Monday, April 17, 2017

The Boss Baby

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Boss Baby (Dreamworks/20th Century Fox, 2017) – Director: Tom McGrath. Writers: Michael McCullers, Marla Frazee (book). Stars: Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire, Miles Christopher Bakshi, James McGrath, Conrad Vernon, ViviAnn Yee, Eric Bell Jr., David Soren, Edie Mirman, James Ryan, Walt Dorn & Jules Winter. Color, Animated, 3D, Rated PG, 97 minutes.

I’ll bet Marla Frazee was surprised at how far her tongue-in-cheek picture book on how demanding a baby could go when she saw what writer Michael McCullers did with her story. 

It’s now a total fantasy with a new origin for babies and a title character acting like a miniature James Bond on a bizarre mission. The basic concept of the plot is babies don't get as much love as puppies. Seriously? Added to that, the lengths The Boss Baby goes to just to make people laugh (sometimes successfully) distracts from the point of the film. Tossing money at 7-year-old Tim Templeton (Bakshi), Boss Baby (Baldwin) says, “See if you can find a good sushi place near here, I would kill for a spicy tuna roll right now.”



The best part of The Boss Baby is the computer-generated animation and the soundtrack, although the characters’ eyes are reminiscent of a Margaret Keane painting. Second to that is casting. Alec Baldwin as the Boss Baby’s voice is perfect.

The story begins with narration (not one of my favorite things) by Tobey Maguire (who will later be the voice of adult Tim Templeton) describing his wonderful, ultra-imaginative, childhood with his parents Ted (Kimmel) and Janice (Kudrow). That is, until Mom asks him how he would like a little brother. Tim dismisses this with a “No, I’m enough.” Janice looks down at her abdomen, glances at Ted, and that’s the last we see of reality.

Meanwhile, in another ethereal (they never call it heaven) dimension, babies are being churned out by the hundreds in an assembly-line process and we follow the one who will become Boss Baby through the entire Rube Goldberg mechanism. He’s the one always facing the wrong way (he almost gets a pacifier in the rear rather than his mouth) and he’s not ticklish at the last stage. So, rather than get a family and be a real baby, he’s slotted into management. (I can get that. I’ve known several managers who are babies.) Working at Baby Corp. he gets his mission. He’s chosen to take a taxi to Tim’s home simply because both of his parents work for Puppy Co. and it has been determined that babies are not getting as much love as puppies. Not only that, but a previous big boss of Baby Corp., Francis E. Francis (Buscemi) – he was Super, Colossal Big Boss – has been fired and has grown up to be CEO of Puppy Co. He is currently developing a new puppy that will stay cute and adorable forever, virtually taking all the love away from babies.

Tim is the only one of his family who sees through Boss Baby (Ted and Janice don’t think the suit and tie and briefcase are in the least bit weird), and he catches Boss Baby talking on a play phone to his boss, Big Boss Baby (Mirman). At a disguised play date, Boss Baby is having a meeting with neighboring babies Staci (Yee), a set of triplets (Bell Jr.) and big fat Jimbo (Soren) while assembling a team. Tim manages to tape Boss Baby talking but, in the ensuing chase in and out of the house, the tape is destroyed and Tim is grounded by Ted and Janice.

Boss Baby realizes he needs Tim to accomplish his mission and the two agree to act like they love each other to get him un-grounded. It works, but Francis has other plans. He swipes the baby bottle from Boss Baby’s briefcase (the formula that keeps him from reverting to a regular baby), mass produces it for his “Forever Puppy” and takes Ted and Janice to Las Vegas for the launching of the new love object. To keep Tim and Boss Baby at home, he has his brutish brother Eugene (Vernon) dress in drag as a nanny (sort of a “Scary Poppins”) to ensure they don’t interfere. In the efforts to escape and warn the parents, Tim teaches Boss Baby how to imagine and the two draw closer.

Like a fiddler on the roof, it sounds crazy. It is indeed. And while it has its funny moments, it’s more of a cartoon than an animated feature, geared more to a pre-teen audience than to adults. It’s entertaining in a silly sort of way and verges on clever. The scene where Boss Baby and Tim swipe an Elvis impersonator’s costume while he’s in the restroom in order the get on a plane to Las Vegas has a great reaction line, “Hey! Don’t be cruel!” James McGrath is underutilized in this film as Tim’s Gandalf alarm clock and a cameo Julia Child on Tim’s television. The song “Blackbird” by Lennon and McCartney is a strange one to be pivotal in the plot. (It’s Tim’s bedtime song and one that saves the day toward the end.) Yeah, I know. It’s all kind of hard to fit together. That’s what I thought.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 martini glasses.

Galata
212 East 34th Street, New York

To give you an idea of how rare Turkish cuisine is in New York, Galata is only my tenth time dining Turkish. 

The restaurant is named for Galata District in Istanbul, colonized by the Genoese who, in the 14th century, built the 206-foot-tall Galata Tower, sometimes called the "Christea Turris” (Tower of Christ). It was meant to be a part of a fortress wall around the district as well as a watch tower over the harbor in the Golden Horn near the Bosphorus. A photo of it hangs appropriately on a wall inside the restaurant.

From the outside, you cannot tell how expansive the restaurant itself is, but once you enter through the canvas air-lock door, all is Turkish and the space magically widens. A young woman led me to a table about midway into the restaurant. She left me the wine and drinks menu and I settled in.

Soon I met my server, Can, whose resemblance to Andy Kaufman was remarkable. He helped me through the neatly leather-bound, fold-out menu and brought me my appletini – a combination of vodka, Pucker sour apple, and green apple slices as a garnish. Another server brought Turkish bread in a basket and two brown olives in olive oil as a tapenade. Turkish bread is flat like Pita but fluffier and more browned.


I forgot to mention spacing out the dishes in time and consequently, my appetizer arrived with my soup. No problem, the appetizer is a cold dish, a selection of six Turkish dips (mixed meze) to be eaten with bread and consisting of hummus, babaganough, lebni (a dill yoghurt), smoked eggplant salad, “spicy mashed vegetables” (tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic), and a chunky vegetable dip made from eggplant and tomatoes topped with cilantro. I started with the vegetables and they were a little spicy, but not overly so. The lebni put out the fire effectively. The smoked eggplant salad had a great smoky flavor, which distinguished it from the babaganough (also made from eggplant). The chunky vegetable dip was difficult to balance on the bread but was a perfect middle-ground flavor between spicy and mild. The hummus, though, is my favorite. Made from chickpeas and olives with herbs and mild spices, it’s heaven.

The selection of wines was small and had several vintages from Turkey, some I’ve already tasted. I chose the 2012 Camlibag Merlot from Bozcaada Island, Turkey. Can gave me a short history of the Camlibag family and the wine region of Turkey (along the Mediterranean coast). The taste was amazing – a delicious medium-bodied red with a fruity nose, a rich garnet color and a spicy aftertaste. 

With a choice of shrimp, scallops, tilapia or branzino, I chose the last one. It was served whole, grilled to perfection and tasting of lemon (there was a lemon on the plate if needed) with a hint of olive oil. The meat was easy to get off the bones and melt-in-the-mouth tender. I just had to be aware of small bones throughout. It was served with a nice house green salad with chopped carrots, red cabbage, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and topped with raw red onion slices in an understated vinaigrette dressing. Simple, yet elegant.


When I finished my wine, Can brought a selection of desserts, all of which I’ve tried before. He recommended one that I’ve passed over several times, but I’m glad I didn’t this time. The baked rice pudding (Sutlac), served in a beautiful glazed clay crock, had a tasty, sweet baked rind on top and lots of sweet, tender rice underneath. I asked Can about spicy dishes and he said they do have them. I told him the rice pudding is the perfect dessert after a spicy meal and that I would be back to try the hotter recipes.

I asked if they had Turkish coffee and Can asked how I would like it. “Sweet,” I replied. It was served in a beautifully decorated cup with matching saucer and was delightful. To go with it I ordered a traditional Turkish after-dinner drink called Raki (Arrak) “Tekirdag Gold.” The preparation, a certain amount in a glass, cold water poured over it making it turn cloudy, and an ice cube was similar to absinthe and so was the anise-like flavor. It’s actually a grape brandy flavored with anise.

I thanked Can for his excellent service, history lesson and conversation. I learned from the young hostess that Galata is eleven months old. I congratulated her and bade a fond farewell to Galata.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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