Friday, July 7, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Transformers: The Last Knight (Paramount, 2017) – Director: Michael Bay. Writers: Matt Holloway, Art Marcum & Ken Nolan (s/p). Akiva Goldman, Matt Holloway, Art Marcum & Ken Nolan (story). Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Santiago Cabrera, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Stanley Tucci, Jess Harnell, Liam Garrigan, Reno Wilson, Martin McCreadie, Rob Witcomb, Marcus Fraser, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Erik Aadahl, John Hollingsworth, Ken Watanabe, Daniel Adegboyega, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Gemma Chan & Ben Webb. Color, Rated PG-13, 149 minutes.

Yes, I’ve seen all four previous Transformers movies and they ranged from exciting to dizzying and entertaining to silly. This one fits somewhere in between all categories.

Six movies ago, I saw a strange twist in the legend of King Arthur with Arthur: The Legend of the Sword where Merlin had no part. Now I’ve seen a movie that claims the Cybertronic robots (the Knights of Iacon) aided a very drunk charlatan Merlin (Tucci) by forming a colossal three headed dragon (a challenge for King Ghidorah) that was instrumental in King Arthur’s (Garrigan) war against the Saxon lords. (Oh, brother!)  

We hear Oxford Professor Viviane Wembley (Haddock) instructing a group of children in Arthurian legend, “When all seems lost, a few brave souls can save everything we’ve ever known. That, of course, is bull--it,” She has no idea what she’s about to experience and learn.

This is the fifth movie in the live-action series and the immediate sequel to Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). After the disastrous Battle of Chicago in the last movie where several iconic buildings suffered damage (not to mention innocent bystanders), most of Earth’s countries have deemed transformers persona non grata (or should that be robota non grata?) and the TRF (Transformer Reaction Force) has been formed to eradicate any robots found roaming around or any human abettors. 

But new transformers are arriving on Earth with more regularity than a city transportation system and one crash lands in Chicago. A group of kids sneak into the ruined baseball stadium scene of the crash and are confronted by a TRF squad. They are saved by resident Izabella (Moner) and robots Sqweeks (Wilson) and Canopy and later by Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) and Bumblebee (Aadahl). Unfortunately Canopy gets killed  and, with his last dying breath (or should that be exhaust?) the knightly transformer in the crashed ship gives Cade a metallic talisman, saying, “This will protect you.” The talisman attaches itself to Cade’s body and he can’t give it back. But this exchange is observed by Barricade (Harnell), a Decepticon minion of Megatron (Welker).

Cade is sheltering the Autobots Bumblebee, Hound (Goodman), Drift (Watanabe), and Daytrader (Buscemi) at his auto junkyard in South Dakota. The Decpticons, released to Megatron by former Autobot sympathizer Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), find him and so does TRF. In the resulting melee Cade meets Cogman, a loyal robotic “man’s man” to Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins), who brings him to England. Sir Edmund has also enlisted the services of French Autobot Hot Rod to kidnap Viviane Wembley. Then the story gets weirder.

Sir Edmund is a member of the Witwiccan Order, guardians on the secret history of transformers on Earth, and he reveals not only that Viviane is the last descendant of Merlin (who was real) and that, with the talisman, Cade is the Last Knight of the Round Table (which was also real, as was Arthur and the rest of the knights). Together, they need to find the Staff of Merlin, given to him by the Knights of Iacon to save the Earth from imminent disaster.

What disaster? When Optimus Prime (Cullen) returns to Cybertron, it’s a devastated mess and broken into pieces. The Sorceress Quintessa (Chan) convinces him that she created him and brainwashes him into believing himself responsible for Cybertron’s destruction. Then she sets him on a murderous journey back to the “Arch-Enemy,” Unicron (Earth) to retrieve the Staff of Merlin and rebuild Cybertron. But secretly, she just wants to destroy Earth and absorb its life force. To ameliorate the image of Unicron, Earth is growing mysterious cybernetic “horns” at focal points on the globe, which, if Pangaea was rejoined would be surrounding Stonehenge at the center. This is where the life force will be drained.

While the rest of the audience were oohing and ah-ing at the great special effects provided by (surprise!) Industrial Light and Magic and dozens of others, and laughing at the lame jokes being flipped by the Autobots, I was once again mesmerized by the soundtrack. Steve Jablonsky’s music team were amazing. The majestic background orchestration kept the corn in the dialogue from seeping through the whole film. Also, the visuals were dazzling.

My favorite quote came from Anthony Hopkins: “One hundred billion trillion planets in the cosmos. You want to know, don’t you, why they keep coming here?” The answer could be provided by Mel Brooks, “Merchandizing!” The one comic twist I liked was that Cuba was the only country not to outlaw Transformers and Santos (Cabrera) was a great comic relief.

The rest was, you’ve seen one transformer movie and you’ve seen them all. Lots of huge robots slamming other robots, parts flying everywhere. The one interesting part was where Bumblebee reassembled himself. I didn’t know they could do that. But when the talisman transforms into Excalibur…? That’s entertainment.

There will be another sequel (I’ve heard there are two in the works) because if you stay through the credits you’ll see why. I’m still wondering the same question.

 Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Red Cat
227 Tenth Avenue, New York

Aside from a small white sign with red lettering in the front window, it’s hard to identify The Red Cat from a distance. The Red Cat has been in business for 13 years and their cordial staff oozes with people experience. The young lady at the Captain’s Station led me back to a table in the cozy dining area where there were a dozen tables at most.

The most appropriate cocktail for a first-timer like myself was the Red King – Dorothy Parker gin, radish slices, grapefruit, lemon and Cocchi Bianco (a quinine-laced aperitif wine). Served over ice in an old-fashioned glass, it made a nice citrus, martini-esque start and the red radish slices reminded me of two owl’s eyes watching me.

I chose my first course for the sheer uniqueness of the recipe. All the gazpachos I’ve had in the past were red. This one was a white gazpacho with cucumbers, green grapes (in halves) and almonds clustered in one small arc of the black bowl. I loved it. Very different, light and smooth. The three main ingredients vied for my attention, but the grapes were the stars of the dish.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a nice Syrah with my meal and I chose the 2012 Eden Road Syrah from New South Wales, Australia. It was a rich translucent garnet with an intense and inviting nose. The flavor was dry, but not too dry; fruity, but not sweet, with a touch of spice that I enjoyed with every sip. I wondered how it would go with my second course.

Phillip, my waiter, had cited the specials of the day and, among them was a ricotta cheese cavatelli (one of my favorite pastas) with a rabbit ragout. I noted to him that there was a tie with another dish and Phillip recommended the House-made Pappardelle with a light mushroom cream sauce, morels, fiddleheads, and thyme. The pappardelle was a perfect size, but seemed to be a little over-cooked. Homemade pastas cook in very little time. It broke every time I tried to twirl a noodle onto my fork, but was spectacular in flavor. The earthy mushrooms mixed with the forest-y green of the fiddlehead ferns and with a touch of thyme transported me to a lovely glade in a summer woods. The Syrah added the notes the pasta needed to make the experience delightful.

My main course also had a bit of the unusual about it: Slow Roasted Duck Breast, sliced with cherries, olives (yes, olives), and pistachio in a port wine sauce. It was wonderful, with the tender, juicy duck buried under a salad of green and red leaves and made crunchy with the pistachios. But it was the combination of dark cherries and Spanish olives that made the dish. I thought they would compete for center stage, but they complimented each other, with the sweet balancing out the briny to add a savory taste to the almost gamy duck. 

Phillip brought the dessert menu, and it didn’t take me long to choose. First on the list was the Chocolate Olive Oil Cake, a sturdy cylinder of dark chocolate cake on the first and third floors and with a rich, dark chocolate mousse in between and a globe of house-made olive oil ice cream. I know some recoil from an ice cream made with olive oil, but it was really good, not salty or oily at all. It just had the flavor, and it went well with the chocolate.

My usual double espresso followed and I noticed a grappa I’ve never tasted on their list of eight. The Zenato Grappa di Amarone from Veneto was not the rocket fuel some grappas are. It was very dry, of course, but I could taste the fruit in it as well. A very nice finish to an unusual meal. I almost considered a second glass.

The Red Cat was a bit of a hike from Union Square, but was well worth the walk. Chef Jimmy Bradley’s innovative recipes and “non-attitude” staff make it a comfortable atmosphere with good food. To quote the chef, “As long as there’s good food and good people, good times are sure to follow.”

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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