Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Paperman & Wreck-It Ralph

Dinner and a Movie

The Paper Read by Ralph at Seven

By Steve Herte

Note: After a week off from work (290 Broadway had no power due to Hurricane Sandy), I thought I would be hard pressed to come up with a Dinner and a Movie column, but not so. The New York subway system opened up just enough to allow me to get to 34th Street and supply ample musings. It was a trek though. Because they waived the fare, thousands of people who wouldn't normally be on the subway were, and because of that and the limited service, it took two hours to get to 34th Street from Queens. I just made it to the theater for the previews. Needless to say, when you see the title of the movie, you’ll know why the theater was packed, but there was a bonus feature to start. 

Paperman (Walt Disney Animated Studios, 2012) – Director: John Kahrs. Starring the voices of John Kahrs and Kari Wahlgren. 

It’s always a touch of nostalgia when a short-subject film precedes a full-length movie these days, especially when it’s an animated short done in black and white with only a single color.

The film opens with the “Paperman” waiting for a train at an elevated station carrying his portfolio. The wind blows a sheet of paper from a pretty young lady’s portfolio onto his leg. He retrieves it and gives it back to her and neither thinks any more about it. Then the wind blows one of his papers into her face and when she returns it we see the red lipstick “kiss” mark on the paper. They smile at this and, just as he’s about to take the next step, her train arrives and she’s on it and gone.

He goes to his office where rows of men busily work over stacks of papers on their desks. The boss brings a huge stack to his desk and wordlessly orders him to work. Looking out his window he notices the same woman he met on the train station arriving for an interview at an office in the building across the street from his when she sits in a chair by the open window. He tries waving his arms to get her attention but she doesn’t look his way. Using the stack of papers on his desk he starts making paper planes to hopefully sail into that window and get her notice. All of them fail in many different ways. The last one is the one with the lipstick mark. It misses also and lands in an alley filled with paper planes.

The boss meanwhile arrives looking angry and shuts his window and slams another large stack of papers onto his desk. The paperman leaves the office in a huff when he sees the woman leave the interview and all of his attempts were failures.

Meanwhile, in the alley, a breeze lifts the lipstick paper plane and all the others in a whirlwind so often seen in cities. The paperman passes the alley and one by one, a caravan of paper planes follow him while the lipstick paper plane seeks out the girl. Eventually, he’s completely enveloped in paper planes urging him onto an elevated train and she’s chasing the last one onto another train. We see the two trains arrive at the same station from different directions, and the paperman and the girl get off and finally meet.

All of this is accomplished without a single word. The humor is all visual and only a quiet musical background supplies the mood. Disney Corporation’s entry in the Annecy Animation Festival is the proof of Pixar’s power to mix computer graphics with hand-drawn animation seamlessly to create a beautiful story in minimal time. One can only hope that Disney appreciates the goldmine it bought when it acquired Pixar

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Wreck-It Ralph (Walt Disney Animated Studios, 2012) – Director: Rich Moore. Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Lynch.

Anyone who’s ever been to a video game arcade knows “Wreck-It Ralph,” along with Mario, Q-Bert, Pac-Man, and the like. This movie takes the audience inside the individual machines to tell the tale from the inside out. The characters in the game are like actors performing the same scenes over and over again, each time a quarter is inserted and someone works a joystick. However, when the arcade closes down, the characters have a different life. They can choose to ride a train through the electrical wires to a surge suppressor which opens up to us as “Game Central Station” and there they can interact and be themselves.

It is the 30th anniversary of the “Fix-It Felix Junior” game and all the inhabitants of the apartment building Ralph (voiced by John C. Riley) continually tries to wreck are throwing a party for Felix (Jack McBrayer). Of course they do not invite Ralph. Ralph tries to stay in his dump filled with bricks but starts to feel left out. He travels to the Pac-Man machine where a “Bad Anon” meeting is being held for all the bad-guys video game players have known over the years. He shocks them all by denying his bad-guy role and his determination to become a hero.

In his own machine, Ralph notes that every time Felix wins, he gets a gold medal. So, he figures that if he gets a gold medal people will treat him better. Learning that there is a gold medal to be won in the Soldier’s Duty game, he decides to “go Turbo” and leave his game to win it. Unfortunately, this leaves Felix with nothing to do and no one to save and the machine receives the dreaded “Out of Order” sign when a player tells the arcade manager about the problem.

Ralph appropriates the full metal jacket armor and enters Soldier’s Duty where he finds he’s under the command of Calhoun (Jane Lynch) a tough, but sexy task mistress whose only intent is exterminating cyberbugs. Of course, Ralph only wants the medal and figures out how to attain it when the game finishes and all the bugs are attracted to the beacon at the end. He climbs the tower, gets the medal, accidentally hatches a bug egg and winds up in an escape pod with it which flies through Game Central Station causing havoc there and crashes in the “Sugar Rush” game machine. This game is a candy car race in the kingdom of Candyland, ruled by King Candy (Alan Tudyk) and all the contestants have cutsie names like Taffyta Muttonfudge (Mindy Kaling), Candlehead (Katie Lowes), Jubileena Bing Bing (Josie Trinidad), Crumbelina De Caramello (Cymbre Walk), and Rancis Fluggerbutter (Jamie Elman) – you get the idea.

Anyway, after the crash, the cyberbug sinks into a mire of green taffy and is presumed dead (not!) and Ralph sees his medal on a high branch of a candy cane tree. He meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), supposedly a programming glitch in Sugar Rush (but actually the star character, we learn later on), who bests him at climbing, obtains the medal and uses it as entry fee into the race, where it becomes computer code. Ralph’s and Vanellope’s relationship go from annoyance to cooperation (he builds her a car and teaches her to drive), to friendship in the process of achieving their mutual goals.

Meanwhile, Felix leaves his game to find Ralph, meets up with Calhoun, falls in love with her, saves her from the Nestle Quik-Sand using vines of Laffy-Taffy (which were really laughing) and learns from her that the cyberbug has laid thousands of eggs which are about to destroy Candyland.

Long story short, the eggs hatch during the race, King Candy is found out to be the character “Turbo” and becomes a hybrid of himself and a bug, Ralph fights him to create a beacon using Mentos and hot Cola Lava, Vanellope wins the race and becomes Princess of Candyland, Felix and Calhoun marry and Ralph is a genuine hero.

Believe it or not, Wreck-It Ralph has much more to be said about it. The comedy in it is excellent (and clean), the graphics are beautifully done and the voices match the characters so well I was totally caught up in the story, believing the craziness I was watching. It most definitely is a movie to bring the children to see as well as one the adults will enjoy. Within its absurd circumstances are real-life relationships and the stages they can go through. Strange to say, one could learn from this movie. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Seven Bar & Grill
350 7th Avenue (29th / 30th Streets), New York City

A black sign bearing the number seven in white-fading-to pale-blue dots in a sky blue circle tells you that you have arrived at 11-year-old Seven. The rich, coppery wood paneling and burnished gold décor leads you down a long hall presided over by elaborate crystal chandeliers. On the left is the impressively-long bar, on the right are booths accented in muted earth tones. In the back is the open kitchen with a stairway on the left to the upper dining area and a small section of tables to the right. Facing the kitchen, almost at the base of the steps is my table. Normally I face the front of a restaurant or sit near a window, but watching food being prepared is another one of my joys.

Seven is doing a lively business and the crowd sounds almost eliminate the classic rock music being played in the background. A server presents me with the menu and the cocktail/wine by the glass menu, and a glass of water. My waiter arrives shortly and takes my martini order after noting the unavailable items on the menu and convincing me that the cocktail known as “Seven’s Deadly Sin” was only a sweet martini. When he returned with it I chose a 2008 Cabernet from Sebastiani vineyards in Sonoma County to accompany my dinner. Right away, three appetizers on the menu attracted my attention: The Duck Taco, Cured Ham and Smokey Cheese Risotto, and the Hand Rolled Butternut Squash Jumbolini.

A delightful young blonde server who appeared managerial and had a sweet Irish brogue explained that the Jumbolini were basically ravioli, the Risotto is really good, but her favorite was the Duck Taco. That was good enough for me, even though I’m leery about anything with the word “taco.” What arrived at my table was decidedly not a taco but two soft tortillas filled with crispy duck confit, cabbage, red onion, chipotle sauce and queso fresco (fresh cheese) sided with a leaf-lettuce salad in a cumin-lime dressing. The flavor was amazing and very bacon-y and as I was rhapsodizing about it, Chef Mike Demilta passed my table and I complimented him highly on such a wonderful dish.

There were several interesting main courses to select from as well as pastas, but I was in the mood for steak. The Grilled Filet Mignon with Giant Tater-Tots, buttered peas, pearl onions and carrots in a green peppercorn sauce was perfect. Grilled exactly to my taste, the steak was perched on three inch-and-a half high cylinders of deep-fried potato (which reminded me of the legs of the robot Kronos in an old sci-fi movie) between which the other ingredients were found. It was very good, tender and juicy, but I found it was one tater-tot too many. Alas, I was full before number three. I was glad I had not ordered side dishes, although there were a few interesting possibilities (three of the four were potato).

Dessert was not an option considering how full I was but a nice glass of tawny port and an espresso finished off the meal perfectly.

Watching the kitchen, I noticed several orders of sliders (small burgers) going by that did not see on the main menu. It was only after coming home that I realized I had not seen the Tapas menu, which might have influenced my choices. Well then, I will have to make a second excursion to Seven in the near future.

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