Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks – 1991) B

When Daniel (Albert Brooks) dies in a car accident he finds himself in a purgatory of sorts. He is assigned a lawyer and needs to defend his life in front of three judges. His specific actions distilled into a few incidents from his life that he re-visits and defends. In the end it is decided he either “moves on” to a different life form or gets sent back to earth for another life to learn more. While there he meets and falls in love with Julia (Meryl Streep) who is also on trial for her life choices. Besides the interesting idea this a sweet, smart comedy about the afterlife. It works on the strength and likeability of the leading characters and supporting ones (I especially liked Rip Torn who plays Daniel’s afterlife lawyer). It is also deeper than a silly comedy though. You would think the things that matter in your life are the big huge moments or decisions, horrible or great. In fact many of the items Daniel needs to speak to are small, seemingly not important decisions that are key to happiness, fulfillment and being a better person.

Tapioca Coconut Pudding, Mango Sorbet and Brittle

Tapioca pudding is so often looked down on I think. Not sure why. Many think of it as that goopy thing that comes out of a box and old people eat it in nursing homes. When made right though using tapioca pearls, dairy and sugar it is delightful. It has great snappy texture and just the right amount of creamy firmness. Made with coconut milk and whole dairy milk is awesome.

The recipe for the pudding is directly adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. Fleming calls it coconut tapioca soup and uses both tiny small pearl tapioca and the larger “normal” tapioca. I still think of it as a pudding and only use the normal sized tapioca because I had none of the smaller stuff. To make it I mixed sugar and whole milk and brought them to a simmer. Then the tapioca goes in and cooks. As this happens, the pearls soften and the starch in them (they are made from the cassava root) thickens the pudding. All the way at the end coconut milk goes in and cooks for a few more minutes.

This is nice warm but I like it better well chilled. A delicious Vietnamese dessert is made with this pudding too. It uses only coconut milk though and incorporates chunks of ripe banana into the pudding. So, tropical flavor is where I went to complete this and make it a composed simple dessert.

I made a mango sorbet. This is really easy to make with frozen mango puree. I’ve made stuff like that many times. It starts with a simple sugar syrup, a touch of sorbet stabilizer and then blended with the fruit puree. I think mint goes great with mango, something I picked up when I made some Indian-style kulfi mango pops a while back. So this time around I blended a few leaves of mint with the mixture as well. After a long rest in the fridge it gets churned in the ice cream maker.

This needs texture. Pudding is soft, creamy and a little chewy. The sorbet is…well sorbet. So, I made a super crunchy nutty brittle to bring in the texture. I toasted slivered almonds. In a small pan I heated about 100 gr of sugar to very dark caramel. As soon as small wisps of smoke start coming from the caramel, I add in the nuts, some sesame seeds, a good pinch of salt, stir carefully with a silicon spatula and pour the whole thing on a Silpat. When it hardens it is easy to break into pieces and shards. A generous puddle of tapioca goes in a bowl, topped with a scoop of sorbet then a garnish of nut brittle.

Uncut Gems (Benny and Josh Safdie – 2019) A

You don’t really like Howard, but you sort of do. He is a hustler, jewelry and gem dealer in Manhattan’s diamond row. He is also a frenetic hyper personality who does not shut up. He owes money to everyone. He borrows from this guy to pay the next guy and pawns items he does not own because, well, he will have the money from that block of uncut gem he just got from Ethiopia and he will surely win the next crazy sports bet he is making to pay the guy who lent him a basketball ring. He is also having an affair with one of his employees who he might or might not actually love. It’s exhausting to watch Uncut Gems, yet it is a true gem of a movie and Adam Sandler does a brilliant job as the gambling sad crazy Howard Ratner.

The Trip to Greece (Michael Winterbottom – 2020) A

See my comments about the other Trip movies. I love this stuff. More of the same, yet, I’m hoping for more of them. Also, in these times of being a “stuck at home horrible summer of cancelled plans”, it’s lovely seeing two chaps wander around the Greek isles, eating, bantering and being funny.

Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda – 2008) A

I admit it took me a while to get into this Japanese drama that takes place over a weekend. Started watching it not knowing much about it other than it does have some good “foodie” themes. That is does as the mom, Toshiko, cooks for the family multiple meals, discusses the nuances of corn fritters and gossips with her daughter as they grate daikon. The central theme here is family though and the events that bring us together yet separate us and cause irrevocable tears in the fabric.

The reason Ryota, his new wife and her kid are visiting his parents this weekend is for the annual memorial and ritual around his brother’s death. The dead brother seems like he was the favorite. Ryota on the other hand is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations. His father is a doctor, solemn and direct. Ryo on the other hand is currently between jobs and does not want to admit it. There is a lot going on here and we go through so many ups and downs with them through the 48 hours that by the end of it we know these people and care about them. The finale as the aging parents walk up the long long winding stairs leading up from the street to their home really put a poignant bow on how fleeting time is, we need to keep walking but we also should cherish those we love. You never know when or if you will have time with them again.

Shirley (Josephine Decker – 2020) C-

Elizabeth Moss playing Shirley Jackson? Great. Her husband is played by the always excellent Michael Stuhlbarg? Excellent. The plot involves Jackson writing her new novel as a young couple move in with them and there is a university student who’s gone missing in the backdrop? Sign me up. Well, the best word I can find to describe this movie is “interesting”. I cannot really say I enjoyed it or got much out of it beyond the excellent work the cast is putting on.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke – 1997) B

While most of the violence happens off-screen it is still a deeply unsettling film. A family (dad, mom and their young son) arrive at their vacation home on a nice lake in the Austrian countryside. Shortly after that they get a harmless looking young man called Peter asking to borrow some eggs and it escalates wildly from there after his buddy Paul joins him. Very often when we watch a film like this we are – as Roger Ebert would say- voyeurs. We have nothing to do with what’s going on. We root for the family to overtake their captors and escape with a few cuts and bruises maybe. That knife that was left on the boat will sure come handy later on. Right? Pretty early on we are brought in to what is happening (why are we still watching this horrible incident?) when Paul directly looks at us. By the end of it it is clear that this is a commentary on violent movies, why we watch them and how complicit are we in what is going on. I think it works and the very few times we are taken off guard it works even better. Haneke remade this with English speaking actors in 2007. I might see that too. Curious if he had more to add or just that he felt so strongly about the original and made it beat for beat.

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