Category Archives: Movies

More Snow to Come

There are two things Mainers hate to see in the winter—the first is rain, and the second is freezing rain. The two often come hand in hand, and at best, they make the landscape a soggy, unappealing mess. At worst, the roads and walkways become slippery, treacherous even. And the power goes out.

Yesterday, we got both, and here is what the driveway looked like. What. A. Mess.

The front yard looked a little better. The uncut perennials bring some visual interest to the wet landscape. Still, it’s hardly a sparkling winter wonderland.

I am happy to report that we did not lose our power, and fortunately, the roads were not slippery as we had to bring our daughter Dee to Portland where she could take the bus back to New York City. While we were sorry to see her leave and would have loved to have had another day with her, it was good Dee could leave when planned. She didn’t have to forfeit  her bus ticket, and she didn’t have to take another vacation day.

While Dee was here, we went to the cinema to watch two movies that perfectly illustrate our eclectic tastes. Both films were worth seeing. The first was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Critics have not liked this movie very much, but with all due respect, I think the critics are wrong in this case. For those who like fantasy, Fantastic Beasts is a terrific movie with good acting, a fine script, wonderful cinematography, and a big plot about the supposed superiority of one group over another mixed in with the lust for power.

The second movie we saw was Widows, a dark heist movie starring the fabulous Viola Davis, among other good actors. Widows is not the fun romp that the Ocean’s movies were, but it sure is gripping, and the film leaves the viewer with much to think about. Again, the notion of power is explored, this time through the lenses of money, brutality, and politics. Also, there is a genuinely surprising plot twist that none of us saw coming.

Now that Dee is gone, we are settling back into our routine, which will be busy, busy, busy with a new book coming out soon. Very soon.

To add to the fun, another snow storm is coming.

Winter is definitely here, despite what the calendar might say, and I’m thinking it is time to bring the last of the frogs in.

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A Very Brisk Thanksgiving

Yesterday morning this was the temperature, and a brisk wind made the air feel even colder.

There were frost ferns on the door,

and other windows were frosted, too.

No matter. Clif built a fire in the wood furnace in our cellar, and the house was cozy and warm.

This year we had a quiet Thanksgiving, with our daughter Dee being our sole guest. Although Clif and I missed those who couldn’t come, we had an absolutely delightful time. Being movie hounds, we watched two movies. The first was the excellent The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a dark, haunting Western presented in six episodes by the Coen brothers. The Ballad is available on Netflix. The second movie was the not-so-excellent The Square, which we thought would be a story about modern art and its uses (and abuses) but instead mostly turned out to be the tale of a hapless, bumbling museum director who seemed to be in a permanent state of arrested development. Ah, well!

This year we had a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, and it was very good indeed. Clif and I have been going down the vegetarian path for years and are now mostly there. Dee has been a vegetarian since her college days. So we dispensed with the turkey and made the sides the main meal. For dessert was homemade chocolate cream pie, but I forget to take a picture of it.

In the upper left hand corner of the above photo is what looks like a golden roll. However, American readers will recognize this roll for what it is—a biscuit.

Here is a closer look at the biscuits, arrayed in glory on a platter.

American biscuits are something like a scone, but they are not at all sweet and make a fine accompaniment to almost any meal, especially stews and soups.

Biscuits are also good for breakfast, and that’s exactly what we had this morning, along with scrambled eggs made from the beauties our neighbor brought us.

Tonight, there will be leftovers and pies.

The feasting continues!

 

Art Is not Obliged to Be Beautiful

This has been a rainy, humid week. While the rain has been much needed, a few dry days would be nice. The house smells like mildew, and I even had to resort to using the clothes dryer. I know from sad experience what clothes smell like when racks are used for wet laundry during rainy, humid weather. Not good!

On the other hand, it has been a good week for going to the movies and to the Colby Museum of Art.

At Railroad Square, we saw two movies: Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s wild, surreal, pointed look at racism and economic injustice in the United States; and Leave No Trace, a sad, beautiful story about an emotionally-wounded veteran and his daughter. If you like character-driven movies, Leave No Trace is a must-see film. In fact, both movies are very much worth seeing.

For a small liberal arts college (1,800 students), Colby has an incredible art museum. It is free and open to the public six days a week. Because we live so close—about thirty-five minutes away—we have the luxury of focusing deeply on one exhibit at a time, which is my favorite way to visit an art museum. For this week’s visit, we focused on Self and Society, a collection of German Expressionist Prints.

On its website,  MoMA notes that  German Expressionism was a “major modernist movement that developed in Germany and Austria during the early decades of the 20th century.” The painters and printmakers—George Grosz and Max Beckmann, to name two—were more interested in portraying emotions rather than the actual physical world. And the emotions they portrayed were usually  dark and grim.

Why wouldn’t they be? Many of the artists had fought in World War I and had witnessed firsthand the ugliness and brutality of that war.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the post-war period was not exactly smooth and tranquil either. Then  we all know what came next. It seems to me that these Expressionist artists, who would be persecuted during the Nazi regime, had their fingers on the pulse of society. Their art will never go on the cover of chocolate boxes, but art is not obliged to be beautiful.

To be sure, beauty is a part of life, and I appreciate  beautiful art as much as the next person. But ugliness is also a part of life, and there are times when that reality is so great that artists have no choice but to face it and portray it.

Here are a couple of photos I took of prints from Self and Society.

Max Beckmann, “Die Granate (The Grenade).” 1915

 

George Grosz, “No. 73 Restaurant,” c. 1925

 

In the gallery below Self and Society, we came across this—Cracked Question by Elizabeth Murray, who was not a German Expressionist.

But somehow, after seeing the horrors portrayed in Self and SocietyCracked Question seemed absolutely appropriate.

 

 

Ten Movies in Five Days: Having Fun Is Exhausting

The Maine International Film Festival (MIFF) is over, and yesterday, we dropped off Dee at the bus station so that she could return to New York City. Afterwards, we returned to Winthrop, whereupon we collapsed on the couch and took a long nap. Why we should get so tired after a week of having fun is beyond me. Old age? No stamina? At any rate, we were wiped out.

But what a great week we had! As the title of this post indicates, we saw ten movies in five days. Waterville, Maine, is very lucky to have this film festival to bring a cultural spark to the area. It is also a boost to local businesses. Central Maine is not a destination for tourists, and while we have a slight influx of summer people who come to this region’s lakes, we do not have the great number of visitors that coastal communities have. During MIFF, the owner of one small cafe noted that they had made an extra several hundred dollars each day because of MIFF. For a small business, that is a big help.

And speaking of small…one of the things I especially like about MIFF is having the chance to watch really small movies that I probably wouldn’t see anywhere else, not even at Railroad Square. We saw two such movies last week: The first was Waiting for Barcelona, Finnish filmmaker Juho-Pekka Tanskanena’s beautifully-shot documentary about immigrants. The second was Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch, in which a little girl is accused of being a witch and is sent to a witch camp. Set in Zambia, I Am Not a Witch is a haunting fable suffused with magical realism. 

Between movies, we, of course, had to eat, and in downtown Waterville, we discovered Itali-ah Restaurant and Market.

From the snappy cocktail

to the sweet little bread basket and fabulous olive oil

to the pizza with its perfect sauce and crunchy crust,

it was love at first bite. So good, so good! Itali-ah even has gelato, one of my passions, and we stopped in twice for a cool, creamy treat on a hot summer’s day.

Now that MIFF is over, and we aren’t seeing two movies a day, you might think we are at loose ends. But fear not. Two new movies have arrived at Railroad Square. They are Leave no Trace and Sorry to Bother You.

Always something happening in Central Maine. And in between, we even manage to get a few things done.

 

Of Flowers and Movies

Mid-July in central Maine. For the past week, the weather has been everything it ought to be. (Well, almost everything. We sure could use some rain.) The daytime temps are about 80°F, perfect summer weather. At night, it dips to 60°F, so cool that we don’t need fans, and blankets feel very good.

My gardens, known more for their cool green rather than for their profusion of color, are dotted here and there with flowers that tolerate some shade.

My favorite daylily is in bloom. Alas, I don’t know its name.

To the delight of the hummingbirds, the bee balm has come into bloom. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get a picture of one of those whirring beauties by a flower. (Quercus, I know how much you love hummingbirds. I’ll keep trying.)

One of my favorite small hostas—Blue Mouse Ears—is in bloom.

But along with flowers and sun, something else comes to central Maine in mid-July—movies, and lots of them, at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville (MIFF). MIFF is a big event for Waterville and central Maine. Every year we look forward to it and see movies we never would see anywhere else, even at Railroad Square, our favorite art cinema.

Our daughter Dee, a keen moviegoer, always comes to Maine for the festival. She will be arriving tomorrow and will be staying until Sunday, July 22.

As is the case when any guest comes, there has been a flurry of cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping. I’ve made and frozen chickpea patties for a quick lunch or supper. This afternoon, I made a batch of curried lentils. Tomorrow, chocolate chip cookies.

Then it’s off to the movies. The first one we’ll be seeing is called Fake Tattoos, a movie from Quebec, which has a vibrant film industry.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be posting next week, but I might slip in a few pictures of this or that and some words to go with them.

For nearby friends, maybe I’ll see you at the movies.

 

 

In Transition

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the Winthrop Center Friends Church to see In Transition 2.0, a movie about Transition, a movement celebrating community and the environment. It also re-imagines a different economy, based on supporting local stores, farmers, and artisans. Transition began in the United Kingdom, and some of you have perhaps heard of Rob Hopkins, one of the founders of Transition. (Transition Network.org provides a more detailed account of the movement and its various aspects.)

Released in 2012, In Transition 2.0 follows the usual rah-rah trajectory common to upbeat documentaries about the environment and social change. The gist of the movement is explained, and then big and small examples of action from around the world are featured—community gardens (relatively easy); a group that focuses on personal action (again, relatively easy); local currency (a little harder but manageable); and starting a small power company that is based on renewable energy (very hard).

I’m aware that the above paragraph makes me sound like a cynic when it comes to movements such as Transition, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a Mainer, I am very much aware of the problems addressed by Transition, especially climate change and the decline of small communities. I’ve already written about the weird winter we’ve been having and how this seems to be the new normal. Climate change is here, no two ways about it.

However, I haven’t written about how Winthrop, the small town where we live, has gone from having a vibrant downtown with clothing stores, a craft store, a five and dime store, and a little grocery store to having a few sandwich shops, some thrift shops, and not much else.  It’s been sad to witness this decline. There are many reasons for this, including the closing of major businesses and poor leadership. I could go into great detail about this, but I’ll stop here.

Therefore, my sympathies are with Transition, but having once been a part of a failed Green Committee, I am also aware of how difficult it is for people to come together to make a change.  And, to be fair to In Transition 2.0, the movie does acknowledge that groups do fail and even highlights one that has.

After the movie, the handful of us that came discussed what we had seen.  Maggie Edmondson, the Friends pastor, did a fine job of leading the discussion. However, because most everyone came from a different community, there was really no possibility of starting anything in Winthrop.

And yet. The movie and the discussion made me think more about what I can do to live a greener life, about how I should use less of everything, throw away less, buy more local food, and drive less. (This is very difficult in central Maine as there is not much in the way of public transportation). In fact, I grapple with these issues on a daily basis, and seeing this film has made me resolve to do better, do more.

The title of the movie, In Transition, aptly catches what we are experiencing regularly in this country and, I think, around the world. Fires and mud on the West Coast. Dreadful hurricanes in the South. Twelve inches of snow and frozen alligators in North Carolina. Flash floods in Maine in January.

We are, indeed, in transition. Now it’s up to us to decide what to do about it.

The Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine, on January 22, 2018. More rain, more ice dams are predicted tonight and tomorrow, and these, in turn, could lead to more flooding. Good times.

 

Living North of North

The holidays are over, the kids are gone, and we are feeling a little despondent. We so love this time of food, family, generosity—oh, the world needs more of this homely virtue—twinkling lights, and, yes, beauty.  Winter is one of the most beautiful times in Maine, and on a clear day, the skies are so blue that I feel exhilarated.

It snowed on Christmas day, a storm that left us about eight inches of light, fluffy snow. Nothing unusual for central Maine. Naturally, this meant we had to clean up the snow, but as the saying goes, many hands make the task light.

Here is Shannon, just barely visible in her blue parka, cleaning our car.

Here is our front deck, after it was shoveled.

Then, as it sometimes happens in Maine in the winter, it got very, very cold.

This little junco is puffed up against the cold. We are diligent about keeping the feeders filled for them and for the other birds.

It is so cold, that the windows in the bedroom are frosted.

But our backyard looks like a winter wonderland, so all is forgiven.

Maine is not the northern-most state in our country, but in the winter, we definitely feel as though we are north of north. Snow, cold, quiet, and a hunkering down for the winter give us the illusion of being separate from the rest of the country. How far removed Washington feels, almost as though it is on another planet.

This, of course, is false thinking. What happens in Washington ripples outward and upward, affecting us all. But during this time of stillness and cold, I can almost pretend that time has slowed down, allowing us to focus on movies, books, and tea with friends.

And speaking of movies…we saw four good ones over the holidays, all worth putting on your list if  you are a movie buff.  Our favorite was Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill and England’s decision to enter World War II.  A couple of times I was moved to tears, especially as the little civilian fleet left to rescue the soldiers at Dunkirk. Oh, my! Then, there is Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech.

My second favorite was Downsizing, a parable about climate change, our overconsuming ways, and bright spots of decency. No answers are provided, and the silly sight of a shrinking Matt Damon does not detract from the serious message of this movie.

Third was All the Money in the World, about the kidnapping of Paul Getty III.  Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in playing Getty the elder, and Plummer did an outstanding job, especially when you consider his scenes were filmed in just nine days. As for all that money? Too much for one person. Too much.

Finally, we saw the latest Star Wars movie, which was good enough, but it just didn’t have sparkle. The plot was too basic and involved too much chasing. Still, it was wonderful to see Carrie Fisher in her last role—how good she was!—as well as some bright spots that were, alas, not allowed to shine long enough.

It’s been a good year for movies, and there are more to look forward to, perfect for this cold time of year.

So now onward, ho to January and February.