From Crowded Bikini Bottom to Cold Turkey
By Steve Herte
Have you ever had the hubris to think you know what your fellow humans are going to do in a given situation and been proven horribly wrong?
That was exactly what happened this past Friday, February 13th. I should have taken a clue from the date. On Friday the 13th anything can happen, no matter how unlikely. I thought that with temperatures in the low teens and substantially below zero wind-chill factors I could walk into my movie theater and breeze through the ticket kiosk and zip up to my choice seat. Seriously? There were more people out and about on 42nd Street than I have ever seen and they were more clueless about where they were than ever. The movie theater had four lines of people waiting to buy tickets, two for the kiosks on either side. The lines reached to the front doors and almost spilled out into the street.
Literally, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I’ve never seen this even on a beautiful day. I was concerned whether I would make my movie time. Strangely enough, I did. Most of the people were there to see Kingsman, but my show was amply populated as well. Who knew? It was a good thing I dressed for the weather because my restaurant was three long blocks and three short blocks away and I had to dodge the tourist crowd, now made larger by the Michelin-man clothing they wore to stave off the cold. It was a learning experience for sure. Enjoy!
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount Animation/Nickelodeon Films, 2015) – Director: Paul Tibbitt. Writers: Glenn Berger, Jonathan Aibel (s/p); Stephen Hillenburg, Paul Tibbitt (story); Stephen Hillenburg (series “SpongeBob SquarePants). Voices: Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbaake, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Mr. Lawrence, Carolyn Lawrence, Jill Talley, Matt Berry, Mary Jo Catlett, Eric Bauza, Tim Conway, Eddie Deezen, Rob Paulsen, Kevin Michael Richardson, April Stewart, Cree Summer, Billy West, & Paul Tibbitt. Color & 3D, 93 minutes.
“Even failure doesn’t feel so bad if you do it as a team.” – SpongeBob
I admit it. I’m a SpongeBob Squarepants fan. Been that way since I saw the first cartoon. I can even tolerate his annoying laugh, which is much more than I can say for any of his fellow characters, especially Plankton. The only exception to this is his best friend, Patrick Starfish, who also has an annoying laugh. Why then do I love the absorbent yellow creature? Three reasons: the animation is well done, the writing is clever (even the puns), and the situations are so wacky they’re funny.
No exception here. From the first camera shots there’s no doubt about this movie being a comedy. “Nickelodeon Films” rises dramatically from the ocean draped in seaweed and the audience is flown over the waves until…where are we? We look right, we look left, and suddenly we see Bikini Atoll and we’re thrust into the dense foliage (where before we only saw a lone palm tree) and spy a pirate following a treasure map.
The pirate, who will later be known as Burger Beard (Banderas), seeks a magic book and dodges Indiana Jones-style obstacles and fights a skeleton to obtain it. Once safely back on his one-man pirate ship he reads the story of Bikini Bottom (down below the waves) to a group of talking (and singing) seagulls (one of which is voiced by Conway). As he reads, the scene changes to the Krusty Krab diner on the ocean bottom where SpongeBob (voiced by Kenny) and Patrick (Fagerbakke) are under orders from the proprietor, Mr. Eugene Krabs (Brown), to defend the secret formula for their only product, the Crabby Patty, against the constant onslaught of Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), owner of the failed Chum Bucket diner across the street.
Plankton uses a bomber plane to drop a jar of tartar sauce on them and they reply with a barrage of potatoes, which are sliced by the plane’s propellers and rain down as fries on a fish citizen of Bikini Bottom. He uses a tank to fire pickles at them and SpongeBob replies with a machine gun shooting catsup and mustard while Patrick literally “holds the mayo.” He hoists a large jar of mayonnaise until he gets tired and hefts it at the tank, entrapping it.
The food-fight battle goes back and forth until it seems that Plankton has lost. He leaves in tears after giving his last penny to the avaricious Mr. Krabs, who promptly puts it into his safe. Bad idea. The Plankton weeping outside the diner is a robot and the real Plankton is inside the last penny. He gets the formula (tucked inside a bottle resting on a weight-sensitive platform) by switching it, Indiana Jones-style, with another similar bottle with a note inside. But SpongeBob catches him and the two are locked in a tug of war with the bottle between them – when it vanishes. Of course Plankton gets the blame, but SpongeBob sticks up for him because he knows Plankton is innocent.
Without the secret formula all social order in Bikini Bottom is destroyed, the citizens go rogue and start looting and fire breaks out all over town (this takes place entirely under water, mind you). SpongeBob blows a huge bubble around Plankton, steps inside and they float off to find what happened to the secret formula, much to the chagrin of the angry mob.
Meanwhile, on the pirate ship, Burger Beard repeatedly ends the story to the dissatisfaction of the seagulls. It turns out that the book is magic and whatever you write in it will happen. In this way Burger Beard magically gets the secret formula and transforms his pirate ship (it has wheels) into the most successful burger stand on the beach. If not for a tussle with one of the seagulls, a page would not have been torn out and sunk to the bottom, where it comes to rest on Sandy Cheek’s (Lawrence) airtight dome (she’s a squirrel living at the ocean bottom). This page is instrumental in retrieving the formula.
SpongeBob and Plankton form a team (although Plankton has a tough time even pronouncing the word) and decide to build a time machine to return to the moment before the formula vanished thus saving Bikini Bottom. They rescue Plankton’s computer, Karen (Talley), and she becomes the brain in a photo booth time machine with a cuckoo clock timer. For a quarter, they can travel through time. There are several crazy kaleidoscopic wrong turns. In one of them they meet Bubbles the Dolphin (Berry) who rides in a spaceship, stands on his tail and wears a cape.
Eventually, they figure out that the formula is at “the surface” and Bubbles provides SpongeBob, Patrick, Plankton, Mr. Krabs, and Squidward (Bumpass) with the ability to breathe air by forcing them through his blowhole, while Sandy just takes off her helmet. They use a seagull feather, Squidward’s ink and the page from the magic book to re-write themselves as super-heroes and together do battle with Burger Beard.
Yes, I know it’s totally ridiculous, but that’s the charm of a SpongeBob adventure. The story is just there to be a story. It can take any turn imaginable. As Bugs Bunny says, “Anything can happen in a cartoon.” The jokes and puns are sprinkled throughout and, in case the audience doesn’t understand one, Mrs. Puffs (Catlett), the schoolteacher, is ready with a drum set to play a rim-shot. “Somebody had to do it.” She says.
This movie can be a little confusing if you don’t pay attention to the first scenes. The book is central to the whole plot. The animation is excellent as usual, especially when the main characters go from their undersea shapes to more 3D shapes out of water. There are several good laughs and a lot of clever jokes. The scene where Patrick complains that his feet hurt and SpongeBob points out that a starfish doesn’t have feet sparks a hilarious argument. Yes, of course there’s a song about teamwork. There’s always a song. “You’re not going to sing again?” says Plankton, when SpongeBob pulls out his pitch pipe. The kids in the audience loved it and I heard the adults laugh as well. Don’t try to explain it. Just get on board and have a good time.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.
17 West 45th Street, New York
Named for the An Talia province of Turkey, this four-year old Mediterranean restaurant has been touting “The Best Turkish Food in New York” and this is no idle boast. Though it doesn’t look like much from the street under its burgundy awning and garish red and white-lit sign, it’s a treasure chest of Turkish delights inside.
It was an extremely cold night (below zero wind-chills) and the restaurant has no airlock to keep out the cold. Therefore, the bar area was deserted. The greeter led me past the bar with its pale chartreuse walls and a mirror seemingly framed in parsley to the warmly lit dining area in back. My table couldn’t have been more centrally located. All around me were people enjoying dinner and conversation.
It was difficult to determine which of the four young men my main server was because all were attentive to my slightest gesture. The water already poured, one asked if I wished a drink other than water. Having read the menu online, I decided to try the Turkish dark beer named “Efes.” It was delightful, not too “hoppy” or sour – a good, solid beer. Though he didn’t offer his name, this young man became my primary server.
The menu features standard categories: Soups, Salads, Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, Entrées, Seafood, and Sides but, when you read them they all sounded exotic, with names like piyaz, haydari, yaprak sarma, and sucuk izgara (don’t ask me to pronounce any of them). All dishes are clearly explained and translated below the titles. I asked my server which of the two soups he would recommend and he responded, “The Red Lentil, no contest.”
For one, it’s not really red, but reddish-yellow and is a good hot hearty soup with a wedge of lemon on the side for squeezing into it. The wine list had a small selection of both reds and whites by the glass as well as by the bottle and, since I was going Turkish, I chose the 2010 Kavaklidere “Ancyra” from Kalecik Karasi in Turkey. Believe it or not, I’ve had Kavaklidere before and now know it to be a reliable red with intense fruit and spice flavors. I made sure not to tell my server that I had it previously in a Greek restaurant.
The wine was the perfect accompaniment with my appetizer as well. It’s been a long time since I’ve had baba ganoush: puréed smoked eggplant mixed with garlic and sesame oil, and eaten with bread, and this was undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had. I luxuriated in it on the freshly baked Turkish bread served in a wicker basket.
After a movie, my appetite is at its keenest and, in the effort to try as many dishes as possible, I ordered the Mixed Grill – a large plate featuring tender lamb and chicken shish kebabs, doner (the Turkish version of a gyro, a vertically grilled and sliced lamb recipe), lamb chops, rice, vegetables and a small salad. I savored every bite. My server warned me about the jalapeno-like pepper on the side of the dish and I sliced it, carefully removing the seeds and used it to spice up the already wonderful dish. He must have seen me do that because he offered to bring yoghurt sauce (to put out the fire – he don’t know me very well, do he?) and I agreed. When he brought the yoghurt sauce, he also brought a Turkish hot pepper sauce (biber salçasi) that was spicier than the pepper. (Maybe he does know me.) I was in heaven.
When I had finished every drop of food my server brought the dessert menu. I heard the couple to my left order the baklava (a dessert common to both Turks and Greeks, but one never says so) and when it arrived, I was horrified at the small portion. There were two half-dollar sized cakes on the plate. The gentleman said they were very filling but I was not about to believe him. I chose the Turkish Custard. How to describe it? It was a four-inch by three-inch rectangle of golden brown caramel-y sweetness with a creamy center suggesting a more solid version of a flan but with coconut and honey overtones.
My Turkish immersion did not end there. I chose Turkish tea, served hot in a beautiful, stemless tulip-shaped glass (tulip comes from a Turkish word meaning “turban”) and was flavorfully brewed. The after-dinner drink was not to be out-done. It was a fortified wine (like a port) made from Kavaklidere called “Tatli Sert” Öküzgözü from eastern Anatolia. The deep peach-colored drink blended smoothly with the tea and my wonderful dinner was complete.
An Talia may be a small restaurant but it’s huge on good quality food and low prices. Everything I had was amazing and, from my conversations with the people on either side, there are many more dishes to be tried, specifically the Turkish meatballs. This is another must-return place.
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