the debt mirren.jpg
Helen Mirren in something other than a bikini...
The Dinner: three cheese mac, dungeness crab cakes, pan roasted halibut, and a blood and sand at


A Scarred Helen Mirren and the World's Worst OBGYN Exam

the debt mirren.jpg
Helen Mirren in something other than a bikini...
The Dinner: three cheese mac, dungeness crab cakes, pan roasted halibut, and a blood and sand at Bookstore Bar (92 Madison St.)

The Movie: The Debt, at Regal Meridian 16 (1501 7th Ave)

The Screenplate: Has a movie's best scene ever come while its main character was in stirrups? In case the headline hadn't already made it clear, I'm not referring to the kind that rest on either side of a horse's haunch.

Maybe there's some obscure genre of cinema devoted to exploring the power dynamics of OBGYN exams (if it does exist, my money is on the Italians). But just in case my hunch is correct, and thus far there is no OB-oeuvre, The Debt breaks new ground when it comes to establishing a sterile examination table as a brilliant set piece.

Adapted from a 2007 Israeli film, The Debt tells the tale of three Mossad agents sent undercover to kidnap an infamous Nazi butcher. Relative to other recent Jewish payback fantasies, it's slightly less ponderous than Munich and infinitely less gleeful about its revenge-seeking than Inglourious Basterds, yet like both cinematic cousins, entertaining enough to warrant an $11 ticket.

helen mirren bikini 1.jpg
...and Helen Mirren IN a bikini. I aim to please.
Split between flashbacks of the team training in 1965 East Berlin (the younger versions of the characters are played by the wispy and facially scarred Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas) and in 1997 Israel (when Chastain has suddenly morphed into the sturdier--not an insult! she's sexy, just not built like a willow--Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciaran Hinds) The Debt suffers one major problem: There are just too many characters to keep track of.

As Roger Ebert put it in his review, it's not a good sign when you're confused about which actor is playing which younger version of himself. That's not so much the fault of the other actors as it is the inescapable fact that no relationship in the movie is more fraught with tension than the one that begins with those aforementioned stirrups.

Chastain is prone, vulnerable, and clad only in a flimsy paper gown when she first meets her would-be abductee. The notorious Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen) once conducted inhuman experiments on his Jewish captors. Now he's in private practice in--where else--Nazi-friendly Buenos Aires.

What follows is a an expertly filmed kidnapping scene. Then a prolonged hostage scenario where the complicated dynamics between Chastain and the man who once held power over her--the same power she now has over him--dwarf whatever small-fry emotions arise from the love triangle with her fellow agents.

Is there an appropriate way to transition from vaginal exams to dinner? Probably not, but here's the old college try: Like The Debt, my meal at the Bookstore Bar was filled with solid supporting characters and one star.

Located in downtown's Alexis Hotel, the Bookstore Bar serves a decent if unspectacular "signature three-cheese mac," an undersalted crab cake, and a slightly overcooked halibut that's overshadowed by the lardons, carrots, and roasted artichokes that practically melt in your mouth. All good. No big complaints.

So what's the star? That'd be the blood and sand, my new favorite cocktail.

The blood and sand has its own cinematic roots. The drink, made with scotch, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth, and orange juice, was reportedly named after a Rudolph Valentino movie in which he played a bullfighter. (Blood. Sand. Get it?)

Not a scotch fan normally, the liqueur, vermouth, and citrus provided just the right amount of sweet to counterbalance the peaty bite. Also: there was booze in it. How could it not be good?

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