Dinner and a Movie
By Steve Herte
Jackie (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2016) – Director: Pablo Larrain. Writer: Noah Oppenheim. Stars. Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella, Sara Verhagen, Helene Kuhn, Deborah Findlay, Corey Johnson, and Aidan O’Hare. Color, Rated R, 99 minutes.
“Every First Lady must be ready to pack her bags.”
It’s 1963 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Jacqueline Kennedy (Portman) is being interviewed by an unnamed journalist (Crudup) on the porch of the Kennedy home. He’s trying to write an article of her version of life in the White House up to and just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy (Phillipson). She is cautious about what should be printed and what shouldn’t. As she lights up one cigarette after another, she tells him, “I don’t smoke.”
“The White House was never my home, any more than this place is,” referring to the mansion where they sit. She describes how nervous she was before conducting her “Tour of the White House” broadcast on Valentine’s Day in 1962. Flashbacks in grainy black and white to simulate television quality back then add verisimilitude to Portman’s portrayal.
Over the course of the interview several topics arise, such as Pablo Casals performance at the White House, the cost of restoring the Lincoln Bedroom to its former grandeur, and of course, the gruesome assassination itself, done twice in graphic, gory detail. Jackie describes how protective Bobby Kennedy (Sarsgaard) was, even to the point of not informing her when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and how angry she felt with him at the time. We see an intimate scene on Air Force One in the intense Dallas heat as Lyndon B. Johnson (Lynch) insists on being sworn in as president before leaving the plane (or even turning on the air-conditioning). We hear Lady Bird Johnson (Grant) cattily suggest that Jackie change out of her blood-stained pink suit before debarking into the public view.
“I want them to see what they have done...” is Jackie’s rejoinder. Of course, what the public didn’t see was her agonized washing of the gore from her face, which Portman made to look torturous.
The two people who could actually be called Jackie’s friends were her social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Gerwig), a lifelong confidante, and, later on, her priest (Hurt), who helped her understand the tragic turn of events.
Among her non-friends, the part of Jack Valenti (Casella), LBJ’s right-hand man and planner for the motorcade route through Dallas, was slyly played. John Carroll Lynch was a foreboding and scary presence as the politically devious Johnson. I was actually surprised that he sat down when Bobby shouted at him to do so.
But above all, it was Natalie Portman’s acting that made this film. Though prettier than Jacqueline Bouvier, if you close your eyes, she took great pains to get her voice right. Her walk and poise were undoubtedly Jackie. Some may say her portrayal was a caricature and an insult to her legacy, but that is not true. Jackie Kennedy was put on a pedestal by Americans who wanted a royal family in the White House. The problem with that is, the higher the pedestal, the longer the fall from it. Here we see a human Jackie Kennedy, one who knew what she wanted, knew the consequences of wrong actions, and only pursued the positive in her husband’s legacy in the public eye. She was aware of John’s actions when away from her. “Jack would go into the desert to be tempted by the devil, but he always came home.”
She noted that “Camelot” was a favorite song of John’s and that the myth grew from there, but as all Broadway show-goers know, Camelot had its own internal problems and was not a utopia. As a whole, the film moved well and was interesting. The old-time television effect was well done if you were there to have actually seen it. My only complaint was with the musical soundtrack. The creepy glissandos up and down made it sound more like a science fiction movie than a biopic. It could be nominated for best film, but for sure, we’re going to see a best actress nomination.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.
The Black Ant
60 2nd Ave., New York
According to Aztec mythology, the god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, transformed into the Black Ant (La Hormiga Negra) and found corn and seeds for his people, thus instituting agriculture and feeding them.
This two-year-old modern Mexican restaurant is presided over by master mixologist Jorge Guzmán from the Dominican Republic and Chef Mario Hernandez hailing from Cuernavaca, Mexico. Together, they create innovative potions and daring dishes in a friendly restaurant almost as dim as an ant’s burrow.
The adventure of my first time actually eating insects was integral in my decision to dine at The Black Ant, but, to tell you the truth, I did not notice anything radically different in any of the dishes.
I ordered the Climbing Ant (why not?) a tall glass of Alacrán Reposado Tequila, aperol, melon, agave, lemon, mole bitters and sal de gusáno (worm salt, made from ground up tequila worms – more accurately, larvae) lining the glass rim, garnished with a bouquet of mint leaves. For those who are curious, there was no flavor other than smoky salt to the rim encrustation. The drink could have been one of many tequila-based cocktails, heady and fruity.
Abarca, my server, helped me select my courses. I chose two from the para las hormigas (for the ants, or small plates) section and one from the main course section. As there were only three red wines on the list, I chose one I never had, The 2014 Salento Susumaniello (a breed of grape) red wine, from Brindisi, Italy. It was remarkable. The deep red (almost purple) color, together with an edgy, fruity nose promised something special, and the smoky, smooth flavor with light tannins told me this was going to be amazing. When paired with my dishes, it stayed in the background with the sweeter foods and added an intriguing edge to the spicier ones.
My first course was a ceviche (marinated raw fish) of Kampachi (Hawaiian yellowtail), cantaloupe-habanero gazpacho, cacahuachintle (a corn like hominy), and ant powder (yes, made from ground-up ants – again, not noticeable). The main flavor was from the sweet and slightly tart cantaloupe sauce. The fish was sliced neatly and tender and the dish was garnished with cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, mini squash and cress.
My next dish, the croquettas de chapulín (grasshoppers), were yucca-manchego croquets rolled into balls and deep fried, then anchored to a square of black slate by a green chapulín salsa, sided with a ramekin of huitlachoche (a fungus that forms on corn, called a smut) sauce and garnished with fried grasshoppers. Not the big locust variety, these were more like large crickets. In fact, I didn’t even notice them; it could have been the lighting. They were bite-sized. I took one onto my fork, dipped it in the sauce and popped it whole into my mouth. I could taste the cheese and the earthy yucca, a spicy tartness from the salsa, and the wonderful truffle-like earthiness from the huitlacoche. Only a crunch identified the garnish.
On Abarca’s recommendation, I kept the remaining huitlacoche sauce for my main course. The buῆuelos de pato – crispy duck dumplings with fried plantains and topped with Oaxacan mole negro (a chocolate/jalapeno sauce) and queso fresco (fresh cheese) – was delightful. The sauce was poured over the dumplings after the dish was served and the cheese was crumbled over that. The dumplings never lost their crispiness and the duck was juicy and tender.
I almost forgot my side dish, the cactus fries, long, thin deep-fried fingers of cactus, breaded with more sal de gausano and chilpaya (chili pepper). Cactus does not have much of a flavor on its own (it’s a fleshy vegetable texture and a slight crunch), but the other ingredients make the dish stand out.
Choosing a dessert after that was not easy. The gansito – tortilla crust, frozen strawberry mousse, marshmallow and strawberries – had all the ingredients I love. But then I looked at the ice creams and sorbets. I could select one scoop or three and I chose three. The sweet corn ice cream was just that, a truly different flavor for dessert, The jalapeno-cucumber sorbet had a little spicy kick, but at the same time it had the coolness of cucumber. The prickled (I think they meant prickly) pear sorbet was a beautiful deep rose color and had the sweet/tart flavor of the cactus it was made from.
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