Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Destin Daniel Cretton – 2021) B

Very good. Tony Leung is such an awesome screen presence and it’s so good to see him here after watching several Wong Kar-Wai films over the last few weeks. The martial arts fight scenes are fantastic and the actors are all likeable and have good chemistry. Of course it ends in a classic Marvel CGI battle but the journey is a fun one.

The Tenant (Roman Polanski – 1976) A-

It starts off innocently enough as Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski) asks to rent an apartment in Paris. It seems the woman who was living there jumped from the window for unknown reasons. He moves in and of course is curious about what happened to her. With a lot of inspiration from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and a good dose of Polanski’s own Rosemary’s Baby this film winds its character in a web of voyeurism and paranoia. Polanski is masterful in putting us squarely inside Trelovsky’s head, like him we are not sure what is going on all the time. Paranoia and discomfort seep in and it becomes tough to separate fantasy from reality. It’s an excellent moody piece of work.

The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan – 1983) A-

A mutual friend’s funeral brings our cast of characters together for a weekend in South Carolina. He killed himself and these college group of friends all living disparate lives with various levels of contentment and success are back together. They talk, drink, reminisce and have their ups and downs. Why did their buddy (we never see him) do this is the main central topic of conversation that they keep coming back to. Should they have been able to help him before he did that? jeez…what happened to us…we were so close we had dreams and now we are “here”. It’s a well-cast and excellent movie about life, about getting old and about connections. I suspect I might’ve gotten less out of it had I seen it 10 or 15 years ago. Or maybe gotten something different out of it. This was my first time watching this and I will be revisiting in the future. In many ways I suspect it will be like Stand by Me or My Dinner with Andre (I re-watched this in the last couple of weeks too) where it seems to add new layers to every re-watch as I get older and my perspectives shift.

2046 (Kar-Wai Wong – 2004) A

2046 is a year, it’s place, it’s a sci-fi novel within a movie we are watching set in mostly the 1960s Hong Kong. Initially we think this is a sci-fi film as it opens on the train and voice over telling us about how some go to 2046, never come back. Quickly though we are thrust into the 1960s and introduced to Chow (Tony Leung), a journalist who seemingly specializes in writing salacious articles for tabloids. 2046 is the apartment number in the building with the crappy landlord and the same apartment where Chow’s girlfriend (one of several) died. He moves next door to 2047 since 2046 is still being cleaned, but he likes being in 2047 after a while and then a pretty woman, Su (Gong Li), moves to 2046 who Chow starts pursuing. Of course this is a film about love and missed opportunities and heart break and like the other Kar-Wai films it is exquisite. It’s beautifully shot, filmed from interesting angles and has a cast that looks great and performs perfectly all set to a great musical score. More than any other this also perhaps is the one where I see a lot of Haruki Murakami’s influence on Kar-Wai’s work. Would be great to see if he ever adapts an actual Murakami novel.

Chungking Express (Kar-Wai Wong – 1994) A

Disorienting in the beginning. What’s going on? Who are these people and who should I focus on. This lady is wearing a blond wig and raincoat. Right? Why? No one seems t have a name. The cafĂ©/diner owner seems to know some names though. Then I settled in and went with the circular winding flow of the first story…then Kar Wai does it again about halfway through. Another story, linked to the first one by location mostly, picks up and again it’s a bit disorienting at first. Are the characters linked somehow? yes and no. The themes are linked. The style is unique and pulls the strands together. These are two stories about love and loss with some Hong Kong gangster elements in the first one. On second viewing I noticed characters from the second story popping up in the first one briefly (reminds me of the great krzysztof kieslowski movies).

Every character in this movie is well drawn, well acted and piques the curiosity. The setting is primarily in a diner called “Midnight Express” and in and around a famous unique Hong Kong giant mall called “Chunking House” hence the name. There is also the apartment from the second story that also plays a big role. It’s a beautiful movie even if it is not shot in a particularly pretty location. The actors are good looking and feel just comfortable in this world, with their at times stilted, repetitive dialogue and deliver memorable performances. The whole thing, especially the second story has the feel of the inimitable Haruki Murakami’s books (personifying inanimate objects, the fixation on illogical hang ups, the curious female free-spirited mysterious characters, food, repetition,…). This is something I totally did not expect to see here but it was another aspect that added awesome layers to the film. It’s a really great and memorable piece of art and now that I “discovered” Kar Wai after this and In the Mood for Love, I cannot wait to check out the rest of his work.

No Sudden Move (Steven Soderbergh – 2021) B+

The weird camera lens Soderbergh chose to use was a bit distracting, figured I’ll say that right out the door. The film though has some excellent performances and is so well-made. Tells the story set in the 60s about something I doubt most people had any clue about. Sure, it is disguised as a heist, gangster, low-level crooks story (and it is) but it is about much more than that. It involves race, capitalism and corporate corruption without hitting us on the head with it or coming off too preachy. It’s tragic and yet at times very funny, I just felt it could’ve been better served if the premise was more weaved in the plot without all the exposition at the end.

Lebanese Okra and Beef Stew

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This one is not going to win any beauty contests, that’s for sure but it is a delicious and very emblematic of many Lebanese home-style stews that I grew up eating. Funny enough this one, really any okra based dish, was never my favorite when I was a kid. Yet, now, along with eggplant okra is one of my favorite summer vegetables.

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I prepared this dish in a Tagine (the Moroccan clay cooking vessel with a cone shaped top). I like how it gently cooks everything, it requires less water and concentrates the flavors and also it looks pretty cool. Bottom line, you do not need a tagine. My mom sure never uses one. Any old pot would do. First step is to sauté plenty of chopped onions and some green peppers (if available) in olive oil until they are soft and translucent, not browned. Then I add chopped up cilantro, minced garlic and some spices (black pepper, allspice, cumin) and give that a stir before adding the beef.

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The beef (or lamb or goat) used for these types of stews should be from a tough cut, like shank, with lots of collagen that breaks down and gives the food body and texture. I like to cut the beef into manageable pieces and salt them ahead of time. Now, this is not a European/western “stew”. Most Lebanese dishes like this do not require us to brown the beef or chicken to create a “fond”. Instead the protein is added and tossed for a few minutes until it loses the rawness on the outside and that’s about it. This is true if we were cooking a stew with eggplant, or white beans, or potatoes or okra or…you get the idea.

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When the meat is done being suateed, I added peeled and diced tomatoes (canned good quality tomatoes work good here too). In this version used what I had which was a pint of cherry tomatoes and a can of diced tomatoes. Then water goes in to barely cover the contents, we cover the pot and let everything cook gently until the meat is tender. Where is the okra you say? I did not forget it. Okra gets fried first.

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I usually do this step first. Sometimes, way ahead of when I need it and just freeze the fried okra until needed. Works great. You technically CAN add the okra raw to the stew but it is not as tasty and it will add way more of that special okra texture (as in slimy). I go back and forth between frying the okra whole then slicing or the other way around. I think I prefer to slice it first then fry it. This gives us more surface for the oil to cook and flavor the okra and also reduces sliminess more. So, ideally (well, really ideally, if you can ever find the really small middle-eastern okra where each one is about an inch long then no need to cut them before or after frying. Just cut off the cap without exposing the seeds and fry), slice it into 1/2 inch or 1 inch pieces and fry them in oil heated to about 350 F until brown. Drain on paper towels and now they are good to go.

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When the meat is done getting tender, add the fried okra and give everything a stir. At this point everything is pretty much cooked and just needs some time to comingle and for the okra to get tender. I let them simmer together for maybe 30 minutes or up to an hour and the dish should be ready to serve. The perfect accompaniment is rice and vermicelli pilaf and good sprinkling of cilantro.

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