Palm Springs (Max Barbakow – 2020) B+

It’s a smart take on a sort of classic movie sub-genre. I am not going to spoil what that is and really it is best if one sees this knowing very little or nothing about it. It also feels like a sort of meta take on the whole COVID house arrest we have been living through these days without intending to! The actors are charming and the film really is a deeper meditation on time, life, love and priorities than it seems to at first.

Duck Fat Potato Cake

Potato Cake9

I am doing a lot of cooking these days as usual, it is just getting tougher to bring up the energy to post a lot. Still cooking and baking is one of the few mind relaxing activities in these times of home quarantine and COVID! This potato “cake” is a relaxing repetitive activity that makes a delicious dish much superior to the sum of its parts.

Book of St John

Potato Slices

It’s a recipe adapted from Fergus Henderson’s Book of St. John (a lovely read if there is ever one and a great companion to his previous compendium Nose to Tail). This is -I think- a classic French preparation and I have seen it before made with clarified butter. Duck fat though, really makes this a special treat adding flavor and flaky crispier texture.

Potato Slices2

I sliced Russet potatoes as thin as possible on a mandolin and rinsed them well. To get them as dry as possible I spun them in the salad spinner and did my best to pat them dry. These then got tossed with a few healthy doses of melted duck fat and salt.

Duck Fat

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Next comes the layering. It’s quiet a relaxing and meditative exercise this one. I lined a loaf pan with parchment paper and starting laying the thin slices of duck fat glazed potatoes in it. One at a time, alternating layers it goes to create, as Henderson calls it, a strata of potato.

When the layering is done, the pan is covered tightly in foil and baked until a knife easily goes through the potatoes. Now, very similar to a terrine, we need to weigh the layers of potato. This ensures that the layers get fused together into a “cake”. I used a smaller loaf pan on top of the potato, a couple of large tomato cans in that and the book on top. Once cooled I transferred the weighted pans (no book though!) to the fridge to set overnight.

Potato Cake

Potato Cake2

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The final step involves frying the potatoes into delectable ducky flaky blocks. I took the cake out of the pan and cut it into neat rectangular blocks. These blocks are then finished by a deep frying step in hot peanut oil until crispy on all sides. Remove, drain and sprinkle with salt. Done. Well, kind of done. What to eat it with?

Potato Cake5

Well, they are delicious on their own, with some regular low-brow ketchup or some fancy homemade carrot ketchup and some sprinkles of black salt.

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They are excellent with a couple of eggs and home cured bacon.

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I’m sure they would make amazing side to fried fish instead of normal chips. I still have to try that yet…or how about a nice steak and a few dollops of Bearnaise?

Booksmart (Olivia Wild – 2019) A-

Two senior high school girls, last day of school and on their way to college. When they find out that pretty much everyone in their high school year is getting into a good school they feel like they missed out on all the “fun” the other kids had. So they decide to just make up for it. They have one night and a one party (theoretically) to get to where all the other kids are. It’s kind of like Dazed and Confused a bit. The main two actors have excellent chemistry and a ton of charm. It’s a funny and smart film.

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck – 2016) B+

An unconventional documentary based on an unfinished novel by James Baldwin. It walks through the civil rights struggle through the lives and deaths of three of its leaders (Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers). It’s a poetic imagining -I think- of what the unfinished Baldwin book might’ve been. In any case it is a very good film and through archival footage and narration by Sam Jackson paints a powerful tapestry of our history. I also had no idea what an amazing and sharp speaker James Baldwin was. 

45 Years (Michael Haigh – 2015) B+

They have been married 45 years. Their anniversary is Saturday. the film opens the week before that. The couple, Kate and Geoff, is played perfectly by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Geoff receives a letter that the body of his long ago girlfriend was found. He lost her on a hiking trip through the Swiss Alps when they were in their 20’s. Kate knows the story but it is a long forgotten one. Now memories, emotions, things that might’ve or could’ve been come to the surface as the movie progresses towards the Saturday anniversary. It’s a tender lovely film. It’s not about huge revelations or high drama. I liked Kate and Geoff from frame one and I think you have to like them to stick with them just like they have to like each other to get through 45 years and an emotional week.

Carlos (Olivier Assayas – 2010) A

The IMDB description for this is “The story of Venezuelan revolutionary Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, who founded a worldwide terrorist organization and raided the 1975 OPEC meeting”….well it is one way to summarize a 6 hour or so epic. This is a long spanning tour de force by the lead (Edgar Ramirez) who does an exceptional job portraying this real-life figure of Carlos. He plays him fit, fat, drunk, menacing, charming. It’s like a mix of James Bond, Che Guevara and a Hollywood star. At no moment is Carlos likable though. That is fine. Assayas again delivers confident direction as we span decades in history and locales. His colors are bright, dark and washed at times. He uses real-life documentary footage interlaced with the film’s runtime. With that direction and a series of excellent performances in multiple languages we get the antitheses of my dreaded “biopic”. We get a slice of history told from a certain point of view about a certain hugely flawed individual. It’s my favorite type of “biopic”. It does not distill anyone’s life to 90 minutes. It gives context and gets us to know characters through a defining period of their life.

WASP Network (Olivier Assayas – 2020) B-

Good story about Cuban spies living and operating in Cuba to infiltrate the Cuban Castro resistance here. I had never heard of it. The actors do a great job and Assayas has not made a film I did not appreciate even if this one is not in the same tier as his others that I’ve seen recently.

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