Category Archives: Film Listings/Ratings

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon – 2015) B+

It’s a well-oiled machine by this point. Marvel Studios churns out solid and very entertaining movies. They manage to continue the thread of plot over Iron Man, Avengers, Captain America, Thor and even Guardians of The Galaxy. The movie is exactly what I expected and hoped for. Good characters, funny at times and some good action sequences. Also, James Spader was great as the voice of Ultron who managed to be at the same time unsettling, menacing and jovial.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent – 2014) B+

Good horror movies are ones where they just fill you with a feeling of dread. They do not jump up, explain every “rule” and throw the monster in your face. Some of the best ones are ones where you are not even sure if the horror is real or made up in the characters’ minds. I think the Babadook in this film is real but for most of its running time I was not sure if Amelia and her son Samuel are just sharing some kind of psychosis. The direction is solid and uses noise, closeups and shadows very effectively. I also loved performance of the actors playing Amelia and, especially, Sam.

Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund – 2014) A

A good marriage is a balancing act. It’s not easy to get two individuals with different personalities and backgrounds, ask them to stick together through thick and thin…forever. For the pact to work both parties need to have an understanding about each other. Something that says “you will be there for me when I need you”. What happens when all of a sudden one spouse loses that faith in their mate? In Force Majeure a nice Swedish couple with their two kids are on a ski vacation in France when an avalanche occurs. The father seems to run out and try to save his ass George Costanza-style. Now, no one is actually injured during the incident but the happy couple cannot just go back to their older lives as if nothing happened and enjoy the remaining 6 or 7 days on their vacation.

They try. They do not want to be “like that”. When they start discussing the events that happened they have very different versions! A certain balance has been disrupted and there is no going back. She thought that her husband will always be there for her and his kids but is that really the case? What happens if he had to choose between his life and theirs? The movie tackles lots of these questions in various discussions. A split second decision does not just impact them two but also their kids and even their friends. I particularly enjoyed the discussion they have with another couple. What seems to start off as light-hearted discussion about the avalanche quickly becomes a very awkward debate about instinct, love, human nature and the difference between men and women. It’s a movie that can be subtle at times (mostly) and very blunt in its conclusions. Either way it is one that addresses important questions and does that extremely well.

Historic Heston: The Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait6I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.

The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.

Chicken Liver Parfait-Wine

The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.

Chicken Liver Parfait2 Chicken Liver Parfait3

Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.

 

Chicken Liver Parfait4

I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before  for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.

Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer – 2013) A-

A movie with very little dialogue and striking music. It is set in Scotland and follows an alien who looks like Scarlet Johansson. In the silent long opening scene we see her take on the new skin and dress herself in the clothes of her dead predecessor. We can immediately tell they have been doing this for a while. She walks among the people and she seems equal parts a child, a seductress and a spider. It’s fascinating and haunting. Her mission is not really spelled out for us but seems to consist of luring men into her lair where they sink and dissolve into a black pool while she just walks on the surface. The men seem to get “processed” for…? what? food for the home planet? Doesn’t matter really. Under the Skin is a portrait of an alien who is born, starts to learn about the world around it and maybe starts to feel something. It’s sad, creepy and at times just ugly in its imagery.

The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese – 2014) A

Money, greed, debauchery and drugs. It’s all way way over the top and so is Scorsese’s movie about Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street guy who made it insanely rich off stocks in the 80’s and 90’s while still in his twenties. It’s a movie with no boundaries and no inhibitions. It revels in excess. Why shouldn’t it? Scorsese has made movies about mobsters, disturbed individuals, small time criminals and gangs in 19th century New York. Here he has a story about an admittedly boring subject. his main characters are criminals but they are no Henry Hill. In one seen one of them vomits at the sight of some blood. What they are is group of con artists playing with a whole lot of money. This is boring and a lesser director would’ve made a very shitty movie with this material.

What Scorsese does instead is give us a film that is fast paced and loud. The characters are colorful but by and large are horrible people. So why did I keep watching this long movie about a boring topic with vain characters? Because it is entertaining and the material handled just right by a master film maker. He makes Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) talk directly to us, tell his story from his perspective. We are mostly with him, we can hear his thoughts lots of the time, he breaks the fourth wall often and lets us in to his most depraved thoughts, a bit like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. He also uses a lot of replays of various scenes to tell different points of view. Some scenes that you would think should go on for a few seconds go on for a long time, like when Belfort is trying to get into his car after taking a lot of bad drugs or when he is discussing with his “team” what they can and cannot do with the little people hired to be the entertainment for the office! These really should not work but they do. We get to be transported into these characters’ world and live there for a bit instead of just watching a quick story about some crooks. The supporting cast does a great job (especially Jonah Hill) with injecting energy and humor into the story. It might be funny at times and it is very entertaining but The Wolf of Wall Street is really a sad portrait of a man-child and his immature crew who happened to have great sales skills and little morals.