The Player (Robert Altman – 1992) B+

The trademark loose (I don’t know how better to describe it…maybe “fluid” is a better word) camera style of the late great Robert Altman is at excellent display here. The opening one long shot goes on for what seems like 10 minutes as it goes all around a studio, the offices, lots, producers, actors, random Japanese investors, peeks in on various conversations from different vantage points and then back to where we started with the Tim Robbins character, Griffin Mill. He’s a big shot movie producer who needs a hit. He’s not a good guy, more of a jerk really. He’s getting weird threatening post cards and starts trying to figure out which possible script writer whom he insulted might be the one sending them…It’s a Hollywood story about producers, writers, agents and greed told with Altman’s unique style and with his trademark huge cast of characters who seem to live in the picture and not just act in it.

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Th Big Sick (Michael Showalter – 2017) A

This is a romantic comedy that really is the best of the genre. It’s a sweet real-life story how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his girlfriend Emily. As the name suggests there is an actual sickness that is the catalyst for most of the story but it is more than just a love story with one of the pair falling ill. It’s very funny and deals with culture clashing as another major topic. The interactions of Kumail with Emily’s parents (played so damn well by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano)  are absolutely perfect and are my favorite scenes in the film. This is not to lessen how much the rest of the movie works from the relationship between the couple to Kumail and his parents and his friends at the comedy club. This is available on Amazon Prime now for streaming so it is easy to watch. Go for it.

The Dinner (Oren Moverman – 2017) D+

The book “The Dinner” is a very good novel about family dysfunction, class, politics and mental illness. All this is set to the backdrop of one dinner at a fancy Dutch restaurant. At the table are two couples, the men are brothers. One is a political riser and the other an out of work history teacher. The plot proceeds along with the courses from amuse bouche to first course and all through dessert. It’s a book I enjoyed very much….hold on though! This is not about the book but about this adaptation of it with Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall and Laura Linney. Well, that is not very good. It seems to miss the whole point of the book and just tries to be something more than a confusingly edited mess. The best part were the performances by Linney and Hall and that’s about it.

Hummus bil Tahini – Creamy Chickpea, Lemon and Sesame Paste Dip

Hummus6 Having grown up eating chickpeas (hummus in Arabic) mashed with garlic, lemon juice and the all-important sesame paste (Tahini or Tahina) on a regular basis it was really interesting seeing how this dip took off in the last 10 years or so. It’s everywhere now, on every other restaurant/pub/diner/health food restaurant’s menu. This is both a blessing and a curse. When done well it is so damn delicious and satisfying. More often than not it is garbage. Sold in tubs at the store or from that crappy brand ubiquitous in every grocery store (I’m talking about Sabra) it’s a sad imitation of what it should really taste like.

At best you find it to be edible and at worst it is a crusted over, chalky paste of little flavor besides the citric acid that manufacturers dose it with instead of real lemon juice.
What’s worse (ok, maybe not worse, but still irks me) is how the name became synonymous with almost ANY dip that is not guacamole or sour cream-onion! We have everything from beets to black beans to lentils to peas and even chocolate going into the food processor and emerging as “hummus”. Seriously? What if we go ahead and blend some cauliflower with cilantro and call it “cauliflower guacamole”? Again, the word Hummus does not mean “shitty dip”. It literally means chickpeas. So if your dip -as delicious or crappy it might be- does not have chickpeas it is not hummus.

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Now really, what is more annoying is that people go and buy the mediocre to horrible product instead of making it themselves at home. It is probably one of the most simple, easiest fool-proof things you can prepare at home and can be done in 10 minutes if you use canned chickpeas. It is also light years better than anything you can buy. I love my recipe below so start with that. However, some people might like more or less lemon juice. More garlic? Add it and see. My brother includes no garlic (crazy I say). Hate cumin? Get rid of it. The constants have to be the chickpeas, lemon juice and good tahini.

 Tahini used to be a bit trickier to find and you had to go to a middle eastern grocery store for it. Now though, I see it everywhere, from my local grocery chain here in Texas to Whole Foods. I like a Lebanese brand called “Al-Wadi” that I buy locally in Houston. See what brands you can find locally or just get it online. Make sure it only contains sesame in it and it is not made from toasted sesame. The toasted sesame ones will give it a much stronger and overpowering taste. Either way stir the paste in the jar really good before using it because it does settle and separate.

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Other than chips, pita chips, celery sticks…what can you serve this lovely creamy dip with? A traditional way is alongside grilled kebabs, especially Kafta kebabs. I’ll be posting a recipe for that soon as well. Feel free to add toppings to it and make a meal out of it. A traditional topping is minced lamb, onions and pine nuts browned in plenty of butter and drizzled on top while still sizzling.

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Hummus bil Tahini

  • 1 can chickpeas, 29 – 30 oz.
  • 150 gr Tahini
  • 1 large garlic clove, about 6 gr, minced.
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • ¼ Cup water
  • ½ Cup lemon juice, or more
  • Salt to taste
    Blend in in a food processor till very very smooth and creamy. Just when you think it is smooth enough, scrape the sides and process it some more. Total time of processing should be around 8 minutes. Taste and season with salt and more lemon juice if needed. Serve it drizzled with good olive oil and garnished with hot or sweet paprika.

Cafe Society (Woody Allen – 2016) B+

It’s a sweet love story on the surface but also a contrast between the NYC of the 1930s and Los Angeles. Bobby goes to Hollywood to make a career in the movie business. He has an uncle, named Phil and played with a sharp Steve Carrell, there who is a successful agent to many stars and can hook him up. Instead he ends up running errands for the cantankerous man but the silver lining is that he falls for the soft spoken Vonnie (maybe Kristen Stewart’s best role?) who is his uncle’s assistant and she starts showing Bobby around town. Some twists and turns in this lovely flick kept me interested. What worked more is the lush look of the film. The color in LA that is bathed in bright sunset orange that matches the characters outfits if not their personalities. It seems kind of idealistic but fake compared to New York. Even the family he leaves in New York seems more real and definitely more rough. By the time we get to the film’s namesake café and club I was very deeply invested in all the characters, their love stories, the locations and the beautiful art that Woody Allen manages to, more often than not, successfully put on the screen.

Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders – 1984) A-

It was not what I expected at all. I did not really know what to expect. I knew this was a classic of cinema and highly regarded. Written by the late great Sam Shephard, directed by the German auteur Wim Wenders and featuring the late (and also great) Harry Dean Stanton. I thought for some reason it would be at least set in Paris, Texas. Maybe an outlaw story of sorts. Well, it definitely it is not. It’s set mostly in Los Angeles, on the road, and in Houston (cool to recognize some sights from H-town). It’s about a man who was lost for a while until he literally walks out of the desert and gets taken back to his family by his brother. He speaks not at all at first then very little. He has a son who is being raised by his brother and his wife. He barely knows him and the son feels the same way. The emotional pull of this tale is around the background story of our leading man, Travis, and his new purpose to atone for his previous mistakes. He wants his son to reunite with his mother and sets on a road trip to do so. It’s a movie that I felt I am losing interest in at times but it kept pulling me back until I absolutely loved it when Travis has one of the most amazing monologues in movie history with his wife. That heart-breaking scene fills in the blanks of what the hell happened between them two. Paris, Texas is not a movie for everyone. It’s not easy to love I think. For me it stuck and I find myself thinking about it often. It is a fable of a broken life and the small attempts of the man who is trying to piece some of it together regardless if he will remain a part of it or not.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson – 2017) B+

Rian Johnson’s second film in the Rey story of the Star Wars universe is a blast. It’s not just a fun movie with amazing imagery, great editing, awesome battles and new worlds but it is a movie that expands the universe and deals with interesting themes. It upends many of what we thought was important from The Force Awakens and tosses it out of the way. It deals with class struggle, heritage and the importance (or not) of where someone is from or who their family might be. It is not perfect and a B story where Finn and a new character named Rose go in search of a code breaker is a bit distracting and does not pay off in any meaningful way. That is not to say it was a total throw away thread but it is not one that I was as eager to follow as I was about the main story line with Rey and Luke. It’s also worth saying how well it handles Luke Skywalker’s story arc and wraps it up so perfectly.