The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg – 2012) A+

We have all heard of the term ” a witch hunt” but maybe few have experienced it or know anyone who has been the target of one. In The Hunt we get an example of how horrible a witch hunt can be and how devastating it is for almost everyone involved. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas. He lives in a small town in Denmark, is very well liked and known to everyone. He lived there all his life and due to the high school being shutdown, Lucas ends up helping and teaching at the local Kindergarten.  His whole life starts getting upended when one of the students in the school brings up the possibility that Lucas sexually assaulted her.

The Hunt is not about whether Lucas did that or not. It is clear that he did not. She did not even mean to harm him, she had no clue how serious her comments are and what their impact would be. She is 6 after all and she was just mad at Lucas whom she genuinely likes and is her father’s best friend. What the movie does is show how one sentence from a 6-year old that is taken very seriously by her teacher coupled with group-think and the tendency to judge before any investigation, would destroy the life of a decent man. Nothing matters anymore, not that Lucas is the childhood friend of these people, not his place in this small society or his track record of being a well respected citizen. I will not spell out how it all ends up but really, there is very little doubt that Lucas’ life will ever be the same.

The film looks great with events happening around November-December. So we get a lot of the lovely Danish country side, fall colors and Christmas snow. All that contrasts with the bleak prospects that Lucas is facing. Mikkelsen plays Lucas as a man who loves the town he grew up in and the traditions  he holds dear. He wants his son to grow up here and will not give up and just leave town. It’s a great performance where he displays strength, affection and a resilience to stand up for himself. The script is tight and not overly melodramatic. The direction is solid and subtle. It simply tells the story as it possibly could happen and we end up with a haunting and memorable film that is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

A Trio of Goat Cheese Truffles with Peperonata

Goat Cheese Truffles2

I’ve made this dish from Mario Batali’s Babbo book several times over the years but I’ve never posted about it. Here’s the post to rectify that because this simple antipasto is so worth it. It never disappoints in the effort to result factor. Guests love the look and the flavor while the effort involved in making them is pretty low.

The most time consuming part of this whole dish is the peperonata. That’s just a fancy Italian word for marinated peppers. In the book, Batali just sautees the peppers and seasons with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve done them like that and they work fine but I prefer to use roasted peppers. So, I broiled the peppers until they are charred and then peeled them. These were then briefly sauteed to heat them through and tossed with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.

Goat Cheese Truffles

I have tried many ways to “roast” and peel sweet bell peppers but I use two methods primarily depending on what I need to use them for. My go-to method is to broil them in my oven (or on the grill if I have it going), put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let them steam and cool a bit. I never wash them as some recipes suggest you do to get the peel off. I feel that is not necessary and causes some flavor loss. I can live with a few bits of charred pepper skin on my bell peppers. Another method that I use sometimes is to char the skin all over with a torch. This is good when you want peppers that are pretty much still raw but can also be peeled easily. I also let them rest in a bowl after charring with a torch. These semi-raw peppers work great if you want to stuff them or in any way cook them a bit more.

Goat Cheese Truffles3

The “truffles” are made by mixing the goat cheese with a bit of Parmesan cheese and sometimes a small sprinkle of pepper. The mixture then is formed into small balls resembling truffles and rolled in a variety of seasonings. The typical trio of seasonings I have here is poppy seed, ground up fennel (or fennel pollen if you have it) and paprika. Anything could work though, but you do want something a bit robust to stand up to the sharp cheese and tart peperonata. To plate it I put a layer of arugula and top with the peperonata then on top goes the truffles with alternating colors. I served them family style here for our guests but another elegant presentation is to serve three truffles per person on a plate on top of the greens and peppers. Serve them with toasted rustic bread rubbed with garlic and you have a perfect and beautiful antipasto.

 

Mud (Jeff Nichols – 2012) A

Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a very interesting character. He lives/hides on what seems an island off a river in Arkansas. He’s in love with Juniper who might be the reason he is not going anywhere in life. He’s a fugitive who is stumbled upon by two young boys and the three of them develop a friendship of sorts as they help him restore a boat that is stuck in a tree so that he can escape, pick up his beloved Juniper and sail on to a happily ever after life! That’s sweet…but Mud, the movie, is more about Ellis, one of the two boys. He sees in Mud much more than a friend. As his family life is falling apart with his parents splitting and his dad losing his house and livelihood, Ellis sees Mud as a romantic father figure. Mud is Ellis’ proof that love exists no matter what and that life can stomp on you but not beat you down. Where that goes might be tragic or not depending on your point of view. Overall it is a fantastic coming of age story with great performances, charming settings and confident direction. 

 

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance – 2012) B+

In the first 20 minutes or so, the film seems to be a simple competent drama. A drifter and motorcycle stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) finds out that he has a one-year old son. He wants to support him by any means necessary so that he does not end up a drifter like his dad…Long story short the film is not as simple as that. It spans years and deals with the sins of the fathers (the other being Bradley Cooper) and their impact on their sons. It’s funny how a well made and interesting film can be almost ruined with a bad casting decision. The actor who is playing AJ, Bradley Cooper’s character’s son, is too old to be a high school kid that it was distracting for me. On top of that, his performance and demeanor whether intentional or not, was just unbearable. I cannot help but think that I would’ve liked this film more with a more competent (or maybe just a more suited) actor. Petty complaints and personal prejudices aside, the film is well executed and gives us characters we care about.

The Ice Storm (Ang Lee – 1997) B+

It’s a cold film about a bunch of dysfunctional suburbanites in Connecticut. Everyone in this film is messed up to some degree or another and none of them is very likable. The film is book-ended by the titular ice storm where events come to a head and characters clash. It centers around two families who are neighbors and friends of sorts. Their interactions involving sex, booze, drugs and general thrill seeking are what propels the movie forward. The parents seem to be by and large…bored. they are not bad people, just middle-aged, depressed and bored. I did like the structure of the movie and the mood it presents. The actors also do a fine job with Kevin Kline as possibly the most sympathetic. However, unlike American Beauty - a film that is often compared to this one- it lacks any characters that I really cared about.