Summer Films You May Have Missed, Part 1

Chances are, unless you were paying attention, you’ve missed the best movies that were released this summer. Chances are, big summer blockbusters like Star Trek and Suicide Squad overshadowed all of the scrumptious Sundance releases and independent films that came to theaters.

The good news is, most of these films are now available on Redox or VOD.

Here’s part one of my list of summer films you may have missed:

Midnight Special
Jeff Nichols, who brought us Mud, writes and directs this tight-lipped sciene fiction beauty. I say tight lipped– the film is quiet, with hardly an unnecessary word and no spoken exposition. The film follows a father as he tries to get his son– who possesses magical powers– to the place the son saw in one of his visions… all while they are pursued by both government agencies and religious extremists who want to take the boy. The film, while fantastical in concept, really comes down to the relationship between a child and his parents. It features wonderfully subtle nighttime cinematography by Adam Stone, and absolutely phenomenal performances by Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver… and the brilliant young Jaeden Lieberher.

The Lobster
From the get-go, the concept of this film clues you into how original this film is: In this world, marriage is mandatory by law, and any adult who is single gets shipped off to a resort where they must find love, or be turned into an animal (of their choice). The film’s deadpan delivery, hilarious absurdism, and disturbing nature make it deliciously uncomfortable in tone– you never know when to laugh or cringe. The film also makes a scathing critique of how society’s  determine how we treat love and relationships… a point that is poignantly hit in the haunting conclusion. Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.

 

 

Sing Street
Writer-director John Carney (OnceBegin Again), again hits it out of the park. Set in 1985 Dublin, 15-year-old Conor gets sent to a tyrannically-run Catholic school when his parents hit financial trouble. There, despite bullying and an abusive headmaster, he decides to start a futuristic rock band in order to impress a girl. Taking inspiration from bands like Duran Duran, The Clash, and The Cure, Conor uses his music to help him navigate the complicated aspects of life he’s experiencing. It’s a coming of age film, and hits all the necessary points for that kind of story, but does so in a way that is sincere,  touching, and genuinely hilarious– mostly due to Carney’s use of inexperienced actors and almost documentary-esque filming and writing. The film is dedicated “to brothers everywhere”… and comes down to that very special relationship between siblings.

 

Love & Friendship

Written and directed by Whit Stillman, this film is based on an obscure Jane Austen novella and follows the scheming of one Lady Vernon as she tries to secure the proper relationships that will make her rich and comfortable. Stillman pushes the comedy, which is upheld by hilarious performances by Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, and the film’s comic star Tom Bennett. This is the film for all those who perhaps prefer Austen’s satire and humor over her romance.

 

High Rise

Based on a classic British sci-fi novel by J.G. Ballard, High Rise is, in essence, a modern retelling of the fall of Rome. Robert Laing, a neurosurgeon, moves into a fancy high-rise building on the outskirts of London. The building promises a new kind of life– one of complete luxury and convenience. The building is quickly divided by class– the rich in the upper levels and the poor in the lower levels. Soon the residents become dependent on the life the building offers… and spend their days in horrifically disgusting excess– parties, drugs, sex. But when electricity becomes scarce and the building stops functioning, the residents turn on each other and their society plunges into a chaos ruled by animal instincts. The film responds to the story with increasingly surreal editing and bizarre imagery, all harnessed in with 1970s design (when the novel was published) and a bit of a b-movie aesthetic. Written by Amy Jump, directed by Ben Wheatley, and starring Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss, and Sienna Miller. **Content Warning: this film is not for the faint-of-heart, and is most definitely a hard-R. Just don’t blame me for your nightmares, thanks.**

Cafe Society

This is a Woody Allen film for those who like Woody Allen films– is there much more to say? It features a star-studded cast and Vittorio Storer’s sumptuous cinematography– as well as a familiar story set in the 1940s about a neurotic young man navigating relationships. Jesse Eisenberg is one of my favorite stand-ins for Allen’s typical character, and the film is tinged with that bit of melancholy and regret that has been an undercurrent in Allen’s more recent films. Also worth noting– Kristen Stewart, who is quickly becoming a favorite actress of mine as she takes on more subtle roles (watch her in Certain Women this fall and you’ll see what I mean).

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi’s film Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an utter delight, start to finish. “Bad Egg” Ricky Baker, a 13-year-old tossed through dozens of homes in New Zealand’s foster system– gets adopted by farmers Bella and Hec and moves to the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the bush. And it’s a perfect fit. However, tragedy soon strikes and child services declare that they are taking Ricky away from his newfound home. What follows is a fantastic chase as Ricky and Hec go off into to bush to escape the threat of separation. The film’s quick-cut editing, aerial photography and quirky dialogue reinforces the playful aspect of the film’s tone and counters any possible over-sentimentality. Additionally, the film’s electronic soundtrack by Moniker brings is reminiscent of an 80s fantasy film, again elevating the film from something familiar into something extraordinary. It’s sincere, unique, and hilarious.

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Pear-Parmesan-Pecan Crostini

 

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I made these earlier this week as an experiment, and since then I’ve made them twice more due to popular demand.

These little crostini make a great snack or appetizer or companion to tea. The interplay of flavors really is my favorite part. Upon first bite you immediately taste the sweetness of the honey and pears, and then as you continue to taste gradually the saltiness of the parmesan, toasted flavor from the nuts, and taste of rosemary come through. It starts out as one flavor and then almost completely changes… which has you reaching for a second one.

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Also, they’re very easy to make and, unlike a lot of appetizer recipes, the ingredients are easy to get.

Of course, when such simple ingredients are being used, quality is key. A few quick notes on ingredients—first, you can’t make a good crostini without good bread. The times I’ve made this I used a ciabatta baguette from Trader Joe’s and a rosemary baguette loaf from my local grocery store. Try to get something that has that nice outer crust and chewy interior—avoid the flaky/fluffy “French bread” that haunts many grocery store bakeries. Second, use a flaked or shredded parmesan rather than the crumbled wood pulp stuff. The aged flavor of a nice parmesan makes a difference. Lastly, since we all know pears are perfectly ripe for approximately 5 min, this is a great recipe to use over-ripe pears on. Just cut away any bruised bits and don’t worry.

So eat this, binge The Mindy Project or The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt before their new seasons start next week, and enjoy.

Pear-Parmesan-Pecan Crostini

1 baguette

¼ scant c olive oil

2 cups parmesan cheese

1 c finely chopped pecans

2 T rosemary, finely chopped

½ c honey

1-2 pears

Preheat oven to 425. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or foil. Slice the baguette into ½ inch slices and spread across baking sheet. Brush each slice with a little bit of oil and then evenly distribute the parmesan cheese across the crostini. Stick in the oven and back for 7-10 minute until bread is toasted and cheese is melted and lightly browned. Transfer them to a cooling rack.

In the meantime, throw the pecans and rosemary into a skillet over medium-high heat and toast. Simply move them constantly with a wooden spoon for about 6 min or until they’re very aromatic. When they’re toasted, transfer them into a bowl and pour the honey over them, stirring until combined.

Thinly slice the pears and put 1-2 slices on each crostini (depending on size of both pear and crostini). Scoop about a generous teaspoon worth of the nut/honey combination on each crostini—you may want to heat up the honey in the microwave for a few minutes to make it more workable, or use two spoons to scoop it like cookie dough.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

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Carrot-Ginger Soup

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After the weekend, when I eat out and have more time to cook indulgent things, I’m often wanting something a little lighter. This Carrot-Ginger soup is quick to make, full of fresh and natural ingredients, and has texture and comfort of a cream soup without actually being one. The ginger, apple, and cinnamon give the soup a lightly sweet flavor without overpowering the flavor of fresh carrots.

Also, given its quick cooking time, it’s great for a weekday lunch or dinner– and it’s vegetarian and gluten-free, which seems like an added bonus.

moonrise-kingdom-international-posterOn the side I’d recommend another light & sweet addition– Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012). It features an all-star cast and Anderson’s typical cheery, quirky design, but is perhaps a little more mild in terms of content and so wouldn’t put off an Anderson Newbie. The story focuses on Sam & Suzy, two 12 year olds who have been deemed “troubled” by the adults and run away to the outskirts of their New England island to create their own paradise called Moonrise Kingdom. The film speaks to the innocence and purity of first love and is full great 1960s design and music. Not to mention all of the great deadpan humor–Edward Norton’s scout troop leader is one of my favorite Wes Anderson characters.

Carrot-Ginger Soup

Serves 6

2 T butter

2 medium onions, minced

1 T fresh grated ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp salt

1 T brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp thyme

2 lbs carrots, peeled & sliced ¼ inch thick

4 c water

1 ½ c apple juice

½ tsp baking soda

1 T apple cider vinegar

Melt butter in a pot over medium high heat. Add the onions, ginger, garlic, salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, and thyme. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the carrots, water, ¾ c apple juice, and baking soda. Bring to a boil, and then simmer over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes or until carrots are tender.

Transfer soup to a blender (you may have to work in batches) and blend on low until smooth, about 1 min. Return pureed soup to clean pot and stir in apple cider vinegar and remaining ¾ c apple juice. Bring to a simmer once more.

Serve with a drizzle of cream and a few cracks of fresh black pepper.

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Knight of Cups

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Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups is certainly is not a film for everyone—perhaps not even a film I’d recommend. This film is not one for someone looking to escape or for someone who needs to “get it.” But if you’re spiritually wandering, wondering what life is about, or are simply a lover of medium specificity—perhaps this is a film for you.

“Remember the story I used to tell you as a boy… It’s about a knight—a prince—who was sent out into Egypt to find a pearl at the bottom of the sea. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a drink that took away his memory. He forgot he was the son of the king. He forgot the pearl.”

Rick (Christian Bale), a screenwriter, wanders in the wake of tragedy—a brother has recently died. Rick’s brother throws blame to the father, Rick’s father throws blame to the children, Rick’s mother smiles and pretends to ignore the underlying tension. Rick does nothing. Arguments happen in the background, leaving only snippets of conversation to eek through the soundtrack. Rick is in a fog—the things around him are nothing, mean nothing, just like the empty studio back lot many conversations take place. He is searching for that pearl—only he has no idea what or where it is.

Knight of Cups is less of a story and more of an experience—a blur of memories and experiences as a man struggles to find meaning in a life that has been revealed to him as empty. A combination of Tarot and Christian symbolism, the film uses the specific aspects of its medium to tell the story. Such an imaginative collage of emotions and experiences could only exist in film; images weave in and out, combined with voice-over of Psalms and The Pilgrim’s Progress and a lush soundtrack filled with early 20th century nationalist work and Hanan Townshend’s minimalist compositions.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s beautiful, dreamlike cinematography paints the city of angels as an urban jungle, always looking from the top of building town as if looking down from the top of a tree. As Rick drives through Los Angeles, he passes billboards and advertisements which suggest to him some way to find meaning. And certainly, this is where he looks for it: in the materialistic, vacuous world of excess that is at the ready in Hollywood. He drinks, he sleeps with prostitutes, he goes to parties—but nothing can end the vacant stare with which he views the world. The film looks at the emptiness of the lavish, party-hard lifestyle Rick is living—but perhaps more poignantly it looks at the morning after, when there is nothing left but empty cups and hangovers.

In the meantime relationships form. From an ex-wife who serves as a physician for burn victims to the model who finds balance in her Buddhist worship to the stripper who embraces every childlike curiosity, each of these women have found meaning and direction while Rick is proven incapable. They all complain that he is not fully committed to the relationship, that he never lets them know what he is thinking. Once in every relationship the couple finds themselves at the beach—and while his partners jump and laugh and splash in the water, Rick stays on the shore.

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At one point, he believes he has found his pearl in the form of a relationship with a married woman. But that is also torn away from him as he is pounded with the consequences that his own fears have created. For him a commitment would be a release, but he rejects anything permanent out of fear that it will be torn away. The impermanence of the montage reflects the impermanence of Rick’s life—no moment lasts because Rick can’t commit to it.

At one crucial point in the film, a Father in a cathedral preaches that suffering and trials should be viewed as a blessing from god. “To suffer binds you to something higher than yourself.” The film acknowledges the statement but more so acknowledges that words like these seem empty and trite when in the mire of existential doubt. A simple platitude brings no comfort when you’re flailing in the water and gasping for breath.

“He forgot he was the song of a king.” Rick is searching for the pearl but doesn’t know that’s what he’s searching for. He’s trying to return to his father—to god—but doesn’t know that’s where he wants to go.

Assigning meaning to this film seems to go against the spirit of it. Perhaps there are some who will find such abstraction pretentions—but the deeply personal emotions explored suggest something more pure in intent. The confusion of the story and the anguish explored and the overall lack of structure and focus on meditation do more justice to life experience than any banal story of redemption. Knight of Cups brings validation to the wandering and a hope that meaning might be possible in a seemingly meaningless world.

S’mores Popcorn

S'mores popcorn

I absolutely adore s’mores, and yet I hate eating them. No matter what, the chocolate isn’t quite melted or the marshmallow is burnt or the graham cracker breaks…

Consequently, many of my favorite recipes are s’mores inspired, but are much more convenient to eat than s’mores. This S’mores Popcorn makes the perfect movie night treat. It’s easy to make, has a great variety of textures, and is family-friendly.

(One note: I always try and use the Ghiradelli 60% dark chocolate chips when baking. They have an amazing melting texture and the best dark chocolate flavor I’ve found in chocolate chips.)

Pair with family movie night and a nostalgic 80s classic. Try Condorman (1981), The Private Eyes (1980), or The One and Only, Genuine Original Family Band (1968).

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S’mores Popcorn

(adapted from Bombshell Bling)

1/3 c popcorn kernels

2 T grapeseed or canola oil

1 c dark or semisweet chocolate chips

1 tsp shortening

1 c crushed graham crackers (about half a package)

1-2 c mini marshmallows

Pop the popcorn on the stovetop in the oil. Transfer popped popcorn to a bowl and lightly salt. Scoop the popcorn onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, making sure to leave any un-popped kernels in the bowl.

In a separate bowl melt the chocolate chips and shortening in the microwave at 30-second increments. Stir until smooth. (The shortening smooths and thins out the chocolate so that it can be drizzled easily). Set aside to cool.

Once chocolate is cool enough, transfer to a Ziploc bag and zip the bag closed. Cut the corner off of the Ziploc bag and drizzle 1/3 of the chocolate over the popcorn. Sprinkle graham crackers over popcorn, followed by the second 1/3 of chocolate. Finally, spread mini marshmallows over popcorn and graham crackers, and top with the last 1/3 of chocolate.

Transfer tray to the freezer for 10 min or until chocolate is set. Once it is, break up the popcorn into bite-size pieces and put into a bowl for serving!

The popcorn can be put in a airtight container or Ziploc bag for a day before the popcorn starts getting stale.

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Lemon-Rosemary Gnocchi

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It was officially spring two weeks ago, but today it’s gray and overcast and the wind is biting and even my dog is avoiding going outside.

I love the fresh food and flavors of springtime cooking, but seeing as I’ve spent most of today under an electric blanket, I wanted some sort of comfort food as well. So here’s what I came up with.

This Lemon-Rosemary Gnocchi has the fresh, bright flavors of spring paired with a delicious, warm creamy sauce that makes it perfect for the post-winter-pre-spring blues. The soft gnocchi, indulgent pancetta, and warm cream make a surprisingly wonderful marriage with the bold peas, fresh lemon, and fragrant rosemary. It’s also a quick one-pot dish, which is my favorite kind for so many reasons.

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What else to put on the menu? I’d recommend serving with steamed veggies or roasted asparagus on the side. For dessert: a viewing of Enchanted April (1991). This sweet film, in the style of a Merchant-Ivory type production, tells the story of four women escaping the dreary winter who meet while on vacation in Italy. The beautiful surroundings and new friendships revitalize their lives and opens the door for love. A perfect viewing to escape a dreary day.

 

Lemon-Rosemary Gnocchi

Cooking Time: 30 min

Serves 6

2 lbs potato gnocchi

3 T olive oil

1 lb chicken breast

5 oz diced pancetta

2 heaping tsp minced garlic

2 T chopped fresh rosemary

Zest from 2 lemons

3 T butter

Juice from 1 lemon

1 c heavy cream

1 c grated parmesan

1 c peas

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the gnocchi according to the package’s instructions. Before straining, collect ¼ cup pasta water. Set pasta and pasta water aside.

Dice the chicken so that it’s roughly the same size as the gnocchi. Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large pan, and then add the diced chicken along with half the pancetta and half of the garlic. Cook until chicken is lightly browned and the pancetta is crispy. Remove any excess fat and take the cooked meat out of the pan; set aside.

Add the rest of the pancetta and garlic into the pan. Once the pancetta is crispy, add in the butter, lemon zest, and chopped rosemary. Once the butter is melted, add the lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly, then sprinkle in the parmesan. Stir until the parmesan is melted and the sauce is creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I just added a few cracks of pepper).

Add the cooked chicken back in, stirring until hot. Then add cooked gnocchi and pasta water. Finally, add the peas and stir until hot.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of parmesan and lemon zest.

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Netflix Nights: Chef’s Table

 

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photo cred: netflix.com

An indulgent documentary series about the interplay between food, people, and places from the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

On May 20, 2012 an earthquake in Modena, Italy not only caused major damage and decimated numerous historical buildings, but had destroyed 360,000 of parmesan wheels—about half of the current Parmesano-Reggiano in production worldwide. Massimo Bottura, owner of the third best restaurant in the world, was asked to try and help find a use for the damaged cheese. His response was Risotto Cacio e Pepe—a simple parmesan risotto recipe designed to have chefs and restaurants buy all the damaged cheese. The recipe caught on—and soon all of the cheese was sold, saving many jobs and cheese makers along the way.

This story gives a glimpse into what the rest of Chef’s Table can offer. The series, created by David Gelb (director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi), is not only about the world’s best chefs and the food they create, but the intrinsic relationships between food, necessity, nostalgia, place, and emotion. As food writer Faith Willinger says in the first episode, “It’s not just about the food—it’s about the whole concept behind the food that makes it far more interesting.” This is exactly what makes the series so captivating—not only are you salivating at these beautifully filmed images of the most renown dishes in the world, you are emotionally involved in the interplay between the food and the people and the places that created them.

In the series’ inaugural season, six episodes explore the lives of six different chefs:

Episode 1: Massimo Bottura

Chef Massimo Bottura’s story bounces between Modena, Italy—where food traditions are sacred and he dares to break them—and NY, NY—where he experiments with food and falls in love.

Episode 2: Dan Barber

American chef Dan Barber focuses on creating food that is sustainable and creates a kitchen environment of education and support, truly making American cuisine stand on its own.

Episode 3: Francis Mallmann

While Mallmann owns multiple three-Michelin-star restaurants, this episode takes place in the isolated Patagonian Islands—reflecting his own wild, unpredictable philosophies and the ancient traditions from which his food is created.

Episode 4: Niki Nakayama

In the heart of Los Angeles, Niki Nakayama fights boundaries as a female chef developing out of a traditional Japanese family and food traditions.

Episode 5: Ben Shewry

Ben Shewry’s award winning Melbourne restaurant finds inspiration in a more relatable way—in the struggle of business, balancing family life, and a search to find exquisite local ingredients.

Episode 6: Magnus Nilsson

In a quiet, remote area of Sweden chef Magnus Nilsson uses local ingredients one might hardly call food and transforms them into fantastical culinary creations.

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photo cred: netflix.com

While the food is exquisitely presented and photographed, the series is no cooking show—you won’t see any recipes or instructions on how to make these creations, and there’s certainly no judge. Rather, the series acts as an exploration of creativity—what drives artists and how the way they live their life is exhibited in their work. In fact, their world of top-notch ingredients and 5-star restaurants mimics the world of fine art more than you might think.

Chef’s Table is indulgent and sophisticated—a must-watch for any foodie or cinephile who is craving inspiration. The series creates a meditation on the relationship between the earth that provides the food, the people for which it is a necessity, and the people who have the gall to make a staple of life something imaginative and beautiful. The life-lessons and personal philosophies are what make this series delicious.

Season 2 of Chef’s Table will be released on May 27th.