Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Dinner and a Movie

Teenage Turtles, Turner and Taylor

By Steve Herte

The chaos at the office continued this week with people reserving cubicles and not showing up and other people looking around desperately searching for a space to work. I'm glad the week was broken up by two nights of karaoke – Tuesday and Thursday. Singing is my release. For some, it's golf, others gambling and still others getting smashed. Not me. A song that I love, accurately covered is a pleasure I can barely express. That, and the company of good friends, makes the relaxation complete. On Tuesday, I go to my version of "Cheers," Gabby O'Hara's on 39th Street, a place where everybody knows me (especially the delightful Irish waitresses.) Thursday is a once in a while deal at a Japanese restaurant called East, where they rent rooms by the hour and serve drinks and food and you choose the songs from an enormous book. Don't ask me what my favorite song to sing is. I have a huge repertoire and I love them all. Once I know a song, I love it. Friday, on the other hand was a different situation. None of the movies that were opening this past week interested me and I fell back on one already in theaters. There were 10 people (six were small children) in the audience with me. And the restaurant? Well, you'll see. Enjoy!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount, 2014) – Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Menec & Evan Duughtey (s/p). Based on characters created by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman. Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Tony Shalhoub, Tohoru Madamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Alliott, & Madison Mason. Color and 3D, 101 minutes.

I must admit I had my reservations about seeing this movie. I wasn’t crazy about the animated series and, to be honest, I thought the whole concept to be ridiculous. But this production put the entire fantastic story into perspective. What I knew from the cartoon was that these were four wisecracking energetic brother turtles whose knowledge of martial arts was taught to them by a rat. What I didn’t know was how they came to be what they are.

The main story is as follows: A gang called the Foot Clan is laying siege to New York City (they intend to put the whole city under their feet). They are terrorizing the inhabitants and stealing whatever they want. Their leader is a shadowy figure known as “Shredder” (Masamone), and the police are helpless against them.

Enter April O’Neil (Fox), a street reporter for the Channel 6 News. She gets all the boring assignments and (of course) wants to break into big-story reporting. When not on the job, she’s skulking around the docks or wherever “The Clan” may be conducting “business.” During one of her forays she sees a “vigilante” thwart a Clan theft, but no one back at the office will believe her. Eventually she witnesses all four of the turtles battling the Clan and she photographs them. They see the flash and confront her, asking her to hand over the camera (to keep them and their activities, secret). Leonardo (Ploszek – movements, Knoxville – voice) in the blue mask is always at odds with his brother Raphael (Ritchson) in the red mask. Donatello (Howard), the techno-wiz in the purple mask, is constantly trying to keep peace between the two, and Michelangelo (Fisher), in the orange mask, is in his own world of fun and flirtation with April. 

They get the camera but neglect the smart-phone on which April records their flamboyant exit. When she takes this story to the head of the newsroom, Bernadette Thompson (Goldberg), she receives more disbelief and more demands for direct evidence. April then goes to Eric Sacks (Fichtner), CEO of Sacks Incorporated, whose company appears to be the target of Clan activities. We learn that Eric employed her father – until his laboratory burnt down and all of his research was lost. He tells April of “Operation Renaissance” and how her father was trying to create a mutagen remedy to counteract any biochemical agent used against the people of New York.

On their return to their New York sewer home base, the turtle quartet try to keep any spotting of them by April a secret from their “Sensei,” Splinter (Woodburn – movements, Shalhoub – voice), but he worms it out of them by first setting them on grueling ninja practice tasks and then tempting them with a “99 Cheese Pizza” (their favorite snack – something April fed them as normal box turtles). Splinter has them bring April to their lair. When she recognizes Splinter as the lab rat from her fathers’ lab he tells her that she’s the savior of them all, for it was she who rescued them from the fire and directed them to the sewer, where Splinter raised the four turtles to teenage as a father figure (the mutagen made him grow faster than they did).

Unfortunately, Sacks is working with The Clan and the business card he gave April at their last meeting is a GPS locator. An army of Clan followers breaks into the secret sewer rooms and while Shredder (in a new shiny steel Samurai Suit – he looks like a walking food processor with three times as many blades) subdues Splinter, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello are captured. (They had to use industrial strength cattle prods to do so.) Raphael and April are left for dead – but, of course, they’re not.

Splinter is still alive, but needs serious help, and Raphael and April go to save the other three. She calls her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Arnett) to bring his van. He’s been trying to flirt with her from the beginning and thinks this is a ploy to get his attention. That is, until she climbs in, and Raphael bursts from the rear to his extreme shock and instantly and convinces him that her story is real.

Eric’s plan is to drain the blood from the turtles and extract the mutagen. Then, using the antenna on what looks like the Conde-Nast Building, he will infect New York with a deadly agent and cure them all using the mutagen, thus becoming a hero and putting the entire city in Clan control.

Sounds like a standard good guy/bad guy comic book plot, no? If it weren’t for the spectacular CGI effects creating the Turtles and Splinter and the genuine expressions on their faces combined with the great dialogue, it would be. I was drawn into the story, even though I didn’t expect to be. The voice matches to the characters added to their credibility, and the movements (only a few hokey slow-motion scenes) were smoothly done. Fox does a great acting job considering the crazy story, and Arnett plays off her character nicely. The only major fault I can find with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and for me this is major) several times during the movie when the camera is focused on the foreground speaker, the background 3D goes out of kilter, making me want to check my 3D glasses. If this was done for art’s sake, it shouldn’t have been done. It just came off as faulty camera work and detracted from the believability. Otherwise, the camera angles were, at times, breathtaking.

I loved the (expected) teenage humor sprinkled throughout the movie and especially Michelangelo’s last attempt at luring April into their “Turtle-mobile” using “Happy Together” by (who else?) the Turtles. Parents, for all the swordplay (or rather katana-play) in this film, absolutely no blood is shed, and there are no lovey-dovey scenes. Bring the kids. You’ll enjoy it too.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

BUtterfield 8
5 East 38th StreetNew York

After my fabulous bus tour courtesy of Turner Classic Movies during my recent New York “staycation,” I jumped at the chance to visit a restaurant called “BUtterfield 8.” The eatery bills itself as “a posh Manhattan lounge and a charming restaurant” on its website. On the tour we had passed 1050 5th Avenue, and were shown a clip of Elizabeth Taylor emerging from that address in a fur coat and hailing a cab. I figured the place might well be worth a visit.

When I arrived, I noticed its sleek 38th Street entrance framed in charcoal grey with bright orange lettering. As I entered the door, flanked by potted evergreens and faux gaslight lanterns, my hopes went up. Inside, however, there was no evidence of a Captain’s Station, and a crowd of very young people were noisily chatting and drinking beer at the bar. In the distance I could see the entrance to the dining area and I headed that way, excusing myself past the chattering youngsters. I felt that my arrival had increased the median age of the room by at least 20 years. Only two of the dozen or so tables in the dining area were occupied, and those by more of the same.

As I looked around, I still couldn’t spot a Captain’s Station, so I caught the attention of a pretty young girl who was working there and asked if anyone was doing the seating. She indicated a booth in the bar. I told her I would really rather sit at a table since I made a reservation. She went to get the bartender as I perched myself on the last stool at the bar. He arrived quickly, and informed me that this would have to be a “cash-only” deal because their credit card network connection was down. (Strike one!) You could have knocked me off the stool with a feather boa.

We couldn’t have foreseen this, sir.” “When I made my reservation, neither could I. Where am I supposed to go now? I’m sure I am not carrying enough cash to cover my dinner.” “Since you made a reservation we can offer you a cocktail on the house.”

They didn’t have Beefeaters (Strike two!), and I settled on a Stolichnaya martini. As I sipped it, my mind raced through my database of restaurants in the same area where I could fall back. The Australian is on the next block, but that place is just as noisy as this one. Keen’s Chophouse is four blocks away, 44 is six blocks away. I could call either one and get a last-minute table, and I’ve not reviewed either place. I sipped my drink as I watched the girl I spoke to use the touch-screen monitor to register diners’ choices. Suddenly, on my second to last sip I saw her screen change and “credit card” appeared among the choices. The bartender reappeared and told me their network was back up, and I asked to be seated.

The dining area doubles as their room for private parties. The walnut paneling and cream ceiling were countered by a silly mural on the back wall depicting an old New York skyline as seen through a glass-enclosed terrace on a high floor. (To me it just looked askew.) There was large crystal chandelier hanging over the spare bar. Four identical ones in the main bar mirrored it. This is what they call “posh”? I sat on the faux-leather banquette at a single table; adjusting it until it stopped rocking. “Lounge?” No, not really.

Soon enough, Kristel, my server, arrived with the food menu and the wine/drink list, and I told her tap water was my preference. When she returned I told her I would like to try one of their specialty cocktails, The John O’Hara – “a new twist on an old classic”  Woodford reserve bourbon, Tuaca (an Italian liqueur flavored with vanilla and citrus), Earl Grey Tea, simple syrup, a dash of walnut bitters. She nodded and motioned to take away both menus. “No, no, I need those. I am having dinner and I am having wine.” She immediately gave them back as she departed to put in the drink order.

The drink was perfect sweet and a little tart with the smoky accents of the tea; though I couldn’t figure out which “classic” it was a “new twist” on. I told Kristel I needed her help with planning a three-course meal. I already had my tastes set for the main course from looking at the menu online. When I suggested the three dishes I had in mind she told me, honestly, that it was too much food. I cut out one dish and ordered. Again, she tried to remove the wine list. “No, no,” I said. “I need that for the wine.”

The Baby Kale Caesar Salad was a healthy (some would say Way Too Healthy) bowl full of the crispy, curly-leafed green lightly coated in anchovy dressing (not enough garlic to kill the fishy taste) and topped by five small toast slices disguised as croutons. It was impressive to say the least and the kale was fresh. But if you know me, more garlic, no hairy fish. I ordered a glass of the La Monica Montepulciano that complimented it beautifully.

My main course, the Braised Short Rib Tortellini over Parsnip Purée in a red wine jus, arrived before I finished the salad (luckily, not Strike three) and I re-arranged the dishes until the salad was on the side. The Tortellini (actually Tortelloni; they were too big to be Tortellini) was tender, and the delightful shredded meat inside succulent. 

I loved the Parsnip Purée, and wished mashed potatoes could be this good – especially with the rich beef-flavored gravy. By the time I finished both dishes I was becoming sated and I told Kristel she was right. The Steak Quesadilla would have been too much food. I asked her for a glass of the Domaine de Magdalanne Cotes du Rhone as a “thinking wine” while I mulled over dessert.

Kristel responded immediately that they only have two desserts, and described them. I chose the “Cookie Smash” – a large ball of vanilla ice cream served in a hot individual iron skillet and resting in a nest of smashed chocolate chip cookies and covered in chocolate, hot fudge sauce. Wow! I needed that. I’m glad she warned me about too much food. I finished it easily. I finished with a double espresso and a shot of green Chartreuse.

BUtterfield 8 has been doing business since 2005 (so says its website) and considers itself as a “Gastropub” (the portions are too big for that to be so). The food is good and the drinks innovative and tasty. But in all that time of doing business why didn’t they have the back-up procedure that every restaurant in Chinatown and Little Italy has for when the network goes down? And, I just couldn’t imagine Elizabeth Taylor ever setting foot in the place, especially since she didn’t want to do BUtterfield 8 in the first place. Thank you Turner Classic Movie Tours!

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