Uncut Gems (2019) – Dir: Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What) and Benny Safdie

Adam Sandler disappears into the role of young, Jewish hustler and degenerate gambler, Howard Ratner, with big dreams and a sharp mind. A wife who loathes him and doesn’t understand him, but his kids love him. His girlfriend is in love with him and she is sweet and devoted, even if it is somewhat difficult for him to trust her fidelity at times.

Howie did his research and while dodging a loan shark and his idiot loose-cannon bodyguards and bullets, as well as excessive hand-to-hand violence, from them, he has a million dollar stone to sell.

Howie is a jeweller so he’s in the right business. The stone is worth a million because he acquired something nobody else was looking for.

Howie is also a basketball fan, his young son follows his dad’s passion for basketball. In other circumstances, Howie could be a great father. He loves his kids and always tries to be there for them. But his gambling and lack of caution when dealing with violent criminals, can get him in trouble – which when he finds himself in it, seems to take him by complete surprise.

One thing it is important to recognise is that Howie is a top-tier bullshit artist and compulsive liar. He’s also an expert businessman. Alot of the time, when he’s trying to do business, people don’t believe him and this also puzzles him. He can’t close deals sometimes, or there are upsets, when he tries to do legitimate business, but the uneducated associates think he’s full of shit. Which is true sometimes, but it still feels so unfair when he gets ignored by the ignorant – who should know better. Unfortunately, this usually happens when he has a lot to lose – often his life and/or bodily harm – which is his own fault most of the time.

Okay, so the writing is good in the way that it’s a simple story with lots of intricate puzzle pieces, layers of complex elements and lenses. We have a few important characters. Especially Howie and his girlfriend. The style of writing is nice, too. The characters and dialogue are fresh and interesting enough. The way the story is told is, in a sense taking the audience on a journey, following Howie and the others, in raw detail.

Simply told. But we care about the characters because every character in the film has several dimensions, even the walk-on parts are interesting in that there is consistently more to them than surface details and obvious motivations. Some people care about Howie, others don’t so much. And it’s not always obvious telling which people are on his side – that’s the most unique thing about this film. Trying to figure out who is on Howie’s side and watching Howie, himself, hoping that he wins this time, as he bets more than he has, again.

The visual language of this film is simple. And there is no x-factor. I have covered about the limits of this film’s upside. The downside is that besides the solid ending and that donkey that the audience will wish hellfire upon, there’s not much more to it.

2.5 stars

cheesy chicken and pea risotto with mushrooms recipe

The trickiest thing about cooking a risotto is that you have to stand over it, stirring, the entire time you’re cooking it. You can’t walk away from it. Other than that it is a lot simpler than you may think.

Take two large bowls, one metal, one any kind. Fill up a kettle to the top and set it to boil. You want to fill the metal bowl with at least five cups of boiling water. (optional: supplement half of the water with dry white cheap wine.) Crumble three chicken oxo cubes into the metal bowl, then pour in the boiling water.

Open your packet of Arbello rice and pour 400gms into the other bowl.

Chop the top and end of an onion, peel it, then slice and dice.

Put a pot of water on to boil and take your frozen peas out of the freezer.

Heat up your frying pan on high, when it’s emitting heat, drop in 50g of butter.

Then add your onion.

Stir until your onion is translucent or starting to brown.

Turn your element right down to medium heat. Take the pan off the heat, and stir your onion until it stops spitting and going nuts.

Then put it back on the heat and add all of your rice.

When the pot is boiling, add your frozen peas and cook for 3 minutes then drain.

Now start with just ½ cup of oxo gravy (and wine), pour into the pan and start stirring that rice, keep stirring until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid. Keep doing this one cup at a time, and finish with half a cup, until you’ve added five cups. As you do this, do not add another cup until all of the liquid from the last time, has been absorbed. After five, you can stop adding gravy mixture.

When you are dipping your measuring cup into the bowl to pick up gravy, try to get as much of the thick stock at the bottom in your cup as possible – we want lots of flavour.

Next you want to add ½ cup of grated parmesan, the peas and a big bag of shredded chicken (400g max) stir the rice mixture a bit and now you can chop some mushrooms. Add them too. Turn the heat up slightly and taste your rice. It should be soft but still has a bit of a crunch to it. Stir the rice mixture until it becomes sloppy – 5 to 10mins. You can taste when it’s done, the rice will have no crunch and the mixture will have a sticky texture.

yemista (Greek-ish) – stuffed tomatoes (and peppers – optional)

first attempt, not too bad #uglydelicious

serves 3-5 (with possible leftovers)

max: 2hrs to cook + 30mins prep time:

ingredients

8-10 large tomatoes – ripe

50g butter

2 tbsp olive oil

3-4 potatoes (optional)

1 large onion (finely diced)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

arborio rice 400g

shredded chicken 250g

frozen peas

mushrooms

chicken oxo

shaved parmesan

grated edam (optional but is nice)

method

  1. Take two large bowls, one metal, one any kind. Fill up a kettle to the top and set it to boil. You want to fill the metal bowl with at least five cups of boiling water. (optional: supplement some of the water with dry white cheap wine.) Crumble three chicken oxo cubes into the metal bowl, then pour in the boiling water.
  2. Open your packet of Arbello rice and pour 400gms into the other bowl.
  3. Chop the top and end of an onion, peel it, then slice and dice.
  4. Put a pot of water on to boil and take your frozen peas out of the freezer.
  5. Heat up your frying pan on high, when it’s emitting heat, drop in 50g of butter.
  6. Then add your onion.
  7. Stir until your onion is translucent or starting to brown.
  8. Turn your element right down to medium heat. Take the pan off the heat, and stir your onion until it stops spitting and going nuts.
  9. Then put it back on the heat and add all of your rice.
  10. When the pot is boiling, add your frozen peas and cook for 3 minutes then drain.
  1. Now start with just ½ cup of oxo gravy (and wine — optional), pour into the pan and start stirring that rice, keep stirring until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid. Keep doing this one cup at a time, and finish with half a cup, until you’ve added five cups. As you do this, do not add another cup until all of the liquid from the last time, has been absorbed. After five, you can stop adding gravy mixture.
  2. When you are dipping your measuring cup into the bowl to pick up gravy, try to get as much of the thick stock at the bottom in your cup as possible – we want lots of flavour.
  3. Next you want to add the peas and a big bag of shredded chicken (300g max) stir the rice mixture a bit and now you can chop some mushrooms. Add them, too. If you use a wok you can stir the mixture easily without making a huge mess. Turn the heat up slightly and taste your rice. It should be soft but still has a bit of a crunch to it. Stir the rice mixture until it becomes sloppy – 5 to 10mins. You can taste when it’s done, the rice will have no crunch and the mixture will have a sticky texture.
  4. Cut off tops of tomatoes (retain tops) and carefully scoop out flesh with a dessert spoon (retain this flesh as well.)
  5. Place tomatoes in a casserole dish or tin large enough to hold them comfortably and give each veg a tiny dash of sugar with the tips of your fingertips.
  6. Take tomato flesh and set it aside in the fridge for another meal.
  7. Spoon (with a dessert spoon) some of the risotto into the tomatoes and replace the tops.
  8. Spoon (with a mixing spoon) the rest of the risotto into a deep roasting ceramic dish.
  9. Add a layer of grated edam cheese on top of the stuffed tomatoes.
  10. And put in the oven @ 180-220 (depending on the power of your oven) degrees C for 45mins while you also cook some washed potatoes chopped into wedges and drizzled with olive oil in an oven tray (flip these casually after 20mins.)
  11. Take out the wedges and put in the microwave in a bowl. Add a decent layer of parmesan to the risotto and put in the oven with the stuffed tomatoes for 15-20mins.
  12. Warm the wedges in the microwave and serve all three dishes onto plates. 

how to make pizza dough (for heathens)

ingredients

half a teaspoon of yeasta teaspoon of sugara pinch of salthalf of a 1kg bag of plain flour100g of butter (or 2tbsp oil)


pour the yeast and sugar into a large metal mixing bowl.get a measuring jug and fill with scolding hot (not boiling) water.Pour a slurp of hot water into the mixing bowl, wait for the yeast to bubble. should take a minute.

Then add the flour and butter.

Mix the flour into the water with your hands.

Add about a 1/4-1/2 cup of warm water.

Mix with an electric mixer with a dough hook, or rigorously with your hands until there are no paste-like bits of dough. It all should be pretty dry but still gloopy.If it’s too dry add a slurp of more water.

If it’s too wet you can add a handful or two of flour, but no more.

Roll into a ball and leave in the bowl in a warm place, or place the mixing bowl in a sink of scolding water. With a tea towel covering the top.

15 mins later. punch the dough. Then take it onto a chopping board.

Take the dough apart into two balls.

Grab a rolling pin or a clean beer bottle and roll out the dough in one direction, turn the dough when you need to in order to flatten the whole piece to your desired thickness. pick it up and stretch it without ripping it. You can throw it in the air once to give it a bit more elasticity.

When it’s the desired shape and size, put it on a pizza stone in the oven at 180 degrees c for 15mins. (check after 9mins)

It should bubble and brown. Take it out and add toppings, then put the second one in for 10mins (max).

Take the 2nd one out and add toppings.

Transfer the 1st pizza to the oven and cook for 9mins (check after 5)repeat with the 2nd pizza.

First Thoughts on my Favourite Comic Books – episode one

Captain Atom no. 51 (my favourite single issue comic book)
In this book, Captain Atom is not actually the central character. Instead we are treated to a simple story which mirrors the events in Cap’s life right now – his checkered past catching up with him. The central character is an old man called Pops. He “might be more powerful than Captain Atom.” His power is an energy based telekinetic blast. When he was a kid he was bullied and he couldn’t take it so he lashed out and the bullies were killed. This haunts him. In his present day life, Pops avoids confrontation, turns a blind eye to violence in his neighbourhood. But his son is the opposite. Son of Pops inspires the neighbourhood to get rid of a gang who are bullying residents, robbing, raping, mugging. The pimp-style gang boss decides to send a message, beats up the son’s girl and kidnaps him. He is beaten to within an inch of his life. Pops finds out when he is called to the hospital to see to the girl. Everybody knows where the gang hide out, so it is not hard for Pops to find his son. He walks in, blowing away anything, anyone in his way. Picks up his son and leaves. The fact that finally he puts away what happened and focuses on doing the thing his heart requires, that he uses his powers in the end even though he vowed to never again – it’s a compelling story, even if it is rather simplistic.

Captain Atom arrives home at the end of the book and there is a news item about Pops. So the story links in part with the main plot at the end of the book. Captain Atom’s past is tainted by the fact that he was on death row for murder and he was a hamster in an experiment, guaranteed his freedom if he survived. The nuke he was sitting on, when it exploded it fused the alien metal casing which he was contained in with his flesh. The alien metal kept him alive as he dematerialised and rematerialised. The atomic bomb also became a part of him as he ingested its energy. And he became Captain Atom. This was an unexpected result. Due to the force of the explosion, he teleported a few times as he began to reform his body, finally landing a few decades in the future. The general who was in charge of the experiment tried to cover it up and destroy the Captain. But Cap found an ally in a survivalist scientist who also had been following the experiment – but whose interest in Cap was purely academic.

I love stories which explore family relationships in a new way. Captain Atom 51 does this. 

First Thoughts on my Favourite Comic Books – episode two

Wolverine no. 119, the first of a mini series called Not Dead Yet
Wolverine 119 is the first book in a mini-series set in Hong Kong where Wolverine has no adamantium after Magneto took it from him in X-Men: Fatal Attractions. Not Dead Yet is a great storyline written by Warren Ellis and with art by a favourite artist, Leinel Francis Yu.

For those who don’t already know, Wolverine’s skeleton is coated in an indestructible metal called adamantium. He also has the ability to heal instantly from any wound. And he has brilliant animal senses. Not to mention sharp bone claws (also coated with adamantium) that protrude from his knuckles. Logan (Wolverine’s most popular human name) has a berserker rage and since his healing factor has slowed his aging process by a ridiculous amount (he’s been in his 30’s since before WW2) he has had plenty of time to learn and master countless fighting styles. He survived Hiroshima.

What I like about the art is it’s vintage romantic feel, despite being made in 1997. The gore is minimal which is a shame, because Asian films celebrate violence in a really special way and Asian comics are often concerned with fighting. So there was an opportunity to do something really shocking with this book.

119 is a book I wish to display because Wolverine is one of my favourite characters, I especially love this mini-series because it shows a vulnerability and familiarity with a superhero whom we have never before felt so close to. Wolverine is arguably the most unkillable, unbeatable superhero – now we see him as more of a man, as closer to ourselves.

He is no longer unkillable, without the adamantium. But his healing factor is increased, so that point is debatable. He is more vulnerable, but his primal senses have increased, so he is in some ways a more effective killer.

I should note here that some of the God-like superheroes could probably kill Wolverine just by dematerialising his entire body in one go. But my impression of Wolverine as the unkillable superhero is limited to living non-Gods. I don’t think Captain Atom could kill Wolvy and if he tried it would be one Hell of a fight.

The setup is two aged assassins – McLeish the white ghost and Logan, tossing back a few beers in a local pub. McLeish is apparently the greatest killer alive and he’s talking about getting old. Logan is also getting old. In the start, it’s a flashback. Two old guys talking about the old days, of killing, drinking and sharing a few laughs.


Logan has a Chinese girlfriend, he takes her to the movies. Before Logan left the pub, McLeish did let on that he is remembering Logan’s schedule – a foreshadow that perhaps McLeish is planning to assassinate Logan.

In present day Manhattan, Logan is without the adamantium, he is developing a past-his-prime complex. McLeish is hunting Logan.

“The best killer in the world has had years to plan a way to kill me. And he thinks I’ve still got the adamantium, which made me a lot harder to kill.”

Red State (2011) – Dir: Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Clerks)

We begin to understand three somewhat interesting characters living in a backwater town in North America. They’re just three young hillbilly horny guys. The best friends find a website for people who just want to get laid. They find a local woman on that website and they make a plan to meet her.

These three guys define their world as their scheme to get laid. Nothing else matters. Unfortunately for them, other people have contradictory plans. Some of the violence is specific, shocking, disgusting and effective, though much of it is loud, thrumming and drags on for a bit too long. Most notably with the continuous machine gun shootings.

The film feels more like a political message than a story. The human drama and the careful plot setup are the strongest elements of this movie. The ATF agent and his conflicts add something to how interesting the story is. Getting us to care about the three boys is a smart decision, but even when we spread out to other characters there are a few surprises.

There isn’t really enough going on in this story for me to consider it an enjoyable experience. However, what does happen is carefully and cleverly drawn out. There is no suspense, except when the boys get in trouble and we become concerned for their safety.

There are some pretty despicable characters making monstrous decisions on both sides, but here this is not as effective (scary) as in a movie like the Alexandre Aja remake of The Hills Have Eyes (2006).

It feels like not enough time was spent on evolution of motive and interior stories, and yet the surface elements while somewhat effective due to some strong characters – especially in the first half of the film, were not gross, scary or humourous. None of the violence was innovative.

The drama seemed to be the most effective feature of this movie, so this is where most of the work could have been focused. I felt this was only half as strong as it could have been. The three boys were interesting characters. The innocent brainwashed children were a nice (yet cliché) touch. The temptress and her daughter the caretaker, were somewhat interesting characters, as was the false prophet. The sheriff and his deputy both had a half-decent build-up, but then nothing was done with them.

John Goodman as the ATF agent (Keenan) was a superb character, but he didn’t get to do very much. The work that was done on the three boys was fairly solid. The other interesting/major characters that I mentioned should have been developed and dramatised that much and it would have been a far better story.

Trying to follow the plot from event to event is difficult because there is no on-screen connection between the sheriff who considers suicide and the ATF agent getting called in to take over the “domestic terrorist” situation. It would have been far better as a film if the two storylines had been the main plot – the politics behind manipulation of government agencies to take down violent religious extremists juxtaposed with the internal drama (which was done for the three boys) but also developed for the other major characters.

2.5 stars

Ex Machina (2015) – Dir: Alex Garland (Dredd, 28 Days Later)

The Turing test, named after the inventor of the modern computer, Alan Turing, is the test to see if an entity is intelligent to the point of being aware; if it is conscious. This test concerns AI, or artificial intelligence. In testing to see if a piece of software has achieved true AI. The climactic goal of AI is to create a machine that thinks. Not a smart computer, but a truly conscious mechanical intelligence. This is thought by many to be impossible, (except perhaps through evolution.)

‘Deus Ex Machina’ is a term from classical drama and literature to mean an event in a story where the entanglements of the plot are resolved by the hand of God. In other words this is not achieved from the story itself, and from the characters. It is cheaply and cheatingly resolved in one move by a higher power, by something outside of the story.

Deus Ex Machina is latin, approximately translated as ‘From God, the Machine.’ ‘Deus’ meaning God, ‘Ex Machina’ could mean ‘from the machine’.

I wondered when I started watching this movie if the reference in the title was going to be important to the story. Essentially it’s a reference to a filmic/dramatic term, but this story is not about drama or film. The extraction of the word God is possibly important and purposeful, because the story says that there are no Gods here.

From the Machine tells us that this is a story about a machine. There are twists and turns in the story, but they don’t feel surprising or well designed. The characters begin as interesting, but do not evolve. We do not feel what the robot is feeling, despite our protagonist sympathising with her. This film attempts a mind trip, but it is only skittered over, so it doesn’t feel meaningful or effective.

Is this person AI? Is it true AI?

There are questions, but none of this is really explored beyond the attempt to screw with our minds. Eva (Alicia Vikander) is beautiful and believable as a robot, but lacks personality, so why would we empathise with her. Why would we care about her investment in the situation? What happens at the end of the test? What happens if she fails? What happens if she succeeds?

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a remarkable soul, a sympathetic person, a man of character. He is not a remarkable talent, but does that matter? Nathan (Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis) is a genius, but how much will we forgive him, because of his talent?

There is an implied cat and mouse game, which never materialises in this story. A mystery, where one character is trying to outguess the other character; each takes a turn and we never know, but ultimately desire to know, what will happen next and who will win.

The mystery is not really present; the only thing we don’t know is if she is truly conscious. It’s what we were asked from the beginning. The design of the plot; to flick back and forth around the questions, gradually revealing the mystery – there is no mystery, so there is no design.

The ending feels forced, violent and unsatisfying. The beginning of this movie is strong. The middle lags and lacks substance, therefore the simplified ending has nothing much to support. A failure of a film, not through concept, not through performance, or even through direction – the imagery is believable, this is a failure through design and therefore through writing.

If it is supposed to be a mystery/suspense then it fails because there is no investment from the audience, we don’t care what is going to happen next so when nothing does, we don’t care. If it is supposed to be a spectacular science fiction film, nothing much happens. It’s not even an interesting conversation in a room, for the length of the movie, (like a great Mamet picture.)

0 stars

Interstellar (2014) – Dir: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Memento)

The appealing thing about this film is the story. The direction – expression of themes, tone and ideas is basic and boring. The way the story is told is not particularly remarkable, the writing – dialogue, dramatic elements, structure are all incredibly average.

The story is interesting, though. This is not a movie about space though it is set in space and as a film set in space, it does not do better than other images/portrayals of stories in space.

This is a story about time. We approach, in a roundabout way, the idea of interpersonal selfishness. I’m reminded of a moment in the truly bad romantic television series, Roswell; where the love interest asks our leading alien to put their relationship above the fate of the world, and he rejects her wish.

Matt McConaughey as Cooper is supposed to save the world, to do what he’s spent his life wishing he could do, in a world that only cares about food and therefore only cares about farming. One of my worst nightmares, it certainly would be. Personally this story considers fears, attitudes and emotional scenarios that are highly relevant to me. But that’s only one reason I like the story, it’s also beautifully designed.

It’s a mystery and I dare you to try and predict the ending. I saw two seconds of the ending of this film when someone else was watching it, before I had a chance to see it myself. That would usually ruin the mystery for me. In this case, it did not. I still had no idea that it was going to turn out the way it did.

I say the story is great but the writing is not and the directing is pedestrian; because the director for this film, Nolan, is like a skateboarder who holds onto the tail end of an automobile to catch a ride. He puts nothing of himself, expresses nothing interesting, brings nothing valuable to the materialisation of this film. What the film is about and the ideas that are told peek through the ordinary way it is told, and they shine, despite this.

We follow a man who dreams of an older world, a world that had value. A return to that world, to wanting the best for our children. For wanting us and ours to be free to do what we want, to wish and struggle for something better. Not to be judged while still in primary school as good farmer or not farmer and therefore useless – worthless.

A planet is starving so it simplifies and minimises its priorities, this very process, this very decision weakens the planet to breaking point. And one man is given the chance to do what he dreams, just like the old days, to put himself to a job that he was born for – but in return he must leave his family behind.

With better writing and direction, the sequences between Damon and McConaughey could have been so powerful. I felt along for the ride, waiting for the mystery to be revealed to me, and gratefully I watched, as it was so. However, the scenes that are most important to the story weren’t artfully presented – they weren’t deeply explored with imagery and telling/insightful dialogue. So they didn’t charge the film with meaning, the story was alone in a magma of lies and sparkle. It was an entertaining film, but it could have been so much more.

2.5 stars

The Deal (2008) – Dir: Steven Schachter (The Wool Cap)

William H. Macy as Charlie and Meg Ryan as Deidre star in this quirky drama about depression and the mainstream industry filmmaking process. It’s more about filmmaking than depression, but it’s a depressing picture of the industry. Not to worry, though, there are artists who defy the system and things seem to improve for them further into the story.

The director has a proven track record for working with Macy and he also co-wrote the script with him, based on the Peter Lefcourt novel. Lefcourt has a wealth of experience as a writer, working on novels, plays, television and films.

The film begins like a romantic comedy – with Deirdre despising, and infuriated by Charlie, but it’s a bit more than that. It works as a drama, as a movie about the creative process it has substance, while your average chick flick is fairly deficient in depth.

Charlie is a lovable loser, in a system which creates losers from those passionate people with integrity and winners from those who are void as people and hacks in occupation – with scant talent.

Deirdre is resigned to a meaningless and powerless job, but she is committed – hoping for the upside just around the corner.

Charlie has a knack for seeing through people and he maintains this transparency in himself, which often throws people when they first meet him.

Charlie’s nephew, Lionel (Jason Ritter), has spent a year writing a really good script, he has enlisted his uncle to help him get it made. But Charlie knows the business too well to do this the way which Lionel is expecting/hoping. And our inciting incident appears to be that Charlie has an idea or a fabrication of inspirations. He knows how to get a movie made and rebuild his own broken career, with his nephew’s script. And because he lacks integrity – possibly by his own design, or compassion, he doesn’t care so much that this is not what Lionel wants.

There is an interesting double standard, when the despicable character is manipulated because he’s done something bad (cheated on his wife) and yet an ally and therefore cooperative with our protagonist, Dierdre also commits infidelity. Ryan’s character is likable despite her sins, possibly moreso because we can see how flawed she is (also her husband is a bit of a tool.)

I liked it. The Deal is one of those movies you can watch again if you’re feeling like a light drama about movies. Not as special as some of Macy’s other films, but it’s a neat little movie.

3 stars

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