Saturday, February 23, 2013

Escape From Planet Earth in 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Escape from Peru

By Steve Herte

Well, I didn't get to the restaurant I expected, but I will eventually. The day worked out nicely considering the setback caused by the blizzard. I seem to be spending a lot of time lately near Madison Park and I noticed that the new Museum of Mathematics borders on it, so, next staycation it's a destination. As for now, please enjoy the latest Dinner and a Movie.
Escape From Planet Earth in 3D (Weinstein, 2013) Director: Cal Brunker. The voices of: Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba, Rob Corddry, Sofia Vergara, Jonathan Morgan Heit, William Shatner, George Lopez, Craig Robinson, and Jane Lynch. Color, Dolby Digital, 3-D, 89 minutes.

Since animation is one of my passions and knowing the work that goes into creating characters that can perform believably on screen, I was anticipating this reverse space adventure. Scorch Supernova (Fraser), the planetary hero of planet Baab (pronounced Bob), is slated to go on a rescue mission to “the dark planet” (Earth) to save the most recent visitors, even though he’s been warned that all who go to the dark planet are never heard from again.

The movie opens with Scorch on a mission to save six baby Baabians from the baby-eating creatures of another planet. His older brother Gary (Corddry) is at Mission Control trying to guide his actions and keep him and the babies safe. However, Scorch is full of bravado and egotism, and ignores his brother’s advice to keep quiet and awakens the enemy. Now he has to run for his life and avoid their snapping jaws to get back to his space ship. Thanks to Gary’s sense of timing he leaps a ravine and deploys his grappling hook just in time to swing across and taunt his chasers before blasting off. He lands on Baab to tumultuous applause and media attention - newscaster Gabby Babblebrock (Vergara) swoons in his presence but regains her composure in time for her live coverage.

Scorch is tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed and attractive. Gary is short, skinny and bookish, the brains of the family. Gary’s son Kip (Heit) wants to be just like Uncle Scorch. His wife Kira (Parker) is supportive and the good housewife and mother. When the Earth mission is announced by Gary and Scorch’s boss, Lena Thackleman (Alba), Gary is reluctant because of all he’s heard but Scorch can’t wait to get going. In fact he has his ship all readied way before Mission Control can get up to speed. Gary argues with his brother and quits. Scorch takes off for Earth and is captured by Area 51 troopers at a 7-11.

When he learns about Scorch being captured/maybe killed, Kip tries to go to the rescue leading his Mom and Dad on a chase to the spaceport where they successfully stop him. At this point it dawns on Gary that he must go rescue his brother. He takes an escape pod, travels to Earth, crash lands, escapes the pod just as the self-destruct engages, and is captured by the same Area 51 troopers.

It is then we learn that General Shanker (Shatner) has been funneling all alien life into Area 51 to steal their technology and force them to build a doomsday machine meant to exterminate the home planets of ALL aliens. The machine only needs a sufficient power source and the General is wooing Lena (literally, he dresses up like Elvis whenever he’s on the video-com) to get it. Gary meets Thurman (Lopez), a slug-like creature with four arms and three eyes in his cell, Doc (Robinson), a bat-like alien in the next cell and Io (Lynch) a huge, one-eyed lobster-like alien in the last cell and they tell him what they’ve been doing for the General thinking they will be allowed to go home once it’s complete. The story goes back and forth between their plight and Lena’s fake love affair with Shanker until everyone realizes what’s really going on. Gary destroys the power source for the machine and when forced to reconstruct it programs a glitch into it that causes the machine to self-destruct.

Meanwhile Kira, having been inspired by the devotion of her son, has secretly boarded the ship Lena is using to bring the power sources to Shanker. They scuffle and Kira overpowers Lena and they turn back to Baab. The fleeing group of aliens on Earth makes it to Scorch’s disguised ship and nearly escape when Shanker appears wearing Scorch’s power suit and he puts a tractor beam on them. Gary and Scorch leap from the ship and disable the beam sending Shanker (and themselves) plummeting to Earth. At the last minute before impact all three are suspended inches from the ground by three “greys” (the aliens pictured on X-Files and animated on Stargate SG1 with the big heads, skinny bodies and almond-shaped black eyes). They explain that they were also being used by Shanker and are now free to rebel against him. Up to this point they never spoke and now they sound like the Beatles – that unmistakable Liverpuddlian accent. One even says Ringo-esque, “Guys, let’s not break up the group.”

All the aliens re-board the ship and head back to Baab, but shortly before leaving Earth the ship develops a problem with the steering controls. They call Mission Control and the only one there is Kip, who using techniques learned from flying a toy version of the spaceship, helps them escape the Earth fighter planes and land safely back on Baab. This success makes Kip now want to be just like his Dad at Mission Control and Gary is proud. Scorch embarks on his next and most dangerous mission, marrying Gabby, the music swells and everybody parties.

Escape From Planet Earth is a very colorful movie. The spaceport on Baab looks more like a candy circus carnival. The animation is nicely done and seamless and the computer graphics are convincing – even though the only character with fur is Doc. The story is as old as the hills and the comedy made me laugh one or two times (not exactly a laugh riot) but was clever. It doesn’t rank up there with other animated features I’ve seen where meticulous attention is paid to details. The science fiction angle is obvious and is made even more obvious when the physics goes astray in one scene. Gary is taking off in the escape pod and is totally enclosed in a transparent shield, but still his mouth flaps about as if the wind from his acceleration was affecting it (there shouldn’t be any wind). It’s a good film, not a great one, and probably will not make it to my collection. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
11 Madison Avenue (25th Street) New York

I recently had a conversation with my special friend about restaurants. She told me that we should find more South American restaurants to visit; that I should taste more of the cuisine. As she is Ecuadorian, I couldn’t well disagree. This week I noticed that a Peruvian restaurant was conveniently located near the theatre where our chosen movie for the week was playing, so it was no brainer of a choice. And we were glad we chose it.

The location of La Mar struck a note of déjà vu in me and it turned out to be accurate. Occupying the site of the former Tabla, a progressive Indian/American restaurant, La Mar took the two-story space to a new classy level. The bar area is on the main floor and a gracefully curving black staircase leads up to the main dining area. The well-polished black pedestal tables and low-backed matching chairs with turquoise webbing for support surround a circular hole overlooking the bar. Suspended from the ceiling above are hundreds of clear Mylar threads with pale green and blue glass beads attached at random intervals evincing the concept of rain frozen in time. The walls and ceiling are off-white and potted Ti plants add a little greenery. The overall effect is chic, cosmopolitan class.

After a comfortable settling-in time, my waiter brought a glass of water and a cup of plantain chips with a delightfully spiced dip tasting of pimiento and asked for my cocktail order. I chose the Chicha Tu Ma, an exotic, blood-red combination of pisco quebranta (grape juice), chicha morada (a Peruvian beverage made from purple maize), orange liqueur and organic maracuya (passion fruit). It’s a very compelling potion. 

The two-page menu is divided into Cebiches, Tiraditos (Peruvian Sashimi), Causas (whipped potatoes topped with seafood or chicken), Ensaladas (salads), Almuercitos Peruanos (combinations), Empanadas (stuffed pastry), Anticuchos (skewered meats), Piqueos (Peruvian appetizers), Platos De Fondo (Main courses), and Desserts. Having assured David, my waiter that I knew what cebiche (sometimes spelled ceviche – a salad-like, slightly vinegary, cold fish dish, variously spiced and served mainly as an appetizer) was and that I knew it was the national dish of Peru, I mentioned that in a Philadelphia restaurant (Pasion!) they served a sampler of three. David suggested that the chef could do the same at La Mar and after a short wait while enjoying my cocktail three little bowls were set before me. On the left was a traditional cebiche of fluke called Elegance, a light, tasty, slightly tart concoction with Bermuda onion and cilantro. In the center was a mixed seafood cebiche called Limeño with calamari, octopus, scallop, in a zesty orange garlic sauce that tingled on the tongue. On the right was a yellow fin tuna cebiche called Nikei in a sweet/sour red Asian sauce with daikon, sesame seeds and cucumber overtones. All three were wonderful.

I ordered a 2008 Argentine Malbec named Añoro, which was full-bodied and rich, and perfectly complimented the Peruvian flavors. At that point I asked David why there were no Peruvian wines on the wine list. He explained that the Peruvian wineries are still in their infancy and the chef decided that they weren’t up to the quality of the food he was serving. Maybe 10 years from now. Well, I was sold on the quality of the food.

My main dish was Sudado - Atlantic Halibut, manila clams, yucca, kabocha squash, onions and tomatoes in an aji Amarillo (yellow garlic) white wine broth – wonderful. The halibut was delicate and flaky, the clams tender and the vegetables full of flavor. I had to comment to David that each bite tasted like more. I noticed that the lovely raven-haired lady across from me in the strapless black dress was enjoying her dish as much as I. The side dish, Tacu Tacu was a delicious substitute for mashed potatoes made from lima beans (seriously, forget everything you ever knew about lima beans, this was awesome) nicely baked and redolent of cinnamon.

Even after finishing all this with tears of joy in my eyes I was eager for dessert. Enter the Suspiro Loco – Peruvian dulce de leche (sweet milk), spiced cannoli, port wine reduction, and helado de nata (ice cream with whipped cream). Wow! With a double espresso and a glass of Dolc de L’Obac (a dessert wine from Spain tasting of cherries and chocolate) I was ready for a tour of the Andes. La Mar Cebicheria Peruana has restaurants in Bogota, Lima, Panama, Sao Paolo and San Francisco, and as of September 2012, New York has the sophisticated taste of Peruvian cuisine. Viva restaurante numero 2,520!

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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