Friday, July 3, 2015

Ted 2

Dinner and a Movie

Talking Teddy, Tacos and Tortillas

By Steve Herte

My second week of vacation started with a bang! After a morning of weeding my garden I was ready to go out for the evening. It’s been a good six or seven years since I last attended a Barbershop Chapter show. My friend Pat invited me to see the Manhattan Chapter (also known as the Big Apple Chorus) perform at the Cultural Center at 4 W. 64th St., just off Central Park West.

The Big Apple Chorus, who recently won the Northern Division championship earlier this year, were followed by four “chapter” quartets. We then watched a short video about a quartet from New Zealand, the “Musical Island Boys,” who won the title of International Champions in July 2014. Whether you're a barbershop fan or not you can tell the difference in an International Championship Quartet and the others we saw onstage. Their timing was perfect, their balance was unbelievable and the sound was pure.

The Big Apple Chorus closed the show with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and topped it all with a rousing version of “New York, New York.” It was a wonderful show, even if though it took three hours. (Very few barbershop shows break the two-hour barrier.) Thank you Big Apple! You made me miss my quartet.

That said, I kind of had an idea of what the movie and restaurant would be like and both surprised me. See what you think. Enjoy!

Ted 2 (Universal, 2015) – Director: Seth MacFarlane. Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, & Wellesley Wild. Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane (voice), Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman, Sam J. Jones, Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, Bill Smitrovich, John Slattery, Cocoa Brown, John Carroll Lynch, Ron Canada, Dennis Haysbert, Tara Strong (voice), & Liam Neeson. Color, 115 minutes, Rated R.

If you remember in the previous installment, a young boy is given an adorable teddy bear and he wishes it could be alive. And so it was. As the new episode begins, Ted (MacFarlane) is getting married to Tami-Lynn (Barth) and per Ted, “This is the best day of my life!” As the opening credits appear, Ted performs an elaborate Busby Berkeley style dance routine on a multi-layered wedding cake with dozens of dancers. For what it is, it’s quite impressive, given the animation and computer-generated bear keeping up with his long-legged human dance troupe. 

Later at the reception, Ted notices his best friend, John (Wahlberg) sitting alone and sad. John (the one who wished Ted alive) was married to the wrong girl for years. Now that that marriage is over, he is deeply reticent about starting any new relationship (even though several pretty girls come on to him throughout the movie). Ted decides to make it his mission to find a girl for John.

One year later, Ted and Tami-Lynn are arguing about bills and anything they can think of while they throw things at each other. Then one day at the supermarket checkout where both Ted and Tami-Lynn work, a fellow employee suggests they have a baby to bring them back together. Ted is elated and wants to get the best donor possible, even if he has to convince John to help him steal the “ingredient” he’s missing. Failing that, John volunteers for donor-ship.

After a fracas at the sperm bank where John slips and topples a shelving unit holding dozens of specimens which all spill onto him, the two guys think they’re set. But, the doctor (Haysbert) tells them that, with her history of smoking, drinking and drug abuse, Tami-Lynn is incapable of becoming pregnant.

They decide to adopt. But Massachusetts state law says that Ted is not a “Person, ” but merely “property,” and therefore cannot adopt a baby. The news of this reaches Ted’s enemy Donny (Ribisi), currently working as a janitor for the Hasbro Corporation (where Ted was made). He hatches a scheme with one of the big bosses, Tom Jessup (Lynch) to capture Ted, cut him open to see what makes him “alive,” and reproduce him for children (including himself) for billions of dollars.

Ted, Lami-Lynn and John go to the best law firm in Boston to take their case to court. It seems they cannot afford it, but the boss has a daughter, Samantha Jackson (Seyfried) who could do it pro-bono and therefore become more experienced. Ted and John are somewhat dismayed at her youth – she’s 27 – and that this is her first case. But upon learning that her middle name is “Leslie” Ted is ecstatic that they would have Sam L. Jackson as their lawyer (even though she’s never heard of the actor). Ted is shocked, “Have you seen any movies at all lately? He’s the black guy.”

Sam starts off well in the courtroom even though Hasbro has hired the best in the business but loses when the attorney for Hasbro asks Ted to press his chest. We hear “I love you very much!” (in Strong’s voice), thus resulting in the jury ruling him as “property.” Ted loses his job, his credit cards, and his marriage is annulled.

Samantha, though, is still optimistic and makes a call to New York for the best civil rights attorney, Patrick Meighan (Freeman) and he seems to be interested. They drive to New York and Sam makes the huge mistake of letting Ted drive. Talk about distracted while driving. He’s drinking, playing music and using the steering wheel as an air-piano. The car swerves all over the road, eventually careening down a hill and crashing into the side of a barn. It’s getting dark and they decide to extract the car in the morning. Meanwhile, John finds a frond of extremely rare and fine marijuana, wondering where it came from. Ted turns John around to view an immense field of it. The three stand in awe as the main theme for Jurassic Park plays and Ted quotes the movie, “They DO come in herds!”

In New York, the three are disappointed that Patrick will not take their case. The relationship between Sam and John is blossoming, which aggravates and Ted. After an argument, Ted storms off and finds himself at the Javits Center, where a Comic-Con is being held. Everyone is dressed in costumes from movies as well as comics and Ted fits right in. This is where Donny makes his move, dressed as Rafael, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ted recognizes him, calls John on his smart phone, and the chase is on.

You might have noticed that I used only two quotes from this film. That’s because every other line had some vulgarity to it and therefore not quotable in polite society. This is definitely not a cutesy teddy bear flick. It’s more like a non-Hispanic Cheech and Chong extravaganza – complete with liberal water-pipe smoking (one, shaped like a phallus). Parents beware: It is not rated “R” for nothing. The only redeeming quality of this movie is the music by Walter Murphy. There is a song called “Mean Ol’ Moon” that Sam sings at a campfire near the marijuana field that is simply gorgeous.

Yes, the film is funny in several places and there are a few belly laughs, but the gross-out factor is the impetus behind many, and political incorrectness is behind the rest. In fact the only nationality that shouldn’t be insulted by this film are Hispanics. The “N” word is used twice. The “f” bomb is liberally salted throughout and generally. George Carlin would have been proud of the language spoken so freely.

I fully realize that reality doesn’t apply in fantasy movies like this one, but Ted eats, drinks, smokes and does drugs, but never once goes to the bathroom. (Maybe that’s why he’s so crude.) If you love cameos, Ted 2 has a bumper crop: Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart (voice only), Tom Brady, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Nan Visitor, Tiffany, the Robot from Lost in Space, a Dalek, and many more you may recognize. It’s pretty much mindless entertainment and better after a few strong drinks, but no award nominations here – except maybe for Best Song.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Lava (Pixar/Disney, 2014) - Director: James Ford Murphy. Voices: Napua Greig, Kuana Torres Kahele. Color, 7 minutes, Rated G.

Last week when I reviewed Inside Out I neglected to tell you about the charming animated short that preceded it. Over the seven minutes it takes to view it, the audience hears the love song of a lonely male volcano named Lele (voiced by Greig) and how he sees all creation around him in pairs. But he’s still alone. He longs for someone to “Lava” him. It would be extremely corny if it were not so beautifully done.

The geologic time (millions of years) involved in this film sees Lele singing until he goes dormant and nearly sinks beneath the waves when Uku (voiced by Kahele – the writer of the song) – who has heard his song – rises above the sea surface. He sees her but she’s facing away from him and doesn’t see him as he sinks out of sight.

All is sad as Uku takes up the lonely song and the years go by. Suddenly, Lele has the strength to re-arise next to Uku and they are together at last. A very beautiful story and well animated and sung.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Cantina Rooftop
605 West 48th Street (bet. 11th and 12th Aves.), New York

With rooftop restaurants becoming the vogue in New York, I find a have a lot of catching-up to do. About a block-and-a-half from the Hudson River on the west side of Midtown Manhattan, one has to really look for this one. Situated three floors above Stage 48 nightclub, the only indication that it is there is a small hanging sign above the door to the elevator. A nattily dressed doorman stands outside in case you missed the sign.

The Captain’s Station is immediately to the right once one exits the elevator on floor four and enters a dark, covered area with a disco ball hung in center ceiling. Loud music is playing and a DJ is just outside in the open-air restaurant area. The brightly colored aluminum chairs with wooden seats add a party atmosphere to the pounding music, and the aluminum tables rock on the uneven floor. But I wasn’t here for décor, I was here for fun, food and drink.

In no time after I was seated, I had the drink menu and the food menu (both in soft leather bindings), and a glass of water. My server, Mahadi, was ready to bring me a cocktail before I even looked over the list standing on the table. Eventually I settled on the Pepina Margarita – a tall concoction involving tequila, mulled cucumber and jalapenos. It was a great start, a mostly cucumber flavor with a slight spicy kick, and I enjoyed the thin cucumber slice garnish.

Cantina Rooftop has an impressive list of tequilas (for those who can tell the difference), a decently-priced wine list and a food menu touted as Modern Mexican. Chef Gonzalo Colin is from Mexico City and claims to have searched near and far in Mexico for the most interesting dishes. His menu is divided into Guacamoles, Little Cravings, Salads, Ceviches, Taqueria, Entrées, and Sides. Many interesting choices were indeed there.

Mahadi gave me ample time to decide, as the place was pretty well full at 7:30 pm on a Friday. Once he returned, I had my selections made. He assured me that the three courses would be spaced according to the pace of my dining. He also agreed that the wine, a 2010 Tempranillo from Zaco vineyards would arrive as soon as I finished my margarita.

My first course, from the Little Cravings section was the Empanada Trio: Choriqueso (a cheese with chorizo sausage) and Poblano chili; Huitlacoche (a Mexican fungus) and aged Chihuahua cheese; Braised Chicken Tinga (tomatoes and jalapenos). They looked wonderful on the banana leaf – one golden, one yellow, and one a reddish color. And the flavors were exciting – all different. The savory sausage dominated the first, the earthy mushroom was lord of the second and the pepper spiced the shredded chicken in the third.

A note about the wine, it was every bit as excellent as the Amalaya Malbec from Argentina (which was my original choice, but they had sold the last bottle). It was a deep red color with deep, spicy flavor and the after taste lingered nicely with the food.

My second course was a minor dilemma. There were two ceviches I had not seen on any other menu. But not being able to wrap my head around Oyster Ceviche, I chose the Lobster Ceviche with Habanero essence, mango pico, topped with coconut-ginger foam, served with crispy plantain slices and served in a coconut half resting on ice. It was amazing! The Habanero only spiced it and did not take over, the coconut foam sweetened it but did not cloy and the plantains made it easy to get out of the coconut.

Mahadi was almost religious about pouring my wine and by now, the music had become more of an interesting mix rather than a head-banging rap. The sun was going down and the lights playing on the superstructures supporting the tarps to my left and right were changing colors and pulsating to the music. (No, it wasn’t just the wine.) It was time for the main course.

The lamb shank arrived like an honored guest, on a large square plate and resting in the folds of dark green banana leaves. To one side was a bowl of consommé with chick peas (for pouring over it or dipping in), a small bowl of finely chopped carrots, cauliflower, radishes and other vegetables in a vinegary sauce, and three Comal corn tortillas. The lamb had been marinated and was an appetizing deep red color outside and tender to falling-off-the bone consistency inside. When I mixed all the ingredients together the flavor was jarringly not Mexican. I remembered a Peruvian dinner I had not too long ago that tasted like this and I told Mahadi. He seemed pleased. Like the two previous dishes, I finished this one as well.

Mahadi spoke the dessert menu but I stopped him at the chocolate tart. It sounded perfect, and it was. Not looking anything like a tart but more like a creature from a child’s video game, this cute multi-layered chocolate and vanilla molded custard/pudding with chocolate chips for eyes and a fuchsia orchid garnish was almost too adorable to eat. But I got over that. It soon was history and Mahadi was so please he presented me with a shot of Tromba (white) tequila from Arandas, Jalisco state, noted for its caramelized agave flavor. It was indeed a good sipping tequila.

At this moment I was happy. I didn’t mind the wooden seat on which I sat, the decibel level of the music or the wind blowing my hair into my eyes. I paid the bill and asked for a business card. The reason they didn’t have one yet was that they’ve only been open since May. That made sense because the last time I considered dining here, the website was still under construction. Even today, it only shows artists’ concepts of what the restaurant looks like. Will I return? I think yes, if for no other reason than to try the oyster ceviche.

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