Citizen Kane (Orson Welles – 1941) A+

I went back to see this -first time I had seen it was maybe 15 years ago- before I watched David Fincher’s Mank. I did not expect to be so entertained and amazed by how fantastic this film truly is. It deserves every accolade it receives for how ahead of its time it is, true, but also how relevant and prescient it still is 80 years later! The way it is told, the time jumps, the fact that it basically spoils itself in the first 15 minutes, the excellent characters, the use of light and shadow…really solidify it as a masterpiece worth revisiting every so often.

Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino – 2018) A-

Excellent horror. Not too often I say that, but this one delivers on weirdness, creepiness and style. It does not shy away from horrific imagery while still not a gore fest or exploitative. Guadagnino is really a master and I have loved all films he’s made. The pacing of his movies is always deliberate and his long takes and closeups give his actors room to shine. Add to that his use of color and shading plus excellent actors and we get a solid piece of work.

Steak Cooked Directly on the Coals

This method is primitive, technology free, counter-intuitive and yet produces an amazing hunk of beef. It is also just so elemental and fun to get a piece of meat and throw it on hot coals. I have no idea if that’s how our ancestors cooked their Aurochs beef steak but I’d like to imagine they did every time I cook like this.

Why does it work? Wouldn’t the meat just burn, char and catch on fire? Well, no. I mean I guess if you are careless, it eventually will but it is easier than you think to cook a good steak by directly putting it on coals. The science behind it I’m sure is complex but a simple explanation, courtesy of the Franklin’s Steak book, is that two things make this method work. The meat is mostly water, it sizzles and starts evaporating the moment it touches the coals. This is a cooling process and the meat sears, chars a bit but is not going to just catch on fire. Second, the direct contact of meat to embers limits air flow. Again, this helps the steak cook but not overheat too fast.

Science out of the way, we can talk process. Not a ton of complexity here but a few things to note. At least that’s how I do it and have been for years. I first heard about it in a book by Adam Perry Lang and he calls the process “clinching”; a boxing term I think. I season the steak usually with nothing more than salt. While the meat sits I start a hot fire using lump charcoal. I think this is important. I do use briquettes off and on in my grilling but never for this method. Lump hardwood natural charcoal is the way to go. Briquettes do not burn quiet as hot and they have binders that could affect the flavor. Also, glowing lumps of natural coal look freaking beautiful.

When your coals are all lit and glowing, the steak has been salted and now you are ready to cook. If the coals are too “ashy” use a piece of cardboard to fan or hairdryer to blow the ash away but I rarely do that. Now get the steak right on the coals and enjoy the look and aroma of this process. How long to cook? You have to trust your instincts here. If I had to give a ballpark, I’d say about 2 minutes on the first side and another minute or 2 on the other side. I like to use the thermometer to make sure I achieved the right doneness. It should be a beautiful piece of meat with char in spots here and there and a burnished light golden to deep brown all over.

Slice and enjoy! For this post here I went with Greek flavors. After the steaks were cooked I put it in a tray and added fresh oregano, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. I flipped them a couple of times, then sliced and added them pack to the tray. To serve, I warmed up Greek thick flat breads and filled them with the steak, veggies, feta and tzatziki sauce (yoghurt, cucumber, mint, salt, pepper).

The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche – 2007) B+

To say Sleiman is subtle, quiet and understated is and understatement. I do not think he smiled or raised his voice in the entire movie. He has been working in shipyards in southern France for the last 30 years, has just been laid off. He lives in a room over a cafe and he sleeps with his landlady. He is divorced, still goes to his ex wife’s home for Sunday family gatherings over fish couscous. She makes the best one apparently. It’s not a movie about a plot this one. It’s about people, their faults and struggles and wants. It’s about family, grown up kids and their problems. Sleiman decides to renovate an old abandoned ship and turn it to a fish couscous restaurant. He recruits his two sons, his landlady’s daughter (great performance by this actress – Hafsia Herzi) and his ex-wife as a cook. It’s tragic and funny how many different agencies and officials he has to go to in order to get a loan, a license to operate, a location to dock his restaurant. The final chapter of the film is so well executed but so depressing as we realize that hard work and planning sometimes are just not enough.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Martin Ritt – 1965) B+

Holds up very well and the black and white suits this dark spy thriller perfectly. Richard Burton delivers and excellent performance as British Agent Alec Leamas who is deep undercover in East Berlin during the cold war. Like pretty much all of John Le Carre spy stories this is about process, look and feel and what is being said or not said. It is not bombastic or thrilling and I love this stuff.

La La Land (Damien Chazelle – 2016) B+

This is was wonderful film. I was hugely skeptical of the “musical” connotations but it really is not a traditional musical. By and large it is a well-made romantic movie about music, jazz, Hollywood, our dreams and the choices we make. There are a few songs here and there but the music of the film is what stands out along with the very likeable characters played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. On top of that we have the solid direction and storytelling that goas for a mix of fantasy and reality. It sounds like it should not work but it really does. The last 10 minutes of this are one of the most wonderful movie endings I have seen.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin – 2020) B+

I’ve never even heard of this piece of history known as the trial of the Chicago 7. These guys were arrested and and accused of instigating riots and violence during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The justice department wanted to make an example of them. The film is well made and well acted. It has that hallmark Sorkin dialogue and the courtroom scenes are mostly excellent. It does gloss over some details and feels like it does not give the character of Bobby Seale enough attention. Still this is one that I enjoyed and that resonates with our current political climate.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay – 2011) A

Is it nature or nurture? I do not think this heartbreaking film comes on one side or the other of what makes a psychopath. While it is obvious that there is something off about Kevin since he was in elementary school, it does not mean his parents could not have done something about it. It’s one of those movies that sparks a lot of debate after you see it. Tilda Swinton delivers a great performance as the mom who is dealing with the aftermath of what Kevin did and is our surrogate as we go through his life. She never seems like she wanted to be a mother and move to the suburbs. John C. Riley is also excellent playing the father who never sees anything seriously wrong with Kevin. This combination ensures they never really talk about their son or deal with the issues he has.

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