Fracture (Gregory Hoblit – 2007) B+

Ever since Murder By The Numbers, Ryan Gosling always strikes me as that guy who is in on some information you don’t know. In many ways, he is sort of like a young Anthony Hopkins who also has that same aura, as if he can never lose and argument or get caught with a murder. So, teaming them two in this smart and well played thriller makes it way better than it has to be.

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Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright – 2007) A-

 

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez set off to make a ‘B’ movie double feature. They wanted it bloody, with hot chicks and fast cars, violence and at times ‘cheese’. So, how can a ‘B’ movie get a grade of more than B? Well, quiet a few reasons really. First of all, it is damn fun. On another level though it was a pretty cool experience, and that’s what makes it better than a ‘B’ movie. In the early 90’s in Beirut I used to go to this old theatre, not quiet sure you can call it a grindhouse, but it was close. It showed cheesy action flicks mainly. The favorite ones were extra violent and full of blood and nudity. Once you pay the small admission fee you can sit there and watch movies all day. Matter of fact, I first saw a version of Pulp Fiction for the first time there. I say a ‘version’, because the gracious theatre owners or whoever decided to chop and re-edit the Tarantino masterpiece so that it ‘makes sense’ sequentially speaking. All that makes watching Grindhouse a great experience.

The film features both directors in their own movie along with some really cool fake trailers directed by others. The Rodriguez segment ‘Planet Terror’ is a gruesome zombie movie. Tarantino does ‘Death Proof’ as a slasher movie with Kurt Russell as an ex-stuntman who murders women with his car. ‘Death Proof’ is more heavy on dialogue -most of it great- while ‘Planet Terror’ is more typical of Rodriguez’ bloody flicks like ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’….only more gruesome and at some points over the top disgusting. Some scenes are pure brilliant in both features, one is the helicopter used to grind a group of zombies, Rose McGowen’s shooting leg, or the car accident in ‘Death Proof’ that leaves almost everyone dead. The car chase that finishes off ‘Death Proof’ is a lot of fun as well. Last but not least, Kurt Russel is great as Stuntman Mike, a role he plays as a cross between Snake Plissken and Elvis.  

Lebanese Food Staples: Burghul

Balila3 

Burgul, burghul or bulgur along with many other variation for how to pronounce it is one of the staples of Lebanese food. It is used very much like rice. So, it can be used to make a pilaf, for a stuffing ingredient, in breads, in salads or dips. Before rice was known in the mountains of Lebanon, burghul was used primarily. Now, rice is certainly ubiquitous almost anywhere you go, but burghul still holds a high place in the Lebanese kitchen and is irreplaceable in many classic preparations like Kibbeh, Mujaddara and Balila.
To make burghul dried wheat kernels are boiled till tender, then allowed to dry in the sun for several days until bone dry. This practice usually takes place towards the end of summer, right after the wheat is harvested and is without question one of my favorite times of year. My grandmother would reserve the huge pot (called Halla in Arabic) in which to cook sacks of wheat as early as possible since usually there are only a few per town and every family needs to reserve a spot for one. She then would make sure a few able men are available (family, friends and neighbors) to haul the boiled wheat to the roof of her house to dry. The smell of the air at that time of year is intoxicating and is one of those fond memories that will always remain with me.

Balila1

The boiled and now dry wheat kernels are taken to the mill and ground into fine, medium or coarse burghul. The coarse grind has grains as big as short grain rice. The fine grind is more like the size of white sugar granules. The medium is in between. Sometimes very fine burghul is also called Sraisira.

Balila2 

Balila with Yogurt 

 Makes about 4 Cups

Almost everyone have heard of Lebanese Kibbeh and recipes for it abound. So, I chose to post about another dish that features bulghur. It’s called Balila (meaning something along the lines of ‘wet’). It’s a delicious dip, side dish for grilled lamb or a light lunch meal with pita bread crisps. It’s better if you prepare this the night before and let it sit in the fridge. Serve it cold.

  • 3/4 Cup medium or coarse burghul
  • 1/2 of an English (Kirby) cucumber or two small pickling cucumbers
  • 3 Green onions
  • 5 or 6 romain lettuce leaves, the light colored ones from the heart are preferable
  • 10-12 mint leaves or more to taste
  • 2.5 Cups whole milk yogurt
  • ¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

Place the burghul in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let is soak for at least an hour until soft and chewy.
Peel the cucumber and dice it into 1/8 inch pieces. Alternatively grate it on the coarse side of the cheese grater or Mandolin. Chop the green onions, both white and green portions. Chop the lettuce. Coarsely chop the mint.
Drain the burghul and place in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Season it with salt and pepper. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours for best results. Taste before serving and add more seasonings or olive oil if you need to. Serve it cold garnished with more mint leaves and generous drizzles of good olive oil.

Tabbouli, a Proper One 

Serves 2-3 as a Side dish

Tabbouli, unlike Balila is quiet common outside of Lebanon. I can even buy a sorry version of Tabbouli at my local Target store! Since we are talking about burghul, here is a proper sample of this salad I made recently. And DON’T let anyone convince you that Tabbouli is still Tabbouli without burghul as some claim.

  •  2 Bunches Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 10 mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 of a tennis ball sized sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large ripe tomato, or 2 small ones, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Cup fine (small size) burghul
  • Juice of 2 lemons or more
  • 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

30 Minutes to an hour before serving, mix all the ingredients and let it sit in the fridge to mix the flavors and for the burghul to soften a bit.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, lemon juice and oil quantities. The Tabbouli should be on the lemony-tangy side, with the parsley as the dominant ingredient and the burghul should retain some bite. Serve it with some lettuce or cabbage leaves to scoop with, either cold or at room temp.

tabbouli

tabbouli
 

Narc (Paul Carnahan – 2002) A-

One of Ray Liotta’s best work is in this movie. He is tough, gritty, and at the same time you can see his point of view and mostly sympathize with his actions. Jason Patric as Tellis is equally good as the ex-cop who came back to investigate the murder of an undercover narc and is partnered with the always-on-edge Liotta. The filming is fast and the colors are drab setting a perfect mood. I also loved the street chase scenes (on foot) where the camera is hand held and shaky putting the viewer right on the street following the cop and suspect. As far as characters go, Tellis’ wife seems like she is only there to bitch at him for going back to work. Other than that, she could be discarded.

Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick – 2006) A-

On the surface it seems like an action flick with lots of explosions and and bullets flying about. It has all that, but it’s also quiet a moving drama with excellent performances from the cast. I do not see it as a propaganda piece against diamonds in general, it’s more of an awareness call. It’s good to know where our diamonds are coming from the same way it’s good to know where our food is coming from. In no way I am implying that diamonds and food are on the same scale, but from a sourcing POV they are similar. Informed consumers make better decisions (well…they might not, but at least they’ve been informed) as to where to shop, what to eat and what to wear. Such information is a very good way to help prevent cruelty to humans and animals. Enough lecturing… All in all a good movie and recommended.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog – 1972) A

No matter what you think about whatgoes in the actual body of the film, the opening and closing shots are one of the most memorable scenes in movies. Aguirre standing on the desolate raft with nothing but bodies and monkeys in the middle of the Amazon still planning his empire in his head is pure genius. The actual story of the small expedition is pretty simple (looking for El Dorado, mutiny by Aguirre…) and the focus here is on Aguirre whose madness and ambition is so perfectly portrayed by Klaus Kinski. He’s got that maniacal look in his eye that tells you all you need to know about his mental state.

Brazil (Terry Gilliam – 1985) A-

Fantastic and not at all dated.I like the fact that the movie does not make Sam Lowry to be this idealist who wants to rebel against an unjust system and what have you. He’s just a guy who wants to meet a chick he saw once. He simply lives and accepts the totalitarian world he inhabits and has no apparent desire to change it. He even seems to accept that he has to share a desk with another office worker through the wall that divides their cubes! The movie also has very funny classic small roles by Robert De Niro and Bob Hoskins.