Monday, February 8, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Kung Fu Panda 3 (20th Century Fox, 2016) – Directors: Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh. Writers: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Voices: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Randall, Duk Kim, Steele Gagnon, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Willie Geist, Al Roker, Liam Knight, & Wayne Knight. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 95 minutes.

Chi” is defined in Chinese philosophy as the circulating energy inherent in all things. We achieve good chi by a balance of negative and positive forms in the body. This latest sequel to Kung Fu Panda is deeply involved with mastering chi.

The movie starts in the “spirit world,” where Grand Master Oogway (Kim), a great tortoise, makes his abode. Kai (Simmons), a bulky bull, who was Oogway’s brother in arms long ago but who turned against him in his lust for power, appears before Oogway. Kai has been stealing the chi of all the past kung-fu masters, wearing them as jade ornaments on his belt. Though Oogway puts up a good fight, Kai steals his chi as well and makes the transition into the mortal world.

Po (Black), now known as the Dragon Warrior, believes that kicking butt and protecting the village is the sum total of kung-fu (that and eating tons of dumplings and noodles). His fellow warriors: Tigress (Jolie), Monkey (Chan), Mantis (Rogen), Viper (Liu), and Crane (Cross), referred to as “The Five,” are known and celebrated for past victories. Master Shifu (Hoffman), however, wants Po to progress to the next level and he uses chi to make a flower bloom, which gets Po’s attention. But Po is aghast when Shifu turns over the training reins to him for The Five.

Po’s first training session is a disaster and the only thing learned is that Tigress is flammable. Mr. Ping (Hong), a duck who makes a living cooking dumplings and noodles, notices something wrong when Po sprinkles hot peppercorns into his bubble bath instead of bath salts. While Po explains, a villager pig bursts in to announce that Po’s record for eating dumplings is being broken. We see a large character from behind. He turns around and introduces himself as Li Shan (Cranston), a panda who has been looking for his son. Po tells him he’s been looking for his dad. They both wish each other the best of luck and turn away from each other while the villagers look back and forth between the two of them in shock. Suddenly, they both realize that they’re both pandas and their searches are over as they hug.

Mr. Ping is outraged and asks for proof. While Po shows Li Shan the temple where he trained, the Valley of Peace is attacked by “Jade Warriors” sent by Kai, who Po recognizes as Masters Porcupine, Bear, and Croc (Van Damme). After he and his friends defeat the attackers, Shifu runs to his library for an ancient scroll that tells the story of the pandas in the secret valley who can master and control chi. Li Shan tells Po that he’s been sent a message from “the universe.” He is to find his son and bring him back to the secret valley.

Li Shan and Po make the incredibly long journey unaware that Mr. Ping has stowed away in Po’s backpack until they rest for lunch. The last part of their trek is an impossibly high, ice-covered cliff. Knowing that pandas have trouble with stairs (defined as “panda-asthma”) Po wonders how they will climb it, when Li Shan pulls on a rope and they ascend the cliff in an elevator basket.

At the top is a beautiful, peaceful scene where pandas fly kites, eat and play. Among others, Po meets the twins Dim (Geist) and Sum (Roker), and the ribbon-dancing Mei Mei (Hudson). Yes, he learns how to be a panda, including discarding his chopsticks when eating dumplings, but he wonders when his dad will teach him to master chi. Time runs short when Kai attacks the Valley of Peace and absorbs the chi of Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane and Shifu and is now on his way to the secret valley. An exhausted Tigress brings this news to Po.

What to do? There is no time to teach kung fu to all these pandas. Instead, Po teaches them to use their natural abilities with kung fu weapons and his “army” meets Kai’s jade warriors to hopefully distract Kai long enough for Po to use his “finger pinch” and best move. He learns to his dismay that this move will only work on mortals, not Kai. Thinking quickly, Po gets Kai in a headlock and performs the move, taking them both to the spirit world and saving the mortal world.

The battle continues in the fantastic, golden realm until it looks as if Po will lose. Li Shan rallies Mr. Ping and Tigress into channeling chi to infuse Po with power and the tide is turned. Po literally becomes the Dragon Warrior.

Kung Fu Panda 3 is easily the best of the trilogy, combining fast action, detailed computer generated animation, excellent script writing and talented actors cast perfectly. Po even looks a bit like Jack Black, and mimicking his mannerisms. I could see Angelina Jolie in Tigress and Dustin Hoffman in Shifu. The superb directing team of Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh makes the story and characters believable. I think it was Daffy Duck who said, “Anything can happen in a cartoon.” It was difficult to remember this while Po is getting a severe trouncing by Kai. That’s how real it felt.

Sadly, I think this is the last in the series. There were two words at the finish of this movie that I don’t remember seeing after the first two: The End.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Tutto Il Giorno
114 Franklin St.New York

This is another restaurant tucked away in an unlikely location. Franklin Street can be very dark and brooding, but on its north side there are white twinkle lights decorating the shrubs outside Tutto Il Giorno. A single large-pane window engraved with the name and a warm glow looks out on the street. Three steps up to a black door and you’re inside.

You expect a small place but stop in awe of the world that has just opened to you. Twenty-foot ceilings support four-foot diameter chandeliers designed in medieval candle rings, but with soft fluorescents. The bar is bathed in the glow of glass-beaded swags glittering above it. The room forms a “T” and continues to the back, where there is a “window” on a leafy garden. The leather banquettes are a subtle shade of camel, sporting matching pillows for the diners.

I announced my reservation at the Captain’s Station, checked my coat, and a young lady led me to a comfy banquette one table from the back window. My server brought me the wine and drink book and took my water preference as I considered my choices.

When my server returned he asked if I wanted a cocktail. As neither Beefeaters gin nor Stolichnaya vodka were available, I settled for a Tanqueray gin martini. The wine was obvious – a 2013 Tutto Il Giorno Montepulciano D’Abruzzi. It was very reasonably priced and also the right red for my dinner, with an aromatic nose and lightly tannic aftertaste.

My first course was a Chef Agostino Petrosino signature dish, called simply parmigiana. It was the best eggplant parmigiana I’ve ever had. The sauce was thick and rich with San Marzano plum tomatoes and smoked provola (provolone cheese), topped with fresh basil garnish. The smoky flavor was in every bite. Another server brought a dish with one slice of crusty Italian bread. I would need a lot more bread.

The excellent primi piatti was a half order of tortelli stuffed with squash and in a lamb ragu with almonds and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Tutto Il Giorno is one of those restaurants where the servers know protocol; two courses are never served at the same time. My server timed the meal perfectly. 

A little later, the main course arrived: venison topped with shredded zucchini and onions in an au jus sauce, garnished with rosemary. The meat was almost tender enough to cut with a fork and juicy enough to forgo the sauce. The side dish was preserved organic peppers, festive in red, green and yellow and with a slightly pickled taste.

They didn’t have my favorite Italian dessert. However, the baba au rhum, with vanilla ice cream sitting on an orange slice and tumbled with cherries, more than made up for that. It paired nicely with the ice cream and a double espresso to finish my meal.

Asked if I would like an after-dinner drink, I chose Strega. Rarely do I ever see that liqueur on any menu and it was a pleasant surprise.

Tutto Il Giorno is a little over a year old, having been open since 2014 but I think it will hold its own against the major competition of Italian restaurants downtown, most notably, Accapella, Giardino D’Oro, Da Claudio, Gran Morsi and of course, Scalini Fedeli. Will I return to Tutto Il Giorno? Yes. Tutto is not only a part of the restaurant’s name, but also the surname of the family who owns it.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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