Saturday, December 26, 2015

14 Movies I've Seen This Year That I Recommend

So here's my list of the films I enjoyed the most this year.  Despite the above photo, I saw them all at home; they all came in the mail.

  • About Elly.  This is an Iranian film that could well be a play, the script is so good.  Set on Iran's Caspian Sea coast, it involves three young families, a single man in search of a wife, and a young woman, Elly, who have gone together for a weekend's getaway. It might well be called a psychological mystery.  The characters are believable, the story-line tense but surprisingly realistic. Nominated for an Oscar.  In Farsi.
  • Belle.  (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson) (U.K.)  Mixed-race young woman is raised by her aristocratic relative in 18th century England.
  • Far From the Madding Crowd.  (Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen)  (U.K.) Adaptation of Thomas Hardy's story of shrewd and clever Bathsheba Everdene in 19th century Dorset.
  • Laila's Birthday.  (Palestine.)  The activities and frustrations of a judge--now a taxi driver--in Ramallah on his daughter's birthday.  In Arabic.
  • Leviathan.  (Russia.)  Wonderful setting, bleak but beautiful photography of the Barents Sea off the Russian arctic coast.  A fisherman fights to keep his ancestral home on land a corrupt official wants to take over.  Won a Golden Globe; nominated for an Oscar.  In Russian. 
  • Mademoiselle Chambon.  (France.)  A refined school teacher and a family-man construction worker become attracted to each other (played by a former husband and wife).  Gentle, slow, precise, very French, contemporary setting, winner of several awards.  In French.
  • Pride. (Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton) (U.K.)  Based on a true story of lesbian/gay activists helping raise money for Welsh families affected by a miners' strike in 1984.
  • Siddharth.  (Canada, India.)  When his young son is abducted, a zipper-repairer father travels around India looking for him, trying to follow various leads.  Based on the director's hearing an illiterate man in India asking if people knew where a particular city was.
  • Tangerines.  (Estonia, Georgia.)  Set in 1992 in Abkazia during the war when it wanted to withdraw from Georgia.  Rather than return to their native Estonia with their families, two Estonian settlers stay on in Abkazia in order to harvest their tangerines but become involved with soldiers on both sides--one fighting with the Georgians, one for Abkazia.  Rather than ending in hatred, it ends with a coming together.  In Russian, Estonian, Georgian.
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey. (Helen Mirren, directed by Lasse Hallstrom)  (U.S.)  An Indian lad, who is a talented cook, and his family open an Indian restaurant in a French village to the objection of the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant immediately across the street.   In English.
  • The Other Son.  A French movie about two teen-age sons, an Israeli and a Palestinian, accidentally switched at birth and the trauma that produces for both families.  In several languages.  
  •  GMO OMG.  The title says it all.
  • Merchants of Doubt.  An excellent documentary about what they call "the network of scientific 'experts' paid by major corporations to spread disinformation about looming environmental threats including chemical pollution and climate change."  These "experts" don't think anything of lying, making up heart-felt stories, sending death threat emails, and purposefully confusing the public.  Or they might be actors paid to purposefully disrupt a meeting.  Or someone participating in a false flag event where "our side" actually prompts the event that they then blame "the other side" for.  Sound familiar?
  • Tim's Vermeer.  An American engineer and inventor totally recreates the complete physical setting of Vermeer's The Music Lesson (now in the Queen's possession), being stunningly faithful to every detail.  Though not an artist himself (and after mixing his own paints from materials available in the 17th century), he then proceeds to paint an exact copy by using what he concludes was Vermeer's technique of employing optical devices (rather than a free-hand style) to achieve what has always been considered Vermeer's extremely photographic-like rendering.  Only an art historian would be able to detect the difference between Tim's copy and the original.  As he paints, he comes across more and more confirmations that Vermeer did use, if not exactly Tim's technique, then something very similar.  (Other artists of that day undoubtedly did as well.)  Because of his attention for exactitude, the whole project takes Tim something like five years.  I found it enthralling.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Names (Again)

In my day:  Donna, Kenneth, LeRoy, JoAnne, Judy

Then Bambi, Tammi, Debbi, Tiffani

Later we got a Biblical period:  Jedediah, Jacob, Joshua, Noah, Caleb, Zachary

Then Scott, Jennifer, Matt, Jason, Troy, Kent

Then Sophie and Emma traveled in popularity from the UK to here.  (Think:  the Thompson sisters.)

Then girls with surnames:  McKenzie, Sloan, Riley, Tyler, Taylor

Then Caitlin, Kate-lynn, Katelyn, Kaitlin

Now Jonas, Silas, Gulliver

And celebrity children:  Apple and Moses (Gwyneth Paltrow), Hazel and Phinnaeus (Julia Roberts), Bear Blaze (Kate Winslett), Violet and Seraphina (Ben Affleck), Roman, Edith, Ignatius, Dashiell (Cate Blanchett), Shiloh, Vivienne, Zahara, Maddox, Pax, Knox (Jolie/Pitt)

Ever popular:  Michael, Robert, James, Richard

Then I recently came upon the birth-name of the Queen of Belgium:  Mathilde Marie Christiane Ghislaine d'Udekem d'Acoz.  Pretty classy.

(Next week:  my movie recommendations for 2015.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

More About Improvements

I sometimes flirt with an odd notion:  that there are so many innovative people out there, each wanting To Make Changes, each with a view of How Things Can Be Done Better that they sometimes come in conflict with how things should be.  Some things are just fine the way they are.  Or the way they were.  Maybe we don't need those changes. Or quite so many.

Let me take my last winter's visit to Santa Barbara as an example.  When we lived there many years ago, State Street was a wide enough street that you could fit in two lanes of traffic plus parallel parking.  Today it's wide enough for two lanes but now the old (and very handy) parking space is planted with quite handsome trees.  Rather than what I might call useful stores, those have been edged out by the more glitzy that attract not the local residents so much as the now-plethora of tourists.  Gone is the dry-goods--a wonderful place with pneumatic tubes that whizzed off your payment and whizzed back your change.  My mother and I went there regularly to buy yardage and patterns with which to sew our clothes.  The candy store.  Gone.  The children's clothing shop.  The hardware store.  The incense-scented store with goods from China.   The splendid family style cafeteria where my mother, grandmother, and I lunched on chicken pot pie with blackberry pie for dessert.

Santa Fe is similar.  Almost all the nice little local shops that lined the Plaza are now selling touristy items so that residents now retreat to outlying malls. One friend said he even thought people would soon be charged simply to enter the Plaza area.  I doubt that ... but you never know.

May I be allowed to paraphrase from Alexander McCall Smith's recent book, The Handsome Man's DeLuxe Cafe, when one of his characters--when told that moving forward was the modern way--says that he is not modern and does not want to be.  There are many people, he says, who "want to stay exactly where we are, because there is nothing wrong with that place."  He likes where he is (geographically, emotionally, etc) so why be told that it's the modern way to "move forwards."

Improvements come in so many forms--yet another leadership workshop, another governmental regulation/decision, more town planning ideas, another tax hike. Let's just all go out and lie in the sun for awhile and let improvements take a coffee break.  We could also give our laptops, smart phones, emails, twitters, and tweets a vacation.  I think there is great glory in going off into the "wilds" and being incommunicado. Or living in a place where you don't speak the language and have no idea what the nightly reporters are talking about so can come up with your own summation of things.

I know when I lived Away, it felt splendid.  A bit like Marco Polo, off someplace in the wilds of the world. Well, anyway, those are thoughts I play with sometimes.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

That's an Improvement?

One of my favorite casual authors is the Scotsman, Alexander McCall Smith, who writes series of books about Botswana and Edinburgh.  I've read more of his works than any other author, always finding pleasure in his humor, supreme niceness, and gentle pace of life.  Early on this year I learned he had a new book coming out in March.  Now, I can't get a brand new book on inter-library loan from my library; I have to wait six months after publication.  So, come the beginning of October, I put in a request.  I heard nothing. Some three or four weeks later, I asked about it.  Oh, they said, they'd look into it.

The very next day, I had a call from the librarian himself to tell me they now had the book; I could pick it up.  It was an e-reader.  Oh, I said, over the phone.  That was kind of you but I didn't want an e-reader.  I wanted a book. A real book.  I'd never dealt with an e-reader and didn't especially want to start.  The problem, he said, was that that particular book didn't come in a regular published form.  It was an e-reader or nothing. And they'd just bought a copy of the text for me.

I admit to finding that a bit of a shock.  Could we no longer find our favorite authors' works as a published book?   Did we have to go to the mechanized version?  Okay, I thought, I'll be a good sport and try it out, though, privately, to my inner self, I didn't like the idea.  So I picked up the e-reader along with its plug to recharge the battery and then sat down to read after locating the various buttons to push or click.  No riffling through pages.  No checking out the blurb about the plot or the end page about the author. No cover illustration or author's photo or any of my old friends from real books.

So I began reading.  But I have to say, I felt uncomfortable immediately.  I didn't like this mechanism, this molded hunk of plastic, telling me to accept it as a book!  I admit:  I soon gave up.  I had no affinity for the experience whatsoever.

So how many votes do I get for thinking that this (below) version of one of the author's earlier works is much cheerier?!  There's even a nice photo on the back showing him with a tuba. Though, in fact, he plays a bassoon in what he calls the RTO, the Really Terrible Orchestra.

Flipping real pages!

Checking out the back cover