Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Despicable Me 3

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Despicable Me 3 (Universal, 2017) – Directors: Kyle Balda,  Pierre Coffin & Eric Guillon. Writers: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio. Stars: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate, Michael Beattie, Andy Nyman, Adrian Ciscato, Brian T. Delaney & Katia Saponenko. Color, Animated, Rated PG, 90 minutes.

Are you a Gilbert and Sullivan fan? You’ll never think of “Modern Major General” the same after you hear the minions sing it in their unique patois, and well.

The exception to the maxim about sequels, Despicable Me 3 is every bit as funny and entertaining as the first two. The characters are consistent and lovable and the story interesting and engaging.

Continuing from the previous film, Gru (Carell) and Lucy (Wiig) are agents for the AVL – Anti-Villain League – and are in pursuit of Balthazar Bratt (Parker), to capture him and return the largest diamond in the world (which just happens to be pink, Pink Panther fans) to its rightful place in a museum. They succeed in procuring the diamond but Balthazar escapes. As a result, they both lose their jobs when Silas Ramsbottom (Coogan) retires as head of the AVL and is replaced by Valerie Da Vinci (Slate).

Telling adoptive daughters Margo, Edith (Gaier), and Agnes (Scharrel) is difficult but more difficult is telling the Minions. They walk out on Gru (except for two) under the leadership of Mel when they learn that Gru will not return to a life of villainy.

Suddenly, one day a butler named Fritz (also Coogan) shows up at Gru’s front door telling him of his father’s passing and his brother’s invitation to meet him. Gru is shocked to learn of his brother and confronts his swinger Mom (Andrews), who confirms the two brothers being separated shortly after birth. “Unfortunately, I got second pick,” she says.

Gru, Lucy, the girls and two minions fly to Freedonia (Duck Soup, anyone?) whose economy thrives on raising pigs. They encounter the flamboyant, blonde Dru (also Carell) in his ornate mansion and Dru charms everyone but Gru. When Lucy takes the girls into town for a tour, Dru reveals his true source of wealth, Dad’s super-villainy. Dru wants to go on a caper with Gru but Gru is ambivalent, until he gets an idea. Balthazar Bratt has stolen the diamond again disguised as a gem expert. The two could recover it and he could return it to the AVL and get his and Lucy’s jobs back.

Lucy is trying hard to be accepted by the girls as their Mom and has trouble balancing generosity with discipline. She embarrasses Margo by forcing her to enter a local cheese festival dance which winds up with a local boy, Niko (Ciscato), falling in love with Margo. But when Niko’s Mom (Saponenko) shows up, she regains Margo’s faith by telling her off and sending them both away. And, fortunately, when she excitedly wants to tell Gru of her triumph, she sees Gru and Dru speed away in their father’s car/boat/plane.

Balthazar is revealed to have been a popular child actor on a television series whose catch phrase was “I’m a bad boy!” but whose career was cut short by puberty and his show was canceled. Along with his henchman, Clive the Robot (Nyman), he plans to reenact his favorite episode by building a giant Bratt robot to destroy Hollywood by sending it into space on huge, self-inflating bubblegum bubbles.

Yes, it’s zany, but it’s all very funny. When the minions, chased by police, bring down the house on a network singing contest with “Modern Major General,” they wind up in prison, only to terrorize the inmates. Mel’s fond memories and increased longing to go back to Gru result in an escape plan, and they all fly away in a hilarious airship using prison uniforms and toilets.

Not only are the characters fabulous and the animation by Illumination flawless, the soundtrack is a tour de force as well. Pharrell Williams wrote eight new songs that keep the feeling and forward motion of the movie going smoothly. I have new respect for his talent. And then there are the pop tunes incorporated into the “dance fights” Balthazar loves to do which include “Bad” by Michael Jackson, “Take on Me” by A-Ha, “99 Luftballons” by Nena and “Into The Groove” by Madonna.

I loved this episode. It even has my favorite ingredient, pathos. Agnes sells her prized stuffed unicorn when she thinks the family needs money after Gru and Lucy lose their jobs, only to find a live one (a white goat with one horn) on Freedonia. Bring the kids, they’ll love it. The action never slows down and the fun never ends.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Amaze 43
694 Third Avenue, New York

Do you crave Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Burmese, or Indonesian food? Amaze has got it covered.

A seven-year-old sushi spot with two other locations: one on 58th Street and one on 82nd on the upper West side, Amaze doesn’t look like much on the outside. The purplish-brown exterior is not inviting. Add to that garish street cards screaming “Happy Hour” with photos of tall, multi-colored cocktails and a broken refrigeration unit with a discarded paper cup at its feet and I was wondering why I was there.

Inside, the sky blue lit staircase invites you to the upper floor under a soaring, arched ceiling hung with blue fiber optic rods. Virtually hidden, two blocks behind Grand Central Station, one would think this restaurant would be sparsely populated, but the joint was jumpin’ as the song says. Then I looked at the low prices as compared with the four established restaurants in Grand Central and I knew why.

All is immaculate, noisy with pop tunes and lively conversation and the occasional raucous laughter. A young man led me into the increasingly noisy bar and found a table in the middle of a row of tables occupied by young people who were obviously taking good advantage of “Happy Hour” specials.

The two-page drinks menu and the multi-page food menu looked either ancient or as if someone spilled something on the pages that stained them and they had been dried off and replaced in their plastic slots. Johnny, my server, was there to take my drink order. The specialty cocktails were not described in detail, so I chose the signature drink, the Amaze Martini. From the taste, I knew it had gin and the color was obviously from blue Curacao with pineapple juice. It was quite good. I began to feel more comfortable.

I wanted to get a selection of dishes that would give me a varied “feel” for the fusion aspect of Amaze. I started with Japanese Fried Pork Gyoza. Though these normally succulent dumplings were over cooked – a bit on the burnt side – they nevertheless tasted good and the dipping sauce brought back some of the lost moisture. Johnny offered me a fork but I chose to use chopsticks.

The one dish that caught my attention online was next. The Godzilla Roll was sliced into six pieces and lined up three by three, looking very much like Godzilla emerging from the ocean. The rice coating was stuffed with kani (a type of crab) and cucumber and topped with eel, avocado, and a glistening brown sauce. Okay, it amazed me. It was indeed excellent sushi. The combination of briny fish from the eel, the sweet from the cucumber and the fatty luxury of the avocado mixed with the crabmeat and the sauce to create a savory, slightly salty delight.

Though I wanted to see what they would do to a Chinese dish I switched to a much rarer cuisine, the Malaysian Chicken Curry. The only other time I’ve seen Malaysian food on a menu was in Flushing, Queens. The spicy, almost cinnamon-y sauce in a Malaysian curry is coated on every piece on the plate. You won’t find it pooled at the bottom. The chicken was so tender it nearly dissolved in the mouth. The green and yellow chili peppers accented the sauce without making it nuclear and the green and red bell peppers added color as well as spice moderation. The one thing you will see in Malaysian cuisine that you won’t see in either Japanese or Chinese cuisines is potatoes. The potato cubes were well cooked and retained a little firmness to be a solid base for this dish. A young lady at the next table was fascinated with my curry. I offered her a taste and she went wild over it, asking her friend to note down the title. I enjoyed it too.

The wines were all by the glass and I chose a Cabernet to stand up to the spices in my main course. It was delicious. I asked a server which Cabernet it was and she got me the name, Copper Ridge, a brand that comes from the Gallo Winery in California. I was seriously impressed. I remember not thinking much about Gallo wines in the past, flavor-wise. They’ve grown into a serious wine maker. It was luscious with fruit, a nice medium body red and it went well with my peppery dish.

I asked Johnny what they had for dessert and he cited only two items. The first sounded like Fried Green Tea Ice Cream and I was intrigued. Actually it was Tempura Green Tea Ice Cream, a huge mound of olive-colored ice cream in a crispy tempura dough with whipped cream and drizzles of chocolate. My friend at the next table was again interested. I gave her a taste. It must have been her first time with green tea ice cream. I love it. She didn’t.

Not to gild the lily, I had a nice hot cup of green tea to go with the ice cream, well brewed. The young lady who gave me the name of the wine came over and I told her how much I enjoyed it. She asked if I wanted anything else. I ordered a glass of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum as an after-dinner drink.

For a dining experience that promised to be a disaster, it went much better than I could have expected. Who else can say they ended their meal with a selfie and a kiss. And, there are so many items on the menu I would like to try, it may take several repeat visits to do so.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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