Dinner and a Movie
By Steve Herte
Lou (Disney/Pixar, 2017) – Writer and Director: Dave Mullins. Color, animated, Rated G, 6 minutes.
This dialogue-less short animated feature was the prelude to Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3 and easily eclipsed the feature presentation. It takes place in a school playground, where a child’s football gets caught in a tree and winds up in the lost and found bin, as does everything the school bully swipes from the other kids. We notice that three letters are missing from the words _ost and F__nd, spelling out LOU.
One day, the bully is the only one in the playground and all the lost items emerge from the bin as Lou, with a red hoodie and two baseballs for eyes. The bully chases Lou around the grounds but doesn’t catch him as Lou continues to morph, depending on which items the bully grabs. Eventually, Lou wins out and the bully is humbled by the promise of the return of his favorite childhood stuffed animal. He returns all the property he swiped and, magically, his stuffed toy is the last thing in the bin.
It’s a beautiful statement against bullying and an elegant lesson from the masters at Pixar.
Cars 3 (Disney/Pixar, 2017) – Director: Brian Fee. Writers: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson & Mike Rich (s/p). Brian Fee, Eval Podell, Ben Queen & Jonathon E. Stewart (story). Voices: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillon, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Ray Magliozzi, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington, Bob Costas, Margo Martindale, Darrell Waltrip & Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Color, animated, Rated G, 109 minutes.
Eleven years after Cars (2006) and six after Cars 2 (2011) this sequel hits the screen racing and racing.
Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is winning and winning until a new car named Jackson Storm (Hammer) comes speeding into the picture. Jackson beats him in a race and the movie slows down radically after that. By the time the first hour was finished the kids in the audience were bored and acting up.
Pixar’s magical animation couldn’t save this story, though their work was remarkable. I found myself trying to keep interested but noticing the soundtrack instead. Randy Newman’s composition and orchestration was excellent. Listed as an animated comedy, it was definitely animated. But comic? No.
McQueen is so shaken by a crash he suffers from a second race against dozens of cars like Storm he returns to hometown Radiator Springs to recover. Friends Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and Sally Carrera (Hunt), a Porsche 996, give him encouragement. Dusty and Rusty (Ray and Tom Magliozzi) recommend he train with Sterling (Fillion), the new owner of Rust-Eze, their former racer training facility. There, he meets trainer Cruz Ramirez (Alonzo), who is excited about taking on the challenge of working with an “older” car.
The rest of the film is involved with the interaction of McQueen and Ramirez. In any other movie, it would be classified as a love affair, but not with Disney. Instead, it’s cutesy and moralistic. Not coincidentally, it’s the exact point where the film lost the kids.
McQueen’s unorthodox training ideas involve him with Ramirez in the only funny scene where they travel to Thunder Hollow’s track and are trapped into a “Crazy Eight” demolition derby, hounded by a lunatic school bus named Miss Fritter (DeLaria). McQueen is further demoralized by the fact that Ramirez wins the derby, being the last car moving at the end. His only option is to seek out the car who trained his mentor, Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman), i.e. Smokey Yunick (Cooper). He will race with them in the Piston Cup Rally in Florida to prove to himself that he’s not washed up.
Aside from the stunning imagination coming from the Pixar studios, there were amusing characters with famous voices such as Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Cheech Marin, and Katherine Helmond as a Ford Model T named appropriately named Lizzie. Also among the cast of voices were several racing stars including Richard Petty and Kyle Petty.
Of the three movies the rule applies. Sequels are rarely better than the original. The first Cars was by far the best with the two sequels decreasing noticeably in entertainment value. Visually, all three were stunning. As to the story...that is, as they say, another story.
Rating: 1 out of 5 Martini glasses.
323 Third Avenue, New York
Tapas is a Spanish word; its culinary evolution is European. Just the juxtaposition of the word with a Japanese surname possibly meaning “summer look” and one is puzzled, if not intrigued by the combination.
Friendliness and a warm welcome were the first things I experienced. I miscalculated my arrival by an hour and they graciously changed it to an hour earlier at my last-minute request and were perfectly cordial and understanding when I arrived and identified myself.
Inside, all is Zen, with muted salmon pink walls with small, gold flowers, dark wood, bare topped tables and cream colored banquettes and matching chairs. A stemmed water glass, folded white napkin, black chopsticks resting neatly on a black stone and a beehive-shaped soy sauce dispenser await every diner.
Seconds after I was seated and before I had the chance to gather my bearings, my young server, Pasang, asked me if I wanted a drink, suggesting sake. I asked if they had regular cocktails and he listed the special drinks of the day. I quickly chose the Passion Margarita – tequila and passion fruit juice – to gain time to peruse the menus. It suddenly hit me that I had just ordered a Mexican cocktail in a Japanese-Italian Fusion restaurant.
By the time I finished the margarita Pasang was back. But I needed more time, so I ordered the Kiss of Fire – jalapeno-infused vodka, fruit juices, and strawberry puree – to obtain more decision space. While the first drink was a little sweet for me (not really a margarita except for the fact that it was based on tequila), the second drink had a spicy aftertaste, once the strawberry flavor subsided and it gave me ideas for dinner choices.
My first course was a soup I’ve seen nowhere else, the Edamame Dumpling Soup – shiitake mushrooms, grape tomatoes and onions in a clear broth. It was a larger bowl than I would expect at a Chinese restaurant, but not so huge as to be excessive. The broth was a chicken stock and the vegetables and mushrooms were fresh-tasting and not over-cooked. The dumplings reminded me of finely made wantons stuffed with crunchy, green soy beans. It was different from having edamame in their pods, as the soup gave them an almost pea-like character.
Before ordering my next course I wanted to talk about sake. Pasang explained how the many sakes on the drinks menu differed in flavor and size of bottle, which helped a lot, and I ordered the Kubita Senjyu Sake. It had a drier plum flavor than I’m used to and went perfectly with the King Crab Tom Yum – king crab dumplings in spicy Thai, tom yum sauce. The king crab meat was ground and stuffed into similar wanton-like dumplings and were bathed in a peppery clear sauce reminiscent of tom yum, but not quite there. I couldn’t place the missing flavor, possibly lemon grass. Still, it was very good.
The last part of the menu offered “tastings,” and I couldn’t resist the Beef Meatball Taster, a medley of basil pesto teriyaki, spicy scallion marinara, and parmesan cream sauces. (The Italian part of the fusion scheme.) Four square dishes, each holding four small Swedish meatballs, were served on a long oblong platter that fit them nicely side by side. I tried the marinara first. Very tomato-y, a nice scallion kick, but needed garlic. Next came the basil pesto teriyaki, which was the definition of fusion. The basil and the teriyaki blended to create a mix of both cultures that was sweet, tart, a little vinegary and rich. Tasting the parmesan cream was almost a let-down. I wished it was more of an Alfredo sauce to successfully compete with its aggressive neighbor. It was light, not too cheesy and with only a hint of garlic.
I still had some sake left when Pasang came to clear my previous course, so I ordered two pieces of Uni (Sea Urchin) sushi. When he brought them to my table Pasang announced that they were the “last two” available. Four years ago, you could have eaten your fill of sea urchin. No one ordered it, or maybe didn’t know what it was. They were delicious.
For dessert I ordered something that sounded Chinese and Vietnamese at the same time: Banana Spring Rolls, which came drizzled with chocolate syrup. They were the perfect finish to a fusion meal. Sliced diagonally in halves, they were arranged on the plate like two Koi with fins and tails of mint leaves. To accompany it I ordered the Godiva Chocolate Martini. Swirled with dark chocolate, it was rich, decadent and obviously not Zen, but who cares? It was good.
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