Sunday, January 3, 2016

Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Road Chip

Dinner and a Movie

A Road Chip to India

By Steve Herte

Alvin and the Chipmunks – The Road Chip (Fox, 2015) – Director: Walt Becker. Writers: Randi Mayem Singer & Adam Sztykiel (s/p). Ross Bagdasarian & Janice Karman (characters). Stars: Jason Lee, Justin Long (voice), Matthew Gray Gubler (voice), Jesse McCartney (voice), Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Josh Green, Tony Hale, Bella Thorne, Eddie Steeples, Christina Applegate (voice), Kaley Cuoco (voice), Anne Faris (voice), Jose D. Xuconoxtli, Jr., Keith Arthur Bolden, Jennifer Coolidge, & Joshua Mikel. Color, Rated PG, 92 minutes.

Has it really been three movies ago that we started this series? It seems like yesterday, but we’ve had Alvin and the Chipmunks in 2007, The Squeakquel in 2009,Chipwrecked in 2011 and now, the fourth installment, The Road Chip. Yes, I’ve seen them all and each one had its good points and its foibles. I just can’t help looking back to the era of Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (1958 to 1972) when I could understand every word of every song. Probably because Dave Seville and the Chipmunks were all voiced by one person.

Now, the Chipmunks are joined by the Chipettes (the female version) and they’re both getting deeper into hip-hop and rap and the lyrics (if there are any) are almost incomprehensible. Ross Bagdasarian Jr. does the right thing in keeping these lovable troublemakers in the public eye, but I have to wonder. Only the last song in the movie had recognizable words – that, and “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” in the middle.

Here we see Dave Seville (Lee) booked on a trip from Los Angeles to Miami to produce a record for Ashley Grey (Thorne). He has two tickets only. But when he arrives home he discovers a house full of rowdy people celebrating his birthday, a party arranged by (who else?) Alvin (Long), that got way out of hand. He grounds Alvin, Simon (Gubler, Dr. Reid on Criminal Minds) and Theodore (McCartney) from performing on the road. But he’s promised to take them miniature golfing the next day and uses that opportunity to introduce them to his girlfriend, Samantha (Williams-Paisley).

The boys see a special package Dave left on the table and find the diamond engagement ring inside. They immediately conclude that Dave is going to propose to Samantha. The next day, when they meet her, they’re thrilled. That is until they realize Samantha comes as a package deal with her teenage son, Miles (Green) who takes an instant dislike to them and physically abuses them (he hangs Theodore on a turning windmill by the hood of his sweat shirt).

Dave increases the mutual enmity by taking Samantha to Miami and leaving Miles with the chipmunks. Alvin hatches a plan to go down to Miami and swipe the ring so the proposal can’t happen. Miles is all for it. He purchases an airline ticket and smuggles the chipmunks aboard a plane. Poor Theodore winds up in the baggage hold with the other animals, where he befriends a monkey and sets him free of his cage. Bad idea. The monkey frees all the other animals. Alvin is in Miles’ backpack and is forced to act like a doll while Miles bends and twists him for a customs agent. Simon is hidden inside Miles clothing when the customs agent decides to do a full body search. He makes it halfway down Miles’ jeans when his nerves get the better of him and we see a trickle of fluid dripping from the pants leg. “That’s not mine!” says Miles. When something that looks like a Raisinette also drops out, the customs agent gives up and sends Miles to the plane.

But their troubles are just beginning. Alvin is hungry and finds food in first class. When he’s chased out he meets the last person he’d want to meet, Sky Marshall Agent Suggs (Hale), a man who already hates the chipmunks because the love of his life broke up with him at his apartment while “Christmas Don’t Be Late” was playing. (He was a big fan up until then.) The animals streaming into the cabin from the cargo hold cause the plane to make an emergency landing somewhere in Texas. They rent a car and escape Suggs.

The car only gets them so far and they wind up at a roadside bar where they have to perform (Miles is an accomplished guitar player) to be allowed to stay (the group scheduled to perform didn’t show up) and they’re a big hit. Suggs catches up with them, but loses them again when Alvin hides in a tough guy’s black beard and causes Suggs to start a brawl. Miles and the boys hop a cab out of town, but the money runs out and the cab driver drops them by the side of the road in Louisiana. They raise enough money doing street performances to afford a bus ride to New Orleans, where their singing attracts a Mardi Gras-like crowd and the television crew.

Dave sees them on television and he and Samantha fly to New Orleans to retrieve them. Samantha and Miles fly back to Miami but Dave has to drive Alvin, Simon and Theodore because Suggs has put them all on the “no fly” list. In Miami, the truth comes out. The ring isn’t for Samantha. Dave was holding it for his friend Barry (Steeples) to give to his girlfriend and the chipmunks almost cause that not to happen.

To try and get back into Dave’s good graces Alvin calls on the Chipettes – Brittany (Applegate), Eleanor (Cuoco), and Jeanette (Faris) – who are busy judging on “American Idol” to help them with a new song. Ashley Grey assists further by announcing them onstage and all works out. Miles even gets a date with Ashley.

On the way home, Dave stops at a courthouse and gives the boys a scare – considering what they’ve just been through – and adopts the three. Everyone’s teary-eyed until they arrive home and see the house torn up by the three squirrels Alvin drugged and dressed in their clothes so that Mrs. Price (Coolidge) wouldn’t know they were gone. Traditionally, the movie ends with Dave screaming, “Alvinnnn!”

Aside from the song lyrics, this is a fun (and funny) movie. The children in the audience enjoyed it even though they didn’t get all the jokes. The remarkable part is the animation, which was flawless. The chipmunks all interacted with the live actors as if they were really there and their dance moves were perfectly synced with the music. For those who hate musicals, don’t see this movie. The last song, “Home” is easily the best piece of music in the film, although I enjoyed their cover of The Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko” while they were raising bus money. I still love the chipmunks, Ross. Just make the words clearer.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Rangoli Exquisite Indian Cuisine
1393A Second Ave. (between 72nd and 73rd Streets)New York

I’m a native New Yorker (hey, I could sing that song at karaoke night) and I’m pretty much up on what’s happening in The City (that’s what we in Queens call Manhattan). But there’s one thing that has not been in the news for a long time, the construction of the Second Avenue Subway. I had actually forgotten about it until I arrived at Rangoli after a leisurely stroll uptown. I was on the east side of Second Avenue because I decided to drop into a CVS drug store to shop and the masked cyclone fencing at the curb prevented me from seeing the restaurant on the other side of the street. When I crossed Second Avenue at 73rd Street the same claustrophobic fencing was on the other side and limited my photo opportunity of the exterior. Oh! That’s right. There’s a big hole in the middle.

Basically, Rangoli is a storefront restaurant with the name in brightly lit orangey-red letters over the front window. They close from 2:00 to 5:00 pm for dinner and I made sure I arrived exactly at five. Inside, there is a bar on the right, and on the left, tables bathed in light from stained glass swags. The cream colored walls are tastefully paneled in walnut and hung with prints from Indian folklore. The two gentlemen running the restaurant greeted me and one led me to a table just past the bar from where I had a good view of everything. A small vase of red carnations and a stained glass votive candle were on the immaculately white tablecloth.

The one gentleman became my server (forgive me, I didn’t get his name). He poured me a glass of tap water and presented me with the food menu and the single-card wine list. I ordered the 2012 Seven Daughters Pinot Noir, California, because I’ve tried their varietals and found them reliable. I was mildly surprised when he brought the wine and it was a screw-top bottle. I told him of previous bottles of Seven Daughters’ wines when they had multi-colored corks. Still, the pinot noir was remarkable and was a nice medium bodied red. Indian food has enough flavor of its own without having to compete with a wine.

The food menu featured several dishes I’ve never tried, surprisingly since this was my 141st Indian restaurant. The categories were: Vegetable Appetizers, Non-Vegetable Appetizers, Green Salads, Soups, Chicken Entrees, Lamb Entrees, Goat, Vegetable Entrees, Seafood Entrees, Tandoori Entrees, Combo Special, Whole Wheat Breads, White Flour Breads, Rice, Biryani, Side Orders, Desserts and Beverages. I chuckled at the “non-vegetable” category; it just sounded funny.

By now two other tables were occupied and one person was obviously a non-dairy, non-eggs kind of diner. Why do people like that dine out? They ordered sag paneer and I almost laughed, since paneer is a homemade cottage cheese.

My server was most attentive and I told him that I had chosen my appetizer and soup but that three main courses attracted me. He described each one in detail without – surprisingly – favoring the most expensive one. I made my decision and he went to put in the order. I had forgotten to tell him that I was a slow eater and had lots of time, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to.

My first course was the boti kebab, pieces of lamb marinated in a ginger-garlic sauce and cooked in a tandoor. Served with tamarind and mint chutneys, it was cooked well and savory, but a little on the chewy side. However, that was my only negative experience in Rangoli.

The wine was great with every course and I was just finishing the boti kebab when another server brought the mumtazzi shorba, a mildly spiced chicken soup, similar to mulligatawny. Mumtaz was the wife of Shah Jahan and is the one buried in the Taj Mahal (a little cultural history); this is what attracted me to the dish. It wasn’t as thick as mulligatawny and the traditional slice of lemon was not included, but it didn’t need it. I loved it and finished it, telling my server how good it was.

There was a small space of time before the main course arrived and my server wanted to talk. I took the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before. I complimented them on the water. Too often, the water glass has a scent or a taste on it from the detergent used in cleaning. The glass was pristine in its cleanliness and the water as pure as the water at my home (which is triple filtered). He told me the story of the manager, who, being impeccably clean, carefully chose a dishwasher that would completely clean all the tableware. He considered this a high compliment indeed.

By then, my entrée had been brought to my table. The butterfish masala was a whole fish cooked in onions, tomato, green peppers, ginger and garlic. I had never had butterfish before but a number of people I know have raved to me about its flavor and they were right. The tender meat was definitely buttery in flavor; detectible even with the mild Indian spices coating it. It was easy to remove from the bones and very few small bones came off with the flesh. The juicy vegetables accompanying the dish added to the marvelous taste of the fish. Spooned over basmati rice and sided with onion nan, it was a delightful little feast.

At this point I should note the “runners-up” to my main course. I was torn between the butterfish and the goat curry and the kerala crab curry, both of which were described as lovingly prepared. Each one would serve as an excuse to return to Rangoli. When my server had told me about the goat curry, he mentioned (as did the menu) that the meat was on the bone. When I finished my fish I told him, “That’s why I told you I have no trouble with bones,” for all that remained of the fish was a head and tail joined by a ribbed spine.

The casava cake was the most interesting dessert on the menu but I guess it was finished during the lunch period because they were out of it. Oh well, back to “street food” as my friend from Kerala calls it. 

The gulab jamun (malted milk balls in a honey-rose water sauce) were just as good as any I’ve had. I asked my server if they served masala chai (spiced tea) and he said no. “How about any tea?” “We have a cardamom tea.” “That’s a spiced tea. I’ll take that.” All it needed was a little evaporated milk and I was happy.

As I was leaving and getting a business card, I learned from my server that Rangoli is a word in Hindi that means a “mixture of colors.” “Like a mandala,” I said. “Yes,” it describes the range of flavors from all over India that the chef uses in his recipes. Rangoli is 14 months old, he said, and I wished him many years of business as I left. Rangoli’s boast about “exquisite Indian cuisine” is not unfounded.

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