What Happened Was…(Tom Noonan – 1994) A

It’s movies like this that make the annual Criterion Channel fee so worth it. I am not sure I ever would’ve heard of or seen this one anywhere else and it is a gem of a little film. Sure, it is just two people on a date, their first date, at the woman’s Manhattan apartment. That is it. We watch her prep the place, he shows up, they talk, eat dinner (she made scallops over the weekend and heats it up in the microwave) and have drinks and talk, and talk. The whole thing seems to go on in real time. Like the great My Dinner with Andre (and to a degree Jeanne Dielmann), if you like those types of “people talking” movies you get sucked in the conversation and you learn so much about the characters by what they say, how they say it, their pauses and body language. By the end, it feels as if we had known them for much longer than a couple hours.

Army of the Dead (Zack Snyder – 2021) C

Really good first 15-20 minutes, plus the very likable Dave Bautista make this not a total waste and it has some fun moments. Unfortunately, it is overlong, with badly written characters and a total waste of a really cool premise (Las Vegas heist WITH zombies!).

The Guest (Adam Wingard – 2014) B+

He shows up saying he was a friend of the family’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan. He’s not really lying about that but he he has a bit more baggage than your average soldier. Dan Stevens plays this soldier called David and he does an excellent job as a dry, robotic killing machine. There’s not a ton of plot here, it’s excellent for the dynamic pacing, Stevens’ performance and the fun action set pieces.

Stowaway (Joe Penna – 2021) A-

Fantastic slow burn of a space movie. Sure, I wanted to know more about the stowaway and why he ended up there. That plus the ending felt a bit short. However, the rest of this was tense and meticulous. All the actors are great in their roles especially Toni Collette and Anna Kendrick. The tense “space walk” scene alone makes to get more oxygen makes this worth watching.

Grilled Sous-Vide Tri-tip, Kale Salad, Double Baked Potatoes

Combining grilling over charcoal with sous-vide precision cooking is the ultimate best-of-both-worlds approach. This is especially true for cuts of beef that are a little tricky to get right like the tri-tip. It has an uneven shape and thickness, it can also come out tough or dry if not cooked and sliced right. In this case maybe this post should be called “grilled SV and pan-seared” since that is the approach I took but that is a bit wordy.

So, first step is to grill our steak over charcoal. I did that as the first step of a completely different dinner. No need to light a fire just for the steak that will need it for only a couple minutes. I had the grill going, the coals where blazing hot. I rubbed the tri-tip with a little oil and laid it on the hot grates to get a good char and color on it. This should not take more than a minute or so per side. The goal is to develop a deep brown crust which equals a lot of flavor as the steak then cooks sous-vide.

After the grill, I let the steak cool a bit then bagged it with some herbs and a couple of pats of butter. This is my go-to steak in a bag method. No salt at all at this stage usually. I only salt the steak if I know it will cook for a short period of time and I will be eating it soon after. Salting a steak that will cook for longer times and might get stored in the fridge after would risk it having a cured or “hammy” texture that I do not like. The tri-tip cooks sous-vide at 55C for about 12 hours and is now ready for the pan and service. I took it our of the bag, dried the surface well and seared it in a carbon steal pan with butter and more herbs to get a crusty brown surface on it. This also takes a minute per side or so depending on thickness and ensures the inside remains rosy medium to medium rare. As soon as it comes out of the pan I season with salt, then slice it and season with salt again. Now it is ready to serve.

Double bakes potatoes are a steak-house American classic. They are awesome balls of carbs, cheese and butter. After baking the potatoes until tender I cut each into 2pieces lengthwise. One piece a bit bigger than the other. All the potato flesh gets scooped out and mixed with butter, cheddar cheese, an egg yolk or two, bacon bits (if I have them), green onions (almost always), a little sour cream or crème fraiche and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. More or less mix-ins can go in there too. This can make a great meal if needed with enough fillings. The potato mixture gets loaded back in the larger of the hollow potato halved topped with more cheese and then baked again until brown, crusty and bubbly.

Kale salads more often than not suck. They feel like eating lawn clippings and with the effort of selling them as health foods, the dressing is light and watery. Until I tried the Jonathan Waxman kale salad from his Barbuto Cookbook I rarely made them or ate them. For me kale belonged in the pot to make a good Tuscan Ribbolitta or hearty French Garbure maybe. The Barbuto salad though is something the restaurant is famous for. I tried it and have made it numerous time since, even my teenage boys love it. It really is a take on Caesar salad with a dressing that can stand up to the kale’s rustic texture.

The dressing is made in a bowl, almost like an emulsion but it really can be a broken one. Egg yolk, Dijon mustard, anchovies, fresh basil and garlic are whisked well and then olive oil is incorporated in there to make a very loose Caesar dressing. The kale is sliced thin, including the stems (well I get rid of the part of the kale stem all the way at the bottom the thick one with no green leaf attached). It is then dressed aggressively with the dressing and mixed well using your hands. Pecorino Romano (Manchego or Parmesan work well too) are mixed in and the greens are finally topped with olive oil toasted bread crumbs (like tiny croutons!). It’s a divine salad that is amazing with a meal like this. It also keeps well, can be mixed an hour or two ahead of time and even tastes excellent the next day.

Those Who Wish Me Dead (Taylor Sheridan – 2021) D+

I expected much more from Sheridan after Hell or High Water and Wind River. Two excellent movies. Instead we get a muddled, predictable, and shallow action movie. We have seen so many like this cliched premise and many have done it better. Kid in danger, Angelina Jolie is a Montana fire fighter who is dealing with PTSD stuff needs to keep him safe so that Littlefinger and Peter the Great do not kill him for some information he has that is never explained.

There’s no “I” in Threesome (Jan Oliver Lucks – 2021) B+

Tough to tell how to judge this one. On the surface it is a documentary about a couple who decide to pursue polyamory as a sort of “letting loose” before they get married. They supposedly setup rules that they proceed to break. It’s a weird and complicated situation and the twist in the last 10 minutes of this sheds yet a who new light and perspective on what we have been watching. I think I liked it.

California Split (Robert Altman – 1974) A-

Of course I cannot help but compare and contrast this Altman film to Croupier that I posted about recently. I saw both very close after each other on the Criterion Channel and they both revolve around gambling and gamblers. Yet, they cannot be more different. Our two protagonists here are not cool or smooth or polished. They are played by Elliott Gould and the late George Segal as Charlie and Bill. They are both low-level gamblers but Charlie seems to have more fun with it. No doubt they are addicts yet somehow Bill is more sad. Possibly because Charlie just does not have much to lose it seems. He lives one day at a time, drinks beer with cereal for breakfast and roommates with a couple of prostitutes. Bill is actually employed at a publishing house and might have a family somewhere. As they both go deeper into money troubles always looking for the next score we follow along as they plan a for major gambling event in Reno that will surely solve all their troubles. Gambling is such a second nature to them that everything is up for a bet, as they are getting mugged they basically are betting that the mugger will not shoot them if the only give him half the money! It’s not a plot-heavy film and is a classic Altman work in how the camera moves and how the dialogues is delivered with characters speaking with and over each other. We get to liking the characters, including the two prostitutes and we want to see them work all their issues out.

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