Category Archives: Movies

Winter Deepens: White on Red

Deep winter in Maine and another snowstorm last Friday. The birds flocked to the feeders and ate their fill, trying to keep warm in the frigid weather. This red beauty always catches my attention. If you look carefully,  you can see the snow falling in front of the cardinal.

I wasn’t sorry to see more snow. The gardens now have a good layer to protect them from the extreme cold.

But I do wonder: Can a pig fly when there’s snow on his wings?

In the backyard, I like the way most of the bee balm stems stand at attention.

In the front yard, there was also red. By late afternoon, the snow was up to our car’s hubcaps, and we knew the time had come to clean the driveway and walks.

Judging from the snow on the deck’s rail, I would say we got about six inches.

Inside there was red, too, with my little book, which came in the morning ahead of the storm. In a rare example of getting ready way ahead of time, Clif and I have been working on the Dog Angel for the next holiday season, when—we hope—we will be going to craft fairs again.

More white on red, just like outside our home during the winter. I hadn’t made this connection before, but now that I have, the book’s cover pleases me more than ever.

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In the winter in Maine there is no better time for movies, and on Sunday we watched Joel Cohen’s incredible The Tragedy of Macbeth. As a word person, I have been smitten by Shakespeare since I was in seventh grade, when we read a couple of his plays out loud in class.

In Cohen’s version, the words are still there. This is Shakespeare, after all. But oh the cinematography! Shot in black and white completely on sound stages, this play of murder and madness has the pitch and look of a fevered dream—internal,  psychological, and utterly compelling.

Tour de force is often overused, but that’s what this movie is. If you like Shakespeare, do watch Cohen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. The  short trailer below gives some idea of the tone of the movie.

Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

This morning when I got up, it was dead calm and zero degrees. Actually, a little below zero.

The top window over the sink was so frosty that I couldn’t even see outside. (Fortunately, the frost is on the outside storm window.)

And here is the view from the window by my desk.

With the wood furnace going, it’s a balmy 65°F inside. We might have to turn on the electric heat tonight as the temperature drops further.

The title of this post comes from one of my favorite documentaries, Alone in the Wilderness, in which one man, Dick Proenneke, filmed his experience of living by himself for one year in Alaska. (The documentary is narrated by Bob Swerer Jr.)  During that year—1968—he used hand tools to build his own cabin as well as many other things he needed for daily living. Proenneke’s skill, ingenuity, and creativity are nothing short of astonishing.

Here is a short clip that gives a sense of this extraordinary documentary.

During his time in the wilderness, Proenneke recorded the temperature every morning, and often it was “Dead calm and zero degrees,” just as it was this morning in Maine.

A little brisk, as my Yankee husband would say in his understated way.

The Air Had a Certain Chill to It

On Saturday, we had our first dusting of snow, enough white to see but not really enough to count as a first storm. Still, the sky was a severe gray, and the air had a certain chill to it that let a person know winter was not far away. Even at my age that nip brings an expectation verging on exhilaration—winter is coming, a hushed time of brilliant and blue days mixed with stormy weather.

To take some pictures, I hobbled out to the slippery porch. To say I was mindful of where I put my feet doesn’t begin to describe how I moved.

Here are the pictures I took from both inside and outside.

This one is from the aforementioned slippery front porch.

Still on the porch, looking downward at the red bow on a wreath.

Then from an open window in the living room—snowy leaves on the hedge,

and a frosty birdbath.

Finally from an open window in the bathroom, a picture of the backyard and patio.

If the weather isn’t too cold, we’re hoping to have some more time on the patio with a fire in the firepit. We shall see.

My knee continues to improve but ever so slowly. I still limp from room to room and often use a cane. But, I can bend the knee now, and I don’t spend quite as much time on the couch. I haven’t returned to working on Book Four in my Great Library Series. I plan to do so this week. Again, we shall see.

With Dee’s and Clif’s help, Christmas decorating has begun, making the house look bright and festive. And, most important, now that Thanksgiving is over, we have begun watching Christmas specials. Not surprisingly, the ones that have fantasy and folderol are my favorites, and last night we watched Robin, Robin, a sweet, short stop-motion film from Aardman Animations (Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit). Next on the list: A Boy Called Christmas.

I have some cooking planned—a tofu chocolate cream pie, a vegan tourtière pie—wait, what?—and other goodies. Regardless of whether I fail or succeed, I will be reporting on how they turned out.

The lights, the decorating, the cooking, and the holiday shows all combine to make dark December, right around the corner, a cozy month. Like winter, much anticipated.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Clif and Me

For the first time ever, Clif and I will be spending Thanksgiving alone. No children, no friends, just Clif and me. It hardly needs to be said that there will be no going to the cinema to see the beginning of the season’s blockbuster movies, a family tradition that stretches way back.

For the most part, Clif and I have accepted our situation with what might be called equanimity.  Or acceptance. Or whatever. We’re not angry, and we’re not depressed. However, I would be lying if I stated that we aren’t a little wistful as we remember past Thanksgivings. That’s allowed, I think.

More than anything else, this holiday feels flat. There hasn’t been a flurry of cooking and cleaning, the way there usually is before Thanksgiving. No planning. No anticipation. In some ways, this week seems like any other week during the time of Covid-19 and not like Thanksgiving at all.

However, I will be preparing a meal that’s a little special for the two of us: a green bean casserole made with with cheese and a sour-cream sauce, stuffing, potatoes, and carrots. For dessert we have a chocolate satin pie, commercially made but good nonetheless. No turkey, as Clif and I are vegetarians, but we will enjoy our veggie feast.

We have also put out our holiday lights, to brighten the long nights of November and December.

The wee camera has made the lights more purple and glaring than they actually are, but this gives an idea of how the lights look, a glowing spot on a dark country road.

We will be Zooming with the kids, which perks up any day, Thanksgiving or not. Thank goodness for technology!

We also plan to watch Babette’s Feast tomorrow, an oldie but goodie. The story, set in the 1800s, revolves around a French refuge—Babette—who is taken in by two Danish women, the daughters of a strict (and selfish) father who was a pastor. I don’t want to say too much about the plot in case you haven’t seen this delightful movie that deals with coming to terms with a difficult and disappointing past. And food. Lots of food. Hence its appropriateness for Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American blogging friends. I hope you find a way to make the day special even if there isn’t the usual gang of loved ones and friends around your table.

The day might be lonely and quiet, but truly there are things to be grateful for. A very effective vaccine is on the horizon, and in January, we will have a new president.

Onward to the longest night of the year. Onward to 2021.

 

Hot, Hot, Hot!

It has been so hot this June that heat records have been broken all over Maine. In addition, there has been so little rain that I have had to water portions of my garden every day.

Unfortunately, our hose does not reach around to the front yard. Thank goodness for my little blue cart, which we originally bought for hauling books and display items to various fairs. This summer, with all fairs canceled owing to covid-19, I am using the cart to haul water.

Back and forth, back and forth, I go, feeling a bit like Gérard Depardieu in the excellent movie Jean de Florette. Fortunately, I don’t have to carry water on my back, the way he did.

And, I don’t have ratty Daniel Auteuil conniving to deprive me of water.

Still, hauling gallons and gallons of water out front every day certainly gives me a work out. My legs feel it at the end of the day.

In past years, Clif and I have casually discussed putting a water spigot out front, but in truth we’ve never really needed it. Usually Maine has an ample supply of rain, and I haven’t had to water much.

However, Maine is changing. The day might soon come when we put a spigot out front, just as we bought an air conditioner this year to deal with the extreme heat.

Fortunately, despite the heat, the backyard cools down at night. The evening primroses have started to bloom, bringing a jaunty touch of yellow to the various shades of green.

Around 6:00, Clif and I settle down to a light supper as the birds flutter and sing, coming for their own water and food.

Despite the heat, despite covid-19, we have our patio and backyard on the edge of the woods, a place of deep green beauty and mystery.

 

 

 

 

Nature and Technology: The Reconciliation of Opposites

The late great Canadian author Robertson Davies once wrote that the Jungian definition of balance is the reconciliation of opposites. That has always stuck with me, and I am thinking about this a lot right now during this time of the coronavirus.

As someone who loves the natural world, I’ve done a fair amount of grumbling over the  years about technology, screens, and the Internet. From the time I was a teenager, a part of me has longed to live on a small farm with chickens, apple trees, and a big garden.

But I am married to a computer geek, and a small farm was not one of his wishes. Therefore, as it is with many marriages, we have compromised. We live on a rural road, surrounded by trees and nature and wildlife. But our house is kitted out with computers and all the technology that goes along with it. And I’ve got to admit that during this period of self-isolation, I have been ever so grateful for computers and technology as well as the woods outside my home.

Last weekend, in our very own living room, we “visited” with our North Carolina kids via our laptop, where we could talk and see their shining faces. We chatted for about two hours, and it was great.

Daily, I have been visiting with various blogging friends, and through posts and comments, I am connected with folks all around the world. How I value these connections.

At night, Clif and I watch something from one of our streaming services. Last night it was The King of Masks, recommended by our librarian Nick and available through Kanopy. This poignant film took us to China in the 1930s, where it examined poverty, gender roles, love, and generosity.

Yesterday afternoon, via the Internet, our library’s movie club—Cinemates—got together to discuss the 2002 film The Hours, a moving and heart-wrenching look at Virginia Woolf, mental illness, caretakers, and how a book can ripple through the ages to affect both readers and family. One member of our movie club noted how you can tell an awful lot about a person by the way they fill their hours.

Maybe, just maybe, going forward, our society can reconcile these two opposites—nature and technology—and twine them together in a way that in a way that honors nature while electronically connecting us to each other and the world.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 155

The News from All Over

From CNN

New York has become the national epicenter of the outbreak, as cases there are now doubling every three days, overwhelming hospitals. New York state’s hospitals have enough personal protection equipment for just two more weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said, while it’s in need of 180,000 more beds.

To help stave off a crippling recession, the Senate voted to inject a $2 trillion stimulus into the US economy, a move that now needs approval from the House. President Donald Trump has pledged to get the economy “raring to go by Easter,” a goal that experts warn is too ambitious.

A record-breaking 3.28 million Americans filed for their first week of unemployment benefits last week…

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 487,648

Global Deaths: 22,030

My Own Take: Over this week, Maine’s coronavirus numbers have edged up ever so slowly. I am cautiously hopeful that with all the self-isolating and business closures, Maine will be able to stem the horrible  coronavirus tide. Only time will tell. Fingers and toes crossed.

Of Knives, Racing Cars, Harriet Tubman, and JoJo

This year we had a whirlwind Thanksgiving of movies, and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. Our daughter Dee is a movie buff extraordinaire, and when she comes to visit, we catch up on movies. With the Academy Awards right around the corner,  we were truly spoiled for choice.

The title of this blog indicates what we saw.

First, there was Knives Out, a sharp, intelligent murder mystery with terrific actors and a political message that lifts it above the average story of this kind.

Second was Ford v. Ferrari, a surprisingly affecting story about car racing and class. The movie centers on car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and their struggle against “the suits” from Ford.

Third was Harriet, a biopic about the extraordinary Harriet Tubman, who was born a slave, escaped, and then returned to the South to lead other slaves to freedom.  What raises this movie above the standard biopic is Cynthia Erivo’s incredibly strong performance as Harriet Tubman. (Apologies for the small graphic. I hunted and hunted but couldn’t find anything bigger.)

Finally, we saw JoJo Rabbit, a dark comedy about Hitler and World War II. While most of us wouldn’t find much humor in this subject, the director, Taika Waititi, managed to poke his finger in Hitler’s eye while at the same time making a gripping story about the nature of fanaticism. (Another small graphic. Sigh.)

So there you have it—four movies, all worth seeing.

Now onward to Christmas! Because Thanksgiving was late this year, we only have three weeks to get ready for my favorite holiday. There will be a flurry of cooking, cleaning, and craft fairs.

Fingers crossed that the weather gods smile on us.

MIFF Warriors

What a week it was at the Maine International Film Festival, also known as MIFF! (I wrote about MIFF in my last post.) Every year we have a fabulous time watching movies, many of them foreign, that will most likely never come to a theater near us. We eat out. We have drinks. We meet with friends.

But this year was even more extraordinary because of a fourteen-hour Argentine film called La Flor.  No, I did not make a typo when I wrote “fourteen-hour.” According to Wikipedia, La Flor has “a length of 868 minutes including intermissions.” Even by MIFF standards—past festivals have included long films—La Flor is unique both in its scope and length.

Did we sit for a fourteen-hour stretch to watch La Flor? We did not. The movie was shown in four parts, one per day. Here is a short description from Wikipedia: “La Flor is broken into six separate episodes, connected only by an on-screen appearance by Llinás [the director] explaining the film’s structure. The first four episodes have the beginning of a story but finish in medias res. The fifth episode is the only one to proceed from start to end, and the last episode has just the conclusion of a story. ” Four actresses—Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, and Laura Paredes—star in different roles in five of the episodes.

Clif, Dee, and I quite sensibly decided to start with the first part of La Flor and then go from there. We were immediately taken by the energy of the stories—the first a grade B movie about an extremely scary mummy and the second a tale about two musicians who were once a couple but have separated and try to come together to record a song. Without the outstanding acting of the four actresses listed in the paragraph above, none of the episodes would have worked. These talented actresses held La Flor together.

By the time we were done with the La Flor, Clif, Dee, and I felt like MIFF warriors, and the small band of moviegoers who made it to the end felt the same way. I nearly proclaimed, “We few, we happy few, we band of moviegoers.” We all agreed that we deserved purple heart badges.

You might be tempted to scoff at us. After all, how hard can it be to sit and watch movies? If we’re talking about, say, Spider Man or Toy Story or some romantic comedy, it’s not that hard. (But fun!) However, when you’re watching a movie of La Flor‘s length and reading subtitles the whole time, it is an intense albeit rewarding experience.

The same could be said for most of the movies at MIFF, and we saw others besides La Flor. Few of them are fluff, many of them are foreign, and after a while, fatigue sets in. I heard one moviegoer exclaim, “I ache all over.” With my creaky knees, I could certainly sympathize.

Still, we wouldn’t miss this film festival for anything. Although Clif and I are tired, and it will take us a few days to recover, we also feel letdown that the festival is over and that Dee is back in New York.

But there is work aplenty. My third unfinished book—Out of Time—beckons. So onward, ho.

Clif, one of the MIFF warriors, at Railroad Square

Hats off to MIFF!

In central Maine, mid-July chiefly means one thing—The Maine International Film Festival (MIFF), held in Waterville, the fair city where I was born. (We now live about twenty-five miles away.) For ten days, the little city of Waterville—population about 16,000—hosts this wonderful event that features 100 movies in ten days. In addition, directors, writers, actors, and even cinematographers come and talk about their movies. The streets are thrumming with moviegoers, and the local businesses are thrilled to have the extra customers. Because while coastal Maine draws in the tourists, central Maine does not, and MIFF is a boon for the area.

Yesterday afternoon, Clif and I headed to Railroad Square Cinema, one of MIFF’s venues, to buy our tickets and pick up booklets to help guide us through the selection of movies.

Railroad Square has now gotten modern and offers beer and wine to moviegoers as well as the traditional popcorn and candy.

Clif posed in front of the MIFF backdrop.

Our friends Alice and Joel also posed, all kitted out for MIFF.

After business was taken care of, it was on to Mainely Brews for drinks and dinner. We were joined by other friends, and a jolly time was had by all.

Then, off to the first movie—Blow the Man Down–a snappy little thriller centered around women and filmed in Maine.

Tonight we will be picking up our daughter Dee in Portland, and tomorrow, the real move fun will begin.

In between, we will eat pizza, talk to friends, go to happy hours, and generally have a terrific time. There probably won’t be much time for blogging.

As always, I am amazed that a small rural area can host such a vibrant festival.

Hats off to MIFF!

 

The Wonderful, Interconnected World of Blogging

A couple of weeks ago, Clif and I went to see a movie called The Kid Who Would Be King, a modern retelling of the King Arthur tale. We had seen the trailer, and  being either young at heart or in a state of arrested development—take your pick—we could tell right away that we would like this movie.

And we were right. Although the delightful The Kid Who Would Be King is aimed at a young audience, it is also a crossover movie that adults will enjoy.

Here is a short synopsis. In modern-day England, life is going to heck in a handbasket, and there is the clever use of newspaper headlines to illustrate this. (Brexit, anyone? ) What England needs is a hero to help restore some semblance of order and defeat the dark forces led by King Arthur’s sister Morgana, imprisoned underground and itching to get out.

Enter shining-faced Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of the great Andy Serkis). Alex is the modern-day Arthur, living with his single mother, bullied by older kids, and the defender of his best friend, who is also bullied. When Alex finds an embedded sword in a construction site, he, of course, easily removes it. Merlin is summoned, and the adventure begins. Alex must assemble a team and face his own sorrows before he can confront the wicked Morgana.

The movie goes at a cracking pace. The children are terrific, the special effects are great, and the adult actors did a pretty good job, too. Elder Merlin is played by Patrick Stewart, which seems only fitting. After all, Ian McKellen has played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movies. Younger Merlin is played by Angus Imrie, who did a fantastic job portraying the otherworldly Merlin. Imrie is someone to watch for in future movies.

By now readers might be wondering how this movie ties in with the world of blogging. It just so happens that Joe Cornish, the writer/director of The Kid Who Would Be King (and also the wonderful Attack the Block) has a direct connection with Tootlepedal, one of my blogging friends. Cornish is the partner of Tootlepedal’s daughter.

Did Tootlepedal and his wife get to go to London for a special screening of The Kid Who Would be King? You bet they did, and Tootlepedal chronicles this event in his post King Size Entertainment. Oh, the excitement!

I know. Clif and I are movie nerds along with being many other kinds of nerds.  So it was a real treat for us to discover this connection between Tootlepedal and Joe Cornish, whom we have long admired.

A cool winter’s tale, wouldn’t you say?