Monday, December 11, 2017


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Coco (Pixar/Disney, 2017) – Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina. Writers: Matthew Aldrich, Adrian Molina (s/p). Story: Matthew Aldrich, Jason Katz, Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich. Stars: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt & Edward James Olmos. Color, animated, Rated PG, 109 minutes.

After being dazzled by Book of Life (2014) and agog that a full length feature could be done completely on computer, I was eager to see another. Like the previous film, the scenes in this one contained multiple layers of background scenery and lights which added incredible depth to a two-dimensional film. (I tried to view it in 3D but couldn’t find a theater providing it.)

Like the movie Leap (2016), the creators of Coco paid great attention to detail. The stunning ballet moves in the former were reflected by the close-up and accurate guitar fingering in the latter. Have you ever seen someone playing a musical instrument in a movie and were absolutely sure that person was not actually playing? Not here. At first, the Spanish subtitles were a bit distracting, but the film was so good I eventually ignored them.

Twelve-year-old Miguel Rivera (Gonzalez) loves music and worships his hero, Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt) to the point of wanting to be like him. But his grandmother, Abuelita Elena (Renee Victor) constantly enforces great-grandmother Mamá Imelda’s (Alanna Ubach) injunction of no music in the Rivera household. She even destroys the one guitar he has to keep him from joining the talent competition in Mariachi Square. Papá Enrique (Camil) and Mamá Luisa (Sofia Espinoza) try to get Miguel to join the family shoe-making business, but Miguel wants nothing of it. Only great-grandmother, Mamá Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia) does not give Miguel a hard time about his music.

It’s the eve of El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and everyone is gathering Aztec marigolds to create a path to the Santa Cecilia cemetery for the deceased to follow and visit the living. The Rivera family have their own “ofrenda” – a kind of shrine featuring photographs of the dearly beloved relatives with candles and food for the visitors. Notably, the photo of Mamá Coco with her husband and daughter has a corner torn off and is missing the man’s head. A goofy, clumsy, hairless street dog Miguel named Dante bounces onto the ofrenda and starts eating the food. When Miguel tries to stop him, Mamá Coco’s photo topples to the ground and breaks. Picking the picture out of the smashed frame Miguel see that it has a fold on the man’s side. Unfolding it reveals the distinctive guitar owned and played by Ernesto de la Cruz and Miguel is ecstatic to think that he’s related to his hero.

Still desperate for a guitar, Miguel sneaks into Ernesto’s mausoleum and removes the famous guitar, giving it a dramatic strum. At once, people know someone has broken into the mausoleum and Miguel thinks he will be arrested. But only Dante can see him. He still has the photo and meets former family members Papá Julio (Alfonso Arau), Tio Oscar and Tio Felipe (Herbert Siguenza) and Tia Rosita (Selene Luna) as they arrive for a visit. All are shocked to see him but think he may be helpful in assisting Mamá Imelda, who is having trouble crossing the bridge of marigolds. (The reason she can’t is because Miguel has her photo.) Together, they walk back to the extremely colorful Land of the Dead to find Imelda.

Imelda is not happy to see Miguel and even less happy to learn that he wants to be a musician, since her husband left her with a daughter to raise alone. She gives him her blessing to return with the condition that he never play guitar again. But Miguel is determined. Upon arriving again at the mausoleum, he strums the guitar and returns to the Land of the Dead and evades Imelda and the family to seek out Ernesto. On the way he meets Hector (Bernal) who not only is jeered at by locals for dying by “choking on a chorizo,” but is in danger of disappearing because the last living person who remembers him is forgetting him.

Miguel makes a deal with Héctor to bring his photograph back to the ofrenda if he will get him to Ernesto. Remembering a line Ernesto said in one of his movies, Miguel decides to make him listen with music and the two obtain a guitar from Chicharrón (Olmos) just before he fades into the oblivion of forgetfulness. It is here Miguel learns that Hector is an accomplished musician who worked with Ernesto de la Cruz and the adventure really begins.

Ernesto gives a concert every Dia de los Muertos and the two find where he rehearses. But he’s not there. He’s hosting an exclusive party at his mansion all the way across town. Miguel enters a talent contest and does well but comes in second. The winning group, however agrees to smuggle him into the party. Héctor dresses up like Frida Kahlo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and gains entrance as well.

Inside, Miguel has to use his musical talent to get the crowd’s attention off of Ernesto and Ernesto’s onto him by singing one of Ernesto’s bouncy tunes. Ernesto is delighted to learn that he has a great, great grandson. But when Héctor arrives the revelations begin piling up as to who is related to whom.

Coco is a celebration of Mexican culture, respect for the deceased and mythology. We see many riotously colored Alebrije, or spirit guides, animals with horns and wings that normally would not be there. Imelda has a giant winged and horned cougar who does her bidding. It is light-hearted and sentimental, humorous and rebellious, a total joy. 

The music in general was a glorious fiesta of Mexican exuberant flare. It made me laugh, it made me cry, the kids in the audience were rapt with attention, and even the adults reacted. Some applauded at the end. Thank you Pixar. That’s family entertainment!

Rating: 4 out of 5 martini glasses. 

Blue Fin
1567 Broadway, New York

Located in the W Hotel chain and squeezed in between a Dos Caminos Mexican restaurant and a jumble of scaffolds is the ocean blue neon sign announcing Blue Fin. The lower level is the bar and up a beautiful flight of stairs with an amazing wall of blue “waves” was the restaurant proper. A short wait later, I was led to a table at an orange banquette facing the wonderful azure wall.

The décor is simple but elegant. Lights with shades like coolie hats and bare bulbs strung carelessly like holiday decorations were the main source of light, and red votive candles dotted each table. The cocktail list had one drink I could not ignore. The Liquid Intelligence was a mixture of Casamigos Blanco tequila, Aperol, ruby red grapefruit juice, and Reál Blue agave nectar. Served in an old-fashioned champagne glass, the coral-colored concoction was not too strong but went down well.

Blue Fin is a seafood restaurant with a raw bar and sushi selections. My server, Gregory, asked if I had any questions, but I had already made up my mind.

The wine list was extensive, divided into countries of origin, with types of whites and types of red. I ordered a delightful 2012 DeMorgenzon Winery Chenin Blanc, from Stellenbosch, South Africa. It was light, crisp and refreshing. An amicable wine with my dinner.

My first course was the Times Square Roll, a California style sushi roll (rice on the outside) with crab, spicy Hamachi (Pacific yellowtail), mango, avocado, and yuzu-miso (a sauce made with fermented soy beans, sake, mirin rice wine and egg yolk). I used the chop sticks provided to pick up a piece and dip it into the soy sauce. The net flavor was sweet, though I could taste the spicy part and the sake hints. A little wasabi to each next bite and it soared even higher in taste.

The next dish was something I first tried in a place called the Fatty Crab. The Slow-Braised Pork Belly Bao Buns with gochujang (a red chili), pickled vegetables, and “aromatics” was a bit chewier than the first time tasting and parts were even crispy, but the overall flavor was smoky and a bit spicy. Still, an excellent dish.

For my main course I chose a fish my mother always loved: the Halibut a la Plancha (grilled) came on a mound of jumbo lump crabmeat, lemon herb gnocchi, and roasted squash. It was a bit on the dry side and surprisingly fishy smelling. It didn’t taste bad, but I don’t remember halibut ever hitting my nose so boldly. The side dish of crispy cauliflower was comparable to popcorn shrimp in the batter and came with a piquant dipping sauce with a dash of olive oil. They were better without the sauce.

I think it was the ice cream more than the dessert that made me order the sticky toffee pudding with maple walnut ice cream. I loved it and took my time finishing it. A double espresso felt good after that and I saw Calvados on the drinks list, but Gregory apologized that they were out of it. He recommended a drink called Liquor 43 and let me taste it. More familiarly known as Cuarenta y Tres, it’s a Spanish liqueur made from citrus and fruit juices flavored with vanilla, herbs and spices. It reminded me a little of Galliano. Perfect!

The W Hotel chain started in 1998 and even if I can’t afford to stay at one (unless I win the lottery) I know I can come dine at Blue Fin anytime, and I will return. 

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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