Thursday, July 3, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Dinner and a Movie

Transforming Into a Mexican “Elvis”

By Steve Herte

Being on vacation can sometimes be tough (yeah right). For instance, I'm writing these reviews from my room at the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. I had a little trouble with the Internet here at first, but now I'm cooking on all cylinders. After a wonderful day of touring a coffee factory, Ben and Jerry's headquarters, a winery and a creamery making Vermont Cheddar, I'm amazed I'm hungry for dinner but I'll have to make a go of it. The mountains of Vermont are gorgeous and the weather is lovely. Speaking of lovely, Friday was an impressive time as well. Enjoy! 

Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount/Hasbro, 2014) Director: Michael Bay. Writer: Ehren Kruger. Cast: Mark Walhberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, T.J. Miller, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, James Bachman, Peter Cullen (voice), Mark Ryan, John Goodman (voice), Ken Watanbe (voice), John DiMaggio (voice), & Reno Wilson (Voice). Color and 3D, 165 minutes.

It is many years after the “Battle of Chicago” (Episode 3) and the governments of Earth (especially America) are fed up with titanic robots destroying cities and people while trying to assert dominance. The fact that Optimus Prime (voiced by Cullen) and his Autobots are the good guys and Megatron and his Decepticons are the bad doesn’t matter. There are pieces of transformers littering the planet and one man, Joshua Joyce (Tucci) and his company is gathering them up to hopefully gain the technology behind them and is using the captured Brains (Wilson), the smallest Autobot to assist in the process. Not only that, he has the backing of Harold Attinger (Grammer) a high government official, who is highly prejudiced against all giant alien beings.

The movie begins with an Arctic exploration led by Darcy Tirrel (Myles) who makes the discovery of a strange new T-Rex-like fossil made of some strange metal. The scene changes to a bucolic dust-bowl area of rural America where Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) and his daughter Tessa (Peltz) are just barely scraping out an existence. He is an inventor trying to create the next best thing (he even has a comical robot dog to guard their front porch) and she’s a blossoming young woman who would rather have fun with her friends, meet boys and stop her father from spending every last penny on hauling “junk” back to their barn. Cade enlists the service (and cash) of Lucas Flannery (Miller) to tow a broken-down big-rig tractor to his home.

After some tinkering and the removal of several mortar shells he attaches a battery to it and hears the message of Optimus Prime calling out to all Autobots about the need to go underground and concludes he indeed has a transformer. With a few jury-rigged parts the fixed Optimus Prime roars back to life and Cade carefully has to explain that they’re not the enemy. Lucas knows about the $25,000 reward for turning in any transformer and notifies the authorities without Cade's knowledge. This brings a train of black FBI vans onto the property and the ruthless leader James Savoy (Welliver) threatens to kill Tessa to find Optimus Prime – who explodes from the barn with guns blazing. It looks like he has the upper hand until Attinger’s back-up, another transformer named Lockdown (Ryan) appears and sends Cade, Tessa and her boyfriend Shane Dyson (Reynor) fleeing in Optimus Prime’s cab (in his truck form). Lucas is torched in the cross-fire.

The other Autobots, Hound (Goodman), Drift (Watanabe), Crosshairs (DiMaggio) and Bumblebee (who doesn’t get to talk in this episode) are holed-up in Monument Valley waiting for Optimus Prime. At Joshua Joyce’s laboratory they are building a new transformer they call Galvatron but what they are unwittingly doing is refurbishing Megatron because Brains is downloading all of Megatron’s memory into the new robot and Joshua is shocked when, not only can the new robot talk (Frank Welker) but he has very little control of him. His scientist, Gill Wembley (Bachman) has analyzed the “metal” composing the living robots and wants to patent it as “transformium” because it can assume any shape you can think of and, using this knowledge, they have created a whole group of transformers from this material, not knowing that Galvatron/Megatron can and will use them to further his own agenda, the extermination of the human race.

Conflict all around: Cade has to convince the Autobots that mankind is worth saving and protecting and at the same time he has the immense task of getting used to the fact that his daughter is growing up and has a racecar-driving boyfriend (whose expertise comes in very handy a couple of times). Attinger has made a deal with Lockdown to obtain the “Seed” – a particularly nasty bomb accredited in the beginning of the movie with extermination of the dinosaurs (and the creation of several dinobots), which he intends to use to create unlimited transformium for his army of robots intended to combat all alien robots. However, Joshua has managed to swipe it from him and he’s trying hard just to stay alive. Optimus Prime is kidnapped by Lockdown but is rescued by his Autobots and unleashes the Dinobots in the final battle against Attinger's and Lockdown's forces.

As with the three previous movies there is an immense amount of action, things blowing up and subtle humor thrown in for relief. Wahlberg seems to be channeling Robert Downey Jr. and doing pretty well at it. In general, the cast is doing a good job but Grammer does a sterling performance, making you hate him for his brutality and relentless bigotry (probably something he learned from playing the part of “Beast” in X-Men). It’s a great action movie for kids older than toddlers who can understand what’s happening. The vulgarity is kept to a minimum and the violence is obvious but not overplayed. My only problem with the film is this – if the new transformers can de-materialize and reform at will, why are they stopped completely when a head is removed or the body is crunched by the T-Rex? Hey, it’s two hours and 45 minutes of genuine science fiction and fantasy mixed together. Just sit back and enjoy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

El Vez New York
259 Vesey StreetNew York

In my several trips to Philadelphia, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of Stephen Starr’s excellent and varied restaurants. When I heard that he opened a second one in New York I knew I had to try it (the first was Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant in the Meat Packing District). Each trip to Philly I make it a point to visit El Vez, a kitchy modern Mexican named after a character who dresses up and sings like a Mexican version of Elvis (hence the name of the place and the reason why it doesn’t translate into English well).

El Vez New York is not only three times the size of the original but it is located around the corner from the movie theater in a spot formerly occupied by Chevy’s Mexican, and as soon as New Yorkers knew that, it was appropriately packed on a Friday night – but I had a reservation while others had a 45-minute wait. The same designer was called in to work his magic on El Vez New York, made obvious by the presence of the flaming red Texaco Pegasus on one wall and various Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) motifs here and there and one window covered by a giant macramé shade.

My server Brenton and I struck up a great relationship when he learned how familiar I am with El Vez and when I learned he’s a native Philadelphian. He brought me my water, the menu and wine/cocktail/beer list and took my drink order. I chose the Mescal Martini – Fidencio Unico (a Mescal made from the agave plant), Dolin Blanc (a dry Vermouth) and grapefruit bitters. It was as close as a Mexican recipe can come to a very good martini and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The menu is larger than the one in Philly and is divided into two main categories: El Aperitivo (with subtitles of Salsa Y Guacamole, Ceviches, Antojitos, Nachos Y Fundidos, Sopas Y Ensaladas) and El Plato Principal (Tacos & Enchiladas, Especialidades, Tacos al Carbon for 2, and Adicionales–sides). To get an idea of how large the portions were I gave Brenton a small list of the dishes that interested me and he helped me construct a three-course dinner. The wine selection by the glass was quite impressive and inspired me to do my own wine pairing with each dish.

I started with the Snapper Aquachile (which means “water of Chile,” a sauce made from chilies, herbs and cucumber as a ceviche marinade) – ginger, toasted morita (a smoked and dried jalapeno – chipotle) chili, and cucumber – tender marinated filets of pale pink fish neatly arranged on a long plate just hinting of the flavors it was prepared in. Lovely! I paired it with the 2011 Garnacha Las Rocas from Calatayud – a medium-bodied red that enhanced without interfering with the flavor of the ceviche.

Second was a dish I’ve had repeatedly at the original, the Tortilla Soup 6 – chicken, avocado, crunchy tortilla strips, crema fresca and queso fresco (fresh cheese) along with the 2009 Tempranillo Rioja Vega from Rioja, Spain. The two made love to each other as they combined to play Mariachi serenades in my mouth.

The best was yet to come. I ordered this dish partially because of its outlandish name. The Holy Molé – a tasting of molés (chocolate/chili sauces) – negro with lamb, poblano (a mild chili pepper) with chicken and pipian rojo (pumpkin seed sauce) with pork – a trio of tantalizing flavors in varying degrees of spiciness and chocolaty sweetness with tender chunks of meat, served in a four-sectioned terra-cotta plate with a central handle (the fourth space was occupied by the Spanish rice) proved itself to be a Mexican tour-de-force! I was ‘Ooh-ing’ and ‘Ah-ing’ to the last bite. The 2011 Malbec Catena from Vista Flores vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina held its own against all three in a wonderful dance.

One would think that after all this (and I did finish every dish) there would be no room for dessert, but you should know me by now. The Chocolate Taco 6 (any chocolate lover can tell you that you cannot have too much chocolate) was a crispy waffle taco stuffed with Dulce de Leche ice cream and finished off with a crust of dark chocolate fudge studded with peanuts – Heaven! I asked Brenton if they had Tia Maria as an after-dinner drink but that was not to be. He suggested a dessert coffee and I suggested making it with espresso instead of regular coffee. He agreed and the next thing I knew the bartender visited my table congratulating me on creating her new favorite drink.

I had a spectacular time at El Vez New York; the same as I always had at the original in Philadelphia. Someday I have to meet this Stephen Starr. I’ll put it on my “bucket list.”

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment