulet
52 West 33rd Street (between Broadway and 5th), New York

It was in the Fall of 2012 when Petit Poulet opened its glass-enclosed entryway to its charming bistro with mosaic tile floors, coppery tin ceilings and cozy tables and booths. The aromas emanating from the open kitchen in back provide an appetizing accent to the Parisian sidewalk café atmosphere. The Maitre D’ greeted me at the door and after giving me a choice of a bar seat or table, led me to the perfect location with my back to the kitchen. If the restaurant itself weren’t so charming, the clientele would fill the gap. The scenery from my table included two lovely young blonde girls from Russia enjoying their evening dining.

Until I learned that the Executive Director of Petit Poulet was Popy Stavrinoudis I wondered how I had a waiter named Kourdoush. Needless to say I didn’t speak much French there. I ordered a Kir Royale to start and was surprised to be served a champagne flute of cassis into which Kourdoush poured Moet and Chandon champagne from my very own split. I asked him about creating a three-course meal but he advised me that the portions are on the large side and it would be wise to make it two courses. Then I saw the size of the Caesar Salad (the only misspelling on the menu.)

The two-page menu features Hors D’Oeuvres, “Hamburguers et Sandwiches” (yes, that’s how they spelled it), Daily Specials, Fromages (cheeses) et Charcuterie (cured meats), Rotisserie, Entrées and Accompaniments (sides). Kourdoush suggested the Mousse Royale Paté – two wedges of foie gras/porcini mushroom terrine with Apricot Cumberland sauce, mustard, cornichons (little pickles) and crostini (toasted bread}. After a little consideration, that’s what I had. The terrine was sinfully smooth and between the apricot sauce and the mustard I was in heaven. I left nothing.

When I finished the Kir I decided it wouldn’t be a bistro experience without some wine and I ordered a bottle of 2010 “Deep Purple” Zinfandel from California. The rich, full-bodied flavor of this wine was as impressive as its Woodstock-style label. As I chose my main course I told Kourdoush that I wished it was Tuesday because the special that day is Cassoulet, a favorite of mine. 

However, this was Friday and Bouillabaisse is the daily special. Since nothing else besides the Beef Bourguignon interested me, I ordered the Bouillabaisse. I must admit for a dish that included three ingredients I normally would not order because I don’t like them, the Bouillabaisse was wonderful. On the menu it was described as “Clams, Mussels, Scallops, Shrimp, Calamari, and Tilapia in a Saffron Broth with Rouille Crostini. Clams and scallops are not tops in my preference nor was the surprise substitution, Salmon (for the Tilapia) but together, in that excellent broth they were surprisingly good. The salmon was not the strong-flavored fish I know, the scallops were not unpleasant in the least and the clams were tender, not rubbery. Add to that something Helene would have crooned over: the crostini was in the shape of a heart.

The dish also was complimented by the zinfandel, contrary to the “fish – white wine” myth and I enjoyed every bite. That, and the attentions of both Kourdoush and the Maitre D’ (who reminded me of a young Jerry Orbach – he liked the comparison) and Petit Poulet became a comfortable familiar place for me. 

My location also afforded a great view of the cheese and charcuterie display counter and I found myself craving cheese. After conferring with my waiter on my preference for very ripe, smelly cheeses I was soon presented with a platter of three beautiful cheeses, one hard, one soft like a brie, and one Roquefort accompanied by two fans of sliced green and red apple and sliced strawberries. The Maitre D’ suggested a glass of Fonseca Port wine as a liquid accent and I agreed. I was totally charmed. Over my double espresso I thought, “it’s rare when a restaurant goes from unfamiliar and strange to home in less than two hours.” That’s what Petit Poulet did and, as I left through the door to the Radisson Hotel, I realized that I just had a wonderful experience in a Hotel Restaurant – one of the exceptions to the rule.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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