Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Wild Life

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Wild Life (Lionsgate, 2016) – Directors: Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen. Stars: Yuri Lowenthal, Doug Stone, Jeff Doucette, Debi Tinsley, Laila Berzins, Joey Camen, Sandy Fox, Marieve Herington, Gerald Schaale, & David Howard. Animated, Color, 3D, Rated PG, 90 minutes.

The trailers for this Belgian animated feature held so much promise I was eager to see it. And yes, the animation is very well done. The characters move smoothly and believably and are far from flat cartoons right down to the details in feathers. The voice match-ups are excellent and fitting to the character. The story is a great concept; the tale of Robinson Crusoe as told from the viewpoint of the animals already living on the island where he’s shipwrecked. It’s even politically correct in that it eliminates the character Friday completely. But how the story is told would not convince a five-year-old.

One has to wonder from the start why the miserably seasick Robinson Crusoe (Lowenthal) is on a wooden sailing ship. The rest of the crew mock him and his only friend is his dog Aynsley (Stone), a Skye Terrier with a distinctly Scottish accent. It seems his only purpose on board is to keep the two vicious cats, Mal (Doucette), and his mate May (Tinsley), away from the chickens. May dominates the relationship and vows vengeance on Crusoe and Aynsley for thwarting her dining plans.

Meanwhile, on a rocky desert island, there’s a luau every night and all the animals gather food for the feast: Rosie the tapir (Berzins), Scrubby the goat (Camen), Epi the hedgehog (Fox) who looks more like an echidna, Kiki the colorful tropical bird (Herington), Pango the pangolin (Doucette), and Carmello the chameleon (Schaale). 

Only Mak, a scarlet macaw (Howard), is not preparing for dinner. He’s bored with the sameness of everyday life on the island and is dreaming of another place far away when he finds a ring on the shore. Not sure what it is, he pecks away the encrustations and concludes that it’s proof that somewhere else exists, and he wants to go there.

A violent storm brews over the ocean and affects both ship and luau. When our animal friends wake up the next morning, a ship, broken in two, is on the rocks off shore. As Crusoe and Aynsley struggle ashore in a barrel, the animals fear of being attacked by sea monsters. Mak, however, is undaunted; he wants to know more. There are some great aerial flying scenes as we follow him over, under, and through the ship’s wreckage. Crusoe was trapped by a broken main mast blocking the hatch above him, but he manages to break though and eventually befriends Mak with a biscuit. But when Crusoe leaves the room, Mal and May attack and Mak dislocates a wing in the fray. Crusoe heals Mak and renames him Tuesday, which he estimates would be the current day.

The rest of the story is Crusoe trying to adapt to life on the island and Tuesday being his intermediary with the other animals. Mal and May also escape to the island after a final battle with Aynsley which sets fire to the ship and explodes the gunpowder cache. Poor Aynsley, my favorite character, is never seen again.

The animals help Crusoe build his treehouse and get food and even cooperate in exiling Mal and May to Curse Island: a rocky outcrop offshore with only bugs to eat and dangerous currents surrounding it. But the vengeful May is pregnant and plans her retaliation with her brood of a dozen young.

I liked the fact that the narration (kept to a minimum, thank you) by Mak was told to two rats on board the rescue (albeit pirate) ship, but the passage of time was a little confusing. Granted, animals could care less what day it was (except for Mak), but I would have liked to have seen some gauge between May’s announcement of pregnancy and the adulthood of her kittens. There are just too many unanswered questions for my taste.

The Wild Life is a charmingly cutesy movie best seen in 3D as it takes full advantage of the 3D effects. Several items and characters are sent toward the audience and there are scenes with items hovering over you. The script is simple and not as educational as Dora The Explorer, but entertaining for the little ones. The only joke I laughed at was when Crusoe finds a pair of glasses for the near-sighted Scrubby, and he looks at Rosie and says, “Rosie! You’re not a pig! You’re beautiful!” It doesn’t really have a moral and the only award it will be nominated for is technical expertise. I enjoyed it. It just didn’t “Wow!” me.

Rating: out of 5 Martini glasses.

25 Cooper Square, New York

Before making my reservation at Narcissa I was reading a website listing the “100 Best Restaurants in New York” and I found it interesting that, of the entries, I’d only dined at 23. Most of them I’ve never heard of, some I didn’t think belonged on the list and a few made the list simply because they’re the most expensive restaurants in the city. Ambience and prohibitive prices do not make a good restaurant. But Narcissa was listed.

The many times I’ve been to Cooper Square were occasioned by the need to buy sheet music or the irresistible lure of Indian food. I had no idea that any high-end restaurant was right on the square. And yet, for two and a half years, Narcissa was almost hidden at the end of an alleyway next to a noisy college-scene bar, the Café Standard, a block away from Cooper Union College.

I saw the name of the restaurant above the doors at the far end of the alley painted on the white wall in bright colors with flowers. The Captain’s Station for the Café Standard in the Standard Hotel (which claims both the bar and the restaurant) was between me and my destination. Inside, I breathed a sigh of relief. All was blonde wood and soft gold accents and white chairs. There were two rooms and a garden.

I ordered the Mexitaly cocktail – espresso infused Mezcal, amaro Montenegro and ancho chili liquor, finished off with mole bitters and orange essence. It was delightful, almost like a smoky fortified wine, had a beautiful burnt orange color and one could taste the coffee infusion.

The wine steward came over and and I chose the 2013 Spätburgunder from the Shelter Winery in the Baden region of Germany. It had a definitely fruity nose and a medium body, a little on the fruity side but with a noticeable tannic character. Not sweet, as I might have expected, but with an edge to it that would accent a spicy dish, it was an attractive deep ruby color.

My first course was peekytoe crab with champagne mango, jalapeño and mache (a simple pastry dough wrapping the main ingredient). The dish was a fantasy in gold and green, and the delicate crab meat was sparked by the flavor of the jalapeño slices. The wine turned that spark into a party.

The next course was duck confit tortellini with spring onions and cranberry beans garnished with purple pansy petals (say that three times, fast). It was a pasta and savory soup dish in one.

The main course was spiced Colorado lamb – a rib section and chop with semolina gnocchi and sliced, grilled fairytale eggplant. I didn’t need a sharp knife to carve the tender juicy meat off the bone and the gnocchi disintegrated under my fork, but they were delicious. I decided to go totally decadent with the side dish and make my meal a carnivore’s delight, with grilled pork ribs as a side dish. It was a first for me. They were tender and a little drier than the lamb, but just as flavorful.

Afterward, I had to have dessert, and the name alone would have made me choose it. The Eton Mess – fresh strawberries and basil under a fluffy blanket of champagne sabayon. Excellent. I ordered a lovely pot of herbal spiced chai and a glass of Nonino Quintessentia Amaro to follow it. Narcissa wasn’t finished with me. Carolyn brought out two home-made brownies for an after-dinner treat. Perfect.

While there, I watched the people at the next table and found reasons to return. The carrots wellington looked scrumptious and I have to try their watermelon salad. Narcissa definitely deserves to be on my “100 Best” list.

Here's a shot of the nearby Cooper Union College:

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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