Saturday, September 02, 2017

Masterchef 12

So Pia, Pete and Ray are in an elimination challenge. Andy Bowdy - Sydney’s King of Cake - set this challenge and it is insane! They say this is where they hone their skills to win, but they’re still the weakest three, and Matt says today’s challenge is “terrifying”. The cake they are to make has multiple layers, involves 12 recipes and the decoration comes from his art school background. Too much! I wonder how many of the judges could make it.
I’d have trouble eating it, let alone making it, because it is so big and involved - meringue, salted caramel, ginger cake (4 times), passionfruit bavarois, brown sugar pecans, pineapple jam, toasted coconut cream, ginger crumb, pineapple crisps. They have 4 ½ hours. How long before someone messes up the recipe? Pia and Pete read it, promise to follow it. Ray has a lot of oil going on in his cake - should have added in parts. Pete might have a problem with his candied pecans: he took them off early to avoid burning them, doesn't like the result, does them again. Is he paying enough attention? People smell burning: “Pete watch your nuts.” Not seeing much of Ray, but he seems to be doing well. Pia uses the mixer to save time with the passionfruit custard: reason to worry? Cakes are coming out of the oven.

Two hours to go. Ray’s meringue looks good, Pia’s not so much - did she use the right number of eggs? She does it again, understands she can’t have it wrong. One hour to go. Hard to know what has to be done. Pete has all his elements - "time to make this bad boy". Ray a little bit behind, gets some guidance from Andy about keeping a straight cake. Pia’s custard is setting, which makes it hard to make a bavarois (custard needs to blend with whipped cream, so needs to still be runny). 30 minutes.  Ray’s cake won’t fit the structure - messy. Pete worried about his crane driver hands and lack of finesse. Seems to be doing OK, really. Pia in her element. All of their cakes actually look nice - no disasters.

Judging: Pete - everyone smiling. Gracious about possibility others have done better. Nailed it in terms of appearance. George loves the burnt pecans. Andy might steal the idea! How good is this! Ray - cake a bit bulgey in places. Happy he’s given this everything. Nice story about his wee girls. Andy: needs a bit more colour, stuff on top. Taste - done good. Pia - cake looks good, a "beautiful chaos". It has lots of ginger cake but does it have enough bavarois? Her cake is heavier, the meringue is not right. This is probably enough to see her go (although Ray had a couple of problems too, must be about the eating). Yep: Pia is eliminated.  

A Date for Mad Mary

I loved this movie: it is billed as a comedy and it really is very funny but has its sad moments as well. I want to say it is set in Dublin but when I think about it, I don't know where it is set. Ah - Drogheda, halfway between Dublin and the border with Northern Ireland. Mary (Seána Kerslake) is just out of prison - she bottled another girl in a nightclub and spent six months inside as a result. She is ostensibly chief bridesmaid for her best friend, Charlene, who is rather absent from the friendship. Mary can't really understand why and is hurt but still wants to play her part, even to the point of signing up to a dating site so she can bring a suitable plus one to the wedding. But she is a wild thing and has spent time in prison, so its kind of understandable that Charlene might have misgivings about the friendship and, indeed, to have moved on a bit. We spend most of the movie seeing things from Mary's point of view, who can't really see this. One consequence is that Charlene and her friends come across in a rather unflattering light.
There is a sequence of unsuitable dates but then Mary meets someone, the videographer for the wedding, as it happens. Mary becomes a sort of assistant videographer, one night they're put up in a hotel, they drink the minibar dry, one thing leads to another but they realise that they have a lot in common. I think it is fair to say it is a big surprise to both of them, but I really enjoyed the way they recognised each other, and how we got to see another side of Mary.

But, well, the path of true love does not run smooth and Mary manages to simultaneously get offside with Charleen and the videographer. Here the movie is following the typical plotline of a romantic comedy, so of course there needs to then be the possibility of reconciliation.

While Mary was a great character, the best line went to her Nan (Mary lives with her mum and Nan but family support is not particularly strong): "Fucking sniper wouldn't take you out".


 

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Summer 1993

This is apparently based on the director's own experiences when she was orphaned as a six year old. Frida is living in Barcelona when her mum dies and is taken in by her uncle and aunt, who live in the country (possibly the Catalan area in Spain, although this is not clear). Obviously it is a bit of a transition for all involved - possibly the happiest with the change is Frida's tiny cousin Anna. For the most part, the two are great companions, and there are some very sweet scenes featuring them, such as when they're dancing together. But there are a few concerning moments - maybe Frida entices Anna into a water hole so that she gets out of her depth, and there is a scary incident when Frida takes Anna into the bush to play hide and seek and leaves her there. The kids came across as remarkbly real.
There were a few times when the adoptive parents might have been a bit slower off the mark in involving Frida, and the whole situation of having a new family plus the loss of her mum must have sometimes made her feel a bit uncertain of her welcome. I also suspect she had a bit more active parenting than she had had from her mum. Ultimately, the movie becomes a tribute to the aunt and uncle: they both do a tremendous job of helping her to get past the teething troubles. The most touching scene for me is when the aunt sits down with Frida and they have a pretty candid talk about where her mum is.

There are also grandparents and other relations who come - I couldn't work out the relationships of them all.
 

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

This was quite a straight-forward movie, which I only really went to see because John Lithgow is in it. He plays this big time property developer, with a poor environmental record, a history of ill-treating people and a habit of big game hunting. He's obviously a type, rather than a real person. He and his wife, along with a young property lawyer and his wife have been invited to dinner by Cathy. It is very much a dinner of the haves.
Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is there earlier in the day to give Cathy a massage. She's had a long history with the family, as Beatriz helped healed their daughter when she had cancer (one small recognition that being rich does not insulate people completely). Cathy even calls her friend, so it seems natural when Beatriz's car breaks down (seriously - it was just a flat battery: maybe Cathy and her ilk might not know that, but Beatriz would have, surely) to invite her to stay for dinner.
Because she's not rich, not dressed for the occasion, a migrant and a healer she's not treated well. Because she has pride in who she is, she gives as good as she gets. I think our sympathies are directed to lie with her: mine certainly did, even when (in a dream sequence) she kills Lithgow's character.
I did see another movie the same night, but don't want to spend much energy on it. I've seen several Kristen Stewart movies, and was curious as to what a Robert Pattinson movie might be like so went along to the Regent to see Good Time. It really was not - I was at another movie later in the week, and a couple of people in the row ahead of me were talking about it, saying it just got worse as it went on. On the face of it, it sounds like Connie is doing a good thing, trying to rescue his brother, but he was only in the position of having to because of his misuse of him. Nick clearly has some intellectual difficulties - we meet him having a therapy session, one that is just about to work when Connie pulls him out of it because he needs a sideman with whom to rob a bank. They get away with it, sort of, and evade capture until Nick runs into a plate glass window - Connie is nowhere to be seen. Of course, the cops get Nick, which is why Connie has to rescue him.
The essential action of the movie takes place over the course of the night. Nick gets into trouble in lock up and his hospitalised, which makes Connie's rescue job easier - if he could bloody recognise his own brother. Instead, he's lumbered with another criminal and after a ponderous conversation, they go after some drugs and money he's stashed in am amusement park. At one point, one of the characters said of someone that he had no redeeming features - this was pretty much the take I had on Connie. He wasn't even a good criminal, uses everyone he comes across and I found the action really dragged. This isn't a complaint about Pattinson's acting - just the character he played - and the cinematography was great.

    

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I saw The Lobster (also directed by Lanthimos) last year: it had me and a couple of mates laughing so hard we were on the edges of our seats, although it also had elements of horror. Single people had to find a partner within a short space of time or be turned into an animal of their choosing. Those who escaped did not fare so well either, as the group living nearby did not permit relationships.

There was little to laugh at in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, although it had its absurdist element. I've seen it described as a stalker movie but it isn't really. It takes a wee while for the story to emerge. Colin Farrell plays Stephen Murphy, a cardiac surgeon. He has this young hanger on, Martin, who he seems to be encouraging to follow in his footsteps but gives inexplicable gifts to - at first, I thought maybe they were in a sexual relationship. Martin's father went under the knife, wielded by Stephen, a few years earlier but did not survive and Martin blames him for it. He's lost a family member and gives Stephen an ultimatum: kill one of yours or they will all die - in stages. It is the only thing he can think of that is close to justice.

Stephen doesn't really take him seriously, even when his son loses the ability to walk and the desire to eat - the first two of the four threatened stages. He tries every medical test there is and gets experts in, to no avail - all that happens is that his daughter suffers the same fate. There is no hint as to how these conditions arise - somehow Martin causes them. By now Stephen and Anna (a fairly chilly Nicole Kidman) accept this, and go after Martin but nothing seems to stop him - I kept thinking that Anna was about to stop walking as well.

So - this leaves Stephen with an unpleasant choice: sacrifice one of the family to save the rest. How to choose?
I'm not sure why all of the characters speak the way they do - not much emotion, kind of robotic with an element of persistence to what they're saying - particularly Martin. 

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Monday, August 21, 2017

The Teacher

I was a bit confused at the beginning of this movie, as we switched between two rooms, one full of kids and the other with a growing assembly of adults. It turns out that the adults were having a meeting of the parents, responding to a complaint about the teacher of the kids in the other room. This is Soviet era Bratislavia and the teacher, Ms Drazděchová, is the local Party Chairwoman.
She starts off kindly, asking each kid their name and what their parents do - but given the time, having these details written down in a little black book sends a message. Her purposes are more benign, however: she's a single woman in a new town who could use a little help. So the parents are called on to volunteer whatever it is they're good at, and many do and are given hints on what their child should study.

We're not really shown what its like to be in the co-operative families: two families do not play ball. Danka is a bright kid yet does not prosper at this kid. Her dad works at the airport yet fails to deliver when the teacher wants some cakes (made by another parent) taken to Moscow. Maybe she is committing too much to her athletics? After all, with her parents assistance, when she is asked to engage in simple Russian conversation, her answers are ridiculous. Maybe this is deliberate misinformation? Her dad has faith, however, and leads the charge with the complaints against the teacher. The fact she tries to gas herself in the family oven might have helped.
The Binder family join in: their boy, however, might not be all that. His dad is a bit of a bully and starts out thrashing his boy for not doing well at school but when he gets hold of the truth, his focus switches to the teacher.

After a while. the focus of the movie switches to the meeting - and how likely is it that those who benefit from the teacher's way of doing things are going to complain? Instead, they attack those who do - one fellow goes so far as to threaten another, who responds by wanting to know how to complain. This is Littmann, who is already suffering - it isn't made all that clear, but I think his wife defected, and he loses his job as an astrophysics professor to become a window cleaner. He's also reputed to be having an affair with the teacher: she might even think he is, but its not likely.
But still, its about 3 or 4 against 30 - 40. There's an odd moment, when the Deputy Head Teacher reveals some truths of the teacher's methods: the average marks for her class in national exams are dire, well below national averages - everyone just walks out, and the Head Teacher has a quiet drink of commiseration with her Deputy. But is that parents we see, coming in individually to sign a complaint. Even if they succeed, won't her connections mean she'll just be moved on?

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lady Macbeth

The title created expectations that were not met: this film is actually based on a Russian short story by Nikolai Leskov. Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth has a powerful role which fades through time: this one is quite the reverse. She marries, and is brought into the house of, her husband (Alexander) and father in law (Boris). The latter has hopes for an heir, but his son (who seems to have had little choice in marrying) has no interest in sex with Katherine: he has her disrobe and stand facing the wall while he finds his own pleasures. It is dad who is in control: he bought Katherine along with a piece of land not fit for a cow to graze on. When he's away, he has Anna, the maid, keep an eye on things. This might be how he finds out that Katherine has brought a groom, Sebastian, into the house and her bed. 

This was a bit disturbing, to be honest: she finds him and a bunch of the other male staff with Anna, who they have suspended (naked) in a sheet. She's giggly so presumably happy with what's going on, but Katherine brings an end to their fun. Sebastian gets quite confrontational with her, and then shows up in her bedroom, coming across as determined to have sex - she resists, he persists, then suddenly she's very much into it. 
It is after Alexander beats Sebastian that Katherine starts to find her power, and a willingness to murder to escape the oppressive pressures of these men. We don't see Boris die: he is locked in a side room while Katherine has breakfast with Anna (I really hate to eat alone she says - one morning, her companion is the cat!). Alexander is away indefinitely, so Sebastian takes up residence. Of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie if that was all, but Alexander does make a reappearance, and this time we do see him die. Sebastian is an OK sort of bloke, so he's less than keen on all of this. Anna's position is more ambiguous: early on, she seemed to take pleasure in causing pain to Katherine, when brushing her hair and tying her into her corset. Handled differently, she might have become an ally for Katherine. 

I'm no sure what legal rules allowed it, but it then emerges that while Alexander has not wanted sex with Katherine, he's not off sex completely. A woman turns up with a grandson, who she claims is Alexander's son and ward - I guess this makes him heir, and it leads to the grandmother and kid moving in, and assuming some control over the house. Up to now, Katherine's actions have sort of been understandable - completely illegal of course, but understandable, as the two men were odious in their own ways and bullied her. But she goes beyond the pale in her next actions: not only does she suffocate the boy but when the doctor finds he was bruised, she accuses Sebastian and Anna of killing him. She possibly suspected them of having an affair, and was brilliant at manipulating elements of the story to convince the authorities.
I've never come across Florence Pugh (who played Katherine): she remains so calm throughout that it gives a quasi-legitimacy to what she does. She was carefully chosen to be someone who did not look like a Lady Macbeth character - young, open and innocent - but who could become someone we'd believe in as a cunning, manipulative murderer. Apparently her next role is as a gothy badgirl wrestler!

Lady Macbeth itself has a bit of a story behind it. It was adapted as an opera by Shostakovich and became very popular - until the night Stalin went to see it. It is credited as being the work which caused him to bring in socialist realism, and it put the composer's life at risk.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Maudie

I knew that Maud (Lewis) was an artist and this film was about her, but my main reason for seeing it was to see Nova Scotia, which I miss. It turns out you see very little of Nova Scotia in the movie - Maud lived in a tiny house a fair walk from a tiny town, and all of the action happens in this very small part of the country.
But it is an amazing movie, so warm, enchanting even, about two quite eccentric people: Maud (an unrecognisable Sally Hawkins) and Everret (Ethan Hawke). At one point they describe their relationship with each other as odd socks, and identify the socks. She says she's a white sock, very plain, but he contradicts her, says she's bursting with colour and life. He's really gruff, but every so often came out with this kind of surprise which shows why she stuck with him. Their relationship has an unlikely beginning - Everett wants a housekeeper (the only qualification is that she must have her own cleaning tools) and Maud wants quit of her aunt, who doesn't believe she can fend for herself, let alone take on a job. Everett is obviously not a desirable employer: his mate is surprised there has been an applicant, and tells him to grab her. After a rocky start, she takes on the role of housekeeper but there's only one bed - the inevitable happens.
The cute thing about the relationship is that he takes on the role of being the boss, because he's the man, but she has the real power - he's going to marry her if he wants to do more than sleep in the same bed, and its not long before he's doing more and more of the house-keeping himself. Not that Maud is slacking - they have a bit of a tiff, she finds a can of paint and tries drawing some flowers. This takes off - her style is described as naive, folk art - innocent paintings of what she can see - flowers, chickens, other birds, the pair of them and so on.

Her art gets them on TV and even Vice-President Nixon buys one of her paintings. There's a funny scene where she and Everett go to see Sandra - a blow in from New York to whom Everett owes some fish. The three of them are standing on Sandra's doorstep, Everett is impressing on the both of them that he's the boss - until Sandra wants to know if Maud will sell her some paintings - that rather stole his thunder. Their relationship is rather neatly tracked by the way they travel together: at the start, she's trailing along behind him, but when things get going, he's pushing her in his cart.
But its not all sweetness and light: Maud has a debilitating arthritis, so gets more and more bent over and finds it harder to paint as the movie progresses. It also turns out that the deformed baby she had which died in childbirth did no such thing: when Everett and Maud have a big, relationship ending fight, his way of getting them together is to find the daughter. I have to say, there were several moments in this movie that I teared up.

There is another important character in the movie - the tiny house with no facilities they share: Maud starts out small, but by the end, every visible internal surface has been painted and there's a painting for sale sign in the window.
  

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Wind River

I watched Sicario not so long ago and was not impressed. The screen-writer of that movie (Taylor Sheridan) directed this movie: I'm glad I didn't let my disappointment for the earlier movie stop me seeing this one. It is set on an Indian reservation in Wisconson, in a very cold spring. There's so much snow about that no-one can last long without their internals freezing - which is pretty much what happens to Natalie. The question is what caused her to venture out to almost inevitable death? A city-based FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) is thrown in the deep and, without backup ("This isn't the land of waiting for back up. This is the land of you're on your own."). Luckily, she joins forces with Ben, the local Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief, and co-opts a Wildlife Ranger, Cory.


Normal police work doesn't work too well out here, so Cory really takes the lead: his tracking skills are vital to untangling the story. He also has his own grief for a very similar event driving him along. Thankfully, the movie didn't do the predictable and push him and Jane towards a romantic entanglement: instead, she really proves her mettle as an FBI agent.

There aren't many people around, so suspects are thin on the ground - some losers who hang around with Natalie's brother are the first port of call. Things lead in a different direction when it is discovered that Natalie had a white boyfriend, and his body is found not long after. We then are given a flashback, shown exactly what happened to the two of them, and its brutal, thuggish behaviour. Jane, Ben and a couple of trigger-happy deputies stumble upon the truth. 
There's a stand-off in which she really takes control of all she can see, but there's someone she can't see. There's a massacre, an echo of the showdown at the OK corral. It isn't exactly clear why Jane is the only one with a bullet-proof vest, but she and the principal perpetrator are the only survivors - Cory was off on his own mission.

The finale is near the peak of Wisconsin's highest peak - Cory takes the fellow up there and gives him the same chance he gave Natalie: to run away. She had pluck and character and made it six miles before the cold defeated her. This fellow - not so much. Although nothing is ever said, it is very likely that by solving this crime, there is closure of the one involving his daughter  as well. The movie ends with Cory and Natalie's dad, just sitting - while dad has lost his daughter, his estranged son has made contact - dad had been ready to die, puts on what he thinks is a death mask (but as soon as I get this shit off my face, I'm going to my son".

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