Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Dinner and a Movie
Jupiter Ascending The Leopard

By Steve Herte

Thankfully this week the snow held off enough for me to go to my favorite Irish bar for karaoke, and it was fun. I usually create themes for my songs. Karaoke has a bad rap that I’m trying to clean up by singing songs properly. I’m not against people getting up there and singing (badly) for fun, because the main object is to have fun. I just want it known that there are those among us who consider music seriously and have fun singing it well. Since Valentine’s Day is this week I’ll be switching to a “Love” theme (literally hundreds of song titles to choose from). Valentine’s Day figures largely in my choice of restaurants this week and the movie made the choice easy. Enjoy!

Jupiter Ascending (WB, 2015) - Directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski (as the Wachowskis). Writers: Andy and Lana Wachowski. Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Christina Cole, Nicholas Newman, Ramon Tikaram, Ariyon Bakare, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Frog Stone, James D’Arcy, David Ajala, & Terry Gilliam. Color, 127 minutes.

Some say she’s from Mars, or one of the seven stars…Well she isn’t! “Planet Claire,” the B-52s

Technically, I’m an alien. I was born without a country, a home and a father.” Jupiter Jones

I’m not naming my baby after a planet!” says Aleksa (Kennedy) to Maximilian Jones (D’Arcythe man she’s loved since they met on the banks of the Dnieper River in Russia. And Max loves Aleksa as much as he loves astronomy and his beautiful brass telescope. Suddenly, KGB agents burst in and ransack the apartment. When they take his telescope Max protests and is fatally shot for his efforts. Poor little Jupiter is born on the boat to America.

The alarm goes off at 4:45 am, we hear “Jupiter, wake up and make the coffee!” and the repeated daily schedule begins for the now young woman (Kunis) cleaning toilets for others. She hates her life and says so over and over. She shares a bedroom with her mother and aunts, all housekeepers in Chicago.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, three bounty hunters are searching for a young girl. Their leader, Ibis (Ajala) is a fearsome bluish-black skinned warrior type. His right hand gal, Diolmika Tsing (Amuka-Bird), hovers above him on a rocket powered cyber bike with a cloaking device. They are thwarted (and the third one killed) by what they call a “sky-hunter,” zipping around on anti-gravity boots.

One day, Jupiter witnesses alien beings called “Keepers” abducting her best friend. “Keepers” look like pink, naked skeletons with backward knees and can fade in and out of visibility. Jupiter learns they are really here for her when they attack, and she’s rescued by a blue-eyed man in anti-gravity boots named Caine Wise (Tatum), a genetically modified hybrid of man and wolf referred to as a “Splice,” although he never turns into a wolf, a la Lon Chaney Jr. After a wild chase through downtown Chicago involving several buildings being partially destroyed (including the Sears Tower), he successfully brings her to the relative safety of the ramshackle house belonging to Stinger Apini (Bean). The house is surrounded by a strangely beautiful assortment of wildflowers attended by thousands of bees.

Both of these men were once in a legion of Sky-Hunters, but for some unexplained reason they’ve had their wings removed (literally), and are now outcasts trying to clear their names. They know this girl is valuable to Titus Abrasax (Booth) and his brother Balem Abrasax (Redmayne), but are not sure why until the bees, which have hives both outside and inside the house are attracted to Jupiter as if she were their queen. Then they both address her as “Your Majesty.” “Bees can sense royalty.” Now Jupiter is totally confused, as is the entire audience.

After what seems to be an eternity, we finally get an important part of the plot. Abrasax Industries is an inter-galactic corporation with two major competitors (the brothers) both of who want Jupiter (who resembles their mother perfectly). Titus wants to marry her and Balem wants her to sign a contract relinquishing her rightful claim to Earth. Both belong to a kind of Corporate Royalty that has to answer to a slew of bureaucrats on the overpopulated home world of Orus. After a battle with Balem’s minions, Sargorns (fearsome, winged T-Rex-like creatures) Stinger and Caine deliver Jupiter to Titus on the planet Saturn. After going through endless channels and bureaucrats and bribing at least one, Jupiter and her “Sim” escort come to the Minister of Seals and Signets (Gilliam), who grants her the legal title of royalty and imprints a glowing seal on her forearm (with which she can now sign important documents).

Kalique Abrasax (Middleton) befriends Jupiter (but not without her own agenda), sees to it she’s dressed royally, and gives her a tour of the palace a weird combination of Baroque and Moorish architecture. We learn later that Balem obviously prefers Gothic, which better suits his sinister personality.

The rest of the plot slowly reveals that Kalique is 14,000 years (and four months) old, thanks to the major (and only) product of Abrasax Industries, RegenX-E. It has the capability to grant the user eternal youth. The only drawback is that it’s made from people and Earth is currently ripe for The Harvest. It seems that Abrasax royalty have been “seeding” planets throughout the galaxy to develop a rapidly growing population and harvesting their “time” to keep themselves young. In the process, Sargorns created the dinosaurs – surprise!

Jupiter Ascending is a two-hour-and-seven-minute special effects playground with wildly imagined gadgets, weapons and spaceships, vast, soaring stage sets, remarkable costumes (I’ll bet they garner a nomination for them), and fabulous music composed by Michael Giacchino. The action scenes keep the audience white-knuckled when combined with the exciting music.

The story? Well, it can be described as a combination of Cinderella, Star Wars, and Flash Gordon, with a big destruction scene (almost endless) like that in Frankenstein. Several George Lucas-like “gifts” were thrown in, i.e. the “SarGORNs” – echoing the creature in the episode The Arena from the TV series Star Trek, as well as the title “Keepers” from another episode, and the elephant-headed pilot of the Aegis spaceship whose name is Ganesha (the good-luck elephant-headed god of Hinduism). The movie drops into the corny side several times, mostly in the dialogue, “Maybe it’s in my genes. I always fall for guys I can’t have.” And after suffering the bureaucrats, “I’ll never complain about the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) again.” It will never be classified as science fiction because it never leaves the realm of fantasy.

Antsy kids will love it because, like them, it rarely stops moving and it’s a great no-brainer for adults. Overall, it’s great entertainment but not great theater.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Leopard at Des Artistes
1 West 67th Street (Central Park West)New York

A little over eight years ago, Helene and I dined at the Café Des Artistes on Valentine’s Day. It was lovely, especially the three-tiered chocolate dessert. Little did we know it was struggling for existence. It closed on August 30, 2009.

In 2001, Gianfranco Sorrentino, with wife Paula, opened Il Gattopardo (Italian for “The Leopard”) across the street from the Museum of Modern Art (53rd Street, east of 5thAvenue) with Executive Chef Vito Gnazzo. In 2011, the terrific trio reincarnated the famous space in the Des Artistes Hotel.

As it is located on the Upper West Side of New York, it took me nearly four years to experience the transformation from a premier French restaurant into a lush Italian. I was excited when I concluded that the only theater showing the movie I wanted to see at the right time was three blocks away from the restaurant I was dying to visit. 

As I approached the elegant black air-lock entrance with lit name in flowing script above the door, I hoped the famous murals inside were left intact. I entered and there they were. The beautiful nymphs were still cavorting through the flowers and trees on every wall, and the only addition was the black leopard statue in one window.

I had come prepared and dressed to impress (jacket and tie encouraged), and yet no one batted an eye when I revealed my leopard jacket and tie on New York black shirt and slacks. I was sedately and very professionally led to my table with a beautiful mural, a backdrop not far from the bar.

My waiter, Rares, was efficiency personified. He took my water preference, presented me with the wine list and menu, and asked if I desired a drink other than water. I ordered my favorite martini upon learning that the bar had Beefeaters gin in stock. It was supremely perfect, as was the tall pony-tailed blonde bartender who mixed it and served the second one.

Fortunately, I had perused the menu on-line and it was virtually the same, because Rares’ thick accent prevented me from understanding any of the daily specials as he rattled them off. I just nodded and oohed and ah-ed. When he returned, I told him I wanted to construct a three-course meal with a side of pasta (the only dish I hadn’t decided on). He made a suggestion and surprisingly, it was the one that caught my eye online. The meal was organized.

The wine list had an impressive arrangement. Italian wines from the North, Middle, and South were sub-categories under Whites and Reds. The wines from the South were totally unfamiliar to me and I asked Rares’ help. The 2009 “Donnachiara” Aglianico Irpinia from Campania was a tasty, slightly earthy balance of fruit and tannins in a beautiful ruby-red wine.

Another server brought the breadbasket filled with crusty Italian bread as well as foot-long bread sticks and rich dark bread, and poured a plate of virgin olive oil for dipping. A second server brought the amuse-bouche, two deep-fried rice balls flavored with lobster and Gorgonzola cheese – delightful.

Everything about the cuisine at The Leopard says “not your traditional Italian food.” This is particularly evident in the appetizer. “Battuta di Branzino” is thin sliced orbetello branzino (a Mediterranean sea bass), gently roasted with pink peppercorn and fennel salad. The delicate white of the melt-in-your-mouth fish surmounted by the just barely green, shaved strips of fennel was a work of art on a plate as well as a joy to the taste buds. I actually enjoyed the fennel, usually not one of my favorite flavors.

Next came the three large, circular ravioli filled with braised artichoke and burrata cheese in a light tomato-marjoram sauce. With a generous mound of shaved Parmesan cheese, this dish was almost gone before I took a picture of it.

The main course was decided before I left the office. The “Coniglio in Porchetta” oven-roasted rabbit saddle filled with Italian sausage, served with porcini sauce, sautéed broccoli rabe and spinach was a tour de force. The tender, slightly gamy rabbit was sweetened by the sausage and enhanced by the mushroom sauce, while the gloriously green broccoli rabe mixed its sharp flavor with the sweeter flavor of the spinach to create the perfect balance between the two. I loved it.

Was I full after all this? You bet, and Rares could see it. He brought homemade cookies for dessert and that, along with a double espresso, finished my wonderful return to Des Artistes. It still ranks with Daniel and the Boathouse as one of the most romantic restaurants in New York. And now there are no more excuses. It’s more reasonably priced than its former incarnation. However, for those who wish to go extravagant, they do have a $4,900 bottle of wine.

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