Mother! (Darren Aronofsky – 2017) A

I avoided any conversations and articles about this movie and it took me a long time to get around to seeing it.  It’s an aggressively rough movie, while it might not seem so at the beginning, it gets crazier and more horrific as it culminates and comes full circle.  The focus of the movie is of course on the character of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence). Most of the movie is shot with close-ups of her and tracking shots behinds her and over her shoulder. We experience the whole thing from her perspective. It’s very effective as we feel her angst, fear and confusion every step of the way. It’s a movie about fame, the media and those who suffer as a result from one perspective I suppose. The more fascinating perspectives though are those of creation and destruction. Of those who decide to destroy what they have been given by god, nature or Mother. Or maybe it is just a horror movie about the worst house guests ever (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer do an awesome job here). It’s a fascinating film that is at times difficult to watch but I am glad I did.


First Reformed (Paul Schrader – 2017) A-

Ethan Hawke is father Toller, a priest in a historic small church in upstate New York. He drinks a bit much, is ill, has a dark history but seems like a good guy who is doing his best for the few parishioners who come in. Sure, he does not get nearly as many of those as the megachurch down the street but he’s doing ok. His beliefs, faith and world views come into collision and chaos when Mary (Amanda Seyfried) asks him to talk to her husband. She is pregnant, but the husband does not think they should bring a baby into this world that is surely going to be a wasteland if climate change keeps going the way it is going. Toller starts talking to the young man and does not do so well…The character of Toller reminded me a lot of Travis Bickle, from (also written by Paul Schrader) Taxi Driver. He is teetering at the edge, carrying a lot of baggage, guilt and anger. Where it all leads is shocking and weirdly sweet at the same time. Few movies deal with the subject of religion and faith so well.

Roma (Alfonso Cuaron – 2018) A+

This is a classic already in my book. It’s so well made, so spectacular in its look and details. It shows what a master Cuaron is and why he is one of my all time favorite movie makers. This is a movie about human beings, life and real people. The film is set in 1970 Mexico city and shot in gorgeous black and white. It centers on Cleo, one of two maids for a middle class family. She is quiet, attentive and really loves the four kids under her care. For the first 20 minutes or so, we are just observing her daily routine as she cleans, cooks, gossips with the other maid, tucks the kids in bed and even shares some time with the family as they watch TV.

We observe the world through her perception. Like his masterpiece “Y Tu Mama Tambien“, Mexico is another character in the background. Cleo hears about some political unrest, some land issues, a revolution perhaps but it is in the background as she deals with boyfriend issues and family matters that her employer is going through. There is so much going on here. It is filmed with such loving detail that this will pay even more on repeat viewings.

Panforte di Siena with Chocolate and Rum Raisins


As I type this I am still munching on more of this goodness that i baked about two weeks ago now. This Holiday pastry is a “bread” in as much as “short bread” is bread. It’s a delicious, nutty, spicy and chewy candy almost more reminiscent of Spanish turron than a bread or cookie. Whatever we call it, it is a wonderful and addictive Christmas time treat. It’s origin is Italian, more specifically from Tuscany and the town of Siena. It’s even usually referred to as Panforte di Siena or “strong bread of Siena”.


As the name indicates this one is a strongly flavored preparation and is best served in thin wedges. So what’s in it this stuff? Nuts; plenty of them; dried fruit; usually including a lot of candied citrus peel; spices, sugar and honey. This recipe is courtesy of the always reliable David Lebovitz and it includes cocoa powder and dark chocolate as well.


I opted for a combination of hazelnuts and almonds with the balance tilted more towards the hazelnuts. That was a very good choice because of the cocoa and chocolate in the recipe. The combination is a delicious classic. I toasted the hazelnuts and rubbed them in a kitchen towel while they are still warm to get rid of most of the skins.


To the chopped up nuts, I added the spices (lots of cinnamon in this one, but again, it works great), chopped up candied citron, flour, a decent pinch of salt. I’m not sure why the recipe does not include salt but I think it makes sense to add it. I wanted to include some other dried fruit in the Panforte. I also figured some booze would be nice. So, I soaked about 50 gr of golden raisins in rum for a few hours and subbed those for 50 gr of the candied citron. The instruction to work the dry mixture well with your fingers is a good one. It ensures that the ingredients, especially the candied fruit, do not clump and stick together.



Lastly, I made the syrup by heating up honey and sugar to 240 F and poured that along with melted dark chocolate on the dry ingredients. You really need a good stiff spatula or wooden spoon to mix the stuff. It is heavy and needs a strong arm to get everything incorporated. I put the mixture into a spring form pan that I had sprayed with non-stick spray and lined the bottom with a round piece of parchment.




Since the mixture is very dark already, judging baking doneness is tricky. I went by the recipe instruction to judge it “…the center will feel soft, like just-baked custard; if you touch it, your finger will come away clean when it’s done“. That took about 40 minutes in my oven. Once it is cooled, I sprinkled it with powdered sugar and sliced it with a heavy knife. It really is great with deep rich bittersweet and spice flavors all topped off with great crispy chewy nutty textures. We ate several wedges with hot cups of coffee and stored the rest for later snacking. Along with Alton Brown’s fruitcake and Michael Ruhlman’s Aged Eggnog (although I’ve tinkered with this one a touch), this will now be another Holiday must have. Cheers!








Birdbox (Susanne Bier – 2018) C-

Something happens, “things” that we cannot see invade earth, those who see them go nuts and kill themselves, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is one of the survivors who basically have to wear blindfolds now unless they are indoors…Well it’s a mixture of a survival-apocalypse story in one timeline and a rough river journey as Malorie, blindfolded still, is trying to get two kids to safety somewhere in another timeline five years later. Bullock acts her butt off here but I really could not much care for the characters or feel much for what the whole non-nonsensical situation was.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan and Joel Coen – 2018) A-

It’s a welcome sight to see another quirky, great looking, dark and comical at the same time piece of work. In a series of short stories set in the American west we get all those and more. Some of the “ballads” are better than others and they range from the absurd to the surreal, but the overall work is excellent and made for an excellent Saturday night viewing as a storm was blowing outside.

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier – 2015) A-

Saulnier is now three for three with me. He is a competent filmmaker that crafts tight thrillers with smart characters. This one centers around an unknown punk rock band of twenty-somethings who see something they should not have seen at a gig they picked up somewhere in the remote woods of Oregon. The characters are smart and behave like real people. They make choices that probably most people would make if they are cooped up in a place with neo-Nazis outside their room trying to kill and get rid of them. The performances are very good especially Patrick Stewart as the leader of the gang and the late Anton Yelchin who plays one of the musicians.