Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Lego Movie

Dinner and a Movie

Lego My Whiskey!

By Steve Herte

Is anyone else tired of shoveling snow, or am I the only one? I seriously think I gave the world (or at least my neighborhood) a “Kina Hora” when I said something about having more snow when I was a kid after snowstorm Janus. Now we’re going to get more snow today? That’s carrying negative Karma a bit too far (although I am getting better at the job and completing it in less time). Plus, manual labor does make my relax time much more satisfying.

I noticed in the Sunday paper today that Toys R Us is having a huge sale on all their Lego sets. Not surprising after the movie, and you’ll see why. And wasn’t it Dire Straits who said in “Sultans of Swing” that, “now you step inside, but you don’t see too many faces...?” This was almost true of the restaurant I dined in – again, you’ll see why. Enjoy!

The Lego Movie (WB, 2014) – Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Writers: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman (story); Phil Lord, Christopher Miller (story & s/p). Cast: Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Offerman, Channing Tatum, Billy Dee Williams, Jadon Sand, Anthony Daniels, Will Forte, & Jonah Hill. Color and 3D, 100 minutes.

Growing up I had various construction toys. I loved Lincoln Logs and my Erector Set with which I built rustic cabins and lodges and (in the case of the latter) a working Ferris wheel. There were also Tinker Toys to make simpler, less life-like structures. I had to use my imagination with them. I didn’t play with Legos until much, much later in life and had no idea these basic bricks could be formed into the complex structures I now see enthusiasts building.

That said, I was totally unprepared (and slightly biased – being an animation junkie) for what story The Lego Movie would present and how it would get around the limited mobility of the mini-figures. The trailers gave nothing away and, frankly, made the film look lame. However, this is one movie that must be seen to be believed and understood.

Emmet Brickowoski (Pratt) is an ordinary construction worker who is thrust into greatness when he accidentally is glued to the “Piece of Resistance,” a simple-looking red oblong tube. He has no idea it’s there until he meets Wyldstyle (Banks), a tough-talking, kung-fu fighting female who calls him “The Special” and takes him on a wild chase to the dwelling place of Vitruvius (Freeman). Vitruvius is a blind sage in a white robe who tries to guide Emmet in the ways of being a master-builder and savior from the villain, Lord Business (Ferrell), who is threatening to use the ultimate weapon, “the Kragle” (basically, a tube of Krazy Glue with the letters “z”, “y”, and “u” unreadable). The Lord’s plan, which he will carry out with the assistance of his henchman Bad Cop/Good Cop (Neeson), is to glue everything in the worlds of Lego so that nothing can move or be rebuilt from the existing pieces. The “Piece of Resistance” turns out to be the cap to the Krazy Glue tube.

When Vitruvius takes Emmet on a journey into his own mind they discover he has a special relationship with “The Man Upstairs” that no other master builder has (otherwise his mind is blank and his constructions silly). They all go to meet with the Master Builders’ Council, which includes many of the Lego mini figures: Batman (Arnett) who turns out to be Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Superman (Tatum), Green Lantern (Forte), Abraham Lincoln (Hill), Shaquille O’Neal, various others, and a monstrous Metalbeard the Pirate (Offerman), who is an amalgam of spare parts, including a double-barreled shotgun for a left hand and a shark on his right arm. No one believes in Emmet and, after his speech most leave the gathering. Eventually they are all captured by Lord Business and imprisoned in his “think tank,” which uses their creativity to build whatever he wants.

Even though there is a somewhat serious situation to be overcome, The Lego Movie never takes itself seriously. There are funny sight gags throughout, puns galore and some really creative, funny lines. I salute the writers Hageman. At one point Emmet suggests that they need a hyper drive and Batman jokes, “Where are we going to get one of those? Is a spaceship just going to appear out of nowhere?” And zip! The Millenium Falcon (all in Legos) appears in the window with Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO (Daniels’ voice) and Lando Calrissian (Williams). The animation is so well done that one forgets everything in the movie is made of Lego pieces, including the undulating waves of the ocean and water rushing into the submarine (blue and white Lego disks).

But the real surprise comes after Emmet falls into a bottomless hole, leaving him immobile on the floor of a basement. He fell off the enormous table holding the various Lego worlds constructed by the “Man Upstairs” and is picked up off the floor by his son Finn (Sand), who is the one responsible for all his adventures. The camera then pans to the basement stairs, and Ferrell descends, discovering the wild things his son has created with the Lego city he painstakingly built. Their subsequent dialogue makes him realize that “following the rules” (as Emmet can only do) has to coexist with creativity and imagination and he relents in Krazy Gluing everything.

With a nod toward my reader in England, Stuart, this is a film for all ages, especially children. The three sitting behind me were so awestruck I had to remind them to stop kicking my seat. But adults will also laugh at the clever gags and jokes, as did the couple in front of me. I learned that just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t always tell what a movie will be like from the trailers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

American Whiskey
247 West 30th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), New York

From the photo on their website I was convinced this cavernous space with 20-plus foot ceilings and two chandeliers, and bison and deer heads high on the walls would be impossible to miss from the street. I was wrong. I Google-mapped the address and saw nothing but gated shops and scaffolding with no indication that American Whiskey was there at all. I was not deterred. The opening boast, “Here, it’s all about the whiskey. Over 150 American made choices, with award-winning cocktails and a Southern-inspired menu…” was irresistible (even though I prefer gin). Then there was the online menu. The link to the All Day Menu was so slow that it gave my computer heart stoppage and never uploaded. I let them know about that. I had to go to a “menu pages” website to view it. I was hooked.

Walking from 8th Avenue, I saw the same gated shops and scaffolds I saw on Google and I had almost passed by American Whiskey when I noticed the minimal menu-stand outside and a small sandwich board flanking a nondescript glass-doored entrance. Once inside a tidal wave of high volume music washed over me and I knew I had to speak up to be heard at the Captain’s Station. 

The young lady, who would eventually be my server, led me and two young men to the back, up two flights of stairs to a darkly lit upper room overlooking “the cavern.” She gave me a choice of two tables and sat the others at a table so tall it required stools. The tiny spots overhead and the single votive candle on my table were enough to see generally but when Gabrielle brought the menu card (food on one side, drinks on the other) I had to hold my candle to it to read it. The brightest light was coming from three flat-screen televisions playing the Olympics (which I was mildly interested in) and soon after the University of New Hampshire vs. Boston University hockey game (which I wasn’t, except I wanted to fix New Hampshire’s uniforms – their initials are like the sound one would make when they slam into a wall).

Having become comfortable and looking around I noticed the crowd was much younger than I and I barely increased the median age by two years. They were quite lively and their conversation almost on a par with the background music, some of which songs I could identify. Gabrielle asked if I would like to start with a cocktail and I chose one with the dubious but intriguing title “Strike Me Dead.” It arrived in a standard tumbler, a pleasing shade of gold over ice. The combination of Templeton Rye, Black Pepper Maple Syrup, and Maple Bitters was interestingly sweet and spicy at the same time. I could taste the maple over the rye as well as savor the bite of the black pepper.

I asked Gabrielle if ordering one of the “Small” dishes, one of the “Sliders” and a “Large” dish (the three main categories on the menu) was too much food but she said no. I started with the Bison Tartare – topped with capers, onions, pickled mustard seed, and Basil and sided with homemade potato chips. Anything “tartare” is an acquired taste (actually an acquired mind-set – you’re eating essentially raw meat) but having had Steak Tartare, Tuna Tartare, Pork Tartare (yes I did, in Germany) and Carpaccio several times I was ready. 

Bison is leaner than most steaks, something I learned in Calgary, Alberta, and the flavor of the meat is a little stronger than beef but without the fat. I used the chips to scoop the tartare and it was lovely. I had finished my cocktail and thought my traditional drink would go better with the appetizer. Upon learning that they were out of Beefeaters Gin I chose a gin unknown to me, Aviator’s, which, I later found out, is a product of Portland, Oregon, and was not disappointing. In fact, it made a comparably good martini.

My concern about ordering too much food disappeared when the slider arrived. I have always known sliders to be served in threes, but this one was alone on the plate. The Duck, Duck, Goose Slider stacked Duck confit, Duck breast, Duck “Foie Gras,” Butter, Watercress and Pickled Apple into a fluffy, golden brown bun. I seriously wished it had two brothers it was so good but was glad it didn’t when my main course arrived.

What else is more appropriate in a Southern style restaurant than Blackened Catfish resting on a lava floe of rich Cheese Grits (they call them Georgia Ice Cream in Atlanta) with Roasted Tomato and Cippolini onions? The flaky, peppery fish and the sensuous grits took me back to where the morning glories twine around the door and everyone says “Hi y’all!” I took two bites and wondered if I could finish a side dish as well. A few bites more and I decided I couldn’t. After I finished every bit I needed some time to think of dessert. So, in my best Southern drawl I asked Gabrielle, “In the words of Kyra Sedgwick, ‘Do you have a glass of Merlot?’” Gabrielle smiled, said yes and was off to procure it. As I might have said before, I normally do not like Merlot, but this one was perfect – a nice deep red color, mild nose and full flavor – just like my first taste of Merlot.

Shortly after perusing the four dessert choices, I told Gabrielle that I just had to have the real Bread Pudding – a fluffy, two-inch high mound of goodness redolent of good bourbon and topped with creamy vanilla ice cream. Between the Merlot and the bread pudding I had no need of coffee. I thanked Gabrielle for her charming service, paid the check, visited the room marked “Both,” and was happily on my way home. Thinking back on the experience, maybe I should tell Diane Sawyer about a restaurant where nearly everything is “Made in America”. My only curiosity was the 150 whiskeys. They weren’t listed on the menu. Maybe I have to return to see if they have a separate “Whiskey Menu.”

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