Myth or Mockery, Mole or Mojito?
By Steve Herte
Though not a landmark birthday, it is special to me with all the greetings I've received in cards, emails and postings on my Facebook page. It feels great that so many took the time to wish their best on my 64th year of life. Thank you all! I was most surprised at the email I received just before leaving the office on Friday. It was from our Area Director. That was unique in my career. After contracting a complete bathroom makeover and a stint weeding in the garden, I decided to complete my reviews, as I don't know whether the opportunity will present itself. I'm attending a barbeque at my boss' house out on Long Island. Every year is different. What will my 65th year reveal to me?
The day proved part disappointment and part pleasant surprise. But then, isn't life like that? See what you think as you read. Enjoy!
Hercules (Paramount/MGM, 2014) - Director: Brett Ratner. Writers: Ryan Condal & Evan Spiliotopoulos; based on the radical comic by Steve Moore. Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Askel Hennie, Ingrid Bolse Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann, Peter Mullan, & Rebecca Ferguson. Color, 98 minutes.
For the first time in a long time the trailers for a movie did not give away a major part of the film. And this time I wish they had done so. They promise the second and fourth labors of Hercules, the Nemean Lion and the Erymanthian Boar (computer-generated of course), and then the movie lapses from “boar” to just “bore.” The magnificent beasts only played cameo roles before being dispatched. For most of the hour and 38 minutes the audience slogs through two lengthy, tiresome battle scenes, the posturing of two would-be kings of Greece, Eurystheus (Fiennes) and Lord Cotys (Hurt), as they manipulate Hercules into achieving their own ambitions against Rhesus (Santelmann).
The narration by the character Aphiaraus (McShane) sites the myth of Hercules as the son of Zeus and the bane of Hera, Queen of the gods. His mother named him “the glory of Hera” to soften her wrath, but to no avail. The 12 labors were his life sentence to realize his freedom and happiness. I was delighted to hear this. But soon the story evolved from the fantastic to the mundane as one by one, the classic creatures of myth were debunked before our eyes. Centaurs became men on horseback, the Hydra transformed into men in lizard masks, and Cerberus devolved into three monstrous wolves on three joined chains. The trailers did not prepare me for this disappointment.
I give the costume and make-up department a lot of credit. Johnson (Hercules) never looked so good in a part. The hair and beard made the character. The costume department must not have seen the beginning of the movie because, unless he visited a headshrinker before donning the lion’s head and skin, it definitely would have fit him like Rick Moranis’ headgear as Dark Helmet in Spaceballs. Unfortunately, Dwayne did his best acting while still in his wrestling career. In fact, the only character bordering on believable was Amphiaraus. Fiennes came off as campy and Hurt was just old. Berdal (Atalanta) was poetry in motion on the battlefield but wooden in dialogue. I loved the character of Iolaus (Ritchie), who bravely spouted tales of Hercules’ great deeds, but who was doused at every turn by disbelief and intolerance. I felt sorry for him. Sewell (Autolycus) started off as credible but crumbled after his line “Shit!”
The story showed some promise when Hercules has nightmares about the murders of his wife and two sons - a deed of which he has become convinced he was guilty. Even that dramatic scene was revealed as a plot to defame him and thus force him into becoming a mercenary along with his fellow travelers.
Condal’s and Spiliotopoulos’ writing made the film vacillate between a serious drama and an unintentional comedy. I was confused as to whether I was being educated or fooled. As for young eyes viewing this movie, parents, be aware. The two battles are wild and frantic with swordplay and hailstorms of arrows. There’s not too much gore, but when Hercules swings his club the sound effects are loud and heavy. Judge accordingly to your child’s capability to handle this.
This version of the Hercules myth (or not) will probably not be nominated for any awards, especially not for Best Director. It seemed more likely that the characters were directing Ratner than the reverse. Hopefully there will be no sequel. But to end on a good note, it did make me pull out my old Edith Hamilton book of Greek and Roman myths and reread the part about Hercules.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.
305 Church Street (on Walker), New York
Many years of working in downtown Manhattan and making my reservations on OpenTable.com have reduced the field of new dining venues greatly and it’s only because of New York’s endless diversity that I keep finding new and interesting culinary adventures. For a long time Church Street has been severely lacking in fine dining establishments until Jean George Vongerichten moved in and started the ball rolling. He has since moved out but places keep springing up.
Los Americanos has been open for 15 months, serving a diverse Latino menu encompassing South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The corner property is decorated in bright colors and sports a jaguar logo on the window. This implies the casual, fun atmosphere inside.
The décor suggests a diner/café with a sense of humor. The gold tinsel canopy over the bar evoked a giggle when I first saw it, but as I looked around the 15-table room I gained a respect for the decorator. There were tchotchkes as well as objéts d’art (one looked like a good Modigliani copy). The one piece that really caught my eye was a mirror etched in black depicting a black panther apparently protecting the Twin Towers of the former World Trade Center. Though I tried I couldn’t uncover the story behind that one.
When asked by the young lady at the Captain’s Station where I preferred to sit I chose a window-seat. When I tried to squeeze between two of the red-topped tables the metal lining the side caught in my slacks and became partially disconnected. “Is that supposed to happen?” I asked. “Oh, we’ve had trouble with that before. Would you like another table?” After popping the lining back in place I told her no, I would work with this table (the location was perfect). She presented me with the menus for food and drink, and a bottle of tap water and filled a glass.
I had just opened to the cocktail list when my server, Eddy, appeared and asked if I was ready to order. He was ghostly pale, almost clean-shaven (head and beard), incredibly young, and the black T-shirt and shorts made him appear even paler. I couldn’t help but notice the enormous gold-sequined number eight on his chest (the day of his birth, I learned later).
I ordered a cocktail, the “Under the Volcano,” a surprisingly fiery concoction involving Mezcal, jalapeno, rosemary, aromatic bitters fresh lime and Sal De Gusano (an Oaxacan spice made from sea salt blended with toasted and ground agave worms and chile costeño. It was amazing and no, I didn’t know what Sal De Gusano was before I tasted it.
I explained to Eddy my considerable appetite and slow-eating habits and proceeded to order my three-course meal. I chose my first course from the “Bocaditos” (small bites) section, the second from the “Ceviches” section and the third from “Platos Principales” (main dishes). When Eddy left me to place my order I considered the wine list, which was quite reasonably priced. I chose the 2007 Tannat Reserva from Ysem, Uruguay (having had wine from Uruguay, I know it’s reliably good). It was deep red, fruity, delicious, and just assertive enough to complement each dish. When the young lady (who admitted she was no sommelier) served the wine I noted the excessive warmth of the glass but the wine was the correct temperature.
The first course arrived, the Mole Empanadas - crispy triangles filled with ground beef and chocolate/chili flavor sided with a chimichuri topping. They were wonderful and gone before I knew it.
The next dish was partially a curiosity and partially Monica’s choice. It was Shrimp Ecuadorian, a ceviche of popcorn shrimp in a vinegary, only slightly spicy marinade topped with actual popcorn. Served in a stemmed glass bowl it looked more like a dessert than a second course but it was fantastic.
The main course arrived before I was finished with the ceviche but I didn’t mind. The Striped Bass resting on Black Beans was steaming hot and the ceviche cooled my mouth between bites of flaky fish with a crispy top skin. It was a little bit fishier than I remember striped bass to be but I finished it all wondering if there was anything resembling bread to finish the sauce. There were soft tortillas as a side dish but I missed that in my first read of the menu.
I was ready for dessert but the three choices - Flan, Churros, or ice cream - didn’t interest me, so I decided to have a side dish for dessert. Another server asked me my choice and I responded “the Yucca Fries.” “That comes with Chipotle Mayonnaise. Would you like catsup as well?” “Why, when you have Chipotle Mayonnaise?” “It’s a Banana Catsup mixed with Chili. I think you’ll like it.” I did. I liked it a lot. The slightly salty, crunchy fries were excellent with either dip.
Eddy reappeared and I was talking after dinner drink. At first, he seemed unsure what I meant. I explained that there must be a dessert-style Tequila at the bar and when he conferred with the bartender I saw him reach for the exact bottle I suspected: Tequila infused with cherry flavor. It was a fine cordial and the double espresso served in a double shot-glass was one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. I let them know.
Though Los Americanos started off feeling like a corner diner, it finished up being a Latino café with good food and a sense of humor, a definite improvement to the dining diversity on Church Street.
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