The Hundred-Foot Journey (Lasse Hallström – 2014) C+

It’s a nice movie. Sweet, but so very predictable.

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Silence (Martin Scorsese – 2016) A-

Set in the 17th century Japan this is a horrifying and brutal film about faith. Two Jesuit priests go looking for a missing  mentor. He, along with many others, are missionaries trying to spread Catholicism in Japan.  Not an easy task and the response from the authorities there is very determined and violent. The two, played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, go on the terrible journey, smuggled in, hide for months on end protected by villagers who are “believers”. They witness first hand how strong these people’s faith is, they also experience betrayal and a whole lot of pain. Faith and religion change when they propagate and spread. They get hybridized and blended. One character named Kichijiro is a fascinating example of a Catholic who seems to have taken the power of confession to the extreme. How many times can one do horrible things, betray his people and then get the slate wiped clean by confession? Many times it seems. This is supposed to be based on a true story and is really one of Scorsese’s most personal films it feels. The struggle of balancing the guilt with faith and hoping that there is a God out there who is listening (in this case a Christian God) is a theme in his films. Here, it is front and center. It’s not a fun movie to watch but it is an excellent one.

Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg – 1994) A

Yes, late to the party in recognizing how awesome this film is. I had never seen it for whatever reason. I suppose when it came out I was too young and dumb to watch a long long black and white movie. Glad I did now. It is a brilliant masterpiece. Schindler is one of those men (Liam Neeson) who can sell anything to anyone. He’s a business man and industrialist in Nazi Germany -by default a Nazi. His journey from a selfish sales person, making money, shmoozing to Nazi officers, building a fortune….is one hell of a story. He recognizes slowly that the horrible stuff happening to Jews and other minorities are on his hands too even if he never fires a weapon. What does one man do? Can he save some lives? one life, a thousand? or maybe many thousands? The atrocities shown are horrible here but there is also a the flip side of the good side of human nature. One man’s actions can make a big difference to generations. Beyond the story, this a beautifully shot film, with its slow pace and the very small use of color it haunts and persists.

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson – 2017) A-

looks great of course, the acting is tremendous and the film is beautifully crafted. This one felt a bit cold, keeping emotions at bay or just under the surface. The story is about a fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his latest model/muse. She is an agent of disruption into his otherwise precise, orderly world, a world filled with women. He has his sister who never married and runs his fashion house. The memory of his beloved mother who was his original inspiration and mentor. His numerous clients who count on him to dress them in the loveliest of custom made dresses. Enter Alma who is soft spoken, pretty and strong-willed. The interplay between the two and the slow, methodical and at times crazy dynamic keeps this beautiful film humming.

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck – 2019) B

Good movie with a fun cast. It is an origin story but it has an interesting twist that works well. I did like the 90s setting as well but it really is creepy how good this anti aging technology has become. It’s a bit weird to see 70 year old Sam Jackson looking 35.

Aviary Cocktail: Another Caucasian, Gary

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The Dude might not recognize this lovely complex drink as his favorite indulgence but the folks at Aviary, the Chicago and NYC cocktail bar, created this in his honor. It is a refined take on the White Russian and named after one of thousands of memorable Dude quotes from the Coens’ The Big Lebowski.

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The classic white Russian cocktail is vodka, coffee flavored liqueur (like Kahlua), and cream or milk. The Aviary cocktail book is a beautiful piece of work that gives us a look into what it means to take modern cocktails to the next level. Have I mentioned that it is an absolutely beautiful book? It really is and the story of how it was put together is really fascinating too. The Aviary, from the same team as the three star Alinea restaurant, treats drinks as complex dishes. The recipes employ all kinds of techniques, hydrocolloids, equipment and service pieces.

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While time consuming, this is not a difficult recipe and requires no specialized tools or ingredients (unless you consider a large ice cube mold specialized in which case you can probably use smaller ice cube molds). The four major components in the “Another Caucasian, Gary” – I do love saying that- are: large milk ice cubes, chicory syrup, rum and Galliano L’Autentico. 

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Obviously, I did not have to do much to the booze beyond buy it. I got a bottle of Appleton Estate rum, one that I am fond of actually and is usually in my bar. The Galliano on the other hand is new to me. It’s in a class of Italian liqueurs that are considered Aperitifs or Amaros. Typically one of a kind recipes whose exact ingredients are very well-guarded and ranging in alcohol content all across the board from slightly more than wine’s ABV to stronger proofs. Galliano L’Autentico is around 30% ABV and has dominant notes of vanilla and anise. It makes a lovely Old Fashioned cocktail as well used instead of the sugar in that recipe.

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Milk ice cubes make up the dairy portion of the cocktail. Why not? They look cool, dissolve slowly and change the flavor, texture and dilution of the drink making it enjoyable till the last sip. So, just pour some whole milk into large ice cube molds and freeze. That’s all.

Chicory, for those here in the US and especially in the states close to Louisiana, might best know it as an additive to the famed New Orleans coffee. It’s a root that is bitter with notes of coffee, cocoa and some funk. It is usually sold dried and coarsely ground. To make the syrup it is first toasted and mixed with sugar and water, vacuum packed and “cooked” sous vide at 90 C for an hour. I then strained it and reserved the liquid in the fridge.

Chicory Syrup

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With the syrup done and the milk ice ready, the cocktail can be easily put together. The syrup, rum and Galliano are shaken with ice and poured over the milk ice cube. It makes for a complex drink that initially is bracing and has a lot of bitter boozy tones. As the ice melts we start getting more floral and herbal flavors from the liqueur, the dairy and coffee meld more and the drink starts to echo a White Russian. I doubt The Dude would love this version, but i sure did. It’s a much better cocktail than his beloved “Caucasian”.

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Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino – 2017) A

As it wraps up and the credits start to role, the camera stays on Elio (Timothee Chalamet) as the “Visions of Gideon” plays and it stays on him wordless and the song plays on in its entirety. It’s a brilliant scene in a film filled with them and I mention it because it sums it up and shows what an amazing performance he delivers here. The film is set in the Italian country side in the 80s over a couple of weeks in the summer and it looks great. It is a controversial love story and everyone in it does a great job. The characters feel real and the sense of place and time is all there. It’s an art film for sure and it will trigger a lot of discussion about the central theme that can be challenging. It is not a cheap or salacious story though but more of a story about coming of age, not too unlike the great  “y Tu Mama Tambien” in some respects, and it asks us to consider it on its own terms and merits. I have to give huge props also to the awesome performance by Michael Stuhlbarg as the most perceptive and possibly mature parent one can ask for (think of the dad played by Eugene Levy from American Pie but in a serious role!). The scene where he delivers a gentle and loving advice in a long monologue to his son is one to remember.