Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ice Age - Continental Drift 3D

Dinner and a Movie

The Longest Ice Age Fiori

By Steve Herte

The Longest Daycare (2012)

It’s always a surprise to have an opening animated feature to a full-length movie (whereas it was a matter of course in my parents’ days) and this Matt Groenig short starring Maggie Simpson was charming, clever, poignant and wordless.

Marge Simpson carries Maggie into a daycare center where they have machines to classify and separate the “Gifted,” “Average," and “Not-Worth Bothering With.” They even have a machine to detect lice. (It’s such a joy to see cartoon lice come crawling toward you out of a 3D screen.) Poor Maggie gets classified with the third group. 

She meets a boy with a uni-brow who carries a large sledge hammer. Whenever a butterfly has the misfortune to fly near him, he smashes it on the wall with the hammer and draws a red “picture frame” around it. There’s nothing to play with and Maggie finds a pink and black striped caterpillar. She knows she must keep it away from hammer-boy so she perches it over her eyes as if she also has a uni-brow and gets it to relative safety.

She finds a plant and puts the caterpillar on it while looking through a pop-up book on butterflies. The book teaches her that the caterpillar plus the plant equals a chrysalis and becomes a butterfly. Next thing she knows, the caterpillar has already formed a chrysalis. A blue butterfly emerges from it, hammer-boy appears, and the chase is on. Maggie sees an open window and lifts the butterfly toward it. As it reaches the windowsill, hammer-boy slams down the blinds.

Marge returns to pick up Maggie, who is stressed to say the least. Back at the daycare center, hammer-boy lifts the blinds and finds the blue bow that was previously in Maggie’s hair. We shift back to Maggie in Marge’s car with the blue butterfly in her hair, which she releases to the safety of the wide-open spaces.

I like the Simpsons and in particular Maggie and Marge, so this artful 3D short delighted me. I find that dialogue-less films are more difficult to make because the creator has to depend on visual cues for communication and comedy. This one ranked with the Pink Panther and Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

Ice Age – Continental Drift 3D (2012) 

In this fourth chapter of the prehistoric series, our friends Manny the Mammoth (Ray Romano), Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the Saber-Tooth Tiger (Denis Leary) all either have or are about to have a family. There is absolutely no explanation of where all the animals in this picture came from, but suddenly, they’re all there. Manny met his mate, Ellie (Queen Latifah), in the second episode, Ice Age – Meltdown and they now have a teenage daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer) who was born in the third episode, Ice Age – Dawn of the Dinosaurs (the fourth-highest grossing animated film, behind Toy Story 3The Lion King, and Shrek 2).

Scrat, (Chris Wedges) the saber-tooth squirrel/rat, is obsessed with acorns and his search for a secret burial place opens a crevasse that drops him onto the iron core of the earth. His chasing the acorn causes the core to spin and foments the break-up of the continents. His bouncing around inside the Earth creates a sphinx, Mount Rushmore, and several comic surface features.

Sid’s family then opens the movie by careening down an icy slope in a hollowed out log. They stop long enough to drop off Granny Eunice (Joy Behar) and desert Sid for a second time just after alerting the group to the cracks forming everywhere. One forms between Ellie and Manny and widens until neither can cross and Manny, Sid and Diego are on one side and Ellie, Peaches, Louis the mole-hog (Josh Gad) - who is in love with Peaches - are on the other. As the chunk of ice slides downhill and into the ocean, Manny calls to Ellie to get to the land bridge and that no matter what, he’ll find her.

The ice chunk becomes a sea-going raft and in no time our crew is out of sight of land. They realize that no matter how hard they paddle, the current is too strong. They soon run afoul of the ice chunk shaped like a pirate ship belonging to Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage), an extremely large gorilla/orangutan amalgam (he’s big enough to stand up to a mammoth) and his motley crew, including a vicious rabbit, a sexy white and black striped female saber-tooth tiger named Shira (Jennifer Lopez), and a really dumb elephant seal (as if this movie needed any more comic relief). There’s a scuffle. Manny and his group manage to split the pirate ship and sail away with Captain Gutt vowing revenge and the chemistry between Diego and Shira begins.

The exodus continues on land with several amusing scenes, including Peaches desperately trying to impress Ethan (Aubrey Graham), a male teenage mammoth and heart-throb for three other females, and rejecting Louis. When the good guys finally catch up to the others, the final conflict between Captain Gutt and Manny is actually a great action scene as well a comic battle.

I rate the film four out of five martini glasses. My only reason leaving out the fifth glass is that the movie did not suspend my scientific belief that there ever existed a sperm whale (his name is Precious) big enough to swallow a mammoth as if he were a fish (really, this creature was way too big, even for prehistoric times). I was even able to accept the reason why Ellie (remind you, a mammoth) likes to sleep hanging from a tree by her tail. When we first met her, she thought she was a sister to opossums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck). These two do outrageous and dangerous feats throughout the movie. At one point Louis asks them why. The answer: “We’re stupid.” I still enjoyed it even though some idiot brought a baby to the theater.

The movie ends outrageously with Scrat making it to Scratlantis where he is met by Ariscratle (Patrick Stewart) and where acorns are everywhere. Ariscratle warns him to resist his obsession but he goes for the largest acorn there, pulls it up and sinks Scratlanis (it was the plug holding it afloat).

Ai Fiori
400 Fifth Avenue (36th Street)
Setai Hotel – Level two, New York City

"To the Flowers" is what Ai Fiori means in Italian and the sleek Setai Hotel is its setting. I followed a well-dressed couple through the revolving doors to the hotel and at the same time unfortunately gulped a huge breath of the lady’s heavy perfume. I managed to gasp the restaurant’s name to the doorman who graciously indicated the white marble spiral staircase with wrought iron railing. The miasma followed me up through the etched glass doors of the restaurant and did not depart until the hostess seated me and I was sipping a Beefeater martini. Phew!

The bar at the top of the stairs is fronted in white marble and topped in black granite, a glass and black-wood shelving behind it and a mirrored ceiling above. The dining area is “el” shaped and the walls are alternate black and dark green with large photos of the same archway in the four seasons. The waiter who presented me with the wine and cocktail list, and who eventually brought my drink was pleasant and helpful. I asked him to leave the wine list with me as I would have need of it later.

The menu is divided into appetizers, pastas (both half and full servings), fish (pesce) and meat (carne) entrees. When I had decided on the prix-fixe four-course dinner, a different server took my order. I started with the crispy sweetbreads, followed by the risotto with duck confit and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and the main course, maiale – red waddle pork loin, gnocchi, pork belly and fennel à la greque. I was about to pick up the wine list when I noticed it had vanished. I asked the man who took my order to bring it back.

About 15 minutes later, the first course arrived, but no wine list. I asked for it again and finally got it. I quickly paged through multiple lists of three-digit to four-digit, way over-priced wines. An insincere woman server asked if she could help and I replied to the negative, getting more flustered by the minute because my appetizer was getting cold. Finally I chose a 2007 Long Island Merlot (even though I don’t particularly like Merlot) that was reasonably priced. My appetizer had indeed cooled down, but it was still delicious. Unfortunatelyhowever,I hadn’t cooled down.

The wine turned out to be better than most and the risotto arrived. It was delicious: hot and on the sweet side. The waiter who brought my drink asked how I liked it. “Much better than the first course, it was hot.” I replied. “Oh, I’m sorry.” said he. “If I had the wine list as I requested originally, or even when I requested it the second time, my appetizer would have been hot and perfect,” was my final comment on the subject.

I must say that I never had to pour my own glass of wine once throughout, much to their credit.

The main course arrived. Three perfect quenelles of pork loin, a dark sauce I recognized from several other restaurants, postage stamp sized cuts of pork belly and dark-edged slices of fennel. It looked wonderful. The loin tasted wonderful, tender and juicy, but the whole dish was luke-warm and the sauce was salty (which I suspected it would be). This made the pork belly taste fatty and disgusting and the fennel didn’t help. A different server glided up to my table asking about the dish. “Is this supposed to be served hot?” I asked. “Yes” “It’s not! I don’t like it, and it’s too salty!” “Can I get you something else?” “After the dishes I’ve just had, it would have to be something light.” “How about the soft-shelled crab appetizer?” “That sounds good.”

Shortly thereafter, the soft-shelled crab dish arrived: crispy, hot, with circles of cantaloupe, topped with slices of prosciutto and resting in greek yoghurt. It elicited a “Wow!” out of me. This restaurant has the potential of being excellent, I thought. Next course, dessert.

Having seen the cheese cart pass my table once or twice caused a craving. Another different server, an Asian girl with an extreme buzz cut, arrived. I had a feeling I was meeting the entire staff. However, she completely understood my extreme tastes in cheese and brought three wonderful selections, a pale yellow cow cheese, a firm white cheese in a zesty brown crust and an excellent bleu, served with fruity raisin bread slices and raspberry compote. I complimented her on her choices and suggested a slight re-arrangement from milder to stronger.

My original waiter took my final order for a cup of their dark coffee and a glass of Strega (which I knew they had from the cocktail list) and I was starting to forget the evening’s slip-ups. When I review restaurants for Zagat they always ask the same questions at the end and the one question I answer the same way every time is: What is the worst thing about dining out? Answer: Being ignored. Of course, as with Gordon Ramsay at the London, I will give Ai Fiori a second chance (since they made that memory come roaring back.).

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