Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman - 3D

Dinner and a Movie

The Amazing Secret Almond

By Steve Herte

The Amazing Spiderman – 3D (2012) 

Although I had my reservations about seeing this film in 3D, what with the audience experiencing exactly what Spiderman does when he leaps off a tall building and web-swings to the next, I never closed my eyes. I was entranced by this stunning and exciting movie. Frankly, I liked it a lot better than the previous ones.

We get to see Peter Parker (Max Charles – at age 4, and Andrew Garfield as a young teen) as the kid who stands up for other kids and gets beaten up in the process. We feel the shy, innocent love between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) grow from awkward instances to genuine caring. We discover clues as to why Peters parents, Richard and Mary (played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), both died (were murdered?). We meet Peter’s gentle Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and the doting, loving Aunt May (Sally Fields). Both actors did believable, sterling performances. Sheen actually looked like the Marvel Comic character. Field was superb even though she’s still a bit too young for the part.

The story this time is that Peter’s father worked with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and they were on the verge of a break-through in their research on trans-species genetic transferral when Richard Parker died. Peter discovers this connection and joins a tour group of the laboratory where Doctor Connors works. Having discovered an equation written by his father in an old briefcase, Peter gives it to Dr. Connors, thereby both ingratiating himself to him and setting off the man’s megalomania. 

Dr. Connors had lost most of one arm in a previous lab accident and was hoping that using lizard genes he could somehow re-generate the lost limb. The equation allows him to come up with the serum to do so, but he takes it to the extreme of curing all mankind of its weakness by turning everybody into lizard-people, a feat he almost accomplishes.

Peter, meanwhile is growing into his role of Spiderman after having been bitten by one of many radioactive spiders he encounters whiling roaming the secret rooms of Dr. Connors’ building. The powers he gains are at first baffling, then are used for pay-back to bullies, then are turned into vigilantism when Uncle Ben is murdered by a store thief while Peter’s back is turned. Lastly, he accepts the responsibility his powers engender to stop Dr. Connors after failing to convince Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen’s Dad, of the mad doctor’s motives.

The Amazing Spiderman has everything I expect in a movie; eye-popping cinematography, convincing special effects, a great story and an excellent cast who never once disappoint – right down to the gradual budding smile on Gwen’s face when Peter tells her that promises one cannot keep are the best kind of promises. Captain Stacy made him promise to stay away from Gwen, realizing the danger to her from the enemies he would make. I see several Oscar nominations in the future.

The Secret Pilgrim
John Le Carré

If I say to you, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” Deadly Affair,” “Looking Glass War,” “Smiley’s People,” “The Little Drummer Girl,” “The Tailor of Panama,” or “The Constant Gardener,” you would probably recognize them as books by John Le Carré which made the transition (some unsuccessfully) from the page to the screen. George Smiley is the master spy who is central to all to these novels even though he’s not your polished, suave James Bond.

The 21-year-old “Secret Pilgrim” is the last Smiley novel though it hardly features him at all. He’s giving a lecture to a group of spy-intern students who are being instructed in the fine and dangerous business by Ned, a retired spy for British Intelligence. The novel begins and ends with Smiley’s presentation but meanders through seven reminiscences of cases Ned has worked in his checkered career. The scenes bounce from London to Czechoslovakia to Cambodia to Cold War Russia with only the thin thread of Ned to tie them together.

I daresay it would be extremely difficult for this book to make it to video stardom as it is bafflingly difficult to keep up with. Several times I had to put it down and when I took it back up I had to re-read several pages to remember where I left off (even though I used a bookmark). There is a lot of spy “in” language used, as well as English idioms that I imagine a dyed-in-the-wool Le Carré fan would have no trouble with, but unfortunately this was my first reading of his works. Also, I learned from reading other people’s opinions, it doesn’t stand alone because it reveals things previous books depend on for their intrigue and the reader’s interest.

Knowing the movies that have been made, I am curious now to go back to the novels that gave them life, but I doubt that “The Secret Pilgrim” will do the same.

12 West 22nd Street, New York City

The white lettering on the rust-colored awnings announces a decent-sized bistro in the heart of the Gramercy Park area. The long room has columns covered in what looks like white birch bark paneling, and these separate the bar on one wall from the dining area on the other, flanked by a wall covered in red-on-parchment wallpaper adorned with four large mirrors. The wallpaper depicts country French barnyard animals in fanciful scrollwork.

Over a vanilla vodka martini with a lemon twist I read the four-columned menu which, aside from the escargot appetizer, the Croques Gratin and the steak-frites was not particularly French (it did mention Bouillabaisse, but only on Mondays). Neither was my waiter, who would have been dumb-struck had I ordered in French. 

I started with the Curried Mussel Cocktail – the shellfish were cooked and coated in a curried mayonnaise and served two-to-a-shell on a bed of crushed ice with a slice of lemon and a tiny bottle of Tabasco (neither or which it needed). The curry flavor was light, as was the homemade mayonnaise and the dish was eaten before I knew it – delicious. The last time I had curried mussels was in a Belgian restaurant in Montreal, though.

I did order a bottle of 2010 French Malbec from Gaudot vineyards which was wonderful with the meal, and the second course, a Classic Gazpacho featuring “Pickled Shrimp” and cilantro in the center. It sounds worse than it was. The pickling medium was not at all evident and the soup was exactly as I would expect. I used the Tabasco to give it a kick. The bread served was a crusty baguette sliced into half-inch pieces and accompanied by a sweet butter.

My interest piqued by the Spanish soup, I chose the House Made Cavatelli with veal and pork sausage, bitter greens and tomato concassé. It was to die for. I lingered over every bite, judiciously washing it down with the lovely wine. OK, this basically Italian entrée was made French and retained its excellence.

On to dessert, the only “test” I gave Almond. I heard another patron mention Baked Alaska, which is one of my favorite dishes created originally by the chef at Delmonico’s Restaurant in downtown Manhattan. So, I ordered it. Let me say before I describe it and every Frenchman faints, it was really delicious. The ice cream was peanut-butter flavored and the meringue was fresh, though not flambéed at table. I gave Almond points for novelty. A cup of dark coffee and a glass of calvados later, I forgave the non-french-ness of Almond. It’s definitely a bistro and the food, though different, is very good.  I shall return when the occasion presents itself. The Steak Frites at the next table looked excellent.

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