Halloween Favorites

27 Oct

 Some terrific scary movies you might not have seen…

Halloween week! You gotta watch at least one scary movie, right? Let me give you a few choices you may not know, movies you can easily find right now. 

Note: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find classic movies online… some favorites I wanted to list here… Ils (Them), Session 9, The Haunting, Rebecca, The Innocents… are not available, which is a problem. Still, this is a wonderfully scary list.

TRAIN TO BUSAN (Netflix)

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If you haven’t seen Train To Busan, this is your watch. It’s a remarkable movie. Not only is this hands down the best zombie movie ever made, Train is an equally gripping emotional rollercoaster, a beautifully crafted movie that goes much deeper than your usual scary movie. Think of the emotional depths of something like Ordinary People… combined with zombies. It’s that good. The first 45 minutes is textbook craftsmanship on how this kind of movie should open. The rest? Whoa.

If you think a zombie movie can’t make you weep, you haven’t seen Train To Busan.

THE ORPHANAGE (Hulu)

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The Orphanage goes just about as deep emotionally as Train To Busan. A woman returns to the orphanage where she was raised, now an abandoned mansion. She buys the house with her husband, intending to turn it into a home for sick children. More a classic ghost story than horror, that’s all you need to know.

Awesome, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Belén Rueda.

THE INVITATION (Netflix)

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Like The Orphanage, The Invitation is an exercise in dread. When I saw this deceptively simple movie in the theatre, my chest became so tight I had trouble breathing. Taking place all in one night at a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills, this beautifully directed and performed film is in the ‘nothing seems to be happening’ tradition of Rosemary’s Baby, which is the kind of movie that gets under my skin the worst, um best. Terrific. 

THE PACT (Apple TV)

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This low-budget chiller scared the absolute shit out of me. Seriously. Annie returns home after her mother’s death to find her sister and cousin have disappeared. What happened?

It’s really, really scary. No really. 

THE FLY (Amazon)

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The Fly remains one of the most devastating movies I’ve ever seen. Yes, it has some Cronenberg gore but the horror of this movie is emotional. Geena David and Jeff Goldblum fell in love on the set and their chemistry is palpable. Which makes the last thirty minutes that much more upsetting. At its core, The Fly is a love story … gone very wrong.

As the brilliant tag line said, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (Netflix)

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Yes, I’m still talking about it. I’ll push this on you forever. Still the best piece of TV I’ve seen in years, this modern update on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, with just as many homages to Robert Wise’s brilliant 1963 adaptation, it’s a phenomenal piece of art. As for scary, well, I screamed out loud more watching this TV show than I ever have in my life. One scare… which famously caused a reviewer to admit it made her wet her pants… caused me to scream so loud the neighbors called. I had to stop the show, drink some bourbon, and try to calm down before I could finish. That episode kept me up all night.

The Haunting of Hill House is Kick. Ass.

What are your Halloween Favorites??

Jokers, Parasites and Fear

17 Oct

Why are people so afraid of Joker?

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In the September 25th issue of The New Yorker, Pauline Kael asked “Are people becoming afraid of American movies?” 

This was, of course, 1978, not 2019. Yet it seems likely the great film critic would have asked the same question forty-one years later, given the critical hysteria over Todd Phillip’s Joker.

Kael continued: 

When acquaintances ask me what they should see and I say The Last Waltz or Convoy or Eyes of Laura Mars, I can see the recoil. It’s the same look of distrust I encountered when I suggested Carrie or The Fury or Jaws or Taxi Driver or the two Godfathers before that… They don’t see why they should subject themselves to experiences that will tie up their guts or give them nightmares….Discriminating moviegoers want the placidity of nice art—of movies tamed so that they are no more arousing than what used to be called polite theatre. So we’ve been getting a new cultural puritanism… and the press is full of snide references to Coppola’s huge film in progress, and a new film by Peckinpah is greeted with derision…

The parallels to today should be obvious to anyone following much of the critical reaction to Phillip’s brilliant and deeply unsettling masterpiece.

I’m a fan, obviously. Joker is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. If left me shaken, disturbed and in need of a double shot of Bulleit. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, the troubled man at the center of the movie, delivers one of the great cinematic performances of all time. Brimming with dozens of cinematic references, the movie is gorgeously crafted: this was a crew that working overtime on every single frame. Joker resonates on a deep emotional level, particularly for those of us who have struggled personally or dealt socially with madness. Joker is upsetting for many reasons, not the least of which is that although it’s set in fictional Gotham of 1981, the movie thrusts many troubling aspects of our present society in our face, forcing us to bear witness.

The movie certainly has many fellow defenders. Joker won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival where it received an eight minute standing ovation. And the public is supporting the movie with wild abandon: the film is a smash hit worldwide, already earning over half a billion dollars.  In the US alone it had the biggest October opening weekend ever and broke even more records this past weekend, its second. Hitting #1 the second weekend is telling: films can have a big opening but then fall off once word of mouth spreads a movie is a stinker. Joker is not falling off. People are continuing to go see it. 

Yet many critics are assaulting the movie. I don’t mean the typical “I didn’t like this and here’s why” type of reviews. Before Joker’s release two weeks ago these critics were clearly trying to hurt the film, cripple its box office and wipe it from memory before it could get going.

Here’s a quick look at what some of these critics had to say:  “a viewing experience of a rare, numbing emptiness.” “ punishingly dull”, “pompous, grim, relentlessly one-note”, “Dangerous”, “pernicious garbage” , “grim, shallow, distractingly derivative”, a dangerous manifesto that could inspire incels to commit acts of violence” and “wildly dull and mundanely uninteresting”, which, if you’ve seen the movie, even if you hated it, has to appear ridiculous given what happens in Joker. To call this particular movie dull and uninteresting is in itself “wildly dull and mundanely uninteresting.”

Clearly the movie is getting under these critics’ skin. They are attempting to render Joker immoral, often wildly misrepresenting the movie and its contents in order to do so.

One frequent attack is that the movie is hero worshipping a killer, that it’s a how-to manifesto for incel violence, and that the movie turns the hero “into an angry guy with a gun and violent disregard for everyone.”

But this isn’t true in the slightest. Joker doesn’t go rampaging through the city shooting at any or everyone (see multiple action movies that garner no critical attacks). Key here are two sequences: one in which Arthur lets a co-worker go free after killing another co-worker: “You were the only one who was nice to me.”  The other is Arthur’s TV appearance. He easily could have been depicted as going on a rampage, shooting into the audience, yet he only kills one man, the man who made fun of him. The violence in the movie, while shocking and horrifying, is nothing compared to normal screen violence (see multiple action movies that garner no critical attacks). In fact, compared to such movies the body count in Joker is quite low.

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A Hearty Mushroom Ragout

4 Oct

A delicious Autumn meal I eat year round.

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I love fall. Hands down my favorite season. It’s not because I look my best in fall clothes… although, to be honest, that is part of it. I love everything about fall: cool crisp sweater weather, football games at twilight, County Fairs, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Fall Back from Daylight Savings Time (an extra hour of sleep, yes!!), earth tones, melancholy (can’t be beat) and of course all kinds of fall food… from soups to stews to root vegetables to pie to, well, any food that warms the soul and speaks to Autumn.

I love Fall so much I even have a playlist I created that makes me feel like Fall, all year round:

“The Fall” on Spotify

To start fall off right I present to you a divine Mushroom Ragout, one you can serve in a variety of ways. Vegetarian to the max (and even Vegan if you omit the final pad of butter) you’ll never think of this as a vegetarian dish, it’s so hearty and meaty and satisfying.

A twist on a ragout by the incredible chef David Tanis (his books are wonderful) this easy ragout will satisfy your soul.

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Mushroom Ragout over polenta

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A Platter of Tomatoes

19 Sep

A perfect way to slide from summer to fall… with an additional secret recipe.

I realize the subject of tomatoes is late given some of you are probably past tomato season. Summer in Southern California, however, starts and ends late (mid-July thru sometimes mid-October) and we remain in the midst of a glorious tomato bounty.

Tomatoes are like my other favorite food, the egg: the uses and recipes for each are endless. Even so, if you’re lucky enough to be in possession of fresh, best of season tomatoes, nothing satisfies like a simple platter of tomatoes.

Platter of Tomatoes

a platter of tomatoes

I realize there are a few sad souls who don’t like tomatoes raw. One of my best friends is such a person… I’m looking at you, Tanja! (We’ve somehow managed to remain close friends.) In my house growing up, we ate tomatoes off the vine like you would a fresh apple. Just pick and bite right in. If it squirts all over your face and runs down your forearm, you know you have the perfect tomato.

Like any good southerner, l don’t serve a meal during tomato season without a platter of tomatoes. This is as ubiquitous on the dinner table in the South as salt and pepper or bread and butter. I’ve easily made over a hundred of these platters and while the prep is fast and easy, there’s an art to the prep as well, a perfect combination of seasoning and herbs to maximize your tomatoes. I’ve tried many variations and have landed on the best.

So scroll down to find out to prepare your perfect platter of tomatoes. Then keep scrolling for the other perfect use for a perfect tomato… 

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Cauliflower Steak

13 Sep

A different kind of steak, but just as wonderful.

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pan roasted cauliflower steak

Last week, we had steak and pasta. This week, a different kind of steak… Cauliflower Steak!

Before you run screaming, these are terrific. Even the staunchest carnivore alive might be surprised to find out how much they like these steaks. And yes I’m calling them steaks because, if you slice them thick and cook them properly (easy) they are steak-y satisfying and quite hearty.

I guess in some ways this has been my year of the cauliflower on the blog. I do love cauliflower — so much — and love many preparations, from a simple oven roast to wonderful soups to, of course, my cauliflower pizza crust, my cauliflower mash (updated, btw, with an additional, killer, preparation) and even my breakfast fried rice, which you can make with cauliflower rice. 

These steaks, however, are different from the other recipes and so satisfying. They make a wonderful fall dinner.

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A Favorite Dinner Vol. I

6 Sep

Back from Summer Hiatus with a quick easy dinner I love, steak and pasta.

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NY Strip with a side of Cacio e Pepe

If I’ve learned anything over the years from favorite chefs like Patricia Wells, Suzanne Goin, Nigel Slater and more, often times when cooking simplicity is best. I may love to make cassoulet over seven days, but I love just as much a simple dinner.

One simple dinner I’ve come to enjoy over the last few years is the combination of steak and pasta. It’s not something I ate growing up; we had a cattle farm so we ate a lot of steak, but we always had steak with a baked potato. Whether loaded with everything or dressed only with butter, salt and pepper, a baked potato is a perfect food, particularly when the inside is moist and tender and the outside crispy as hell. Oh my.  After discovering the wonderful combo of steak and pasta, however, I don’t serve a baked potato with a steak nearly as often.

I believe I was turned onto this combo on my first visit to the LA institution Dan Tana’s. Located next to the equally famous Troubador on Santa Monica Blvd, Dan Tana’s has been open well over fifty years and I dare say will be open well over fifty more. An Italian steakhouse with wonderful cocktails, Dan Tana’s serves up terrific versions of Italian classics (the veal parmigiana, for instance, is to die for) but they also serve the Dabney Coleman, a 20 oz New York Strip that might be the best steak I’ve ever tasted. It comes with a side of pasta and the first time I tried this pairing, I knew I’d be having a lot of steak and pasta from then on. 

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Breakfast Fried Rice

30 May

(Your next favorite killer comfort breakfast is good for you and has various tweaks for various diets…)

Breakfast Fried Rice

Breakfast Fried Rice, sans necessary extras

After a few years of On Food and Film (time sure flies!), it must now be obvious how much I love breakfast. Savory breakfast at least. Sure, I’ll eat a pancake or french toast if you shove it in front of me but otherwise, savory breakfast rules.

Well, then. Let me give you a savory comfort breakfast that will satisfy you completely. It’s also fairly healthy and can adapt to a variety of diets.

You see, along with loving breakfast, and chicken, and pasta, and salad, and… I love rice. I’ve mentioned that growing up Cajun the starch that was our staple was white rice not potatoes. Rice is a wonderful vessel for so many things… Gravy! Au jus! Red beans! Butter! Gumbo! Etouffee! When I was in grade school, I loved white rice topped with French’s Yellow Mustard (long story). Oh hell, I still do. But I even love rice all by its lonesome.

I also love fried rice. Once a week growing up in my hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, Mom, Dad, my brother David and I went to The Dragon Inn, a restaurant in downtown Port Arthur run by a wonderful man named Johnny. If you’ve seen the final scene of A Christmas Story, you know what Johnny and the restaurant were like, although The Dragon Inn was a long rectangle shooting in perpendicular fashion back from the street. It had a bar on one side and booths all along the other. Painted on the booth side wall, winding the length of the restaurant, was a single, very long Chinese dragon that enthralled me for years. Johnny is who hooked me on Mu Shu Pork, Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef with Snow Peas and amazing fried rice. 

Back to breakfast: I’ve been working out early mornings as of late, with a terrific trainer named Ryan, who suggested the best time to eat carbs was after a hard workout. When he said, ‘You can even use white rice’ I lit up, given I’ve been avoiding rice lately trying to slim down. His suggestion was the only encouragement I needed and voila! Breakfast Fried Rice was born.

Click here for the recipe: Continue reading