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.


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.



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. 


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?


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.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017


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.


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".


Monday, August 14, 2017

The Beguiled

This is the latest film from Sophia Coppola - she won Best Director for it at Cannes last year. During the American Civil War, a wounded Yankee corporal (Colin Farrell) is found by a young girl, who is a student at a nearby posh girls school. There are only half a dozen girls of varying ages, a teacher and the director (Nicole Kidman).
They take him in, just in order to heal him before he can be sent off with the local troops, but every one of the females - girl and women - are taken by the idea of having a man in the house. Even he and Nicole Kidman have a moment. It's more than a little far-fetched, but of course it sets off tension among them. He's clearly an idiot - he makes a big play for the teacher (Kirsten Dunst) and promises to come to her room. Instead he goes clomping about on a wooden floor in his boots and visits one of the girls (Elle Fanning).

There's a struggle, he falls down the stairs, his leg needs to be cut off and he cuts up rough. Now the women, except the teacher, are united against him (she takes the chance for a bonk!). I think, maybe, the movie's a bit crazy - Sophia Coppola apparently wanted to present the womens' take on the story, but they don't come out looking too good. Not until the end, that is, although their way of dealing with him is very feminised. All in all, it isn't a particularly good horror or a particularly good example of female power.



There isn't a huge amount to say about this movie, despite it being 2 hours long. It is a sort of memorial to Voyager 1 and 2 as they emerge into interstellar space. Most of the movie is one person after another telling snippets of the story - most were involved in the actual preparation and launch 39 years ago but I have to confess that I lost track of who they all were. There were two stories going on - the first is about the Voyagers. Voyager 1 only saw two planets - Saturn and Jupiter - and was then sent off to deep space. 
Voyager 2, however, was a kind of mission within a mission - it (you can't anthropomorphize space craft - they don't like it) was sent on to check out Uranus and Neptune as well (Pluto had not been discovered when Voyager 2 left). Its amazing how 1970's tech - the onboard computers have as much power as the typical car key hob - managed to get these craft so precisely where they needed to be. There was a hairy moment when it went behind Uranus and when it came out the other side was just sending blank images - it turns out the platform on which the cameras are mounted had frozen in place - they had to use remote control to bring it back to life. Poor old Uranus didn't come out to well - as planets go, its a bit bland, visually. Luckily it had some interesting friends - one of its moons, Miranda, is extraordinary - cliffs ten or more kilometres high.
Neptune, on the other hand, was a shimmering deep blue sphere and its moon, Triton, despite being so cold (it is a long way from the sun and only 38 degrees Kelvin) it was sending geysers kilometres into the sky. Voyager 2 was less than 5,000 km from Neptune.
The scientists reckon that the Voyagers will go on for billions of years, taking energy from their environment, and will shortly (maybe in 50 years) be out of contact with Earth. This leads to the second story - the two time capsules sent with them, to represent us. These are metal long playing records (complete with mechanisms to pay them and instructions - but who knows whether they'll ever be found, let alone understood) - with a mixture of music, photos and messages from people around the world. The music is taken from lots of different countries and is generally traditional, but Chuck Berry is included. The team tried to get a Beatles song but they refused to license for outer space! Would it really matter if an unlicensed song was sent?

I think my favourite message was from a Chinese lady - she suggested that if "you have the time, you might like to call in"! Ooh - there was another joke: a member of the audience at some talk asked Carl Sagan what he'd say to Galileo if he walked in - "You're looking well - how did you do it?" 


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kiki, Love to Love

I went in only knowing the name of the movie, and certainly did not expect what emerged! At first, it seemed that the movie was going to be a catalogue of sexual idiosyncracies (kinks would be too strong and judgmental a word). One woman is only turned on by a man crying, another needs to be attacked, her sister is turned on by plants, a bloke is only aroused by sleeping women... 

That could have been tedious, but the movie settled in on about half a dozen couples (and a couple of singles), and shows how each works through the particular thing which is complicating their relationship. Natalie and Alex (the real first names of the actors playing them) are first up: she confesses that in a service station hold-up, when she was being held captive, she found it to be incredibly erotically charged. Initially, it seemed that Alex wouldn't handle the threat to his manhood by her being more turned on by another man, but he goes with the flows and tries to stage a couple of incidents in which he "attacks" her: in one, he is so successful that she fights back. Oops! This leads to a scene that had several members of the audience so pleased that they whimpered.

José Luis loves to watch his wife, Palomar, sleep and gets aroused - she hates it. His solution is to tranquilise himself to avoid the problem, but she takes the dose by mistake. He takes advantage of the situation, several times, and has to pay off the housekeeper with breast augmentation to keep her silent. That is, until Palomar confronts him about the lingerie, erotic oils etc he has put on the credit card and accuses him of having an affair with a younger, prettier woman. He is quite honestly able to deny it, says that he is very much in love with the woman with whom he's having an affair - its that sort of movie, following the normal arc of a romantic comedy.
There is actually a kink club: Paco and Ana go there to spice things up, and each has an unusual experience - Paco's more than hers. A bloke with a big manly body and voice pleads with him to, ah, urinate on him.
My favourite was Sandra: she is deaf and has a compulsion for silk. She has a very awkward date with a bloke wearing a polyester shirt - he might have even made it to a second date if he hadn't reacted so badly when her large iguana appear on the sofa. So she carries on alone, troubled by men in public wearing silk shirts. Her work is translating skype calls with deaf people into phone calls with hearing people - one client wants her to act as translator for a phone sex operator - this goes badly, but Sandra and the client hit it off.
The end of the movie is a bit contrived - there's a fiesta, and all of the couples in the movie converge - but I guess its a suitable way to celebrate the oddities of human nature.


The Other Side of Hope

The movie starts with a man emerging from a pile of coal in a ship: I thought he was a stowaway, but its a bit more complicated than that. He got into a bit of a skirmish and dashed onto the ship as a hiding place, falling asleep not much later. When he awoke, he found he was on his way to Finland - home country of the film's director, Aki Kaurismäki. One thread explored in the movie is Khaled's attempt to find a home in Finland - first as an asylum seeker (he is Syrian).
There's not much joy in being an asylum seeker, so there are few laughs to be had here (the message that they always send the melancholics back drew a laugh from the audience), although the visit he pays to a pub with a fellow asylum seeker has an example of the dry humour at work. He asks the barman for a beer "now" "you mean immediately?" "yes". The barman looks more like a depressive undertaker, someone who's going to refuse service but instead he produces two handles of pre-poured beer. Poor Khaled is refused asylum on the ground that Aleppo is perfectly safe - that night, the tv news runs the story of the blowing up of the children's hospital there.

Wikström separates from his wife: no words are exchanged, he just puts his keys and wedding ring on the table - she places the ring in an ashtray and stubs her cigarette out on it before taking another swig. Wikström drives off in his cool old car
has a good poker win and spends the money on a restaurant - the cook and the waitress are like zombies, and the food is clearly terrible. The cook smokes all the time: even when standing asleep, a cigarette droops from his mouth and his special of sardines and potatoes involves a can of sardines with the lid rolled halfway. The restaurant is a disaster but when Khaled appears, he is taken in.
Music is a pretty big thing in the movie - there's a fair amount of Finnish country music (quite doleful) on the soundtrack and several bands are shown.
They do try to improve their fortunes by changing the restaurant's direction: Imperial Sushi lasts just the one night, the night a busload of Japanese tourists just happen to arrive. The sushi is about as authentic as you might expect - salted herring on piles of rice with large gobs of horseradish. The tourists are chatty before the food but file out silently. By the end, everyone seems to be smoking.
Sadly, not all are as kind to refugees as Wikström and the crew at the restaurant - Finland has a racism problem, and this is brought to the fore towards the end of the movie. No matter how bad it is, however, Khaled still wants his sister to seek asylum there.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Masterchef 11

It is star chef week, with a bloke I’ve not heard of, a Kiwi apparently - in World’s top 50 best restaurants - Ben Shewry ( setting a mystery box challenge tonight. What the hell is Matt wearing this time? Always a bit different, but its a green suit with a long coat.The audience seem to know Ben - Sarah calls him a living legend. He’s a forager. So - what’s in the boxes? Scallops, sea lettuce, wax flower, wattle seeds, fresh cheese, juice of lemon aspen, quandongs and kangaroo. Good luck people! These are the true taste of Australia, apparently.

Most seem to be taking the ingredients in their stride. What about the judges? George knows what to do with kangaroo and scallops - but anything else? Ray goes with the lemon aspen for an ice cream sandwich, using the wattle and the quandong. Sam - kangaroo pancake, wattle seed crepes. Tamara - brik pastry stack, lemon curd and quandong compote. Benjamin is lost. Trent on to it, quandong semi-freddo, cheese mousse and lemon sorbet - we see his backstory.
Kangaroo carpaccio, smoked quandong mayonnaise, lemon and cheese sorbet from Jess. Will Tamara get some pastry made - it keeps breaking? Eloise - quandong tart, wattle seed pastry, lemon mousse. Nicole - kangaroo tartare with smoked egg yolk (one of Ben’s dishes). 20 minutes to go and Tamara finally gets some pastry, needs lots more.
Poor Ray - told his dish is simple so must be perfect.

Tasting - they'll only taste five, which makes all the noise about how everything is about the taste a bit of a joke. These will be drawn from those we’ve concentrated on, yes? Poor Eloise broke her tart. Jess is first up. Raw roo doesn’t work for me. Judges love it - nice balanced dish, well thought out, no negatives. Tamara - thinks they’ve called the wrong name - judges love this one as well. Trent - more love from the judges! Knew none of the ingredients, but nailed it. Nicole - more raw roo. Not quite so much love - well made but maybe needed something. Stir frying? Ray is last up, looking confident. Nothing left when the judges are done. I reckon its down to him and Trent.
Ray gets the nod, with the above ice cream sandwich. Now for the invention test - he has to pick between pickling, curing and smoking. He goes for smoking. They also need to forage in the garden. Sarah seems happy. Ray's worried - winners normally go to bottom three. George - use the whole garden! Back to see Jess at home, in family garden. She has a very busy dish: smoked white chocolate and lemon myrtle mousse, kale and cucumber granita, peach jam and granola. Dessert?
Sarah has coriander crusted pork, roasted fennel, smoked apple puree and chips. She wants a pork and wine restaurant - sounds good to me. Eloise - smoked whisky and chocolate ice cream sandwich, roasted strawberry and rosemary shortbread. Sam not started - 15 minutes in, too many choices. Goes with rice pudding with smoked ice cream and apple. Pia - smoked scallops parsnip puree, proscuito - doesn’t sound very inventive, I'm sure I have eaten something similar. Pete - pan fried fish and a smoked fish broth. Ray - cray tail, smoked corn, some sort of broth - not going right in terms of flavour. Judges visit Sarah - Matt asks if she can do more from garden - horseradish, she decides. Sam’s away, enjoying himself. I keep seeing someone cooking chops and think yum. Sarah’s puree “so good!” - now its down to the pork. Matt impressed at how calm Pia is. Poor Pete - he has a loss of flavour as well, smokes his fish to make up for it. Ray still doesn’t like his cray, not much smoke in the mix. Sarah’s pork is “freaking awesome” (at least she thinks so). Pia has one minute, uncooked scallops and a cold pan. Yikes. Throws them at her plate! No herb, no proscuitto.

Judging. Sarah: Ben is excited to try her dish - plating and elements all good - fantastic job with pork, never had it cooked that well! I’m smiling for her. Ray unhappy jamon broth - bad sounds from judges - corn excellent, rest not so much, cray not cooked - his goose is. Arum smoked duck, herb custard, pickled fennel, orange dressing “yummy”. Samuel - hot smoked mackerel, charred chard, potato. Tamara - smoky herbed potato salad - not enough. Callum - crispy skinned chicken with smoked passionfruit caramel and green salad “massive tick on inventiveness”. Michelle - busy dish! Smoked chocolate mousse, jelly, crumbs - midrange. Jess - “my garden” looks fabulous, they play it cool, but love it. Pete - Gary doesn’t like the broth, and there’s no smoke. Eloise - only 3 sandwiches for 4 judges - “unexpected”. Ben tells story of going to San Francisco to one of greatest bakeries in all the world for an ice cream sandwich - this is as good as that. Adult decadence, inspired. Smiling for her as well.
Pia - nothing from garden on the plate, half finished dish but cooked well. “Prepare yourself, Pia.” Sam - they like the look of his dish, a bit deconstructed as he made the nutmeg milk skin separate. More coyness from judges, then they let loose - nailed it, best presentation, delicious. We missed some e.g. Diana.   
There are four front runners but they only want three: Sarah, Jess, Sam, but Eloise for the win?

Ray, Pete, Pia to lose.

Dish of the day - Eloise. Ben has tried but failed to make ice cream sandwiches as good. Jess not in top three.

Bottom three as predicted.  

Brigsby Bear

Another great movie, funny and very tender, even though it comes out of an odd place. James is kidnapped as a baby and brought up by a couple with very strange ideas - they keep him locked inside, believing the air outside is toxic and that the only TV show is something called Brigsby Bear - a stuffed toy super hero which has obviously played a big part in James growing up with a well developed sense of morality and a good education. This is entire world for 25 years! Every single episode of Brigsby Bear were made by James' "dad" (it has some kind of resonance that he is played by Mark Hamill).
Finally the police "rescue" him (he's actually not keen on the idea) and re-unite him with his real family - a sulky teen sister, Audrey, and parents who want the best for him but who are at a loss.

Oddly enough, it is Audrey who is his salvation - she is ostensibly going to a sports game and is told to take James with her. She's really going to a party - where James gets high and a bit plastered, but talks at length about Brigsby Bear - some of the other kids (they're quite a bit younger than him) get very keen on the bear. So too does the policeman who is tasked with looking after James. So, when James gets the idea to make a movie about Brigsby, he has lots of helpers - Spencer is a camera man, the cop steals lots of props from the evidence room and so on. There is so much optimism, a total belief that they can do this, that its heart-warming. James has his very first sexual encounter - the girl is very enthusiastic, but he has no idea why she puts her hand inside his pants.

Of course, there are obstacles - a therapist (played by Clare Danes) things James has to move on from Brigsby and when he doesn't, his parents have him put in an institution, and another cop puts an end to matters by returning the Brigsby Bear head to the lock up. This seemed really wrong to me, as making the film was his way of re-adjusting - luckily his parents saw some of the footage and came to the same understanding.

The movie ends with the screening of the film - James finally loses his nerve so badly that he can't actually watch it, he's so worried people won't like it.


20th Century Women

The only miss with this film is its title: that gives the idea that there will be a broad sweep across a variety of women whereas the reality is quite different. The focus is on three women and two blokes who live in a grand old house in Santa Barbara, and on 1979 in particular. 
Dorothea (Annette Bening) is Jamie's mother, William (Billie Crudup) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig) are flatmates and Julie (Elle Fanning) comes and goes as she pleases, as Jamie's closest friend. This is how we first see her
He is 15, and her sleepovers without sex are starting to bother him. His coming of age is starting to bother his mother, as she doesn't feel she can do all she can do as a solo mother to bring him up right, is feeling she is losing sight of him. She enlists Abbie and Julie as partners in the mission to bring him up as a good man.
I loved this movie so much - it is very funny, the characters are built up wonderfully and there's lots of music. Dorothea is into Sinatra and others of his time while Abbie is hitting the punk scene - there are several visits to a local club - and listens to bands like Black Flag and the Raincoats. Dorothea is not a fan: she says of the latter that they're not very good and know they're not very good. Abbie explains - they have too much passion, the need to express takes over the need to be good. Fairy Tale in the Supermarket is the track they're talking about:
I don't know that Julie was very into helping Dorothea bring Jamie up or that she did very much - which is fair enough, given that she's just a year older than he is, although they do have some frank discussions and she does cause his first heart-break - he's totally in love with her and idolises her, in a way she finds unrealistic. Abbie, on the other hand, lets her into her life - takes him to the club, to the hospital for her cancer visits and so on as well as has him read feminist texts - so that he has a fight with another boy: "what over?" "Clitoral stimulation." "The thing is, when a fellow tells you about his sex life, just accept what he says, don't break up his fantasy" (or words to that effect).
William really had nothing to do with Jamie and wasn't ask to help with the project, despite being the only man in the house, because he's not really appropriate. He does help Dorothea loosen up - the main narrative thread looks to her relationship with Jamie, and accepting both that she's doing OK and that he's an individual moving away from needing her help. 


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Untamed

I went in to this film thinking I was going to a different film (one of he hazards of a film festival) so had no idea what to expect. It was a bit strange to be presented with a near naked young woman (Veronica) having very satisfying sex with what looked like a python before the opening credits!
This is a Mexican movie, and I guess it could be said to be magical realism. For the most part, it was a very real domestic drama: Ale and Angel have a couple of kids and have a normal sort of relationship. Except that Angel is having a bit of a fling with her brother, Fabian, while presenting as very gay-unfriendly. Fabian is a nurse - it is through his work that he meets Veronica - they both confess to not having many friends, and so Veronica and Ale meet and become close (but not in the way that Angel and Fabian are). Ale finds lots of texts between Angel and Fabian, so when Fabian is found in a very near dead state, she accuses Angel and he's off to jail.

But there's also an older (and odder) couple who live in a cabin in the bush - Sr Vega and Marta: this is where Veronica came in the opening scene. It turns out a meteor struck near their cabin, and it has caused all the nearby animals to give full reign to their most basic primal instincts - cut to a crater full of various animals rutting. This incident somehow created a mutant or alien which has taken up residence in the Vegas' cabin - it has multiple appendages about the size of a python, loves to have sex with humans, is very satisfying but gets bored. Veronica has both Fabian and then Ale visit: she at least has a great time! The idea is that with "it", people's most primitive desires can be fulfilled - but at its whimsy it seems. When her fake homophobic husband is released from jail (and in the one funny scene in the movie, accidentally shoots himself) where better to bring him?

The French trailer is less discreet than the English one, gives a better sense of the movie:


Gabriel and the Mountain

A few years ago, a UCLA grad student went missing in Malawi and was found dead near the top of a mountain. This movie is based on the year he spent travelling in several African nations: it starts with his body being found by two workmen.

I don't know anything about what he was like in real life, but he doesn't come across as a completely likeable character in the movie: in fact, I generally found him to be annoying most of the time. It is probably a lot better this way than airbrushing him. Certainly he was a fellow lived by his own rules and objected to restrictions, but he appeared to be an entitled, posh twit on safari in Africa - arguing with his tour guide because he wanted to see mating wildebeests (and to hell with the fact it was a two day detour), constantly feeling ripped off because he was being charged foreigner prices, charging into a group of zebras, climbing a mountain with no gear, no food, not even proper footwear contrary to advice. To be fair, he was kind of honouring the Masai - he was wearing Masai footwear, and believed them to be invincible.
He does, however, look a bit ridiculous in his Masai costume. Gabriel is really caught up in the idea he's not a tourist - so when he  and Cris (his girlfriend) are at a tourist resort having  drink, he resents being treated as a tourist and leaves in a huff. He and Cris had an awkward relationship - they had quite a prolonged argument on a bus about the merits of their respective attitudes to academic life, in which he was quite dismissive of her - then he wanders off to have some weed, nearly missing the bus. 
She seems to have got fed up with him at the end - it is not clear whether, if he had survived, their relationship would have.

But I went to the movie knowing nothing about him, because it was sold as a "richly layered road movie" through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi - places I will probably never visit but wanted to see. From that perspective, I did find it a rewarding experience. There was one point I even warmed to Gabriel - in Malawi, where he hitches a ride with a truck driver, and they struck up a friendship. Gabriel was horrified to learn he'd not been paid for several months (and even then would have only received $40 a month) and shares what looks like the last of his money with him. The most interesting thing is that almost all of the people he met in Africa played themselves in the movie, and were willing to recall Gabriel - even the wildebeest tour guide, who saw Gabriel as an enemy but not as someone who deserved to die.

The only trailer I can find is in French but here's an extract:


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Citizen Jane: Battle For the City

This is the first of many, 44 to be exact, movies I hope to see in the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival. That's a lot of movies, but only about half what is on offer in Dunedin, and there are several I'd have liked to see that didn't make it down here. Tarkovsky's Stalker is possibly the film I most regret not being able to see on the big screen.
Anyway, Citizen Jane: Battle For the City (dir Matt Tyrnauer) is a clash - between ideologies and between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. The latter is a former New York State Parks Commissioner: in the movie, it isn't clear what his job title is. He is some sort of public, non-elected official  who had an enormous amount of power when it came to shaping New York in the post WWII period. For example, he was the power broker who put together the logistics and finance to build the Cross Bronx Freeway - heavily criticised in the movie for destroying the Bronx community. He was all about big projects - bridges, expressways, "slum" clearance, major apartment buildings.
Citizen Jane (Jacobs) was a journalist and community organiser opposed to his view of the world. She is shown as leading successful campaigns to stop him running an expressway through Washington Square, knocking down the West Village for apartments and running a trans-Manhattan expressway. Her organisation was very grassroots and seemed to be mainly women - people Moses unwisely dismissed as housewives.
There was lots of great footage of New York in this period and informed commentary from a variety of people - to be fair, they all seemed to be on the Jane Jacobs side of the ledger, people to whom urban renewal are dirty words. Mind you, it does seem that the motives of those pushing for it were not altruistic, as it provided great opportunities to line their pockets.

The movie took a few detours. For example, it looked at project housing across the USA - the great promises of those who were promoting them which turned out to be empty: so many turned out to be disasters, because people were taken out of their normal communities and housed in these 27 story boxes. Crime, poverty and despair were the order of the day - so that about 30 years later, lots were blown up. A major focus was the Pruitt Igoe project in St Louis, although this article suggests that all may not have been as portrayed in the movie.
The movie finished by pointing out the vast developments under way in China, huge numbers of high apartment blocks without proper streets, cafes, green spaces and the like.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

More Men Without Women

I've read another couple of the stories but sadly someone has requested the book back from the library, so can't read the other three at this stage.

An Independent Organ

This had a similar sort of set up to Yesterday, in that the main character disappears about 2/3 into the story and the narrator gains information from a third party. The narrator even has the same name. Dr Tokai has a kind of charmed life - he's a professional, has no wife or kids but always has a string of women on the go, several at the same time. They are all married but he's quite happy being number two - he was comfortable, any woman who wanted a real partner left him feeling uncomfortable and would be dropped. He managed getting so women by actually enjoying their company rather than treating sex as his goal - that was just icing on the cake. He has no interest in having kids: his experience is that they hardly speak, hide from adults (because of the pressures put on them to succeed at school by their parents) - he'd hate having a kid like that but doesn't seem to be able to imagine a more interesting relationship. His work and personal life are well managed by his secretary, so having multiple women in his life stays uncomplicated.

I need to interject with something the narrator says - he's talking about a Truffault film in which a character says it is better to be quick than polite, and gives an example. A fellow opens a door and finds a naked woman behind it - being quick, he says "I am so sorry, sir." 

So - life is good for about 30 years, until he meets a woman: he tries hard not to, but falls completely in love with her. He tries to focus on her imperfections but (a) can't really see any and (b) those he sees makes him love her the more. He's in a contradictory place - he doesn't want to love or lose her. The narrator is really just a gym buddy, but they start drinking and he finds out all about Dr Tokai's obsession with this woman, one he realises is not logical (mainly, it seems, but she'snot attractive but he's attracted to whatever is at her core). It makes him wonder who he is. Apart from being a medical professional, selecting a pinot noir and frquenting sushi restaurants he has no idea - although he knows this would not help him in a concentration camp.

In the third section of the novel, he has disappeared - dead, as it happens. The personal secretary tells this part of the story to the narrator - the woman cut and run with another man and Dr Tokai stopped eating, took to his bed, died of being lovesick. Its a bit weird - he has multiple women on the go, but this woman is accused of using Dr T because she does the same. As for the title, right at the end, the narrator recalls a conversation with Dr T in which he said women have an independent organ - the ability to lie - because it is not the woman telling the lie, but the independent organ.If he believed this, maybe he ought not have listened to this special woman? But then the ability to fall in love is itself an independent organ, one that elevates us to new heights, thrusts us down to the depths, throws our minds into chaos, reveals beautiful illusions, and sometimes even drives us to death - but without it, lives would be indifferent and brusque. Maybe Dr T actually found out who he is (this is an idea from Yesterday as well - by going through tough experiences, we find this out, our growth rings get closer together).


This one took a while to work out the context. Habara is in a House he cannot leave and with no way to contact the outside world. A woman with no name comes to sort out his groceries as a "support liaison" and, after a week, climbs into bed with him for an hour, twice a week. After sex, she tells him stories - so he calls her Scheherazade in his mind. The stories may or may not be true but they touched his heart. One is quite odd - she tells him of being a lamprey eel in a past life - they lie in wait, the when a trout goes past, they use their toothed tongues to rub holes in their bellies. She says that in Roman times, slaves were thrown to the lampreys to be eaten alive. Another story is about her breaking into random houses, then breaking into the house of a boy she fancied and taking something of his as a way of feeling close to him - a pencil. To stop it being theft, she hides something of her own - the only thing she can leave is a tampon.

She is 10 years on from being attractive and the sex is not passionate, but Habara believes there is some affection to it and the combination of the sex and stories has him feeling like he is "sewn" to her.. There might be a wry reference to Murakami - Habara likes to read long books, those that need to be read several times to be understood - 1Q84? To stave off boredom, he grows a beard - he can stroke it and spend hours trimming it.

I wrote the above before finishing the story - it turns out that Scheherazade's teenaged visits to the house of the boy she was crushing on WAS the story - she makes a couple more visits *but was too obvious about it because when she goes back, the locks have been changed. Her account of her last visit is sexually charged, and by telling it, she becomes sexually charged in the present - she and Habara even have a second go, and this time there's proper passion. And that's where the story ends - he wonders if she'll come back, but there's no real reason she won't. It is never made clear why he can't leave the House, but there's a possibility of him having to accept total seclusion. Quite an odd story.