Beirut

Beirut 2018 Directed by Brad Anderson

*No spoilers in this review*

I went to an advanced screening of this over the weekend and it was a packed house. After the film as we were filing out, one of the staff asked a patron if they enjoyed it. The older woman replied “well, I don’t think enjoy is quite the right word. It was very interesting but a bit confusing” and I think that’s a fair assessment of this densely packed political thriller.

Directed by the always visually reliable Brad Anderson, the screenplay is by Tony Gilroy who wrote the Bourne trilogy, Michael Collins and my favourite Star Wars film, Rogue One. There are some fairly difficult issues embedded in this period thriller and at first glance, it would be easy to dismiss it as just another example of western filmmakers using a Middle Eastern location for ethnic flavour and racial stereotyping but I think it offers more on deeper examination.

First and foremost, this is clearly a star vehicle for Jon Hamm (who I last saw and loved in Baby Driver) and he is wonderful as Mason Skiles, the alcoholic and grief stricken former political negotiator. It can’t be denied there are echoes of Don Draper here but I think Hamm pushes beyond that by virtue of Anderson’s direction, a lovingly crafted script and a charismatic performance from Hamm. Rosamund Pike is the perfect choice as his foil and she gives a fine and nuanced performance among a lot of boys as a CIA operative and Skiles’ handler.

The film opens in 1972 and after much calamity and personal heartbreak for Mason Skiles, the action forwards to 1982. The clichés abound (especially when the three characters representing US government interests are introduced), and I noticed some quite heavy symbolism at times – particularly around children playing in and around weapons and rubble and blatant disparities between privilege and poverty. At times I was reminded of films like the Bourne trilogy and even Syriana but ultimately it was an examination of one man in extreme crisis, seeking personal redemption.

Some of it is pretty clunky and (without giving anything away) I wasn’t really on board with the ending but it really is worth it for Jon Hamm’s fine performance. If you want to get the most out of this, it probably pays to have at least a passing knowledge of Middle Eastern history of the period, but at its heart, Beirut is looking at the political tragedy of the time through the lens of personal loss and the notion that terrorists are not born but made.

Beirut opens at the State Cinema, Elizabeth Street, North Hobart Thursday 26th July.

Charade

Charade 1963 Directed by Stanley Donen.

This quite delightful spy thriller/romantic comedy came out in the midst of the Cold War, hot on the coattails of James Bond and could’ve been made by Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, Stanley Donen (who also directed Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Two for the Road and Bedazzled among many others) exercises a light touch on something that could’ve been entirely inconsequential but is made memorable by a particularly fine cast.

There are noir story elements here too, especially in the night time scenes and Paris fits the bill as a most elegant setting for the action. Cary Grant is busy being Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn is simply gorgeous in her Givenchy outfits and the chemistry between the two leads is everything you want from this kind of film. It’s well backed up by a Henry Mancini score and the great Charles Lang as director of photography.

What takes this up a notch for me is a truly fine supporting cast – George Kennedy, James Coburn, Ned Glass, Jacques Marin, Dominique Minot and the always watchable Walter Matthau. Donen even extends the Hitchcock comparisons by appearing briefly in a scene.

It’s not deep, it’s not the greatest movie ever made but if (like me) you like some escapist and nostalgic fun occasionally, this is extremely entertaining.

Winter Warmers Part 1 – Boeuf en Croute

Moon set at sunrise over kunanyi/Mt Wellington 30th June 2018

Now we’re past mid winter’s day the weather has taken a much chillier turn (very common for this time of year) and unfortunately it’s wet as well. Normally, most Australians south of the tropics would welcome rain but tanks are full, garden beds are waterlogged (very bad for the garlic crop!) and the chicken’s yard is rapidly turning into a quagmire.

The biggest issue is that it’s kept me housebound. As a rule, winter in Hobart is much drier and colder but we are blessed with crisp, clear blue days, ideal for outdoor activities. Winter is normally the time of year when I want to do things with fruit trees, sharpen spades and secateurs, clean out the greenhouse, prepare beds for spring planting, and generally charge around the yard, doing things to keep warm.

So, although it’s been milder than usual, it’s just been too wet to do a great deal out of doors on the days when I’m home to do so. As a result, I’ve been cooking more and watching a lot of movies!

Last weekend, I started half heartedly taking stock and cleaning out the freezers (yes, I was that desperate to be doing something). There were lots of treasures for winter meals – home made pork and chicken stock, roasted and peeled chestnuts, slow cooked beans in meal size portions, leftover servings of curry and soup and bones from the christmas ham that need using very soon. To my horror, I discovered the last beautifully packaged piece of truffle that was lurking in the back corner of a freezer. I buy a Tasmanian truffle every winter and try and make the most of it fresh and then spend the rest of the year dreaming about truffles, so I was horrified to think I’d neglected this exquisite morsel, hoping it hadn’t denatured or suffered freezer burn. Thank goodness I wrapped it so well – it was fine!

I had a piece of beef fillet that was looking for a good recipe too, and a need to do something special for myself as well as my long suffering partner (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To). So I decided to make a rather spectacular but remarkably easy dinner. The preparation is everything with this but in my opinion, the easier you can make the flavour profile, the more clearly the core ingredients can shine through, in this case the truffle and the beef. I think it’s worth making just for the aroma. My house smelled amazing for days after ❤

Before we get into it, I just want to talk about expense. At first glance this looks incredibly expensive, and compared to most of the food I share here, it probably is. I did a rough costing and (without wine or power allowances) this comes to approximately AU$70 of ingredients for two generous serves. Given that a quality pub meal in Hobart can vary from AU$25-35 for steak per person and something like this in a restaurant would be more in the order of AU$45-65 per serve, I think this is really good value for something exceptional that most home cooks can easily manage. Now, let’s crack on!

Boeuf en Croute (serves 2)

Beef fillet piece (approximately 500g/1 lb)

1-2 sheets frozen puff pastry

2 rashers of good quality bacon

Truffle (my piece would’ve been just under 20g)

1 clove garlic (optional)

Fresh herbs (I used oregano and sage)

Salt and pepper (optional)

Method:

Heat a skillet to high and sear the beef on each side quickly. The idea here is to seal the meat, not to cook it through, so make sure the skillet is very hot. Remove the meat once every side (ends included) has seen the pan and set it aside to cool completely. (I left mine for about an hour).

Preheat an oven to 180 C (350 F). Lay the pastry sheet(s) out on a parchment covered board to defrost. How much pastry you need is determined by how big your piece of beef is and how much you like puff pastry. Once defrosted you can roll the pastry out a little to make it fit or be lazy (like me) and make a patch with another piece of pastry.

On a clean board remove the bacon rind, chop the garlic and herbs finely and slice the truffle. On a defrosted pastry sheet, lay out the rashers of bacon side by side and cover with the chopped herbs and shaved truffle. I don’t have a proper truffle shaver but find the slicing blade of a box grater does very well. Also, I don’t generally use salt and pepper but if you do, this would be the spot to use it.

Now for the tricky bit! Position the beef on the top side of the pastry sheet like this –

Use the parchment to help make a tight roll. Also, I find rolling towards yourself lets you see what’s happening and poke any stray pieces of truffle or herbs back into place. I used a little water and a pastry brush to tack an extra piece of pastry to one edge and finished the roll, using this as the surface the roast sits on. At this stage, I also trimmed a little excess pastry off the sides and folded the sides tightly, making sure the meat was completely sealed in the pastry. I put a few decorative slashes on top to give some indication where to slice for serving but you can decorate it any way you like.

Place on a small roasting tray and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different so adjust your cooking time accordingly. Mine came out medium rare though it looks more like well done in the photograph (and the pic of the pastry lies too – it was nowhere near as dark as the photo!)

Leave the meat to rest for 10 minutes and then carve carefully into four slices. Serve on a bed of wilted spinach or silverbeet (Swiss chard) and a glass or two of good red wine.

Next time, I’ll share how I used the ham bones to make home made Baked Beans – one of the cheapest and heartiest meals ever. Although it costs far less, it actually takes more time to make than Boeuf en Croute!

Also, please let me know if you try this recipe – I always love to hear from you 🙂

Angel-A

Angel-A (2005) Directed by Luc Besson

I’ve tried over the years to like Luc Besson’s films with varying degrees of success. Early efforts such as Subway (1985), The Big Blue (1988), La Femme Nikita (1990) and Leon: The Professional (1994) were solid efforts (helped along by the presence of the always interesting Jean Reno) but it was The Fifth Element (1997) that really grabbed me. By then, I could see that Besson was offering a particularly Gallic take on the male gaze, with strong female characters acting out (mostly) male fantasy roles.

My disappointment with The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) was shared with most of the movie-going public globally and I admit I gave up on Besson as a director until Lucy (2014) which I enjoyed far more than I thought I would, only to be crushed again last year with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).

So, when streaming service MUBI put the French language Angel-A (2005) up for view a few weeks ago, I hesitated.

This is essentially a two-hander with Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen in the title role. The story is quite sweet and at times even funny with Debbouze putting in a solid performance as the ridiculously inept scam artist Andre, and Rasmussen is passable as the angel who comes to earth to show Andre his value. I say passable but she is undoubtedly a stunningly beautiful woman (as are all Besson’s heroines) though her acting range is clearly limited and with such a small cast I think this holds things back.

The movie is also incredibly derivative, with nods to Wings of Desire (1987), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and even Forrest Gump (1994), but it remains a very male fantasy, heavily imbued by the male gaze. The soundtrack by Anja Garbarek is lovely and unobtrusive, Debbouze and Ramussen are okay, but in the end, the film is saved by the third major character – the city of Paris. Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast (also a regular on Besson’s projects) clearly has a great eye for a good shot and filming in black and white was a very good call, giving a more noir feel to the film.

While it all looks good on paper, for me this was another forgettable film from a director who I keep wanting more from.

Winter Love

Sunrise 19th June 2018

For the most part, I really like winter. Here in Hobart it brings the Dark MOFO festival, which always leaves me enriched emotionally but (happily) broke from concert fees. This year I saw one of my favourite German bands Einsturzende Neubauten again, Australian treasure Tim Minchin for the first time and the magnificent multimedia artist Laurie Anderson live in concert.

The chickens aren’t laying much and I miss the long days in the garden admittedly, but I like the short, crisply sunny days and love the smell of soup or hearty stews in the slow cooker (usually served with a robust winter garden salad) and although me and mine aren’t big on sweet things, we love the occasional winter pudding. Lemon Self-Saucing Pudding is one of the first things I ever baked on my own when I was very young, baked in an old Metters wood stove and supervised by my mother and grandmother. Over the years I’ve tweaked this recipe a lot, ensuring there’s a reasonable balance between the light and golden sponge to rich and luscious sauce, even adding little touches like very finely grated ginger to shift the flavour profile.

Having home grown lemons and limes has encouraged me to bring this beauty out again and I think this is something of a triumph in terms of flavour/texture balance. I hope you enjoy it ❤

Deb’s Lemon & Lime Self-Saucing Pudding

75g butter

1 scant cup of sugar

2 cups milk

¼ cup Self Raising flour

1-2 lemons (see note below)

2-3 limes (see note below)

3 eggs

Preheat an oven to 160-180 C (320-350 F). Cream the butter and sugar very thoroughly. In a clean large bowl, separate the egg whites and mix the yolks with the creamed butter and sugar.

 

 

Grate the lemon and lime rind, juice the fruit and add this to the batter. Add a little of the milk to the mix and once it’s well combined add the flour. Mix this through, ensuring there’s no lumps and gradually add the rest of the milk.

Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and fold this carefully through the mixture.

Pour into a greased 6 cup soufflé dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the pudding has pulled away from the edge of the dish. If the top has browned but it seems like there’s too much liquid, leave the pudding in the oven (switched off) for another 10 minutes. Serve as is or with a dash of cream for extra richness.

NOTE: My family like very tart citrus flavours and less sugar, so I used 2 lemons and 3 small Tahitian limes to a scant cup of sugar in this recipe. Feel free to adjust to your taste! I also picked the fruit a few days ago, so they’d had a chance to relax a little and reach maximum juiciness.

Let me know if you try this and how it behaves for you. And as always, feel free to add or reduce sugar levels to suit your personal taste 🙂

Night Tide

Night Tide (1961) Directed by Curtis Harrington

I was lucky enough to see a 2017 HD restoration of this black and white movie recently on MUBI, the movie streaming service for those of us who like to look beyond mainstream cinema.

Written and directed by the late, great Curtis Harrington (Queen of Blood, What’s the Matter with Helen? and Killer Bees among others), I consider this more a quirky melodrama than a horror film, with a story of love and yearning at its heart. On shore leave, a young and lonely sailor (Dennis Hopper) becomes enamored of a beautiful young woman (Linda Lawson) he meets at a jazz club in Venice Beach. She plays a mermaid in the local carnival, but she is shrouded in sadness and mystery.

I can certainly see the cult appeal to film lovers like me – this is the kind of thing that played late on Friday night TV when I was kid and there’s a big nostalgia element for me. The score is by the celebrated David Raskin and the beautiful black and white cinematography by Vilis Lapenieks.

And even here, in one of his first starring roles, Dennis Hopper is a standout. This is a stunning restoration of a really sweet, moody and melancholic B-movie. If you get a chance to see it, do it!

When the Going Gets Tough – Make Soup!

With only a few days left until winter officially starts, it’s been a super busy week for me. I had the home stretch to traverse with a particularly difficult university assignment, lots of jobs building up around the house and loads to do in the garden. Okay, I’ll admit like any gardener, there’s ALWAYS loads to do in the garden and housework has never been my strongest suit. Cue the moment I come down with the latest virus that’s doing the rounds *sigh*

So I did all the right things, went straight for the Elderberry Syrup, did my best to do a little each day on my essay, slept as much as I was able, ignored a lot of things (mostly housework), kept my germs to myself for the first part of the week – and made soup.

Soup is my go-to comfort food almost year round, closely followed by any sort of salad from my garden. This time I went for the big guns and made a batch of rich and warming Slow Onion Soup. As the name implies, this is a long, slow cooking process and makes a very intensely flavoured, savoury soup. Be aware that I break it down with water and I recommend playing around with what suits you and your family. Any kind of stock is fine for the base (including vegetable for vegetarian friends), but I had pork stock on hand. Please note this takes two days to make so start this the day before you want to serve it. Here’s the recipe.

Slow Onion Soup (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

3 or 4 brown onions

1 head of garlic

Dried celery leaves (or 1 stick of fresh celery)

1 carrot

A sprig each of lemon thyme, sage and rosemary

2 bay leaves

2-3 cups stock

Approximately 1 cup white wine

Approximately 2 cups water

2 tabs Marsala or Dry Sherry (optional)

To serve:

Cream or plain yogurt (optional)

Parsley and croutons for garnish (optional)

Method:

Top and tail the onions and put them whole in a slow cooker with the carrot, sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves and celery stick. (I dry celery leaves when I have it growing and use a few instead in soups and stews). Break the head of garlic into cloves (I don’t bother peeling them) and put them in too. Pour over about half a cup of stock and half a cup of white wine – just enough to ensure it doesn’t burn – and cook on low for as long as possible. I did this batch for about 8 hours and switched the cooker off.

The next day when everything’s cold, use a slotted spoon and put the onions in a food processor or blender jar with the carrot and celery. The garlic will pop out of its skins very easily now and have a beautiful, nutty flavour. Take out the bay leaves and sprigs of herbs (I put mine in the compost). Strain the liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker and put that in the processor/blender too. Wash out the slow cooker – we’ll be needing it again!

Pulse the onions to start with and then blend until the mix is smooth. Feel free to add some more water if it’s too thick at this stage. Pour the mix back into the slow cooker and add the rest of the stock, white wine, Marsala and 1 cup of the water. Cook on low for at least 2 hours and check the flavour. I opted to add another cup of water to bring it to the consistency and calm down the intensity of flavour.

Serve with croutons, a tablespoon of cream or plain yogurt and a sprig of parsley. Some fresh crusty bread and a green salad are also great accompaniments to this comforting bowl of goodness.

I think just making this made me feel better – the whole house smelt like roasting onions for a couple of days – and I’m happy to say I managed to get my uni essay finished and submitted on time, (only five units left now!) and made a start on the many jobs in the garden this glorious weekend. The housework? I’m sure it’ll still be there next week 🙂

 

Previous Older Entries