Victoria (Sebastian Schipper – 2015) B

This takes an A+ for effort and technical achievement and a C for character motivation, plot and common sense. To clarify this is a 2+ hour film, shot in Berlin and the whole movie is one shot/one take, there are no cuts and no edits. This is truly amazing. We follow Victoria and we stick with her. Everything we know and see is from her perspective throughout the films run time. She is from Madrid and living in Berlin. She meets a group of four guys after a night of partying and quickly strikes up a flirty friendship with them, specifically one of them called Sonne. For the first hour or so I was fascinated by this thing, with the performances and the conversation…and then…well then it turns into a heist film where people make ridiculously dumb decisions. Hey, Victoria, do you want to join us and be the getaway driver? Why yes. Hey Victoria, why not leave and go home now? Nope, I want to drive damn it. Well, this heist seems to have worked out, we should all quietly go home and hide. Right? Nope, let’s go party and leave our drunk buddy in the car right in front of the club for the cops to find. Victoria is an admirable piece of art work and I am glad it exists but as a whole it is the ultimate style over substance.

Zodiac (David Fincher – 2007) A

Several years after seeing this and liking it a lot the first time, I caught this again the other night and it is even better this time around. It’s a solid film about obsession and drive. It’s a well-known fact that the Zodiac was never caught. So this is not the focus of the movie. Instead it walks us through the years of the Zodiac investigation and the impact it had on those who worked on it, specifically a detective (Mark Ruffalo), a cartoonist/author (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a journalist (Robert Donwey Jr.) from the San Francisco Chronicle. The film perfectly captures that time and place. It is deftly directed and acted. We totally understand the obsession of these guys, especially the Gyllenhaal character who probably loses the most while tracking and -very likely- identifying who Zodiac was.

What We Do in The Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi – 2014) A-

What would vampires living in  New Zealand do in the modern age? They share a flat and have chores. They need to eat but really need to maintain their apartment in a good shape (so who does those bloody dishes??!)  They go hunting at local clubs at night but have no sense of fashion , after all they cannot see themselves in the mirror. To make things worse they need to be invited to go anywhere so most of the clubs are off limits because of these pesky bouncers. They also have their squabbles with ex-lovers and other “creatures of the dark” namely the werewolves. These points and many others make up the very funny What we Do in The Shadows, a documentary style film in which a crew of filmmakers is granted access to the scary and hilarious world of those modern vampires. This is one funny quotable movie that is made for repeat viewings.

Hay-Roasted Pork with Yucatan Achiote Marinade

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Pork shoulder or pork butt is  one versatile piece of porcine goodness. It is infinitely flexible and can be at home in any cuisine. It can be roasted, braised, cut up and stewed, barbecued or smoked and of course it is the main ingredient in sausage. On top of all that I love how it can feed a crowd and everyone loves it. I use it often and this time it was Mexican cuisine I turned to, specifically that of the Yucatan peninsula.

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I’ve been reading through David Sterling’s awesome book, Yucatan. It is an amazing piece of work about the lovely food of that region, many of which we enjoy but maybe do not know that it is from the Yucatan specifically. One of the most well known Yucatecan (I love that word!) dishes is the Cochinita Pibil. Piib is an oven/pit that is dug in the ground. Foods cooked in it acquire the acronym Pibil. The food cooked in it is usually covered with banana leaves so they slowly tenderize, smoke and steam as well as acquire a lovely herbal aroma.

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Since I did not have any banana leaves lying around and no Piib dug in my yard I am not calling this Cochinita (pork) Pibil but that does not mean it is any less delicious or special.  The main flavor in this preparation is from the marinade. It’s called Recado Rojo and consists of plenty of ground Achiote (aka Annatto), allspice, black pepper, white vinegar, seville orange juice (I used a mix of lemon, lime and grapefruit juices since seville oranges are not in season now), charred garlic and Mexican oregano. I marinated the pork with this mixture overnight before cooking.

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I put the pork in my large clay baking dish. At first I was simply going to cover and bake gently for a few hours. As I mentioned before Pibil foods are usually covered in banana leaves to gently steam. I had none but I did have clean organic hay that I use for cooking sometimes. It works great to add flavor and aroma to all kinds of dishes like these potatoes. So, I soaked a large handful in water and added it on top of the pork. It would be a pain to pick a bunch of hay from the meat after cooking, so I laid a thin cheesecloth between the meat and hay.  I covered the baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil and cooked it in the oven at roughly 300 F for several hours until the meat is tender and flakes easily. This process  worked great and I will certainly be baking with hay again with one small change.

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While the aroma from the cooked meat, marinade and hay was spectacular I think next time I will put most of the hay in the bottom under the meat. This will ensure more flavor in the sauce and permeating the meat. Traditionally, lightly pickled red onions go with a Cochinita Pibil. This is very easy to make. I  blanched red onions in boiling water for a few seconds and tossed them with lemon/lime juice along with a bit of white wine vinegar, orange juice and dried oregano. I had small sweet peppers on hand so I added those in with the onions as well. A few slices of habanero added a good spicy kick. I served the flaked meat on fresh corn tortillas with avocados, sour cream, the pickled onions and crumbled queso fresco.

The Big Short (Adam Mckay – 2015) B+

It’s scary that the events in this movie only happened a few years ago yet somehow it feels like a period piece not events from a very recent history. The movie takes place in the years preceding the 2008 real estate economic crisis when a small group of investors who saw the pending collapse coming and bet on it. Through these characters we learn a lot about what went wrong and how it went wrong. Adam Mckay keeps the pace clicking along and infuses a lot of levity and different story-telling techniques to transform what could be a very dull topic into something coherent and fun. The actors do a very good job overall, especially Steve Carell whose character I actually cared about and liked watching him evolve and change. The remaining characters are mostly one-dimensional, fun, but not much beyond what we see on the screen. The Big Short is a very good movie, it does what it intends to do with wit and style and keeps us engaged while we learn about synthetic CDOs.

Crimson Peak (Guillermo Del Toro – 2015) C-

It’s a very nice looking movie and not a bad thriller. Did we need ghosts here though? Sure they look cool and creepy but not sure they serve any purpose at all. They just happen to make frequent appearances in a film about a young bride, her mysterious new husband, his creepy sister and the creepier old estate they are trying to maintain.

NOMA: My Perfect Storm (Pierre Deschamps – 2015) B-

Interesting and a good double feature with For Grace. This is more about the philosophy of chef Redzepi, the struggle to have a balance between running the restaurant, keeping his “Best in the World” title and his personal life. The problem is that along with the wonderful food and hard work on the screen I mostly got the impression of Redzepi as very angry and high strung. I think it could’ve been a better doc with a bit more direction and refinement.