Saturday, July 2, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Independence Day: Resurgence (20th Century Fox, 2016) – Director: Roland Emmerich. Writers: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, & Roland Emmerich (story & s/p). James Vanderbilt (s/p). Dean Devlin, & Roland Emmerich (characters). Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Patrick St. Esprit, Vivica A. Fox, Angelababy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nicholas Wright, & DeObia Oparei. Color, 3D, Rated PG-13, 120 minutes.

We had 20 years to prepare – so did they.” So goes the catch phrase in the trailers of this unnecessary sequel. Yeah, we used the time to integrate alien technology into our construction, transportation and weapons systems. Now we have anti-gravity fighter planes, a ring of anti-alien ray guns in orbit around Earth, and a monster ray cannon on our moon base as well as a base on Saturn’s moon Rhea. And yes, the first movie was released in 1996. But where did the aliens come from and why were they here? We needed this film to explain that.

Dylan Hiller (Usher), son of the deceased Stephen Hiller (Will Smith), is being celebrated at the White House by President Elizabeth Lanford (Ward). We see a portrait of his father on the wall behind him as he enters the reception area. He’s been selected to lead an elite squadron of fighter pilots and thus, the world defense team.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the only alien ship to have landed in 1996 and thought to be out of commission, lights up. Earth Space Defense Director David Levinson (Goldblum) meets with Dr. Catherine Marceaux (Gainsbourg) and the formidable warlord Dikembe Umbutu (Oparei) to investigate. The ship was once a drilling operation (no one knew why) and is now sending out a distress call. Umbutu shares a headache with anyone who got too close to the aliens in the first movie.

Former President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman) wakes up from a hideous nightmare in the opening scene of being face to face with an alien. Dr. Brakish Okun (Spiner) is sprung from his 20-year coma by a similar nightmare. They, along with the warlord, all see the same symbol – a circle with a straight line bisecting it from the left. Umbutu can read the alien language, Whitmore translates the symbol as fear, and Okun draws a sphere from his vision.

On the moon, Jake Morrison (Hemsworth), former comrade-in-arms of Dylan, is still a space jockey, piloting a space tug to put the final enormous piece in place and completing the defense ray gun at the base. At first, it’s off center and starts to topple. But he recklessly uses his hyper-drive to muscle it back into its socket. Han Solo would be proud. 

But a communication is received that something really large is tugging on the rings of Saturn and that the base on Rhea is already gone. A titanic sphere emerges from a wormhole over the moon and hovers benignly over the base, as if watching it.

Panic strikes the leaders of the world and the new weapon is used to shoot it down. It was friendly, however. Jake ferries David to the moon and, using the tug, retrieves a piece of the sphere for dissection at ESD Headquarters in Area 51, Nevada. Another ship, this one unfriendly and 3,000 miles wide, starts creating havoc on the moon. The debris field it leaves after demolishing the new weapon is carried along with it as it heads for Earth. The theory proposed was that it was so large, it warped the fabric of space to acquire its own gravity. As it heads for a landing, it sucks up buildings, planes cars and people in Malaysia on its approach to the Atlantic.

Such a landing causes a tsunami on America's east coast where it just so happens Julius Levinson (Hirsch), David’s dad, is out on his boat. It dumps all the debris into the Thames (including the Petronas Towers) in London. It straddles the Atlantic and proceeds to drill the mid-Atlantic ridge to remove the Earth’s molten core. 

Jeff Goldblum, ever the voice of gloom and doom posits, “If they remove our molten core, we’ll lose our magnetic field and the solar wind will wipe out all life on Earth.” That is the one piece of science that is believable in this film. But he also gets a lot of the funny lines, making one wonder if this movie is secretly a comedy.

Brent Spiner is hilarious and has put on some weight as he uses alien technology to cut open the portion of the sphere and communicate with the virtually intelligent white sphere within. At least we learn that the sphere people and the aliens have been at war for a long time and the sphere promises greater technology for ensuring its safety (it’s the last of its kind, of course).

I chuckled several times at the absurdity of this sequel, especially when we learn that Cheyenne Mountain was destroyed, along with the current president and all of her cabinet, with General Joshua Adams (Fichtner) being sworn in. It was good to see Robert Loggia again, playing General William Grey in his last movie role (he died in December 2015). And, if the white sphere is correct, there will be another sequel (hopefully in 20 years).

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Florian Café
225 Park Ave. South, New York

Of the 24,000 restaurants graded by the Department of Health in New York City, the third largest ethnic group is Italian at 1,035 (4%). American and Chinese form the bulk of this number. When I choose a restaurant, I space the Italians with other cuisines to keep the variety, though I could easily eat Italian every day of the week without regret. Florian Café is my 361st Italian.

Though only having opened in February 2015, this charming, friendly place brings the atmosphere of a 300-year-old trattoria in Venice. Bright red signs with the name in bold white letters are prominently posted on the scaffolding enveloping the restaurant. The entrance is a revolving door framed by backlit photos of wine and liquor bottles and topped by the name in bright white capital letters.

Inside, a high ceiling is supported by arches painted to appear as if constructed of two-tone stone blocks, with a spacious informal dining area opens to the right and a 12-seat bar is to the left flanked by four two-customer booths. In the middle of the bar, one cannot miss the bronze statue of a naked woman uncorking a wine bottle held between her knees. In back is a gorgeous, formal room dominated by a glorious crystal chandelier orbited by brass rings.

The Captain’s Station is a few steps into the restaurant from the door and the young lady there led me to the second to the last booth, where I chose to sit facing that fabulous emerald room. My server, David, appeared and I ordered a Beefeater martini. It was perfect, with three Spanish olives skewered on a stick suspended over it.

My first course was the Short Rib Meatballs in Sunday gravy: two delicious meatballs sprinkled with grated cheese in just about the richest red sauce imaginable – chock full of every Italian ingredient from garlic and basil to wine and cheese. 

At this point, I had David bring the wine, a 2012 “Dei” Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, an amazing full-bodied red that can stand up to the strongest flavors in an Italian meal and still delight the senses. My second course was Pappardelle: broad, flat and long noodles served simply in eggplant parmigiana sauce and garnished with sprigs of fresh basil. I had David grind fresh pepper and fresh cheese over the top. Made in-house, the pasta was al dente and delicious. The baby eggplant scattered throughout the sauce added a sweet/tart flavor to the experience. 

Fridays in the Lenten season are usually my fish days but the next dish just had to be chosen. The Red Snapper Livornese, completely invisible under braised tomatoes, olives and capers and another lovely tomato sauce. And, to my surprise, no bones, Just delicious flaky fish smothered in savory ingredients (and more basil garnish, of course).

While I finished my wine, I looked around and saw a most unusual thing behind the bar (besides the naked lady) – a chalk board listing various bodily ailments, the kind of wine to take to cure them, and how many glasses, all in Italian. For instance, it takes four glasses of Barolo to cure anemia. I loved it.

For dessert, David suggested “Limoncello Pie.” How do I describe it? It was like a strong lemon mousse pie but the upper crust was like the glaze on a crème brulée. To go with it, I ordered a double espresso and a lovely glass of Barolo grappa. The charm of Florian Café is only equaled by its reasonable prices for both food and wine. Of course, if you want to go overboard, that’s available as well. As for myself, I’ll be back. Maybe for lunch someday.

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