Friday, May 19, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Marvel/Disney, 2017) – Director: James Gunn. Writers: James Gunn (s/p). Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning (based on the Marvel comics by). Steve Engelhart, Steve Gan (Star-lord created by). Jim Starlin (Gamora and Drax created by). Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby (Groot created by). Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffen (Rocket Raccoon created by). Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Dave Bautista, Sean Gunn, Tommy Flanagan, Aaron Schwartz & Laura Haddock. Color, Rated PG-13, 136 minutes.

Having seen the first installment of Guardians, I eagerly anticipated the sequel. I know and like the characters and wanted to see what adventure awaits them. It turns out there wouldn’t be an adventure if it weren’t for my favorite character, a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Cooper), who by the way, hates being called raccoon.

The unlikely team consists of Quill, an Earthman, Rocket, Gamora (Saldana), a sensual green woman with flaming red hair, Drax (Bautista), a hulking muscular purplish-gray man with red scrollwork tattoos, and Baby Groot (voiced by Diesel), a tree creature who sprouted up in the previous film from his own dying self. Groot’s only line is “I’m Groot,” and only Rocket can understand what he’s saying. Toward the end of the movie Rocket tells him, “We definitely have to work on your language skills.”

As the movie opens I couldn’t help but recall the 1984 film Starman, as extra-terrestrial Ego (Schwartz) drives Meredith Quill (Haddock), Peter’s mom-to-be to a place in a forest where he planted a mysterious alien flower. We hear her favorite song playing in the car and through the scene, Looking Glass’s “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).”

Then it’s “34 years later” and the Guardians are defending a platform belonging to the golden Sovereigns, a race of perfect (so they insist) beings, from an inter-dimensional monster whose sole intent is soaking up the power from the Sovereigns’ batteries. Quill, Rocket, Gamora and Drax battle the enormous, tentacled, triple-jawed creature while Baby Groot dances through the opening credits to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” It’s more a hilarious spoof than a tense battle scene.

Even if you haven’t seen the first installment, you get the idea that the Guardians actually enjoy danger and never take themselves seriously and the plot follows suit. In payment for their service, the Sovereigns release Nebula (Gillan) to them. She’s the adopted cyborg sister to Gamora who only wants to kill her, and Gamora wants her locked up. When Rocket finds the temptation irresistible to steal the Sovereigns’ batteries, their leader Ayesha (Debicki) summons a fleet of drones to destroy the escapees.

In an effort to lose the drones, Quill and Rocket fly the ship into a “Quantum Asteroid Field” where the going gets tougher as asteroids pop into existence randomly, trying to make it to a jump gate. But the drones go around the field and meet them on the other side firing from all directions and causing serious damage. Time for a Deus ex Machina. After a mysterious stranger in the ship shaped like Mork’s birth egg destroys the drones, they are able to crash land on the nearest planet.

The egg lands near them, a port opens organically, and we meet Ego (Russell) a second time, along with antennaed empath Mantis (Klementieff). Ego introduces himself as Quill’s father and takes Quill, Gamora and Drax back to his home planet while Rocket repairs the ship and watches over Nebula and Baby Groot.

Ayesha hires Yondu Udonta (Rooker), a former “Ravager” exiled by Stakar Ogord (Stallone) for child trafficking when he took Quill from Ego and raised him as his own. Yondu and his pirate crew find Quill’s ship but are not prepared for the riotously funny set of booby traps set by Rocket. But using his telekinetic arrow, he captures Rocket, Nebula and Groot. When he appears soft by not killing his prisoners, his right-hand man Taserface (Sullivan) leads a mutiny, destroys his telekinetic crest and imprisons Yondu with Rocket and Nebula. Groot is held in a bird cage and made a source of amusement by the crew, much to his chagrin.

Meanwhile, Quill, Drax, and Gamora arrive on Ego’s self-created planet with Mantis. It’s almost baroque in its design and organic at the same time. Ego tells the story of his travels throughout the universe, finding and falling in love with Meredith. He mesmerizes Quill, but Gamora doesn’t trust him. She’s right. Ego is well named. The alien plants he established on all the worlds he’s visited will reform them into extensions of himself, eliminating all existing life in the process, when he finds a celestial like himself. (You guessed it, Quill.)

The rest of the movie is a series of captures, escapes, attacks, surprise bondings, alliances and discoveries that will keep the audience guessing. Kraglin (Gunn) is the only surviving member of Yondu’s loyal men. Rocket actually drops his aggressive attitude and sheds a tear. We see a series of cameos, including Howard the Duck (Seth Green), a mainframe computer with the voice of Miley Cyrus, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Zardu Hasselfrau (David Hasselhoff) and an astronaut (Stan Lee). Why David Hasselhoff? Quill told all of his childhood friends that Hasselhoff was his father.

The soundtrack,“Awesome Mixtape 2,” includes the pop favorites mentioned before with “Southern Nights” by Glen Campbell, “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, “Come A Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans, “Bring It On Home to Me” by Sam Cooke, “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, and “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens.

My favorite quote is from Drax, “There are two kinds of beings in the universe: those who dance and those who do not.” He’s referring to the “unspoken thing” between Quill and Gamora. Volume two is a wonderful romp through intergalactic space and a fantastic, colorful special effects and CGI delight. The humor is kind of raunchy, but not out and out vulgar, so parents, take that into consideration. And…be sure to stay through the credits for hints of things to come. There definitely will be another.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Foragers Table
300 West 22nd Street, New York

Foragers Table is the four-year-old extension of the Foragers Market on the corner of 22nd Street and 8th Avenue in Chelsea. All food is delivered fresh daily from farms in the Hudson Valley and you can definitely taste it when you dine there. 

Outside, what looks like two gigantic floor-to-ceiling windows on the outside framed subtly by slate gray wood are really six panels each of double-paned glass joined by a flexible polymer. Inside, everything is simple and a bit rustic inside the single room dining area, with 15 to 20 bare-topped tables with votive candles; a bar with extra seating that takes up the wall opposite the windows; and simple globe lights shining from the unfinished ceiling. The old-fashioned wooden chairs are comfortable enough and had sufficient support for me and, by the window, there was ample light.

Jill, my server, brought the drinks and food menus. I ordered the London Calling Cocktail – Breuckelen glorious gin, ginger beer, Cointreau, lemon/limeade, bitters – an interesting mix of many unusual flavors. I sipped it while Jill cited the soft-shelled crab special and the beef and lamb entrée specials, leaving me to decide.

Another server brought the most delicious, fresh focaccia I’ve had in a long time. It didn’t need butter or tapenade and wasn’t served with any. It had a nice, fluffy texture, was a little bit salty, and was browned golden on top.

The Foragers Farm Salad – sweet gem lettuce, heirloom mix, sunflower sprouts, olive dirt in a sherry vinaigrette – while not aesthetically presented (just simply piled in a white bowl), was amazing. I’ve had edible flowers before but the sunflower sprouts were a delight. The dressing was understated and let the salad greens stand out with an olive-salty accent.

The wine I chose was the 2014 Gothic vineyards Nevermore, a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, Oregon. It’s a beautiful deep ruby red, medium bodied wine with light tannins that proved itself worthy of all my dishes.

The bright green English Pea Soup was a good one. The bowl was set with pea hash, sour cream and a thin slice of prosciutto in the center and the server poured a soup that could have been the pride of the Emerald City around it. I love English peas for their sweet, bold taste, unlike the flat-tasting ones in the canned goods aisle. Jill was excellent with timing. No two dishes arrived simultaneously. 

The main course, the Long Island Duck Breast, came with a spiced honey glaze and was served over wild rice, tatsoi (aka spinach mustard), fiddlehead ferns, ramps and morels. The duck slices were medium rare, tender and juicy, with a crisp skin and just enough fat to make them decadent.

As I was enjoying my meal, the manager arrived at my table. We had a short talk on European travel and he asked me if I was ready for dessert. I mentioned that I love ripe cheeses and he helped me choose three cheeses: a firm, buttery white, a crumbly cheddar, and a bleu.

Jill brought me a mug of Earl Grey Tea, and I asked if they had any good sipping tequilas. She listed three or four, mentioning there’s one nobody ever orders. That caught my attention. The Chinaco Reposado Tequila, an 11-year old luxury tequila made from 100 percent blue agave, has a smooth, woody flavor with none of the bite of younger tequilas, a perfect after dinner drink. I felt sorry for anyone who didn’t order it.

The business card from Foragers Table primarily advertises the market (which I have visit soon). If the produce is as wonderful as the dishes made from them, I can’t wait. 

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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