Sunday, March 11, 2018

Black Panther

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Black Panther (Marvel/Disney, 2018) – Director: Ryan Coogler. Writers: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole (s/p). Stan Lee, Jack kirby (characters). Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Basset, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani & David S. Lee. Color, Rated PG-13, 134 minutes.

The length of this film, coupled with its huge popularity, kept me from seeing it on opening night. But now, I’ve experienced the power and the majesty and frankly, I was blown away. The imagination, the fabulous photography, the social lesson taught and the dignified acting all combine to become a moving epic of what is right or wrong, good or bad.

There was no being bitten by a radioactive spider or exile from an exploding planet or even vigilantism as a result of the murder of one’s parents. This superhero is a king of his mythical African country, Wakanda. Though considered a third-world country by the rest of the world, Wakanda is technologically superior to the greatest world powers thanks to vibranium, the hardest metal known to man with special powerful properties, thanks to a meteorite that landed there.

We’re at the coronation ceremony of King T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman). As he flies in a tricked out flying saucer to a nondescript jungle-covered mountain region he says, “This never gets old.” And suddenly the city of Wakanda’s capital materializes where before there was only trees, with mag-lev trains and multistory towers. Four of the five tribes, Panther, River, Mining and Merchant do not challenge his authority. But M’Baku (Duke) of the Jabari Tribe steps forward and has to fight T’Challa (minus his Black Panther powers) until he’s forced to yield and T’Challa gets the kingly necklace (not a crown).

When Ulysses Klaue (Serkis) steals a Wakandan artifact from the British Museum with intent to sell it in South Korea, T’Challa travels to Busan undercover with Nakia (Nyong’o), his ex-lover, and Dora Milaje General Okoye (Gurira). But they soon learn that CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Freeman) is also after the artifact, to make a deal with Klaue and bring him back to the States. But in an ensuing firefight, Erik Killmonger (Jordan) and his men capture Klaue and leave Ross seriously wounded and T’Challa considering his failure.

Against Okoye’s advice, T’Challa brings Ross to Wakanda and the advanced healing available in his sister Shuri’s (Wright) high-tech laboratory. Ross reveals that Erik is a dangerous black ops operative. T’Challa consults Zuri about N’Jobu and learns that he was intending to share Wakandan technology with all people of African descent in an attempt to rise up against their “oppressors.” Meanwhile, Killmonger slaughters Klaue and brings him back to the four other tribal leaders. From this starting point he reveals his right to the throne of Wakanda as son of N’Jobu and challenges T’Challa, and wins, to the horror of T’Challa’s Mom Ramonda (Bassett), throwing T’Challa over an impossibly high waterfall.

The all-woman army perforce has to side with Erik as king and Ross, Shuri, Ramonda and Nakia flee to M’Baku seeking help from the Jabari tribe. From here the movie morphs into a more Disney-like fantasy as the powers of good and evil battle it out to the end. We get to see T’Challa’s former right-hand man W’Kabi (Kaluuya) call and ride an armored rhinoceros.

That was just one of the marvelous special effects in Black Panther. A “heart-shaped herb,” taken from glowing purple calla lilies is what, when ground to a purple liquid, gives the Black Panther his powers. The costume is a wonder unto itself. Shuri’s creation, it emanates from a necklace of silver “teeth” T’Challa wears around his neck. Of course there had to be two of these necklaces for Erik to choose the gold one and fight T’Challa.

As I mentioned before, the acting is dignified. The Wakandans are unimpressed with the backward technology of the rest of the world. The humor is subtle and clever, “Guns, how primitive.” The costumes, particularly those of the warrior women, are spectacular. The film is squeaky clean of all vulgarity and despite the violence, there is minimal bloodshed. The action only lets up to give the audience a breather and then ramps up again. If you pay close attention you’ll see Stan Lee do a cameo as a thirsty gambler in the casino in Busan.

I learned through my research that the film was almost called the more species-correct “Black Leopard” to keep from identifying with the famous Black Panther Party. Though not for toddlers, older children will like this film and may even get the moralistic import. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Why didn’t I give it a perfect score? It never grabbed me by the heart and made me want to cry. Remember to stay halfway through the credits for extra scenes.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

179 Franklin Street (Greenwich Street)
New York City

I had a reservation at an American restaurant with the French-sounding name, “Yves.” I was on time for my reservation of 7:45 and entered. There was no one behind the bar, no one at any of the tables, no one scuttling back and forth serving. There were even plates with food still on them left on the tables. Then someone entered behind me and told me, “We’re evacuating!” I stepped out and move half a block away and saw three fire engines arrive. Strange, I thought, I smelled nothing, saw no flames. All I knew was that I had to find another place to eat. Fortunately, less than a block away was Thalassa.

They were not having a busy night and I was given a warm welcome and a table having a full view of the main dining area. After a brief calming period I ordered the Greek Pear Martini – Absolut Pear Vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, muddled pear nectar, and a pear garnish. Not all pear-flavored liquors are pleasant, but this was different because it had enough of the true pear flavor to be not exactly sweet, but not medicine-y tasting.

My server returned with an espresso cup filled with Clam Chowder as an Amuse Bouche. It was creamy and delicious with only finely diced bits of clam in it. I sipped it while perusing the wine list. I asked my server about the wine I wanted. He found it for me, among the Greek white wines and said he’d bring it to me to taste and see if I liked it. The 2016 “Neilis” Malagouzia, Anastasia Fragou vineyards, Attiki, Greece was in a beautiful greenish tinted bottle with a black cork. The almost colorless wine was refreshing, tasting of green grass with hints of strawberry and light tannins. 

My first course was Octopodi, octopus imported from Portugal, grilled with micro organic greens, olive oil, and in a red wine vinaigrette. I always marvel at how octopus can be made so tender and juicy. This one had a smoky, crisp skin.

I’m not a vegetarian, but my next course could have converted me. The Organic Black Quinoa with grilled Cauliflower in Sweet Potato puree, with (again) micro greens and truffle oil was a delight with every forkful. I’m not a novice with quinoa but I’m loving it more with every taste of it. These had a woodsy, earthy crunch and combined with the smoky cauliflower and the really sweet sauce, it was ambrosia. I’m definitely growing cauliflower in my garden this year.

For my entree I chose the Turbot Fillet – pan seared with artichokes, leeks and fresh herb fricassee – was actually two plates. The twin fish fillets were resting on asparagus spears with a tomato/orzo ball and topped with more micro greens. Two large artichoke hearts were on a separate plate with the rest of the ingredients. Everything was tender enough to cut with a fork. The fish was light and flaky, the asparagus crisp and not overcooked, and the artichokes were cleaned of all those cactus-like spines one finds in whole artichokes and soaked in olive oil.

For dessert, my favorite Greek dessert, Galaktoboureko – citrus custard layered in filo dough, drizzled with honey and served with orange slices and blackberries. Though I love Baklava, my heart belongs to the dessert whose name, loosely translated means “milk pie.” Sweet, flaky and wonderful with sweet Greek coffee.

As I was leaving, the manager gave me packets of homemade Greek cookies with cards attached entitling me to a free dessert and after dinner wine at my next visit. I wonder if Yves could have been as good?

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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