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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.

Something interesting is going on. Continue reading

Best of 2018 Pt. 1: Film

10 Jan

Belated Happy 2019! It’s been a long while for a post as I had an incredibly busy fall. Apologies for those who follow! I have a number of posts half-finished, including Breakfast Fried Rice and Heaven In A Bowl… let’s see how much I can keep on track this year. First, though, we begin with the requisite ‘best of’ posts. 

Below are my favorite films of the year. I have more movies listed than usual this year which surprised me because at the end of summer there were only a few movies I was excited about. But it was a strong fall for features. Not all are ‘great films’ but each achieved something wonderful, moved me deeply or took unusual risks that made the film worth mentioning.  In no particular order:

BEN IS BACK

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Ben Is Back slayed me. I’ve seen it twice, fell apart each time and will watch it again soon. It’s unfortunately one of those movies the studio can’t seem to pay people to go see. But I loved it and encourage you to see it. Julia Roberts give the best performance of her career, which is saying a lot, and Lucas Hedges meets her head on. (What a banner year for Julia, who will also appear in the next post.) I’m a big fan of the writer/director, Peter Hedges – yes, he and Lucas are father and son. See this movie.

ROMA

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A gorgeous, stunning film I can’t imagine working on TV at home, so Netflix’s decision to leave Roma in theatres for only a few weeks around Thanksgiving is incomprehensible. If you tried to watch it at home and turned it off, I understand. It starts very, very slow and certainly is never a wild ride. But the beauty of the directing, the cinematography (whoa!), the performances and the setting make Roma, for many of us, the best movie of the year. Spellbinding.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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If even two weeks ago you said to me I would pay money to see Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, much less put it on my ‘best of’ list, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. Ha ha indeed. Thank goodness friends I trust forced me to go see it. Easily the most original and creative movie of the year, this visual feast is a blast from start to finish. It’s also surprisingly moving. Great film.

SEARCHING

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Another movie most people missed, Searching is another extremely inventive movie, a sharp thriller depicted entirely on social media, a narrative device that would seemingly get old but in these capable young filmmakers’ hands, never does. Anchored by a terrific performance by John Cho, this is another ‘find this movie and watch it’ recommendation from me. Terrific.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE VI: FALLOUT

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Mission Impossible VI is not only the best action movie of the year (decade) it’s one of my top 5 of the year. Unlike any other series, MI gets better and better with each movie, meaning MI VI reaches pinnacles rarely seen in this genre. Filled with dazzling actions sequences and stunts done real time — take that, CGI! — the movie in the final act also has an emotional impact rare for actions movies. Director McQuarrie and star/producer Cruise, in top form as always, also were smart enough to bring back Rebecca Ferguson from MI V. May I have an enormous swoon for Rebecca Ferguson? Damn. In love. (Even with a porn-stache, I’ll also give a well deserved swoon to Henry Cavill. Oh my.) Movies don’t get much better than this.

GAME NIGHT

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I love this movie! I first saw Game Night on a plane, annoying everyone around me as I cackled with pleasure the entire time. I’ve shown it to others numerous times since, laughing just as much each time through. An extremely clever comedy unafraid to push boundaries and go to some dark places, Game Night is smart and clever; the first five minutes are so well done I taught this opening in my screenwriting class last Monday. It stays sharp all the way through, is at times wonderfully shocking and the entire cast is outstanding. (Rachel McAdams also makes me swoon. Damn.) I loved it. 

THE WIFE

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If Glenn Close doesn’t win every acting award for her performance in The Wife, there’s no justice in the world. By my count, she should already have two Oscars on her shelf. Yet she has none. Please let this be her year. She gives a master class in screen acting in this small but powerful movie. You can’t take your eyes off her. Close’s gifts are so strong she can do absolutely ‘nothing’… such as sit and listen to a speech… and be intensely riveting.  The movie is also excellent. Sony Pictures Classics is expanding The Wife back into more theatres this weekend. Go see it!

A STAR IS BORN

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The classic Hollywood story remade yet again but this time with depth and empathy. Usually filmed in grand fashion, Bradley Cooper’s decision to shoot the movie in an extremely intimate fashion pays off beautifully. His performance also blew me away, he completely transformed into someone else. And he can sing. Loser! Lady Gaga also is terrific and I love the music. The incredible popularity of the movie seems to have people turning on it as the award season ramps up. I guess that’s what comes with popularity. Awards or none, Cooper and Co. have the last laugh. A Star Is Born remains one of the best movies of the year.

BLACK PANTHER

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It may not be a great movie but Black Panther has many great elements and performances. More importantly, seeing this in the theatre felt like an enormous cultural event. And it was. There are movies that are of their time and movies that transcend time. Both are important so while Black Panther may be the former, being of its time in no way takes away from the movie. It was also a very enjoyable movie to watch.

FREE SOLO

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A documentary as riveting and suspenseful as MI VI, Free Solo is a stunner. A fascinating character study combined with intense thriller, Free Solo is also a beautifully crafted documentary. The less you know the better. Find it.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

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A delight from start to finish. I know people obsessed with the original who balked at Mary Poppins Returns but I loved it and am glad it is performing well, given the filmmakers daring decision in the modern era to embrace the look and sound of both the original and classic movie musicals in general. Emily Blunt is practically perfect. Her performance seems so effortless I think a lot of people don’ recognize how damn good it is.  (Biggest swoon of the day for Emily, btw. Lord.) Anchored by Emily and wonderful performances across the board, Mary Poppins Returns creates a glorious world you don’t want to leave. I myself love the songs – whoa, amazing orchestrations, so incredibly lush and beautiful – and you’d have to have a heart of stone to be unmoved at the end when both Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury turn up to create even more magic. Infinitely better than it had any right to be. 

DESTROYER

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Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one of my favorite movies of the last few years so I was excited to see her follow up, Destroyer. It doesn’t disappoint. An ultra dark Los Angeles neo-noir, Destroyer is getting a lot of attention for Nicole Kidman’s performance, which is amazing. The entire cast is superb, however; Bradley Whitford, for instance, is hilariously, deliciously slimy in one of many great scenes. Not perfect but Destroyer keeps you leaning forward the entire time. Definitely worthy of any list.

BEAST

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There are numerous beasts in this stunning debut from writer/director Michael Pearce. Only by the end of Beast can one figure out to whom the title refers and, actually, friends and I are still debating which character deserves the moniker. Moody and creepy, Beast slowly draws you into a beautiful yet disturbing world and Jessie Buckley, as the main character Moll, gives one of the best performances of the year. 

ANNIHILATION

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Okay, yes Annihilation has a lot of problems. But when this daring movie is working, it works so damn well, and takes so many risks, it makes my list. Based on what I considered an unfilmable novel, Annihilation is beautiful and disturbing and thought provoking and often shocking. You can’t take your eyes off it. Alex Garland, who also made the terrific Ex Machina, is bold enough to challenge the audience, asking a lot of us while also asking big questions with his narrative. Stunning visually, this is a movie well worth a look.

Also worth a mention: Bohemian Rhapsody, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers, The Favorite, BlacKkKlansman, Cold War, If Beale Street Could Talk

What were your own favorites? What have I forgotten? (Books and TV next week)… Let us know!

 

No Cook Farmers’ Market Pasta

25 Jul

If you follow the blog, you know how much I love vegetables. Which means you know how much I love a good farmers’ market. And while I love farmers’ markets all year round, it’s hard to beat a farmers’ market in the summer, bursting with the best of fresh vegetables, tomatoes in particular.

Given all these stated loves – and to avoid cooking too much on a hot summer day – I came up with a ‘raw’ pasta sauce that, all humility aside, will blow your mind. After a few variant experiments, I landed on a recipe that is just about perfect. It’s pretty easy too, even though it involves a little dicing and chopping.

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Ingredients for Farmers Market Pasta

While I like to let the ‘sauce’ sit for 30 minutes to an hour before tossing with the pasta,  to get really flavorful, if you are in a hurry you can start your water boiling, then start prepping the “sauce” and by the time the pasta is finished, the “sauce” will be ready.  Quick, easy and delicious. The recipe is very forgiving, too – have a little more tomato, corn or chili on hand? All good. In fact, the more of the vegetables the better.

You can also vary it, depending on the vegetables you like. Do you have a ton of zucchini or squash? Not a problem, dice it up and add it in. Same for just about any of your favorite vegetables. But the first time you try it – and you must – make it as written below. Be sure to include the herbs, the mint in particular. The mint makes a big difference. Be sure also to use the goat cheese, even if you think you don’t like it. You’ll never know this has goat cheese – people who swear to me they can’t stand goat cheese love this pasta – and the small amount of goat cheese adds a delirious creaminess, particularly when it melds with the juices from the tomatoes. (If you don’t like tomatoes, there’s no helping you, it’s beyond my significant gifts.)

I’ve made this dish a few times the past couple of weeks to prep for the blog post and each time I made it, everyone who tried it raved. 

Trust me. This is a keeper.

For the recipe, click here to Continue reading

A Food In Film Event

21 Feb

Love food? Love film? Love food in film?

For my Texas readers, I’ll be in Fredericksburg on Friday, March 3rd at the gorgeous Hoffman Haus hosting a “Food In Film” charitable event for The Hill Country Film Festival and a wonderful Film Camp for children HCFF presents every summer.

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Hoffman Haus Great Room

Food In Film Event

I’ll be showing and discussing many movie clips about food, including scenes from Annie Hall, Moonstruck, The Godfather, Big Night, Julie and Julia and Lady and the Tramp. 

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The Godfather

Executive Chef Judd Wood of Otto’s German Bistro has created a wonderful 5-course meal, aligned with the clips, that will be served as we discuss food in film.

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Big Night

The event is hosted at the beautiful Hoffman Haus Bed and Breakfast, a truly wonderful location.

If you’re in the area, please come out. This is our second year running, it’s for a good cause and it is a lot of fun.

Click here for more info and to get tickets: Food In Film Event

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Lady and the Tramp

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Lobsters in “Annie Hall”

 

Thanksgiving Sides

21 Nov

Few things make me happier than Thanksgiving side dishes. I certainly love moist turkey with crisp skin but ultimately a plate of side dishes is all I need. While I gave you some excellent sides in the Thanksgiving post, here are a few more that will wow anyone at your table .

Recipes and at the bottom of the page.

DRUNKEN  MUSHROOMS

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My good friend Elizabeth Boyd, a wonderful chef, shared this recipe a few years ago and I have been making it ever since. And not just on Thanksgiving! I make them any time I want deliriously good mushrooms.

Except for the ridiculously long cooking time, these are also very, very easy. Don’t let the cook time ward you off. You start them and then basically forget them.

Mushrooms don’t come any better.

NOTE: If you have a large pot, make a double batch. They reduce considerably and also freeze beautifully. You really can’t make too many of these mushrooms.

ST. ELMO’S CREAMED SPINACH

rfl_3658I visited Indianapolis for a film festival a few years ago and fell in love. Who knew? What an amazing city. I also fell in love with St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, a killer restaurant with a world famous Shrimp Cocktail. Seriously, this clubby restaurant with martinis and steaks to die for is worth the trip alone. And then there is the house recipe for Creamed Spinach.

creamed-spinachI love greens cooked just about any way but creamed spinach?? (Or kale, or chard or…) Life doesn’t get much better. This is an easy and particularly terrific version, one I’ve tweaked just a little.

CRAFT’S CREAMLESS CREAM CORN

mirage-heritage-steak-creamed-cornThere are a lot of great creamed corn recipes out there. I’ve even posted one before. This year, however, I went to Tom Colicchio’s CRAFT and had his version of ‘creamed corn.’ When I tasted it, I thought it might be what heaven tastes like. If you like corn, this is The Recipe of all corn recipes. And no cream! Just corn, wonderful corn. Damn.

Here come the recipes and links. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

Click for the recipes: Continue reading

A Movie for the Political Season Vol. III

6 Nov

In June of 1979 I was in Dallas, Texas visiting one of my best friends, Lauren Linn. We were dropped off at the movies by our moms who wanted some time away from us. Lauren and I wandered into Being There and my life changed. 

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Starring Peter Sellars in his penultimate performance, Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas, the Being There is about a simpleton, Chance the Gardener, who stumbles into the world of Politics in our nation’s capital.

 

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Chance the Gardener walking the streets of D.C.

 

It’s a remarkable movie with a genius screenplay by Jerzy Kosinski, based on his short novel by the same name. New York magazine called the stye “deadpan slapstick” which is not far off. It’s a very subtle movie yet at the same time outrageously funny, not in a Bridesmaids / Hangover kind of way but in that the situations that develop are outrageous and then funny. Yet as ridiculous as the situations become in the second half of the movie somehow as movie spirals forward and Chance finds himself higher and higher in the political world, everything remains very down to earth believable. What happens to Chance might indeed be ridiculous yet at the same time everything makes rings true. Which is part of the deft genius of the movie.

For the rest of the post, click here: Continue reading

Short Rib Stew

30 Oct

Fall has arrived. Which means in Southern California we are lucky if it gets down into the 60’s! Still, we’ve had some wonderful gray days as of late which means I don’t need to make up excuses to make food that sings of Autumn. 

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Short Rib Stew

One big Fall favorite is a beef stew recipe I’ve developed over a number of years using short ribs instead of stew meat. This is an easy recipe in that any level of cook can prepare it. It takes a little time, yes, as it has a number of steps but each step is simple. The beauty of the recipe is you can make it on a day when you have some time to putter in the kitchen — I usually do this on a day when I can do emails or other work while each step is cooking or when I want to cook other things at the same time.

Making it on such a day is perfect because the stew freezes beautifully for later use or, if you are having people over for dinner or you want dinner/lunch later in the week, make the stew a day or two or few before and let it sit. It only gets better with time. Then the day you serve/eat it is a breeze.

Finally, it is difficult to mess up. This is a dish that won’t be ruined by adding a little more of this, a little less of that, excluding an ingredient you don’t like, etc. Make it as is and you will love it, but if you adapt the recipe or start just throwing things in the pot, it still will turn out well. 

This stew is perfect for the Paleo/carb free crowd as well. Eliminate the already small amount of flour (a substitution is included), then serve it a way I love which is over sautéed spinach rather than potatoes or pasta. Voila.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading