Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rio 2

Dinner and a Movie

Almost Home to Rio Via Pennsylvania

By Steve Herte

This time of year is the busiest for me at work because I print up thank you letters and certificates for all the volunteers who provided free tax preparation services in partnership with us. Lately I’ve been doing more than 2,000 a year and I find it interesting, especially the Asian names that I have to think carefully about and not always know if they’re spelled correctly. Currently I’m only up to 381 but our major partners haven’t checked in yet.

My Facebook page is filling up rapidly with pictures and photos (thank you Mary and Maggie!) and I don’t have to update anything but my movie section. It has kind of taken a life of its own. Mary and Maggie are friends I met at karaoke along with my dance partner Betty. If I had a dull work life it would be one of the two highlights of my week. Fortunately, I love my work and though I could retire tomorrow, I won’t. Not yet.

I just learned that on my next stay-cation I have got to take the Dinosaur Safari again at the Bronx Zoo because they’ve added more dinosaurs! Yay! This is my year for prehistoric creatures. After the spectacular exhibit on pterosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, I’m ready for more.

Friday was a great evening – a movie I eagerly anticipated and enjoyed and a restaurant deserving a second visit. And – luckiest of all – the short I forgot to review two weeks ago played before this movie as well. Enjoy!

Almost Home (Dreamworks, 2014) – Director: Todd Wilderman. Writer: Adam Rex (novel). Voices: Steve Martin, Tom McGrath, & David Soren. Animated, Color, 4 minutes.

This is actually the second time I’ve seen this hilarious animated short about a spaceship full of aliens trying to find a new world to live on. The first planet we see is a beautifully colored peaceful place until these giant worms surface and try to eat the new arrivals. On the second planet only one alien is forced out of the spaceship and as soon as he gives the OK, a giant claw snatches him up. The next one has carnivorous fish, the next is volcanic (and this is in winter) and the next has brain-sucking cephalopods. The leader, Captain Smek (Martin) seesaws back and forth from triumph at “his” discovery to singing the alien death song. After almost visiting a Saturn-like planet, which gets destroyed by an incoming planetoid right before their eyes, they head to a planet called “Errrrrth” whose name sounds, “like you’re trying to cough up a hairball.” It’s a beautiful job of animation and great comedy. Too bad it’s only 4 minutes long.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Rio 2 (20th Century Fox/Blue Sky, 2014) – Director: Carlos Saldanha. Writers: Yoni Brenner (s/p), Carlos Saldanha (story and characters), Don Rhymer (story). Voices: Jake T. Austin, Carlinhos Brown, Kristin Chenoweth, Jermaine Clement, Jim Conroy, Rachel Crow, Bernando De Paula, Nola Donkin, Jesse Eisenberg, Miguel Ferrer, Jamie Foxx, Pierce Gagnon, Andy Garcia, Anne Hathaway, Philip Lawrence, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Rita Moreno, Tracy Morgan, Rodrigo Santoro, Amandla Stenberg, & Will I. Am. Animated, Color, 101 minutes.

Welcome to Rio! Once again, 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky blow us away with a large-scale musical opening to Rio 2 in a surging samba, crowds dancing on the beaches and the rainbow of colorful birds dancing in their own venue. Blu (Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway) are now the proud parents of three young blue macaws, Carla (Crow), Bia (Stenberg) and Tiago (Gagnon). Blu is still a city macaw making pancakes for the kids and Jewel is trying to give their brood a taste of the wild. Their happy home life in Rio de Janeiro is suddenly set on end when their former owner, Linda Gunderson (Mann), along with her husband, Tulio Monteiro (Santoro), appear on television announcing the discovery of a flock of blue macaws deep in the Amazon jungle.

Jewel immediately wants to go but Blu takes some convincing. He visits his friends Nico (Foxx), Pedro (Will I. Am) and Rafael the Toucan (Lopez) who are busy auditioning talent for this year’s Carnival show but are having very little luck. In fact the only act that shows any promise is the light bulb-shattering notes of Rafael’s wife. When Rafael gives Blu the maxim, “A happy wife – a happy life,” Blu is convinced, but he takes a fanny pack full of modern implements (including a GPS device) much to Jewel’s chagrin. Nico, Pedro and Rafael join them on their journey and convince Carla to go (at first she thinks it will be lame) on a talent hunt for the show. Luiz (Morgan) also wants to go, but being a bulldog, is left behind by the little flock.

Meanwhile the villain from Rio, Nigel the cockatoo (Clement) is performing dockside in Rio as a fortune-telling bird when he sees the flashes of blue overhead and recognizes the bird that made him flightless in the first episode. Vengeance boils up inside him once more. He escapes his keeper on the back of Charlie, a tap-dancing anteater and accompanied by Gabi (Chenoweth), a poison-dart frog desperately in love with him.

We meet a secondary villain in this episode in the person of a ruthless Headman for a logging concern (voiced by Ferrer) who will do anything to get the trees, including eliminating Linda and Tulio.

When Blu’s GPS announces, “You have arrived at your destination,” there’s no flock in sight. Instead, the whole group are bird-napped and taken to a secluded but beautiful glade in the jungle where the other Spix’s macaws live under the leadership of Eduardo (Garcia) and his older sister Mimi (Moreno). Jewel is delighted and Blu shocked when she recognizes Eduardo as her father. Then, to Blu’s dismay, the dashing Roberto (Mars) shows up and rekindles the childhood friendship he shared with Jewel.

Try as he might, Blu’s efforts to “fit in” with the wild flock go awry each time. He’s clumsy at the aerial ballet they perform in welcome (another Busby Berkeley showpiece), his initiation flight with Eduardo leaves him covered in mud, and when he tries to fetch a Brazil nut for Jewel he incites a “war” with a rival tribe of Scarlet macaws under the leadership of Felipe (Lawrence). The “war” is really an aerial soccer match between the two tribes using a Brazil nut as the ball. When Blu finally enters the score-tied game he succeeds in making a goal, but for the wrong side.

The only way to pull his tail feathers out of the fire is for Blu to use his friendship with Linda and Tulio to stop the loggers and convince Eduardo that people are not all bad.

I loved Rio 2 and was rather sad to learn that a noted reviewer dubbed it an “unnecessary sequel.” It is just as colorful as the first one, just as outrageously staged as the first one, and just as funny. Nigel does a hilarious spoof of the song “I Will Survive” as his audition for Nico’s and Pedro’s show. Gabi sings a beautifully arranged love song to the sleeping Nigel that will be nominated for Best Song in the next Oscars (mark my words). And who can listen to the throbbing beat of the samba without moving in your seat? Not Lou Costello. The animation and digital effects are pure genius. Note the close-ups where every little feather is visible and moving in the breeze. There’s even a Shakespearean death scene between Nigel and Gabi. Bring the family, bring the kids (but not babies – one was there crying) and don’t forget the old folks.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Pennsylvania 6
132 West 31st Street (6th / 7th Avenues), New York

With Daylight Savings in full force, the cool blue awnings and white lettering outside Pennsylvania 6 do not prepare you for the cavernous darkness within. The dark wood paneling and antique Art Deco swags give a speak-easy savor to the high-ceilinged room filled partially by a huge bar and partially by marble-topped tables attended by red leather chairs and banquettes. An impressively large multi-screen video monitor over the bar shows live sports of varying kinds while playing movies and commercials simultaneously. The crowd sounds at the bar are extremely lively as well as non-stop, but one can still hear and be heard. The young lady at the Captain’s Station heard me and, thankfully led me to a table far from the bar which was well lit.

When restaurant searching, the name of this place stood out as the beginning of a famous Jazz hit song and the phone number for the Hotel Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania 6-5000. Indeed there was music being played there but it competed unsuccessfully with the crowd. Opened by the owners of the Union Square Café, Fountain and 13 Barrow in February 2013 it is as close as you can get to the famous hotel and Madison Square Garden as possible.

Sitting at my table, my eyes adjusting to the lighting, I tried to see up the dark stairway to my right leading to the upper level when Victor, my server arrived and took my water preference and cocktail order. One thing I couldn’t help but notice about Victor was that the reason for his wearing suspenders was not primarily to hold up his pants. They further defined his athletic physique. After my dinner I wondered if he ate the same things I did – if at all. The cocktail menu offered some pretty interesting potables but I stuck to my favorite when Victor confirmed the presence of Beefeaters gin. The martini was perfect and I complimented the bartender.

The menu is standard American categories and divided into appetizers, soups and salads, plates, pizzas and flatbreads and sides and had enough diversity to attract my tastes. I cautioned Victor that I am a slow eater (after the Thai restaurant last week I wasn’t about to have everything come out at once) and he understood. When I listed my choices he said, “Oh, you’re hungry eh?” and I wondered if I ordered too much but I’ve learned. You can always take the leftovers home.

I started with Blue Crab Mac and Cheese made with elbow macaroni, lump crab meat and gooey Fontina cheese served in its own black iron skillet. It was heavenly and I took my time eating it. Next was the Caesar Salad (without those hairy fishes that do not belong in it in the first place). I was happy the size of the portion was not “steakhouse” huge but Romaine arranged on a decent-sized plate with crispy croutons. One taste and I thanked Victor for the rare Caesar Salad that I didn’t have to ask for more garlic in the dressing. Pennsylvania 6 has joined the club of two places that understand Caesar dressing.

The main course attracted me not just by the type of fish but the unusual preparation. It was Monk Fish “Osso Buco.” What arrived at my table could have been a meat dish for all appearances in the dark stew-like sauce but it had the poor-man’s lobster as the star. And yes, there was a bone but it was easily removed as in the dish of the same name with meat. It was excellent. I decided to have a glass of Alta Vista Malbec with it and it was a love match. The side dish I chose was “Spicy” Broccolini – beautiful dark green, long stemmed broccoli with a light peppery flavor that crunched and didn’t need the slice of lemon that came with them. When I was down to nothing but sauce in the bowl Victor suggested some bread and soon even that was history.

I was ready for dessert but I need a “think drink” to mull things over. I ordered a glass of Benz Corners Chardonnay and that did the trick. A nice crisp chardonnay helps the decision-making process every time. The unusual title “Bananoffee Pie” caught my eye and I ordered it. Shouldn’t have. The whipped cream and banana topping and the blackberry garnish were wonderful. The hard strangely-flavored cupcake underneath was not. I left it.

A nice double espresso and a glass of Ramazzoti Amaro brought my taste buds back to life and I was content. Victor offered to buy me an after-dinner drink and, already in an extraordinary mood, I accepted. I’ve never had a martini at the end of a meal before.

Pennsylvania 6 will be worth visiting again (outside of the Lenten Season, thank you very much) for several dishes. I saw Spicy Beef Buns, Skillet Fried Shishito Peppers, Lamb Shank with Goat Cheese Orzo, and Corn and Scallion Spoon Bread. But for dessert I’ll stick to what I know. Maybe the S’Mores Sundae or the Butternut Cheescake. What do you think?

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