Monday, April 7, 2014

Movies February-March 2014

This time I'm using the term HIGHEST QUALITY instead of BEST because we saw a very well made movie (The Paperboy) featuring some superb performances, but it's a creepy, disturbing movie whose existence I question and I'm not comfortable saying it was one of the "best" movies I saw.


Rust and Bone. Highly recommended, due to stellar performances by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. It's about an unlikely relationship between an orca trainer and a boxer with a young son and anger issues. Hard to watch at times, especially when he's with his son, but the human moments are true, and there's a touching phone scene near the end that I haven't been able to forget. (Paul's comment: Thoroughly believable performances.)

The Paperboy. Why does someone write a story like this, and why does someone make a movie out of it? Redeeming character qualities are in short supply, and I don't see anything useful to be learned from the story. I've never seen John Cusack in this type of role before, and I'm impressed by his range. Nicole Kidman's performance is astounding but I'm not surprised as I've seen her range before. Matthew McConaughey's character didn't seem to hang together very well. Zac Ephron did a respectable job of the least interesting character. Macy Gray did a fantastic job with a difficult character; her dialogue at the beginning of the film is confusing, which is unworthy of her character. (Paul's comment: These people are so scuzzy, you'll want to take a shower afterward.)

Gravity. Fun to watch, suspenseful, I wished mostly for more chances to see shots of earth. I'm not sure what else to says. Another film in which George Clooney seems to be just going through the motions and in which I never forgot Sandra Bullock was Sandra Bullock. I'm not sure why the filmmakers decided that when a human body encounters the vacuum of space nothing more exciting than freezing happens. (Paul's comment: The tension is well developed, and the special effects are truly spectacular.)

Suor Angelica. I'd seen one other filmed production of Puccini's Il Trittico, which consists of three one-act operas, and both have been mesmerizing because of the beauty of the music and the power of the story of a woman forced to give up her child. This one starred Rosalind Plowright whose voice is majestic and who can really act, which is a rarity in the opera world and a necessity in a role like this. (Paul's comment: Some operas take several hearings to become enjoyable. Not this one.)


Priceless. A fairly predictable romantic comedy in which Audrey Tautou looks more gorgeous than I thought she could. My favorite part was her giving tips on how to bamboozle a lover. (Paul's comment: Entertaining but not particularly significant.)

Heartbreaker. I rented this because Romain Duris has become one of my favorite actors, and it's a lot of fun. A few plot twists, so not entirely predictable.

Earth: The Biography. This five-part documentary (also known as Earth: The Power of the Planet) stars Scottish geologist Dr. Iain Stewart who travels the globe, dressed and equipped appropriately, and whose brogue is almost thick enough to be a supporting character. Each of the first four parts explains in an unusually big-picture way the role of something that helped shape our planet -- volcanoes, the atmosphere, ice and the oceans -- and I learned something significant about each of them. The fifth part debates the conventional wisdom that there must be many Earths out there in the universe. As marvelous as the subject matter and cinematography were, I sometimes found it hard to stay awake, I think because so much of Stewart's text was constructed from cookie-cutter sentences. But Paul and I had lots of fun with faux brogues. (Paul's comment: Photography was spectacular.)

Wild Pacific. I found this two-disc documentary series on the Pacific Ocean upon searching for films done by Benedict Cumberbatch, who does its narration. The cinematography is stunning and is enough reason to recommend this highly. Unfortunately, the script isn't very interesting and even contains the occasional grammatical error. (Paul's comment: But you just can't help being entertained by the spectacle.)

Fantastic Mr. Fox. I've read most of Roald Dahl's books but somehow missed this one. George Clooney does Mr. Fox's voice, and he's perfect for this glibly overconfident role, but even better are the cheesy smiles with which Mr. Fox excuses his behavior to his family members and friends. (Paul's comment: If you can get past the distraction of stop-motion animation, you'll find an interesting story with some interesting characters.)

Wind in the Willows. Paul is currently building a model of Ratty's house, so we've seen several film productions of Kenneth Grahame's book, which I've never read. I enjoyed this 2006 TV movie production that features Mark Gatiss (who plays Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock) as Rat. Bob Hoskins is great as Badger, and Matt Lucas is appropriately over-the-top as Toad. (Paul's comment: This is an interesting interpretation of a classic which has been done many times in many ways.)

Not the Messiah. This retelling of Monty Python's Life of Brian as a concert opera production was fun at times. (Paul's comment: It's a spectacular celebration of the 50th anniversary of Monty Python featuring a huge choir and orchestra in the Albert Hall in London with some wonderfully operatic/Broadway musical numbers. Wretched excess at its best.)


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I don't care enough about the dwarves in Tolkien's The Hobbit to care very much about how their characters were changed for this film. (I liked Balin, who was also Bilbo's favorite, but Tolkien's Thorin is a pompous, greedy coward who does the right thing only on his deathbed. He is not a handsome action hero.) I do care deeply about the character of Gandalf, who is nearly unrecognizable in Peter Jackson's hands and would never be timid and subservient to Galadriel. Martin Freeman does an okay job of Bilbo, though I think he's much less the middle class British traditionalist than Tolkien intended. (Paul's comment: As usual Peter Jackson has taken a humble, charming story and turned it into an action-adventure spectacular bloated into being covered by three movies. This one frantically flies from one numbing action spectacle to the next with merciless intensity. Whatever happened to pacing? His studio is poised to desecrate Wind in the Willows later this year. We can expect the interpretation to be appalling.)

Noah. I'm really grateful that I was forewarned about the presence of "transformers" by a friend who saw this the day before we did, so that I didn't experience a huge disappointment within the first few minutes of the film, and instead had the pleasure of laughing out loud at the silliness of Hollywood. I enjoy watching Russell Crowe and he wouldn't be my casting choice for a religious fanatic, but he does all right. For the first time ever I enjoyed watching Jennifer Connelly; for some reason I've not liked watching her before. The special effects are entertaining, and that's the best thing I can think to say about this film. I walked out thinking about what a good film could be made about Noah. If nobody believed his dire predictions of flood and steered clear of the crazy guy building the boat. If then, when the rain began, their skepticism turned around only in time to try to hold onto the edges of the ark as it was lifted by furiously rising waters. If those inside were tormented by the cries of those dying outside, not unlike stories of those in Titanic's lifeboats. It could have been a poignant story of loss and survivor guilt. Oh well, maybe next time. (Paul's comment: It did an amazing job of walking that tightrope between impressive and ludicrous: not an easy thing to do. While the plot devices are downright unbelievable, the acting was good enough to make you almost believe them. It cleverly dealt with the issue of carnivores having to eat their prey, as well as manure galore, by putting the critters to sleep for their sojourn. But it did not deal with the inevitability of beasts and humans having to go forth and multiply through the miracle of incest. Great special effects (ho hum). Not a "see it in a theatre" level movie but worth a wait to see it from Netflix.)

Legend. Intriguing set design, and the most amazing opposite of character development, what fellow Monty Python fans might join me in calling "undergoing a total personality change.". That is, each character says at some point during this film, "Definitely A. On second thought, Not A." I feel bad about knocking this film, as it's one of Paul's favorites for its set designs. (Paul's comment: I do love the artwork that went into this film but the dialogue and story line are embarrassingly childish and hippy-dippy.)

The Princess and the Frog. I hardly remember this, it was so Disney-fied that the story was almost beside the point. This could've been good with more authentic New Orleans style and music. (Paul's comment: So far the Disney Princess Machine has pandered to other ethnic groups (Chinese with Mulan, Native American with Pocahontas, Arab with Aladdin) and Europeans (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Brave and Snow White) and now Southern African-American with The Princess and the Frog. As a native New Orleanian, I was pleased to see my city's unique culture displayed but embarrassed by seeing my town so patronized.)


Master and Commander. I saw this film in the theatre when it first came out because Russell Crowe was gorgeous, and I remember enjoying Paul Bettany even more. I gave Paul the DVD for his birthday, and this time around I understood the story much better, thanks largely to Paul's expert commentary. I really wish there was a sequel. (Paul's comment: The film is cobbled together from parts of Patrick O'Brian's nine-book series which is so historically authentic in speech, habits and nautical terminology that you almost have to have a dictionary to get through a single page. About as close as you could get to the experience of serving on a British war ship in 1802.)

Rommel. So far we've seen only two episodes of this documentary series on Erwin Rommel, and I would say it's well done but in an unusual way. Episode 1 is essentially the whole story, enlivened by interviews with Germans who knew him personally. Episode 2 focuses on a single pivotal battle, El Alamein, relying even more heavily on the interviews, which I find far more interesting than the footage and voiceovers. We don't yet know how the rest of the series will look, but I assume that each episode will focus on a particular battle or aspect of Rommel's career or character. (Paul's comment: It's the story of a decent fellow trying to be a good soldier and stay out of politics only to realize too late that he's working for a pack of delusional criminals.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Movies, January 2014


I didn't see any best-category films in January. I did, however, see a TV series that knocked my socks off, so I'll talk about that instead —--

Sherlock. My daughter's fiance gave Paul the first season on DVD for Christmas, and we didn't get to watching it for a week and a half. We were both just knocked out by the first episode, and I've been hearing the theme music in my head off and on ever since. We've now seen the rest of the series. Some episodes are much better than others ——-- A Study in Pink is superb, while The Blind Banker wasn't nearly as good and its title didn't even make sense. The series is sadly interesting for what it says about homophobia in our current era. It was commonplace for men in Abraham Lincoln's time to say "I love you" to each other without fear of anything being wrong or even odd about it, and I find it very sad that in today's world a movie about two men who are close friends is laughingly called a bromance, which misses the point altogether, that men can be emotionally close to other without having a sexual relationship, and that men are as capable of closeness as women are. I have the great fortune to have many close men friends and two brothers who have experienced the ManKind Project's initiation weekend, and I've seen the friendships they form and maintain, which add so greatly to their happiness as well as to their growth as people.

I hate Benedict Cumberbatch's haircut, and I don't find him at all attractive, but I enjoy watching his characterization of Holmes, which I would say is more pathological than other performances I've seen —-- more openly and obviously sociopathic and narcissistic. I love watching Martin Freeman, I find his face beautiful, and I love his characterization of Watson, so different from any I've seen before and so much more dramatic. I thought he was miscast as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit --— Bilbo is a bourgeois with unexpected gold inside, and Freeman just isn't bourgeois —-- and am delighted to enjoy him in this instead.

I think I would say that the best written episodes so far are the premier episode mentioned above, The Reichenbach Fall, The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three. I've read all of Conan-Doyle's stories and wondered when I saw the word Reichenbach in an episode title if Holmes and Moriarty would meet their doom at a waterfall in Switzerland as in the original, and the re-imagined, re-engineered plot was fascinating.


Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. This documentary by Joe Cross is apparently the closest thing to a film about the "nutritarian" diet proposed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his book Eat To Live, but although Dr. Fuhrman appears several times, it's really about the benefits of phytonutrients gained from juicing, which is a very different thing from being a nutritarian. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable and sometimes inspiring film about two men with downwardly spiraling health problems taking responsibility for their lives and deciding to do something very different. I have several issues with juicing: you lose the pulp, which offers fiber that helps clean toxins out of the intestines and helps in other ways as well. And judging by what I read at Joe's website, juicing isn't any easier than eating salads, fruits and vegetables on the nutritarian diet if you follow all of Joe's recommendations for washing and peeling produce before juicing it four to six times a day, not to mention buying and cleaning the juicer.

Skyfall. It's been years since I saw a James Bond movie. I read all of Fleming's novels while in my teens, and I liked watching Sean Connery but didn't enjoy the films much. When Roger Moore played Bond I lost interest, and I don't think I've seen a film since. It was better than I expected, with some spectacular cinematography. Daniel Craig is a very different kind of Bond, and although I got tired of seeing his face, and especially his mouth, in the same set expression, he gives the part a fierceness that Connery didn't have. It was the first time I remember being disappointed in a performance by Judi Dench, she acted as if she hadn't had enough time to rehearse, or as if the part was too far from who she is in life.


The Decoy Bride. I saw a trailer for this on the DVD for another IFC film and thought it looked interesting. The plot was so predictable, the dialogue so trite, the supporting characters so flat and uninteresting, it was really disappointing. And it's a shame because the actors were people I would've enjoyed if they were speaking well-written dialogue.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Movie recommendations, December 2013

Instead of publishing "best of the year," I'm going to publish month by month.


12 Years a Slave. I saw this in the theatre a few weeks ago. It's very well done, and consequently hard to watch. I have always found images of hanging (in Capote and Joseph in Egypt, to name a few) difficult to watch and haunting for a long time afterward, so I went prepared and didn't watch all of the scene in which two men are lynched. That night I was relieved that I could sleep, but the next day, other kinds of images were bubbling to the surface all day, and one remains most powerfully with me - the face of the slaveholder, Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender, viciously protesting as Northup is rescued. I can't know for certain what the energy of slaveholders and slaves was like, but this film seems to capture it in a way that seems far more realistic than any other film I've seen about slavery, without any kind of polish or Hollywoodization. From the moment Northup is first beaten after awaking in chains, the energy with which he is brutalized comes through in a palpable way that is hard to forget, and further scenes of brutality are numerous and equally convincing. Another lasting image is the face of a woman slave looking down at the ground as her master berates her for not answering; she is the picture of terrified self-control. I think the film does a powerful job of showing how fragile was the personal security of anyone with dark skin during that time period. As I left the theatre, I was somewhat appalled at my emotional reaction to slaveholders, who seem guilty of cruelty, cowardice, laziness, and denial. It was impossible to find any compassion for them, despite knowing they were raised to believe their way of life was okay, even righteous.

Secrets and Lies. An unbelievable acting job by Brenda Blethyn, playing a woman whose long-ago-abandoned child comes looking for her mother. Directed by Mike Leigh and featuring powerful performances also by Timothy Spall (who it seems to me can play nearly everything), Cynthia Logan (who plays Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste in a difficult understated role requiring taste and restraint. Really well written and directed. One scene in particular is so powerful it's worth the price of admission, in which family members in crisis, seated about a room, support each other in a life-changing way and are subsequently supported in turn, as if the energy of support is traveling around the room. Blethyn deserved every acting award available.

My Piece of the Pie. A surprisingly good film considering its equivocal ending. A working-class mom loses her job due to corporate shenanigans and goes to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy stock trader, only to find out he's the one responsible for her factory closing. I highly recommend it. French, with subtitles.


The Informant!  I'm not sure if "good" is the right word for this very strange and often uncomfortable film. I don't want to tell you much about the plot because it might ruin it for you. Matt Damon does a fine job with the main character, Mark Whitacre, who leads the FBI a fine dance, and Scott Bakula (whom I've never seen in a role I liked him in) does a creditable job as an FBI agent. It took me a while to figure out why I recognized Melanie Lynskey, who plays Damon's wife - she was the friendlier of the two "ugly stepsisters" in Ever After.


Man of Steel. What a waste of some great ideas and CGI. I liked Russell Crowe as Jorel, liked the actress playing his wife, loved how the robots looked and worked, liked a lot of the visuals including headdresses on the Krypton leaders. From there on, it was mostly downhill. I like Amy Adams, she did well, and __ did a find job of playing Superman, despite them taking away most of what's fun and intriguing about the role of Superman. There's no mystery at all about who he is, which is so much fun. The battles between Superman and General Zod is boring, and when after trying to kill Zod a dozen different ways he finally succeeds in a ridiculously easy way, it was just a waste of time.

Yojimbo. This was a first, a film by Akira Kurosawa that I didn't enjoy. Toshiro Mofune (sp?) does well as a samural in a small town torn between two gambling chieftains, but the (explication?) is done clumsily and there aren't enough sympathetic characters for me to care about the story. The music was terrible, perhaps intended to suggest that the story is a spoof, but it was just silly.

Three Amigos. I'd tried to watch this once years ago, and thought with Paul beside me I might find it funnier, but there are only a few funny moments. I'm really glad Steve Martin turned to playwriting, I think it suits him better than film comedies.

Russian Dolls. A sequel to L'Auberge Espagnole, which we loved, but disappointing for the most part. I enjoyed about the last one-third of the movie, after Xavi stopped being an asshole to the women in his life. A waste of Romain Duris' formidable acting talents.

Election. God-awful film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon about a high school election for class president. I didn't finish watching.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Alyce's Succotash

I've loved lima beans for as long as I can remember, so succotash is a natural, and now that I'm a vegan it's become one of our regular, and favorite, main dishes.

I use only organic corn because it's the only way I know to make sure I'm not using Monsanto-produced corn, and I'd rather not support a company that appears bent on owning the world's food supply.

Paul likes succotash saltier than I do, so he adds a spray of Braggs Aminos.

Makes between 6 and 7 cups, to serve about 6 people as a main dish depending on their appetite and what's served on the side. I usually serve with a salad or cooked greens, a slice of bread, and fruit for dessert.

Alyce's Succotash

2 bags frozen lima beans (baby lima, or Fordhooks, each bag 16 or 20 ounces, 6-7 cups total)
2 cups frozen corn
2 to 2-1/2 cups chopped sweet (Vidalia) onions
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
1/3 cup Earth Balance margarine

In a large saucepan, bring 2-1/4 cups water to boil. Add lima beans, return to boil, reduce heat, and cook 7 minutes (for baby limas) or 5 minutes (for Fordhook). Add corn, increase heat to return to boil, then reduce heat and cook another 5 minutes, or until corn and lima beans are done. Don't attempt to boil the liquid away, it will result in overcooking. Drain, reserving the liquid if you wish to use it for stock. If using a colander to drain, return to the pan so it stays hot.

While the limas and corn are cooking, saute chopped onions in olive oil 5-7 minutes. Add pressed garlic, reduce to very low heat, and continue sauteing until garlic and onion are very soft, another 5-10 minutes.

Fold the saute mixture into the bean-corn mixture, add salt and pepper, and stir well. Add margarine, cover, and let margarine melt. Stir well, and serve hot.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Macaroni Squash Coconut Casserole with Pears and Pecans

I can see that I want to have a food blog, I'm going to need better pictures.

Macaroni Squash Coconut Casserole
Revised from a recipe at, which was good but went in a different direction and the spices didn't seem to quite fit.

I made this for our Thanksgiving gathering of 10, and it was a big hit. I expect to use light coconut milk next time and hope it won't affect the overall yumminess too much.

- 12 oz elbow macaroni
- 1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
- 1 15-oz can coconut milk
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/2 cup dried pears, diced

- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp (packed) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup roasted salted pecans, chopped

Boil macaroni in salted water for 7-8 minutes, until just firm, do not overcook. Rinse in cold water, drain well, and set aside.

Meanwhile, saute onion in margarine until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add squash, coconut milk, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add cooked, drained macaroni and dried pears, and stir well. Pour into oiled 9" x 13" casserole dish, or two oiled 8" or 9" casserole dishes. Combine bread crumbs with brown sugar and pecans, and sprinkle mixture over top. Bake until just golden brown, 25-30 minutes.

Small shells work fine, too, if you don't have macaroni. If you've got raw pecans, saute them for 5-10 minutes in a little margarine and salt until they start to darken, then drain on a paper towel before chopping.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The best movies I saw in 2013

Paul and I watch a lot of films. This year we saw an unusually high number of very good films. Here are the ones I can remember.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Stunning, one of the best movies I've seen in years. It has pathos, humor, and life-sized metaphor. The best movie I saw this year. (1)

Moonrise Kingdom
So quirky that it gives new meaning to the word quirky. Funny and touching, too. I would give a lot to know these kids and see them on a regular basis. (2)

Paris, Je T'aime
Consists of 18 five-minute shorts. My favorite was the one starring Natalie Portman as an actress who falls in love with a blind student. I loved the one featuring mimes as well, its ending was intriguingly cryptic. The final short is funny and touching, about why Paris is beloved.

L'Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment)
A Romain Duris film, really well written and acted. (9)

Silver Linings Playbook
Very well written, and Jennifer Lawrence is a serious actress with a great deal of talent. (8)

Les Miserables
I never would have thought Hugh Jackman could do this good a job of singing. I don't know why some people seem to hate Anne Hathaway, I thought she did well. I bought this movie, knowing I'll want to see it again, though it's not easy to watch. (10)

Agonizing to watch, and spot-on, based on my experience caring for my mother and watching others care for the elderly. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on her face after getting slapped, it was so true to life and so deeply sad. (3)

Letters from Iwo Jima
Incredibly hard to watch, but brilliant. I don't like Clint Eastwood's politics or what he does on the political stage, and I never understood what anybody saw in Unforgiven, but I guess I've got to admit the man can direct. (4)

The Sessions
I tried to put my head into the head of this therapist, and couldn't. I love Helen Hunt, she's so versatile. I had seen John Hawkes only in Lincoln and look forward to getting to know him better as an actor. (6)

The Intouchables
Wonderful! Funny, touching, perfect. I didn't know while watching this film that it was based on a true story (somehow missed that in the credits). Both men's performances were off-the-charts good. I wound up seeing this a total of 3 times after we watched it twice with friends, and it held up magnificently. (5)

The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were both excellent, and Mark Ruffalo as well. I've seen both women in very diverse roles, which made their acting that much more impressive, and I'd never seen Ruffalo in anything. A difficult story.

The Butterfly
Charming, can't now remember much about it.

We Bought a Zoo
If it hadn't had such an amazing soundtrack by Jonsi, I might've forgotten this feel-good, fairly formulaic movie pretty quickly, at least if it weren't for the performance of Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who could charm the socks off anybody wearing socks. I bought the soundtrack CD, which I don't do often.

Antonia's Line
Wonderful, am awaiting a chance to watch it again with friends. (7)


In the Just Good category, we saw these as well.

Star Trek: Into Darkness. As a long-time Trekkie, I couldn't get past the obvious continuity errors as this movie rewrote the past. How is Khan suddenly not Latino? They couldn't find a good Latino or Sikh actor to play the part? How does Khan not recognize Kirk and crew when he's reawakened in the original series episode? Etc.

People Like Us. I wanted to see actor Chris Pine in something besides Star Trek, and he did a creditable job in this well-written movie that had only a few questionable character moves. Elizabeth Banks was even better as his sister.

Mozart's Sister. Touching to see how a family might have related in Mozart's time. Sad to see how a young woman's talent was wasted because her brother was so much more talented. Reminded me of the film about Rodin's lover.

How Art Made the World. A well-done documentary series but quite slow at times as he inexorably reaches for the climactic moment you know is coming.

Quest for Fire. Difficult to take seriously at first, but the image that lingers is the face of the male character when he watches someone making fire, a profound moment.

Le Havre.

How To Train Your Dragon. I should've written a short review of this right after seeing it because now I can hardly remember anything about it.

The Rebel. A Vietnamese action flick. Amazing how movie stars can get the s**t beat out of them and still be able to stand up and take some more, isn't it?

The Crazy Stranger. The only Romain Duris film I've seen so far about which I've less than raved.

Paths of Glory. Painful to watch, especially the execution. I watched a lot of movies this year that got me thinking about how I'd react if condemned to death. Why would I want to do that exactly?

All Quiet on the Western Front. Don't remember it much, sorry to say, though I know it's a classic. I do remember thinking that some classics are past their time, too much water has gone under the bridge since they were made.

Rome Open City and Paisan. A trip into WWII-era Italy, about which I had known very little. Very thought-provoking, and some scenes have stuck with me. It would work better to read about these films before seeing them, because the acting and writing are so bad it's helpful to know the context first.

Children of Paradise. See my comments on All Quiet on the Western Front.


Muppet Treasure Island. I've been hearing how great the Muppet movies are for a long time and finally succumbed to renting one. I shouldn't have risked it, this was awful, but the others who watched it with me liked it a lot, so I guess it's a matter of taste.

Iron Sky. Ridiculously awful.

The Serpent and the Rainbow. Absurd.

American Reunion. I really hate movies about American men acting immaturely.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. The title says it all, doesn't it?

Tarzan, the Ape Man. So badly done it's hard to believe anybody invested money in this. It really should be titled Bo Derek's Breasts, since that's what it's about.

Tarzan. (The Hindi film.) Silliness. Bad production numbers in the deep dark jungle.

The Last Airbender. Painfully bad.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice. (The Nick Cage film.) Weird.


Since I didn't do a best-of list for last year, I'll mention these that I saw in the final months of 2012.

In Bruges. Very violent but fascinating and well done. Brendan Gleeson is wonderful.

Owl and the Sparrow. A charming Vietnamese film about a little girl on the streets of Saigon.

Soooooo good, truly amazing. After seeing this film, dedicated myself to seeing anything else starring Romain Duris, an incredibly versatile actor. I've been trying to think of an American actor who's similar in scope and range and ability to become so vulnerable, and I haven't been able to.

I know a good deal about Lincoln the man and the president and didn't know how Daniel Day-Lewis was going to manage it, but he did a stirring and believable job. I think his body language was better even than his measured speaking. Two images have stuck with me: Lincoln's fingers hammering down on a table while discussing the passage of the anti-slavery amendment, and his hand on the leg of John Hay as Hay lies in bed. I would have preferred someone other than Tommy Lee Jones to play Thaddeus Stevens and someone other than Sally Field to play Mary Lincoln. Both are excellent actors, but in neither case did I forget whom I was watching, as I did with Day-Lewis.

Life of Pi
Not a movie I'd want to watch often because it has so many sad moments, but Claudio Miranda's cinematography is among the best I've ever seen. I guess director Ang Lee likes the magical, some shots reminded me of Peter Pau's cinematography in Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There's still a month of 2013 left, and if I see anything memorable I'll post a comment.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Facing mortality

As you probably know, if you've read my blog before, or read the essays I've written for the Shadow Work email newsletter over the past 2 years, I took care of my mother at the end of her life and have been grieving, and thinking a lot about grief, since she died September 2, 2011.

Over the past 6 months or so, the grieving has shifted, so that it's far more clearly about grieving my own mortality -- the inevitability of my own eventual death -- than it is about grieving Mom's passing.

That's partly why I haven't been attending the quarterly memorial services held by the hospice organization that cared for her. Although I suspect the people of Rainbow Hospice would say we grieve many griefs at the quarterly service and not necessarily just the most recent loss of a loved one, it hasn't seemed quite right to go and grieve for myself.

I'm really aware of grieving my own mortality today, and frankly, also for the mortality of my partner, Paul. Grief has been more on top since April 8th, when a friend of mine died, but last week put it squarely on top, and I only just realized it today while sitting on the CTA going downtown. There I sat, crying on the Red Line, because for most of last week I was hearing Paul having difficulty breathing, and I've come to associate having difficulty breathing with the end of life. My mother's "death rattle" lasted for 3 days, and I don't know if that's unusually long but it certainly seemed to last forever. My friend Loren Binford's death rattle lasted less than 24 hours, but I listened to it at close range for hours on the evening before he died as I sat in his room at Evanston Hospital. During the afternoon other friends of Loren's, many of whom call themselves Friends with a capital F because they are Quakers, as he was, but the last of them left at 5 PM and I stayed on until 11, primarily to act as advocate since he had no family, until I knew for sure that the hospital was going to treat him as a hospice patient and neither take any heroic measures nor fail to make him as comfortable as possible.

So last week, when Paul had an asthma attack brought on by dust and working in cold air as he helped an elderly friend of ours move out of her apartment, and it turned into a relapse of the pertussis he had last year, I heard him having difficulty breathing, and I think on some unconscious level Mortality moved higher on the list of things I was experiencing. And I didn't realize it until today, probably because he's in the hot climate of California's central valley and on the phone last night it seemed his breathing was finally back to normal, and probably also because I finally caught up on sleep.

I find it difficult to think about my mortality, and Paul's, without feeling some shame. The shame says, That's seeing the glass as half-empty, it's so "negative"; how about seeing the glass as half-full, that you've had a wonderful life and most likely have many more years? Why grieve at all, in fact, if you have another 30 years to enjoy? Those 30 years are going to be far happier than I would have imagined 18 months ago, because I now have Paul, and I can also look forward to my daughter's wedding next year and her eventually having children.

I think the shame has made it harder for me to see that I've been grieving. Shame so often acts like a foggy blanket, obscuring the truth that is too painful to see.

It feels really good to write about it.

There's another kind of shame around this, too, I think. This other shame is harder to hear clearly, so I guess it's still coming to the surface. It's about my spiritual beliefs. Is it really in line with my spiritual beliefs to be grieving my eventual death? It seems ungrateful to the Divine that I've felt so close to at times.

That's all I can hear clearly so far, perhaps the rest will come.

That night at Evanston Hospital, I held the vigil alone, as I'd done for my mother in her final hours, and there's something sad just in that, that there wasn't a family gathered at his bedside hugging each other as we cried to see him leave. I didn't have someone to really grieve with for my mother until a full week later, because the family members who lived nearby don't do grief in the way I do and even believed that they weren't grieving but only joyous for her (and our) release.

Last week I was listening to "The Pilgrim's Chorus" from Wagner's opera Tannhauser, as sung in English by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As I said to Paul, it was played at my father's memorial service in 1990 at his request, which said he wanted it played loudly enough that he could hear it. When my brother Tim arrived in Glenview, he came to my house, where I was playing "The Pilgrim's Chorus" in anticipation of the service. As he walked in, I said to Tim, "No matter how loudly we play it, he still won't be able to hear it." And we held each other and cried for a long time. That's the kind of grieving I want to do when I lose someone, grieving with complete support. Quakers aren't very emotional as a rule. Loren's service will be held next Sunday, and I'll likely be one of the few crying openly and getting as many hugs as I can.