Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Sing (Universal, 2016) – Directors: Christophe Lourdelet & Garth Jennings. Writer: Garth Jennings. Voices: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, & Nick Offerman. Color, Animated, Rated PG, 108 minutes.

Although this is a story that’s been oft repeated, it makes classic film lovers think back to the Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby days with a certain nostalgia. Buster Moon (McConaughey) has loved the theater since he was a little koala sitting with his Dad in the balcony watching a grand performance on stage.

Buster’s Dad worked his whole life to get enough money to buy Buster his own theater and he’s never had a hit show. Now, he’s virtually broke. Still, with blind optimism and extreme chutzpah he tells his best friend, Eddie Noodleman (Reilly), a sheep, that he intends to host a singing contest to revive the failing theater.

Buster dictates a flier to his elderly chameleon secretary, Miss Crawly (Jennings), but before she prints it, her glass eye is blown out of its socket and hits the zero key on her computer, changing a $1,000 dollar prize into a $100,000 dollar prize. She copies it into a stack of papers taller than she is and the wind blows the entire stack out the window and around the town. It turns out to be a very successful method of dissemination and there’s a long line of creatures waiting outside the Moon Theater on audition day.

Here’s where the subplots come in. After hearing snippets of dozens of songs performed by animals ranging from spiders to giraffes and snails to elephants, Buster chooses his finalists for the contest: Rosita (Witherspoon), a harried mother pig with 25 piglets and a husband too tired after work to pay attention to her; Mike (MacFarlane), a white mouse who swindles a trio of bears in a card game and buys an expensive car to impress a girl mouse; Ash (Johansson), a teenage porcupine who only sang back-up vocals with her boyfriend Lance (Bennett) in a punk-style band; a troop of acrobatic frogs; a quintet of bouncing Chow-Chow dogs who only speak Chinese; an operatic camel; and Johnny (Egerton), a young gorilla whose father, Big Daddy (Serafinowicz), leads a gang of thieving gorillas. Meena (Kelly), an elephant with stage fright, tries out but bombs because of her fear. Later, after she assists Buster in pirating electricity from a neighboring building, Meena becomes a stagehand.

The rehearsals are not without problems. Buster pairs Rosita with Gunter (Kroll) as a song and dance routine, but she doesn’t really dance. He gives Ash a sappy song and costume that really doesn’t suit her style and he convinces Johnny to play piano while he sings, even though he hasn’t played since early ape-hood. Buster assigns Miss Crawley to be his piano teacher. To make rehearsals, Rosita builds an elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption to take care of her family while she’s gone. Ash has to deal with Lance singing “sell-out” songs to her and taking up with a new girlfriend, Becky, and Johnny misses a rendezvous with his father’s gang as getaway driver on a gold heist and his Dad and gang are arrested.

But that’s not all. When the electric company cuts off the theater’s lights, Buster gets an idea to use bioluminescent squid to light his stage and invites Eddie’s wealthy grandma, Nana Noodleman (Saunders) – who looks and acts like an ovine Norma Desmond - to the preview show. The bears come as well to collect on Mike’s debt and crack the glass tanks holding the squid and flood the theater, literally bringing the house down.

What would Mickey Rooney do? The old-time memories brought back by this remarkably computer-animated film are dwarfed by the amount the producer probably had to pay in royalties. Over 60 classic pop songs are sung in part or in entirety, including the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight,” Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”. And none of the songs are forced into the plot.

Other voices in the cast feature Jennifer Hudson as a young Nana Noodleman, Jay Pharoah as Meena’s grandfather, Laraine Newman as her grandmother and Leslie Jones as her mother. The cast, the animation, the pathos and the nostalgia combine with the music to make Sing a top-notch contender for Oscar nominations. Along with the familiar songs, there are also two new ones; “Faith” an original song by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande and “The Way I Feel Inside” written by Garth Jennings and David Bassett. It will get your feet tapping, it’ll make you laugh, and you’ll tear up. Two words: see it!

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

622 Third Ave.New York

When you have a restaurant with a chef who combines elements from Cuban, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisines you have to have some ‘give and take,’ precisely what Zengo means in Japanese. Opened by Richard Sandoval and Placido Domingo in April 2011, this cavernous corner space houses the restaurant proper and a tequila lounge upstairs with a library of 400 tequilas, presided over by New York’s only tequila librarian.

My server Ferenc greeted me with a broad smile and took my cocktail order. The Cucumber Serrano Martini – El Silencio mescal, muddled cucumber, serrano chili and citrus – was a perfect starter, a refreshing cool drink with a spicy rim on the glass and a slight kick. I selected three courses and told him to stagger the dishes in time, along with a bottle of the 2011 Flechas De Los Andes Gran Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. The Malbec was a beautiful deep ruby color, medium body with a spicy aftertaste to compliment my entire meal.

The first course caught my attention when I viewed the menu online. The pork & caviar Shumai dumplings was a combination I couldn’t resist. Normally, Shumai are made with shrimp. Replace the shrimp with savory pork and slightly salty caviar and the Japanese dumpling becomes Cuban and, in a light soy jus with chopped chives, it was pure delight. 

Another basically Japanese course, the volcano roll – salmon, spicy crab and cucumber, all wrapped California-style in rice and topped with bright red caviar – was a festive dish. The spice was light and didn’t interfere with the salmon’s sweetness and the crab’s fishy texture. After tasting one segment unadorned I tried the next with a bit of the wasabi and the flavor exploded!

Next, a Chinese-style dish, the Shanghai strip steak over broccolini in a caramel-soy sauce. The steak was medium rare, juicy and full of marinated flavor, tender, and easy to slice. Though broccolini would never be found in a Chinese recipe, it provided a wonderful accent to this dish and the caramel sweet leveled out the soy salty. The side dish of taro fries topped with a lemon aioli added fun to the meal. After two dishes eaten with chopsticks, it was great to use a knife and fork and have a finger-food side.

Ferenc took my entire meal into consideration before recommending the chocolate tres leches – salted caramel and chocolate sauce. The large Latino wedge of soft, soaked chocolate cake was coated with a chocolate pudding-like substance, topped with white chocolate extrusions, drizzled with chocolate sauce and cocoa crumbles and garnished with a bright yellow edible pansy. A coil of chocolate cookie added a nice touch to the dish while making it more interesting in the presentation. I loved it.

I was in the mood for an after dinner drink, and with 400 tequilas in la biblioteca, I asked about the two beautiful ceramic decanters, one white with blue filigree, the other black with gold, on the top shelf of the bar. Ferenc brought the list of tequilas and indicated those I was interested in and then recommended a third, pointing it out on the same shelf. After his explanation I chose the dark one, they were both Clase Azul tequilas, but the one I chose was Ultra Anejo (very old) and was described as ‘grassy’ with a hint of pineapple. I could smell the grassy aroma in the nose and taste the pineapple with each sip. Fabulous! Ferenc was pleased and commented on my being his favorite customer. He told me what I was already thinking, I must come back to Zengo.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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