Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Lego Batman Movie (WB, 2017) – Director: Chris McKay. Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith s/p, story), Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington (s/p). Bob Kane, Bill Finger (creators of Batman). Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster (creators of Superman). Voices: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Hector Elizondo, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, & Channing Tatum. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 104 minutes.

The strong points of this silly spoof are the outrageous computer animation, the remarkably complex sets composed of Lego bricks, the funny (though juvenile) comic lines and the cast itself. No wonder they had an $80 million budget.

The story is simple. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Arnett), though he saves Gotham City over and over, is a lone vigilante and he likes it that way. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Dawson) takes over as Police Commissioner from her Dad, Jim Gordon (Elizondo). She wants to eliminate crime, not just fight it over and over and have Batman work with the Gotham City police. Alfred Pennyworth (Fiennes), who virtually raised Bruce Wayne, thinks it’s time for him to experience family and raise Robin/Dick Grayson (Cera), an orphan Bruce unwittingly adopted at a Gotham City gala as his own.

Meanwhile, the Joker (Galifianakis) believes there’s a special hate/love/need relationship between himself and Batman, and is willing to surrender his army of villains to get Batman to admit it (which he doesn’t), and all are sent to Arkham Asylum. This makes Batman unnecessary. But he’s sure Joker is plotting something and, after watching a television interview of Superman (Tatum), he decides that the only place that the Joker could be genuinely contained is in the Phantom Zone, where Superman sent General Zod. Realizing that he cannot directly steal the device that can accomplish this feat from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, he trains Robin and directs him through all the gyrations needed to get it. In the process, however, Batman stumbles into a party where every super hero but himself was invited. Awkward.

With the device, Batman sends Joker to the Phantom Zone. Barbara locks him and Robin up for the deed, noting that he might just have done what the Joker wanted him to do. She’s right. Joker amasses a super army of villains including King Kong (Seth Green), Sauron (Jemaine Clement) from Lord of the Rings, Medusa, the Wicked Witch of the West and her Winged Monkeys, the bad Gremlins, a Velociraptor from Jurassic Park, the Kraken Sea Monster from Clash of the Titans, Lord Voldemort (Eddie Izzard) from Harry Potter, the Daleks from Dr. Who, Swamp Creature, Agent Smith from The Matrix, the Shark from Jaws, and a T-Rex. To battle this juggernaut, Batman is forced to ally with Barbara, Robin and Alfred and recruits all of Joker’s former villain army to help. Did I mention how large the cast was? This included Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), Scarecrow (Jason Mantzoukas), the Riddler (Conan O’Brien), Bane (Doug Benson), Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams), Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Clayface (Kate Micucci), Poison Ivy (Riki Lindhome) in speaking roles and a host of others. My personal favorite was Condiment King, who had ketchup in one hand and mustard in the other.

Joker’s plan is to bomb the Gotham City Power Company and destroy the city. Conveniently, a commentator comes on a television screen before he leaves for the Phantom Zone to tell him exactly how to do it. If you realize that this is basically a Lego Gotham City, then it must have been built by some extremely imaginative child and must sit on a table in someone’s basement. Hence the commentator’s statement that the city is built on a single slab with nothing underneath it and a crack in the center would cause the entirety of Gotham to fall into an abyss. Unlike the first Lego movie, no mention of “the man upstairs” is made. But we can guess from this revelation.

Among the huge cast we also hear Susan Bennett, credited as “Siri,” the Bat Computer, Phyllis the Phantom Zone Gatekeeper (Ellie Kemper), a single Lego block with lights for connecting knobs, Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), the Flash (Adam Devine), and surprisingly, Mariah Carey as Mayor McCaskill.

I mentioned the funny lines. Two quotes stand out for me:

Alfred: “Sir, I have seen you go through similar phases in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 and 2005 and 1997 and 1992 and 1989 and that weird one in 1966. (The many iterations of Batman in the movies and on television. The last one with Adam West playing the part and doing a strange dance.)
Batman: “I have aged phenomenally!”


Dick Grayson: “My name is Richard Grayson. The other kids call me Dick.”
Bruce Wayne: “Well children can be cruel.”

The soundtrack uses older pop songs to accentuate the comedy, such as playing “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” by Cutting Crew when Bruce sees Barbara for the first time, and again when Batman sees her. Other tunes heard including “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention, “Wake Me Up, Before You Go-Go” by Wham!, “The Batman Theme” by Neal Hefti, and the classical Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johan Sebastian Bach.

The kids will love this film. It’s geared mainly to them, naturally. Adults will find some content appealing but the majority is just, as I mentioned, silly. A surprise for me was that it actually did something I abhor and got away with it because it worked. A narration at the outset of the film and at the end. We hear Batman say, “Every great movie begins with a black screen and some scary music and large imposing logos. Hmm, Warner Bras (sic).” And then, “Every good movie ends with a white screen.” I was impressed. But I still don’t think it was as good as the first Lego Movie (2015).

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Trademark Taste & Grind
38 W. 36th St., New York

Every once in a while the call of “comfort food” must be answered. It’s the food we know how to eat without any special implements, the food that isn’t going to turn our mouths into blast furnaces or screw our faces up in disgust looking at it. It’s the food that says, “I’m home.” Trademark Taste & Grind takes “comfort food” to a new level.

Inside, there is a small, but cozy, tiled boutique coffee bar (the “Grind” part of the name) where artisan coffee from Greenpoint, Brooklyn – among others – is served. Suddenly I’m in the main dining area dominated by a rectangular bar in the center of the room (the “Taste” part). A wall covered with photos leads to the hotel proper, which I later found out is called the Le Soliel, a boutique luxury hotel and another one I’ve never heard of.

My server, Debbie, introduced herself and gave me some time to look over the drinks and food menus. Once my eyes adjusted to the lighting I ordered the Benito Juarez – mescal, calvados, dry vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters, and a lemon zest garnish – a serious cocktail and not for the faint of heart. Deceptively pretty in its rusty orange clarity, it packs a mean punch and sipping is mandatory.

First up was the kabocha squash (a Japanese gourd) soup with sausage, kale, white beans, carrots and potatoes – a nice hearty soup and perfect for a cold winter night. With all the ingredients I was hard pressed to identify the kabocha. I asked if it was the one ingredient the dissolved in my mouth before I could taste it and was told I was correct.

The next dish was the crispy Scotch olives. Stuffed with cheese, wrapped in prosciutto, breaded and deep fried, served over a yoghurt-feta sauce, they were truly addictive. The many ingredients overpowered the flavor of the olives but also combined to create a composite that was chewy in texture, crispy and crunchy on the outside, slightly salty and savory, all at the same time.

Before my main course I ordered the 2013 H3 (Horse Heaven Hills) Les Chevaux, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Cabernet Franc from Columbia Crest, Washington State. Its fruity nose and deep fruit flavor made it a lovely medium-bodied red apropos to my every dish. 

It especially went well with my main course, the 16-ounce pork porterhouse with apple maple mustard glaze. I’d never had a pork porterhouse T and after my first taste I was in love. It tasted like a bacon-steak! I’ll admit it was a little overdone, but the flavor was undeniable. I ordered a side dish with it, a quinoa tabbouleh that took a classic Middle Eastern staple and brought it into the 21st century – warm parsley salad with quinoa and chopped tomatoes. But it was great. It didn’t compete with the pork.

When out came to dessert, I passed up the death by chocolate for the big banana, served in a Mason jar. It’s a rich banana pudding with a toasted marshmallow fluff topping and a brown butter wafer. The menu states that it serves two, but I finished it anyway. And…one last shot at luxury, not just espresso (the grind part), but an espresso martini. It was so good I wondered why I stopped drinking coffee in the morning.

As I was leaving, I saw the third and fourth walls and took a picture of one. Arrayed on it were plates, each with a single letter spelling out the sentence, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau. I look at Trademark and see many new dining adventures in the future.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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