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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Hidden Figures

In my continuing series of trying to find movies Jean will like, we went to see Hidden Figures, the story of three African-American women whose mathematical and engineering skills contributed greatly to NASA’s space program, during a time of segregation.

While I have not seen all of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, based on those I have, I agree with the assessment that this was the most conventionally filmed. While its based on true stories, you can just feel how reality has been condensed and combined to make for a better narrative arc. Like, as Jean pointed out, the “convenient” fact that the three women whose achievements were most impressive in the end happened to all commute to work together in the beginning. And every moment of victory is signalled with a soundtrack of another inspiring, uplifting song.

But hey, if a formula works, it works, and we both really liked this movie. (It also did the best box office of all the Oscar-nominated films.) Most of us did not know this history before this movie was made, and it is pretty amazing one. NASA felt so much urgency to catch up with the Russians on space exploration, they didn’t have the time to waste the talents of brilliant women just because of their skin tone.

But that didn’t mean any of it was easy, and the movie shows the challenges of trying to succeed in a segregated world. Having to run three-quarters of a mile to use “your” restroom. Seeing your coworkers flinch when you touch “their” coffee pot. Having to steal the FORTRAN book from the white section of the library, because they won’t let you borrow it. Doing the work of a supervisor, without the pay or the title.

These women earned each of their inspiring, uplifting songs!

Hidden Figures is on DVD and on-demand now, as well as still on some art cinemas (where we saw it). Definitely worth a view.

 


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Oscar round-up

I expect I’ll tune in for Chris Rock’s opening monologue tonight, but can’t see me sitting there for the following 3+ hours watching it live, with commercials. Even though I do have some opinion about what I’d like to see happen (though mostly, it won’t).

Best picture / Directing

I rented Spotlight from iTunes last night. It is indeed a very good film. I was only vaguely familiar with the story—of the extent of the Catholic Church’s covering up pedophile priests in Boston—so I was along for the ride as the reporting team’s investigation uncovered more and more disturbing facts.

So I’ve now seen five of the eight Best Picture nominees, and three of five Directing. The Revenant I have no interest in ever seeing. Three hours of Leonard di Caprio going through horrible experiences in the bush. Yeah, no thanks. Bridge of Spies—I know nothing about that movie, really. Room—definitely want to see it. I was able to handle the book; should be able to handle the movie. (But Jean wasn’t so sure he could, so this wasn’t a theatre outing for us. Same as Spotlight.)

best-picture

But how to rank what I have seen?

If I went with my heart, it would definitely be Brooklyn. It was just so lovely, and the only one from a woman’s point of view.

With my head, maybe Spotlight with a slight edge over The Big Short?

Though for pure entertainment, hard to beat The Martian. So suspenseful. And overall liked it more than Mad Max: Fury Road, even though that one did manage to keep me interested in a big car chase, which is no mean feat.

And I really think Mad Max: Fury Road was the most impressive directing job of these.

Other film categories

Inside Out had better win Animated Feature Film, and I stick to that despite not having seen any others in this category. That was just one of the best pictures of last year, period. I note it’s up for Best Original Screenplay, too.

95114614770e1f8118804bc009d4ff88767d6ce8c81180cc618ab8f645ab4fe4-370x492I can’t be quite as categorical in the Documentary category, where again I’ve seen only one of the nominees: Amy. Will say that it is very good, though. Wasn’t particularly an Amy Winehouse fan walking in. Certainly was walking out.

Haven’t seen a single one of the Foreign language film nominees!

Acting

Here I’ve really missed a lot of these movies, though I hope to catch some eventually. And there are definite favorites for these, right? DiCaprio best actor; Brie Larson (Room) best actress; Sylvester Stallone (Creed) supporting actor, and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) supporting actress.

At least on that last one, I can wholeheartedly support. She was amazing. See:

The Danish Girl movie clip: I want my husband

And I really liked Soairse Ronan in Brooklyn, though can’t compare her to Brie Larson.

Brooklyn movie clip: You don’t sound Irish

Best song

I only know three of them, and I think Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” might be the best of the bunch. Powerful.

Then all those other categories…

Sound mixing, animated short films, makeup and hairstyling, film production.. Lordie. This is why the Oscars go on 3+ boring hours.

 


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Movie review: The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game posterI’d wanted to see this movie during its theatre run earlier this year, but never quite fit it in. But it’s now available on Netflix, and we watched it this weekend.

It tells the story of how Alan Turing managed to crack the “unbreakable” Enigma communication code the Germans used during World War II (making it a decent movie choice for Remembrance Day). Turing was brilliant, obviously, but also eccentric and very much lacking in social skills. Ttoday, he likely would have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. So his challenges in completing the mission were as much personal as technological; the rest of the team initially couldn’t stand him.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing. The other big star in it is Keira Knightly, as a brilliant mathematician whose gender has greatly limited her options, until the chance to work as part of Turing’s small, covert team. Both are very good.

Code-breaking is detailed and time-consuming work, but largely through the various personal conflicts, along with huge stakes in human lives, the movie tells the story in a very interesting way. Turing builds a machine to help decipher the code (and hence ultimately becomes the father of modern computing). And after the code was broken, we see why terrible calculations and deception had to continue.

Turing’s being homosexual at a time when this was illegal lends an undercurrent of sadness to the film. In the movie, he tells his wartime story after being arrested for “gross indecency”. In the end, we see the devastating effects of his “chemical castration” sentence.

But overall, though serious, the movie is not a huge downer. It has its moments of humour, and it’s a story worth knowing.


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Art films, documentaries, and blockbusters; oh my! Movie roundup

Recommended art film: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl movie poster

Greg is the “me” of the title. He’s in his last year of high school, trying his best to pass through it anonymously, and uncertain about going to college. Earl is the friend he calls his “co-worker” because they spend a lot of time making short movies based on rewording original title movies (My Dinner with Andre the Giant, A Sockwork Orange, 2:48 Cowboy, and so on). And the dying girl, Rachel, who has stage 4 leukemia, disrupts his tidy life.

Greg narrates this film, pointing out that if it were a “normal” teen movie he and Rachel would fall in love. Instead, they just develop a close (but doomed, he reminds us) friendship.

Though sad in parts, this is not an emotionally manipulative tear jerker. It’s very original, often funny, and definitely a treat for movie buffs.

Other art films worth noting

I'll See You in My DreamsWarning that I’ll See You in My Dreams is not the “great date movie” it’s billed as. In the film, lead character Carol, played by Blythe Danner, reacts to a loss by suddenly reaching out to others, exploring a new friendship (yes, just friendship) with the pool boy and a possible romance with a new man in town. She also opens up more to her daughter. Not everything works out as she might hope, but she retains this new found willingness to open up to the possibilities. It’s kind of inspiring, but not really a date movie.

The F Word, on the other hand… Note that the F of the title stands for Friendship, which is a bit of curse word when you want more than that. This Canadian film (which had to be retitled What If in the US) stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as Wallace and Chantry. The two meet at a party and really hit it off; unfortunately, Chantry has a live-in boyfriend. And he’s not even a jerk. So the agree to just be friends.

It’s perhaps not highly original how the two lurk toward possibly more-than-friendship, but it’s a pretty charming to watch. The two actors have good chemistry.

I’m not sure why I’m assuming here that people pick art movies for dates, but to keep running with it… I’m not sure The Overnight is your best bet for that, either. It is a sex comedy, but I’d say with an emphasis on the funny, not the sexy. In it, a young couple who have recently moved to Los Angeles meet another couple in the park. Their kids hit it off, and they get invited over for dinner. After the kids are in bed, things get a bit weird. A bit weirdly sexual—or maybe just sexually weird.

It’s not a bad little movie. It is funny, it’s different, and the cast is good. Just select your viewing companion carefully.

Mainstream movies

“The movies you’ve heard of”. And of which, I haven’t seen too many  lately, actually, though I have a number on the list to see. But these are older ones.

Recommended mainstream movie: Edge of Tomorrow

Live Die Repeat movie posterThis movie didn’t do very well at the box office, under its original title, Live, Die, Repeat, maybe because the public doesn’t so much like Tom Cruise anymore. But if you can stand to watch him, it is a good movie! (I saw it on TMN.)

The premise is a world at war with an alien race. Cruise plays a Major without combat experience who is dropped into a major conflict zone. Unsurprisingly, he dies. More surprisingly, he revives, finding himself back at the time where his mission began.

So it’s a kind of sci-fi Groundhog Day, except that his time to restart isn’t always just a day—even though no matter how long he survives, he always ends up back at the same starting point after he kicks it. This allows for considerable variety in the action, as he tries this path and that path, and we don’t always know on which attempt we’re coming in. It’s a pretty smart movie, and quite entertaining.

Other mainstream movies

I saw these two on a plane!

  • Into the Woods: I quite enjoyed this alternative retelling of familiar fairy tales, complete with song
  • Kingsmen: The Secret Service: A fun and funny movie about British secret agents—though points off for that unnecessary, very sexist, final scene. (Actually, for whole third act treatment of the princess character.)

Recommended documentary: Citizenfour

Citizenfour movie posterThis Oscar winner follows documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras as Edward Snowden, calling himself Citizenfour, makes contact, offering information that will be “worth her while”. Then we see on film the process of his disclosure of state secrets and its aftermath, including his being charged under the Espionage Act, losing his passport, and finally gaining safe haven in Russia. Against that backdrop, we learn more about the information he leaked by the journalists (Poitras is joined by reporters from The Guardian) who report it.

The film itself is very subtle, with much information necessarily just conveyed via white text on a black screen. But the story that is revealed is quietly fascinating. I thought I knew, basically, what the Snowden leaks revealed, but if so, I really hadn’t internalized the extent to which the NSA was basically poking into all electronic communication, and not just the metadata. Pretty alarming stuff…

Other notable documentaries

Lambert and STampLambert and Stamp focuses on The Who’s original managers, Kitt Lambert and Chris Stamp, giving a new perspective on the band’s history. Being of very different backgrounds and characters, they were unlikely partners, with no experience or contacts in the music business. Yet they nurtured what became one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

As a Who fan, I did enjoy it, but the movie would have benefited from more and tighter editing. It’s also unfortunate that the more interesting of the two managers, Kitt Lambert, died long ago. There is only so much archival footage of him.

With a number of interviews from those who have left the “church”, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief helps explain how people can become devoted to such a recently developed, expensive “religion” with such weird ideas at its core. It also shows the abuse and damage that is inflicted on many adherents, both when they are part of the “church” and often continuing after they leave it. It’s interesting and startling, and not only because so many famous people belong to this organization.


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Valentine / Family Day weekend

We originally thought of taking a day trip this long weekend—maybe do some snowshoeing—but the record cold temperatures dissuaded us from that plan. Instead we found entertainment closer to home.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Aqua, the new seafood restaurant in the not-so-new Crowne Plaza Hotel. The service was a little iff-y—bit inattentive—but the food was pretty good. We all went with the Valentine’s special menu. The highlights were the beet soup with smoked trout, the ravioli and beef entree Jean had, and the two desserts: A chocolate mousse cake and a cookie with ice cream concoction. We all concluded we’d eat here again, amidst that special chlorinated pool ambiance. 🙂

Afterward we all attended a symphony concert. It started with a modern piece that our friend accurately described as interesting, but not that musical. Then we got Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2 in C minor. For me, this would be the number 3 Rachmaninoff piano concerto I have heard live, and he is three for three in my books. I always enjoy them. The second movement of this one sounds so much “All By Myself” that Eric Carmen still pays royalties to Rachmininoff’s estate. (True fact!) The third movement was lively and sensual. The featured pianist was an attractive and obviously talented young woman named Natasha Paremski.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which was also good though, for me, not as good as the piano concerto.

Saturday was actual Valentine’s Day, and we don’t generally go to restaurants then. But it being a holiday, I decided to make a nicer dinner.

I tried a new (to me) Jamie Oliver recipe for slow-cooked duck pasta. We weren’t able to buy the duck until that morning, and it was frozen, so the main challenge was getting it defrosted in time for dinner that day. That required a whole lot of rinsing.

Otherwise, the recipe wasn’t tough: Just required time. The duck cooked at 350 for 2 hours, in its juices, and I had to turn it every half hour. Then in a fry pan I sauteed some pancetta, then I added various vegetables and some can tomatoes and red wine to make a pasta sauce. After the duck cooled, we removed the meat from it, and added that to the sauce. Then it was a matter of cooking rigatoni and mixing it all together, topped with Parmesan.

by Jamie Oliver. Valentine Dinner at home

Quite delish. We served it with a Chateauneuf du pape.

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse cake. No flour, just cocoa, unsweetened, and bittersweet chocolate with eggs and Cool Whip, basically. It was another new recipe (to me), and it turned out well—not too sweet, good texture.

.... or is that chocolate mousse? Too much wine with dinner .. Valentine Dinner with my one and only :)

But we weren’t done eating yet. 🙂

Sunday we braved the cold and drove to Wilk’s Bar, which is at Langdon Hall, for lunch. It isn’t a cheap place (though cheaper than the Langdon Hal dining room), but they do a nice job.

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

We had the “From the Land” sharing platter to start, along with four oysters. The oysters were amazing. The land platter was fine, but not outstanding. The highlight of that was probably the almonds!

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

Muskox stew with mushroom risotto in the background

Both of the lunch entrees were very good, though. I had the wild mushroom risotto and Jean had muskox stew. The glasses of wine were quite nice, also.

But no time (or room, really) for dessert, as we had tea dance tickets for 2:00. After a detour to the wrong location, we got to that event around 2:15. It was a fun time, and a chance to work off some of the food—especially dancing to “Jump, Jive, and Wail”! Wow, that’s a fast song. (Which is why the wailing after the jiving, I guess.)

And then, we dashed to a 4:20 showing of The Theory of Everything at the Princess. Pretty interesting movie about the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Definitely shows the challenges of her having to cope with his increasingly serious illness. Though of course, as we know, he continued to do amazing physics work through it all.

Then we were ready to go back home and relax. Family Day was pretty quiet, and that suited us just fine. Especially as we got some news Sunday night that definitely had us thinking about family.


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Movie review: Selma

***½ Selma (January 2105) David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, and Tom Wilkinson – Theatre

Selma movie poster Selma covers a period of American history I wasn’t very familiar with previously. In 1965, African Americans had won the right to vote, but often weren’t able to exercise that right in southern states due to abusive registration processes that made it virtually impossible for them to get on the voter’s lists. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King took this on as his next battle.

Though continuing to adhere to his belief in passive resistance, King knew that drama was needed to get attention to the cause. While continuing to be peaceful, the protestors had to also be confrontational. They had to go, in large numbers, where they weren’t wanted. This required enormous courage.

Though the threat of violence was always present, I thought director Ava DuVernay did a magnificent job of always presenting attacks as surprising and shocking when they did occur. This is not violence for or as entertainment. These aren’t “action sequences”, but moments of horror.

As today’s film goers are shocked by them, so were some TV news viewers at the time.

But the film also shows that King’s struggled with the sacrifices his followers had to make for the cause—not to mention the ever-present danger to his own family. He was a preacher, and most (all?) of the movement’s supporters were also very devout, some also clergy. So religion and faith play a prominent part in the movie—to an unusual degree for a mainstream film. It made clear, regardless of own belief, that everyone involved at that time really needed God’s support, that they needed that shared belief, to do this difficult and courageous work.

The portrayal of Lyndon Johnson in the film has been controversial. While he is not presented as a villain, he is depicted as a practical politician with much to do, who doesn’t feel he can prioritize voting rights as quickly as Martin Luther King would like. Whether that’s true to history or not, I don’t know. But it definitely makes for a nice dramatic arc when he changes his mind and brings forward the Voting Rights Act.

Afterward Jean and I discussed the question of where we might have stood had we been whites in the US South at that time rather than Canadians now. You’d like to think you’d be on the side of good, or at least not so actively evil. But who knows?

Definitely a movie worth seeing.


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Award season

Movie award season has come around and I find myself somewhat more interested than some years. If nothing else, at least the talk of movies and actors is a nice distraction from the alarming events going on in the world.

Movie award trophis

Trophies for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG awards

However, I haven’t seen that many of the big contenders yet. I am pleased that The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we saw back in April, has been remembered and is getting recognition, as it really was quite delightful. But Wild is only getting recognition for Reese Witherspoon’s acting, when I thought the film as a whole was very good. And the fantastic Pride was up for a Golden Globe, but nowhere in the Oscar list.

So I guess my interest is that I would like to see many of the other contenders as well: The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Into the Woods, Big Eyes, Still Alice, and Boyhood. Mind you, except for Boyhood—which I was deliberately waiting for the rental version of—those are in theatres now. Rather unlikely I find time to see all of them before award show season ends.

Birdman posterWe did get to Birdman, however, back in December. And I’m still trying to figure out exactly I what I think of it! It tells the story of an actor who had been the star in a superhero movie franchise, and is now trying to adapt, direct, and star in a revival of a Raymond Carver play on Broadway. The effort of putting on the play is not going smoothly, however, and the stress causes him to break down and hallucinate at times. The hallucinations are largely presented as though they’re actually happening.

So it’s an unusual film, and for me that makes it hard to unabashedly love. But I didn’t dislike it, either. It’s certainly creative, and the actors—star Michael Keaton, Edward Norton as another actor in the play, and Emma Stone as Keaton’s daughter—are very good. And you certainly end up rooting for the main character, despite his flaws. Worth seeing if you’re up for a moderate challenge.

Some of the other Oscar contenders, though, I’ve decided I’m not up for the challenge of: Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler, Whiplash, American Sniper. All these movies about dark men being nasty. Oscar clearly loves that shit, but I do not.

Oscar also snubbed the Roger Ebert document, Life, Itself, which we had found quite good. Admittedly, though, I didn’t see any of the documentaries they did nominate, so can’t really say whether they were all better than Life, Itself.

The Lego Movie posterSimilarly with the animated movie category: I haven’t seen any of the nominees, but I did recently see The Lego Movie.(which was nominated for a Globe, but didn’t win), and found it to be one heck of a fun and entertaining movie, no matter your age. Jean was quite skeptical when I suggested we watch it, but he quite enjoyed it, too. (As an aside, he had the same reaction to 2012’s Pitch Perfect, the movie about the all-women a capella group, so that’s another recommended one from us, if you haven’t seen it already.)

At least the “Everything is Awesome” song was nominated, but I really think Lego Batman deserved more recognition for his work. 🙂

The Globes also give awards for TV shows and actors, and I’ve hardly seen of any of those nominees. But weirdly, many of the few I was acquainted with actually won. The Affair got best dramatic series—which appalled the TV critics—and best actress in a drama., and the star of Jane the Virgin won for best actress in a comedy—which delighted the TV critics. I, of course, have caught up with both of those shows recently.

In the mini-series category, Maggie Gyllenhaal took it for the amazing Honourable Woman, which I did watch on CBC. The network’s commercial insertions were jarring, but the series was a fascinating, complex look at Israeli / Palestian relations, and Gyllenhaal was great in it (as she usually is). And Matt Bomber won a supporting actor award for HBO’s The Normal Heart, an interesting movie about the early days of the AIDS crisis, that I watched not long after I subscribed to HBO.

I leave you with some links.

Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globe) nominees and winners list

Oscar 2015: Nominations in full (in case you really need to know who’s up for sound editing and for hair and makeup)

Oscar snubs: Shocks and surprises from the 2015 nominations (at least according to The Telegraph)