Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Film Review: John Wick

I rarely post film reviews. In fact, this is only my second one (here's the first). However, I was
so taken by John Wick I felt compelled to write about it.

I'm not going to bother with recounting the plot. You can find that anywhere. Besides, plots are for graveyards. Also, consider this the official SPOILERS AHEAD warning. 

John Wick is another entry in the tough-guy-coming-out-of-retirement-to-wreak-havoc genre. What sets it apart from lesser movies of this ilk is the style and care that obviously went into it. 

Perkins enjoys a drink between hits.
The cast is top-notch. Keanu Reeves is so good it's almost as if he's a different actor. I don't know if it's because he's a bit older now, but he seems to have way more (cliche alert!) gravitas in this film. Mikael Nyqvist portrayal of crime-lord Viggo Tarasov brings complexity to what otherwise could be a standard villain role. Alfie Allen is at his sniveling best. Adrianne Palicki gives it her all as assassin Perkins. Equally good are the character roles: Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and John Leguizamo all prove the maxim that there are no small parts, only small actors. It was also great to see David Patrick Kelly on the big screen again. You might nor recognize his name, but you've surely seen his work.

There are several homages to classic thrillers. In one scene, an extra is seen reading a copy of Trevanian's Shibumi, which is one of the great hitman novels. The concept of The Continental—a hotel that serves as a sanctuary for assassins and where no "business" can take place—echoes the Abelard Sanction safehouses of David Morrell's book The Brotherhood of the Rose.

One of the most prominent homages involves the name of the club that serves as the setting
Inside the Red Circle.
for one of the film's best action sequences: the Red Circle. In French, the red circle is le cercle rouge, which happens to be the name of an excellent crime drama directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville also directed Le Samourai, one of the coolest, most influential hitman films ever made.

The idea of the circle manifests itself not only in the name of the club, but in the film's dramatic arc. Early on, it is revealed that John Wick is largely responsible for creating the crime empire of Russian gangster Viggo Tarasov. Wick worked for Tarasov, but wanted to leave the criminal life to get married. Tarasov said Wick could make a clean break if he carried out a seemingly impossible assignment. Of course, Wick succeeded in his task, and from that Tarasov was able to built his extensive operation. Years later, Wick manages to destroy the same organization he helped to built. A red circle, indeed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Recipe Wednesday: Pasta with Olive Oil, Garlic, Pepper, and Nutritional Yeast

This recipe is a slight variation on the classic Neapolitan dish spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino

I first had aglio e olio on a trip to (you guessed it) Naples, Italy. My wife and I were visiting our friend Mike, who was stationed at the U.S. Naval base in Naples. The first night we were there, we all went to dinner at a mellow family restaurant. It was called Angela's, or something similar. 

Still a bit tired and jet lagged, I wanted something comforting. Mike recommended spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino, a basic dish made with pasta, olive oil, dried red chili flakes, garlic, and Italian parsley. Heeding his advice, that's what I ordered. When the food arrived I took a few forkfuls and was instantly in a state of bliss. How could something so incredibly simple taste so incredibly good? By the time I finished my meal (and a few bottles of wine), I had a new favorite Italian dish.

On returning to the U.S., I started experimenting with different recipes and making my own aglio e olio. What follows is more or less my go-to method of preparing the dish. I say "more or less" because I don't put much thought into it when I make aglio e olio. I just sort of do it.

A major change I make involves switching out Italian parsley for nutritional yeast. To be honest, most of the times I make aglio e olio it is a spur of the moment thing and I usually don't have Italian parsley on hand. Plus, nutritional yeast gives the pasta a nice nutty, cheesy flavor. The  extra B vitamins are a good thing, too.

So here is my rough recipe. It's a one-pot dish:

Pasta with Olive Oil, Garlic, Pepper, and Nutritional Yeast
8 ounces pasta
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup of olive oil (or more!)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

1. Cook the pasta until al dente ("to the tooth"). Right before you drain the pasta scoop out half a cup of the cooking water and put it to the side.
2. In the same pot you used to cook the pasta, add the olive oil and reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and stir frequently for about two minutes. Add the pepper flakes and continue to stir.
3. Just as the garlic begins to get soft but before it becomes too brown, toss in the pasta. Stir it around, and then add the reserved pasta water. The pasta water contains starches that will help the ingredients stick to the pasta. Continue stirring for another two or three minutes. Don't overcook!
4. Serve the pasta immediately topped with nutritional yeast to taste, fresh ground pepper, and cheap wine (optional, but recommended!)

I make this at least once a month. I recommend enjoying a cocktail such as a Martini or Negroni while cooking, and listening to this cool track by Nicola Conte.