The Big Blue (Luc Besson – 1988) C

There is a good movie here somewhere. I saw a very long Director’s Cut and it really should be edited down. It’s one of Besson’s first films and i do see the outlines of a sweet sweeping story about love, friendship and obsession. The execution unfortunately falls short and feels very amateurish in most respects. The performances and dialogue are just off and often seem to hit the wrong note. The tone is also all over the place with drama, tragedy, surrealism and slapstick comedy dispersed throughout. The cinematography is the main positive here. It is shot mostly in Sicily, Greece, France around and in the Mediterranean so it looks great. The underwater sequences are excellent and well choreographed. Another plus is the score. It’s lovely and works great with the awesome images on the screen.

Note: I think the version I saw is the USA one in English and I do wonder if the French/original version plays much better.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve – 2016) A

I was looking forward to the next Villeneuve film after his spectacular Sicario. He did not disappoint. We got a fresh, intelligent and deliberate take on what and how first contact might be like. How “alien” aliens might seem to us. How they might think, feel, behave, communicate,… It’s a spectacularly well-shot film. this one is one of those beautiful movies that is really worth experiencing on the big screen. The story centers on a linguistics professor who is hired to communicate with the visitors. So, instead of coming out guns blazing and fireworks all over the place, the first step is to try and talk to them. Makes sense. She is played perfectly by Amy Adams who delivers a tender, smart and tough performance. The film is perfectly plotted and slowly unwinds to reveal the mystery of the aliens as well as the bigger picture of what is going on. It cuts back and forth with images and timelines. It reminds me both of Terrence Malick’s films and other smart “science fiction” movies like Solaris (both versions are excellent, the original and the Clooney remake). I loved this picture and will not delve into any more detail. Suffice it to say that at every turn this is not a typical aliens-come-to-earth film. It’s a life affirming fable about humanity, the importance of communication, love and family.

Cappellacci di Zucca – Pumpkin Pasta with Sage, Pumpkin Butter, Pine Nuts

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This is cheat post. It’s a cheat post because I’ve posted about similar dishes before. Well, so what. We love this dish and its ilk and I try making it every fall a few times. I really love making fresh pasta and filled pasta as well so why not post about it (spoiler warning: the next post is also a filled pasta dish).

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It is a dish I make relatively often but honestly I never make it the exact same way twice, especially with the filling. This time I think is one of the favorites. The small sugar pumpkin I used was delicious on its own and I decided not to mask it with a ton of other flavors. In Mario Batali’s first book (my favorite of his really), Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages,  has a recipe for this dish and his filling is very simple. It’s nothing more than the pumpkin, an egg, some Parmesan and a grating of nutmeg. I went with that and it was perfect. Usually I would use butternut squash for something like this, but I really am glad I gave the small “pie”pumpkin a try this time. The flesh was dry and had great flavor and sweetness.

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Sage with this dish is classic and so is butter. Both are here but with a couple of extra layers of flavor. I put all the pumpkin seeds and pulp into a pot with a bunch of butter and let that gently melt and simmer. After draining I had a nice half cup or so of golden delicious pumpkin butter.

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I boiled the pasta while I got butter browning in a pan and then tossed in sage leaves. For another texture and layer of flavor I threw in a handful of excellent quality pine nuts. These are great pine nuts that I picked up from Lebanon wen I was there a couple of months ago. After the nuts got a good color on them and the sage leaves were a bit crispy I tossed the dumplings into the pan and added a few spoons of the pumpkin butter. Served with a handful of Parmesan and anointed with more pumpkin butter it was lovely.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (David Yates – 2016) B+

I’m very glad we have JK Rowling in this world. I’m glad she is not just sitting on her butt and swimming in her cash like Scrooge McDuck. Fantastic Beasts takes place decades before Harry Potter turns 11 and goes on his adventures. It’s set in New York in the 20s and mostly covers new ground although it fits in the bigger Harry Potter Gellert Grindelwald story line. He is most likely this new series’ (5 movies are planned I believe!) Voldemort. It looks beautiful, the setting, the roaring 20s, New York and the attention to detail of those weird creatures is great. We have interesting and likable new characters, interesting villains and a whole American wizarding government to keep track of. So many cool scenes and setups here, like Tina and her flirtatious sister Queenie preparing dinner or the magical speakeasy. Going back to the wonderful Rowling wizarding world is a journey I am very much looking forward to.

Dr. Strange (Scott Derrickson – 2016) B

Definitely one of the coolest and most useful superhero cape to ever exist. This was a fun film. Lots of unique fight scenes and set pieces in a movie that adds another dimension to the Marvel-verse. As is the norm, this one also manages to have a lot of humor (delivered deftly by Cumberbatch) and balances it well with a sorcerer superhero and crazy plot.

The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn – 2016) B+

A sweet young pretty girl new to LA and is trying to get into the modeling world. Soon she is discovered and befriended by a make-up artist and a couple of other “older” models. She is soon going on photo shoots with a weird photographer and parties and things might be promising….but this is not that kind of movie. It is not a traditional rags to riches, or a Hollywood story of success and tragedy or really any form of typical narrative. This goes dark and weird to places figuratively and literally that I did not expect. It does it in style with gorgeous shots and flamboyant dizzying colors. Let loose and stick around for the ride.

Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz – 2016) B

Solondz movies are unique, weird and uncomfortable. They are tonally off-putting usually where you are not sure if he is serious or going for laughs (both really). They walk a fine edge between tragedy and bizarre black comedy. This one does not disappoint in all these areas as it follows a dog, a dachshund, as it changes various owners from a wealthy family with a small child to an old lady in her final days before it ends up in an art gallery of sorts. At each step the dog is not more than a prop, it’s not the focus. The conversations and the different people are. The kid we see in the beginning is smart, lonely and full of questions about life and death. The old lady on the other hand is on the opposite side of the equation, she is looking back at her regrets and prior decisions as she pets the dachshund and waits to die.