Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Risen (Columbia, 2016) – Director: Kevin Reynolds. Writers: Kevin Reynolds (s/p) & Paul Aiello (s/p and story). Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth, Cliff Curtis, Maria Botto, Luis Vallejo, Antonio Gil, Richard Atwill, Stephen Greif, Stewart Scudamore, Andy Gathergood, Stephen Hagan, Mish Boyko, Jan Cornet, Frida Cauchi, Karim Saleh, Joe Manjon, & Pepe Lorente. Color, Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.

As the film opens, a lone figure in dusty, common garb is roaming the barren, rocky area in what we learn later is Galilee. He stops at the only dwelling place and the owner offers him food and rest. Noticing his signet ring, the proprietor recognizes him as a Roman tribune by the name of Clavius (Fiennes). With a haunted look, he sits down to tell his tale.

A brief scuffle between a troop of Roman soldiers and several rock-throwing Jewish zealots led by a zealot leader (Saleh) is easily extinguished and he is captured. After he babbles about the Messiah King rising up and crushing Rome, he is slain by Clavius.

Pontius Pilate (Firth) has put Clavius in charge of the three men crucified on Golgotha. Before riding there, the sky darkens and an earthquake rocks Jerusalem, cracking the thick stone gates of the palace he’s just left. When Clavius arrives at Golgotha, he notes that the two thieves are still alive and orders their legs to be broken. But when he looks up into the still-open eyes of the third victim of Roman justice, he realizes the man is dead and hears the anguished cries of Mary (Cauchi), Yeshua’s (Curtis) mother. He belays the command to break his legs, instead ordering the piercing of his side with a lance.

As the soldiers are brutally letting the crosses fall with their occupants still on them, Joseph of Arimathea (Gil), a member of the Sanhedrin, presents Clavius with a papyrus scroll signing the body of Yeshua over to his care. Clavius orders his men to allow the family to see to the burial of Yeshua.

Back at Pilate’s palace, there is concern expressed by Chief Priest Caiaphas (Greif) that Yeshua’s followers will steal the body from the tomb and claim the truth of his prediction that he will rise in three days. Pilate assigns Lucius (Felton) to be Clavius’ aide and orders him to seal the tomb and set a watch over it. Soon many thick ropes anchored to the walls of the tomb crisscross each other over a huge stone and are set in place by large wads of red wax imprinted with his seal. Clavius assigns two of his best men to guard the tomb overnight ignoring their protests that they haven’t slept in two days.

The two soldiers station themselves despondently by the tomb and while one builds a fire, the other pulls out a skin of wine. The next day, Pilate is notified by his aide that the tomb is open and the body is gone. Before he can cover up the news, however, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin storm in and accuse the Roman soldiers of incompetence.

Pilate summons Clavius and orders him to find the body. Setting Lucius out to arrest anyone speaking about the risen Nazarene, he interviews them one by one. No one seems to know anything until Lucius brings in Joses (Vallejo), whose poverty overrules his sense of right and wrong, and he gives them the name of Mary Magdalene (Botto).

In one of the lighter moments of this movie, Clavius asks a gathering of his soldiers if they know of Mary Magdalene. First, one hand goes up, then another, then several others. But when brought for questioning, Mary speaks in ecstatic riddles and Clavius concludes that she’s mentally unstable. Returning to Joses, Clavius manages to buy the name of Bartholomew (Hagen) from him and the disciple is brought in for questioning.

As stolid as Mary Magdalene was, Bartholomew is bubbling over with joy. When threatened with crucifixion, he happily kneels down and welcomes it. Clavius tosses a nail at him and describes the agony of hanging from these and not being able to breathe. Clavius then asks where the disciples are and with a grin on his face, Bartholomew leaves with the word, “Everywhere.”

There’s nothing left for Clavius and Lucius but to take the soldiers and search every house in Jerusalem. Spotting Mary Magdalene ducking into a doorway, Clavius follows her. He opens the door to find the disciples sitting down to dinner. But the big surprise is who is with them: Yeshua himself, living, breathing, eating and drinking and showing the wounds in his hands and sides to Thomas.

Silently, and with utter disbelief, Clavius sits staring until Yeshua suddenly disappears. He learns from the disciples that they will see him again in Galilee. Calling off the enthusiastic Lucius and not telling him what he found, Clavius decides to follow the disciples to Galilee by himself. Being loyal, he leaves a note for Pilate, and, of course, Lucius takes a cohort to follow him. Clavius’ evasion tactics throw the cohort off their trail, but he has to convince Lucius as well, who was not fooled by his deceit.

Risen tells the New Testament story of Jesus’ resurrection believably from the Roman point of view. There are several “could have been” moments not defined in detail in the Gospels: There could have been a Roman tribune at supper with the disciples. He could have been in the fishing boat when the nets were lowered and the catch nearly swamped the boat. He could have witnessed the healing of a leper and the final ascension.

The portrayals of Clavius by Joseph Fiennes and Yeshua by Cliff Curtis were magnificent, with the hardened Roman soldier, believing and praying only to the god Mars, meeting the gentle, loving, all-forgiving son of Mary (who really didn’t have that big a part). Maria Botto’s performance as Mary Magdalene was also brilliant.

Without being evangelistic, Risen puts a novel slant on a well-known story and does so with minimum brutality (we don’t actually see the soldiers breaking legs), and maximum grace. The whole family could enjoy this movie. The 1 hour and 47 minutes pass before you know it. And even though we may know how events unfold, we still wonder where the film will go next, causing us later to say to ourselves, “Of course, that’s where it should have gone.” It a beautiful, powerful film, released timely, and one that will be remembered.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Ed’s Chowder House
44 W. 63rd St. (in the Empire Hotel), New York

The name of this wonderful eatery brings to mind such images as what you think of when I say “sea shack cuisine,” “lobster rolls” and “north shore,” yet it’s located on the ritzy upper west side of Manhattan, directly across the street from Lincoln Center. 

Passing through a canvas airlock door and up two small flights of stairs wrapped around hanging glass “bubbles,” I arrived at the Captain’s Station and announced my reservation. The young lady led me through the airy, high-ceilinged space, decorated in stripes of sandy earth tones, and through a grand archway formed by a towering wine rack (with a rolling ladder, as one would see in venerable libraries) to my table by a window. 

I sat on the cream-colored banquette as she moved the table to give me room, wished me a bon appetite and pushed the table back into place. An enormous mirror dominated the wall opposite me and I could see a large ring-shaped chandelier in the next room.

My server, Daria arrived with the food and drink menus. After looking over the imaginative cocktail list, I was ready when Daria returned. They did serve Beefeater gin and I ordered my favorite martini. It was perfect – a rarity. Daria took this opportunity to cite the two specials of the day, both appetizers, a foie gràs torchon and a carpaccio, neither of which I could have on a Friday in Lent.

The food menu included Raw Bar, Shellfish Platters, Chowders, Appetizers, Simple Mains (this is where we see lobster rolls), Composed Mains (more elaborate dishes), and Sides. It took me a while to decide, as there were so many choices. The wine list was also very impressive and remarkably affordable for this area of town. However, remembering my experience from last week’s restaurant, it was easy to choose: the 2013 “Deusa Nai” Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain. It is a glorious white, with a crisp flavor lighter than a chardonnay and with a refreshing aftertaste.

Daria was very patient as I listed my choices and she advised which dish should come out first. Since this was my first time at Ed’s Chowder House, it only stood to reason that my first course be the chowder sampler: a mushroom chowder with truffle oil and chives, a New England-style clam chowder, and a Manhattan-style blue crab chowder. 

The New England clam chowder was creamy and good and the clams tender but it couldn’t surpass the best I had in Boston. The Manhattan-style was delicious and spicier than anything on the cajun menu I had last week. But it was the unique flavor of the mushroom chowder that won the day. When I tasted it, the earthy, musky fullness of truffles and pureed mushrooms was pure Heaven.

I rarely have mussels, but this next dish promised something different. The spicy steamed Holland mussels with sourdough croutons was one of those dishes where the sauce is so good one might well ask ask for a spoon. I did, and quickly emptied the black and green shells of their delicate contents into that wonderful spicy, green and red pepper strewn soup. 

Holland mussels are about the size of the last joint of your pinky finger and have a light flavor of their own, but it was the liquid part of this dish that almost set me into a food frenzy. The “croutons” were long slices of sourdough bread, lightly toasted and great for spooning mussels and soaking up sauce.

My next dish was the blue crab lasagna with béchamel and marinara sauce: lasagna filled with delicate, shredded blue crab meat and the béchamel was topped (but not drowned) by the marinara and crowned with a sprig of fresh basil. I had to cut it carefully to get all the layers at once and found it amazing. The side dish was Ed’s version of mac & cheese and it was a hefty one, the only dish I couldn’t finish and had packed up to go.

When it came to dessert I followed Daria’s recommendation and chose the lemon meringue pie. It was lovely. The meringue was just a foamy, toasted wave on top of a brick of lemony goodness that eclipsed the thin crust at its base. A double espresso was de rigueur after this feast.

Ed’s is almost a year old. It’s co-owned by Jeffrey Chodorow of China Grill Restaurant fame (and one of my favorite return places) at 60 W. 53rd St. I was not surprised to learn this considering the quality of the food and service at Ed’s. It looks like I have another “return” place here.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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