Monday, June 22, 2015

Jurassic World Review. Bigger Dinosaurs Vs A Badder Vest.

"Stay Back! You must obey for I wear the mighty vest."

The problem with Jurassic World isn’t just the awful dialogue or its nauseating predictability, it’s Chris Pratt’s vest. Allow me to explain.
In the beginning of the movie, the camera pans high above Jurassic World Park. It’s an aerial camera shot that reveals twenty thousand visitors buying tickets and exiting gift shops in a theme park that makes Disney World look like a Hobbit’s back yard. The scene is set just the way the audience desires it- on a new and grandiose scale.
Then comes a look at the inner operations of the park: the rides, the attractions, and of course, the lab where all dino-life begins. The God-like persona of John Hammond now replaced with morally detached scientists with their own agendas. The tech is cutting edge and the computers and visuals are impressive; again, the scene is set just the way the audience desires it. 
Just enough time has passed in the movie that something exciting needs to happen. And it’s at this point that we are introduced to Pratt, standing above four velociraptors, barking out orders like a trainer in a scuba outfit taunting orcas with dead mackerels.  Replace the scuba outfit with a leather vest and the mackerel with dead rats and, once again, the scene is set just the way the audience desires it.
Some action has now taken place. Our hero has proved himself worthy by facing off against some menacing dinosaurs and saving someone’s life. Our hero is brave and confident and it’s all because of the vest. The vest gives Pratt superpowers. It tells the audience that he’s a hunter-gather, an Alpha to the power of infinite testosterone. The vest is a garment of strength: it tells us that he can track the footprints of an ant across muddy plains, and give a crocodile a beating yet become friends with it after the fight. Pratt’s ‘Coat Of Many Colors’ is black and made of leather, because, as we all know, black is a man’s color and leather is best at keeping oestrogen out. Our hero looks the part, and again, it’s how the audience desires it.
Now the vest begets more clichés. Pratt, in accordance with his vest, lives in an old aluminum bus converted into a mobile home. It’s next to a river (of course) and, it has a wooden tool shed addendum (of course), which he needs in order to restore his vintage motorcycles (of course!) Nothing rides the muddy paths of a Costa Rican, rainforest jungle quite like a 1956 Triumph.  There can be no better dwelling for a vest-wearing hero. He lives alone—Solitary and yet surrounded by nature. Pratt and his vest live the life of an outdoorsman, despite the fact that the hundreds of other park employees probably live in a dormitory-like building. But Pratt isn’t just another employee; he’s an ex-Navy seal, leather vest wearing badass.
Now that we’re midway through the movie, Pratt’s vest needs to see some action. The rest of the movie unfolds like this: The biggest and meanest dinosaur escapes from his enclosure (it kills for sport), some kids get lost in the dino-infested jungle, (Who in God’s name is watching over all these children!), and Pratt, his vest, and the movie’s heroine, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, (She’s wearing high heels throughout the whole movie) save absolutely everyone.
There are other characters within all these scenes but who cares about them.
The visual image of the man-vest has its place in cinema. Bob Peck, in a similar, albeit better role as Robert Muldoon, wore a beige vest in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Other notable vests wearers include Harrison Ford, as both Hans Solo and Indiana Jones; Brendon Fraser wore one in The Mummy Franchise; Paul Hogan’s vest as Crocodile Dundee is geographically iconic. All of the above-mentioned vests, however, look good on their respective actors. So the question is, why doesn’t the vest figuratively look good on Pratt?
The hero’s vest symbolizes many virtues. Courage and bravery yes, but a hero that wears a vest must also be sensitive and caring. The vest, as all movie costumes do, demand of the hero that he ‘fit the part’. And that’s where Jurassic World falls short: The director and writer of this movie fail the vest. They betrayed a sacred garment. They fall short of giving Pratt what he needs to look better in his costume.  Had the storytellers given the hero of this movie all the necessary attributes he needed vis-a vis character development, subtext, and a properly developed love-arc with co-star, Bryce Dallas Howard, Pratt’s vest might have looked better on him. (Another option would have been to omit any allusion of romance all together: if the subtext of romance is to exist, it needs to be developed properly.)
Many people like Jurassic World. Why? Maybe it’s because Universal Pictures had a dino-sized PR budget. A great ad campaign can change our perception of a movie. Or, maybe Jurassic World is a good movie if only I could just see past all the bad acting, putrid dialogue, and lack of proper build up; in other words, maybe it would be a good movie if only I could see past all of what makes it bad.
So many omission and inclusions are supposed intents upon the director’s behalf, but let’s be clear: what’s lacking (character development, story arc) or in abundance of (clichés, computer generated action etc.) in a film like Jurassic World wasn’t done as a clever and sly device on the part of the director, it’s exists because Hollywood knows it needn’t put any effort into catering to our expectations apart from giving the computer generated dinosaurs more teeth and giving the idiot hero a leather vest. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I Bought A Five Dollar Coffee Manifesto

                                         Fig.1. (Video) Portlandia takes on Hipster Barristas.

“Le Stationment pour les baton et sur cette assiette” She said when I asked the she-hipster where the garbage was.
I just purchased a five dollar coffee, cappuccino to be fair. The she-hipster designed a nice flower on the milk-foam, and for that split second, I felt bad that my need to stir coffee would destroy such a foamy-fine work of art.  It hadn’t hit me yet that I just spent five dollars on coffee. Five Dollars! I saw the prices, it was my own fault, but I didn’t become internally livid until I heard the she-hipster’s response to my question:
Me: “Excuse me, where’s your garbage” I asked, visibly holding a stir stick in the air.
She-Hipster: “The parking for the stir sticks is on this plate” She replied by motioning to the small plate next to the cash register. (The dialogue was translated from French)
It was at this very point that I became disgusted with myself.  I fell prey to the allure of the trendy coffee shop.  The type of place where décor is so minimal, a garbage pail would offend the clean, empty space.   
People who make coffee in cosmopolitan cities with some trend are known as Baristas, an Italian term meaning ‘bartender’. In Italy, the term loosely refers to someone serving drinks behind a counter and not exclusively to those who only make coffee. But I don’t live in Italy; I live in a city with first world problems where everyone with something to say feels inclined to anoint themselves with pomposity. (This includes myself, otherwise, why would I be writing this.) Humility is becoming obsolete, sucked into a vortex of self-importance. Nervous-Narcissism fills the void left behind by insecurity, which is fuel by the doubt we incur when confronted with the fact that so many de-facto experts exist: Is my butcher a Master Butcher? If not I must be buying the wrong meat. Is the lady behind the cheese counter at Metro a certified Fromagologist? Does she have a cheese tattoo?
The inherent risk with a landscape comprised of too many experts is it leaves too many people comfortably dumb.  In a world without enough real doctors, we make up honorary doctorate degrees of our own creation: If you pour wine you’re a sommelier. If you can cook food you’re a chef. If you can make coffee you’re a barista.  And while I don’t want to take away from the experience, education and talent people have in their fields, the self-titled and their groupies need to occasionally remember that, it’s just wine! It’s only food! And it’s a fucken coffee!

Maybe it’s my own fault. Maybe I want my wine, food and coffee served and created by someone wielding a title and tattoo. If it makes me feel more important to have a five-dollar coffee made by someone significant enough to charge five dollars for a coffee than who am I to dispute such a phenomenon within a free-market society? The only caveat I would humbly request to all the third wave, trendy coffee houses is this: can you add to your thrift-store, chic menu, at the very bottom and in smaller font if you wish, a regular, drip coffee at two dollars, this way, if I still buy the five-dollar coffee, I’ve only myself to blame.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rotoli Di Maiale e Gamberi Affumicato Con Salsa di Vongole e Pomodoro

Fig.1. Rotoli hiding under sauce.
Rolled stuffed pasta is a long process, but that shouldn’t deter you from making it.  I came up with this recipe because of my obsession with seafood and smoke: two flavours made in culinary heaven.  In this recipe, the seafood is clams and shrimp; the smoke is there by way of bacon. This rotolo recipe differs from the traditional in that I don’t boil the rolled pasta, I simply roll the pasta thin and go heavy on the sauce; it’s the sauce that cooks the pasta. This technique also gives me the consistency I like in comfort food: thick and hearty.

For the pasta: 

Fig.2. 00 flour and organic eggs.

I like the recipe below, but feel free to use any recipe you want as long as it’s all purpose flour. Pasta made with durum wheat semolina will not work in this recipe because of the way it’s cooked. Making pasta with egg yolks makes for a tough dough, this is normal. I use the egg whites for omelets. Like I said, use whatever pasta recipe you feel most comfortable with.


1 kilo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
10 eggs yolks


Make a mountain with your flour and make a well in the center. Start by adding 8 eggs in the center, with your finger or a fork, begin incorporating the flour and eggs together. Once everything is mixed together (your mixture will not hold in a cohesive mass at this point) add another egg and begin kneading. Your dough should start taking shape at this point, scrape up any loose pieces of dough, add the last egg and knead until it all comes together. Continue kneading for 10 solid minutes while dusting with flour. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let your dough rest for 30 minutes.

Fig.3. Resting dough.

For the filling:

4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
½ pack low sodium, smoked bacon
1 ½ kilo minced pork
2 cups pealed, raw shrimp
salt and pepper, to taste

Add the oil to a non-stick pan set over medium heat. Add the onions and the bacon and cook until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. (be careful not to get any color on the onion or bacon, lower the heat if you must.) Add the pork, stir well, and cook until very lightly cooked, about 8 to 10 minutes. (see picture Fig.4&5.) Salt and pepper to taste and set the pan aside and let cool.
Once meat has cooled, add to a food processor along with the shrimp and pulse it a few times until it has a spreadable consistency. (see picture Fig.5&6.)
Refrigerate until ready to use. The filling can be made a day in advance.

Fig.4. Clam sauce on the left-pork and bacon on the right.

For the sauce

4 tbsp olive oil
3 strips bacon, chopped
5 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, whole
½ cup white wine
4 large cans whole plum tomatoes, hand crushed (put the tomatoes in a large bowl, put on an apron, and crush them with your hands.)
2 cans of clams, (with the clam water)
salt and pepper, to taste
Chili flakes

Add the oil to a heavy bottom pot set over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon, onion and garlic and cook until golden, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Turn the heat to high and deglaze with the white wine. Once wine is reduced by half add the crushed, plum tomatoes and the clams (along with the clam juice). Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, add the chili flakes, and cook for 30 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste, remove the garlic.

Making the Rotolo: Putting It All Together.

Clear off a large work station and set up your pasta machine; make sure it’s clamped firmly in place. Dust the machine and the surrounding area with flour. Cut off a piece of pasta about the size of an apple, flatten the tip with your fingers and feed it into the largest setting of your pasta machine.  Roll the pasta through it.  Lightly dust the pasta with flour if it sticks to your machine. Click the machine down one setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Fold the pasta in half, click the pasta machine back up to the widest setting and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process 6 times, rotating your dough 90 degrees every other time when feeding it into your machine. Your dough will become smooth, lightly dust with flour when necessary.

Now it's time to roll the dough out properly, working it through all the settings on the machine, from the widest down to the second smallest. Lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour every time you run it through. When you get down to the second smallest setting, your pasta is ready.  (thin pasta dough dries quickly so you have to work fast at this point.)

Spread the meat filling onto the pasta sheet about ¼ of an inch high. Gently roll the pasta until it's the size of a hockey puck. (see photos below) Cut the rotolo into 1” rotoli.  Place the rotoli in an oven proof dish, make sure the rotoli do not touch.  Add a lot of sauce over the top of the rotoli. The rotoli should be completely covered. (The sauce should cover the rotoli by 1".) If you need more sauce, simply add more crushed tomatoes, or even chicken stock will do. (because the pasta is not cooked, it will absorb a lot of sauce, this sauce will flavor the pasta.) If you have leftover sauce, freeze it. It all depends on the size of your ovenproof dish. Also, if you have leftover meat filling, freeze it for another use.

Cook in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes, (or until it looks like picture Fig.12.) Serve immediately.

Fig.5. Pork and shrimp.

Fig.6. Spread on the dough.

Fig.7. The long view.

Fig.8. Starting to roll.

Fig.9. Rolling pasta.

Fig.10. Spread as you roll.

Fig.11. A rotolo becomes rotoli.

Fig.12. Covered in sauce.

Fig.13. The Lone Survivor

Fig.14. Rotoli

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Film And Food: Good Old Fashioned Chili And War

The Film: Lone Survivor.

Nationalism, propaganda, and blatant patriotism all define The American War Film Genre to varying degrees. Lone Survivor has all three traits in nauseating abundance.  So nauseating in fact, that to not kill someone after watching this movie would be un-American.
The beginning and end of this movie is spliced with actual military footage: the opening credits denote the authentic trials of becoming a Navy Seal; the end credits convey sympathy and realness with photos of the actual veterans who lost their lives in the conflict this movie aims to explain.  As you have already guessed by now, Lone Survivor is based on a true story—a phrase about as real as Hollywood. 
Four Navy Seals go on a recon mission in Afghanistan only to be discovered by three goat farmers; now the question is: do they kill the farmers, who may or may not be Taliban, or do they let them go? To let them go might result in their demise, an act, which, however noble, feeds the blatant patriotism that fuels this movie. The Goat farmers are released and the four soldiers are now on a mission to survive.
Taylor Kitch, playing the part of Lt. Michael Murphy, is very Tim Riggins-like, which I loved in Friday Night Lights but doesn’t work for me as a gun toting Navy Seal. Mark Wahlberg plays Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell. His acting is robotic, his lines monosyllabic.  Ben Foster and Emile Hearst play the other two soldiers.
The best parts of this movie are the ‘falling scenes’.  While running from the Taliban, the four soldiers take a long and violent tumble down a steep cliff. (It happens twice.)  What ensues is brutal: violent images filmed in slow-motion and stop-action of faces and backs hitting rocks and dirt. The sound is enhanced at just the right times to such real effect that when Taylor Kitch’s face slams against a rock you will feel his pain. The two falling scenes alone make this movie worth watching. In an interview with Variety, director Peter Berg said of the stuntmen who did the scenes, “Oh, they went for it. Broken ribs, punctured lungs, concussions. A lot of my job was trying to calm them down, because they'd all read the book and a lot of them come from military families and there were SEALs on set while we were shooting, so everyone wanted to get it right.”  What Lone Survivor ‘got right’ is up for debate. Articles abound on the Internet that call into question the accuracy of the film, as well as the book. I can tell you that the falling scenes have merit on a cinematic level, which is all Peter Berg should be concerned with.
The end of the film, according to various sources and news agencies on the web, is also accurate. The movie ends with Wahlberg’s character—the Lone Survivor—sheltered and ultimately saved by members of a small Sabray Tribe.  The people in this Afghan tribe hate the Taliban, are fiercely independent, and practice a code of honor known as Pashtunwali: a very ancient and noble code that mandates hospitality, asylum and righteousness, especially toward strangers. The ultimate hero in this movie is an Afghan man named Mohammad Gulab.  If anything, director Berg goes against the grain of the American War Film Genre by making a perceived enemy the hero.  The 'un-American' message at the end is not only that American men and women give their lives for their country, but that not all inhabitants in an ‘at war with country’ are enemies-a truth all first world inhabitants need to be reminded of.
Despite whatever empathy and noble message is captured in the end however, this movie will not fall into any definitive, post-Vietnam, war movie category of the Jarhead and The Hurt Locker likeness. It’s missing way too much for that, except for the falling scenes, did I mention the falling scenes?

The Food: Chili

Fig.1. Good'ol chili. Except for onion, no vegetables allowed.

The dish that came to mind after watching this movie is Chili with a side of Afghan bread. I could spew some sentimental bullshit about how eating an All-American dish like Chili along with Afghan bread symbolizes peace between two parties at war with one another, but I’ll just give you the recipe instead.  You can purchase Afghan bread in most Middle Eastern grocery stores.

People fuck up chili all the time because they over-think it. Chili is not a Bolognese Sauce with beans, nor is it meant to have an abundance of vegetables and legumes, despite what all those gun-loving, republican vegetarians would have you believe. When it comes to Chili, do what they do in Texas: find a steer, find a pot and find some heat. 

Fig.2. Ingredients at the ready.

4 to 5 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
1 kilo beef blade cut to small cubes. (palette in French. See Fig.2. above.)
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
½ tablespoon caraway seeds
2 cloves
1 can plum tomatoes, crush the tomatoes with your hand
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup water
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 anchovies, chopped
3 to 4 smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (I buy La Costeña brand see Fig.2. above. Available in most grocery stores in the ‘Latin’ section.)
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cans red kidney beans, drained and washed
salt and pepper, to taste
A few squirts of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

Add the oil to a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cubed beef. Cook until meat begins to brown. (You must be patient. First the beef will emit a lot of water; the water will eventually evaporate at which point the meat will begin to brown. Stir the meat making sure it browns evenly but not too fast. Do not set your element on high.) When the water is gone and the meat is just beginning to brown, add the onion, cook for 5 minutes while stirring. At this point, make a little opening in the center of the pot and add the cumin, caraway seeds and cloves. Toast the spices for about 1 minute, see Fig.4. below. (Toasting the spices will release their flavours. If your spices are several years old, throw them out and buy new spices.)  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and water and stir making sure you scrape the bottom of the pot to release all the flavours. (see picture below. If it looks dry, feel free to add more tomato or water, it’s not an exact science.)  Add the soy sauce, anchovy, chipotle peppers, and chocolate. At this point, partially cover the pot and lower the heat. Simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Add the beans and simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes. If it looks dry, add a bit of water. Season with salt, pepper and Frank’s Red Hot to your liking and serve. Chili is better the next day.

Fig.3.  Blade of beef, cubed.
Fig.4. Browning the meat and getting a good fond which  add flavour to your chili. Add liquid and scrap the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pot. Also, in this picture I created an opening in the centre of my Dutch Oven in order to cook my spices. Cooking your spices will release a better flavour.