Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Mummy

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Mummy (Universal, 2017) – Director: Alex Kurtzman. Writers: David Koepp, Dylan Kussman & Christopher McQuarrie (s/p). Jenny Lumet, Alex Kurtzman & Jon Spaihts (story). Stars: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Simon Atherton, Stephen Thompson, James Arama, Matthew Wilkas, Sohm Kapila, Sean Cameron Michael, Rez Kempton & Erol Ismail. Color, PG-13, 110 minutes.

Despite some resemblances, this film is not a remake of the original The Mummy (1932) with the genders reversed. The only thing shared by both is that the title character is mummified and buried alive as punishment for their sins. The rest is a mish-mash of several sub-plots, one of which throws a serious time anomaly into the mix.

Princess Ahmanet (Boutella) was next in line for the throne of Egypt after her father, Pharoah Menehptre. But Pharaoh’s wife gives birth to a son, sinking Ahmanet’s dreams of glory. Piqued, she makes a deal with the god Seth, much like a modern day witch. Out of it she gains supernatural powers and his dagger – a wicked looking, curved blade with a cheap plastic ruby on the hilt that glows menacingly. She uses this to slay daddy, son and wife (you don’t really see anything), and tries to use the dagger on her lover to make him the embodiment of Seth. But, Pharaoh’s guards intervene, kill the boyfriend, and mummify her alive. She is buried in Mesopotamia in a lake of mercury (a known witch-proofing substance).

Nick Morton (Cruise) and best friend Chris Vail (Johnson) are soldiers of fortune. Nick has stolen a map from archeologist Jenny Halsey (Wallis) that leads them to a small town near Mosul, Iraq (once part of Mesopotamia), where they hope to find great treasure. But the town is crawling with insurgents, and after dodging dozens of bullets and grenades, Chris calls on Nick’s superior, Colonel Greenway (Vance), to send in a drone airstrike. The bad guys run away and a gaping hole opens up, revealing the semi-final resting place of Ahmanet.

Meanwhile, in London, during the construction of a new “crossover” tube in the Underground, a huge boring machine breaks through a wall into a subterranean burial chamber dating back to the Crusades. There is a flashback to that time and we see a large plastic-looking ruby being entombed with one of the Crusaders. The construction crew are outed by an official looking man in a gray suit who takes over the site. We later learn his name: Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe). What’s a fictional character from 1886 doing in present day London?

Back in Iraq, Jenny catches up to Nick and Chris, identifies the sarcophagus they accidentally hoist up from the pool of mercury as New Kingdom Egyptian, and wheedles Colonel Greenway into loading it onto a transport plane back to London just before the insurgents return and a major sandstorm hits. Nick, bitten by a camel spider (yes they do exist, but are neither true spiders nor venomous) in Ahmanet’s tomb, is now under her control. He stabs Greenway fatally and tries to kill everyone else. Nick shoots him and he’s gone (but not forgotten). A huge cloud of crows smashes into the plane, setting it on a crash course for an abbey just outside London. Thanks to Nick, Jenny escapes with the only parachute. Nick doesn’t. He awakens later in a body-bag on a slab in a morgue. How? Why? He’s Ahmanet’s new “Chosen One” and next in line to be stabbed with the Dagger of Seth.

The creators of this film must have been great stew cooks. If an ingredient was available, in it went. Dr. Jekyll has to periodically inject himself with a multi-pronged needle to keep him from reverting to the murderous Edward Hyde (and he does once). Chris becomes a comical undead visitor to Nick, warning him and advising him much like the friend in An American Werewolf in London (1981). Jenny turns out to be an agent of the Prodigium (supernatural artifact collectors) and works for Dr. Jekyll. For devout followers of George Romero, Ahmanet reanimates an army of corpses to be her slobbering, shambling army of to bring Nick to her. As I said, a little bit of this, a pinch of that.

There was one scene of scientific accuracy, however. Ahmanet commands forth the sands of the desert in London and every pane of glass reverts back to its original element, quartz, i.e. sand. Hence, she’s able to re-create the moment in 1999 version of The Mummy, where Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) created a colossal image of his head in the resulting sand storm. Still a great effect.

There is a mythological inaccuracy: Seth is repeatedly called the god of death, and though his name rhymes with the state. He’s actually the god of storms, chaos and evil. Of the animal-headed gods, he the only one who is such an amalgam, it’s unidentifiable. Anubis is the proper god of death.

Sophia Boutella makes for a sexy Egyptian princess no matter what she’s wearing. Tom Cruise is not exactly another Indiana Jones, but adds a strange comic lilt to the story. Russell Crowe is hilarious as Dr. Jekyll and even funnier as Mr. Hyde, and Annabelle Wallis looked like she enjoyed the weightless scene in the plummeting airplane.

My favorite quote was from a voiceover: “Death is only a door. Those who die are not buried forever.” There are other lines that I liked which lightened the mood of the movie until it almost seemed like a comedy. Surprisingly, with all the forms of violence shown there was minimum gore and love scenes were brief. Young, sophisticated children – not toddlers – might actually like this film.

As for me, I had a good time watching in disbelief. Nothing was scary, nothing made me jump, I could predict each moment when something would happen.

Rating: 3 out of 5 martini glasses.

29 East 29th Street, New York

Ever choose a restaurant for a singular, unique appetizer? That’s exactly what I did with Marta. Though other restaurants were closer to the movie theater, this two-year old sister restaurant to the fabulous Maiella won out.

From the street it looks more like a classical museum: tall windows framed in white marble and pink granite, and a colonnaded entrance. Only an understated fuchsia neon sign gives the name in script. Inside, the entryway is lined with illuminated panels showing New York memorabilia and sites. The twenty-foot plus ceilings are a must to house the twin, colossal, black bricked pizza ovens on the back wall.

Mark, my server, asked if I wanted a drink. I chose the Cynar Spritz – Cynar, Cocchi Americano (a vermouth), orange bitters and Prosecco (Italian champagne). It’s been a long time since I even saw Cynar (an amaro made from artichokes) on a menu, and this brew was wonderful. The Prosecco took the bitterness out of the Cynar, as did the vermouth, giving it an almost candy-like quality. I mentioned the rarity of seeing Cynar in any restaurant to Mark and he pointed out the shelf behind the bar where I could count 18 amaros. I was agog.

With Mark’s help, I was able to choose three dishes. My first course was the reason for coming to Marta: the Fennel-spiced Sweetbreads with Duck Offals, rosemary and lemon. It was delicious – garlicky and lemony. It was a lovely duck liver, second only to goose. It could have been any organ meat, but I gambled and won.

The wine list was impressive, with many Italian wines I’ve seen in only a few places and some I did know existed. This menu had four red wines from the same region. I was instantly intrigued. The sommelier just happened to be passing by and Mark caught her and introduced me. She explained the flavors and strengths of the Lazio reds and I chose the 2013 Cesnese del Piglio Costa Graia, a blend of three crus (different batches from different sections of the vineyard). It was just as crisp and refreshing as a Frascati with a delicate nose, light tannins, subtle spice and blackberry fruit. Viva Lazio!

The second course was one of my all-time favorites, ever since I first tasted it in Montecasino, the Cannelloni stuffed with mushroom ragu, ricotta, pecorino and béchamel. It was sweet, lightly cheesy and, I guess it was the mushrooms, but I could swear there was a green vegetable involved. There was only one but I could have finished another.

Another thing I’ve never seen in an Italian restaurant is a sausage platter. German, yes, but Italian? The Salsicce Miste: Chicken, Duck and Pork sausages over broccolini with roasted garlic and a dollop of mustard, was as much a surprise to taste as it was to see. All three sausages were homemade and I could taste it. The duck were flat, crispy rounds that were the perfect match for the yellow/brown mustard. The chicken sausages were narrow curled sweetness better savored alone. However, the pork was comparable to the best head cheese ever. The broccolini was garlicky and tender and did not distract from the three sausage flavors. It was magical.

I understood from Mark that authenticity is the goal for the owner of Marta and that led me to the trio of gelato or sorbetto dessert. I chose Peach Bourbon and Roasted Strawberry Basil Sorbetto and Amarena Cherry Chip gelato. After one taste of each I chose the Peach Bourbon first. I could taste fresh peaches and the hint of Kentucky bourbon. The Roasted Strawberry Basil was amazing, with a rich, full flavor of wild strawberries with a smoky quality and the heady aftertaste of basil. But the creamy, crunchy Amarena Cherry Chip gelato was the winner. The “chips” are (of course) chocolate, and the almond and cherry flavors vied for attention in every spoonful.

Mark explained that all their espressos were double. Excellent. Now, for the after-dinner drink. With 18 amaros, I couldn’t choose. I asked Mark to check with the bartender as to which one was the least ordered. Soon I had a glass of Sfumato Rabarbaro (literally, Smoked Rhubarb). It was very similar to the Cynar but with a fruitier, headier flavor. It brought my whole meal full circle. Now I can say I’ve dined with two amazing sisters, Maiella and Marta.

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