Sunday, July 23, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Marvel/Columbia, 2017) – Director: Jon Watts. Writers: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (s/p). Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (story). Based on the comic by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko. Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Bokeem Woodbine, Tyne Daly, Abraham Attah & Hannibal Buress. Color, Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.

If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” – Tony Stark.

This beautifully done direct sequel to Captain America: Civil War (2016) has the 15-year-old Peter Parker (Holland) bubbling with enthusiasm over assisting The Avengers as Spider-Man and at the same time coming to grips with his age and inexperience.

At 2 hours and 13 minutes, the film is a little long but worth it. Yes, Peter develops a crush on Liz (Harrier) but he can’t court her like a normal teenager because of his “internship” with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) which gives him opportunities to fight crime as Spider-Man. This doomed relationship is further complicated by the fact that Liz is the daughter of Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Keaton), the main antagonist in the picture, and Tony has assigned Happy Hogan (Favreau) to be a kind of babysitter to Peter, making sure he doesn’t do anything Tony doesn’t want him to do.

The film links up nicely to the Battle of New York in The Avengers (2012) as Adrian’s salvage company is attempting to clean up the mess at the Avengers’ Tower but is interrupted by the U.S. Department of Damage Control (D.O.D.C.) – a Stark operation – and are put out of business by Anne Marie Hoag (Daly). Adrian and his crew swipe as much Chitauri alien technology as they can before being ousted and they use it to hybridize weapons for sale on the black market.

Peter find that keeping his identity a secret is harder than he thought when he sneaks back into his Queens apartment and is discovered on the ceiling by his roommate Ned Leeds (Batalon). Peter swears him to secrecy but throughout the remainder of the movie we see Ned bursting at the seams with his knowledge. He only blurts out that Peter knows Spider-Man once, giving Peter and himself – and Spider-Man – invitations to a party at Liz’s house. Of course, it ends in embarrassment for Peter.

Stark entrusts Peter with a high-tech tricked-out Spider-Man suit with all sorts of capabilities and firewalls to keep him from using them. Peter figures out what Adrian and his cronies are doing, tries to contact Happy but is rebuffed, and goes against the ring alone. Ned helps him hack into the suit to remove the GPS tracker and enable all the marvelous features (some deadly) of the suit. But when a Chitauri grenade malfunctions and the Staten Island Ferry is sliced in two from stem to stern, Tony takes back the suit.

The whole movie is a push and pull of emotions. Peter has to win Tony’s trust (and Liz’s heart – much easier), stop Adrian’s business, and keep his identity secret. This last one is the hardest. When Spider-Man saves Liz and fellow students from a plummeting elevator in the Washington Monument, Adrian concludes that Peter is indeed Spider-Man. And, when Peter arrives to pick up Liz for the Homecoming Dance there is an incredibly awkward scene as he and Adrian recognize each other. Adrian drives the couple to the dance and, though grateful for saving his daughter’s life, gives Peter the ultimatum of non-interference with his business before letting him out of the car.

To say the movie was a thrill ride is an understatement considering I saw it in 4DX. Not only was it in 3D but every move onscreen was translated to a movement of the individual seats in the theater. Every swing from a spider thread, every bash into a wall, every bullet whizzing by, was felt by the audience. The scene atop the Washington Monument was made even more dizzying and perilous by this fourth dimensional feature. As if the special effects weren’t amazing enough. Tom Holland is great as a student “friendly neighborhood” Spider-Man with all the goofs and mistakes as well as the triumphs. Robert Downey Jr. is a past master of his role. He’s got all the confidence, arrogance and tough love Peter can handle. Michael Keaton is once again fabulous. You despise him for what he’s doing but you understand why he’s doing it. He’s still a kind of Batman – one of the best in my opinion. Laura Harrier is sweet and seductive, but she’s sensitive and almost unlimited in forgiveness. The only character who fails is Marisa Tomei, and I think I commented on this in the last Spider-Man movie. She looks and acts nothing like the Aunt May from Marvel comics. You expect her to be dancing on a go-go platform rather than making apple pie and cookies. She’s too young. Gwyneth Paltrow got a little skunked in this movie, short time onscreen, but she made the best of it. And who knows, there may be a wedding between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts in the next one.

I started enjoying this film when I heard the powerful orchestration of the familiar Spider-Man Theme Song written by Robert Harris playing at the beginning credits. It was also fun to hear the pop tunes placed appropriately according to the action onscreen such as “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” by the Rolling Stones and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones. Be sure to stay through the credits to hear an interesting exchange between a prison mate and Adrian and see Aunt May almost drop the only “F” bomb when she walks in on Peter (in costume without the headgear).

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Russian Vodka Room
265 West 52nd St., New York

Dorogie Tovarischi! (Dear Comrades!) Welcome to the “Home of hundreds of vodkas!” This quote from their website says it all but still doesn’t say enough.

My 14th Russian restaurant has none of the flash and folklore of the previous 13 (and none of the inflated prices, either). In fact, I breezed right by it before finding the entrance. On a long, polished, black granite wall there’s a picture window with the logo in red – a Soviet star made out of a martini glass with the hammer and sickle as the olive – and a single open door surmounted by a simple sign. Next to it a framed menu hangs from a chain on the black wall.

Lika, the woman who seated me and would become my server, asked if I wanted a drink, indicating the extensive list on the menu and leaving me to choose. The specialty cocktail list featured one that made me file the infused vodkas in my mind for later. I ordered the Filthy Russian martini, one of two I thought were politically incorrect (the other was the Red Bastard). Basically, it was a “dirty” martini made with ZYR vodka and olive juice and garnished with gorgonzola-stuffed olives. It was salty, but even James Bond would have liked it.

I told Lika that I was choosing three courses and when she frowned I knew I had chosen too much. She described the Herring under the coat as layers of herring and salmon and I concluded it to be a kind of fish lasagna. She directed me to a smaller appetizer and I was set.

Another server brought the bread basket – full of slices of dark and light breads warm and moist. I tasted a slice of sourdough and sipped my martini as I waited for the first course. The smaller appetizer was not exactly small and it was very filling. The Herring with Potatoes Russian Style was an oblong platter with a good-sized strip of fresh, silvery herring in the center, two large potatoes on one side, a row of sliced beets and a row of sliced red onions on the other, with a garnish of parsley. I wondered if every dish would match the overhead lighting as well as this one did. It was excellent. The fish alone was delicious, but combined with the other ingredients it was a simple, yet elegant dish, and I told Lika.

I was ready for my first infused vodka and couldn’t resist the garlic pepper and dill flavor. For those who don’t like garlic, stay away from this one. It was garlic supreme with dill accents and the power of a good vodka and spicy pepper aftertaste backing it up – made only for sipping. It would last through my next two courses and make each one that much better.

My second course was written simply, Russian Meat Dumplings, though from experience I know they are properly called Pelmeni (That’s when other places raise the price.). Similar to small wontons with more meat and less dough, they were served in a bowl with a side of fresh sour cream. Again, wonderful. I was feeling the atmosphere of this restaurant. The piano player had just started singing Russian songs, which helped.

The main course was a dish I haven’t had in maybe 20 years and remember loving from childhood. Served the Russian way, the Beef Tongue in Sweet and Sour Sauce was nothing like mother used to make, but in some ways better. The meat was invisible in its brown ceramic crock under large slices of yellow bell peppers. There was an avalanche of kasha taking up most of the square plate guarded by a slice of toasted baguette and slices of tomato and sweet pickle. The sweet and sour sauce was understated, not like the sometimes glutinous Chinese version. The tongue was a little overcooked for my tastes and tasted more like a steak, but I had no real problem with it. The memories still flooded back. The peppers were what made the dish. Together with the meat, it was heavenly. A surprisingly simple preparation. The garlic vodka added flavor to the relatively bland kasha.

Lika recommended the Honey Cake for dessert. The six inch by four inch slice of multilayered goodness topped by glistening raspberry compote made me wonder what the whole cake looked like. It was so sweet, a little tart, creamy, but definitely a cake. I’ve rarely enjoyed an unfamiliar dessert like this one. How can you top a confection like that? With more vodka, of course! Lika brought me the black current infused vodka, “on the house,” she said. It was almost opaque, dark, and tasted fruity and tart. I loved it.

I can tell how much I enjoyed the Russian Vodka Room by the fact that I neglected to get a business card as I usually would do. That only means I have to make a return visit to try some more of those remarkable foods and infused vodkas. Nostrovia!

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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