Category Archives: Movies

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.

 

 

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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.

 

Three Things Thursday: My Nephew Patrick, A Movie, and Roger Deakins

In Tuesday’s post, I had written that on Wednesday, I would post reviews of the other three movies I saw at the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). However, for various reasons, including a trip to Lucky Gardens in Hallowell, the day got away from me.

No matter, I will post one more review today—of Prisoners—and the last two tomorrow. Because Prisoners was such a memorable event,  this piece will also do double duty for Three Things Thursday, my weekly exercise in gratitude. This, to me, is a winning situation as I love combining things.

First, a bit of backstory. My nephew Patrick, who is twenty-three, is a full-fledged cinephile whose taste in movies extends well beyond summer blockbusters. (He’s our nephew, that’s for sure.) Patrick is such a movie buff that he is even a fan of certain cinematographers such as Roger Deakins, whose films include No Country for Old Men, Kundun, and many, many others. At this year’s MIFF, Deakins  was honored with the festival’s brand-new Karl Struss Legacy Award for “distinguished achievement in cinematography.” Patrick wanted to go to the presentation of this award, which also included a showing of the 2013 movie Prisoners, featuring Roger Deakins’s incredible cinematography. Among others, the film stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Viola Davis. And so Dee, Clif, and I went to see Prisoners with Patrick and his mother, Rose.

Prisoners
U.S.A 2013—152 minutes
In English

From the moment this film opens in a bleak, dreary woods with a lone deer in the distance—a deer you know won’t be long for this world—the tone is set for this dark movie. Two families in a neighborhood join together for a Thanksgiving dinner. In each family there is a teenager and a young daughter. The Thanksgiving meal is the one bright note in Prisoners, where it is made clear that the families truly enjoy being together. After the meal, the two little girls go out, and they never come back. The families  descend into grief as the days pass, and the girls are not found. Hugh Jackman, one of the fathers, decides he knows who kidnapped the girls. Taking matters into his own hands, he crosses lines that should not be crossed.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays a tightly-wound detective who comes from a troubled background. This movie really does keep viewers on the edge of their seats, especially as there is even a scene that involves snakes. Deakins’s brooding cinematography adds a chilling menace to this disturbing film. Best of all, Prisoners never descends into cliché, where the cop and the frantic father become buddies and bring the movie to a heart-warming ending. Quite the reverse. The two men never warm up to each other, and this holds true for the entire film.

After the movie, Roger Deakins received his award and was interviewed on stage by a journalist from the New York Times. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember the journalist’s name.) Deakins spoke about how he didn’t want to achieve the same look in every movie and how he thought cinematography shouldn’t call attention to itself. For Deakins, the story is the thing. An illuminating interview with a true master.

When the interview was over, Clif, Dee, and I went to the lobby, but Patrick and Rose did not follow us.

“Where’s Patrick?” I asked.

“He wanted to shake hands with Roger Deakins,” Dee replied.

She had no sooner said this than Patrick came striding out of the theater, and there was a big, big smile on his face.

He said, “I can’t believe I just got to shake hands with the cinematographer for No Country for Old Men.”

Surely, this must be one of the best lines from a MIFF attendee.

 

 

Part I: Movies—A Political Thriller and a Doc

This year, because our daughter Dee stayed for a whole week rather than a long weekend, I was able to go to five of the movies at the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). Usually I am on dog duty as Clif and Dee start going to movies at noon and don’t come home until midnight. But because Dee stayed longer, the movies on their ten-pass were spread out, meaning they weren’t gone as long on some of the days. Hence, I,  too, could go on those days.

Each year, MIFF features nearly 100 films so picking out five movies is no easy task. However, I am happy to report that the five I picked were all very much worth seeing, and readers who are movie buffs might want to add them to their “to be seen” list.

Therefore, today and tomorrow, I’m going to post brief descriptions of the movies I saw, in the order in which they were viewed.

The Nile Hilton Incident
Sweden/Denmark/Germany 2017—106 minutes
In Arabic with English subtitles

This is a dark, political thriller set in Cairo during the time of the tumultuous 2011 revolution. The story follows Noredin (Fares Fares), a world-weary, corrupt detective who accepts bribes as casually and frequently as he smokes cigarettes. When a nightclub singer is murdered, and it’s clear the crime was committed by those in power, Noredin decides this is a line he can’t cross, despite his corrupt ways. While there are no true heroes in the film—the system degrades and punishes everyone at some level—Noredin, in the end, acts with bravery and compassion. With his magnificent nose and melancholy face, Fares Fares brings sympathy to a hard-edged, self-destructive character. The movie also shows—but never preaches—how government does indeed matter and how the bad ones pretty much make life impossible for ordinary citizens.

Lives Well Lived
U.S.A. 2017—72 Minutes
In English

This documentary came about as the director, Sky Bergman, started filming her ninety-nine-year-old grandmother as she cooked. Then Bergman began filming her grandmother at the gym “because I thought, no one will believe that my grandmother is still working out. I asked her if she could give me a few words of wisdom, and that was the beginning of this adventure.”

From there, as she approached her fiftieth birthday, Bergman became interested in the graying of America. On the film’s website she writes, “My grandmother was my guide for how to gracefully move through life and how to age with dignity, strength, and humor.”  Bergman wanted to find and film other people who were aging but who were still vital, creative, and engaged with the world.

And this she does, creating a film that is optimistic, inspiring, and moving. Many of the people profiled in the film suffered through dark times—through the Holocaust, through poverty, through racial discrimination, and imprisonment. Yet their resilient personalities somehow allowed them to not only survive but also to thrive.

If this doc comes anywhere near you, do not hesitate. Go see it.