It’s Pitch Perfect at Vitae
By Steve Herte
As Helene always said, "Go to movies (or through life) expecting nothing. Then, you're never disappointed." But sometimes you are pleasantly surprised or even delighted, which happened on both counts. I was moved almost to tears by both the cinema and the dinner (I actually felt like Anton Ego in Ratatouille), such were the experiences.
Pitch Perfect (Universal, 2012) Director: Jason Moore. Starring Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, John Benjamin Hickey, Adam DeVine, and Rebel Wilson.
Why do people go to a movie theater these days when it’s definitely cheaper to download, rent or even buy the DVD? Is it the big screen, the popcorn, junk food and occasionally reclining seats? Maybe you enjoy having your seat kicked, being with others who text or chat throughout a film, or smelling some dreadful concession-stand concoction being eaten by someone without taste buds. For me, the movies are an escape from reality. That’s why I choose so many animated films and enjoy mostly sci-fi and horror with only a sprinkling of movies without special effects. Pitch Perfect is one of these.
Before deciding on Pitch Perfect I watched trailers and they showed promise of entertainment, the second reason I go to movies. The basic story here is one we’ve heard before. The daughter, Beca (Kendrick) wants to go to L.A. and become a DJ or radio announcer, mixing songs for her listeners, but her father (Hickey) wants her to go to college and learn to “make something of herself.” (familiar, no?) Concurrent with this story is the struggle of the Barden Bellas, the only all-female of four a capella groups on campus – two are coed, one all-male (The “Treble-Makers”) – in attaining the championship at the Lincoln Center finals for college a capella groups. The Bellas have just suffered a serious set-back as a result of their lead singer and anal organizer’s projectile vomiting over the first three rows of the audience during their performance (which, by the way, was the only time the audience got interested). They were reduced from 10 to two and need to rebuild their numbers with the incoming freshmen to redeem themselves. Sub-plot to these is the budding romance between Beca and Jesse (Astin), also a freshman. He joins the show-off, self-centered and repeat championship-winning Treble-Makers and she is eventually cajoled into auditioning for and joining the Bellas.
Beca establishes herself as a talented individual by not singing the “chosen” audition song, but instead sitting on the stage accompanying herself by tapping and turning a large drink cup – an amazing performance in itself. She does not endear herself to Chloe (Snow), who is used to getting her own way, even if it destroys the group’s chances of winning. It’s interesting to watch the Bellas overcome the differences in their new configuration. One is Fat Amy (Wilson) – “I call myself that to keep others from calling me that behind my back.” – who sings up a storm but adds a sexual slant Chloe doesn’t approve of. Another is Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), an adorable Asian girl who speaks so softly no one can hear her. And still another is Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), a black girl with hair dyed scarlet who comes off more male than female at the audition. Together they go through many clashes and harmonies before sharing secrets and making the necessary compromises to become a cohesive whole.
Meanwhile, the Treble-Makers lose their extremely conceited lead singer Bumper (DeVine) when an offer comes from Hollywood to be a “background” singer to some famous artist. This is Jesse’s chance to lead and his buddy Benji (Platt) achieves his dream of joining the group (he was rejected off-hand by Bumper from the first).
Beca and Jesse have a rocky start to their relationship until he convinces her to watch the film Breakfast Club all the way through. It is then she understands: She has been pushing people away who want to get into a relationship with her and it’s now time for a change. She’s so influenced by the movie that she incorporates the song “Don’t You Forget about Me” into the Bellas’ competition medley.
Pitch Perfect is an interesting movie with a lot of good singing and teen angst. The acting by Snow and DeVine stand out because, if you can make the audience dislike you, you’re doing it right – and they both succeed at that. Several slang terms are used in the film, so it helps to be up on the latest jargon (there were some I never heard, so I missed a joke or two). Also used are music-speak terms like “acca-excuse me?” and “toner” used to describe a musical boner (yes, you get the drift). There are several laughs and even a gross-out scene where Lilly falls onto her back on a flood of Chloe’s vomit and starts making vomit angels on the floor.
However, the final competition is what the audience is waiting for. The Treble-Makers do an energetic, dynamic, and seemingly unbeatable medley of songs, but the Barden Bellas (now a totally different singing group from the one at the outset) create a hurricane of sound and dazzle the audience with a breathtaking performance! I was feeling tired at the end. If my former chorus performed like they did, I would never have left them.
Whatever you do, do not discount Pitch Perfect as a mere chick-flick. Stay to the end.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.
4 East 46th Street (5th Avenue), New York City
This seven-month-old addition to “Little Brazil” breaks up the favela with American cuisine and eclectic preparation. The attractive menu items online and the unique décor lured me to one of the 16 tables in the main dining area. Surrounding the deep green banquettes and polished, bare-wood topped tables are half walls of linked, aluminum-colored arabesques on an off-white background that lead up to tinted glass mirror blocks stacked on the wall like bricks. From these, cone-shaded sconces hang in a random pattern. The black and white flooring reflects the chicken-wire effect on the walls, leading to an overall sense of being in a large fisherman’s net. At the back of the restaurant is a black stairway leading to the private dining area supported by twin fans of steel rods looking almost like the bridge on the “Big Dig” in Boston. Combined with the room, the stairway adds a lobster-pot-like entrance. Overhead, the ceiling has an amoebic cutout that offers more soft lighting to the room.
After checking my jacket, hat and bag and receiving the number “1” (several tables were occupied already), I was seated at the first table in the main area and given the cocktail menu, the wine list and glass of water. Having not been to Trader Vic’s Restaurant in the Plaza Hotel since 1987 (it was closed by Donald Trump in 1989) I chose the Trader Vic Mai Tai, Appleton Estate V/X Rum, Depaz Amber Rum, Lemon Hart 151 Rum, House Curacao, House Orgeat (an almond-based syrup) and lime juice over ample ice, topped with a violet orchid and a spring of mint. It brought back fond memories.
My beautiful raven-haired waitress, Wendy, explained the food menu. It was divided into appetizers and soups on the left fold, prix-fixe alternatives in the center (with sides below it), and pastas (half-orders available) and main courses on the right. My starter was “Shrimp Toast” – two slices of baguette toasted with ground shrimp and accompanied by a square bowl containing Sepia (cuttlefish), Crab, baby Mussels and Sea Urchin with strips of cucumber in a beautiful deep green Ocean Broth – not your traditional shrimp toast from your local Chinese take-out. The various seafoods were tender and delicious and the broth an amazing flavor, only slightly salty. Using the homemade rolls (served in their own square cast-iron pan, on a slate hot plate), I mopped up every drop.
The wine list was diverse and a bit on the high-priced side, but I found an excellent 2007 Chinon Rouge from the famous Loire Valley, which accented every dish nicely. The next course was a half order of Cavatelli – with delicate Rabbit Meat, Olives, Grape Tomato halves, Pearl Onions, Pine Nuts, and (of course) cheese – an ambrosial combination obviously meant to bring strong men to their knees. Thank goodness I was seated.
I had chosen the main course while viewing the menu online. Not since the Wellington Grill at the Drake Hotel have I had such excellent Beef Wellington – Angus Beef with Balsamic Onions, Chive Pommes Purée (an asparagus-green potato miracle) and Parisian carrots (little tender orange domes) – medium well, juicy and wrapped in flaky pastry dough. It was excellent, but I suggested that the liver paté missing between the pastry and the beef might have added another level of flavor. Wendy noted this. The Brussels Sprouts (the only misspelling on the menu) and Bacon as a side dish were not overcooked, but another beautiful shade of green, and crunchy, and the Lardons (not really bacon) were delightful.
Not once, but twice per course, was I asked how everything was – an indication of a restaurant that cares. The rolls were served without butter or oil and they didn’t need any. Salt and pepper sellers were not in evidence either and were not needed as well.
For the third or fourth time this year (D.C., Philly, New York) I’ve had S’Mores for dessert. These were a milk chocolate mousse on a tender graham cracker and topped by a cinnamon marshmallow surrounded by a sticky chocolate and marshmallow cream sauce – wonderful! Then, after a double espresso and a delicious glass of 2008 Verdicchio Passito from Santarelli vineyards I was ready for the weekend. As the Spanish say, Estoy Vivir at Vitae! (This is living!)