Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

Dinner and a Movie

Pitch it in “A”

By Steve Herte

You might have heard me yammer about my busy gardening weekends. This past one had the added excitement of the delivery of two major appliances. Our 50-year-old stove and refrigerator said goodbye and we entered the 20th (maybe the 21st) century. The big excitement was getting the new refrigerator into the kitchen. The deliverymen had some job, as the door to our kitchen is slightly wider at the top than at the bottom. They had to physically hoist it up to get it through, and even then it was a tight squeeze.

I’m glad my relaxation time cooled my jets from the workweek and kind of prepared me for the next day. But still: a trapezoidal door? But I digress. My Dinner and a Movie night had fun, beauty, relaxation, history, and … well, you’ll see. Enjoy!

Pitch Perfect 2 (Universal, 2015) – Director: Elizabeth Banks. Writers: Kay Cannon & Mickey Rapkin. Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, David Cross, Katey Sagal, Keegan-Michael Key. Snoop Dog, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Kelley Jakle, John Michael Higgins, & Elizabeth Banks. Color, 115 minutes, PG-13.

Now finishing their seventh year at Barden College, the a capella octet known as the “Barden Bellas” (who, by the way haven't grown a day older), have won three back-to-back championships and are about to go on tour. The first stop is a command performance for President Obama and the First Lady at the Kennedy Center. All is going fabulously until Fat Amy (Wilson) is lowered on an enormous sling of material and the worst thing happens, a wardrobe malfunction. Amy’s tights split from back to front and whoa, there’s nothing underneath! The headlines next day read “Muffgate!”

The Bellas are suspended, forbidden to recruit new members, and are replaced on the tour by a juggernaut from Germany known as “Das Sound Machine.” This group has at least three times the personnel, digital effects, multimedia light show and acrobatic choreography, as the Bellas learn when they attend one of their performances. They also learn how much taller they are, how much snootier they are, and how much disdain they have (and are not afraid to repeatedly show it) for the Bellas.

Forbidden from entering any American competitions, their only hope for redemption is to beat the Germans in an international contest – which has never been won by an American entry. They are invited to a private singing contest thrown by a wealthy eccentric (Cross) where groups have to sing songs about a particular category and in the same tempo exactly when the host points to them. They lose the $42,000 prize to Das Sound Machine when Emily Junk (Steinfeld) starts an original song that she wrote (a no-no in this contest).

Emily is a freshman at Barden whose mother, Katherine (Sagal) was a former Bella. She not only sings beautifully but she can also compose. (This will become an asset to the Bellas at the end of the film.) Up until this time, the Bellas have been doing nothing but novel covers of existing songs. Beca (Kendrick) has been handling all the arrangements, but has been having trouble lately because she has other things on her mind.

Beca realizes that all the current Bellas will have to graduate this year (apparently, you can only intentionally fail courses for so long), and she’s considering a career in the recording business. She applies as an intern at a company where her boss (Key) is desperately trying to help Snoop Dogg record a unique Christmas album. She gets his attention when she inserts “Here Comes Santa Claus” into Snoop’s “Winter Wonderland.” But Beca doesn’t tell Chloe (Snow), the unofficial leader of the Bellas, what she is planning.

While at another attempt to outdo Das Sound Machine, the Bellas accidentally ignite Cynthia Rose (Dean) with their fireworks display, Chloe decides that the whole group is going on a retreat. It just so happens that Jessica (Jakle), a former Bella, runs exactly that kind of establishment, a sort of boot camp for singers, with the object being to re-establish their group spirit. Needless to say, it works.

Perfect Pitch 2 only falls short of the first installment in that it has lost the novelty. The singing is excellent and the performances stunning. The characters are all believable in a comic sort of way, indicating good acting. (No nominations though.) The writing is the best part of this movie, and at times, it takes insult comedy to new levels. The two most notable characters, however, are the commentators: John (Higgins) and Gail (Banks). Their interactions and interjections are hilarious. Gail: “That was so touching! It even touched me.” John: “Everyone’s touched you, Gail.” Then, at another point, John says, “This could be the biggest confrontation between the United States and Germany, ever!” To which Gail replies, “Crack a book, John.”

I saw several adults bringing in slews of young children to the film. While it doesn’t have vulgarity (the worst it gets is when Amy refers to Das Sound Machine as “the Deutsch Bags”) and any love scenes are pure slapstick comedy, there is sexual innuendo throughout the dialogue and the onstage performances. If your kids are OK with that, by all means, bring them. I was just enthralled with the harmonies and the comedy.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Pier A Harbor House
22 Battery PlaceNew York

Have you ever gone to a restaurant just because of the building? I just did. Knowing that Pier A was undergoing renovations, but not knowing what it was becoming or when it would reopen, I was ready to react when I saw “Dine at Pier A” on I visited their website, which is rich in photos but woefully poor in information (like the menu – it’s missing). I didn’t care, and tried other websites to see what kind of food is served there, finding only “Bar Food” (burgers, fries, oysters, drinks). Still, I didn’t care. This is Pier A!

Pier A opened in 1886 as the headquarters for the New York Police and Department of Docks. Later it was a VIP entrance for ambassadors going to Ellis Island and lastly, it was the main station for the Marine Division of the New York City Fire Department. Fireboats docked here. It deserves its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This building has been closed for almost 40 years. I made the reservation.

I gathered up my things and followed my greeter down the long corridor, inspecting every nook and cranny, marveling all the way. We finally arrived at a charming dining room with a beautiful view of New York harbor and only five or six tables, one of which was occupied by a couple. My table was in the opposite corner from them and my chair faced the windows. Soon, Zsuzsanna, my server (a young man), arrived to take my water preference and present me with the menu and the wine list. He asked if I wanted a cocktail and, after confirming Beefeater’s availability, I ordered my favorite martini.

This was definitely not a bar menu. This was fine dining, and I was delighted. Surprisingly, selecting a three-course meal and a wine took no time at all. The wine list was impressive in size and hilarious in prices; but I did locate an affordable, perfect red. The 2013 Dashe Cellars, Mendocino “Les Enfants Terrible” Zinfandel had a spicy nose and a full-bodied flavor, and proved itself the match for all my dishes.

The “peeky-toe crab cake” could only be described by the word delectable. Smaller than the usual crab cake, it was a little sweet but still had the great crab flavor I love. Topped with a light tartar sauce and crowned with baby cress, and in a fruity sauce, it was almost like a dessert.

The second course was the smallest serving of pasta I’ve seen in a long time. I remembered Helene qualifying this size as “cuisine minceur” (small cooking). But make no mistake, this house-made fettuccini was big on flavor. The reggio parmigiano cheese it was made with added a tart, cheesy edge to the dish and the fresh black pepper added spice. I ate it slowly between sips of wine, enjoying every bite.

The small dishes ended at the main course. The rack of lamb was a nice portion of four succulent lamb chops with the bones entwined in an embrace arched over juicy red peppers and sun-dried tomato with red onion on top. They were perfectly cooked and just what I wanted. (A friend of mine had a lamb dish for lunch and it set my craving.) The side dish brought back two memories. The “spring succotash risotto” melded the fantastic succotash I had in Atlanta, Georgia, with the amazing risotto I had in Wildwood, New Jersey.

But those who know me know this is not the end to the decadence. I finished my entrée and side and was doubtful about dessert. When I saw the poached rhubarb with homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream resting on an open-faced crepe I was sold. It was marvelous and only exceeded by the double espresso and a fine glass of Grand Marnier Centenaire.

A historic building and a fantastic meal – could I ask for more? I learned later on that the first floor of Pier A opened last November, but the second floor was only opened in January 2015 and wasn’t fully operational until April. Pier A is a special place to take that special someone. As I have that special someone, I will definitely visit again.

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