Dinner and a Movie
By Steve Herte
The Emoji Movie (Columbia, Sony Pictures Animation, 2017) – Director: Tony Leondis. Writers: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel (s/p & story), Mike White (s/p). Stars: T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara, Rachael Ray, Sean Hayes, Jake T. Austin, Tati Gabrielle, Jude Kouyate & Jeffrey Ross. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 86 minutes.
Most of the action in this silly animated tale take place on Alex’s (Jake T. Austin) phone and is a sub-plot to Alex’s attempts to get close enough to Addie (Tati Gabrielle) to ask her to the school dance. In Textopolis, a crazy town on Alex’s phone, Gene (Miller) is a “Meh.” The best way to describe a “Meh” is disinterested, verging on bored. The kind of expression most seen on Ben Stein’s (remember him?) face. The voice is similar to Ben’s as well, a groaning monotone. Gene is the son of Mel (Wright) and Mary Meh (Coolidge) and is excited about becoming an active emoji on Alex’s master text selection board (Emojis have parents? Why?). Already, he has a problem. Mehs don’t get excited, nervous, or smile, or cry, or any other emotion. His indecision makes him blow his big chance and destroys the text scanner when Alex chooses him for a text message to Addie. Looking more like a Picasso painting than a Meh, he confuses Addie and Alex’s message is not communicated.
The original Emoji and chief of the texting section, Smiler (Rudolph) gleefully declares him a “malfunction” and summarily sentences him to deletion. That’s the last thing Gene wants. He meets up with Hi-5 (Corden) – basically an open hand with a Band-Aid on the index finger – who has been relegated to the “least used” section of the text board, and who wants to be more a part of Alex’s texts.
To solve both their problems, they need to enter a “Piracy” Application – or, more simply, app – (think the cantina scene from Star Wars – A New Hope) and find a hacker. Once they get past the Internet Troll (Ross) and the ever chatty, ever wanting to sell something Spam (Ray), they find Jailbreak (Faris) at a corner table and convince her to help them.
She takes them on a wacky journey through wallpapers and a jungle of tall apps where Gene gets caught in the Candy Crush board (it mistook him for a yellow candy), Jailbreak has to have a crash course in shaking her booty in an app called “Just Dance,” presided over by Akiko Glitter (Aguilera) while being pursued by ferocious deletion bots summoned by Smiler. The object is to get to Drop Box and through the dreaded Firewall, to the Cloud, where Jailbreak can work her magic.
The fascinating part of this film is the concept. If you’ve ever had your smartphone do something you didn’t intend, you’ll laugh at what happens to Alex during Gene’s adventures. But the filmis just an imaginative stroll through applications on a phone that doesn’t fully make use of the advances in 3D technology. Nothing pops out at the audience or hangs over their heads. The scene in the Cloud really misses that opportunity. The young children in the audience were entertained and were explaining it to the adults who brought them.
I was listening to the dialogue. Nothing was worth quoting, though several clever lines were spoken and a few funny sight gags appeared in the background. To enjoy this movie you have to be looking everywhere at once. It might even be funnier in a second viewing, because there’s a visual overload of images. Guaranteed, you’ll miss many. The acting is only so-so, though T.J. Miller did his level best and Maya Rudolph approached true villainy but never got there. James Corden’s vocalizations reminded me of John Candy (who would be my choice for the role if he were still with us). Sofia Vergara was nearly insignificant as Flamenca, who whirled in and out of scenes. And, most shocking, was Sir Patrick Stewart voicing the character Poop (as in “Poop happens”)! How the great have fallen.
The only time this film gets moderately exciting is when Gene and Jailbreak have to rescue Hi-5 from the Trash Bin and certain deletion at the end of the day. It’s almost mindless entertainment, very colorful, good animation, not so good soundtrack (rip-off songs from Aha and other groups) and as I said, a great concept. But many missed opportunities and hopefully, (I stayed through the credits) no chance of a sequel.
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 Martini glasses
99 East 52nd Street, New York
When I quip that I’ve dined at the best restaurants in New York City, I’m including the famous Four Seasons whose reign lasted 57 years (1959 to June 2016) when the Seagram Building refused to renew their lease. This dining experience is a tale of what happened next.
In my search on Opentable.com, a new restaurant called simply “The Pool” popped up. The photo of the space was enchanting and the menu inviting and it was only 12 blocks from my theater.
When I arrived at the simple metal structure forming a weather covering over the red carpet leading to the curb, I still had no clue I was visiting somewhere familiar. A hostess lead me upstairs, through a double-door (from The Grill), down a short corridor to The Pool and seated me on a black leather banquette suitable for three people at a table of equal length. I learned from her that The Pool has only been open for a week.
It was then that familiarity seeped back in. The 30-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows with thousands of delicate chains hung like French drapes undulating like waves in a breeze. The potted flowers seemingly defying gravity as they levitated at each window panel. The rectangular pool in the center of the room lit from beneath and bubbling like a Jacuzzi. But it was the huge Alexander Calder mobile floating above the pool that clicked the final piece of the puzzle into place. This IS (or was) The Four Seasons!
The service staff was as bubbly as the pool itself over the cocktails and the menu selections and I got caught up in the excitement. My server, Guerino, presented me with the leather-bound wine list and the single card list of cocktails, with “wines by the glass” on the reverse. With names like “Watermelon,” “Jalapeno,” “Grape,” “Strawberry,” and “Tomato,” with nothing in the descriptions to indicate where the flavor comes from, I asked Guerino if these titles were just fanciful. No, he assured me, those were the net flavors of the drinks. I chose “Cinnamon – Extra Anejo Tequila, Grapefruit,” a giant, single clear ice cube wrapped in orange peel and stick of cinnamon bark. I was indeed redolent of cinnamon but the main flavor was fine aged tequila.
Guerino brought the food menu, almost as an afterthought while I awaited the cocktail. Another server brought two mini baguettes, hot from the oven in a stainless steel serving tray that appeared to have been curled by Superman and a sweet butter tapenade topped with fresh chopped salmon. I was being primed for seafood even though the menu did have a duck dish and a Côte de Boeuf. I was regaled by Guerino over the menu selections and specials of the day. Though there were two categories entitled “To Share” and “Toast,” he assured me that they were not large dishes and could easily precede an appetizer. I gave him my selections and started considering the wine list as he put in the order.
The wine list was more entertaining than my movie. Who orders an $11,000 wine? I have never seen so many Chablis. (Some were affordable.) I chose the 2009 Gilbert Picq “Dessus La Carriere” from Burgundy, France. The sommelier seemed pleased and made a flourishing presentation with the elegant stemware and first pour. It was everything I like in a Chablis: crisp, light, but assertive with only a slight iodine nose, chilled to perfection and a perfect match to my dinner selections. The only thing I had to remind him of was to present the cork.
My first course was the “Santa Barbara Sea Urchin Toast” with apple and spicy mustard. I thought it was an amuse bouche when it arrived: two small pieces of toasted baguette, thinly sliced and topped with a curl of sweet, delicate sea urchin flesh and the garnishes. They could easily have been eaten in two large bites but I took my time with them and savored every moment between sips of Chablis. Excellent!
My appetizer was a daily special, “Alaskan king crab in spicy coconut cream sauce.” Served in a clear glass bowl over crushed ice, the pieces of shell-less crab meat were tender enough to cut with a fork and the sauce was an Indian/Thai kind of spice flavor. The cool coconut moderated the orange spice globules; now and then I tasted the curled red radish peels garnishing the top. I definitely would have liked to have had more of this recipe. Not surprisingly, it was almost more expensive than my other dishes combined.
The main course was one I’ve become a stickler on because I have a benchmark flavor in my mind. When I first had the signature dish at the Striped Bass restaurant in Philadelphia, I was literally hooked. When the Boathouse in Central Park matched that experience, I had my benchmark. The “Montauk Striped Bass.” with banana pepper and mole spices (but not the chocolate, usually in mole) was again, a dreamy, flaky, flavorful and not fishy delight. The sauce only accented the bass without adding unnecessary fire. It was just a tingle on the tongue. Again, the Chablis proved itself worthy.
Apparently, I hit upon the signature dessert when Guerino smiled knowingly as I ordered the “Layered Coconut Cream” with pink grapefruit and matcha (green tea powder). The best way to describe it is to imagine four pink and white petit fours lying in a row with thin chocolate tops and bottoms, a dollop of homemade grapefruit sorbet resting on the last one and ropes of coconut cream extending like jellyfish tentacles over all. It was sweet and tart at the same time.
My double espresso brought the meal full circle in its stainless steel cup and saucer, matched by an equally shiny sugar bowl containing every sweetener one could want. I was speaking French and Guerino, I found out is Portuguese, but I was eventually able to order a snifter of Grand Marnier Centenaire as after-dinner drink. An all-time favorite, one that never varies.
On the stage with my quartet, I was always told to keep the audience wanting more. That’s what my dinner at The Pool did to me. Yes, it was expensive. But the very next special occasion, you’ll see me at The Grill.
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