Monday, August 24, 2015

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Dinner and a Movie

Rogue Nation and Rogan Josh

By Steve Herte

Been to any good barbeques lately? I just attended a dandy. The lead singer in my quartet is a chef by profession and when he invited us all to his house for “just a barbeque” we jumped at the chance. He’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and nothing he creates is ordinary. And he didn’t disappoint. The various guests brought salads and a bread-loaf dip as well as wines. But he did the rest. There was pulled pork, bratwursts, Italian hot sausages, chicken cutlet and legs, and a whole deep-fried turkey! It was amazing. Don’t get me started on the dessert table!

Add to that, he also invited several other quartets to the barbeque and there was singing almost constantly as well as a parade of quartets to entertain the wives and significant others. I had a great time seeing people I’ve not seen in over eight years (since I left the Barbershop Society). Of course I had a lot of requests to come back to the chorus, even to just investigate how much better they are – we’ll see.

I was able to finally see a movie that interested me when it debuted, but due to the length of the film and the inconvenient times theaters presented it, I was unable to view it until now. The opportunity also facilitated my dining at my 140th Indian restaurant. Enjoy!

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount, 2015) – Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Writers: Christopher McQuarrie (s/p & story), Drew Pearce (story), Bruce Geller (television series). Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jingchu Zhang, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Alec Baldwin, Mateo Rufino, Fernabndo Abadie, Alec Utgoff, & Hermione Corfield. Color, PG-13, 131 minutes.

Before the opening credits, we see a field of grass from almost eye-level. A radio voice calls out to Benji Dunn (Pegg) and he pops up out of nowhere, covered in moss with his laptop. The radio voice is soon identified as William Brandt (Renner) and he’s very concerned about a “package” on a plane that should not be allowed to leave. We see the plane loaded, closed up and, its engines started, begin taxiing to take-off. Suddenly, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) bursts onto the scene and jumps onto the wing of the moving plane, speaking with Benji via headgear to have him hack into the plane’s computer system and open the door for him.

All the instructions are in Russian (after all, we are in Minsk, Belarus) and Benji hits the key to open the bomb bay loading door first. This alerts the crew and one goes back to investigate. Benji finally locates the key to open the side door where Ethan is hanging on for dear life as the plane rises into the sky and Ethan is sucked into the plane by the vacuum created by the two open doors. The “package” is a large flat of what look like giant cannon shells filled with nerve gas (obviously for terrorism purposes). Ethan is out of sight of the investigating crewmember who tries to get to the control to close the bomb bay door. When he turns around he only has time to see Ethan strapping himself to the “package” and pushing the button to deploy the parachute attached to it, making a swift exit out the back of the plane.

The familiar Mission Impossible music starts and so do the opening credits.

The scene changes and Ethan strolls into a record store where he starts an elaborate “code talk” with the store manager. At the end, she hands him a record and as if star-struck, she says, “It really IS you.” (Recognizing the famous Ethan Hunt.) Ethan enters a playing booth and starts up the turntable, placing the needle on the record. But instead of the familiar “Good morning Mr. Hunt…” from the Impossible Mission Force headquarters, he hears the voice of the Syndicate, sees Solomon Lane (Harris) shoot the young blonde store manager, and is overcome by the gas emanating from the self-destruct mechanism on the record. Hunt has been captured by the Syndicate.

Meanwhile, a federal committee has been convened and Alan Hunley (Baldwin), head of the CIA, is making a case for the disbanding of the IMF and transfer of all their operations to CIA control. Brandt tries to defend the IMF using their perfect results percentage. But the collateral damage caused by their “unorthodox methods” (a slide is presented showing a huge nick in the top of the Trans-America tower in San Francisco where a re-directed ballistic missile glanced off it on its way into the bay). Hunley follows this with before and after photos of yhe Kremlin and the destruction of St. Basil’s church. The IMF Team is to be called back in and disbanded, especially Ethan Hunt whose “obsession” with the “mythical” Syndicate has made him reckless.

But Ethan is a little tied up at the moment and in a dingy underground room, while the beautiful Ilsa Faust (Ferguson) slowly lays out her drugs and hypodermics to get him to talk. The door bursts open and in walks Janik Vinter (Hultén) aka “The Bone Doctor” with his henchmen, and he opens his case exposing several sinister cutting tools. Ilsa, insulted that the Syndicate is questioning her methods, assists in Ethan’s escape. Ethan contacts Brandt but advises him not to tell Hunley where he is. Brant has the fourth member of the team, Luther Stickell (Rhames), flown in to inform him of the IMF dissolution.

Then it gets complicated. Ethan learns of a plot to kill the Austrian Prime Minister at the opera house in Vienna and sends opera tickets to Benji in a ruse to get him involved in thwarting the attempt. It turns out there are three gunners, including Ilsa, going after the poor minister. Ethan and Benji avert the fatal shooting and the minister is only shot in the shoulder, but on his way to the hospital, his car is blown up. Ethan helps Ilsa escape because he knows of her connection with Lane and that this assassination was a test of her loyalty.

Lane wants Ilsa (he doesn’t know she’s undercover for British Intelligence) to steal a thumb drive containing a ledger of money sources that will make the Syndicate invincible. She calls on Ethan to meet her in Casablanca, Morocco, to help her get it. With combined efforts of Benji, Ethan and Ilsa, they succeed, but almost at the cost of Ethan’s life. There is a long, high-speed motorcycle chase as Ilsa runs off with the thumb drive, pursued by Lane’s men (and Ethan). She escapes and makes it back to London.

On the Thames, Ilsa meets with Atlee (McBurney), the Prime Minister’s number one man, to give him the thumb drive. He secretly erases it when she puts it down. Thinking he doesn’t want it, she takes it to Lane. Big trouble. Benji made a copy of it and Ethan has it. Lane’s men capture Benji and use him to force Ethan to kidnap the Prime Minister of England (Hollander). Why? Because the data on the thumb drive cannot be accessed without the Prime Minister’s retinal scan, handprint scan and voiceprint recognition of a passage from Kipling. Confused yet?

It gets better. Atlee is behind the existence of the Syndicate, but has convinced the Prime Minister that he’s discontinued its operations. Back in the U.S., Brandt pretends to betray Ethan to Hunley and gets him involved. Together, they learn of the true existence of the Syndicate and who was behind it. Poor Hunley has to meet with the committee again at the end of the movie to have the IMF force reinstated.

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation is a beautifully photographed, complex, James Bond-like movie full of action sequences and intrigue. There are the masks familiar to all Mission Impossible fans, the theme music, and the complex plot. But instead of the elaborate mechanical creations, everything is computerized. Cruise’s dangerous stunts are pretty convincing but the many times he’s shown standing slack-jawed could have been cut and the film would have been under two hours long.

Still, I only shifted once at the end of the first hour. It kept my attention and I was so entertained I didn’t notice any scientific or dialogue inaccuracies. They might have been there, but I didn’t catch them. Rebecca Ferguson is as lovely climbing backstage ladders in a gold slit-skirt gown as she is in a skin-tight black motorcycle outfit. If she was doing her own stunts, she’s quite impressive. Simon Pegg is the best “best-friend” anyone could have. He’s fiercely loyal and cleverly comical. Even Alec Baldwin gave a great performance as the CIA official who presents an airtight case against the IMF and who later has to cleverly eat his words.

Parents, despite all the intense action and violence in this film, it is squeaky clean and never gets gory. It also misses being James Bondish in lacking a bedroom scene. If your kids can stay still for two hours and 11 minutes, they’d like it. It’s definitely entertaining. The only reason I didn’t give it a perfect rating is because there was no pathos, it was a little too long and there was no character with whom I could identify. But those are minor problems.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Akbar Palace
47-49 West 55th St., New York

When I was choosing a restaurant in Midtown, I knew that there was a new Indian place (only six months old) and I was getting a craving for my favorite food. I checked out the website for Akbar Palace and the menu was impressively large with many good choices, even some dishes I’ve never seen before in my 139 previous Indian restaurants. But nowhere was there a mention of drinks, or whether they had a bar. I called the restaurant and was assured they had wine and beer.

It was a good thing I left sufficient time to walk from 8th Avenue and 42nd Street to 6th Avenue and 55th Street because the address was a little strange for Manhattan. There aren’t usually hyphenated addresses on Manhattan streets. There are many eateries on this part of 55th Street and several have banners and neon signs. But not Akbar Palace, which just had a simple black sign above the door and in big block letters the words Akbar in red and Palace in white. The wall in back of the sign has a pretty pale blue and white lotus pattern. The door with “49” on the glass didn’t look like an entrance, so I continued until I saw “47” and entered. Oh, I get it! The hyphen means “to.” They have two addresses, but the main one is the 47.

I announced my reservation at the fringed pillar that acted as the Captain’s Station and a young man led me to a table (there were only two of the 25 tables occupied) near the entrance. The room is a pleasant shade of antique gold and walls are covered in either decorative mirrors or patterned wallpaper. There are decorative wooden madalas and festive Indian accents hanging here and there. The chairs are an austere dark wood and high-backed and the tables have white cloths covered with butcher’s paper.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down was the lack of air-conditioning. I hoped this wasn’t one of those Indian restaurants where a part of the “atmosphere” was to mimic the temperature of a Bombay sidewalk café. I was starting to get uncomfortable despite the lovely chair. A busboy poured me a glass of water. Then Saleh, my server brought the menu. It was an exact copy of the one on the website without mention of beer or wine, only canned soda, mango lassi and Sweet lassi (I don’t like lassi).

I considered leaving before asking Saleh if they served wine or beer. He listed the usual possibilities, all by the glass only. I chose cabernet. He brought me glass and I sipped it while considering my choices. I must have gone through the menu three or four times before I made my decision. There were Vegetarian appetizers, Non-vegetarian appetizers, Soups and Salads; Murgh – Poultry Dishes; Subzi – Vegetarian entrees; Gosht – Lamb and Goat Dishes; From the Sea – Seafood; Sizzling Tandoor; Tandoori Specialty Breads; Basmati Chawal – Rice; Accompaniments; Mithai – Desserts; Catering Specials. and three Beverages.

I took my time seeking out the most exotic dishes, trying not to just go with my favorites and soon came up with a plan. After another server brought the crispy Papadum and three chutneys; mint, tamarind and onion, I listed my selections with Saleh and, where my pronunciation wasn’t quite accurate, he pointed to the dishes on the menu for confirmation. I told him I had a lot of time, hoping that dishes would be spaced nicely. It didn’t work.

The appetizer, Masale Wali Paneer Tikka – marinated tandoor-grilled paneer (homemade cheese) tossed with a thick, tomato curry sauce and served with a small salad garnish arrived simultaneously with the Mulligatawny Chicken Soup – the “national soup of India” with chicken in pureed chick peas, flour and coconut. I had to decide which dish would get cold faster because no Indian food (except the bread) tastes good cold. 

The appetizer won this contest and I made it a point to eat the delicious, only slightly spicy squares of cheese interspersed with spoonfuls of lovely soup. The cheese had a delicate mozzarella-like flavor and texture and the tomato sauce gave it a character it would not have had alone. After squeezing the lemon slice into the soup I noticed that the flavor was slightly different from any Mulligatawny soup I’ve ever had. There was an ingredient that gave it an almost nutmeg after-taste, which was intriguing. It’s my favorite Indian soup and only became a part of my meal because the two other soups were uninteresting.

I had finished the appetizer and had a few more spoons of soup left when the main course arrived. I noted that the two other occupied tables were now vacant and a few people were in the next room (which I figured was as close to a bar as this restaurant could get without liquor) and the music had shifted from a pleasant Indian style to an unappetizing rap. A few grimaces from me and they turned it down. It was then also that I felt the air-conditioning timidly start.

The Bombay Sukka mutton main course – goat sautéed in a spicy masala (apparently, they don’t know that “masala” means spice) flavor with curry leaves and ginger – was absolutely wonderful and had some of the best goat meat I’ve ever had. I told Saleh and he seemed pleased. I don’t know why the term “mutton” was in the title of the dish, since mutton is not goat meat. But I was enjoying it along with the Tawa Mulli Paratha bread – whole wheat bread stuffed with Indian radishes. The bread was an adventure in flavor, nutty, sweet and only slightly sharp. It was great with the goat. Of course, there was a large silver bowl of aromatic Basmati rice and an adventurous bowl of Apple-Pineapple Raita. Usually I have Raita (a yoghurt dip) with cucumbers and maybe mint, but this flavor was unique and refreshing. Believe it or not, I finished everything except a little of the sauce from the main course.

There were no unfamiliar desserts but I still did not go with my favorite Gulab Jamun and chose the Rasmalai – cheese dumplings in thickened sweet milk, flavored with cardamom – instead. They were delightful, sweet, crumbly-textured garnished with pistachios and accented with the spice. And no Indian meal would be finished without Masala Chai (spiced tea, literally).

Akbar means “great” in Arabic and Akbar Palace is still working on their “great.” The food is good, tasty and not particularly spicy (unless the chef “dumbed down” the spice for American tastes – which could be true or not). Certainly, it was not as spicy as Indian restaurants’ repute would have the public believe. I enjoyed every bite.

I told Saleh that, with the abundance of other restaurants on the same block having banners and neon signs, Akbar Palace may want to invest in a banner just to make their presence a little more obvious. They are the only Indian on the block, they might as well advertise. I asked if they get a late night crowd (which might explain the dire change in music) and he seemed unsure of that.

There are several dishes on the menu I would return to try: the Karara Palak Chaat, a crispy spinach fritter, the Pepper Crusted Scallops, and the Kerala Pepper Chicken, among others. My advice to Saleh: get the people in with a little more advertising, crank up the air-conditioning to a comfortable temperature and keep the music traditional and unobtrusive. The food will take care of itself.

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