Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino – 2019) A

I saw it once and really enjoyed it. It’s a layered film and stayed with me as I thought about those amazing characters of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the world of 1968/69 Los Angeles that the film is set in. Tarantino’s latest is even more than any of his other movies a film about films, about actors, his unabashed love for cinema but it is about more than that. At its heart is a very sweet friendship story between the actor Rick and his long time stunt double Cliff. These two guys are probably QT’s most well developed, multi dimensional and interesting male characters. Good thing too since the vast majority of this deliberate and quiet picture is us hanging out with them. Maybe a third of the running time is with Rick doing his work. Did I say this was a quiet and “slow” movie? Well, it is, somehow in a departure for QT. It’s possibly the least violent too. Really until the final 10 minutes or so this is a meticulous and character-driven drama. Then I went back and saw it again. Yes, this is a great picture, a mature and confident one.

The film is set in 1968 mostly…and some in 1969. Rick lives right next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband the director Roman Polanski right up on that very infamous Cielo Dr. Rick is a one time famous TV show star and still gets the occasional role but somehow he missed the movie stardom boat. We hang out with Tate too while Rick is busy on a TV pilot set and Cliff is running errands, fixing Rick’s aerial and giving rides to cute hippies to their weird ranch…She goes to see a movie, buys a book and seems like a really sweet person. The main reason most of us have heard of Sharon Tate is because of those grizzly Hollywood Hills murders but here she is allowed to be more than that. A fun loving person who is happy to be alive. Robbie, Pitt and DiCaprio all deliver excellent performances here.

There really is so much to unpack and talk about, so much that I loved, but I’ll stick to one more piece of praise. Damn does this film look great and sound great. The LA of the late sixties is meticulously recreated and so real. For the entire run we are living there with nothing out of place. The cars are right, the buildings and billboards and streets. They all feel lived in and tangible. Not sure how much CGI went into crafting this world but I really do not think much. Tarantino pays so much attention to the details and everything is lovingly created.

Once Upon a Time…might be set in the real world but the line of where fact ends and fiction begins is at times difficult to tell. I did not expect Tarantino to make a biopic, I did not want him to and he did not. This is a fairy tale.

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Tampopo (Jûzô Itami – 1985) A

Of course I had heard a lot about Tampopo for years before I had the chance to see it. It’s often referred to with a lot of reverence among the great “food” movies like Big Night. I knew it was about Ramen. That’s basically it. So, I was thrilled to see it available on The Criterion Channel’s lineup. Initially I was a bit thrown off by the slapstick comedy of it, the over the top interactions…I did not expect a comedy. Then, it really took over and I just could not wait what the next frame will bring. The cooking is delightful and seemingly done in real time in some cases. The main characters are endearing and grew on me very fast. The side-story vignettes; confusing at first; became like refreshing one bite morsels that cut through the main story as they balanced sensuality, comedy and the joy of cooking and eating. Really this whole thing is a wonderful feast (I just could not help but say that…)

La Ceremonie (Claude Chabrol – 1995) B+

Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is the new maid for a family in the French countryside. She is efficient, quiet, a bit aloof and illiterate – a fact that she tries to hide from her employer and is one of the engines of her arc. She meets Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) who seems the exact opposite. She works at the post office, is spunky, loud, and might have an interesting colorful criminal background. Was Jeanne a bad influence on Sandrine leading up to the movie’s shocking climax? Maybe, but then again Sandrine had an interesting history herself. The two women forge an odd but interesting friendship a fiery friendship like when dry brush meets a match. The performances are excellent and the two leading ladies have a great chemistry.

The Rover (David Michod – 2014) A-

Set in the Australian outback after some post apocalyptic event. This is a very small story, a very violent story with outstanding performances by Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. We are along for the ride as Eric (Pearce) is pursuing three criminals who stole his old car. He captured the young brother of one of them (that would be Rey played by Pattinson) and is using him to figure out where they will be next. As I mentioned it is a rough unflinchingly violent movie, but it has at it’s core a mystery as well. It also develops the relationship between the homicidal Eric and the simple Rey. Why on earth does Eric care so much about getting his shitty car back, killing anyone who stands in his way and caring for no one not even himself? Why? When we figure out the answer the film really reframes what we have been watching including Eric.

Milk Bar’s Birthday (or Mother’s Day or Any Day) Cake

Birthday Layer Cake7Christina Tosi from Milk Bar loves classic, sweet, indulgent and at times industrial (oh no!) desserts. At least that is what she claims. I really have my doubts about that. You know, about her actually enjoying the shitty cake that comes out of a mix box tasting of chemicals and sugar. I digress, regardless of her inspiration, Tosi produces fantastic sugary treats that are playful, beautiful and delicious. She seems like a delightful person as well judging by her appearances on Chef’s Table and Mind of a Chef TV shows.

Birthday Cake

The cake batter has not one but three different fats: butter, canola oil and shortening. That must be what helps give it an excellent texture and a very good “fridge life”. It is flavored with vanilla and has a bunch of sprinkles mixed in. I baked it in a quarter sheet pan and let it cool there. Then I used a 6 inch cake ring to cut 2 circles and large “scraps”. The scraps will make the bottom layer. This process is pretty typical of all the cakes in Milk Bar cookbook recipes.

Birthday Cake2

Birthday Cake4

I love some textural variation in cakes. A big part of why I think most cakes are boring is the uniform texture and lack of crunch. Tosi uses a “crumb” between the layers to add that much needed texture and boosts of flavor. Crumb is very much what it sounds like, made from sugar, fat (canola oil in this birthday cake crumb), flour, salt, baking powder and flavoring. Since this is birthday cake crumb it also has sprinkles mixed in. The mixtures is combined in a stand mixer then baked at 300 F for about 20 minutes. Once it is completely cool it is crunchy, crumbly delicious stuff. I used the extras to mix into a homemade ice cream I made. Very proud of that idea. The ice cream was excellent.

Birthday Layer Cake

Birthday Layer Cake8

Frosting is what brings it all together, holds the layers in place and of course it…well it’s frosting. This one is butter, shortening and cream cheese whipped very well. Then you add glucose, corn syrup, vanilla, powdered sugar a pinch of baking powder and a pinch of citric acid. Why those last 2 ingredients? I’m guessing Tosi again is trying to get it sort of close to what a “store frosting” tastes like. Don’t know, but this stuff tastes 100 times better than any crappy store bought frosting.

Birthday Layer Cake2

To assemble, the fun part, using the 6 inch ring mold and acetate sheets we start layering. The “scraps” in 3 or 4 pieces go in the bottom. The cake gets brushed with a birthday cake soak (really it’s just milk and vanilla). Then goes the frosting, then goes a layer of crumb. Then a layer of cake and the same sequence again. When that is done the cake gets frozen until 3 hours or so before cutting into it. Slip it out of the ring, remove the acetate and place on a cake stand. Let it defrost and come to proper temperature. Slice and serve.

Birthday Layer Cake3

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A distinctive feature of Milk Bar cake is that they are “naked”, no frosting covering the whole thing and sides. Why? Tosi explains it best. Why go through all that hard work with cake and crumb and frosting and then cover the whole thing up! I agree. It is really beautiful, rich and so delicious.  Below is a gratuitous picture of a recent cake I also made based on Tosi’s formulations; chocolate cake with milk crumb and strawberry frosting. This one stayed delicious even after being in the fridge for a week.

Layer Cake-Chocolate-Strawberry

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Jon Watts – 2019) B-

Ah, so Avengers: End Game happened, people died, but life goes on and Peter Parker has to deal with it. He has to deal with grief and a lot of responsibility. For now all he really wants though is to go on a short fun school trip to Europe with his schoolmates and tell MJ that he likes her. He needs a vacation. It’s a good movie that is fun, has a very good villain, a plot relevant to our times, and again the major strength are those characters we like played by excellent actors. It also has two very good post credit sequences that make me look forward to the next installment.

The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch – 2019) B+

Jarmusch is definitely a polarizing film maker and this latest installment is not different. If one wants to see a zombie horror movie because they want to see a “scary” horror movie, this is not the right choice. On the other hand if you want a unique take on the zombie genre, a lot of homage to Romero that balances quirky with funny and downright gorry AND you have seen another Jarmusch film before, well, then you might like this. I did.