Category Archives: Movies

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?

 

 

 

 

Apple Crisp to Go

Last weekend was the time for taking down the Christmas decorations.  We did it on Saturday, January 5, which by some reckonings is Twelfth Night. (Others put Twelfth Night on January 6. We don’t have strong feelings about this and are willing to keep an open mind.)

It always makes me a little sad to take down the decorations and to put the tree away. I miss the the ornaments—some fanciful, some homespun, some lovely—and the soft glow of the lights.  Here they are, all packed away. Farewell, my sweets, until next December.

But I really didn’t have time to brood because after the decorations were put away, it was on to the next project—apple crisp, which we brought to our friends Judy and Paul.

We took it hot out of the oven, hence the towel and pan, and at Judy and Paul’s house, the crisp was still warm enough to melt ice cream when it was served. Somehow, apple crisp is such a cozy, satisfying dessert in the winter. Best of all, I am able to get local apples at a nearby orchard well into winter, and I plan on making quite a few apple crisps for friends between now and spring.

At Judy and Paul’s, we talked of many things—politics, American history, and the moral failings of our founding fathers, who pieced together a country but blighted it with slavery. Unfortunately, the ugly repercussions are still being felt today, over 200 years later.

Paul noted that our founding fathers—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin—did the best that they could. But did they? What would have happened if slavery had not been permitted? No country? Quite likely, but things fell apart less than a hundred years later, with the Civil War. Even afterwards, so many people continued to suffer because of the color of their skin. And still do.

Heavy topics for a January day. Good thing we had apple crisp, ice cream, and tea to lighten the mood.

When we came home from Judy and Paul’s, Clif made some of his delectable homemade French Fries, and we had them with faux chicken nuggets, which are tastier than you might think. Alas, no pictures. I’ll do better next time.

Then we settled down to watch Trevor Nunn’s delightful production of Twelfth Night, filmed in Cornwall and starring, among others, Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter. We own the DVD and watch it yearly. I think you can guess on which night. A bit of trivia: In Nunn’s Twelfth Night, Kingsley plays the jester, Feste, and I based my own Feste, in Maya and the Book of Everything, on Kingsley’s performance.

Might as well borrow from the best.

 

 

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.

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.