Monday, July 11, 2016

Finding Dory

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Piper (Pixar/Disney, 2016) – Director: Alan Barillaro. Animation Coordinator: Samantha Jane Samuels. Animation: James W. Brown, Erick Oh, Tal Schwarzmann. Layout Artists: Colin Levy, Charlie Ramos. Animated, Color and 3D, Rated G, 6 minutes.

This delightful six-minute short tells the story of a mother sandpiper trying to teach her chick to hunt clams. The chick still expects to be fed but scurries out to the water’s edge when its mother lays out a clam for it on the sand. But a wave crashes in and the chick cowers, traumatized in the nest. A little coaxing and the chick discovers a family of hermit crabs. When the wave comes in again, they dig into the sand and the chick copies them. While underwater, the baby hermit crab taps the chick on the beak and it opens its eye. All the biggest clams are visible. The little chick now loves the water and becomes the hero of the flock.

It’s a beautiful tale told wordlessly and artfully. The Pixar animation is marvelous, the CGI is crisp and believable, and the cinematography superb, worthy of an Academy award. Unfortunately, it eclipsed the movie to follow.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Finding Dory (Pixar/Disney, 2016) – Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse (s/p). Andrew Stanton (original story). Angus MacLane (additional story material). Bob Peterson (additional s/p material). Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Sloane Murray, Andrew Stanton, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bob Peterson, Kate McKinnon, Ed O’Neill, John Ratzenberger, Ty Burrell, Bill Hader, & Sigourney Weaver. Animated, Color and 3D, Rated PG, 103 minutes.

I enjoyed this film a lot more than I expected. For the first time that I can recall, I saw a prequel/sequel. Dory (Murray as a baby, DeGeneres as an adult) suffers from short-term memory loss, similar to early-onset Alzheimer’s, without the degenerative effects. It’s an integral part of the story. Dory’s parents, Jenny (Keaton), and Charlie (Levy), create songs and visual clues to help Dory remember things to keep her out of danger. But the song about avoiding the undertow is forgotten and Dory is swept away. She grows up trying to find her way home and eventually links up with Marlin (Brooks), the daddy clownfish in his search for his son Nemo (Rolence). Thus ends the prequel.

Dory is instrumental in finding Nemo, and thus begins the sequel. Marlin and Nemo conclude from Dory’s ramblings and half-memories from babyhood that her parents have to be at the Marine Life Institute in Monterrey, California. “That’s all the way across the ocean!” Marlin complains. But with the help of sea turtle Crush (Stanton), they all make the long journey. Have you ever heard of a seasick fish? Marlin nearly loses it. When the three fish surface to survey their surroundings, Dory is caught by humans and taken to the Quarantine building, where she meets the elusive escaped octopus Hank (O’Neill) whose only goal is to get onto the truck to the Cleveland Aquarium and be left alone. Hank sees the special tag on Dory’s fin, and knowing it could be his ticket to Ohio, he makes a deal with Dory to find her parents, while she in return will give him the tag. On the way to the Open Ocean exhibit, Dory meets Destiny (Olson), a near-sighted whale shark, and her neighbor Bailey (Burrell), a beluga whale who has forgotten how to echo-locate. Together, they hatch a scheme to commandeer a stroller for Hank to operate while Dory, riding in a sippy-cup, directs him. It’s hilarious and sad at the same time. Between her memories and ease of being distracted, they almost don’t make it.

Various adventures take place throughout the journey. Marlin, Nemo and Dory are chased by a frightening squid with glowing tentacles, they get separated and Marlin and Nemo meet sea lions Fluke (Elba) and Rudder (West) who set them on a harrowing thrill ride in a bucket held by a looney loon named Becky. Later, they conspire with a group of otters to stop the truck headed for Cleveland with a “cute cuddle-fest” traffic jam across the highway.

Hank is my favorite character and the real reason I came to see this movie. The computer graphics needed to make his seven arms (he lost one while in quarantine and Dory calls him a “septipus” at one lucid moment) writhe and bend as a real octopus should are truly amazing. He speaks, but being as an octopus’ mouth is under all of his tentacles, we only see a billowing of the skin under his eyes. Very good. He’s as cynical and cautious as Dory is innocent and trusting, and his ability to change colors to match backgrounds is superb.

Other characters along the way are Mr. Ray (Peterson), the school teacher leopard ray, a husband and wife fish couple (Hader and McKinnon), and a husband crab (John Ratzenberger) who is busy clipping sea grass with his pincers while giving Dory advice. Sigourney Weaver’s voice is heard announcing welcome to the Marine Life Institute.

Finding Dory should be nominated for several technical awards, but the story is unoriginal by a long shot. The means of getting from one place to another while keeping Dory in water are imaginative, at least until she winds up in a floor washer’s bucket, after switching a few times from salt water to fresh – any one of these changes could have been her last. Her memories are so disjointed that she forgets she knows Destiny from Finding Nemo, but she remembers how to speak “whale” (actually, that would have to be “shark,” since Destiny is a whale shark, not a shark whale).

Bring the kids, they’ll love it, though at 97 minutes, it’s a little too long for what content it has. One mother had to leave early from my theater. Pixar did their usual spectacular job, right down to filling the “Tidal Pool” with ink when Hank gets poked. Get a comfortable theater as I did and think of the enormous job of animation it is.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

24 Fifth Ave.New York

Classified as French by and Provençal on the website, there is definitely a North African influence throughout the menu of this charming Greenwich Village bistro. It’s named after Claudette Sammut, the 91-year-old mother of Guy Sammut who, with his wife Reine, own two restaurants and a hotel in Loumarin, France. The creators of Claudette, Mark Barak and Carlos Suarez, were so impressed by the cuisine and hospitality there they asked if they could name their restaurant after her.

As I was seated I was handed the food and drinks menus to peruse. When my server, Sarah, arrived, I started with a “Moroccan Margarita” – Sauza tequila, preserved lemon purée, and coriander syrup served in a tall glass with a blue and white striped straw with the rim of the glass dusted with a pleasant curry rather than salt. I thought it was a great idea and told Sarah. 

As for food, I needed a few more minutes, but after ordering my wine, the 2012 Château La Peyre Haut Médoc, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux, I began with roasted beets in a dandelion pistou (garlic, finely chopped dandelion leaves and olive oil) with bee pollen, and watermelon radishes (red inside, green outside). The beets were delightful, served cold and there was the crunchy aspect of the radishes to accent the dish.

My second course was charred octopus with chickpeas, eggplant, sweet peppers, harissa (Moroccan spicy sauce), and parsley. The octopus was tender and a little chewy but flavorful with the spice and savory accompaniments. The harissa, though, was the most amazing part. Usually a sauce served on the side, it was in little crunchy spheres scattered through the dish that exploded like mini-fireworks once I bit into them. I loved it.

For my main course I chose the rabbit cavatelli – black olive rabbit ragu, bacon, house made pasta, applewood smoked onion, and a parsley tarragon sauce. The cavatelli was perfectly al dente and formed. I had no doubt it was made fresh. The chunks of tender rabbit meat were juicy and had just the right amount of gaminess. And of course, everything goes better with bacon. I ordered as a side dish Brussels sprouts, sliced almost julienne style, and mixed with caramelized onion and bacon.

For dessert I went with their special of the day: Spanish strawberries served with French vanilla gelato. The presentation was everything,  looking like a festive wreath on the plate. The strawberries were no bigger than marbles, but were sweeter than the larger ones you can buy in groceries. To finish I chose the Moroccan chai – black tea and ras el hanout, a spice mix from North Africa similar to garam masala in Indian cuisine, and a lovely snifter of Marie Duffau Napoleon Bas Armagnac.

In case you’re wondering, there were other exotic dishes on the menu which would gravitate my return to Claudette features other dishes that might tempt a return visit, such as the Corsican mint salad, the bouillabaisse en croûte (I never had the dish with a pastry crust before) and the sasso chicken tajine (alternately spelled tagine).

As an added bonus, the restaurant is only two blocks from the famed Arch in Washington Square Park.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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