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Month: June 2016

Chef’s Table S2E1: Grant Achatz

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Horrific Looking Shapes

More captivating than most thrillers can hope to be, this opening episode of Chef’s Table second season is terrific. Faithful to the series formula, it’s just a talking head and some intenses dishes lavishly filmed, the chef telling his story and placing the spotlight on some on his signature recipes. Chefs are all passionate, but in the case of Chicago’s Grant Achatz, this passion takes a Christic form. The man has gone through hell and back, to cook us a storm.

Litteraly born in a diner (his father was a greasy spoon cook), Chef Achatz experimented with omelets before following his true call, learning how to cook with star American chefs like Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) or during a brief internship at Fernando Adria’s El Bulli. He then opened his first restaurant, Trio, in suburban Chicago, where he met a financial partner, who put up the money to open Alinea, his current table. Alinea was successful from the get-go, with three pages in the New York Times two days after opening. The kid from the fast food joint had become a star chef and Alinea was elected the best restaurant in the USA. Pictures of an ideal preppy son-in-law are sowewhat hard to connect with the emaciated 40-something chef who’s interviewed, though.

One is always suspicious about molecular cuisine, and a plenty of that is a work here. This is why at first some of Chef Achatz’ creations look downright over-indulging, like his floating sugar balloon or his idea to serve a dish on a pillow. But then something fascinating occurs. First, the chef has a beautiful voice and an extremely fluid body language; this elegance also characterises the way he talks about his craft. Most would sound aloof and desperately pretentious aiming at “a dish that would float”, but Mr Achatz’s intensity and unflinching amenity make him a powerful narrator. One could listen to him for hours describing what “horric looking shapes” resulted from the initial experiments with floating sugar.

But horror just started, and didn’t end there. Mr. Achatz matter-of-factly narrates how he was diagnosed with Stage IV mouth cancer, which should have led to mutilating surgery. A super-brand of chemotherapy saved him from the ordeal, but at the price of his taste buds, so he became “the chef who can not taste”, a conceptual artist with a sure-fire brigade, carrying on in spite of such a monumental loss it would have driven any less gifted chef in a hard concrete wall, fast.

His taste buds eventually came back and Mr. Achatz is now more dedicated to his craft than ever. Miracles happen. The lesser of those miracles is not that in the course of the interview one has completely changed the way one looked at the Sugar Ballon: what has first appeared as a molecular tour de force and some kind of a vanity piece is now a perfect depiction of the strength of dreams and the power of resilience. One takes a bow to the chef.

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Revenge S1E09: Suspicion

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Discovering Japan

It is time for the Grayson Global Business on the Beach weekend, folks! And it’s volleyball! Yihuuu! Daniel is the local champ, with his jock body, his happy bovine face and his expressive eyebrows. Taylor gets sourpuss as usual: how does he expect to be taken seriously?

Also, there is a fund raiser for Grayson Investments, with various billionnaires slumming in for a mere 20 M$, which leads Ashley to say that the Graysons do not much anymore in terms of social events. She’s so bored, see, that’s she’s ready to switch allegiance from Emily to Victoria. She’s not a character, she’s a commodity. Plus she has a British accent, so she’s Evil in the making.

The real star of this episode is Nolan. While everyone is monomaniac/egomaniac, he’s the only one to appear to have some fun in the process of the series overwrought revenge plot: Emily is all locked jaw and a block of ice; Victoria laments her secret and her maternal instinct, spying on her beloved son kissing the blonde down the beach; Lydia escapes from Victoria’s custody with Conrad’s help; Taylor, always classy, buy expensive clothes for himself and Ashley with a credit card stolen from Nolan, and leaves the price tag attached; the bar bros are cannon fooder so far.

All the while, Nolan gloats and giggles. His always reliable black whale spy-cam incriminates Taylor even more. He keeps tabs on Kara/Amanda (henceforth Karamanda), who uses her previous identity to seduce Jack (the guy with a bar and a boat called Amanda). On a stroke of genius, he gets Taylor to kiss him right at the moment Ashley walks through the door. The guy worships chaos. Total respect.

Fun facts of the week: Victoria has an Imelda Marcos dressing room; “Amanda is on the Amanda”; and yes, folks, fasten your seat belts: there is actually A REVENGE NINJA TRAINING IN JAPAN! Oh, how one covets to follow  it!

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The Witch: A New-England Folktale (2015)

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Woulst Thou Like To Live Deliciously?

The Witch is an ambitious movie, it’s dialogue all in Olde English, yet it does not bring home the proverbial bacon. It is nevertheless driven by a vision, it is pretty well made and puts on the radar some awesomely gifted child actors. Set in 17th century New England, it deploys the drama of a community confronted with a brave new world, left to the devices of their puritan roots to make sense of it, and eventually conquer it. Problem is, some collateral damage is unavoidable.

Meet the Family, it does not have a name; they are an allegory of whatever can go wrong when America, land of the free, home of the brave, retracts into a witch hunt. McCarthy, neo-cons, whatever will happen next. Father (Ralph Ineson, whose gravelly voice is a third of the pleasure watching this movie), is banished from his community because he’s too much of an integrist, even though he’s a loving husband and father. He, his wife (Kate Dickie) and their five children are left to “conquer this wilderness” during an hostile season.

Things quickly unravel from there, in a weird mix of The White Ribbon and Barry Lyndon, with some John Constable painting and a dash of Caravaggio being poured in the mix. Tomasin, the titular witch, anoints herself so to get rid of her younger siblings’ annoyance and it uncoils a death trap fueled by ignorance, superstition and bigotry.

Various animals intervene as God’s will, or the Devil’s. There is an evil hare, an even more evil raven, a hapless dog,  and Black Phillip, a goat with a mellifluous voice, or so hear poor Tomasin, the unlikely heroin of the piece (Anya Taylor-Joy, wonderful). Then it goes like a country song, losing the last born, the harvest, the trust of your beloved ones, the horse, the wife, more children, your life.

Everything is blamed on possibly evil, menstruating Tomasin, including the death of her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw, nothing short of astonishing), who meets the witch, maybe, in a spooky scene with awful consequences. Everyone dies in retribution from animals associated with the Devil, but Mother, so mad by now she attempts at strangling Tomasin. “You reek of Evil”, she yells at who was her beloved daughter a few days prior.

One won’t say how it ends. More ethnology than witchcraft, more puritan hysteria in the vein of The Crucible or The Devils than, say, Ouija 2, The Witch is a meticulously planned, meticulously filmed object of not so much fascination. It is quite good though, and its acting is superlative. Viewing advised.

IMDB page

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