Category Archives: Movies

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.

An Illuminating Week

Last week was a week of illumination, where I learned so much and also had so much fun. I guess you could call it a nearly perfect week of good movies, good food, a wonderful play, a fine lecture, and time spent with my nephew and daughter. Who could ask for anything more?

Once again, I am grateful that we live in a rural area with lakes, rolling hills, and forests yet also have access to plays, art, lectures, and independent movies. This definitely falls under the category of having the best of both worlds. We are also three hours away from Boston and seven hours away from New York City. In short, central Maine rocks.

First, the food. When Dee comes for a visit, one of her favorite meals is a waffle breakfast. I know this is bragging, but Clif’s homemade waffles are pretty darned good. We bring the waffle maker and batter to the dining room table, and out the waffles come, hot and fresh. This time, for sides, we had fresh strawberries and veggie sausages. (Dee is a vegetarian.) We had this breakfast not once, but twice.

Dee is a pizza hound as well as a movie buff, and it seems this pairing is not unusual. Next to Railroad Square Cinema is Grand Central Cafe, which makes pizza in a wood-fired brick oven. I am not a pizza hound, but I have to admit that Grand Central’s pizzas are very tasty.  The pizza featured below, which Clif and I shared, had cheddar, chicken, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce and was served piping hot.

And as far as Clif is concerned, pizza and beer go together the way chocolate and peanut butter do. This particular beer came from Bar Harbor.

Now for the illumination. Colby College, a liberal arts college with an incredible art museum that has become a destination, is a major sponsor of the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). This year, in conjunction with MIFF showing one of Disney’s most beautiful, films—Bambi—Colby hosted a lecture called “Bambi and the Art of Tyrus Wong” presented by the filmmaker and animation historian John Canemaker.

I had never heard of Tyrus Wong (1910-2016), a Chinese immigrant who suffered poverty, discrimination, lack of recognition, and at a young age, the loss of his mother. Despite the hardships, Wong became an animator extraordinaire who worked on Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wong’s luminous, Asian approach of soft, blended backgrounds enhanced the vivid, memorable characters in this movie.

During the lecture, I also learned that Bambi was based on Felix Salten’s 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods. When I came home, I Googled Felix Salten and discovered that his book “was  one of the first environmental novels ever published.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend MIFF’s presentation of the movie Bambi, a 35mm Academy Archive print shown on the huge screen at the Waterville Opera House. It meant leaving our dog buddy Liam unattended for too long.

Ah, well! I really can’t complain as I learned two things I didn’t know about—the animation of Tyrus Wong and the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

And I saw some first-rate movies, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!

For this year’s Maine International Film Festival (MIFF), the chickadee, Maine’s plucky state bird—plentiful but never common, as my friend Barbara observed—is being used on programs, T-shirts, and other material related to the festival.

This giant chickadee is in the park by the Opera House in Waterville, where many of the movies will be shown.

Our own ChickaDee is coming from New York today, and I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to post next week as we are looking forward to a fun and busy week of movies and even a play—Othello–slipped in.

As we Mainers like to say, it will be some week.

And, as a sad side note…the great director Jonathan Demme, who was a good and generous friend of the Maine International Film Festival, died this spring. This year’s MIFF is dedicated to him, and there will be several of his movies featured at the festival. One of them, Stop Making Sense, is my favorite. It’s a wild, rollicking documentary of The Talking Heads, the fabulous new-wave group that was popular in the 1980s.

Same as it ever was. So long, Jonathan Demme, and thanks for all the movies.

 

 

 

To Railroad Square Cinema to See Kedi, a Lovely, Soulful Movie about Cats

Yesterday,  as part of our week-long celebration of our fortieth wedding anniversary, Clif and I went to Railroad Square Cinema to see Kedi, a Turkish documentary about the street cats of Istanbul. As the title of this post indicates, I absolutely loved the movie.

However, before I get into a brief description of Kedi, I do want to establish I am more of a dog person than a cat person. Not that I don’t like cats. I most certainly do. At present there are two resident felines at the little house in the big woods, and I am very fond of both of them. But for me, dogs rank number one. That’s just the way it is.

Nevertheless, Kedi struck me to the core with its soulfulness and beauty. And unlike many documentaries, it didn’t seem a minute too long. (My husband Clif felt otherwise, and I’m wondering if all the cute kitten videos I watch on YouTube has built up my cat-watching stamina.)

Here is a blurb from the movie’s website:  “Cats, all kinds of cats, roam the city, free, without a human master. Some fend for themselves…others are cared for by communities of people, pampered with the best cat food and given shelter for the cold months. Cats have been a part of the city for thousands of years, and so, everyone who grows up in Istanbul or lives in Istanbul has a story about a cat….Street cats are such a big part of the culture that when US president Barack Obama visited Istanbul, part of his tour included a stop at the Hagia Sophia to visit its famous cat. Cats are as integral to the identity of Istanbul as its monuments, the Bosporus, tea, raki and fish restaurants.”

Kedi, which means cat in Turkish, follows seven cats and the people with whom they have bonded, including an artist, a deli owner, and a depressed man who finds meaning by feeding some of the street cats. From these people, there are lovely ruminations about cats and what they bring to the city.  One woman notes that how we treat animals is a reflection of how we treat people in general. So true! The people, while taking care of the cats, admire their Independence and let them come and go as they please.

Another cat lover says, “Dogs think that people are God but cats don’t. Cats know that people act as middlemen to God’s will. They’re not ungrateful. They just know better.” (This, no doubt, will bring howls of objections from dog lovers.)

Then there are the cats themselves—Sari, Duman, Bengü, Aslan, Gamsiz, Psikopat, and Deniz. The cinematography is nothing short of amazing as the cameras catch what cats do: prowl, climb, jump, leap, stalk mice, lovingly tend their kittens, fight, and show deep affection toward the humans who love them.

Kedi is a more a meditation about the street cats of Istanbul than a traditional documentary with an arc. For me, it worked so well that not only would I like to see this movie again, but I would also like to own the movie on DVD.

And there are not many movies I feel this way about.

 

The Wolf Moon and March in January

On Wednesday, we visited our friends Paul and Judy. We had tea and apple crisp and plenty of conversation about politics. As Clif and I were getting ready to leave, Paul called, “Come look at the rising moon! It’s nearly full.” We followed him to the other side of the house and looked out the window. There was the moon, in its serene beauty as it crested the tops of trees.

“Oh, lovely!” I said. “And January’s full moon is the Wolf Moon.”

Clif took a picture, but our wee camera really didn’t capture the magic of the nearly full moon.

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On the way home, I admired the dark fringe of bare trees outlined against a deep blue sky. A January dusk.

Unfortunately, the weather turned on Thursday, the night of the Wolf Moon. The day was gray and rainy. Because of the rain and the warm weather—it was nearly 50 degrees—the landscape now looks like March. The snow is gritty and packed down hard. The driveway and pathways are thick with ice.

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Clif plans to sprinkle wood ash on the pathways. This is a dirty solution, but with our wood furnace, we have plenty of ash, and messy footprints on the kitchen floor are better than falling on ice.

The gardens are buried beneath snow, but a few of the taller plants can be seen, and the bee balm has been transformed into a many legged creature that looks as though it is ready to skittle away.

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In the afternoon, we went to the movies to see La La Land, and much to my surprise, it turned out to be my favorite movie of the year.  I am not a fan of musicals, but the musical numbers are kept to a minimum, and they really do help the story flow. La La Land is about two artists—an actress and a jazz musician—who desperately yearn to succeed in their careers and who fall in love. The movie is at times whimsical and even fantastical, but it is also grounded in the two main characters, played with quirky charm by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. In essence, La La Land is about the artist’s journey, and the movie really spoke to me.

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The ride home was so foggy—all that melting snow—that it was a relief to turn into our driveway.

But today the sun is out, the temperature has fallen, and we are back to January. Yay! Now, all we need is a little fresh snow to cover the gritty mess brought by the rain.

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Beautiful Diversity

Startrek

One of the things—along with the food and the art—that I love about New York City is the incredible diversity of people.  One time when I was visiting my daughter Dee, we were sitting at a café, and I was positively dazzled by the variety of passersby—short, tall, thin, fat, Asian, white, black, brown, men with women, women with women, men with men. There were no disapproving stares, and everyone looked as though they felt completely comfortable with themselves and with others.

“This is good,” I said to myself. “This is very good.”

I was reminded of this last week when I went to see the latest Star Trek movie. Along with the humorous bantering between Spock and Bones, the heroic deeds of Captain Kirk, and the many, many explosions, there was a scene at a space station that was an interstellar version of what I saw at that café in New York city. But along with the brown and black, there were red, green, blue, and other creatures that walked on two legs but did not resemble humans in any way. There they were, all together, serenely and joyfully going about their business, and it made me smile just to watch that scene.

Naturally, in the course of the story, the space station comes under grave danger. Readers, I am not going to give any spoilers, except to note that Kirk and company go to great lengths trying to save that station.

From its inception, Star Trek celebrated diversity, and the original show with Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner featured a cast that resembled a mini-United Nations. The main crew included a black woman, a Japanese man, a Russian man,  a Vulcan, and the inimitable Scotty. In the early 1960s, this inclusiveness was nothing short of astonishing.

And of course that was the whole point. Gene Roddenberry, the original show’s creator, felt very strongly that as a species, we needed to look beyond the surface to acknowledge the dignity and worth of every person. He was a man ahead of his time, showing us the direction in which we should be headed.

In the natural world, we celebrate diversity and curse those invasive species that can overcome the natural system. Having too much of one plant or animal is usually not a good thing. The same is true for monocropping, with the potato famine in Ireland being a horrible example of what can go wrong when too much reliance is put on one vegetable. Even genetically, diversity is a very good thing, and too much interbreeding, whether with dogs or with humans, leads to all sorts of problems.

So we have plenty of examples of the value of diversity, but we seem to have trouble applying this knowledge to the various types and colors of people who live on this planet.

Nature shows us the way. So does Star Trek and other science fiction stories. New York City does, too.  Slowly, many of us are absorbing these lessons. Unfortunately, others are not. But it is my hope that a time will come, sooner rather than later, when racial and cultural diversity is, well, normal, not at all unusual, simply the way things are.