Monday, October 02, 2017

Masterchef 13

Immunity challenge - Sarah, Eloise and Sam have to use waffles! They're apparently a worldwide culinary treat, yet I can barely remember eating them. except for the tragic versions you make yourself for breakfast in cheap American hotels. This is the second time round for Sarah. Eloise said "going forward". I thought I liked her! Sam’s family is big on waffles, so he’s keen. Eloise terrified, Sarah has a plan - kaya (Malaysian coconut jam) and mangoes. Coconut is the go for Sam as well. Eloise has a mighty big chicken - going to have fried chicken and waffles. No time to shake, mate! But she doesn’t know how to make waffles! Sam has test waffles already - needs to make some adjustments (more butter). Sarah has fried off some curry leaves. Eloise has a mess, not waffles. Sam has no toppings at 15 minutes in - his plan is for caramelised banana, chocolate and rum, toasted macadamia. But will they match his batter? Passionfruit pulp might be the answer. Sarah’s belting at cardamom with a saucepan because she can’t find mortar and pestle. Getting a panic on. Whisking egg whites by hand - at a million miles an hour! Don’t get in the way George. No time for a test waffle. Eloise doing karaage chicken but how are the waffles? Beautiful! Yikes - four minutes to go, waffles take six and Sarah is just putting them on to cook. A wee bit blonde, crispy enough? Wow - what a high energy round!

Judging: Sarah first.Only Shannon seems to know the origins of the dish. Not quite cooked, sadly, although tastes come through. Sam - pours his rum and chocolate sauce over, very liberal with it. Toppings are great - lots of sweetness, real crowd pleaser. Eloise - she’s played into the hands of the judges, and the look they give when the dish turns up says it all. I like the look of it, even the salad. Matt just chuckles as he eats. She’s obviously done it. Chili caramel sauce. Cafe quality food.

Round two - Eloise v Charlie Carrington (left school at 14 to cook, has worked with Shannon, David Thompson has a place called Atlas Dining - 100% cooks with fire). Matt puts the scare into Charlie by talking about Eloise’s previous efforts. Pantry choice is between healthy v indulgent! Booze tips the balance I suspect. No butter and cream on the healthy side doesn’t help. I’m really liking Eloise, despite her use of going forward. Going right into indulgence with a rich chocolate mousse and peanut butter ice cream. But eggs are on the wrong side - how to make mousse? Thickened cream might do the job, and make it even more indulgent.Uses a, iSi gun to force out the mousse. Honey roasted macadamias and a nut biscuit crumble to add textures. Ice cream has come out perfect, despite no eggs. Belts in the whiskey! Don’t fall apart now, Eloise - 1 minute and nothing on the plate.
Charlie - says he’s nervous, looking for savoury, seafood. Ha! Not his bag.Oreos, fried bread, cherries in ginger beer, chocolate ganache, cashew praline.Nothing fresh. Ah - the oreos are for his snacks. He found a mortar and pestle - where was it when Sarah was looking for it? He can hear Eloise is doing well, no fresh produce is his worst nightmare. What can he add? Mascarpone and ginger beer foam. But will it hold? Nice quenelles of chocolate.
Judging: Charlie first. “Interesting”. Clever, whimsical, pretty, cherries add tartness - but a bit non-committal, and they don’t like the foam. Shows how tough the challenge was. Eloise: it’s a big mousse! Sauce is rock and roll, a proper whiskey sauce, amazing colour, shiny mousse. No lack of commitment here! Matt - “I’m having a moment” - so delicious, so balanced, really is the complete dessert and a thing of beauty. Eloise has just outclassed Charlie on all counts! Dessert of the competition! Are they going to be surprised? Scoring: Charlie 7, 7 and 7. Eloise: 9, 9, 10! Brings a tear to my eye.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Masterchef 12

So Pia, Pete and Ray are in an elimination challenge. Andy Bowdy - Sydney’s King of Cake - set this challenge and it is insane! They say this is where they hone their skills to win, but they’re still the weakest three, and Matt says today’s challenge is “terrifying”. The cake they are to make has multiple layers, involves 12 recipes and the decoration comes from his art school background. Too much! I wonder how many of the judges could make it.
I’d have trouble eating it, let alone making it, because it is so big and involved - meringue, salted caramel, ginger cake (4 times), passionfruit bavarois, brown sugar pecans, pineapple jam, toasted coconut cream, ginger crumb, pineapple crisps. They have 4 ½ hours. How long before someone messes up the recipe? Pia and Pete read it, promise to follow it. Ray has a lot of oil going on in his cake - should have added in parts. Pete might have a problem with his candied pecans: he took them off early to avoid burning them, doesn't like the result, does them again. Is he paying enough attention? People smell burning: “Pete watch your nuts.” Not seeing much of Ray, but he seems to be doing well. Pia uses the mixer to save time with the passionfruit custard: reason to worry? Cakes are coming out of the oven.

Two hours to go. Ray’s meringue looks good, Pia’s not so much - did she use the right number of eggs? She does it again, understands she can’t have it wrong. One hour to go. Hard to know what has to be done. Pete has all his elements - "time to make this bad boy". Ray a little bit behind, gets some guidance from Andy about keeping a straight cake. Pia’s custard is setting, which makes it hard to make a bavarois (custard needs to blend with whipped cream, so needs to still be runny). 30 minutes.  Ray’s cake won’t fit the structure - messy. Pete worried about his crane driver hands and lack of finesse. Seems to be doing OK, really. Pia in her element. All of their cakes actually look nice - no disasters.

Judging: Pete - everyone smiling. Gracious about possibility others have done better. Nailed it in terms of appearance. George loves the burnt pecans. Andy might steal the idea! How good is this! Ray - cake a bit bulgey in places. Happy he’s given this everything. Nice story about his wee girls. Andy: needs a bit more colour, stuff on top. Taste - done good. Pia - cake looks good, a "beautiful chaos". It has lots of ginger cake but does it have enough bavarois? Her cake is heavier, the meringue is not right. This is probably enough to see her go (although Ray had a couple of problems too, must be about the eating). Yep: Pia is eliminated.  

A Date for Mad Mary

I loved this movie: it is billed as a comedy and it really is very funny but has its sad moments as well. I want to say it is set in Dublin but when I think about it, I don't know where it is set. Ah - Drogheda, halfway between Dublin and the border with Northern Ireland. Mary (Seána Kerslake) is just out of prison - she bottled another girl in a nightclub and spent six months inside as a result. She is ostensibly chief bridesmaid for her best friend, Charlene, who is rather absent from the friendship. Mary can't really understand why and is hurt but still wants to play her part, even to the point of signing up to a dating site so she can bring a suitable plus one to the wedding. But she is a wild thing and has spent time in prison, so its kind of understandable that Charlene might have misgivings about the friendship and, indeed, to have moved on a bit. We spend most of the movie seeing things from Mary's point of view, who can't really see this. One consequence is that Charlene and her friends come across in a rather unflattering light.
There is a sequence of unsuitable dates but then Mary meets someone, the videographer for the wedding, as it happens. Mary becomes a sort of assistant videographer, one night they're put up in a hotel, they drink the minibar dry, one thing leads to another but they realise that they have a lot in common. I think it is fair to say it is a big surprise to both of them, but I really enjoyed the way they recognised each other, and how we got to see another side of Mary.

But, well, the path of true love does not run smooth and Mary manages to simultaneously get offside with Charleen and the videographer. Here the movie is following the typical plotline of a romantic comedy, so of course there needs to then be the possibility of reconciliation.

While Mary was a great character, the best line went to her Nan (Mary lives with her mum and Nan but family support is not particularly strong): "Fucking sniper wouldn't take you out".



Monday, August 28, 2017

Summer 1993

This is apparently based on the director's own experiences when she was orphaned as a six year old. Frida is living in Barcelona when her mum dies and is taken in by her uncle and aunt, who live in the country (possibly the Catalan area in Spain, although this is not clear). Obviously it is a bit of a transition for all involved - possibly the happiest with the change is Frida's tiny cousin Anna. For the most part, the two are great companions, and there are some very sweet scenes featuring them, such as when they're dancing together. But there are a few concerning moments - maybe Frida entices Anna into a water hole so that she gets out of her depth, and there is a scary incident when Frida takes Anna into the bush to play hide and seek and leaves her there. The kids came across as remarkbly real.
There were a few times when the adoptive parents might have been a bit slower off the mark in involving Frida, and the whole situation of having a new family plus the loss of her mum must have sometimes made her feel a bit uncertain of her welcome. I also suspect she had a bit more active parenting than she had had from her mum. Ultimately, the movie becomes a tribute to the aunt and uncle: they both do a tremendous job of helping her to get past the teething troubles. The most touching scene for me is when the aunt sits down with Frida and they have a pretty candid talk about where her mum is.

There are also grandparents and other relations who come - I couldn't work out the relationships of them all.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

This was quite a straight-forward movie, which I only really went to see because John Lithgow is in it. He plays this big time property developer, with a poor environmental record, a history of ill-treating people and a habit of big game hunting. He's obviously a type, rather than a real person. He and his wife, along with a young property lawyer and his wife have been invited to dinner by Cathy. It is very much a dinner of the haves.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is there earlier in the day to give Cathy a massage. She's had a long history with the family, as Beatriz helped healed their daughter when she had cancer (one small recognition that being rich does not insulate people completely). Cathy even calls her friend, so it seems natural when Beatriz's car breaks down (seriously - it was just a flat battery: maybe Cathy and her ilk might not know that, but Beatriz would have, surely) to invite her to stay for dinner.
Because she's not rich, not dressed for the occasion, a migrant and a healer she's not treated well. Because she has pride in who she is, she gives as good as she gets. I think our sympathies are directed to lie with her: mine certainly did, even when (in a dream sequence) she kills Lithgow's character.
I did see another movie the same night, but don't want to spend much energy on it. I've seen several Kristen Stewart movies, and was curious as to what a Robert Pattinson movie might be like so went along to the Regent to see Good Time. It really was not - I was at another movie later in the week, and a couple of people in the row ahead of me were talking about it, saying it just got worse as it went on. On the face of it, it sounds like Connie is doing a good thing, trying to rescue his brother, but he was only in the position of having to because of his misuse of him. Nick clearly has some intellectual difficulties - we meet him having a therapy session, one that is just about to work when Connie pulls him out of it because he needs a sideman with whom to rob a bank. They get away with it, sort of, and evade capture until Nick runs into a plate glass window - Connie is nowhere to be seen. Of course, the cops get Nick, which is why Connie has to rescue him.
The essential action of the movie takes place over the course of the night. Nick gets into trouble in lock up and his hospitalised, which makes Connie's rescue job easier - if he could bloody recognise his own brother. Instead, he's lumbered with another criminal and after a ponderous conversation, they go after some drugs and money he's stashed in am amusement park. At one point, one of the characters said of someone that he had no redeeming features - this was pretty much the take I had on Connie. He wasn't even a good criminal, uses everyone he comes across and I found the action really dragged. This isn't a complaint about Pattinson's acting - just the character he played - and the cinematography was great.



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I saw The Lobster (also directed by Lanthimos) last year: it had me and a couple of mates laughing so hard we were on the edges of our seats, although it also had elements of horror. Single people had to find a partner within a short space of time or be turned into an animal of their choosing. Those who escaped did not fare so well either, as the group living nearby did not permit relationships.

There was little to laugh at in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, although it had its absurdist element. I've seen it described as a stalker movie but it isn't really. It takes a wee while for the story to emerge. Colin Farrell plays Stephen Murphy, a cardiac surgeon. He has this young hanger on, Martin, who he seems to be encouraging to follow in his footsteps but gives inexplicable gifts to - at first, I thought maybe they were in a sexual relationship. Martin's father went under the knife, wielded by Stephen, a few years earlier but did not survive and Martin blames him for it. He's lost a family member and gives Stephen an ultimatum: kill one of yours or they will all die - in stages. It is the only thing he can think of that is close to justice.

Stephen doesn't really take him seriously, even when his son loses the ability to walk and the desire to eat - the first two of the four threatened stages. He tries every medical test there is and gets experts in, to no avail - all that happens is that his daughter suffers the same fate. There is no hint as to how these conditions arise - somehow Martin causes them. By now Stephen and Anna (a fairly chilly Nicole Kidman) accept this, and go after Martin but nothing seems to stop him - I kept thinking that Anna was about to stop walking as well.

So - this leaves Stephen with an unpleasant choice: sacrifice one of the family to save the rest. How to choose?
I'm not sure why all of the characters speak the way they do - not much emotion, kind of robotic with an element of persistence to what they're saying - particularly Martin. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

The Teacher

I was a bit confused at the beginning of this movie, as we switched between two rooms, one full of kids and the other with a growing assembly of adults. It turns out that the adults were having a meeting of the parents, responding to a complaint about the teacher of the kids in the other room. This is Soviet era Bratislavia and the teacher, Ms Drazděchová, is the local Party Chairwoman.
She starts off kindly, asking each kid their name and what their parents do - but given the time, having these details written down in a little black book sends a message. Her purposes are more benign, however: she's a single woman in a new town who could use a little help. So the parents are called on to volunteer whatever it is they're good at, and many do and are given hints on what their child should study.

We're not really shown what its like to be in the co-operative families: two families do not play ball. Danka is a bright kid yet does not prosper at this kid. Her dad works at the airport yet fails to deliver when the teacher wants some cakes (made by another parent) taken to Moscow. Maybe she is committing too much to her athletics? After all, with her parents assistance, when she is asked to engage in simple Russian conversation, her answers are ridiculous. Maybe this is deliberate misinformation? Her dad has faith, however, and leads the charge with the complaints against the teacher. The fact she tries to gas herself in the family oven might have helped.
The Binder family join in: their boy, however, might not be all that. His dad is a bit of a bully and starts out thrashing his boy for not doing well at school but when he gets hold of the truth, his focus switches to the teacher.

After a while. the focus of the movie switches to the meeting - and how likely is it that those who benefit from the teacher's way of doing things are going to complain? Instead, they attack those who do - one fellow goes so far as to threaten another, who responds by wanting to know how to complain. This is Littmann, who is already suffering - it isn't made all that clear, but I think his wife defected, and he loses his job as an astrophysics professor to become a window cleaner. He's also reputed to be having an affair with the teacher: she might even think he is, but its not likely.
But still, its about 3 or 4 against 30 - 40. There's an odd moment, when the Deputy Head Teacher reveals some truths of the teacher's methods: the average marks for her class in national exams are dire, well below national averages - everyone just walks out, and the Head Teacher has a quiet drink of commiseration with her Deputy. But is that parents we see, coming in individually to sign a complaint. Even if they succeed, won't her connections mean she'll just be moved on?


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lady Macbeth

The title created expectations that were not met: this film is actually based on a Russian short story by Nikolai Leskov. Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth has a powerful role which fades through time: this one is quite the reverse. She marries, and is brought into the house of, her husband (Alexander) and father in law (Boris). The latter has hopes for an heir, but his son (who seems to have had little choice in marrying) has no interest in sex with Katherine: he has her disrobe and stand facing the wall while he finds his own pleasures. It is dad who is in control: he bought Katherine along with a piece of land not fit for a cow to graze on. When he's away, he has Anna, the maid, keep an eye on things. This might be how he finds out that Katherine has brought a groom, Sebastian, into the house and her bed. 

This was a bit disturbing, to be honest: she finds him and a bunch of the other male staff with Anna, who they have suspended (naked) in a sheet. She's giggly so presumably happy with what's going on, but Katherine brings an end to their fun. Sebastian gets quite confrontational with her, and then shows up in her bedroom, coming across as determined to have sex - she resists, he persists, then suddenly she's very much into it. 
It is after Alexander beats Sebastian that Katherine starts to find her power, and a willingness to murder to escape the oppressive pressures of these men. We don't see Boris die: he is locked in a side room while Katherine has breakfast with Anna (I really hate to eat alone she says - one morning, her companion is the cat!). Alexander is away indefinitely, so Sebastian takes up residence. Of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie if that was all, but Alexander does make a reappearance, and this time we do see him die. Sebastian is an OK sort of bloke, so he's less than keen on all of this. Anna's position is more ambiguous: early on, she seemed to take pleasure in causing pain to Katherine, when brushing her hair and tying her into her corset. Handled differently, she might have become an ally for Katherine. 

I'm no sure what legal rules allowed it, but it then emerges that while Alexander has not wanted sex with Katherine, he's not off sex completely. A woman turns up with a grandson, who she claims is Alexander's son and ward - I guess this makes him heir, and it leads to the grandmother and kid moving in, and assuming some control over the house. Up to now, Katherine's actions have sort of been understandable - completely illegal of course, but understandable, as the two men were odious in their own ways and bullied her. But she goes beyond the pale in her next actions: not only does she suffocate the boy but when the doctor finds he was bruised, she accuses Sebastian and Anna of killing him. She possibly suspected them of having an affair, and was brilliant at manipulating elements of the story to convince the authorities.
I've never come across Florence Pugh (who played Katherine): she remains so calm throughout that it gives a quasi-legitimacy to what she does. She was carefully chosen to be someone who did not look like a Lady Macbeth character - young, open and innocent - but who could become someone we'd believe in as a cunning, manipulative murderer. Apparently her next role is as a gothy badgirl wrestler!

Lady Macbeth itself has a bit of a story behind it. It was adapted as an opera by Shostakovich and became very popular - until the night Stalin went to see it. It is credited as being the work which caused him to bring in socialist realism, and it put the composer's life at risk.