Exodus on a Gran Scale
By Steve Herte
Have you ever had that kind of a day when you think it's all going to be easier than the rest of the week, and then it just isn't? That was my day at work.
Oh well, I thought, my evening activities will make up for it. I checked the time of the movie and I was on schedule. It wasn't until I was almost at the box office of the Battery Park Regal Theater (three escalators up) that I checked the ticket and saw "Regal Theater – Union Square." Yow! Good thing I left enough time. I had to really hustle across downtown and catch the Lexington Avenue express (one stop) to Union Square and, miraculously, huffing and puffing only missed the first couple of minutes of the movie. But then I told myself, "You're going to have to go back downtown again for the restaurant!" Sheesh! Thank goodness the movie ended at 7:30 pm and I ran out on the credits. I caught the express train back downtown and made it to 22 Murray Street before my reservation at 7:45. The restaurant wasn't there. It was a block away at 22 Warren Street. Now I ask you, am I getting old or what? Enjoy!
Exodus: Gods and Kings (20th Century Fox, 2014) – Director: Ridley Scott. Writers: Adam Cooper, Jeffrey Caine, Bill Collage, & Steven Zaillian. Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Martia Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Hiam Abbass, Isaac Andrews, Ewen Bremner, Indira Varma, Golshifteh Farahani, Ghassdan Massoud, & Tara Fitzgerald. Color, 150 minutes.
The one good thing this movie did, aside from its colossal scale and special effects, was to get me to reread Exodus in the Bible. The writers have managed to totally retell the glorious story of the release of 600,000 Israelites from 400 years of enslavement in Egypt by playing up the brutality and violence (on both sides) and nearly eliminating the miraculous.
The film begins with Moses (Bale) as an adult and treated as a brother by Ramses (Edgerton) and together they conduct war against the Hittites. During the battle, Ramses’ chariot loses a wheel and he’s suddenly on foot fighting the ferocious enemy. Moses assists and rescues him to another chariot and the Egyptians are forced to retreat. Seti (Turturro) is grateful for Moses’ saving his son even though he knows Moses is not of his blood. Of course he does. Moses is the only male in Egypt with a beard and mustache. He doesn’t even try to look Egyptian. And forget about high speech. Director Ridley Scott apparently wanted to portray the main characters in some “modern” fashion by allowing Ramses to speak like a thug from some low-class neighborhood (Did I detect a Brooklyn accent?) and Moses’ diction was not much better.
Nevertheless, the slaves are not making the kind of progress Seti expects in the quarries overseen by Viceroy Hegap (Mendelsohn) and he assigns Ramses to check it out. Moses goes instead and agrees to talk with the Hebrew slaves (not punish them as the effeminate Viceroy suggests) and meets Nun (Kingsley) and his son Joshua (Paul). Nun tells Moses the incredible story of how he wound up having Bithia (Abbass) for a mother and Miriam (Fitzgerald) as a nurse. Yes, did you know that Miriam helped raise both Moses and Ramses? Meanwhile, Seti falls ill and dies and Ramses is made pharaoh. Moses tells Ramses the crazy story and agrees that he doesn’t believe it either. It’s not until two Hebrew spies repeat the story to Ramses and Ramses’ mother Tuya (Weaver) steps in that Ramses threatens to cut off Miriam’s hand and Moses admits he’s Miriam’s brother.
Then next part we all know. Moses is exiled to the desert, but this time he has a horse (which dies on him along the way) and he has to kill the two spies, who followed him into the wastelands to get conveyance to the oasis where he meets, and marries Zipporah (Valverde). They have a son and a good life until three of his sheep wander up the mountain (God’s mountain) in the rain (Why? Don’t ask me.). There’s thunder, there’s lightning, there’s a landslide and Moses is buried up to his face in rocks and muck facing a bush burning with blue flame (probably caused by the lightning – or maybe someone forgot to tell Con Ed). But then, who is this child who suddenly appears talking about the enslavement of his people and calling himself “I am?”
Moses somehow is returned to his tent with a broken leg and a concussion from a rock that hit him and Zipporah tries to comfort him, explaining it all as a delusion. But Moses feels compelled to return to Egypt and tell Ramses that if he doesn’t let the Israelites go, bad things are going to happen. Did I mention that in this version Nefertari (Garahani) is not in love with Moses? Well, the 10 plagues happen in rapid succession (but not in the right order). There is a massive attack of crocodiles on boatmen and on each other that turns the Nile into blood. The fish die and the gnats rise up (actually the third plague). Then the frogs pour out of the Nile, horses and bulls die of pestilence (nose bleeds, actually), people (including pharaoh) develop boils, hail the size of baseballs clatters down (but doesn’t burn), locusts eat everything in sight and darkness falls over Egypt. Ramses doesn’t believe that Moses’ God did this and threatens to kill every Hebrew first-born. The child (God) informs Moses and instructs him to use the lamb’s blood over the doors to protect the Hebrews.
Here the story becomes familiar again. Pharaoh’s infant son is dead (as is every Egyptian family’s first born) and he tells the Israelites to go to Canaan. They do. Four days later, he’s still angry and chases them with his army. Moses leads his people via the mountain road (I don’t remember this part in the Bible) because it’s a shorter (but a more dangerous) route to the Red Sea. The Israelites leave their carts behind because they are too wide for the mountain road. Not so the Egyptians. They need their chariots. Almost within sight of the Red Sea, Ramses witnesses the mother of all landslides when the mountain road crumbles beneath his army and sends men and horses tumbling to their death in the valley. (So many horses die in this film!)
The Red Sea recedes and goes dry for the Israelites (not in spectacular fashion, I might add) and they cross. Ramses and what’s left of his army follows. Moses and the men he’s trained for battle form a line against the Egyptians while the rest of the people run for the far shore. Suspense mounts, as does a several hundred-foot tower of water returning to its course while multiple tornadoes (actually waterspouts) form. After a command from Moses, his men retreat and he alone confronts Ramses. Both are wiped out by the monstrous wave, and both make it to opposite shores alive. Nobody else does.
I know. I hear you saying, “But…but…but?” And you have a right to say it. But this is how the story was told this time. Moses was a violent warrior up until this moment. Now he acknowledges the Hebrews as his people. And under the watchful eye of the child (God – who by the way is uncredited) he (Moses) carves the Ten Commandments into stone, they are put in a rudimentary Ark of the Covenant and, with Zipporah and his son Gersham, Moses and his people ride off to the Promised Land.
Two and an half hours since the movie began I’ve shifted in my seat three times thinking, “This could have been done better…that was too long…I would like to have seen this.” But then, I’m not the director. Parents, keep in mind the extreme violence in this movie. Ramses literally hangs whole families for each day that the Israelites do not surrender Moses to him. Moses slays both spies with one sword thrust. The bloodiness is not concealed or glossed over. Maybe there will be one Oscar nomination for this movie, but it won’t be for acting. Even Kingsley was under his game, and I didn’t even know Weaver (one of my all-time favorites) was on screen. I’m just glad there was no hint at a sequel.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.
22 Warren Street (Bet. Church and Broadway), New York
“Large Bites” is how the name translates from the Italian and it describes the “elegant simplicity” of this downtown eatery. A simple asparagus green awning with white lettering shades the white wood-framed windows outside; but inside, all is white (ceiling and walls) except for one open brick wall, bare wood tables, and hardwood floors, and lit by inconspicuous glass-globed swags. The only ostentatious decorations are the word “Morsi” on one rear-facing wall done in marquee-style lighting and the rear wall, which sports a mural of greenery.
The young lady at the Captain’s Station led me to a single table near the back from which I could see that about half of the 20 or so tables were occupied. Soon Zachary, my server appeared and greeted me, presenting me with the menu and wine and drink list and taking my tap water preference. I ordered the cocktail called “22 Berretta” because it sounded interesting – gin, homemade limoncello, port wine, and Prosecco (Italian champagne). It was sweet, slightly lemony and smooth, like the gun it was named after.
The menu was simplicity in itself. Only five categories: Morsi (14 of them), Pasta (5), Parmigiana (3), Grand Morsi (4) and Pizza (4). I explained to Zachary that I wanted to make a three-course meal from this list and he made a few suggestions that were right in keeping with my ideas. I chose the 2011 Villa Antinori “Super” Tuscan wine for the meal and let Zachary know that I had plenty of time and not to rush anything. Then he was off to put in my order.
At this point I feel I need to explain something to my readers. Yes, I am a big fan of both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and love their interactions in all their various cartoons. But I also love eating both rabbit and duck and I count this as a tribute to my favorite cartoon characters. That said, and after the first glass of the beautiful garnet-colored wine, which said me that I’m going to love everything with it, we start with the first course.
The Artichokes Alla Romana were tender, tasty pieces of artichoke sizzling in their own iron skillet on a plate, and sending up aromas of olive oil and garlic along with pecorino Romano cheese. Two slices of toasted ciabatta bread protruded from the skillet like two ears and made the nearly invisible liquid easier to soak up. It was heavenly. Zachary warned me about the oven-hot skillet and he wasn’t joking. This dish never cooled down.
Next it was Rabbit Season. The Rabbit Sweet Potato Gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, chestnuts and caciotta al tartufo (a semi-soft cheese infused with black truffles) was a new twist on a familiar dish. Gnocchi, usually made from potatoes were delicate and sweet but not overpowering, as sometimes sweet potatoes can be and the shredded rabbit meat filling as well as small pieces of meat was more a surprise than an inclusion. Everything was delightful about this dish. The pasta melted in the mouth, the chestnuts provided a country crunch and the mushrooms combined with the cheese, a hearty, foresty flavor. The portion was not small but not dinner-sized either, easily managed.
The main course was from the Parmigiana section of the menu. (Girls, hold onto your boyfriends!) The Muscovy Duck Breast Parmigiana on dates, porto (again, the wine), and roasted Brussels sprouts (halved) was unbelievable by itself, but the Tallegio cheese on top increased the normally strong flavor of the duck and added a smoky, aged accent that almost made me forget my Tuscan wine. It was amazing.
With every morsi finished I was ready for dessert. Zachary started listing them and I stopped him at the second item. The Chocolate Bread Pudding with chocolate gelato and cherries dipped in chocolate sauce sounded like a grand way to end the meal. Unfortunately, it was the only disappointment. The gelato and cherries and chocolate sauce were divine, but the bread pudding was almost dry, very dense, tasting like it was made with cocoa powder and generally unappetizing. I took two bites, finished the gelato and cherries and left the rest. I felt the need to explain to Zachary how spoiled I was with bread pudding in general since my trip to Brennan’s in New Orleans (Best in the World, so far). I suggested that they add bourbon to the recipe but that wouldn’t make up for the lack of chocolate flavor.
All in all, I had a great experience at Gran Morsi and I would definitely return there with friends to try other dishes or even for a repeat of the same. Considering they’re open only three months, they’re doing fine. Oh, and next time I’ll try to get a seat on the banquettes lining the wall. The café chairs are not too comfortable.
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