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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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.

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Farthest

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?" 

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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.
   

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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.

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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 (http://www.attica.com.au) 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.

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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. 

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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:

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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:
 

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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.

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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).

Scheherazade

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.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Men Without Women

I have started reading Murakami's latest, a themed collection of short stories called Men Without Women. So far, I've read just the two.
Drive My Car

The opening of this story had be a bit worried, because Kafuku (the main character) is musing about women drivers, how so many are either too aggressive or too timid. While he accepts male drivers can suffer from the same fault, it is nowhere near as frequent. So its a bit funny that Kafuku had an incident in which his licence was suspended and he has to find a driver, who turns out to be a woman, Misaki. Her employer describes her as brusque and not cute but one hell of a driver. There is a fair amount of detail of the way she drives, and of the car she has to drive - a well used SAAB 900 convertible. It is not an easy car to drive but she's so natural that he can't even tell when she changes gears.

It is a whole two months before they have much of a conversation: the one they then have gets very familiar. It starts off innocuously enough, with Misaki asking why Kafuku took up acting - baseball was going nowhere, a girl he fancied suggested it, he found he loved it - particularly being someone other than himself but with the ability to go back to himself. When she asks him why he has no friends, that provokes a long recollection. It isn't clear how much he is just remembering to himself or telling her, but its about the last friend he tried to make, a bloke who had been sleeping with Kafuku's wife before she died - in an attempt to understand why she did it. They end up spending a lot of time together, Kafuku can see the other fellow loved his wife, is grieving - somehow this helps Kafuku come to terms with her infidelity (these things happen) and possibly her death. Sharing this with Misaki brings them closer together - he even allows her to smoke in his precious car - but more in a father-daughter way (he's the same age as her dad) than other forms of intimacy that might exist between a man and a woman. I liked it that way.

Yesterday

The title is inspired both by the nostalgic tone of the story and one of the characters, who used to misuse the Beatles song terribly, adding all sorts of nonsense lyrics to it. That's Kitaru - he and Tanimura (the narrator) work in the same coffee shop, have similar class backgrounds although Tanimaru is from Kansai while Kitaru pretends to be, by adopting its accent. This makes them friends - being young, they talk about girls. Tanimura has just broken up with one and Kitaru has a girl-friend but has to let her go: she's a uni student but he's failed the entrance exam twice, which means (at least according to him) they can't go out. So he suggests that Kitaru and Erika go out, so that he can know she's with a good guy.

Things are a bit complicated about Kitaru's academic under-achievement and his relationship with Erika: if he gets into uni, then she's his future. While he loves her, he also thinks it means life would be too easy, too comfortable - I get it, I think: he is too young to be so settled, has other things he might want to do, and uni may not even be one of them. There's another factor - he and Erika have known each other since they were infants, and he feels it would be wrong to get sexual (almost like with a sister). He, um, can't even picture her while masturbating - when Tanimura hears this, he's all "Other people's masturbation habits were beyond me."

So the three of them meet, and Erika is persuaded to go on a date with Tanimura, as a kind of "cultural exchange". They get on well but there's nothing happening - instead, she talks about Kitaru, his lack of interest in sex, and that she also wants to try something else. Obviously, they've not been able to talk honestly with each other, and an intermediary is needed to resolve things. It seems that it did, in that within a week, Kitaru has gone - there''s a kind of coda, when Tanimura catches up with Erika 16 years later, and she can say that Kitaru had flown off after a different dream. There's a strong sense that although they both had to break away from each other, it should not have been permanent.  

Friday, August 04, 2017

Masterchef #10

Last time it was the Italian restaurant challenge, in which the red team lost and now face elimination. It seems the whole programme is about them making hot chips: much as I love them, I can’t see an hour’s worth of TV here. We start with seeing Josh’s difficult year - beaten up by someone stealing his car. No-one is ever ready to go home, yet they keep have the contestants saying they’ll fight to stay, not ready to go home.

Today’s challenge about taking an ingredient and making it exciting - big spiel from Matt. Celebrate the potato. Not just chips - they have to make a dip as well. Wow. Then there’s round two, for the bottom four. I wonder if Eloise’s oven baked chips and aioli will make the cut? Triple cooked chips seem popular. Benjamin is doing curry sauce - Gary gets very excited. But has he chosen the right breed of spud? Michelle is making a pasta sauce for her chips - but has never cooked chips before! Ah - Eloise must have heard me, is making a smokey whiskey sauce as well. Jess is doing crisps and chips - double whammy. Pia doing what? Nachos, or just the topping we might expect on them. Poor Michelle - throws her chips out, as had not par-boiled and they just went soggy. Can she get new chips up in 15 minutes? Josh has problems as well - he has baked his chips, but too much butter means no crunch. Maybe deep-frying is the answer? Eloise’s chips are paler than I am! Fryer for her as well.But don’t they know that yanking the heat up just burns and leaves the interior non-fluffy? Eloise seems to have got hers looking right - but she doesn’t try one.

Judging. Arum - triple cooked and BBQ sauce. Crunchy, addictive plus good sauce - right “dippyness” on the dippometer. Benjamin’s chips - waxy, non crispy - not saved by a great sauce. Nicole - some sort of polenta crust on her chips - she’s safe. Sam - pale chips but crunchy with a chicken gravy. Tamara - “really yum”, so she’ll be safe. Samuel - double cooked with aioli: “that is fantastic”. George: “you could cook us lunch later”. Josh - four way cooked chips! Not that crispy.
Eloise whiskey sauce for her chips (above) - her rescue attempts have worked! Matt: “100 mile queue in Scotland”. Gary: “anywhere”. May have a winner here! Pia - can’t hope your dips will get you through. Chips not crispy, not what they should be.
Jess - chips not cooked. Crisps great, but she didn’t put them up! Michelle - sauce delicious but chips not only not crisp, soggy.

Three standouts: Samuel, Arum and Eloise. Bottom four: Benjamin, Josh, Pia, Jess and Michelle have all under-performed, but Pia just scrapes through, the rest go to second round. Any dish heroing the potato. Jess - salt and vinegar chip dessert, chocolate ganache, balsamic gel, potato mash dumplings, white chocolate.
Michelle - potato curry with chips on top (grandma’s dish).
Josh - gnocchi, tomato sauce, smoked speck. Is an hour enough? Benjamin - sweet potato doughnuts. Too much moisture? Go Michelle - she seems sweet, and so young.
The others seem to like her. Is cooking potatoes whole the right thing for Josh? He did it to keep moisture out, but cooking is very slow. Chop em up! Ricing looks like real hard work - are they actually cooked? They do get boiled then fried, so that must help. How are the doughnuts? Look good - but soggy. Jess is deep frying her dumplings, they look real good! Josh not a happy man. Benjamin has nothing to spare, so doesn’t know if his extra cooking has worked. Dish I’d most like to eat - Michelle’s.Poor Jess - did the most, has de-stress tears.

Judging: Michelle happy with her dish, smiling, no longer terrified of the potato. Matt calls her curry a warm fuzzy bowl of Indonesian love - it’s delicious”. They all love it - good for her. Camera switches to her - smiling radiantly.

Benjamin - meagre offering “more food on that apron than you have on the plate”. Wanted to take a risk - even though only four in round. They look good - cooked? Ad break before we find out. Variable - Gary’s is OK, Matt’s is not cooked. Jess - pushed so hard, wants to get to next level, achieve the impossible. Dish looks real good. And? Dumpling totally cooked. Absolutely fabulous, perfect balance, party in my mouth. Is she the winner of this round? Josh - worried. Says his gnocchi "should be super smooth" - does he even believe it? George looks worried. Ad break - what was he going to say? Under-cooked. Delicious sauce.

They tell Michelle she’s safe, she dashes to the others for a hug, can’t even hear the judges. Loser - between Josh and Benjamin. Should be Josh, as at least some of Benjamin’s food was cooked. Yep - he’s safe. Does being #22 really change your life forever?

In other food news, there have been two important nation competitions and one less so in the last couple of weeks. Most important for me is the 2017 Bakels pie awards. Very few South Island winners (there is a local mushroom and black pepper silver award winner) but luckily I will be spending time in the North Island this summer. There's a steak pie with my name on it in Kihikihi and the winning pie (Venison, Mushroom, Bacon and Cheese) is in Taupo.

Maybe a couple of steak and cheese pies as well - Waihi Bakery and Ed's Cafe in Mt Wellington. A former national winner, from Tauranga, has won the bacon and egg pie - maybe I'll try that? We also had the bacon, ham and pork awards. The bacon winner is a Wellington butcher, but there's a local bronze winner I've been meaning to try - Deep Creek Deli.

After a gap of a few years, there has also been a nationwide hunt for the best chip. This one I don't really trust - I love chips, but the primary criteria in this competition is the healthiness of the chip. Only those with a particular fat content get judged - the last time they run the competition, I went to the national winner in Waimate and was not impressed. This time round, the winner is So Fine Seafoods in Lower Hutt. There is also a People's Choice award, Mr Chips in Masterton won. There's a list of runners up - none featured well in the judged rounds, which tells me something.