Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Jungle Book

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Jungle Book (Disney, 2016) – Director: Jon Favreau. Writers: Justin Marks (s/p), Rudyard Kipling (book). Star: Neel Sethi. Voices: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose, Emjay Anthony, Max Favreau, Chloe Hechter, Asher Blinkoff, & Knox Gagnon. Color, Rated PG, 105 minutes.

Do you like Kipling?” “I don’t know, I never kippled before.” Familiar lines from the Laugh-In television series. I was a pre-teen when I read “The Jungle Book” and I loved it. Of course I saw the Disney animated version in 1967 and the real-life remake in 1994. My favorite quote from 1994 is “Why do you suppose he (the panther) stares at us like that?” “Because to him, you are food.” The animated version was an entertaining, typically Disney bit of fluff that sugared the original story and topped it with a cherry. This time, Disney Corporation appears to be getting serious with the dangerous life of a child raised by animals in the jungle.

Mowgli (Sethi), as we learn from Kaa the python (Johansson) about halfway through the film, is the son of a traveler who is beset by Shere Khan the tiger (Elba) one night in their cave shelter. The father blinds the tiger in one eye and burns him with a torch before the tiger kills him. Shere Khan leaves the cave without noticing the orphaned child still there. The bewildered child is found by Bagheera the panther (Kingsley), who raises him and teaches him the ways of the wild. Eventually, he entrusts the “man-cub” to Akela (Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Nyong’o), the alpha male and female in a wolf pack. They care for Mowgli as one of their own cubs.

My ticket had a “4DX” after the film title. Frankly, I paid no attention to it when buying my ticket. I only wondered why this movie cost more than double what I usually pay. When I arrived at the theater, I saw a list of rules posted outside the door. Things like age limits, medical condition warnings, how to sit, what to do, and so forth. Sitting in my assigned seat I noticed a button on the armrest with “water on” lit. Not wanting to get wet, I immediately changed it. But I was not prepared for what was to come.

The movie opens with Mowgli running a race with his fellow wolves, he in the trees and they on the ground. Every seat in the theater followed his motions, up, down, back and forth. And when the tree branch broke under him you felt it on your left leg. When the breeze blew on screen, you felt it. When you saw flowers, you smelled them. And when it was misty onscreen, or when the vengeful Shere Khan kills Akela and takes over the pack, the audience is squirted with water.

Mowgli decides to leave the wolf pack and follow Bagheera to a “man-village” when he sees the pack in danger because of him. Separated from the panther, and alone in the misty rain forest, he’s saved from the hypnotic and hungry Kaa by Baloo the Bear (Murray). Up until now, the computer-generated animals are spectacular. They move like real beasts and talk with only a minimal movement of their mouths. Baloo even looks like Bill Murray, with the same sleepy eyes. But when Mowgli is captured by the monkeys and taken to the Hindu temple where King Louie the orangutan (Walken) sits on his throne, things get a little less believable.

King Louie is immense, very much larger than the largest male orangutan ever created. But considering his gigantic size, his head is disproportionately small. The effect is ridiculous.

Speaking of the ridiculous, I mentioned Disney “trying” to get serious in this film. The drama is not just broken, but outright dropped as Murray has to sing “Bare (Bear) Necessities” while doing the backstroke with Mowgli riding his chest, and even more laughable is Walken croaking his way through “I Wanna Be Like You.” Forgive me, but Phil Harris and Louie Prima they are not. Fortunately, Kaa’s song, “Trust in Me,” is left for the credits at the end and sung very well by Johansson.

When I was reading the book, all the characters were real to me, Bagheera being my favorite. I even liked Kaa, whom I totally misunderstood. It didn’t matter to me that this was a fantasy jungle. Nowhere on earth do you see tigers, wolves, bears, pangolins, orangutans, macaques, one lonely male peacock, rhinos, elephants, Ikki the porcupine (Shandling), and a giant squirrel together in one part of the world. I didn’t wonder why Mowgli could talk to all of the animals, though there are some in this film he cannot talk to, like the monkeys. Yes, it’s an allegory and a family film that teaches loyalty and right from wrong – great for viewing with children. However, I don’t believe the thrill of “being IN the movie” is worth the cost. I enjoyed The Jungle Book as a 3D movie with stunning CGI. I just want my seat to stay put and not to be spritzed with water.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

119 E. 18th St., New York

After a movie involving multiple animals, it was great to find a Tex-Mex restaurant only four blocks away with the name of another animal. A Javelina is a wild pig about the size of a large house cat. If you’re still curious, they have a stuffed one over the bar.

Javelina is striking at street level. The Southwestern cross-hatch pattern on the gray and white tiles framing the front windows is easy to see, and the name in big green letters on a wood background contrast nicely. Inside. I had to squeeze past the Happy Hour crowd to get to the Captain’s Station and then move downstairs to the bar itself past a lively crowd to the dining area. My server, Samantha, supplied me with both the drinks menu and the food menu, and a glass of water at the same time as an apology for quickly zipping off to take care of other diners. All 20-plus tables were occupied, and the piped-in music found itself seriously competing with the ever-growing chatter. I didn’t mind, though, for I had a good view of everything.

I was still reeling from the bucking bronco that was my seat in the movies when my eyes cleared up enough to find an interesting margarita on the cocktail side of the drinks menu. When Samantha was free, she took my order for a prickly pear margarita on the rocks and asked me what tequila I would like. I was speechless for a second; I’ve never had that kind of a choice. I thought of my favorite tequila, but didn’t think “Two Fingers” was being produced anymore. All I could say was “Wow!” 

She suggested a top-shelf brand, Casamigos Blanco, sang its praises, and added that although it cost a couple of dollars more, it was worth the extra price. Excellent salesmanship. I ordered it. I guess I made an impression on the man I took to be the manager who, at the time was assisting the bartender. He brought me the guava-pink drink with only half the rim encrusted with salt and a lime slice perched on the unsalted rim. It was beautiful and, I thought, very considerate to people who can’t have too much salt. Not only that, it was delicious.

The food menu is four pages long with several intriguing and different dishes I found nowhere else (such as brisket tacos?). I told Samantha that I liked everything and that I was putting together a three-course meal. I asked her about the size of the taco dishes and she answered that it depended upon how many I ordered. That settled my decision. I gave her my selections, she suggested the order they should come out, and I ordered a second margarita.

Another server brought the first course, tortilla soup – shredded chicken in pasilla (the dried form of the chilaca chili or chili negro) broth with tomatoes, avocado, creama (sour cream), fried tortilla strips and cheese. It was hearty, rich, and only mildly spicy. I remembered the last tortilla soup I had and made the suggestion of using blue-corn tortillas in the recipe. Samantha said she’d tell the chef. Otherwise, it was excellent.

I had kept the drinks menu for my wine choice and ordered the 2015 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon “Alto” Riserva, Los Romeros, Colchagua Valley, Chile. When the manager/assistant bartender arrived with the bottle, he apologized for the screw-top bottle. As he poured I explained that quite a few times I’ve experienced wonderful “corkless" wines, and as I tasted it, said, “like this one.” Samantha had joined us and I told them about last week’s restaurant being all out of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and the week-long craving that resulted. They both smiled and acknowledged that now, I have it. I knew it would go with the soup, but it had a poblano pepper “meaty” flavor, verging on spiciness as well as a deep cherry fruitiness that would match my main course perfectly.

My second course was one of the unusual dishes, fried oyster tacos wrapped in soft fresh-made tortillas, with shredded cabbage, tomato, cilantro and lime. Something weird happens to oysters when they are cooked. This dish recalled to mind my first taste of oysters at a Japanese restaurant called Kabuki (no longer in business). Then, as now, the cooking process brings out the metallic zinc flavor in oysters. I had ordered two of these tacos and, after finishing the first I dowsed the second in fresh lime juice, which helped a lot. I think I’ll stick to fresh oysters on the half shell.

No dish arrived at the same time as the previous one and I credit Samantha with a great job of choreographing the meal. In several places on the menu, the words chile and chili were interchangeable though they mean distinctly different things. The main course was an example. The chili (chile – their spelling) relleno, a large poblano pepper battered and fried and stuffed with beef picadillo (ground beef, onions, green bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes), and topped with melted cheese, toasted pecans, raisins and tomatillo sauce, was a wonder to behold. 

The colors of this dish were vibrant and the aroma enticing. I decided to start at the stem end of the pepper (where the spiciest part is) and discovered it was uniformly mild throughout. The chef made sure to exclude the seeds. Unlike the first one I had at the Caliente Cab Company in Greenwich Village, this dish did not make me empty the accompanying red rice dish or the refried black beans just to put out the fire in my mouth. It was savory, cheesy, beefy and wonderful throughout. I told Samantha that it reminded me one I had in San Antonio, Texas. She liked that.

Javelina has been open for a year now and has yet to get a dessert list. Samantha offered a complimentary sopapilla with a honey dipping sauce. A sopapilla is something like a cross between a fluffy doughnut and Italian zeppole, coated with brown sugar, and best eaten hot and fresh. Samantha asked how it I liked it and I asked for more. She brought two more. However, coffee was strangely missing from the menu, much less the fancy coffees I see in Mexican restaurants. But just as strange, I didn’t need any. I considered an after dinner drink but changed my mind. I was satisfied.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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