All posts by enassar

Gone Girl (David Fincher – 2014) A

Gillian Flynn’s novel is packed full with plot twists, subplot, backstory, alternate points of view and a whole lot of subtext about relationships, our image and what we choose to portray, modern news cycles, shitty parents, fame, and awful people…whew. the film captures all that pretty much perfectly! At 2.5 hours a less competent director could’ve made a mess of things. Here we get the story of Amy Elliott Dunne and Nick Dunne told perfectly from the moment they meet at a New York City party and through the events that happen years later after they get married, have troubles and she is gone.

The movie is at face value a thriller, a procedural of sorts as we try to suss out what happened to Amy. Is Nick involved? Is he good guy or a bad guy? In reality there is much more going on here as I alluded to in my opening. The film (and the book actually) manages to capture our attention from the opening close-up shot of Amy’s head lying on a white pillow and Nick’s monologue:

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head….cracking her skull open and unspooling her brain….”

It worked very well for me and I loved every minute of it. Sure, the book has more nuance and more balance between the him and her points of view but Fincher delivers beautifully shot scenes and perfect restraint in his movie. His choice for Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) is excellent as well. They play those roles so well that I could not see anyone else in their shoes, especially Pike. Even Tyler Perry is used to great effect here. This is a dark and morally ambiguous film with characters who are tough to like by and large. Still it is one of the best I’ve seen recently and would love to watch it again.

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen – 2013) A

What a horrific story. Obviously, slavery is a horrible enterprise but here we see it just how terrible it is framed with the true story of Solomon Northup. He was an educated free black man, a well-off violinist, a husband and father of two living in upstate New York. He gets abducted and sold as a slave in Georgia where his nightmare goes on for 12 years! It really is a horrible journey as we follow Solomon from one master who is “kind” to the next who can be described as a monster (although his wife might be even worse). We meet various slaves and see how they try to adapt and survive. Northup on the other hand faces various difficult choices and  tries to survive a day at a time. He is not a hero, he is not hatching plans to free his fellow slaves. He just wants to get home and his actions are at times not enviable.

McQueen does a brilliant job in telling this difficult story and builds well-rounded characters who we grow to hate, love or pity. The movie is tough to watch at times but it never felt exploitative or gratuitous. It is just bold and unflinching in its depictions of slavery and its impact on everyone. The movie has a lot of excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon to Michael Fassbender as his sadistic master Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, Epps’ favorite and most unfortunate slave. It is not a movie I want to watch many times over but it is a great telling of this tragic story that I’m guessing almost no one knew about.

World War Z (Marc Forster – 2013) B-

I think I might’ve liked this film a bit better if I had not read -well really listened to- the book. The audio book is a fantastic telling of the story through multiple witness accounts after the zombie war is over. The narrator is just compiling the data for record keeping. He interviews a number of people all read by different readers in the book. It makes it seem somewhat…real and very engrossing. Why even call this movie “World War Z”? It makes the Brad Pitt character more of an action hero and completely alters and simplifies the conclusion of the war. It’s not a terrible movie. It has some good set pieces and the plot unfolds well. It just falls too short of its source material and I could not ignore that.

Peaches, Cookies and Bourbon Cream

Peaches-Cream2

This dish has a lot going for it even if the “cream” was not as successful as I would’ve liked. The flavors are spot on perfect and the textures work really well. It is a dish that I’d like to revisit and refine some more. I served this after a dinner of seafood paella to a couple of friends visiting from Florida. I wanted it to be a simple comforting summer dessert with familiar flavors and some refinement.

Poached Peaches2

The blue print here is a buttery cookie base, a Sablè Breton to be more specific, topped with poached peaches and served with airy crème anglaise (custard sauce) and garnished with pistachios. I prepared the sauce using the modern sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine at Home instead of the traditional stove top method. It’s simpler and requires little attention while at the same time pretty much eliminates the room for error that could result in a curdled sauce. To prepare it, a mixture of yolks, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla goes in a Ziploc bag. This is then cooked in 82 ºC water for 45 minutes. I chilled the mixture and whisked it for a few seconds and it is done. In addition to the vanilla I added bourbon to the sauce after chilling. Bourbon and peaches go great together so that made perfect sense. I purposefully did not cook the bourbon to evaporate the alcohol because I wanted to keep all the flavor in as well as a bit of kick.

Peaches-Cream

I wanted the sauce to have some substance and texture on the plate so that it can take on some form instead of just drizzling it on. I added gelatin to the cooled sauce and poured it into an iSi cannister that I charged with N2O. The gelatin is there to give it the needed structure and using the iSi is to aerate and lighten the sauce on the plate. Ultimately I do not think I used enough gelatin in there (that seems to always be the case with me) and the sauce had some structure but not enough to maintain a cleanly defined form on the plate for more than a minute or so. What I really need to do is research a bit more how much of a certain gelling agent is needed to give me a set foam. I have all the resources I need to find this information, I was just lazy here.
Sable

For the cookie portion, I used a recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Gordon Ramsay: Three Star Chef book for Sablè Breton. This is a slightly sweet buttery pastry that is used to make tarts and cookie sandwiches. Due to the high butter ratio in the dough the cookies tend to spread if not baked in a ring mold. I wanted them to be nice and round. so I rolled the dough into a thick log and sliced it. Then I gently squashed the dough circles to flatten them between the bases of two small (about 3 in. diameter) tart pans. I baked the cookies in the tart pans and then used a cookie cutter to trim them into neat 2 inch circles while they are warm out of the oven.

1-Peaches and Cream

The peaches are the easiest part. I quickly blanched them, peeled them and cut them into wedges. These got poached gently in a sugar syrup flavored with vanilla. To plate I dispensed some of the well-chilled custard into a bowl and topped the Sablè Breton with a spoon of it. I added more custard to the plate and topped the dessert with poached peaches and toasted crumbled pistachios. The flavors and textures were fantastic.

Poaching Syrup Poached Peaches

The Master (Paul Thomas Andersen – 2012) B

It was different than what I expected. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not my favorite P.T. Anderson movie. It’s not really about a cult leader who is played by Philip Seymore Hoffman but about the character of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). He is a WWII vet who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He is violent, a drunk and seems lost after the war. He is a prime candidate for indoctrination by Lancaster Dodd. We see the rise of this cult from Quell’s perspective as he gets sucked into Dodd’s world. The acting is excellent by everyone here, the direction is as good as I would expect and the film is not boring. It just needed some sort of sympathetic anchor.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée – 2103) A-

The strength of this movie is really the awesome performances by Jared Leto (so unrecognizable) and Mathew McConaughey. They do a great job as a transvestite, Rayon, and homophobic cowboy, Ron, who are diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-eighties. With lots still misunderstood about the disease and no viable FDA-approved drugs to treat the symptoms they start a “business” to bring in drugs from Mexico, Europe or even Japan. Ron played by McConaughey, is the driving force of the film. The movie does a good job in capturing the chaos of that time and place that was known as the AIDS epidemic and how slow the wheels of government were turning in getting people the help they needed. It’s also a very sweet film with moments of triumph, joy and pain.