Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rise of the Guardians - in 3D

Dinner and a Movie

The Guardians’ Cock & Bull

By Steve Herte

The reason I don't pay too much attention to the reviewers I hear on television is that too often they miss the point of a movie. Sandy Kenyon, movie critic for WABC TV in New York City, didn't think much of the movie I saw. I believe he advised not to waste time on it. He doesn't know how to have fun. My evening was fun from opening scene to after-dinner drink, something I try to accomplish every Friday. I'll be quoting this one for years to come.

Rise of the Guardians – in 3D (Dreamworks, 2012) Director: Peter Ramsey. Starring the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isia Fisher, High Jackman, and Georgie Grieve. 97 minutes.

Rise of the Guardians is a wild tale of childhood belief and the characters who depend on it to exist. It begins with the birth of Jack Frost (Chris Pine), as he is called by the Man in the Moon (whom we never see), to burst through the ice of a lake to become the herald of winter and creator of snow days. He finds his crooked staff and soon is dashing about making intricate frost patterns everywhere and assisting a child in an exceptionally long sled ride through town. However, when he tries to introduce himself to people of the town he realizes no one can see or hear him (in fact, they walk right through him) because they don’t believe in him.

The scene changes to Santa’s (Alec Baldwin) Workshop (300 years later) where he’s just known as North and a message comes from the same Man in the Moon that the Boogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law) is returning to the world to make havoc. So he calls a meeting of the Guardians: The Sandman – a little golden man made of sand who only communicates in symbols, the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) – an iridescent hummingbird-like creature who is perpetually hovering and darting about, and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) and tells them that the Man in the Moon has chosen a new Guardian to help them confront the enemy.

While Tooth Fairy is guessing it might be the Leprechaun and Easter Bunny is praying it isn’t the Groundhog, Santa (who, by the way is broad-shouldered, speaks with a Russian accent and has “Naughty” tattooed on his right arm and “Nice” on the left) announces it to be Jack Frost. “We’d be better off with the Groundhog.” says the tough, seven-foot warrior-bunny. We learn later on that Jack almost ruined Easter once with a snow day. Santa has a huge globe with lights to represent children who believe in him all over the world and they are starting to go out.

Nevertheless, Santa sends Bunny and two of his Yetis to get Jack. They find him, stuff him into a sack and open up a portal using Santa’s magic snow-globes and whisk him to the North Pole. After getting past his wonder at meeting Santa and his annoyance at being shanghaied by yetis and the “Easter Kangaroo,” Jack doubts that he qualifies as being a Guardian because he’s all about fun and no one believes in him. Still, if the Man in the Moon says so…

Meanwhile, the Boogeyman is hard at work stealing all the teeth stored up by the Tooth Fairy and her legion of little helpers (except for the littlest one, Babytooth). Not only that, he steals the childhood memories of these children and the helpers themselves and locks them into birdcages. Consequently the Tooth Fairy starts losing her plumage as children stop believing in her. The Guardians band together to retrieve the teeth and place the rewards under the pillows using Santa’s super-powered sleigh, Bunny’s hyper tunnels and Jack’s wind travel. It becomes a wild race and contest between them and the Sandman. They finish in a young boy’s bedroom and wake him by accident. Then it’s a scramble to get him back to sleep. Sandman misses three times, hitting Santa, Bunny and Tooth Fairy, putting them into dreamland before succeeding with the boy.

Just when they think they’ve succeeded, the Boogeyman attacks the Sandman next by turning the golden dreams he sends children into ferocious black horses (nightmares – get it?) and after a direct confrontation obliterates him, even though Jack does his best to defend him. With Easter coming up the next day, they decide to save it and Bunny opens a tunnel with two taps of his foot and they all drop through it (Santa exclaims “Shostakovich!” as he falls) to The Warren, where eggs are everywhere waiting to be colored and they prepare to get to work. Unfortunately, while the three were sleeping at their last stop, little Sophie Bennett (Georgie Grieve) found one of Santa’s snow globes and is transported to the Warren as well. Suddenly the hard-nosed Bunny becomes soft-spoken and fatherly and takes her to help get eggs ready for Easter.

Jack, on the other hand is miffed about what Pitch did to Sandman and goes after him. He and Babytooth discover the cave with all the tooth fairy helpers and the boxes of childhood memories lay in a pile. Pitch Black appears and asks him if he wonders about his own childhood memories and produces his box. Jack doesn’t know what to do with it but returns to the Warren only to find that Pitch’s forces have crushed all the Easter eggs and that the big tall bunny has been reduced to a small, cuddly one. Now he’s really mad at Pitch.

He goes back, has a discussion of belief with Pitch, discovers that Pitch is holding Babytooth and won’t give her up unless he turns over his staff. He does so, Pitch snaps it and hurls both of them into a crevasse. He finds he still has his box of childhood memories and Babytooth helps him open it. The memory floods back of his saving his little sister from the thin ice of the lake that gave him birth, and makes him realize his purpose and his Guardianship. After several tries he’s able to re-assemble his staff and returns with Babytooth to the cave, only to discover that none of the helpers are able to fly out of their cages. He returns to the North Pole to see Pitch darkening the last seven belief lights on Santa’s globe. The last light won’t go out. It’s Jamie Bennett (Dakota Goyo), the kid he helped with the great sled ride in the beginning (who now sees and believes in him).

He enlists all of Jamie’s friends to believe that all of Pitch’s forces are just “bad dreams” and bravely, the children walk up to the snarling horses and, with a touch, change them into golden dinosaurs, unicorns, manta rays, butterflies, and thus devastate the army with good dreams. The final battle is enjoined when belief strengthens the hobbling Santa, the re-winged Tooth Fairy and her minions, the eventually re-grown Bunny and, in a cyclone of golden sand, the reanimated Sandman. The Boogeyman is not only defeated, but people start walking through him in their disbelief.

If you don’t mind that Rise of the Guardians ignores the true meanings of Christmas and Easter, it is still a fun movie with a moral. All the good you truly believe in exists and has reality only as long as you believe. It is well written, well animated, excellently voiced (especially my favorite character, Bunny) and the musical background does not interfere. The 3D effects enhance the movie, even to the point of providing a full circle effect with a snowflake that hangs rotating over the audience both at the beginning and towards the end. My favorite moment is when all the Guardians first ride in Santa’s sleigh (Bunny doesn’t want to) and they take of at break-neck speed. Santa turns to Bunny and says, “I hope you like loop-the-loops!” To which Bunny sarcastically replies, “I hope you like carrots!” 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Cock & Bull British Pub
23 West 45th Street (5th/6th), New York City

The stretch of 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues is an unusual location to find a good dining place, being more famous for Jack’s discount store and several bars. However, currently under a scaffold is the Cock & Bull, a six-month-old addition to the neighborhood, which was cheery and nearly full of lively people having animated conversation over drinks at 7:15 pm on a Friday. I oozed myself through the crowd at the bar, which is the entire length of the lower (street) level to the stairway where I met my waitress.

I announced my reservation (thank goodness I made one) and she checked it off on her pad of paper (no computerized Captain’s Station for this authentic pub) and led me upstairs to my table, located on a balcony overlooking the scene below and framed by a large Christmas tree and holiday decorations in red and gold and tiny white twinkle lights. I was charmed from the beginning and somewhat honored at my semi-private table.

A glass of water arrived post-haste and after perusing the cocktail, beer and wine menu I ordered my martini. It was perfectly made to my specifications. While sipping it I noticed the reason the Cock & Bull is called a British Pub. The one page menu has English, Welsh and Scottish dishes and includes the token Indian dish, Chicken Tikka Masala.

When I saw Welsh Rarebit on the appetizer list I stopped and immediately ordered it (it’s been a really long time since my last one). Basically, it’s farmhouse cheddar cheese melted over toast with crumbled rashers (bacon) strewn on top. It was delicious, especially with a dash of HP Steak sauce. I had to comment that very few things are as comforting as good cheddar and bacon together. To which a waiter commented, “No matter what your cardiologist says.”

There was a Chopped Salad that interested me, featuring beets, green beans, Granny Smith apple, goat cheese and in a chive vinaigrette dressing, but when I selected the Beef and Ale Pie my waitress assured me I didn’t need the salad and she was right. The pie was served piping hot in a six-inch ceramic bowl covered by a golden brown flakey pastry crust (one actually baked onto it rather than pre-made and placed on top). Inside were juicy tender cubes of beef, porcini mushrooms, and pearl onions in a creamy sauce redolent of rosemary. It was amazing. And since I didn’t have the salad, I sided it with a Mug of Chips – large, length-wise slices of potato, deep fried with the skin on and served with Malt vinegar and sea salt. Hey! I was in London. A glass or two of Argentinean Malbec from Diseno Mendosa vineyard and every bite was finished; every drop of sauce was sopped up.

Apparently, new on the dessert menu was my choice: Banoffe Pie – a chocolate crust filled with a toffee/banana cream, topped with powdered sugar and sliced strawberries – delightful. Even the house tea was special. A beautiful flowered teapot arrived accompanied by a blue and white china cup and saucer. The service was as charming as the tea was good. When I looked at the drink menu, one stood out as a possible after-dinner drink. Called the “Father Aengus Cocktail,” it was a wonderful mix of Jameson Irish whiskey, Irish Mist Liqueur, Ginger Beer and a splash of lime juice. They dedicated it to Father Aengus Finucane, who helped people worldwide through his work with the charity, Concern Worldwide. Cock & Bull donates the proceeds of all sales of this cocktail to Concern USA in his honor.

Cock & Bull won the 2012 Best British Pub Diners’ Choice Award from Opentable.com (rightly so) and specifically features background music by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Oasis, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Paul Weller, Lloyd Cole, Adele and Lily Allen. I know I heard “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” a Beatles song I haven’t heard in a long time. So happily I paid my check, assured my waitress of a return, and took my complimentary Toffee Crisp bar and headed for home.

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