Monday, September 24, 2012

Robot & Frank

Dinner and a Movie

Robot and Remi (My 2,500th Anniversary)

By Steve Herte

After the workout at the office - directing the repairmen to six ceiling lighting fixtures, guiding a delivery of a skid of 28 printers and a skid of 84 toner cartridges to the fifth floor, re-stacking the printers for processing and storing the toners, and completing input of the 13 time-sheets by noon, I was ready for a great evening and it delivered. A great movie and an even greater restaurant was exactly the gratification I needed. So for your enjoyment, here is my latest Dinner and a Movie.

Robot & Frank (Stage 6 Films, 2012) Director: Jake Scheier. Starring: Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon, Jeremy Strong, Jeremy Sisto, Peter Sarsgaard (voice). 

Maybe I haven’t seen all of Frank Langella’s movies but I’ve seen enough to know he’s a reliable talent and excellent actor. If I never saw any of his movies but this one I would know the same. Here we see him as aging senior who lives alone in a rural area “some time in the near future” who has been divorced for 30 years, is developing stage one Alzheimer’s, did time in prison for jewel-thieving activities, has a son, Hunter (James Marsden) who is getting tired of the five-hour drive to visit him, and a daughter, Maddy (Liv Tyler) who video-calls him from Uzbekistan (she’s on a good-will tour).

One day, Hunter visits and brings a five-foot tall white robot with a space-helmet-style head and only a black “visor” where facial features would be. The Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) is programmed to do all indoor and outdoor chores and tend all of Frank’s needs. The relationship between Frank and the Robot (who never receives a name) progresses from “That thing will kill me in my sleep!” to a realization of the need for companionship, to genuine caring. Soon Frank realizes that the Robot will do anything necessary to please him providing it improves his health mentally and physically.

Frank is infatuated with Jennifer, the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) and learns that the yuppies who control the neighborhood are going to remove all the books and turn the building into a social gathering center. The way Frank looked at Jennifer I began to suspect that she was indeed his long-divorced wife. Then Jennifer shows him where the most precious books are kept and delicately leafs through an ornate antique copy of “Don Quixote” with him. After meeting Jake, the yuppie-in-charge (Jeremy Strong), and instantly disliking his sarcastic, condescending attitude, Frank decides to do something about this change.

He teaches the Robot how to pick a lock and gets blueprints of the library and plans to steal the book. Seeing how this benefits Frank’s memory capacity, the Robot goes along with the plan and they successfully heist the book. Frank’s reading glasses are left at the scene however, and this makes Jake suspicious. He brings Sheriff Rowlings (Jeremy Sisto) to Frank’s house and all looks fine because the sheriff doesn’t believe that this old codger stole the book.

At the opening day party for the new social center, Frank intends to present the book to Jennifer but sees the fantastic jewels worn by Jake’s wife. He makes a new plan with the Robot to steal them and the two are successful, but Jake’s suspicion increases. Circumstantial evidence begins piling up until the ultimate confrontation with the sheriff when Hunter leaves Frank’s house with an old briefcase. The sheriff demands he open it and out pour – not jewels – but designer soaps Frank lifted from the boutique which was once his favorite breakfast spot.

The most touching scene is towards the end when Frank and the Robot are speeding away from capture and the Robot recommends that Frank reformat his memory so that they cannot download incriminating evidence from his chips. Frank, probably realizing what the Alzheimer’s is doing to him rebels vehemently at removing the Robot’s memory, but eventually concedes. After he does and the Robot falls limp into his arms you almost see him cry.

Robot & Frank is a beautiful story of loneliness, friendship, family and nostalgia. The exquisite baroque choral music in the background accentuates the joy and sadness of memories gained and lost and you can almost feel the conflict it has with the spacey futuristic music of Francis and the Lights (including Theremin sounds). The story is told with clever humor and taste. When Frank winds up in a remarkably well-appointed senior assisted-living center at the end, he sees a fellow resident followed by a robot who is identical to his. It turns his way and he gazes at it hopefully. When it follows its owner into a doorway and another resident appears followed by a second identical robot, Frank realizes it was not his. The credits scroll contemporaneously with a slide show of the latest advances in robot technology to improve the movie’s credibility. Though not a movie for the children, at an hour and a half it’s a must-see for anyone who knows of or cares for a senior citizen. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

145 West 53rd Street (between 6th and 7th), New York City

On entering Remi, one is immediately struck by the height of its ceiling. The 60 indoor tables and several more in the atrium outside are dwarfed by 18-foot walls and an arched ceiling floating above them. Indoor, all is almond-colored paneling rising to a room length mural of Venice done in bright pastels. The wall facing it is all doors with gauzy café curtains and surmounted by windows and topped with mirrors to reflect the mural to diners below. The outdoor section is spacious and populated by potted palms right to the looming glass-block far wall. All is white tablecloths and crystal with black and white striped banquettes lining the mural wall and black seats.

I received the menu, cocktail list and wine list immediately upon being seated, but after mistaking my waiter for a busboy I had ample time to read all three over a glass of water. When I realized my mistake I ordered their version of a Cosmopolitan which was frothy, pink and sweet. Since this restaurant marks my 2,500th dining experience (and 336th Italian) I immediately chose a 2008 Zeni Amarone which was remarkably affordable for my celebration to accompany my dinner. It was a husky, full-bodied wine, deep red in color and had an excellent after-taste.

When my waiter assured me that the pastas can be made in half-orders I knew what to choose. My appetizer was Carciofi Arrostiti alla Veneziana: roasted baby artichokes (edged in a beautiful shade of deep pink) in a green parsley sauce with roasted garlic, red olives and pecorino cheese – absolutely delightful. The waiter brought the bread basket full of slender breadsticks, which were wonderful when dipped in the dish of ricotta cheese surrounded by tomato sauce and garnished with oregano.

The second course was Cicatelli alla Pugliese con Ragu, Polpettine di Agnello e Parmigiano di Bufala Stagionato: Large Ricotta Cavatelli in a Lamb Ragout with Lamb Meatballs and aged pecorino cheese – a truly marvelous dish (and my favorite pasta). The Cavatelli was perfectly al dente and the sauce and meatballs were of excellent consistency and flavor. I was already forgetting I was in New York City. I was in Milan.

Having finished both dishes I knew ahead of time I would not be able to finish the main course, Ossobuco (another favorite of mine) – Braised Veal Shank with Saffron Risotto – so, even though the aroma was enticing and the flavor made my taste buds dance, I finished half and had the remainder wrapped up for home. I was anticipating a wonderful dessert.

On the Specials Menu, I had noticed my favorite Italian dessert, Zabaglione – a fabulous confection involving egg yolks, Marsala wine and sugar all whipped together into a froth and served with fresh berries. This dish, however, was “iced.” The Zabaglione was transformed into a sexy pudding mound in the center of a lake of strawberry syrup with sliced strawberries, raspberries and blackberries surrounding it. Oh joy!

Then my waiter brought a small stemmed glass of sparkling Moscato wine which was a delightful palate-cleanser for the après-dinner drinks. The double espresso was a nice, hot complement to the snifter of Strega (the only test I put to this restaurant, and they passed with flying colors).

Remi is an example of a restaurant that will last; good service, excellent foods, imaginative bar, and stunning ambiance. I even loved the sconces: a yellow inverted pyramid below a fuchsia red ball wearing a glass triangle like a jaunty beret. They even have a sense of humor.

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