Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rachet & Clank

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Rachet & Clank (Gramercy Pictures, 2016) – Directors: Kevin Munroe and Jerrica Cleland. Writers: T.J. Fixman, Kevin Munroe, & Gerry Swallow. Voices: James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward, Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Alessandro Juliani, Marc Graue, Dean Redman, Armin Shimerman, Sylvester Stallone, Bella Thorne, & Lee Tockar. Color and 3D, Rated PG, 94 minutes.

Now I know how those who saw the movie Dune back in 1984 (without having previously read the book) felt. This animated film is based on a computer game I’ve never played (nor would I want to). The video game “Ratchet and Clank” surfaced in 2002 and was adapted for Sony’s Playstation 2 in 2012. For some reason, the suits at Gramercy Pictures decided it would make a great movie rather than coming up with an original thought. Unfortunately, they didn’t consider that some viewers would be seeing the characters for the first time and also didn’t think anyone would need a back story.

Ratchet the Lombax (Taylor) is a cute, furry little alien with a grand ambition of being a Galactic Ranger along with his hero Captain Qwark (Ward) and his team: Elaris (Dawson), Brax Lextrus (Redman), and Cora (Thorne). But he’s just a lowly repairman at an intergalactic version of a garage for space vehicles and works for his long-suffering boss, Grimroth (Goodman).

In another part of the Solana Galaxy, Chairman Drek (Giamatti), in cahoots with the evil Dr. Nefarious (Shimmerman), is firing his deplanetizer at unpopulated worlds and selecting pieces from each to build a world of his own. Apparently, he was exiled from his home world and this is his revenge. He leads a weird group of flunky red aliens calling themselves the Blarg under a large, Transformer-ish robot named Victor Von Ion (Stallone).

Drek Industries (I was the only one in the theater who found the name hilariously funny) has a factory turning out an army of robots whose one program command is to eliminate the Galactic Rangers. But, through an apparent glitch in the assembly line, the little intelligent robot who would come to be named Clank (Kaye) is accidentally churned out. As soon as he realizes that he’s unique and that he’s going to be junked, he escapes Victor’s clutches in a shuttlecraft and crashes on Ratchet’s planet, Rilgar.

Captain Qwark and the Rangers realize this threat to their and several planets’ existence and start recruiting one more ranger (as if that’s going to make a difference). Ratchet applies but is rejected. It’s not until Ratchet teams up with Clank and they save their planet from a robot invasion force that Qwark is forced to accept him as a ranger. But Qwark’s narcissistic nature will be his undoing. Dr. Nefarious, who was a ranger at one time but turned to the evil side (echoes of Star Wars) convinces Chairman Drek to use Qwark’s jealousy of Ratchet’s new-found fame to turn him against the ranger team. But the ranger team has problems of their own. No one has the time to listen to Elaris, who would be the brains of the group.

If you view Ratchet and Clank as an arcade video game, its disjointedness almost make sense. Having two villains both mad in different ways is distracting enough, but when you have a hero who is an underdog, and a selfish ignoramus posing as a hero, that’s just annoying.

My theater seat was none too comfortable and the movie certainly didn’t help any. The 3D effects are minimal and not used to advantage. Though the animation is somewhat good, none of the characters are believable. I found myself not caring about any of them, including the beleaguered Elaris. The dialogue is mostly stock and the writers try too hard to be funny. There is a discussion about mixed metaphors between Dr. Nefarious and Captain Qwark that should have been hilarious, but which disintegrated into ennui. The Monty Python group would have had the audience rolling on the floor. Another thing I thought was funny was that Armin Shimerman, who played the character Quark in the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, should be the bad guy facing off against a hero character named Qwark. The story tries to teach friendship, teamwork and loyalty, but gets slogged down in silliness.

There were many children in the audience, but I never heard a word out of them. They didn’t get the jokes and many had no vocal opinions of the movie afterward, so parents, judge for yourselves. If you go, stay through the credits. There’s the promise – or threat – of a sequel.

Rating: 1½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Paesano of Mulberry Street
136 Mulberry St., New York

No matter how many times I visit Little Italy in Manhattan, I find myself transported to another world. It changes while remaining the same, though it seems smaller now. It also appears as if Chinatown has grown; the Asian influence has spread along Canal Street to Tribeca and across it into Little Italy. Thank goodness the “Welcome” arch still stands marking the borderline. As I left Centre Street and crossed Canal onto Mulberry I saw restaurants along the way where I’ve dined in the past: Angelo’s, Umberto’s, Vincent’s and Sal Anthony’s. When I arrived, the entrance to Paesano’s (also known as Joey’s Paesano after owner Joseph Ianniello) was blocked by a large group of tourists. I edged my way past them and took some pictures while they streamed by.

The 25-year-old staple of Mulberry Street has a humble exterior with a green awning and wood-framed front windows. Inside the exposed wood beams hang with live philodendrons and are bedecked with white twinkle lights and white-painted branches. The white stucco walls with arched murals depict rural Italian scenes. I announced my reservation to an apron-clad server and he led me to my table as the theme to The Godfather played on the sound system. (Good thing I remembered to dress completely in New York black.)

My table was about midway into the restaurant, past the small bar at the front, and to my table. My server, Vittorio, brought me the menu (the wine list was already on the table standing near a promotional bottle of wine) and gave me time to settle in. Before taking my order, he asked if I wanted a cocktail. I told him I was in the mood for a martini. He listed several gins I didn’t care for, so we switched to vodka. I ordered a Stolichnaya vodka martini with olive. It arrived in a surprisingly heavy glass, full to the brim and glazed over with ice chips. But it served its purpose.

The food menu at Paesano is straightforward and many of my favorites were there. I decided to treat myself to a walk down memory lane (even though the scungilli salad was tempting).

The first fond memory was stuffed artichoke, splayed out on a round plate like a big green flower with a garlic and bread crumb stuffing and savory sauce. It looked so good I forgot my usual routine of photographing the dish and just enjoyed. Though not as wonderful as that made by my friend RoseAnn, it still brought me back to a simpler time.

The wine list had a very good selection of both reds and whites at amazingly affordable prices for New York City. I chose one of my all-time favorites: the 2011 Antonio Gaudioso Amarone Della Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy. The mark-up on this wine would have been prohibitive anywhere else. I breathed in its woodsy nose and tasted its hearty, deep flavor, and knew tonight was indeed special. Vittorio approved.

The pasta dish, baked cannelloni, was another blast from the past. Two tender tubes of pasta filled with ground beef and topped with ample cheese and rich tomato sauce, accompanied by a basket of fresh Italian bread. Vittorio warned me about the temperature of the plate and I thanked him. I became hooked on this dish at a restaurant called La Gioconda (Italian for the Mona Lisa) in Flushing, N.Y. and I tasted its perfection in Monte Casino, Italy. I swear, this dish was comparable. It was so good that, again, I forgot the photo. Taking my time, I loved every bite.

It was at Caesar’s Restaurant in Rego Park, Queens, where I fell in love with veal saltimbocca (the name literally means “jump in the mouth”), and I’ve tried it in many places since. Each time it was a little different, but always contained the tangy brown sauce, the spinach and the tender, pounded veal. This time it was accompanied by a hard-boiled egg sliced in half and broccoli florets. A nice touch. 

The dessert list was pretty standard, nothing intriguing or unusual, but when I heard “cannoli” as a choice, I remembered where I was. It’s just the thing you need to have when in Little Italy. And it was superior, not too sweet, and not too cheesy, but crunchy and light. The double espresso and glass of Anisette summed up a meal of memories. La Gioconda and Caesar’s are both no longer in business and my friend RoseAnn is in Heaven. But thank goodness I know where to go to remember them.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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