World Avent : Day 25

The Film: L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie [The Big Picture] – France

The Big Picture (2010)Misplaced in the thriller genre this film isn’t enjoyable as a literal tale but as an allegory for starting again on your dream, having the fear and then courage to go to the roots of your passion — and make it happen.

The literal tale involves a lawyer who has given up on his dreams of becoming a photographer. He is married with children and they are unhappy. He’s suspicious of her distance and soon realizes she’s having an affair with a neighbor. When she asks for a divorce he goes to the neighbor, it’s casual at first.

The film picks up when the wife’s lover says Paul must have a modern photography setup, monitors, cameras, all the newest toys. The accusation infers that Paul is soulless and his wife is having an affair with the artist he used to be. They tussle in the back garden and the neighbor, Grégoire Kremer, is accidentally killed.

This is where the division between bad story and good allegory comes. Paul decides to take on Kremer’s identity. There isn’t enough depth in the narrative given as to why, it seems miles beyond what we’ve seen of his character, except that we’ve been told his wife hates that he pities himself for haven given up.

Paul poses as Kremer, taking some of his possessions, fakes his own death, and leaves France. He goes back to a place where had taken inspired photographs. He doesn’t take his new digital Canon, he takes the neighbor’s Nikon — but he doesn’t use that either. He buys an old camera, film, solutions to develop his work, and sets up a studio in a rented house with a great view. He pokes around taking new photographs, printing them. He takes some more. And more.

The allegory here as I see it is going back to basics. Strip it down. Find an old way to love something that makes what you’re passionate about new to you. Sometimes the complexities distance us from our own desires, our ability to create never needed much more than a basic tool and some paper — yet somehow we get wrapped up in finding the best tools instead of the best inside us to use them.

Another transition comes when Paul, now fully living under this new identity and talking about himself as if he were Kremer, is taking pictures with the Nikon. He is not himself, he is now who he wanted to be. This subtle thread starts another layer of allegory involving identity.

When Paul’s photos are picked up by the local newspaper, he gets the chance to have a gallery opening. But he’s concerned about photos being taken of him to publicize the event. His paranoia takes hold at the opening when the newspaper editor, a friend, says to him “Look at them. They believe your story. They even by the idea your talent only emerged here. So.. enjoy it. Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy. What difference does it make?”

This speaks to me about art and identity. If you’re creating, if your passionate, and you’re working your craft — who can tell who is the “real” artist and who is a fake? If you’re interested in more on this part in particular, check out the pseudo documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010).

Yet another twist comes when Paul decides to leave this identity behind as well and is smuggled aboard a ship. He’s told to stay in his room but he takes his camera out with him and photographs the crew beating some men up. When they strip a man and throw him overboard, Paul protests — revealing his location. He hides the film on his person before they throw him overboard.

The crewman who brought him on board secretly releases a lifeboat into the water in the ships berth. Paul and another man reach the boat. Paul holds onto this man, tightly. It cuts to the photos of the men being thrown overboard being sold — by the other survivor. Paul smiles at him as they part ways and the film ends. This was a little complication for the neatly packaged allegory (what was it adding?) and its timing in the film only confirmed my decision that the surface was only a mask for the concepts underneath.

I think there are a few ways to look at this last portion in relation to the themes of passion and identity. It comes at a moment when photography is building for Paul, a museum in London wants to exhibit his work and the curator says he will be put in front of the media to promote it. In one sense this spurs him to burn the car he’d been using and take off but in another it is the rejection of the distractions that would take him away from the passion he’s found in creation and the person he’s tried to become.

I still resent any implication that his earlier failures had anything to do with his wife and children. Although I think the movie does try to say it was Paul’s choice not to pursue photography, faking his death says more.

Someone mentioned in the book his wife is far more antagonistic and Paul suffers at work to provide her the freedom to follow her dreams. Congratulations to director Eric Lartigau and his crew of writers for whittling most of that one-sidedness away. If anything Paul seemed somewhat selfish which may be one reason it worked for me as an allegory, as a “what if” exploration. What do we need to create?

On Good Reads a user posted an observation that writer Douglas Kennedy’s protagonist often describes “really great photographers as being passive observers who have freed themselves from the need to obsessively prod at the composition hoping that it will become more artful” I see The Big Picture as a struggle with passion, art, and identity — themes that have heavily been entering my life this year.

Which makes it a perfect way to end Advent 2013.  I probably don’t need to fake my own death but I will be asking myself — what do you need to create?

The Food: Blue Cheese and Toasted Almond Popcorn

Blue Cheese and Toasted Almond PopcornInspired by this recipe from Emeril and the desire for a savory popcorn with some body.

Blue cheese and popcorn are an amazing match. It’s a shocker there aren’t more ways to indulge in this combination.

  • 1/4 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

In a skillet on medium toast the almonds. Remove the almonds and melt the butter in the same pan.

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a large metal bowl with the almonds.

While popcorn is hot, add the blue cheese and pour the butter over the popcorn mix. Add the pepper, onion and garlic powder. Serve immediately.

If you want to add herbes de provence, or fresh herbs like chives, tarragon, or even rosemary and lemon zest. Serve with a dry white wine or dirty martinis and sliced pears.

MERRY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Posted in Christmas, Drama, Film, Film Genre, Food, Foreign Film, France, Holiday, International Cinema, Netflix, Snack | Leave a comment

World Advent : Day 24

The Film: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec – France

aTwo parts The Mummy one part Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Dick Tracy, with a dash of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, there are equally as many reasons to like as dislike this film though it seems most things in the negative quality may be a problem with the source material.

The original graphic novel featured the titular character in far-fetched adventures and mystery-solving of its eponymous heroine, herself a writer of popular fiction, in a secret history-infused, gaslamp fantasy version of the early 20th century.

I started the film with low expectations and there were definitely elements to enjoy. It is creative, her relationship with her sister was well done as are the mummies who enter the story, but the style loses its way in the middle and doesn’t quite recover.

The hyper-stylized makeups are another mixed bag as some of the actors seem to realize how their looks would manifest in their movements and timbre and others almost act in direct opposition to it. In the end it doesn’t add to their interest, it inhibits a connection.

If you enjoyed Sahara this film is for you. On the other hand, fans of more well developed films such as Raiders Of The Lost Ark will be disappointed.

Oh how I wish it it had been slightly less silly. Comic I can handle but it feels like there was so much potential for a decent female lead supernatural adventure. Louise Bourgoin was able to pull off both charm and dead-pan humour, I would like to see more from her. That her motivation came from wanting to save her sister instead of a romantic entanglement made it all the better but there was just too much pomp and not enough circumstance.

The Food: Buttered Tarragon Popcorn

unnamedIn France you can get popcorn at the movie theater as sweet or salty. I thought this recipe would be a nice little combination and tarragon is one of those unique flavors that’s fun to use.

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method.

Add the remaining ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat until the butter is melted. Pour over the popcorn and toss to coat.

For an additional flare add some French mustard to the mix!

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World Advent : Day 23

The Film: Wild Target – UK

Wild TargetBased on the 1993 French film Cible Emouvante this witty comedy has a lot going for it. Namely that Bill Nighy plays a hit-man with such charm it’s impossible to not enjoy.

In some ways it’s unbelievably unique but there’s an easy predictability that makes it a pleasure to watch. Chief among these reasons is Emily Blunt, whose character is a wonderful mess of contradictions.

It also pokes fun at hit-man tropes which takes it beyond a standard sense of storytelling — the filmmakers are clearly in on the jokes but it never stops the story from progressing. Rupert Grint, whose character stumbles into the story, is a great addition to the dynamic. The odd trio really make this intelligent viewing.

None of their parts would work alone, it’s a really humorous combination of individual goals and they’re complex enough to be funny without weighing the comedy down. Writer Lucinda Coxon does an excellent job making Rose feel like an equal member in the story which doesn’t happen in many comedies like this. The relationship between Victor and Rose is certainly unique with a little depth toward the end that’s both sweet and grounds the film enough to make it satisfying.

There are problems. The bad guy played by Rupert Everett, is too over the top to be enjoyable. There certainly wasn’t enough time spent on getting the right balance from the character and by the time Martin Freeman rolls around there’s not much else they can squeeze from that plot. At times the editing seems ungraciously choppy, as if they were going for lean but ended up removing the connective tissue. Toward the end the taught sense of humor disappears and the tone runs amok. There’s a brief moment reminiscent of Hot Fuzz but it doesn’t fit the personal side of the story, which is actually the more interesting.

I’ve refrained from encapsulating the plot here as it really takes such little effort to watch that I don’t want to give much away. The real meat of the story, though it is lean, is better left for you to discover as it’s quite amusing. The lack of seriousness to the black-comedy makes it all the more enjoyable when the more interpersonal moments are in play.

It bodes well for a film if you laugh more the second time you watch it and this one has it. If you enjoy British comedy, and who doesn’t, it’s a winner.

The Food: Orange Cranberry Popcorn

Cranberry Orange PopcornIt’s Christmas eve, time for some good old fashioned Christmassy flavours. Inspired by popcorn and cranberry garlands this is one warm, gooey, bright popcorn.

Inspired by this recipe, I added orange juice to the sauce which was genius. The warmth plumps the cranberries, the crunch of the popcorn gives that yummy cookie feel, and the soft coating makes it melt in your mouth.

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • citrus zest, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup orange flavoured cranberries

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. I recommend a dry pop. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn and cranberries in a large mixing bowl.

On medium heat melt the butter, sugar, vanilla, honey, orange juice, and zest. I suggest going heavy on the zest because the bright flavour cuts through the sweetness. You can even add more to the popcorn itself.

Let the mixture foam up. Unlike other caramels, this should only cook about 5 minutes. There should still be a liquidy look to the mixture.

(The cookie taste comes from the proportion of baking soda. If you want to, you may cut it to 1/4 teaspoon.)

Add the baking soda and stir to make it puff up. Pour immediately over the popcorn and mix together to coat. Serve warm! It’s incredible.

I didn’t test baking it to dry the coating but you’re welcome to. It would also be great with additions like candied ginger, nuts, or cinnamon.

Posted in Adventure, Christmas, Comedy, Crime, England, European, Film, Film Genre, Food, Heist Film, Holiday, Independent, International Cinema, Romance, Snack, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Avent : Day 22

The Film: Sound of Noise – Sweden

Sound of NoiseIf you’re looking for boring, dry, art house — this ain’t it.

What is it? Creative. Creative. Creative. With all of the remakes and rewrites and reimagings coming from Hollywood, it’s truly, refreshingly exciting to see such an original film. It’s so original if I told you the plot you might not watch it. But the plot isn’t the point of watching — it’s just such a unique experience.

Now most of the time when someone says that it means the movie isn’t good and I’m not sure sure I could say this is good I just know it’s not bad. It’s incredibly watchable.

IndieWire named the film Bonnie and Clyde on drums, Alissa Simon in Variety called it a delightful comic cocktail of modern city symphony, police procedural and love story. Words like bohemian, absurdist, and avant-garde are aren’t quite enough to capture what is really likeable about this film — which I think is that the filmmakers are having fun.

I’m not going to lie and tell you there is some great meaning you will find, unless choose you make one. Although the ending makes sense, it’s not really going somewhere that’s incredibly satisfying in a traditional sense. What’s unique is that it presents both sides of an idea without presenting one is right. I’m refraining from stating much here because it’s not about what happens — it’s about watching something unbelievably entertaining.

There are good films and bad films, and some in between but it’s not often you can release your desire for traditional narrative filmmaking and just watch get into a whole new genre.

What more can I say without giving anything away?

It’s fun, easy-going, enjoyable — it will make you smile and tap your toes. When’s the last time a remake did that? If you have a sense of humor, if you’re tired of traditional but you’re not pretentious enough for most art house see Sound Of Noise.

The Food: Cardamom Almond Popcorn 

Cardamom Almond PopcornCardamom is so warm, it really fills the taste buds with a cozy feeling that we crave in the winter.  This flavor goes perfectly with Scandinavian films and is the sweet opposite of yesterday’s caraway dill and just like that recipe, it’s best served with a deep cup of coffee.

I made a larger batch this time, which was smart thinking because this stuff is awesome. As I knew the amount I was looking for to share with guests, I made popcorn in 1/3 cup batches until the popped corn equaled the volume I was looking for.

  • 16 cups popped popcorn
  • 1 cup chopped slivered almonds
  • 1  cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 250°.

Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a large metal mixing bowl with the almonds.

In a saucepan on medium heat combine brown sugar, butter, water, vanilla, and salt. Bring it to a boil then continue cooking for about 5 minutes as the mixture foams.

Remove from heat and stir in the cardamom and baking soda. Stir it as the mixture puffs up. Pour it over your popped popcorn and almonds, stirring to coat.

Pour onto a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes stirring several times during baking. ENJOY!

For an extra Christmassy flavour add some orange zest to the caramel before you bake. God Jul!

Posted in Action, Cardamom, Christmas, Comedy, Crime, Drama, European, Film, Film Genre, Food, Foreign Film, Holiday, Independent, International Cinema, Netflix, Romance, Snack, Spices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Advent : Day 21

The Film: Kon-Tiki – Norway

Kon-TikiI was really looking forward to the potential of this film. I had read some things about the production when it was still in theaters and was excited to see the look of the film. But it’s always hard to watch a film when you have previous knowledge because no matter how hard you try, it leads to expectations.

What I expected was out of the window when they started speaking English in the first scene but the biggest hurdle for the film is that it states its motivations but does nothing to help you understand them.

Usually movies about a historical figure who does something brave and crazy are all motivation and very little exploration into the processes once it’s begun. This movie is all process and no motivation which leaves it feeling very dry and sadly, pointless.

The goal of real life explorer Thor Heyerdahl, as portrayed leaves you with the impression that science is enough of a motivation, and it just isn’t. Not at this level of stakes. Not when he’s sacrificing the future of his wife and children or the other men on the raft.

The chance to establish motivation happened at the very beginning when Tor was told by his parents to promise he never do anything risky again after nearly drowning in his attempt to retrieve something across a half frozen pond. The film cuts to a scene of him, as an adult, in an exotic country. At first I loved this because it recognized of the fact that we know, before we even hit play, that he will do something risky so why waste time building to it any further. It was interesting to not show the exact moment he made the choice to continue to have adventures. But then the movie continued in the same pattern, skipping over too many important decision making moments.

It’s one thing if he makes these decisions as a boy but when his wife tells him she hopes his children have a father, skipping over the deeper intricacies of these decisions makes him seem callous.

The same is true when he asks his fellow sailors to have faith that they will reach their destination. He offers them nothing but asks for blind obedience which seems irrational for his character. If he were either a man of science or of faith he would have offered them more of one or the other. Awed looks at the symbol of Kon-Tiki painted on the sail does not provide an accurate depiction of the way humans function in such intense circumstances. As such, the characters seems as though they were written by someone with Asperger’s syndrome.

For a person who is afraid of dying in water, as I am, I didn’t get a real similar impression from the crew at any point. Even from one of the crew who couldn’t swim, it came out more as awe than fear. This awe carried through their journey as an overarching feeling to the task they were undertaking as if they had knowledge of it’s future impact, but it lacked strong, interesting, motivated reaction to the details of their experience.

I often ask for films to not masticate their teachings for us but there is  a difference between processing on our behalf and providing something for us to process.

The film states that the legacy of Kon-Tiki was the spirit of adventure after World War II which isn’t a feeling I’ve seen expressed before. Most of the perceptions I’ve heard through various sources World War II was the adventure and most people just wanted to be safe at home and get back into the life they were fighting to protect. But then maybe I’m misunderstanding their idea of adventure and discovery.

Or maybe the movie simply didn’t state to its fullest intention what the impact of the Kon-Tiki exploration really was. The voyage made newspapers and proved a scientific theory but those things just aren’t enough when you don’t show us the further emotional impact it has on the persons who fought so hard to make the events happen. They can’t be removed from something like this. I suppose this has a lot of do with where the film decided to start and end.

I would have been far more interested in starting with the construction of the Kon-Tiki far more satisfied had it ended further down the road where we could truly understand the impact. Perhaps the filmmakers were trying not to read too much into or modify an account of history by seeking these deeper motivations. Perhaps they were attempting to avoid Heyerdahl’s ethnocentric speculations. But there has to be a happy medium between creating melodramatic tales and presenting dry facts.

The film was made in open waters but there’s something about the style that doesn’t feel quite like it was. Although the layers of special effects once they’re in the water are amazing, there’s something not fleshy enough. Films like Cast Away and others have been able to touch on these notes in a more human way.

I also would have appreciated this film if it hadn’t been in English. The language was far too simple. It felt very much as though it was not being properly communicated. Apparently the US version was cut by 30 minutes and specifically filmed in English. Ugh. Whoever thought so little of US audiences clearly misunderstood the power stories have when they are in their own language. It wouldn’t, however, have saved it completely as a brief look into the facts shows the filmmakers have taken unnecessary creative license that in the long run doesn’t add anything — some poor decision-making all around.

You could try to watch the original version which was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Foreign Feature Film and is the highest grossing movie of all time in Norway. But there are direct sources which might fare better including the 1948 book about the expedition written by Thor Heyerdahl and the 1950 documentary about the expedition which was directed by him and received an Academy Award in 1951.

Ultimately, Kon-Tiki didn’t feel like the story of men who did something amazing for themselves, their families, the world. It felt like the story of the raft and sadly the emotional journey of balsa wood just isn’t interesting enough to recommend.

The Food: Caraway Dill Popcorn

Caraway Dill PopcornI love unique flavors. The sort of spices and seeds that aren’t used in everyday cooking. Lavender was one of those exciting new tastes and caraway is another that I just don’t get to use often enough.

This tasty combination comes from the idea of an open-faced sandwich on rye bread with butter, dill, lemon, and cold shrimp. Minus the seafood.

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove the kernels. Place the popcorn in a mixing bowl.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add the caraway seeds. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the teaspoon of butter, dill and black pepper. When it’s melted pour over the popcorn, mix to combine. Serve warm with some good cardamom coffee!

If you’re looking for a variant try making the popcorn as kettle corn by adding sugar to the kernels as it pops before adding the seasoned butter for a sweet and salty taste.

Posted in Adventure, Cardamom, Christmas, Film, Film Genre, Food, Foreign Film, Holiday, Netflix, Norway, Screenwriting, Snack, Spices, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Advent : Day 20

sapphires-poster The Film: The Sapphires – Australia

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years as films have been pulling more and more from preexisting sources including headlines and history, about creative license when it comes to films based on real events.

Most of the sources I’ve heard from Hollywood say the history cannot stand on its own, that entertainment cannot sustain accurate depictions of events.

I understand there is a difference between a fictionalization and documentary but forcing changes to the actual account to meet the same mandated story-beats which occur in every mainstream film essentially eliminates all variants that made the story unique and worth telling in the first place.

Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs, Naomi Mayers, and Lois Peeler were a all-female Australian aboriginal singing group. In the movie the women are represented by characters named Cynthia, Gail, Julie and Kay.

Co-writer Tony Briggs’ mother, Laurel Robinson and his aunt Lois Peeler, were two of the original Sapphires members to perform in Vietnam. But their story is not told with anything but a kernel of reality. Briggs said he “found it liberating as a writer to expand the number of characters” as it made the dynamics of the story richer — which sounds to me like he didn’t know how to write about the interior workings of female characters in the time period.

What he did co-write with Keith Thompson is a story about an Irish guy failing at life who becomes teaches an all-female Australian aboriginal singing group soul music and becomes their manager. The true story is that Robinson and Peeler were introduced to soul music in Vietnam when they sang backing vocals for a New Zealand Maori band they had previously performed with in Melbourne. Now that’s interesting!

The original play by Tony Briggs that the film is based on is set at the time of increasing calls for Aboriginal rights and before the credits roll it says each of the singers worked and made pathways for those rights. I don’t think the story needed to be a different genre to have dealt with the topic in a more satisfying way. Now, perhaps what the film was communicating is that the struggle for racial equality in America really did have an impact on Aboriginals in Australia — but it certainly felt more like the writer’s musings than a deep cultural connection.

And therein lies the problem. It’s not the unique story it should be. Although Tony Briggs is very much responsible for the content — the distinct cultural perspective just wasn’t there. It felt too much like That Thing You Do!

Somewhere in the process this story decided to speak to a Western audience. Struggles must be surmountable, love must overcome all impediments, and characters should express themselves with a knowledge beyond their moment in history so anything to be learned can be masticated for you. Director Wayne Blair doesn’t offer much in the way of subtly which is my subtly way of saying he doesn’t offer any. The film tells you exactly how to feel each moment and emotionally, the notes are singular. There isn’t much satisfaction to be had here in terms of telling the story of actual Sapphires.

Compare this film to another Australian story like The Dish. There are very mainstream moments in the film which is based on true events, uses fictional characters, and alters historical details for dramatic effect but it has something very unique to offer. The distinction between the films lies not only in a cultural presentation but in the style of filmmaking and promotion. The Sapphires has been presented as being a real story whereas The Dish has a cheeky way of acknowledging it is a fictitious perspective on actual events.

The most interesting part of The Sapphires is the love story — and it’s completely fictitious. I mean completely. The manager played by the lovable Chris O’Dowd never existed but his relationship with Gail, played wonderfully by Deborah Mailman, makes this film watchable and I’ll tell you why.

There are two reasons which interlock to the point where you cannot have one without the other. The first is O’Dowd and Mailman have chemistry. It’s clear from their first scene and the fierce cuteness of their relationship just keeps growing. But more importantly — it’s so wonderful to see a woman of a different body shape with a strong, rough, personality be the romantic lead. And for the guy to be attracted to her because of that rough strength. In this, the writers and director have managed to shove aside some average romance tropes and reflect reality.

To my opening paragraph: There are problems with presenting history as entertainment and most of the time the reason the deviation from reality becomes so liberating is that you’re telling your own story. We would all be better off if filmmakers decided that instead of modifying history to meet certain tropes of entertainment they had the freedom to create original and diverse narratives.

If you can lower your expectations and simply enjoy a small film that doesn’t require much to watch and rewards with a few really good moments, grab a snack and get watching.

The Food: Lamington Popcorn

100B7240A lamington is a dessert of Australian origin. It consists of squares of sponge cake coated first in a layer of traditionally chocolate icing, then in desiccated coconut.

It was named after Lord Lamington who served as Governor of Queensland and are often sold as fund raisers for youth groups. Apparently they’re also popular in Cleveland, Ohio.

From what I can tell they’re supposed to taste of cake and frosting with just the coconut flake on the outside so I resisted putting coconut powder in the chocolate. If you so desire you may be a rebel and add the extra layer of coconut.

Also, I chose not to create a sticky base and bake this recipe into a crunchy popcorn. I felt like the texture and warmth would be more similar to the taste of the moist cake and I wanted the clarity of the two main ingredients to shine instead of the additional candy taste of a coating.

I think it turned out wonderfully although it may require a spoon to eat.

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a metal bowl.

On medium heat put the chocolate in the pan to melt. When it does, add the butter and stir with a heat-resistant rubber spatula. When the butter is incorporated add the vanilla and stir. Pour the chocolate over the popcorn and add the coconut, mix together and enjoy!

Posted in Australia, Christmas, Comedy, Film, Film Genre, Food, Holiday, Independent, International Cinema, Netflix, Romance, Snack | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Advent : Day 19

The Film: 千と千尋の神隠し [Spirited Away] – Japan

Spirited AwayI had heard of the works of Hayao Miyazaki and seen bits here and there, but watching this  movie years ago was my first full experience. I watched the whole movie, internally on the edge of my seat. The story felt familiar, playing like an old fairy tale or legend that has become an accepted part of culture, but both the beautiful animation and the deeply emotional narrative went to fresh places.

From Wikipedia: A sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba (Natsuki), Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world. Miyazaki wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on his friend’s ten-year-old daughter, who came to visit his house each summer.

The world, or rather other world, of this film is unbelievably bewitching. The story is so well crafted by Miyazaki’s emotional intelligence and it’s magic so grounded in the reality of the fantasy that it reminds me very much of reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Both authors seem th have a similar understand of the way a child’s mind works and manage to tell a great story for children and adults by never talking down to the audience.

The details in the animation are so intricate that the smells and tastes of the world come through the screen. The textures and light are pleasingly cinematic but the plot and technique go hand in hand. There is comedy and adventure, love, and loyalty — there are also elements of the macabre but it doesn’t turn into grotesque — there is an Alice in Wonderland tone to the fantasy. There are also some overlapping themes but this film breaks fantastic new ground.

The amazing animation is such a fertile visual environment that you will find yourself drawn in, even if you are not well versed in animation. Be warned however, you’re not in for princesses with evil step-parents and sassy talking horses. What makes it so interesting is that it is far from the typical animation.

If you’re a fan of animation, Miyazaki films, or even if you’re new to the genre — Spirited Away is fantastic entertainment with an emotionally savvy core to share and enjoy!

The Food: Soy Sauce & Butter Popcorn

Soysauce & Butter PopcornAfter yesterday’s sweet goodness I was looking for a savory popcorn without the use of any sugar.

If you’re looking for a hard popcorn this isn’t the recipe for you. I would suggest making this from the more robust kettle corn, with it’s crunchy shell, and some combination of powdered butter and soy sauce.

I’m sure there are many ingredients I could turn to that are more interesting but I happen to absolutely love the soy sauce I have. Until I found this one I always thought soy sauce tasted only of salt water. But this sauce has a delicious and complex taste I find myself tasting extra drops whenever I whip it out. If you like your popcorn warm and full-bodied, try this fantastic combination.

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or reduced salt margarine
  • 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a metal mixing bowl.

Put the butter, soy sauce, pepper, onion, and optional pepper flakes in a sauce pan on medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. The sauce should be a little caramelized from the soy sauce.

Now here comes a very specific step: I read in some other recipes that if you try to pour the sauce over the popcorn it will turn into mush. It will happen, trust me. The sauce is hot and is too liquidy to stick to the popped corn. What you do is take a high temperature rubber scraper and gather some of the sauce on in, then stir the popcorn with the scraper.

Frito Lay, Mike Soy Sauce & Butter Popcorn

As the sauce cools you will be able to drizzle it from the scraper into the bowl without fully saturating the pieces. The point is to get droplets into the bowl, not a giant stream of hotness.

Continue stirring until the popcorn is evenly coated. Serve immediately.

It may be possible to bake the flavor into the popcorn by putting the oven on a low setting so that the moisture is removed. I was not patient enough to try and I happen to enjoy the warm, soft taste where the flavors bloom as you eat.

Apparently this is a popular flavor combination in Japan. If you’re looking for something a little more complex I suggest adding rice seasoning mixes, almonds, candied citrus peel, crushed fried onions, wasabi peas, sesame and honey, or include hot mustard in the sauce.

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World Advent : Day 18

The Shows: UK TV – United Kingdom

Television is on the rise both here and around the world. Countries are adapting popular shows from other countries and with streaming platforms looking for more content many international shows are getting the attention they deserve.

This is a bit of a departure but I think it’s a great detour. This article is focused on the UK because the range of shows is so wide, they are more readily available, and whether comedy, drama, or mystery — the quality is freaking fantastic.

SpacedSpaced: By now everyone knows Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and their Cornetto trilogy which recently concluded with The World’s End but it all began with this show. Written by and starring Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as two London twenty-somethings who meet by chance in a café and pretend to be a couple in order to meet the requirements for renting a cheap flat.

The nerd levels are high here which is what makes this show so unique. It’s a celebration of television, movies, and pop culture. The extended cast of characters includes Nick Frost, of course, as Mike, and a lot of the gags in Shaun of the Dead appear here. You may also recognize the reverse references to the show with characters like the bike messenger Tyres and actor Peter Serafinowicz as a mega jerkface.

Director Edgar Wright’s playful pop style, clearly in development, gives the show its unique charm and the frequent use of fantasy sequences keep every episode feeling fresh. Like many UK shows it’s too short on seasons but with laughs like this all we can do is be grateful.

My favorite characters are the landlady Marsha and the tortured artist who lives downstairs, Brian. What would ordinarily be two side characters good for a few gags are instead developed personalities that take faux-couple Tim and Daisy into some deeply hilarious places that ring with real emotion.

A hoarde of other great UK actors make appearances  and the show does a great job of dealing with that time in your life when your career and love life haven’t quite gotten on track. For that reason it is instantly re-watchable and even over ten years later, still feels modern.

0b1b017b42a0acd99837f110.LThe IT CrowdChris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade are two more faces that are better known now than when I first started watching this show. This is some more seriously geeky subject matter as the show is set around the IT department of a London office.

Katherine Parkinson is the other third of the IT team and although she does not match the nerd levels of Roy and Maurice Moss, her character is a dork of a different sort. She’s the Elaine Benes type who thinks she has it all together only to fail miserably, hilariously. Her competitive friendship with Roy is a standout part of the dynamic but the show is at it’s best when Moss is naive and Roy is just trying to do something simple — inevitably whatever they put their hand to is a disaster.

With bomb threats, fires, deaths, robots, and Richmond creator Graham Linehan certainly keeps this series from ever crossing out of the comedy genre. It’s a strange and wonderful world where the seminal line “Have you tried turning it off and on again” becomes the best series-long running gag and the exploits at Reynholm Industries always lead somewhere entertaining.

The set is as intriguing as Roy’s t-shirts, each episode has another winner. My personal favorite is about time travel. There was a pilot of an American version with Joel McHale as Roy and Ayoade as Moss. Of course it was horrible but The Office managed to make a go of it and was good for a few seasons. It does seem like Community is a decent ringer for what may have been.

If you’re a standard nerd or you’ve ever tried to watch a movie with a German cannibal, this show gets you. It’s a quotable, memorable, instant classic — a great show to binge watch with friends.

Black Books: C979388o-created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan this show feels like it might very well be happening in the same world as The IT Crowd. Maybe just a few streets over and down a couple of blocks from Reynholm Industries, Bernard Black is in his book shop with his perky pal Manny and his drinking buddy Fran, not selling books.

Starring Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig, the genius series is a comedy that revolves around Wine, toast, books, wine, absinthe, wine, and Bernard the belligerent and openly hostile owner of Black Books, who loathes most everything and everyone.

As The It Crowd takes on geek culture, working in a large office, dealing with your boss and co-workers, this show takes on the literary world and agony of the retail environment. I’m going to quote directly from Wikipedia here because it’s simply fascinating:

The concept of Bernard owning a bookshop came about because of Moran’s view of bookshops as doomed enterprises. Moran said “Running a second-hand bookshop is a guaranteed commercial failure. It’s a whole philosophy. There were bookshops that I frequented and I was always struck by the loneliness and doggedness of these men who piloted this death ship”, while Linehan said his belligerent personality reflected a sign he once saw in a bookshop stating “Please put the books anywhere you like because we’ve got nothing better to do than put them back”. Moran said of the series, “We just wanted to cram as much elaborate stupidity into a half-hour that could make it be coherent and that you would believe”

Although some of the best episodes aren’t about the store at all. It’s hard to describe why a show with such a central figure works, but it does. I guess there’s a Bernard Black in all of us.

The Office (UK)The Office: This show created a new genre — cringe comedy. I remember watching this for the first time with my hand over my mouth, floored by the dialog and situations that were just so hard to watch and impossible not to.

Once again we find a comedy about a workplace but this mockumentary, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, focuses on one completely inept manager — David Brent. His character is so stunningly unlikeable and so desperately human.

The true heart of the show is Tim, played by Martin Freeman, who hates his job but pines for Dawn, though she has a serious boyfriend. Assistant to the regional manager is Gareth who is at odds with Tim. Around them are a tertiary cast of characters that ground the comedy.

Looking back now the world of this show has become such a part of our visual and comedic lexicon that it’s important to remember how groundbreaking this series actually was. The workplace on was often used on television for drama or sitcoms but not with mockumentary style camerawork and certainly not in this dry tone of comedy.

I don’t use the term cringe comedy lightly. If you’re looking for something a little less cheeky check out the first four seasons of the American version. But it speaks very highly of the UK series that a show about a paper company in Slough has made such a worldwide impact. Make sure you watch the Christmas special. It really is the best of the bittersweet series.

tumblr_m9ksq8viGf1qewwelo1_1280Sherlock: Also starring Martin Freeman along with Benedict Cumberbatch series three of this show is on its way having left us with an intense cliffhanger.

A new telling of Conan Doyle’s stories set in the modern-day where Sherlock uses technologies available to him today in order to solve crimes. The crime drama was conceived by David Moffat and Mark Gatiss and succeeds in being witty and addictive while taking the necessary liberties to make great television.

The modern technology added to the story doesn’t solely bring Sherlock into the 21st century, it also is a whip-smart way to present information to the audience. This is where the show excels. It has created a distinct world for the master detective to thrive in, one that even plays at referencing it’s own literary sources.

The use of characters from the stories as well as some additional liberties taken provides the show with a fantastic cast. Villains, never quite lovers, friends, co-workers, superiors and everything in between — the show is an abundance of interesting personalities like moths to the flame of Holmes.

Freeman plays Watson who is a doctor returned from war, just as the original character. Moffat and Gatiss are aware enough to use this wisely. Gatiss himself plays a character who is a wonderful counterpart to Holmes. My favorite, however, is Molly Hooper. Because she’s a different type of female character.

If you like detective shows this is a winner. The length of each episode is thoroughly satisfying, like a hearty meal. Be sure to make it to the end of the series before the next begins. You won’t want to miss it!

Titles7Poirot: I’ve followed this wonderful series for so many, many years. Agatha Christie‘s fictional Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, is brought to life masterfully by David Suchet.

Beginning in 1989 the series has worked its way through Christie’s novels some more faithfully than others. Until recently the production has always been of the highest quality. The music is fabulous and the variations of the title theme influenced by the story are nuanced gems worth listening for. The art deco an ever-present reminder of the time period along with the modes of travel and the exquisite fashion. The comedy, the murder, the little gray cells. Absolutely brilliant.

The last few years had fallen a little short. The modern versions of many shows have taken a darker twist where the emphasis was increasingly on the side of the crime and away from Poirot and his wonderful cast of friends including Miss Lemon, Captain Hastings, and Chief Inspector Japp.

But the final series seems as though it may return some to its roots with episodes written by Mark Gatiss, Nick Dear and others. One can only hope. It’s so hard to say goodbye to this cherished series. I’ve watched each episode at least a dozen times through the years. It’s a great companion for those nights when you need a little mystery, a little comedy, a little Belgian.

492911_1LCDeqrmLuther: While most cop shows lean toward utilitarian two-shot directing or shaky “in the moment” camera-work — Luther is art.

The style, especially in the first series, quietly tells you not to notice it. But you do, you have to. Maybe not on the first watch, it’s too compelling to reflect on the visual artistry. But you’ll be left with a distinct impression that you’ve really watched something crafted with style and intention. So when you find yourself back at the beginning again, and you will, knowing how the story happens will shift your focus to the visual way the story is told.

Brian Kirk, Sam Miller and Stefan Schwartz each directed two episodes. The changing eye behind the lens is barely perceptible except upon a repeat viewing. The division of work is camouflaged by the three act structure arced through its six episodes. But each are unafraid of distance, texture, focus, or composition.Brian Kirk gives you the first episodes and pulls you in with a strong sense, not just of the character, but the world he inhabits. It’s mature but unquestionably modern. The style of framing has the sense of proportion, tone, and flesh of a Hopper painting. It’s staggering and brilliant. It’s fearless directing.Sam Miller can see the quiet moments. His sense of atmosphere is sensitive to the beauty and brutality of Luther’s reality, but without the clutter. His ability to show you what’s in an actors eye is only second to his ability to help them make their performances works of art.

Stefan Schwartz brings a sense of rough, a kinetic pulse in direct opposition to the savoring pace of the opening episodes. This fevered pace builds but never loses its footing, never sacrifices clarity for thrills. The final ten minutes of the fifth episode which continues into the sixth episode finale is a satisfying third act that gives you more than you could want seconds before it ends — visually returning to beginning.The music of Luther is never stronger than in that sixth episode and deserves a stand-alone post. It’s that perfect.

There are things in the story to dislike — an elevation of psychological depravity and a created reality sometimes too in favor of its main character, but the production — the directing, is strong storytelling. Is art.

Miranda: played by Miranda Hart, deals with the kind of humorous situations I find I’m entirely paranoid of personally committing. Sure there are absurd over the top situations but in every episode there’s a moment or two where I completely identify with the character.

Like attempting to take your sweater off and realizing your shirt’s gone with it, trying to be a “new you”, being called sir because of your height, falling asleep in a library, or reading nazi propaganda to children. Alright, well not the last one.

On the DVD cover it says “One of the few recent laugh-out-loud sitcoms.” It genuinely is. Miranda Hart is the smashing combination of Frances de la Tour’s Madame Maxime, Toni Collette, and a wonderful, hilarious, awkward red-headed friend of mine from long ago. So as she talks to the camera, I already feel I know her. It’s nice to watch a show about a woman who isn’t a completely poised, anorexic, wanton stick insect. In fact, Miranda’s rather a spaz. But she’s always in on the joke, or makes it before you do, so the sense of humor never feels too sardonic.

It’s kind of funny how breaking the third wall, as the show frequently does, doesn’t seem to matter. I still very much care about the characters and no episode is a better example of why than Let’s Do It from series 2. It’s one of those hard to watch/can’t look away episodes British shows are fond of and I’ve come to love.

For both shows the second series is better than the first, the best episode is the first one of the second series, and I was sad when it was over. All good signs of a pitch perfect, must own, tell everyone, show. I know they’re not everyone’s taste. But then, some people like CBS programming.

Hyperdrive: The best of both comedy and sci-fi. Forget all the comparisons to Red Dwarf. Hyperdrive refrains from the acid-induced insanity of Dwarf and aims right for Star Trek/Farscape/Stargate/Gallactica parody all while staying broad enough to be a great watch. Even if you’re not a trekkie/scaper/gater/gallactite? frakhead? there’s a lot to enjoy.

Think of Hyperdrive as Star Trek: TNG but intentionally laughable, or as a live-action Futurama where Planet Express is replaced by members of a volunteer force stumbling through heroic missions to protect British interests in a changing galaxy.

Space Commander Michael “Mike” “Lucky Jack” “Hendo” Henderson is an optimistic if not idealistic, space nerd leading his rag-tag crew on low-priority missions with all the vim and vigor of his TV hero Captain Helix.

Awesome. The Commander, as played by Nick Frost, has an insatiably positive attitude. Under all the comedy he actually cares about the mission and the values he’s meant to espouse. That really sets the show apart from other sci-fi series, serious dramas included, as they’re mostly lead by characters with few redeeming qualities and vague patches of motivation in place of actual depth.

Don’t get me wrong, this show is a wacky comedy with snappy self-deprecation (the hero trap joke for example) but they’ve so perfectly crafted a world that while you’re laughing, you’re also genuinely interested. And that’s what makes it brilliant. Once past the Glish characters early in the first episode, the crass jokes mostly taper off and are replaced by comic situations, gut-busting character foibles, parody, and subtle touches like the Commander’s various uses for the word commencify.

You’ve just got to love a show whose view of the future includes karaoke as an Olympic sport. The supporting cast are incredibly entertaining, especially Miranda Hart whose scene-stealing performance as Diplomatic Officer Chloe Teal lead me to find another great series.

91vg8P89iXL._SL1500_Gavin & Stacey: For me, quality storytelling is when I’m able to realize the writers are steps ahead of me, giving the characters what not what they want but what they need, so I can just sit back and watch it all unfold in ways I couldn’t have even imagined.

But many writers feel the need to make their characters edgy and miserable, make them suffer. They think that’s what story is made of. The result is bitter characters with nihilistic world views. Gavin and Stacey is quality storytelling.

The show follows the romance between Gavin, from Essex, and Stacey, from Wales. Over three seasons and one Christmas special, we meet a cast of friends and relatives all surrounding key moments in the protagonist’s relationship.

Throughout Gavin and Stacey the current of optimism wrapped in plenty of drama, laughs, rude and lude behavior, is completely engrossing, touching, and smile provoking. So infrequently do we see images in entertainment of love and family which portray the ups and downs, the arguments and laughs without being so pessimistic you wonder why anyone would even bother.

It’s the job of the writer to think of something beyond what the character wants because they don’t need a perfect ending, just the right one. In episode after episode, that’s just what Gavin and Stacey delivered. It may not be for everyone but rarely are love, friendship, parenthood, relatives, culture, and humor portrayed with sincerity. Rarely do you watch a show that never fails.

More to come: Vera, A Touch of Frost, Broadchurch, Call The Midwife, The Mimic, Monday Monday, and Trollied

The Food: English Toffee Popcorn

English Toffee PopcornI was recently given some lovely English toffee and was inspired to try to make a similar popcorn flavor.

There are many types of toffee but upon searching “English toffee” the one topped with chocolate and nuts seemed to be the most prevalent.

I’m not a big fan of adding corn syrup to my popcorn recipes so I searched the internet for some idea of how to create the toffee flavor without it. I found this which was very helpful but far more than I intended to make. So the measurements are a little odd because I was scaling down the ratios from this much, much larger recipe.

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup crushed almonds
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. I prefer a dry pop for this recipe. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a bowl.

Grease a baking sheet and set the oven to 250°.

Place the sugar and water in a pan on medium heat. Let it cook and the sugar dissolve. Add the butter and continue cooking. The mixture will caramelize. Continue cooking as it bubbles up. Continue cooking for 5 minutes or until it coats the back of spoon. Stir in the vanilla and add the baking soda — the mixture will puff up.

Add half the toffee mix to the popcorn and throw in half of the almonds and chocolate chips. Stir the mixture together. The warm sauce should melt the chocolate chips. Add the other half of toffee, almonds, and chocolate and mix again, coating the popcorn.

Place on the greased sheet and back for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 or so. Let it cool and enjoy!

This ratio leaves the popcorn coated by not saturated. If you want even more of a toffee taste, double the sauce ingredients. If you want to double the entire recipe, and you will, I suggest making multiple batches of this size.

Posted in BBC, Christmas, Comedy, Holiday, Netflix, Sci-Fi, Snack, TV Show, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Advent : Day 17

The Film: Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle – South Korea

Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi BattleTwo siblings, who have grown to be two very different adults, compete in a nationwide kimchi contest. But food is just the entry into their personal stories which makes this sentimental film a good watch.

For the first ten minutes I thought I was in for a frothy cooking comedy along the lines of Simply Irresistible which would have been fine, I was in the mood for that. But then it became something else — additional layers of deep rivalry, motherly love, history, death, and cultural heritage.

In other circumstances I may have tried to watch something else but my popcorn was hitting all the right notes to match the wonderful scenes of cooking and the story was clearly going somewhere. As the story was so unique, I wanted to know the thoughts behind the film. I kept on and became wrapped up in the excellent way the kimchi contest became about other more important matters.

As silly or sentimental as the film became at times I really responded to the way it dealt with identity. You think you are completely in control of what you’re doing and your life is built solely on absolutes but really — life is messy. We need the past to have a solid future. Our personal histories are made of more than the hard times we remember and each part of our life imparts a flavor that contributes to who we are now.

If you’re in the mood for something a little bit different, if you want to dive into an interesting world with a good heart and intricate relationships, that encourages food as a way of bringing people together and healing wounded souls — grab yourself a snack hit play.

The Food: Kimchi Popcorn

Kimchi PopcornI love the spicy complex taste of kimchi in winter. It’s such a switch from the heavy foods of late fall and winter but it fills the belly with the same warmth.

I went to my favorite place, an Asian grocery store where I buy almost all my food, to look for a kimchi ramen to make this popcorn but I ran across JFC Kimchi Furikake rice seasoning.

The first thing I do before anything enters my cart in any store is look at the sodium content. I have not developed the taste for heavily salted products of any kind. I rarely add salt to anything. Compared to the ramen the rice seasoning was reasonable and the ingredients really spoke to me: Kimchi (chinese cabbage, chiles, shallots, onions, ginger, garlic, chives, carrots, radish, apple, fish extract, salt, glutinous rice flour), sesame seeds, potato starch, chiles, salt, sugar, turnip greens, wasabi, seaweed.

Yes. All of that.

The next thought was what to use as a base. I didn’t think butter would work well with the more delicate flavors so I went with olive oil and canola oil to carry a little of a fried taste instead. It’s absolutely unique, it hits just the right spot, and so delicious and I can’t wait to try more rice seasonings!

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons oil such as canola, vegetable, or peanut
  • 3 teaspoons JFC Kimchi Furikake rice seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • Siracha, sambal, or red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a metal mixing bowl.

On medium heat add the oils, seasoning, soy sauce, and any combination of the optional ingredients. As a note on spice – the rice seasoning has a mild warmth but not a full bodied heat.

When the oil warms and the seasonings begin to sizzle slightly, pour the mixture over the popcorn. Mix to coat.

Enjoy this warm treat alone or add additional snacks to create a unique mix. Nuts, rice crackers, freshly shredded roasted nori, etc.

Posted in Christmas, Drama, Film, Film Genre, Food, Foreign Film, Holiday, International Cinema, Netflix, Snack, South Korea, Spices, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Advent : Day 16

The Film: Les femmes du 6ème étage [The Women on the 6th Floor] – France

Les femmes du 6ème étageI sat down to watch what I thought would be different fare from the deeper films I’ve dived into this month. I was prepared for a light comedy with mainstream production values where traditional comic tropes played out with frothy fun. My plan was to write about the other side of foreign cinema, the big comedies with decent budgets, French stars and light subjects that are great entertainment.

My plan teetered as possibly coming together until half and hour from the end of the film when it was dashed on the rocks with my hope of finding a new French film to completely adore.

I’ve been talking about the ability of foreign film to tell different kinds of stories, hit different beats, carry new notes. I suppose by omission it may have seemed as though I believe all foreign film has the ability to create with such emotional depth, strength of vision,  clarity in reflection of reality, rejection of standardization, and intelligence.

To be clear, I understand completely that perpetuating easy answers and singular motivations is prevalent in all subject matters the whole world wide. At least in independent and foreign film I may have an occasional respite as the films I write about here are most often the excellent or intriguing exceptions. This film finds itself in another category — the intriguing normality.

The Women On The 6th Floor was funny. It had production value, stars of French film, and even charm. What derailed my review was an unexpected split personality — is it the tale of a manic pixie dream girl who sets a rich white man free from the constraints of his richness and whiteness by some cliché cross-cultural sexual enlightenment or is it the tale of three-dimensional characters who are set free from the monotonous and deficient patterns of life from an unlikely source?

If it is the former, then bah — what’s the point. Tropes are tropes no matter what country a film is from. A man discovers his wife is cold while the young foreign woman is beautiful and exciting is hardly original. In fact, in modern filmmaking it’s insulting. To look at the poor man’s wife and wonder, doesn’t she have hopes and ideas as well? If that were at all a worthy point to make in the first place, where is her young foreigner to set her free from a husband who clearly isn’t invested in her?

The young foreign woman, Maria, whose entrance into the story incites the change, becomes nothing more than an object of lust. Doesn’t she deserve to have her own story unfettered by the repressed head of the household she cleans? Was she only created to smile vapidly and be so full of Spanish vida so that this man, who was displeased with his abundance, could have a rather shallow revelation?

The women on the 6th floor are intriguing characters, immigrants from Spain who have left their lives behind. The movie touches history and culture, portrays the women as gutsy as their lives are hard. They are fully formed, distinct women and played to perfection by bilingual actresses who fill the world of the story with the kind of natural quality a director prays for. Their comedic and dramatic timing against against sparks the strightman — Fabrice Luchini, one of my favorites.

The couple who didn’t realize their lives were empty is an intriguing story, their spoiled children fit right in, and all of this I could have enjoyed if writer Jérôme Tonnerre and director Philippe Le Guay had given Jean-Louis a chance to learn something real.

Spoilers ahead. How vastly more interesting this film would have been had his character pursued friendship instead of sex — if you cut out just one scene.

If Jean-Louis had walked upstairs to find Maria gone and pursued her years later to ask why she left without saying goodbye — instead of the reason for his seeking an answer being a cliché love story between a woman who added nothing but her culture and a man nothing but his money —  it would have been a man seeking to restore the first real friendship he’d ever had.

Not despite — but for this very reason The Women On The 6th Floor is worth watching. It’s an education on why tropes dumb down and soil otherwise fertile storytelling.

The Food: Macaron Popcorn

Macaron PopcornI was wondering just how to approach what I hoped would be a marvelous harkening back to my previous works with macarons as I searched my cupboards for ingredients.

I came upon a packet I purchased a month ago for coconut rice and skimmed the list of contents when it dawned on me that I had remaining coconut milk powder which would not bring to mind the flavors of the haystack style macaroon but instead the meringue based style of the dessert which has garnered a whirlwind of attention and presents the taste of coconut in an entirely different texture — spelled as macaron.

They are often colored brightly and range in flavors with the addition of icing as  filling. Google says they are also called Luxemburgerli.

This recipe is delicious and will fill your home with the wonderfully warm parfume of coconut. The end result wasn’t as hard of a coating as I had desired so future batches may be modified. But if you’re looking for a deliciously tasty treat that would mix well with chocolate, nuts, or other goodies — this is très bon. 

  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Grease a baking sheet and set the oven to 200°.

Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove unpopped kernels and put the popcorn in a mixing bowl.

Put sugar, vanilla, coconut powder and milk in a saucepan on medium heat. After 3-5 minutes the mixture will appear foamy. Add butter. Continue cooking until the mixture browns. Add baking soda and give it a quick stir with a greased rubber scraper. The mixture will puff up.

Pour onto the popcorn and mix to coat.

Place the popcorn on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Eat immediately or let cool — if you can keep your hands off it. Bon appétit!

Posted in Christmas, Comedy, Drama, European, Film, Film Genre, Food, Foreign Film, France, French, Holiday, International Cinema, Netflix, Period, Period Piece, Romance, Screenwriting, Snack | Leave a comment