I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman- 2020) A+

 I saw it twice, then listened to the book on Audible. It is a masterpiece I think and the most inaccessible of Kaufman’s movies. It’s rare when a film asks so much of me and expects me to either keep up or give up. It’s even more rare to accept the challenge and dig in through the various layers and existential questions it poses. This succeeded in doing both and drove me to research it more. I cannot remember the last time I did this. What is it about? It’s (some spoilers here coming up) tough to really decipher everything in the movie. In the book it is made pretty clear what is happening by the end of it and the movie diverges a bit there.

For the movie, I mostly figured that what we are watching is the old man janitor/Jake’s (Jesse Plemons) fantasy of sorts from the first time i saw the movie and confirmed it on second viewing. This makes the middle horrific parent visit so essential to the film. Jake and his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) are on their way to visit his parents’ home through a snowstorm. It is at the home where it becomes clear…well kind of clear that the girlfriend is possibly not there. The phone calls from herself and the bizarre  messages are confusing but also emphasize the surreal nature of that whole sequence and make us question everything we assumed about the couple. I admit there is no way to decipher what the caller is saying without reading the book though. By the time we leave the house, well, we are no longer under the illusion that anything is taking place in what we would think of as reality.

It adds to that Kaufman’s choice of how to film them in long stretches in the car with the wipers on, sometimes from the outside of the car. It’s unnerving and creepy. Jake is having this elaborate alternative life fantasy and he centers it on having his parents meet his girlfriend. Part of that fantasy is the house he grew up in, still lives in as an old man, his long gone dog and his parents. His parents, who might have liked Lucy or Yvonne or whatever her name might be. Her name changes, her occupation shifts because she can be anyone he might have met. Maybe she is the girl he met all those years ago at trivia night. what might have been had he actually dated her. Yet he could not help but have his troubled subconscious and horrible memories of his childhood (maggot pig, creepy basement, life on the farm…) how his parents gotten old (down to his mom’s toe nail!) and died from intruding on the nice visit fantasy. 

The final third, after the visit is where we go to the “high school” and everything unraveled in a mix of memory, reality and fantasy. We are living through Jake’s final moments during most of the movie I think where he is looking back at his life and what might’ve been. It’s a somber and depressing movie with excellent performances and unique directorial style. It’s not for everyone but I loved it.

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers – 2019) A

Two men are operating a lighthouse somewhere off 1800s New England. They are supposed to be there only for 4 weeks or so. Maybe more. In any case this one is about them slowly going insane. Movies like this; two actors, one or two settings are favorites of mine if done well. This is one of those. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are amazing here. The black and white photography and Eggers solid direction makes for a moody surreal masterpiece.

The Devil All the Time (Antonio Campos – 2020) B+

It’s an awful brutal movie. It’s a rough, depressing tale set in a Cormac McCarthy type American south in the backwoods of West Virginia. Sold yet? It’s set in a place and time after the second war where religion and violence saturate every minute of it. We get excellent performances by Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard and Robert Pattinson at his most vile and creepy. It’s not a fun time this one yet I was captivated by the story and the twists and turns where a chance encounter of two people without them knowing sets in motion events that will occur 20 years later.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma – 2019) A-

Set in the 18th century this a perfectly told love story of a painter, Marianne, who is commissioned to paint a young woman, Héloïse, so that the painting can be sent to her husband-to-be. She does not want to be painted, so Marianne has to take walks with her by the beach and sketch her in secret. It’s a beautiful and tender film that looks like a painting. The leading actresses deliver excellent believable performances and create memorable characters as lovers during a time where we know they cannot have a future together.

Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks – 1991) B

When Daniel (Albert Brooks) dies in a car accident he finds himself in a purgatory of sorts. He is assigned a lawyer and needs to defend his life in front of three judges. His specific actions distilled into a few incidents from his life that he re-visits and defends. In the end it is decided he either “moves on” to a different life form or gets sent back to earth for another life to learn more. While there he meets and falls in love with Julia (Meryl Streep) who is also on trial for her life choices. Besides the interesting idea this a sweet, smart comedy about the afterlife. It works on the strength and likeability of the leading characters and supporting ones (I especially liked Rip Torn who plays Daniel’s afterlife lawyer). It is also deeper than a silly comedy though. You would think the things that matter in your life are the big huge moments or decisions, horrible or great. In fact many of the items Daniel needs to speak to are small, seemingly not important decisions that are key to happiness, fulfillment and being a better person.

Tapioca Coconut Pudding, Mango Sorbet and Brittle

Tapioca pudding is so often looked down on I think. Not sure why. Many think of it as that goopy thing that comes out of a box and old people eat it in nursing homes. When made right though using tapioca pearls, dairy and sugar it is delightful. It has great snappy texture and just the right amount of creamy firmness. Made with coconut milk and whole dairy milk is awesome.

The recipe for the pudding is directly adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. Fleming calls it coconut tapioca soup and uses both tiny small pearl tapioca and the larger “normal” tapioca. I still think of it as a pudding and only use the normal sized tapioca because I had none of the smaller stuff. To make it I mixed sugar and whole milk and brought them to a simmer. Then the tapioca goes in and cooks. As this happens, the pearls soften and the starch in them (they are made from the cassava root) thickens the pudding. All the way at the end coconut milk goes in and cooks for a few more minutes.

This is nice warm but I like it better well chilled. A delicious Vietnamese dessert is made with this pudding too. It uses only coconut milk though and incorporates chunks of ripe banana into the pudding. So, tropical flavor is where I went to complete this and make it a composed simple dessert.

I made a mango sorbet. This is really easy to make with frozen mango puree. I’ve made stuff like that many times. It starts with a simple sugar syrup, a touch of sorbet stabilizer and then blended with the fruit puree. I think mint goes great with mango, something I picked up when I made some Indian-style kulfi mango pops a while back. So this time around I blended a few leaves of mint with the mixture as well. After a long rest in the fridge it gets churned in the ice cream maker.

This needs texture. Pudding is soft, creamy and a little chewy. The sorbet is…well sorbet. So, I made a super crunchy nutty brittle to bring in the texture. I toasted slivered almonds. In a small pan I heated about 100 gr of sugar to very dark caramel. As soon as small wisps of smoke start coming from the caramel, I add in the nuts, some sesame seeds, a good pinch of salt, stir carefully with a silicon spatula and pour the whole thing on a Silpat. When it hardens it is easy to break into pieces and shards. A generous puddle of tapioca goes in a bowl, topped with a scoop of sorbet then a garnish of nut brittle.

Uncut Gems (Benny and Josh Safdie – 2019) A

You don’t really like Howard, but you sort of do. He is a hustler, jewelry and gem dealer in Manhattan’s diamond row. He is also a frenetic hyper personality who does not shut up. He owes money to everyone. He borrows from this guy to pay the next guy and pawns items he does not own because, well, he will have the money from that block of uncut gem he just got from Ethiopia and he will surely win the next crazy sports bet he is making to pay the guy who lent him a basketball ring. He is also having an affair with one of his employees who he might or might not actually love. It’s exhausting to watch Uncut Gems, yet it is a true gem of a movie and Adam Sandler does a brilliant job as the gambling sad crazy Howard Ratner.

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