Thursday, May 19, 2016

Elvis & Nixon

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Elvis & Nixon (Bleecker Street Media, 2016) – Director: Liza Johnson. Writers: Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes (s/p). Stars: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettier, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ahna O’Reilly, Ian Hoch, Ritchie Montgomery, & Nathalie Love. Color, Rated R, 86 minutes.

It’s December of 1970, and Elvis Presley (Shannon) is sitting in his television room at Graceland. Several screens are tuned to various news programs and show protests, drug busts, and hippies burning the American flag. Elvis takes out a pistol, shoots the nearest television and shuts the system down.

Like a teleprompter typing a script for a newscaster, we see words explaining that this month, Elvis went to the White House and spent a few hours with President Richard Nixon (Spacey). But no one knows what the conversation was like as it occurred behind closed doors. This clever film posits a possible scenario.

Elvis has just come off a major tour and his love of all things American fuels his zeal to destroy the “drug culture” that is destroying the youth of his homeland. He decides to fly to Los Angeles and see his best friend Jerry Schilling (Pettyfer) and reunite with Sonny West (Knoxville) to hopefully arrange a meeting with the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs John Finlator (Letts) to volunteer as an undercover agent at large. But first he has to get on a plane from Tennessee. Though star struck when she first sees Elvis, Margaret the ticket agent (Benson) for American Airlines is appropriately terrified when he reveals he’s packing a sidearm. He’s held by security until Jerry can talk them out of this “misunderstanding.”

Though Jerry is reluctant to be “back in the business,” Elvis talks him into going to Washington, D.C., where Sonny joins them at their hotel.

The visit to Finlator proves futile and disappointing and the FBI is not an option. The next step is the president himself. Elvis writes his introductory letter to the president on the plane ride and soon, Jerry drives him to the west gate of the White House. There, the guards restrain their amazement at who’s visiting to do their job, but are eventually sweet-talked into delivering the letter. When it gets to presidential advisers Egil Krogh (Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Peters) and verified by White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman (Donovan), they are ecstatic at what a visit from Elvis would mean to Nixon’s image.

But Nixon nixes the idea of talking with a “rock and roller.” It’s not until Krogh and Chapin meet with Sonny and Jerry at “an undisclosed Washington, D.C., location” that the idea of contacting Nixon’s daughter Julie and that’s the key that unlocks the door to the Oval Office.

Elvis and Nixon is a subtle comedy of the meeting between two huge egos and what they could have talked about. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Richard Nixon is frankly amazing. Though the caricature is close visually, his mannerisms and vocal accents make the role believable. Michael Shannon’s Elvis has Johnny Cash overtones but still is very convincing.

There is a funny scene at the Los Angeles International Airport where an Elvis impersonator mistakes Elvis to be a fellow impersonator and he demonstrates how he should act. Shannon applauds him and, as Elvis would, accepts the advice without correcting the error. And yes, just once, he says, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” Alex Pettyfer is wonderful as Jerry, a man who now has a life, a girl he wants to marry – Charlotte (Ferreira) – and a date he wants to keep with her parents. He manages to effectively juggle this situation with his deep friendship with Elvis until finally, Presley releases him to his future.

Aside from a few “F” bombs – two from Nixon and two from Krogh – the dialogue in this film is clean and well written. The script never verges on the incredible and the humor never gets silly. The whole concept of Elvis deeming himself capable of going around unnoticed and undercover is the main cause for laughter in the movie, especially when he wears an enormous gold belt into the Oval Office.

The end credits reveal what happened to each character afterward, the Watergate scandal and its results, and states “Elvis never went undercover.” I enjoyed Elvis and Nixon and hope it plays in more theaters (only two in Manhattan a week after opening). It’s a good film about the most requested photo from the National Archives: Nixon and Elvis shaking hands (and David's computer screensaver).

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Cherche Midi
282 Bowery, New York

Somehow I thought this restaurant was a lot older than it is. In fact, the blue pinstriped awning only went up in June of 2014, a little less than one and a half years ago. Owner Keith McNally named it after the left-bank street in Paris where he once lived; a street famous in 1847 for a military prison built there. The name Cherche Midi means to search for midday. It comes from the popular French phrase, Elle cherche midi à quatorze heurs” – searching for noon at two in the afternoon. It's a way of explaining that a person makes a situation more difficult than it has to be. But there’s nothing easier than dining at Cherche Midi.

The entrance on Bowery Street leads straight to the Captain’s Station where my reservation was confirmed, I was seated by the window to the street and sat on a red leather banquette with my back to the wall. The room is spacious and lit with a golden glow from the globes suspended from the ceiling. The octagonal-tiled floor harkens back to a simpler time and the gigantic wine rack is made even more formidable by well-placed mirrors. The effect is calming: this is a place to meet, talk and dine in comfort.

When I was settled in, my server John greeted me and, after listing the specials, asked if I wanted a cocktail. I chose “The Ol’ Sour cocktail,” a mixture of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bourbon, cognac, génépy (an herbal liqueur from the Alpine regions that, like absinthe, is made from wormwood), sweet vermouth, and a lemon twist. I like bourbon and I loved this drink. It had a subtler, “greener” tang to it and a sturdy kick.

After a brief session with John over the size of certain dishes, I was ready to order. Before he left he asked if I wanted bread. “What’s a meal without bread?” I said, and soon there was a lovely basket of bread and butter.

The first course was crispy tête de cochon (pig’s head), three croquettes stuffed with extremely tender pork and flavored with grain mustard on a platter with pickled vegetables (cauliflower, wild mushrooms, red onions) providing color as well as a contrasting taste.

When I saw that the restaurant served Zinfandel by the glass, I ordered the 2013 Three Valley Zinfandel, from Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County California. It was a delicious, full-bodied red with a fruity nose and sturdy aftertaste promising a solid marriage to my meal.

The second course was the only one not a special, but something I look for in all “real” French restaurants. The frog’s legs were not served as I would expect. Instead of the traditional “cuisses” (looking like little pairs of pants on the plate), the bones were dislocated and served in a beautiful green garlic velouté with garlic chips and crisp parsley. It was almost too pretty to eat, but I got over that. 

Next came the pan-roasted halibut over tiny morels with fingerling potatoes and ramp beurre blanc sauce. When John described this dish he called the morels “mushrooms,” which is like calling a truffle a fungus. They are so much more than a mushroom: Their woody flavor melded with the flaky fish and the savory ramps and butter to create a major experience rather than “just halibut.”

Although I love crêpes suzette, the selection of cheeses was too enticing and, when I saw how they were displayed by the servers, with little name flags on a silver platter, I knew what my dessert would be. I chose the Moses Sleeper raw cow cheese from Vermont, the mimolettea hard orange cow choose from France and the fragrant bleu Colston Bassett Stilton. They were served with green apple slices, red grapes, honey, compote and almost black, toasted baguette slices. It was Heaven. I was so happy I forgot about an after dinner drink with my double espresso.

For such an excellent, innovative, yet traditional, French restaurant, Cherche Midi is in rather a strange location, but I’m not complaining. The prices are reasonable, the service is friendly, there are at least three other red wines I have to try, and of course, there’s the fantastic food. As Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back!”

And the restaurant had quite the unusual bathroom. See for yourself.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment