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.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony and Joe Russo – 2014) A-

It’s really amazing what Marvel has managed to do. We have what is basically a long running series with interconnected stories that are at the same time independent. Some  of those were not great films other were pretty damn good. Here we have another good one. Captain America, played by Chris Evans, manages to be earnest and a genuinely good guy without coming off too cheesy or corny. He is really a fish out of water both in terms of time and his moral values. The movie has some good supporting characters as well like Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. We also get some more Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and he has a fantastic car chase fight scene that is like nothing we’ve seen him do before. The movie tackles some interesting topics like government surveillance and has some very high stakes and conclusions that made me wonder what the future Marvel/Avengers movies will be like. The action sequences are spectacular and lots of fun even though the aforementioned Winter Soldier is not very compelling as a character. Another thing Marvel is good at: making sure we stay in our seats happily until the credits are done to get our teaser fix.

Apple Mille Feuille with Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle

The fourth and final course of our Valentine’s Day dinner is one I am very proud of. It worked so well and was a delight to make, look at and eat that I could not have been happier with how it turned out. Well, like everything, it can be improved upon and perfected some more, but really it was a lovely ending to a delicious meal. It’s a take on the traditional French dessert known as Mille Feuille meaning a thousand sheets, a reference to the many layers of flaky puff pastry. Another name for this type of dessert is a Napoleon.

The inspiration of this recipe is from both Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal. Heston has recipes for a dessert with candied apple and puff pastry in at least two of his books and they look spectacular with layers of caramelized apples, cream, apple confits, ice cream and such. Auldo prepared the version from The Fat Duck Cookbook, simply called Cox’s Apple, on his blog a while ago. More recently I saw a simpler but also very refined version in Daniel Boulud’s  latest book Daniel: My French Cuisine. Boulud’s version is a layer of candied apple confit sandwiched between puff pastry and a layer of whipped calvados cream topped with caramelized puff pastry (aka an arlette).

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle4

The apple confit layer is simple to make following Boulud’s instructions. Thinly sliced apples are layered with raw sugar to almost fill a small loaf pan. This is then covered in foil and baked until the apples are deep mahogany caramel color. The confit is then cooled and frozen to make slicing it easier. This process works very well, but next time around I’d rather put a layer of parchment in the bottom of the pan or at least butter the pan. This would’ve made removing the block of apple confit much easier.

Apple Confit2

Apple Confit3

I was hoping to make my own puff pastry but really got tight on time with the other dishes I needed to prepare. So, I opted to buy some good quality all-butter puff pastry. The key here is to buy the puff pastry made with only butter, not the Pepperidge Farm crap. I cut the pastry into large portions and baked some on a baking sheet weighed down with another baking sheet to control how much the pastry rises. These were then cut into even rectangles and formed the first two layers of the plated dessert. The third (top) layer was the arlette, the caramelized thin puff pastry. I used Blumenthal’s instructions to help with this one. The pastry is rolled thin while constantly being dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Then it is baked with additional weights on top to keep it on the thin side as it cooks and caramelizes.

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle9

The ice cream that went with the mille feuille is my own recipe. I wanted something with a tart flavor and almost a bit savory. I knew it would include homemade buttermilk and was thinking of maybe using some yeasted cream as well similar to what I used with this waffle dessert. That’s what brought waffles to mind, specifically yeast waffles, not the quick baking powder ones. I love a recipe for yeast risen waffles from Shirley Corriher’s classic book CookWise that she aptly labels “Crisp-crusted, feather-light raised waffle”. So I made some of that and as usual I used oat flour for about a quarter of the flour in there and used buttermilk instead of milk. I then allowed the waffles to completely dry and crisp in a warm oven eventually ending up with about 100 gr of waffles, crumbled. I soaked these in a mixture of cream and whole milk overnight and then strained them out. Then I proceeded to make the ice cream using my go to method per Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream book. When the ice cream base was cool I stirred in a 100 gr of buttermilk, allowed the mixture to cool in the fridge and then churned it into the most amazing buttermilk waffle ice cream.

Buttermilk Waffle Ice Cream

The cream under the top caramelized puff pastry layer is simple sweetened whipped cream flavored with Laird’s apple brandy. That goes on the plate in a few dots first to anchor the first layer of pastry, then goes a rectangle of apple confit, then more pastry, the Laird’s cream and the caramelized pastry. The green-ish sauce around the dessert is just Granny Smith apple juice thickened lightly with Xanthan gum and it gives the dish a nice fresh apple flavor.

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle2

Apple Mille Feuille-Buttermilk Waffle10

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson – 2014) A

This really is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films. Anderson uses many techniques, color pallets and even aspect ratios to tell the story of Gustav H. the concierge of the Grand Budapest between the wars. The story is set in a fictitious eastern European country named Zubrowka and in a smart opening is told to us through the aging Zero Moustafa the lobby boy who is retelling it to an author whose book with the story is being read by a girl in the cemetery at the opening of the film. Anderson is really a divisive filmmaker and even those who like him might not like all his work (I do not care for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). This one is no exception and will not make those who dislike his films fans all of a sudden. I just loved his work here where he composes shots so perfectly, his characters are as quirky as usual, the dialogue is a wonderful mix of high-brow with deadpan profanity as an exclamation point. He also mixes live action and stop-motion animation, comedy with shocking violence, Brooklyn accents with proper British ones,…. It just works.

The film is a heist film, a murder mystery, a prison escape but really above all it’s about a world that is changing and Gustav who is mourning the change. He is a gentleman who loves a certain way of life and traditions that are being eroded by time, politics and an upcoming war. Ralph Fiennes in the role of Gustav is fantastic. His delivery of the dialogue and mannerisms are just perfect. Like almost every Anderson film is, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fairy tale but somehow it feels like these people are real somewhere, possibly in Zubrowka.

We Are What We Are (Jim Mickels – 2012) A-

I don’t go for horror movies much. They are usually very cheesy and repeat the same story it seems over and over again. Both of these are not necessarily bad if done well, but modern horror films are geared to either give the PG-13 crowd a “boo” moment every five minutes or graphic gore and torture porn throughout. In this skillfully made film, Jim Mickels gives us a tense story about a family that has “something off” about them. It’s creepy but not heavy handed at all. It does a very good job in making us care for the two daughters and their brother while not always sure if we should. I guessed what is going on pretty early in the run time but the film still maintained its high wire act perfectly. Boy was I not prepared for the horrific last five minutes or so here though. That’s one scene and a few lines of dialogue that I will never forget.