Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Dinner and a Movie

The Amazing Giorgio

By Steve Herte

This has been a week of surprises. On Tuesday at karaoke I never would have suspected that the host would let me sing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” but he did. I’m trying to knit a baby blanket for the upcoming child of my goddaughter and the instructions are so vague I’ve ripped it out twice already. At work, I received the second list of volunteer names from our major partner and they actually admitted to listing two duplicate names (in the past they actually did have two volunteers with exactly the same name, so I had to question them). My financial adviser, whom I’ve known for less than a year, notified me he’s changing companies but sent the notices to my brother instead. My quartet has (so far) agreed on another reunion on May 23rd, yippee! The Post Office notified me via email that they could not deliver a package on Wednesday but they waited until Saturday to tell me and it’s probably the plants and seeds I ordered. I hope they’re OK by today when I can pick them up. And, of course, Friday always has surprises (usually the restaurant) and this time was no different. Enjoy!

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marvel Enterprises/Columbia, 2014) - Director: Marc Webb. Writers: Alec Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner (s/p). Alec Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, & James Vanderbilt (story). Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (comic book). Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott, Max Charles. Color and 3D, 142 minutes.

After five Spider-man movies (Spider-Man in 2002, Spider-Man 2 in 2004, Spider-Man 3 in 2007, and The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012) is anyone as confused as I am? When I was reading Marvel comic books way back when, Peter Parker was Spider-Man and May Jane (M.J. to Peter) was his high school sweetheart. This worked in the first three movies until M.J. suddenly wasn’t a redhead anymore. (Sure, throw the comic book character out with the hair-dye.)

Now we have Gwen Stacy (Stone) as his high school sweetheart, a vivacious blonde and M.J. is out of the picture. I was trying to categorize this latest edition as a prequel-sequel but it doesn’t work that way. The story inter-links with the first three movies as far as time frame goes. And this movie makes it more complex by going back and forth in time.

It starts with Peter as a child (Charles) and his parents Richard and Mary (Scott and Daviditz) are leaving for parts unknown on a private jet. The jet is high-jacked while Richard is trying to upload a program called simply “Roosevelt,” and there is a scuffle resulting in Mary being shot and Richard depressurizing the plane to get their attacker swept out in the suction, which works. He successfully uploads the program but, with the pilot dead and the plane disabled, they crash.

The scene switches to New York City and Aleksei, a bald terrorist with a Russian accent (Giamatti), is driving an impossibly armored truck through the streets followed by a flotilla of police cars. He and his men have stolen a shipment of plutonium (don’t ask me where they got it, this is fiction) and are now careening this way, smashing vehicles and anything else in the way with Spider-Man (Garfield) hot on their heels. Thank goodness there is a computerized voice (which they ignore) that informs them of the high radioactivity of plutonium and the possibility of it exploding (I thought that applied to nitroglycerin, but this is fiction). Nevertheless, they and Spider-Man handle these bright yellow glowing flasks as if they were volatile lemonade and Spidey eventually snags them all just in time to make his high school graduation ceremony. He arrives on stage as his name is called, accepts his diploma and plants a big kiss on Gwen, the valedictorian.

Peter remembers the promise he made to Gwen’s deceased father in the previous movie (2012) that he would “stay away from her” and visualizes him staring at her at various points in the film. This doesn’t make their relationship any easier.

About midway in the plutonium chase, Spider-Man saves Max Dillon (Foxx) from being killed by a flying vehicle, snatches up the armload of blueprints he was carrying and makes a major impression on the man telling him he “needs” him to be his eyes and ears. Max is star-struck, especially because it’s his birthday and no one at Oscorp where he works even notices him. But Spider-Man “NEEDS” him. Back at the office he endures the ultimate mortification when everyone goes home and he has to repair an electrical break on a high floor. Even the men at the control box ignore him when he asks them to turn off the power. At first it looks like he succeeds in his mission when a huge jolt of electricity zaps him and he falls several stories into a tank of electric eels (frankly, they look like morays but again, this is fiction) who bite him repeatedly until the tank breaks.

Remarkably, after a while of lying in a morgue he reanimates and discovers his new ability to control electricity and causes havoc in Times Square where Spider-Man tries to calm him down. But a trigger-happy policeman causes Max to believe that Spider-Man has let him down and lied to him (joining the hordes of other people) and while in stasis at Oscorp he develops into “Electro.”

Time for another back-story: Harry Osborn (DeHaan), son of Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin), returns to take over Oscorp and manages to alienate the entire board of directors. On his deathbed, Norman gives Harry a small device that Harry considers useless and he learns from his father that he has a genetic disease as his inheritance that will kill him. Knowing a little about Richard Parker’s experiments and being good friends with Peter, Harry decides that an infusion of Spider-Man’s blood could cure this disease. When Spider-Man refuses to donate his blood, he makes another enemy out of a friend. Harry is ousted by the board and in revenge, finds Electro and makes a deal with him. Electro gets the entire “grid” (which he turns out to be the designer of, by the way) if he gets Harry access to the secret laboratory under the Oscorp building where, he has learned, the venom from the original spiders that bit Peter is kept. He forces Donald Menken (Feore) to inject him and becomes (you guessed it) another Green Goblin.

Are you confused yet? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has much going in its favor. The special effects are eye-popping, with the 3D adding the plunges the audience takes with Spider-Man off the tops of skyscrapers, and the soundtrack is exciting and follows the action perfectly. It’s a visually beautiful movie and the slow-motion scenes do not detract from the action. I can even forgive the science errors. Stone is ravishing, a wonderful character. Garfield is growing into his role. By the end of the picture, he’s the wisecracking Spider-Man we all know and love but it seems to take so long (2 hours and 22 minutes) for him to get there. Some of his dialogues are so full of hems and haws I wanted to call “Cut!” Field is an excellent actress but she is miscast as Aunt May (or maybe just mis-made-up). Despite her maturity, she doesn’t fit the gray-haired (and she’s not in this film) hair-in-a-bun old lady that Aunt May was in the comic books. 

Humor was used well in the movie, especially in the battle scene between Spider-Man and Electro at the power station. There are several upright structures Spider-Man bounces off and each one produces a musical tone creating the song “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to which we hear Spider-Man shout, “I hate that song!” As for family entertainment, don’t bring babies and don’t bring children easily influenced by violence. There’s minimal blood and no overt sex, but a lot of banging around, so parents, you be the judge.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Giorgio’s of Gramercy
27 East 21st Street (between Broadway and 5th Ave.), New York

Did I ever mention how many Italian restaurants there are in New York City, even if we're not counting “Little Italy?” According to my database, this was my 355th and I’m nowhere near the end. And as far as Tony’s DiNapoli’s claim to being “New York’s Best Italian” is concerned, Giorgio’s adds to the multitude of “much better” Italian restaurants.

Outside, the entrance is flanked by two faux Doric columns and shaded by a modest black awning with white lettering and graced by a small potted garden. Inside, the elegant glittering crystal chandeliers light your way past the small bar to the dining area bisected by a glowing faux marble counter surmounted by an enormous vase of cherry blossoms. The deep-blood-red walls sport abstract art and traditional jazz plays moderately on the speakers. One would almost expect Frank Sinatra to appear from the back and ask, “How you doin’, pal?”

I had to wait a little while for my table to be prepared while I spoke briefly to the Mâitre D’ and the (I didn’t know it then) Wine Director James, who would become my server for the evening. I was led to a table next to the glowing counter under the cherry blossom extravaganza on a comfortable but slightly forward-slanted banquette with a big pillow for my back. Fine enough, and it’s a good vantage point.

The Mâitre D’ brought the menu, cocktail list and wine list – all neatly bound in leather – and took my water preference. When he came back with the pitcher I was ready for a cocktail because the Detroit Red bounced off the page at me. The jalapeno-spiced 15-year-aged rye potion arrived in a pleasing egg-shaped tumbler with a black straw protruding and a wedge of lime perched on the edge. Two shades darker than the sanguinary walls it was a tongue-tingling sinfully delicious draft.

The menu is very straightforward with categories of Appetizers, Soup and Salad, Pasta, Seafood Entrees, Meat Entrees, Sides and Desserts. James appeared and asked to explain certain specials and other items on the menu. His descriptions and enthusiasm about the dishes made my decision a difficult one indeed. I asked him if it would be too much if I chose an appetizer, soup, half order of pasta (the Pappardelle with veal sounded particularly good) and a main course and he simply said yes and I should eliminate either the soup or the pasta. Wow! This became the first time I have ever dined at an Italian restaurant and did not have pasta.

He asked if liked oysters and described the most outrageous (and enticing) recipe I’ve ever heard, stating if I didn’t like it, he would pay for it. I ordered the Roasted Oysters on the half shell. These six wonders of the deep were lightly roasted in their liquor with black truffle butter and onions needing no special sauce to improve them and resting on a small mound of fluffy mashed potatoes. They were like seafood candy and the mashed potatoes acted as a palate cleanser between oysters. There was soon nothing left but the shells. James was pleased. He then saw me reading the wine list and told me proudly that he has tried every wine on the list and I should give him a price range and he would fit the wine to my meal. I gave him a choice of five – two French, two American and one Spanish varietal. He brought the 2006 Bohórquez Reserva Tempranillo/Cabernet/Merlot varietal from Bibera Del Duero, Spain. The tart Spanish Tempranillo flavor was smoothed out by the Cabernet and Merlot grapes from the Bordeaux region of France and made a lovely, rich, deep red, velvety wine, perfect for my dinner.

The second course was the Tuscan Soup – the soup of the day – a hearty, creamy vegetable soup with escarole, carrots, delicate (almost translucent) cubed potatoes and crumbled sausage meat. It was difficult to eat this soup slowly and savor every spoonful, but I did it. I was already praising the chef on his masterly use of the lowly potato when the main course arrived.

The Seared Duck Breast was sliced and fanned out on a plate with a mound of vegetable spaghetti mixed with Enoki mushrooms and bacon serving as the pivot point of the fan. The pomegranate sauce oozed to one side of the tender meat. It was a lovely combination of flavors, the earthy bacon and mushrooms, the slightly gamey duck and the tartly sweet pomegranate moderated by the turnip-like green of the spaghetti squash. I was delighted and tried to not go into a feeding frenzy. The sliced sesame baguette helped get every drop of that sauce.

When I told James that I’ve had Baked Alaska in the restaurant where it was invented he advised me against choosing it as a dessert. Instead, I had the S’More Bread Pudding in a chocolate-marshmallow, caramel sauce, with vanilla gelato and accompanying graham cracker. It was as much fun to eat as it was to look at, with little crunchy chocolate balls strewn on the drizzled caramel. A nice double espresso later and I was happy and finished.

Giorgio’s of Gramercy has been around for a long time. The nearest I can figure the date of opening is somewhere in the sixties and thanks to Chef Craig Stafford the cuisine has been honed to an art form. James asked if I would be back and I said of course! I still haven’t had the pasta!

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