Thursday, June 9, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Paramount, 2016) – Director: Dave Green. Writers: Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec (s/p); Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman (characters). Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Stephen Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Tony Shalhoub, & Brad Garrett. Color and 3D, Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.

The second installment of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is full of action, has scenes for those who love explosions, is perfectly voice-cast, and equal parts comedy and drama.

In the first movie two years ago, we learned how four normal turtles and a rat became mutations from a lab experiment gone wrong and how the scientist’s daughter, April O’Neil (Fox), saved them from the fire by releasing them into the New York sewer system. It was also April who named them: Michelangelo (Fisher), Donatello (Howard), Leonardo (Ploszek), and Raphael (Ritchson). They keep to the shadows of night, as advised by their master trainer, Splinter (voiced by Shalhoub). 

Now, two years later, master criminal Shredder (Tee) is being readied for transfer into maximum security prison. With him are two lesser criminals, Bebop (Williams) and Rocksteady (Farrelly). Through April’s news reporting, the Turtles learn of this transfer. Donatello, the brains of the group, correctly concludes that the gang is hatching an escape plan. They board their high-tech garbage truck and race off to intercept the security detail, which is already under siege by ninjas riding motorcycles.
Shredder has found a component of an alien machine that creates a transport portal. As soon as he is freed, he disappears into it. On the other side, Shredder meets the monstrous alien Krang (Garrett), who convinces him to obtain the other two components, one located in the Museum of Natural History and the other is in the jungles of Brazil. To assemble the device, he needs the brilliant, but mad, scientist Baxter Stockman (Perry). Together, they will rule the world.

In need of accomplices with plenty of brawn but not too much intelligence, Shredder hijacks Bebop and Rocksteady from their favorite bar and brings them to Stockman’s laboratory. Dr. Stockman has developed a mutagen that “brings out the inner animal” in people and the two are forcibly injected and are transformed into an anthropomorphic warthog and rhinoceros. Strangely enough, though, Bebop retains his purple Mohawk hairstyle. What they don’t know is that April is hiding in the lab and swipes a vial of the mutagen. A chase scene later, the vial is in police hands, but one of the syringes makes it to turtle central.

Donatello’s analysis of the mutagen leads to the conclusion that, engineered correctly, it could transform them into normal people. He and Leonardo keep this a secret from Raphael and Michelangelo. But the latter two figure it out and are insulted by their brothers’ lack of trust. They convince April and Casey Jones to help them break into police headquarters and get the vial. With the added assistance of Vernon Fenwick (Arnett), who received the key to the city for “single-handedly catching Shredder” the first time, under the alias “The Falcon,” they make it in. But so have Shredder’s people. Chief Vincent (Linney) arrests April and Casey when they allow the turtles to escape.

Time is not on the turtles’ side. Shredder easily gets the second component from the planetarium and, by the time Donatello figures out that the next stop is Brazil, Bebop and Rocksteady are returning with the third component at the same time as they are flying south.

To understand their lack of coordination, keep in mind that these kung fu adept reptiles are still teenagers. For the rest of the film, Leonardo has to regain his brothers’ trust if he’s going to lead them as a team against an alien who is constructing a death-star-like machine arriving piece by piece through an open wormhole in the New York City sky.

The element of cartoon, however, is never lost. Knowing it’s obvious that no one can get seriously hurt, we enjoy the almost slap-stick horseplay and battles. Kids will love it. And the 3D effects were finally used to full potential: for example, a tank cannon is fired directly at the audience. Overall, it was an improvement on the first movie, which was lame in comparison. Even the soundtrack was light hearted, ranging from “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, to “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, and, of course the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” television theme song during the credits.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

111 W. 17th St., New York
Usually when I choose a restaurant, I go to their website to get a feel for the place, the décor, and the lighting as well as the menu. But I chose Serenata, sight unseen, by its beautiful written menu.

A terra cotta banner with the name in bold white script hangs over a green awning with red and white stripes, which shades the black-framed glass entrance. Inside, the walls are covered in brightly colored murals. The open kitchen was right in front of me and was tucked into a corner of the dining area. The dark wood chairs are cushioned and comfortable and all tables have white cloths and napkins with colorful placemats and attractive red glass votive candle holders.

When I was seated, my server, Ibanez, handed me the menu and the wine and drinks list. Though it was not dark in the restaurant, the font was just a little small and it took some adjustment to read them.

I told Ibanez that I would like a cocktail and chose the Mexican Mule – Tequila Cazadores (100% blue agave), lime juice, simple syrup, and ginger beer, served in what looked like a Mason jar with a handle. It had an intriguing taste like a sweet margarita with a Caribbean twist.

Ibanez helped me to construct a three-course meal, beginning with the queso fundido – literally, melted Chihuahua cheese, with pico de gallo, corn tortillas and chorizo or vegetable upon request. I chose the chorizo. The little black iron skillet held my cheese and sausage mixture. Next to it was a cloth party-popper filled with eight soft corn tortillas and next to that was the pico de gallo sauce. The sauce name means “beak of the rooster” and refers to the spicy taste as likened to being pecked by a chicken. The portion was very good, not too much, the flavor was amazing, and it wasn’t as filling as I had expected. 

I had read earlier that the chef of Serenata has as his main objective making Mexican food healthy, such as including edamame in the guacamole upon request. Vegetables come with most dishes, rice is only a side and refried beans only accompany three menu items.

Next I chose the pescado (fish) ceviche – striped bass marinated in lime juice, leche de tigre (literally tiger’s milk, referring to the liquid that remains after the ceviche is finished), potato cream sauce, salmon caviar, and chile manzano aiol (a yellow chili pepper about twice as spicy as a jalapeno mixed with garlic). Served in a long black dish, it was vinegary, sweet, salty and delightfully fresh and crunchy with small round crackers mixed in. The manzano was not as spicy as I expected, but added a nice kick.

I told Ibanez to hold off serving the wine until the main course. It was now time. The 2012 “Redemption” Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley Vineyards, Sonoma California was full-bodied to the point of being husky. The bold flavor of the rich dark red not only accented the meal, it amplified the flavors. 

It was a perfect choice for my next course, enchiladas suizas de huitlacoche – fresh huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn and has a similar earthy flavor and texture to a truffle), onions, corn, epazote (an herb that adds a musky flavor to food), Oaxaca cheese, and creamy tomatillo sauce. This beautiful dish had the three pale green enchiladas, more than likely green from the epazote, drizzled with the cheese and accented by the tomatillo sauce. Finely chopped tomatoes, peppers and cheese on top form the base for a decorative purple flower much like a clover blossom. It looked like the Mexican flag on a plate. But it was so much better to eat.

When the wine was finished, it was time for dessert. I had a choice of churros or tres leches, one of my favorites. Vanilla ice cream on a crispy meringue with a milk cracker leaning over it. A string of chocolate beads was lined up at the side of the bowl on a thread of raspberry sauce as a garnish.

For one of the few times I can remember, I did not have coffee or tea. Something else caught my attention at the beginning: The Mole Margarita – herradura añejo tequila, St. Germain liquor, mole (spicy chocolate), mole bitters, sparkling rosé, and a walnuts “power rim” on the glass. Basically, a spicy, chocolatey after-dinner drink.

Instead of a business card, Serenata had a tripartite folded take-out menu with all their business information on it as well. It will serve as a reminder to return for more culinary adventures.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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