Friday, March 17, 2017


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Logan (20th Century Fox, 2017) – Director: James Mangold. Writers: Scott Frank, Michael Green, James Mangold (s/p). James Mangold (story). Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle & Elise Neal. Color, Rated R, 137 minutes.

What was all the hoopla about this movie? It’s two hours and 17 minutes of plodding through the culmination of Hugh Jackman’s 17 years portraying Logan, The Wolverine. Action scenes are miserly sprinkled between tiresome dead spaces where the audience speaks the lines before Logan manages to open his mouth. And when he does, the f-bomb appears frequently among other expletives. Even Patrick Stewart as a decrepit Professor Xavier has a shocking couple of bouts of profanity. This film will go down in movie infamy with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in the category of Why Was It Made? And to add insult to injury, it starts with a clever plug for the next Deadpool movie, which is much more entertaining than the entire film, with the exception of the final forest battle scene.

The year is 2029, Logan is a not-so-mild-mannered chauffeur who drives a 2024 Chrysler limousine in Texas for hire. He’s obviously aging, drinks profusely, staggers when he doesn’t limp and his power to self-heal is diminished by the poisonous effect of his adamantium skeleton. At a rainy funeral interment he’s confronted by Gabriela (Rodriguez), who recognizes him as Wolverine and begs him to go on a mission. He wants no part of it.

He drives back across the border into Mexico to an abandoned smelting plant in the middle of nowhere desert country, where Caliban (Merchant), the albino mutant tracker, and Charles/Professor Xavier are just getting by. The X-Men as a team are disbanded and as far as they know they’re the last of them. Charles is holed up in a toppled water tower and suffers from seizures (think telepathy gone wild) that paralyze normal people and cause severe pain to mutants unless he gets his medication. Logan uses the money he makes to score the drugs to control these seizures.

Long story shortened, Gabriela has smuggled several mutant children out of a laboratory belonging to Alkali-Transigen Corporation who were a part of a breeding program to control mutant behavior. The idea was to make them into weapons, but children will be children. There’s no controlling them. She brings Logan to meet Laura (Keen) who has a DNA similar to Logan’s and we learn soon on can sprout blades from her knuckles as he does. One difference, though, she can also generate these weapons from her toes.

Gabriela and Laura are pursued by Daniel Pierce (Holbrook) Transigen’s security chief and his robotically enhanced army of “reavers.” When they brutally murder Gabriela, Logan takes her seriously and brings Laura back to the hideout. Charles recognizes Laura for what she is immediately, but Logan refuses to believe that he could have a daughter.

Nevertheless, an attack by the reavers and Pierce forces Logan, Charles and Laura onto a journey to join her with the other mutant children in North Dakota. From there they hope to cross the border into Canada to a safe place called “Eden” extracted from a Marvel comic book. On the way, they make the acquaintance of the Munson family, Will (La Salle), his wife Kathryn (Neal) and their son Nate (Quincy Fouse) when a highway accident causes their horses to escape the Munsons’ trailer. Charles uses his telepathy to corral the horses and the Munsons invite the three mutants to dinner. Charles tries to use this opportunity as an example of how endearing family life can be to Logan but he doesn’t get it. The movie is not the only thing that’s slow here.

Pierce has captured Caliban and tortures him with sunlight until he agrees to use his mutant tracking power to find Laura, Logan and Charles and soon, they’re at the Munsons home and the poor Munsons get the worst part of that deal.

At one point toward the end of the movie, Logan confesses to Laura: “Bad things happen to people I care about.” And he’s right. Bad things happen to nearly everyone in this picture. It’s more like Marvel Comics meets Stephen King. The fight scenes are wildly violent and bloody, more than one head is lopped off or run through. If you like gore, this movie has it in spades. In fact the violence is so gratuitous it didn't impact me and eventually I didn’t care who won the battle, who was the hero and who was the villain. I found it tiresome. It could very well have been done in under an hour and 45 minutes, possibly without the vulgarity. But I do know there will be another episode centering around the children. Maybe it will be better. They’re cuter.

Rating: 1½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Pondicheri Café
15 West 27th Street, New York

More like a bistro than a formal restaurant, Pondicheri has high ceilings, an open kitchen, plastic stools at the bar, aluminum chairs at the tables and cushion-less bare wood banquettes. The menu is a single laminated card with food on one side, drinks on the other. 

My server, Rafael, asked if I wanted a cocktail. He assured me the Crocus Sativus was made with gin and could be made with any gin they had. Beefeaters it is! The menu touted it simply as a saffron spin on a wet martini. A very attractive topaz yellow, it was a little spicy, a little lemony and a delicious martini.

Rafael helped me navigate the menu, loaded with strange categories like To Share…Or Not, Thalis (a kind of dinner sampling on a tray), For the Table, and Sides. He explained each category, pointing out the full-sized skillet on the next table as the Aviyal, a For the Table selection (impressively large). I knew what to do and ordered my meal and wine.

For the wine I chose the 2014 Bedrock Zinfandel from California. A beautiful dark red, full bodied with a definite blackberry flavor and soft tannins, it had peppery finish that would accent any spice on any dish.

My appetizer arrived. The khandvi was a dish I’ve never seen in any Indian restaurant and I was glad I ordered it: soft dough made from savory chickpeas rolled into pinwheels stuffed with coconut, cashews, sesame, herbs and spices, sliced and served in a yoghurt pomegranate sauce. The coconut was just a flavor and the cashews, finely minced, added a nutty flavor, but the sauce was the amazing part. The creamy smooth yoghurt had a spicy tang to it, moderated by the tart flavor of the pomegranate. A delightful finger-food complimented perfectly by the zinfandel.

After a little while my soup was delivered. Called red beet soup, it was roasted red beet soup with coconut, ginger and mustard seeds and a paneer (Indian home-made cheese) cutlet poking its head above the soup. It was blood red, a little viscous, and had a hearty, sweet flavor. When combined with a piece of the cheese and other ingredients, it was a marvel of cuisine and an almost erotic experience.

Since I know someone from Kerala (pronounced care-uh-luh) I chose the Kerala shrimp – shrimp and winter squash sautéed with coconut, sesame, kari (curry) leaf and a ginger masala. It was delicious, but I could not detect a hint of masala (spice). The shrimp were tender and fresh and the shells on the tails came off easily. The squash was still crunchy and flavorful but the overall taste was more sweet than spicy. The rice was not basmati rice, and though colored by turmeric, it was not flavored by it and was a little over-cooked. Otherwise, it was good. 

The bread, however, was amazing. The pistachio and apricot naan was totally new to me. (I had Peshawari naan before and it’s the closest match to this nutty, sweet bread.) The mint chutney accompanying it gave the bread a minty, spicy accent.

Though I finished my main course and the bread, I had the remainder of the rice boxed up to go home as I needed to save room for dessert. And what a dessert! The signature dish for Pondicheri Café is chai pie, made with a Parle-G crust (an Indian biscuit dough), and a combination of caramel and chai (spiced tea) pastry cream whipped into a dense, custard-like filling (almost as dense as firm ice cream) and topped with fresh whipped cream and candied cashews. It was dreamy. I got so involved in the flavors of caramel and spice and tea that I didn’t need my usual hot tea.

Rafael told me that Pondicheri has been doing business for eight months now and I could see by the clientele that they are successful. I thanked Rafael for his wonderful service, picked up my takeout and was about to leave the restaurant when the hostess offered me a unique pastry. She placed it in a white bag and I popped it into my takeout bag. The nearest thing I can compare it to is a blueberry biscuit, though it looked like a fruitcake/stollen hybrid. It was crunchy and sweet and had a crunchy sugar topping. Very nice. The next time I dine at Pondicheri I will bring a friend. I want to try their version of my favorite Indian dish Lamb Roghan Josh, one of those large For the Table dishes.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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