Saturday, December 3, 2016


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Inner Workings (Disney, 2016) – Directed and written by Leonardo Matsuda. Voice: Raymond S. Persi. Animated, Color, Rated G, 7 minutes.

This animated short tells the story of a day in the life of a man stuck in a boring, repetitive job as well as a daily routine from the inside out. In fact, it’s the same concept as Inside Out (2015) only not as clever, entertaining or well-drawn. His purple rectangular brain rules his other bodily organs and keeps him from adventure, love and excitement with the same promise of outcome, death. The only organ with a vocal part is the stomach, voiced by Raymond S. Persi, who also plays the monk canting over the man’s coffin at the end of each thought.

It succeeds in getting its point across and the running gag of the monk chanting quasi-Latin is funny, but it looks more like an instructional video trying to be a Disney short.

Rating: 1½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Moana (Disney, 2016) – Directors: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, & Chris Williams. Writers: Jared Bush (s/p). Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kendall, & Jordan Kendall (story). Voices: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Oscar Knightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho, & Louise Bush. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 103 minutes.

Disney’s got another princess even though she doesn’t like to be considered a princess. This one’s Polynesian. It starts with a narrative of how the demigod Maui (Johnson) steals the pounamu stone, which is the heart of Te Fiti, the Island Mother and source of all life. He then has to battle Te Ka, the lava monster, and loses both the stone and his magic fishhook (from which he derives his shape-shifting powers) to the depths of the ocean.

The people of Motunui island have everything they need: ample fishing and coconuts until the fish leave the lagoon and the coconuts turn black inside. The daughter of Chief Tui (Morrison) and Sina (Scherzinger), Moana Waialiki (Auli’I Cravalho) has had a special relationship with the ocean. She communicates with it, and it reveals pretty conch shell for her. Her name even means “Ocean” in a few dialects. She sees the problems of her people and longs to take a canoe past the reef to find fish for them but her father forbids it. We learn later on that he once rowed past the reef as a young man and lost his best friend to the unfriendly sea.

But the sea reveals the “heart” to Moana and, after a few consultations with Gramma Tala (House) she discovers a cave behind a waterfall where the men of Motunui hid their ocean-going canoes. Things do not improve on the island, and Gramma Tala urges Moana to go from her death bed. Despite her father’s misgivings, Moana sets off to find Maui and make him take her across the great ocean and give Te Fiti back her heart. Once past the reef, Moana discovers a stowaway, Heihei (Tudyk) the rooster. This fowl is easily the dumbest character Disney ever created. He eats rocks, has to be shown where food is and repeatedly walks off the canoe into the ocean and has to rescued.

Maui, however, has been stranded on a desert island for millennia and is not quite ready to do a girl’s bidding. Though without powers, he’s more interested in escaping captivity than saving the world and being a hero again. He’s too full of himself and even argues with the many tattoos covering his upper body. We learn later that his own parents abandoned him.

But Moana’s persistence breaks through his armor and not only do they sail across the ocean together, he teaches her “wayfinding” – the art of navigation using currents and gauging the stars. They defeat the fearsome (but also self-centered) Tamatoa (Clement) the giant evil coconut crab, to regain Maui’s fishhook and escape hordes of attacking Kakamora pirates (really just animated coconuts – there are many uses of coconuts in this film).

Though this movie starts slow and is exceptionally Disney-cute at the beginning, it gains momentum with increasing interaction of water and people. The soundtrack is powerful and the big musical numbers are majestic and glorious. Look for “How Far I’ll Go” sung by Cravalho as a number one contender for best song at the next Academy Awards ceremony. The song is on a par with “Let It Go” from Frozen. The choral numbers in the Tokelauan language compare in sheer emotion and splendor to those in The Lion King. Though technically not a musical, there are a few reprises of the main song and, just when it threatens to become a musical, Maui snidely remarks to Moana, “You’re not going to break into song are you?”

Maui is the best role for Dwayne Johnson I’ve seen so far. The character can do all the physical acting his voice implies. It’s a perfect combination. Cravalho has an exceptional voice, with the strength and timbre of Idina Menzel’s. Her character Moana is an example for all young girls who aspire to greater things. The movie is a constant build of emotion until the end, where it almost leaves the audience breathless. It’s one of two movies this year where I heard the audience applaud at the end. Bring the family to this one. Once you get past the “cute” you’ll love it.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Thai Select
472 9th Ave., New York

It took 10 years and 24 previous Thai restaurants to discover this “Alternative Thai Cuisine” gem. Outside, the name is on the front three times; once in red and white illuminated letters on a gold background, once in white script on black, and once more in the front window in white block letters on black for “Thai” and in colorful circles (like the MTA subway train letters) for “Select.”

Inside, the first thing you see is the beautiful back wall depicting a banana-leaf forest and the plastic tarp covering the ceiling made to look like blue sky with wispy clouds. A Lucite wall painted with the same banana leaf design separated me from the bustling servers and cooks, but not from the enticing aromas. Noting the cheap tin-like chairs, I chose to sit on the more comfortable banquette against the wall.

My server TuK-ky arrived and I put in my cocktail order. Though the Blue Lagoon was attractive and reminded me of the movie I had just seen, I couldn’t resist the Earthquake Cocktail, a 12-inch-tall glass of gin, rum, tequila, lemon juice and absinthe garnished with a wedge of orange and a cherry. It was very much like a Long Island ice tea, but without the cola for color. The absinthe remained at the bottom glowing greenly until I mixed it up.

I gave my selections to TuK-ky and soon a young man brought me two appetizers. The one I had ordered was the peanut dumplings – almost translucent rice dough stuffed with sweet turnip and ground peanuts, and served with a dish of soy sauce. They were fantastic. They were sweet, not spicy (Thai food can surprise you with spice), topped with chopped peanuts and garnished with shredded carrot and Romaine.

The second dish was shrimp dumplings served with a sweet soy sauce, but not what I thought I had ordered. The next time TuK-ky came by, I asked her if this dish was the shrimp dumpling soup. No. She took it away and soon it was replaced with a bowl of steaming broth with king mushrooms and chopped scallions floating in it. Again, not a spicy dish. The broth tasted like a beef stock. The shrimp dumplings were tender and fresh. In fact, everything about the dish tasted fresh, right to the crunch of the scallions.

The presentation and delicious aroma of my main course the crispy duck was served with Tamarind sauce on a bed of steamed bok choy. It was irresistible. The duck was crispy and flavorful while at the same time tender and juicy. The tamarind sauce added a sweet-tart accent to the duck and the bok choy was a crunchy companion.

The dessert list, not surprising for an Asian menu, was limited. But I saw fried banana – crisp rice dough purses filled with banana surrounded a large ball of vanilla ice cream that was itself topped with a crown of whipped cream. The plate it was served upon was decorated with swirls of chocolate sauce. It was a beautiful to look at as it was delicious. I ordered a pot of Chrysanthemum tea, but TuK-ky told me they were out of that flavor. I chose green tea. It was good, a little weak for me but satisfying.

Before I left I just had to take a picture of the little fountain just beyond the wall to the restrooms. There was a female deity sitting and playing a horn to the mermaids in the water below, very attractive. I thanked TuK-ky for her help and service and remarked that I was remiss in not finding this wonderful restaurant until now. The menu has many reasons to return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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