Sunday, January 17, 2010

en review

L made us a spectacular meal on friday night - braised lamb shanks, pan-seared little red potatoes with tarragon, sautéed swiss chard, and for dessert a silk sour cream cheesecake with pomegranate reduction and pomegranate seeds. he comes from a power-house food family...i've never had a bad meal with any of those peeps!

we watched "jules et jim" by truffaut. i walked into the film buff with the short-list for film club narrowed down to the following: "total recall" "willow" and "jules et jim." they didn't have "total recall" so i grabbed "willow" and the truffaut and walked up to the counter and asked the clerk. he said that he hadn't seen that particular truffaut, but he'd seen a tonne of others, and that truffaut is widely regarded as one of the top directors of all time, and of his oeuvre, "jules et jim" is one of his best.

"but," i said, "is it willow good?"
"from a film perspective, yes"
"but, from a warwick davis perspective, i'm guessing no." LOL! in the end, because i've seen "willow" a bunch of times, i went with "jules et jim" because the point of a film club is to expand one's horizons.

it was terrible. here's the deal: i think that for someone of my age group, who isn't a student of film per se, but an ardent appreciator of the medium, then the things that made it ground-breaking for the time (the editing, the story, etc.) no longer seems so ground-breaking for now. the movie is interminably long and boring and mannered - jules et jim are lifelong friends who both fall in love with catherine (played by jeanne moreau). the film tracks their friendship as they are pulled apart by war and then by catherine's manipulative, polarizing presence in their lives. i did some reading up on it - the use of voice-over, the editing style, the use of newsreel footage, panning shots, etc - were all considered ground-breaking for the time. and the character of catherine, with her progressive, willful sexuality was incredibly forward-thinking for 1962 - this is the new generation, hollering to be heard, with their nonmonogamy and capricious disregard for the traditional tenets of propriety.

and yet, the story is THE SUCK. it's so G-D BORING. it makes you want to cry. catherine is SUCH a B***H. and i guess that's kind of the point, but still! you don't understand her appeal or why the mincey, foppish, weak-willed jules and the considerably more charismatic jim bother with her. she's supposed to be "intellectual" but i didn't see any evidence of it. alls i know is that the movie drags like a mofo. and don't get me wrong - i have no problem with slow moving - the next film i'm going to review is pretty slow - i just don't feel the film stands up beyond it's placement at a paradigmatic moment in the history of cinema. it's useful as a historical curiosity, but not something i particularly want to revisit for the sake of its individual merits - it's like chaucer's canterbury tales - i get it...but i don't want to READ it, necessarily.

last night we were supposed to have s-dawg over for dinner but he bailed to watch the football game instead. i made a humdinger of a meal, too. we had braised shortribs with gremolata, celery root and potato mash with freshly grated horseradish, caramelized brussels sprouts and guanciale, and baked kabocha squash with cinnamon, turbinado sugar and cayenne. it was pretty awesome, if i do say so myself. can i just say that i LOVE gremolata on braised meats? what a brilliant concept, italian people! it just lifts the whole thing up and provides the perfect grassy freshness to long-simmered dishes.

because i thought we were going to have company over, i made a lime pie in a chocolate cookie crust, topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut. now it's just the two of us so i don't know what i'm going to do. two people taking down an entire pie (when there's chocolate chip cookie dough in the fridge as well) is pretty reckless. take THAT, nouvelle vague!

last night we watched "hunger" directed by acclaimed british video artist, steve mcqueen. it tracks the last weeks in the life of bobby sands, an IRA member who starved himself to death in 1981 in a hunger strike he organized amongst inmates to demand status and rights as political prisoners. the film is fearsome, beautiful, aching and resolved - a meditation on the corporeal limits of a uniquely masculine extremism, and a rumination on the body as the final ground for all political acts. it begins with a window into daily life in the maze (her majesty's prison maze, used to hold paramilitary prisoners during the troubles in northern ireland), following a prison guard as he enters the maze, then the initiation of a new prisoner as he refuses the prison uniform, is denied his request to wear his civilian clothes, and is given a blanket to shield his nakedness. the routines of the maze during this particular time in history, in which inmates pile uneaten food in a corner of the cell to be festering breeding grounds of maggots, where they smear their feces on the walls of the cell and pour their urine out into the halls of the prison, is rendered in stark, predominantly silent, scenes interspersed with the shattering cacophony of brutal violence as prisoners are dragged screaming from their cells, beaten, and forcibly washed and violated.

the director constructs powerful, intensely evocative imagery and strings them together - at first avoiding the straightforward narrative arc in order to create a ruminative, thought-provoking series of strikingly sparse, elegant, visual sequences. the film is about martyrdom, our corporeal reality, and the unique ability of people (always men? always young, stupid men, burning with the fervor of the righteous?) to endure and perpetrate unspeakable atrocities in the name of ideology. the struggle over praxis and autonomy and agency comes to a head in a thrilling, 20 minute, single-shot conversation between sands, played with a knowing, scarred, and vulnerable bravado by michael fassbender, and his parish priest. this scene is a gut-wrenching juggernaut, thrilling for both its content AND the technical fortitude of the actors, who engage in a delicate, verbal dance - starting off with meandering pleasantries before digging deep, amid fecund, lyrical pauses, into the nature of sands' protest. i'd say that the movie coalesces around this one scene, where sands' reveals himself as brave, stupid, a martyr, and idealogue, focused intently on his belief, which in itself is the extruded by-product of centuries of colonial oppression, class, and ethnic struggle.

in talking over the film this morning with the dotytron, my one critique was that mcqueen rendered certain scenes (the disinfection of a cell, the swirling pattern of s**t smeared on the walls gradually dissolving under the spray of a pressure washer) with a dispassionate aestheticism that over-objectified the subjects. it's similar to burtynsky's work, where scenes of environmental degradation are blown-up, captured with such a keen eye for striking imagery that it over-aestheticizes (and thus, glosses over) the "reality" at the end of that representative chain. the dotytron had a good point though and made me rethink my position. he thought that the director chose to construct beauty from the degradation as a representation of the last bastion of autonomy and agency the inmates had in those inhumane conditions. when your subjectivity is not being identified, when you are given nothing, when you are not being heard, when all you have is excrement to smear on the walls and your own body becomes all that is yours, then that IS your communication. as the rivulets of urine pour into the hall of the prison in a near-silent flood, it is the only expression left available to these young men, the only possible utterance they can make. i'm so glad i'm hitched to such a smartie. the dotytron is a fearsomely intelligent guy (even if he is the weak link in my family's team of trivia all-stars.) don't ever let anyone tell you different.

that is, until they decide to heighten the point further by starving themselves in a final, desperate attempt to be heard. sands' conversation with the priest is also remarkable for the way that the martyrdom and ego of the act is debated. the final weeks of sands' life in the film are beyond difficult to watch - his body wastes away, his eyes grow bleary, sores appear on his emaciated frame. the poignancy and futility of the act are simultaneously presented.

this was an extraordinary movie and i highly recommend it. i mean, don't watch it if you're in the mood for a screwball comedy, but it's well worth seeing.

on friday night, i was accused by dr. rei of "over-hating" "avatar." i've had some time to think about it, and i'd like to take this opportunity to defend myself against an incorrect claim. i don't think it's possible to "over-hate" "avatar" - does the accusation stem from the fact that my critique of its' lack of story, cardboard characters (the irony of a 3D tour de force is that the characters are so 2-dimensional [at best] and wooden), and outright racism and sexism is out of place in a big-budget film? you could potentially say yes. except the ENTIRE story is BUILT upon a (poorly constructed and ham-fisted) tale of colonial exploitation. it's one thing to read it INTO the story of a film when the film is about something's another thing when the storyline of the film IS about racism and the other-ing of the other that somehow, in a stupendous feat of oversight, manages to create off-putting, racial composite native insiders as the objects of western benevolence. you don't see me critiquing "transformers" for being sexist. i'll COMMENT on the fact that it was sexist, but it's not going to make me mad, per se - that's kind of par for the course. it's like critiquing howard stern for being sexist. i wouldn't bother.

the other thing is, what grieves me the most and is the most astonishing is that there were hundreds of millions poured into this movie. and yet, you couldn't get a half-decent, plausible script? NOBODY thought to say, "hey guys, 'unobtanium' is a pretty stupid name for a mine-able substance"? to make the case that i "over-hate" "avatar" implies that i somehow am not taking into consideration its situation within the genre. that's also rank b.s. i see the whole spectrum of movies. i freakin' loved "iron man" and am slavering in anticipation of "iron man 2" i also love "con air" and "the rock" and countless other big budget extravaganzas. i'm not even asking that "avatar" be "the dark knight" good. it just could have been "independence day" or even, if we're going to cull from jimmy cameron's own oeuvre, "abyss" or "true lies" (both of which, i really like) good.

here's the thing. granted, i saw it in 2-D. and yes, i can concede that i missed out on the visual majesty and ground-breaking special effects and blah blah blah. i'm not and have never claimed that it wasn't going to be visually impressive. i just don't CARE enough about that kind of technical feat. the "avatar" zeitgeist is mostly being propelled by a-critical world audiences - the "avatar" effect is that you're SUPPOSED to love it. the people of the world have spoken! and yet, our collective society is moving inexorably towards a world when spectacle is ENOUGH. and that's dangerous. it's extremely dangerous and it makes me long for what we have lost when we privilege entertainment above all else, including it's shadow-twin, engagement. you have to take a stand against that shiz, sons. you have to say, don't just "merely" stimulate me, but STIMULATE me. for i contend that the cognitive saturation endemic to the spectacle of films like "avatar" contributes to the dulling of affect. the ability to discard and dispose of images and lose the referent entirely. the need to process "information" and model our minds and imaginations on the binary yes/no calculations of computers.

so that's why i don't like "avatar." i kind of wish i could see like, 30 minutes of it in IMAX 3D. i don't really want to sit through the whole thing again. and this story making the rounds makes me want to like, hole up and read "the canterbury tales." it's symptomatic of the cultural trend i discussed above.

ANYWAY. speaking of engagement, we had brunch with A & C at the hoof cafe this morning. it was very good and very tasty overall, although i have some small critiques, book-ended with the statement that i would NEVER line-up for more than 10 minutes to eat there, and i found the portions rather smallish. the dotytron and i split 3 things and realistically, i could have had a fourth. we also ordered a round of the bone marrow beignets to share with A & C.

the bone marrow beignets were delicious - the bone marrow was hardly perceptible, a vague savoriness underlying the tiny sugar-crusted, jam-filled treats.

A had the french toast with the additional slab of foie gras add-on. this is great...eggy french toast with some kind of fruit jam, a nicely seared, melting piece of foie on top and a peanut butter cream which was the component of the dish that had the most lasting impact on me. i would never have thought peanut butter and foie would go together, but it's a winning combination with the fruit of the jam. i'm going to try to recreate that peanut butter cream fo' sho.

the hoof hash features tender nuggets of beef tongue and properly crusted potatoes (though a miserly portion!) topped with the two tiniest, golf ball sized poached eggs you've ever seen. this was a bit of a jacking, me thought. it was tasty, but i could have used MORE.

the dotytron opted for the suckling pig benny, which came sided with a nice roccola salad with some pork rinds. the pork rinds could have used a bit more salt. i love roccola though. i like it so much better than the regular arugala that's more widely available - it's the perfect amount of bitterness in a green. the suckling pig benny was nice...tender, juicy pig, proper poached egg, and a ho-hum hollandaise. seriously, this hollandaise was lacking in some flavour. no one note stood out. it wasn't too unctuous-rich-buttery, like the way hollandaise can get when you go heavy-handed with the tasted like nothing. i couldn't taste the reduction and there was no acidity - which is a shame, as this dish could have used some acid.

i had the tongue grilled cheese as well. this was nice...the tongue had lost all it's tongue-ness, once it was treated like a pastrami and super thinly sliced, piled high on lovely bread with nice gooey cheese (emmenthaler? gruyere?) speared through with a lacking-in-intensity chopped up cornichon. this was very tasty though.

overall, i was pleased. the space is tiny. and it was made more obnoxious by a couple who brought their kid, in a stroller (a foldable umbrella stroller, but still) and occupied a full seat at the bar with their hung-up stroller and a jacket. there was also another family there with their two kids. seriously? take your kids to the effin' golden griddle. stop trying to be so urban-cool and take your kids to the hoof cafe. it's obnoxious. primarily because of the space constrictions and also the price point - i'm NOT buying my kid foie gras, i'll tell you that much. certainly not for a regular sunday brunch. i don't expect my kids to be my exact mirror and i won't take pride in my kids being obnoxious gourmands at the age of 7. it's annoying! i just want my kids to eat. i don't need them to wear ironic kraftwerk t-shirts and onesies and be my way of broadcasting to the world how cool and worldly i am. jeebus. i like the way my mom and big d did it. we just went out and ate, and we were expected to be well-behaved at an early age in a wide swath of places. but my parents never took us to do fine dining style fine dining. at most, maybe chinese style...and once we went to japan and ate enough o-toro to make the sushi chef's hands shake as he served up plate after plate...but i didn't have the self-conscious awareness of WHAT i was eating and what the cultural capital of it was...i just ate it. by the same token, i also grew up in a family where tropicana o.j. was for my mom ONLY and the kids had to drink concentrate - and don't even bother trying to protest, that's just the way the world is.

today i'm going to be absorbed turning these:

into more of these:

i was supposed to make sweet potato gnocchi for dinner tonight...but we'll see whether my hoof cafe exertions of this morning derail that plan. i know i plan to be on my butt watching the golden globes tonight at any rate.


1 comment:

dr. rei said...

for the record, i was kidding around and know why you didn't like avatar.