Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Brunch - Cinnamon Toast Twisted

Everyone knows how to make cinnamon toast, right? I thought so. I know some people make it with white sugar, but it's always been brown in my family. Try these added flavours for a different twist on the original.







INGREDIENTS:
1 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tbsp Cinnamon (or more, to taste)
dash Ground Cloves
2 tbsp Vegan Margarine
splash Vanilla Extract

In a bowl, mix margarine with vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar with spices. Spread margarine mix over freshly toasted bread and sprinkle with sugar mixture.


A Record a Week: Joe Jackson - Jumpin' Jive



















SIDE 1.
JUMPIN' WITH SYMPHONY SID
JACK, YOU'RE DEAD
IS YOU OR IS YOU AIN'T MY BABY
WE THE CATS (Shall Hep Ya)
SAN FRANSISCO FAN
FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE

SIDE 2.
JUMPIN' JIVE
YOU RUN YOUR MOUTH (And I'll Run My Business)
WHAT'S THE USE OF GETTING SOBER (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)
YOU'RE MY MEAT
TUXEDO JUNCTION
HOW LONG MUST I WAIT FOR YOU


The first thing I think of when I think of Joe Jackson is Adam Carolla's constant rants about the current state of music and lots of 'when people are in my car and hear Joe Jackson they like it. Why does terrestrial radio pump this crap down our throats, why can't they expose us to more better music?'

Well, I certainly can say that the music on this record supports that statement. Now, I know radio stations have their 'must plays', but I don't know why they don't fill in the gaps a little better. I am lucky enough to have CBC Radio 2 playing good music most of the time I am in the car, but have definitely worked in locations that played rock stations or whatnot. All day long hearing the songs they must land on 10 times plus the same 15-20 filler songs, ugh.

The horn-swing style of this record may not fit in to most of those stations styles, but certainly is brimming with talent. It's really a record that makes you want to dance, or at the very least, snap your fingers. The only question I have is, why bury the lead? I know Joe Jackson did not write Jumpin' Jive, but if you are going to call the album that, why is it relegated to the 2nd side lead? Maybe the CD version is different, but that's not what I do now, is it.

This record was a real break from Jackson's otherwise New Wave/pop sound, spawning a change to a more Jazz influenced sound from there on.

It would be great background music for a cocktail party or other casual/semi-formal gathering with a touch of the drink, especially if anyone happens to be wearing a smoking jacket.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Record a Week: Lena Horne - The Lady and Her Music (Live on Broadway)



















SIDE 1.
OVERTURE
FROM THIS MOMENT ON
I GOT A NAME
I'M GLAD THERE IS YOU
I WANT TO BE HAPPY
COTTON CLUB REVIEW
COPPER COLORED GAL
RAISIN' THE RENT
AS LONG AS I LIVE
LADY WITH A FAN
COTTON CLUB TO HOLLYWOOD (DIALOGUE)
WHERE OR WHEN

SIDE 2.
CAN'T HELP LOVIN' THAT MAN
HOLLYWOOD (DIALOGUE)
JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS
STORMY WEATHER PT.1
LOVE
BROADWAY (DIALOGUE)
PUSH DE BUTTON
THE LADY IS A TRAMP
YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS YOUNG

SIDE 3.
DEED I DO
LIFE GOES ON
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS
THE SURREY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP
FLY
BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED

SIDE 4.
A LADY MUST LIVE
LOVE THIS BUSINESS (DIALOGUE)
THAT'S WHAT MIRACLES ARE ALL ABOUT
EARLY CAREER (DIALOGUE)
I'M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER
STORMY WEATHER PT. 2
IF YOU BELIEVE
STORMY WEATHER (CURTAINS/CROWD/BOWS)

When was the last time a band put out a double record? I feel like there have been a lot of these in my collection thus far and I'm nowhere near done. I know, I know, this is a Broadway piece, which is different than a studio double, but still it begs the question of how long it's been since that was popular practice.

Horne is a multi-award winning artist who rose up from the New York club scene to Hollywood and back to the nightclubs where she used her fame to rise to the top of the circuit. Later in life, she took her skills to Broadway where she recorded this album.

It is no wonder she had such success at every level, because her talent shines brightly on this record. Even with that talent, she must have had a hard time making a name for herself at the time she was famous. She refused roles in Hollywood that pushed stereotypes and fought for civil rights much of her life. This record showcases her life while also interspersing bits of her personal history between songs. The tracks referring to the Cotton Club are about the club of that name where she got her start. Now, if the name brings up any flags in your head, you're probably not far off the mark in your thinking. The club was an all-white club with predominantly black performers (who presumably had a separate entrance, likely the kitchen). The racism didn't only come from one side, though. When she was young, fellow African-American children mocked her light skin and having one white parent. She managed to rise above all of that and become a talented actress and singer. Her life of stories and years of honing her skill come out in fine form on this album, which is a wonderful listen.       

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Different Take on a Holiday Gathering

As a child, it was a day I looked forward to with great anticipation. Each day growing more eager with anticipation. Some years I would get the thing I most wanted and inevitably, some years I would not. However, it was always a day I looked forward to, enjoyed and certainly relished opening gifts no matter what they held. As I got older, the gift giving became as much fun as the receiving; one of the greater joys is watching someone you care about getting enjoyment out of something you have put your heart into.

Even when my parents separated, Christmas tradition took on a new meaning and a new look. On the eve, my dad would take my sister and I skating at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto and we would do our presents with him that night after dinner. We would return to our mom's house and sleep there (some of those years I still lived there) and wake up and do Christmas morning with her. In fact, the new tradition was not only enjoyable, but I think we probably made out a little better present-wise (a thing that is a by-product of some parental separations), if I'm being honest.

My sense of family Christmas-time took a massive blow the year my mother died. The effort of Christmas began feeling more stressful than exciting. Since that time, the skating tradition with my dad has held up and my wife and her family have done a wonderful job of setting up and taking care of dinner on Christmas day. It's a nice solid foundation to have her family all here in London, making for a reliable yearly tradition that I am very thankful to have. With my dad in Toronto and sister in Ottawa (her job has her traveling cross-country yearly leading up to the 23rd of December), it is a sort of patchwork deal as to when we can all get together around Christmas.

Last year, everything worked out perfectly that my sister finished here and her husband (and their dog) came out to join us. That's not always the way, as scheduling and weather is not always on our side. This year, she was in town this past Sunday and being the only holiday time with her, I tried to make the most of the opportunity. My wife's parents agreed to take our daughter so we could enjoy the matinee showing of the show she produces and they would see the evening one. My wife was wonderful and took our daughter so I could stick around for the second showing and join the whole group for a drink afterward. Our son stayed for the first half to get a look at the inner workings of the show and offered to help sell merch during the breaks. I drove him home and returned to the show. I got a feeling it would end up being a subdued sort of evening. They had flown cross-country the previous day and had endured a two-show day and had a week to go.

We left the venue at about 11 and a few people on the bus decided to head to a pub across from their hotel to meet a couple of the singers from the show who were already there. We drank a few beers as the show members 'talked shop' and about upcoming shows. Around midnight, the bar set up karaoke and what I originally thought would be an early night took a wonderful turn. As usual karaoke goes, the group included a range of talent from mediocre to impressive. The trio of wonderful female singers from the show (dubbed the Vinylettes on the tour, but go by The Measure at other showings) got up and did a harmonized version of 'Don't Stop Believing' by Journey that kicked the night up to a different level. All four of the show's singers got up at various times and did wonderful versions of songs and bar patrons had some lively takes as well. I convinced the DJ to let us leap-frog the line and do the last song, so long as I could get the girls to come up. We chose 'Midnight Train to Georgia' as the show-stopper, with the professional singers taking the lead and the rest of us as 'The Pips'.

All in all it turned out to be an incredible night and served to remind me that holiday gatherings can be unexpected, spontaneous and special in an entirely different way than the kind you are used to. I am very thankful for this night and hope that in it in its own way can become a new tradition.

The Measure aka The Vinylettes

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Ivory Coast-Style Bananas

Simple one today, but so tasty, especially if you use a banana with a little green on it. Past that chalky phase, but with a little bit of that lemony flavour still in there.
















INGREDIENTS:
Bananas (1 per person. With a touch of green as mentioned)
Special K Cereal (about 3/4 cup per person - Rice Crispies or Corn Flakes would work too)
1/2 cup Sugar (more if needed)
1 tbsp Cinnamon
Peanut Oil

On a large high-lipped plate (or low bowl), crush up the cereal, peel the banana and roll it in the crushed cereal. Fry in peanut oil over medium heat, rolling to make all cereal crispy. This will also soften up the banana in the middle. Sprinkle with sugar mixture and enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Blueberry Muffins

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup Vegan Margarine
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Egg Replacer (Powdered or Applesauce would work best)
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Vanilla
dash Salt
1 cup Flour (All-Purpose or Pastry)
1/4 cup Soy or Almond Milk (Rice is too thin)
1 cup Blueberries



Preheat oven to 375F. Cream margarine and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg replacer and mix again. Add vanilla, baking powder and salt, mix again. Add 1/2 of the flour and 1/2 of the milk, mix in, repeat. Fold in blueberries and spoon into muffin cups or greased muffin tin. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden and knife come clean.
 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Tahô

This is a version of porridge from the Philippines. It does not look the most appetizing, but tastes fantastic. 











INGREDIENTS:
1 package Soft Tofu (I used silken almond tofu)
4 1/2 cups Water
1/2 cup Tapioca Pearls (uncooked)
1 1/4 cups Brown Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and add tapioca pearls, cook over medium for 40 minutes or so until pearls soften and absorb much of the water. Add 1/4 cup brown sugar, mix and remove from heat, allowing to cool to room temperature. Combine remaining 1/2 cup water with 1 cup brown sugar and vanilla, simmer until it becomes a syrup.

Put tofu in chunks into a bowl, microwave for about a minute to heat up. Top with the tapioca pearls and syrup and consume.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Pisang Goreng

These are a version of Indonesian Banana Fritters.












INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup, plus 4 tbsp Flour
1 tbsp Sugar
1/4 cup Vanilla Soy Milk
1 squirt Vanilla Extract (app. 1/4 tsp)
1 Egg Replacer
1 heaping tbsp Vegan Margarine, melted
2 Ripe Bananas, sliced
1 tsp Rum/Rum Flavouring (optional)
dash Cinnamon
oil for frying

In a bowl, mix flour and sugar and create a well. Pout in soy milk, egg replacer, vanilla, melted margarine and rum (if using); mix to a batter. Slice bananas into mixture and fold in.

Pour enough oil to coat bottom of a large base pan (1/4 cm depth or so) and heat over medium or a touch higher. When oil is hot, drop tablespoons of banana mixture into pan and fry each side until lightly brown, drain on a paper towel.



Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Crumpets

I have been wanting to do this for a while, since I loved crumpets as a child, but I just never got around to it.











INGREDIENTS:
3 cups Flour
2 tsp Active Dry Yeast
2 3/4 cups Warm Water (a little less might be better...scoop out a tbsp or so)
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Sugar
2 tbsp Powdered Soy Milk
1 Egg Replacer (Ener-G or other powdered/add water mix)

Take 1 cup warm water and mix with yeast and sugar in a bowl. Set aside, covered, until it foams up (if it doesn't, yeast is not good). In a separate bowl, mix flour, powdered soy milk and salt. Create a well in the flour mix and pour the yeast mixture and the remaining water into the well. Mix until lumps are gone and set aside, covered, until bubbles form on the top (about 45 minutes or an hour). After that time, mix together the egg replacer according to the box directions and add to the mix and let sit another 10 or 15 minutes.

Heat a pan (if you have pastry rings or crumpet rings) with spray oil, or muffin tins (which I used) over low heat. Put crumpet batter into the tins or pan and cook until the edges stiffen and the top is bubbly. If using a pan, remove rings and flip for 2-3 minutes to cook the top. If using a muffin tin, broil for 2-3 minutes to finish off the tops.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Random Movie Review: Broken English

Broken English (2007)
Starring: Parker Posey, Melvil Poupaud, Drea de Matteo

















Broken English follows Nora Wilder, a career-woman who can't find love on her own or through numerous set-ups from friends and family. All of this changes when she meets Julien, an intriguing French man. She falls for him, but stays behind when he leaves for Paris. As time passes, she decides she must go to find him, feeling he is the one for her. She meanders around Paris for some time with no luck before finally spotting him on her last day there.

I can feel the sense that Cassevetes was going for. The movie has a sort of drab beginning and takes on life when she meets this (overly) perfect man and begins to experience life in a new way. Sadly, the drab portion of the movie had better execution than the latter part. Overall, however, it was a good movie. Posey does a great job with the character, which is a bit of a departure from her normal roles. I'm not really certain this type of thing actually ever happens. Though I did hear in the news recently that some guy got directions from a woman in Ireland and is returning to try and spark a relationship a year later, not knowing her name or anything about her. Perhaps this is actually less ridiculous than that. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Stuffed French Toast















INGREDIENTS:
1 cup Soy Milk
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 Egg Replacer
Dash of Flour
Small Handful of Flax (optional)
1/2 cup Berries (Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries, whatever)
1/2 cup Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
4-8 slices Bread (any vegan type, get your favourite baker to slice it thick and use day-old)

Blend soy milk, vanilla, cinnamon, egg replacer, flour and flax (if using). Preheat frying pan to medium/medium-low with a bit of vegan matrgarine. In a bowl, stir together berries and chocolate chips.

Take bread and cut a slit in it on the side (hence the thicker bread), inserting a sharp knife below the hump of the bread and insert most of the way into the bread and cut downward until the slit is equidistant from both the top of the bread and the bottom. *ALTERNATIVELY: If you have regular bread, fold it over the fillings in half* Fill the pocket of the bread with the berry and chocolate mixture, leaving enough room for the bread to close up (about an inch, maybe less depending on bread size.) Dip the bread in the soy milk mixture and then fry in the pan until lightly browned on each side. Drizzle with your favourite syrup and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Record a Week: Buddy Holly - A Rock and Roll Collection



















SIDE 1.
RAVE ON
TELL ME HOW
PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED
SLIPPIN' AND SLIDIN'
OH BOY!
NOT FADE AWAY

SIDE 2.
BO DIDDLEY
WHAT TO DO
HEARTBEAT
WELL ALL RIGHT
WORDS OF LOVE
LOVE'S MADE A FOOL OF YOU

SIDE 3.
REMINISCING
LONESOME TEARS
LISTEN TO ME
MAYBE BABY
DOWN THE LINE
THAT'LL BE THE DAY

SIDE 4.
PEGGY SUE
BROWN EYED HANDSOME MAN
YOU'RE SO SQUARE
CRYING, WAITING, HOPING
READY TEDDY
IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE

Boy, I should really get an autochanger. Back-to-back weeks of having to switch records four times to hear them in sequential order (big problems, I know).

This record has a good deal of the songs recorded in Holly's very short career. The most amazing thing to me is that the quality of the recordings seem to vary greatly, despite the fact that they must have taken place in a relatively short span. These recordings, among others, retain everything that he would record prior to the fateful plane crash killing him and other musicians. Throught the record it's easy to see his influences, as well as those he influenced. His sound is not unlike Elvis, with his own flair thrown in. It's clear that he came out afterward, but is certainly not a clone at all.

It's amazing to imagine a time when 'black music' and 'white music' were something that needed bridging (though hip-hop in the '80s and '90s was largely considered such.) In that time, though, there were many discriminations by race that we've only really begun to overcome. Holly was part of that movement to bring that style to a larger white audience (though one might argue that has only minimally increased the exposure of african-american musicians when compared to the positive effect it's had on white rock musicians.)

It's always really interesting to listen to the foundation of the music I've listened to my whole life. Over time, I plan to chip away at the building blocks of modern music until I end up back in the wax cylinder days.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Random Movie Review: Otis

Otis (2008)
Starring: Bostin Christopher, Ashley Johnson, Daniel Stern

















Otis is a disturbed man who lives acts out fantasies taken from actual events in his brother's life. To do this, though, he kidnaps and locks up girls in a special room under his garage and forces them to live out a prom night fantasy. However, Otis keeps screwing it up and not getting to the prom. When he kidnaps Riley Lawson and contacts her family, they decide to conduct their own justice. Much confusion is met, however, when it turns out that Otis' brother is the one who enters the house.

Watching this movie was a bit confusing; it felt like it was trying to be too many things at once. It looked like it might be trying to be the 'pretty girl slasher', but by casting Ashley Johnson (who probably has a no-nudity clause) as Riley, they removed the chance of having it be a film like Turistas. Then it felt like by casting Daniel Stern and Ilieana Douglas, they might be going for the silly horror (a la Shaun of the Dead), but then it wasn't well-written enough to pull that off. Lastly, they had just a shred of trying to be a thriller or horror film, which luckily they weren't trying too hard for, because it just was not going to work. Some of the actors were trying to be a bit silly (Stern and Douglas, Kevin Pollak was trying to be his serious self and Bostin Christopher was just not a good actor (as shown by his imdb list).

The heart of this movie was in the right place, I just think that the genre was too spread out and the direction wasn't all in the same place. I'll give it a 5/10.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Magdalene Sisters

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
Starring: Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone
















The Magdalene Sisters revolves around three young women who are sent to what amounts to a religious rehabilitation centre. Each from different families, Rose had a child out of wedlock, Margaret was raped and Bernadette, well she just like flirting with the boys. Each of their families decide they need to pray their way back into gods graces and are sent to the Magdalene Asylum. While there, they witness and endure many acts of humiliation and abuse. Many of the women at the asylum have given in to the situation, mostly due to having no other options. The three girls, however, never give up hope and eventually do get away.

This is a gripping tale of the feminist movement within the catholic church. There are a few scenes in particular that are very effective. In one scene, one of the staff has the entire group of ladies strip naked and points out various humiliating things about them (such as who has the most pubic hair, biggest/smallest boobs, fattest, etc.) In another scene, a girl who has slept with a priest and gets a poison ivy rash from a practical joke played on him repeats 'you are not a man of god' over and over again, going from strange to uncomfortable and eventually you just can't look away.  She gets sent to a mental institution to hush her up, where it is explained she eventually dies of anorexia.

I will leave out my stance on religion and simply say that this points out a situation that has in some form surely happened. NOT that it is the norm for religious families to send their family to places like this, nor am I certain whether you could find a place like this in today's world (this is set in 1960's Ireland). I also have never been to Ireland, so I suppose I can't comment on anything there, religious or otherwise. But I digress, this movie was enjoyable. I was pulled in and began rooting for 2/3 of the main three and had a mild fondness for the third. I will give this movie a 7.75/10. Not quite an 8, but it was pretty good and my enjoyment for it grows stronger as time goes on.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Random Movie Review: Sidewalls (Medianeras)

Sidewalls [Medianeras] (2011)
Starring: Javier Drolas, Pilar López de Ayala
















Sidwalls follows two lonely, Martin and Mariana, who live in buildings opposite each other. The title refers to the side walls of the tall buildings in Buenos Aires, which are blank boring walls that are often home to large, faded adverts and illegally installed windows for the apartments within. The walls parallel the 'everything in between' part of life, which for many can be dull and boring. The two characters hardly ever leave their apartments and seem destined not to meet until a random act brings them together.

This movie had a bunch of mini-themes, which I liked for two reasons. None of them were so big that they either had to be the root of the whole movie, or a red herring, they were just nice little plot lines. Secondly, they kept you involved in the movie in a cute and interesting way, without being annoying. They also found a way to make you root for two generally unlikable characters. Not perfect and wasn't particularly good quality in the picture, so I'll give it a 7.25/10.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Record a Week: Billie Holiday - God Bless the Child


SIDE 1.
I CAN'T PRETEND
IF MY HEART COULD ONLY TALK
HAVIN' MYSELF A TIME
SAYS MY HEART
LONG GONE BLUES
GHOST OF YESTERDAY
FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN

SIDE 2.
I'M ALL FOR YOU
I HEAR MUSIC
IT'S THE SAME OLD STORY
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
ST. LOUIS BLUES
LOVELESS LOVE
LET'S DO IT, LET'S FALL IN LOVE

SIDE 3.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
ROMANCE IN THE DARK
ALL OF ME
I'M IN A LOW DOWN GROOVE
GOD BLESS THE CHILD
AM I BLUE
SOLITUDE

SIDE 4.
JIM
I COVER THE WATERFRONT
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME
GLOOMY SUNDAY
MANDY IS TWO
IT'S A SIN TO TELL A LIE
(IT WILL HAVE TO DO) UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG

This double LP was obviously designed for record players that have an auto-changer, or 'umbrella spindle' where you can set up multiple records to play in sequence without having to flip them yourself. The first and fourth sides are opposite on one record and the second and third on the other. That being so that you can align sides one and two and then flip them over and align three and four on the spindle.

This record covers a lot of Holiday songs, including the namesake, which strangely doesn't appear until the third side. Like many artistic talents, she was a troubled soul. Her upbringing had many problems, which begot her drinking, which in the end killed her. Her singing was described as 'Jazz Singing', which this record line amusingly describes as 'a way people who know about jazz describe a singer they like', which is to say not a pop singer. I would think it possible that, given the time, the colour of her skin may have got her automatically grouped into many categories including the 'jazz singer' one.

She has a lot of soul in her voice and it is a shame she died so young. This record has an incredible selection of songs and is a must-have for anyone looking to dive head-first into her music. Double records can be a bit of a chore, but the passion and soul in this one make it well worth the listen.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Random Movie Review: 127 Hours


127 Hours (2010)
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn
















I'm assuming most of you that read this are aware of what this movie is about. I had intended to watch this movie for a long time, but couldn't bring myself to watch, knowing what he has to do to get himself out of his situation. I was assured again and again that the scene in question was not as gruesome as I feared and not to be worried. Let this be my warning: IT IS PRETTY HARD TO WATCH.

*WARNING: NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH 
Let me back up a bit. The film is the real-life story of outdoor adventure-seeker, Aron Ralston. In 2003, Aron takes off for an off-road biking/hiking/rock exploration adventure through a Utah Canyon. This type of adventure is normal for him, so he doesn't think to notify anyone where he is going. Along the way he meets two young women and shows them the thrill of a lifetime when they drop into water from a tight spot in the rocks. He takes off on his own again, promising to meet them at a party. As he runs through the canyon, he falls with a boulder and has his arm trapped against the side of the canyon by the rock. The remainder of the movie ticks away the 127 hours he is trapped, during which he films short messages to his family on his camcorder and becomes increasingly delirious from lack of water. His hallucinations are interspersed with scenes enacting memories. After filming his goodbyes, he slips into a hallucination of a young boy that he does not recognize, but feels is the son he does not yet have. With all of his remaining energy, he breaks the bones in his forearm and uses his cheap multi-tool to sever his arm. As mentioned, this scene is hard to NOT be gross, but it was certainly worse than I had heard (or maybe I'm just more squeamish than I thought.) The end of the film shows shots of the real-life Ralston with his now wife and kids, as well as enjoying skiing and other outdoor sports.

The movie itself was good, despite being in the middle of James Franco deciding he was the best thing to happen to film and/or tv. He did hold his own as basically the only actor onscreen for the majority of the movie. It was emotional and well done, but certainly not the perfect movie. I'll give it a 7/10

Random Movie Review: The Seduction of Mimi

The Seduction of Mimi (1972 Italian w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Giancarlo Giannini, Mariagela Melato
















This movie was a strange one. Even though it was released in 1972, some of the scenes run with the fast-motion comedic stylings of the Charlie Chaplin era. This is all mixed in with other elements that are suited to the time (typical colour and structure, etc.)

Mimi is a union worker who decides to vote against the mafia candidate in an election. Though the election is supposed to be secure, the mafia tells him to get out and stay out. After abandoning Sicily and his wife, he takes residence with a communist in Turin and has a child with her. The mafia takes note of his work and makes him a supervisor back in Sicily. He has to keep Fione(the communist) and the child a secret, which is done for him in exchange for losing intimacy with her. When Fione gets pregnant, he knows something is up and repays her by sleeping with the wife of the man who got her pregant(this makes for a less than comfortable scene).

As I mentioned before, the blend of filming styles was a bit random and made me unsure of whether it was an hommage or they just used earlier techniques in certain situations for effect. Also, many of the scenes were monologues, which lose some lustre in translation for sure. Imagine watching Pacino's speeches in Scent of a Woman delivered in a dub-over or through subtitles. Surely the raw emotion can't be re-created that simply translating to and from any language. Keeping that in mind, I will upscore this movie a half point for parts I can't quite fathom, but believe were done better than they came across. 6.5/10.







Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Random Movie Review: Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice (1982)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol

















I think we've all heard of or know about what Sophie's choice in this movie was.  What I didn't know was that it wouldn't be revealed until much later in the movie than I would have thought. Having kids, I had to bring myself to watch this movie, but I thought I should since it's a 'classic'. Having just watched a war movie, then a post-war movie, I suppose I must watch a post-post-war movie, whatever that is.

Stingo, an aspiring writer moves into a New York City apartment and quickly encounters the upstairs neighbours Sophie and Nathan. The initial argument between the couple almost brings Stingo to leave. Instead, however, the couple apologizes to him and they quickly become friends. Stingo slowly learns about Sophie's struggles in Poland and how the couple met once she came to the USA, but Sophie holds back some information. After meeting Nathan's brother, Stingo realizes it isn't only Sophie that is holding back information. Nathan's claims to high education and research turn out to be paranoid schizophrenia. Stingo and Sophie escape to a hotel during a bout of rage from Nathan and Sophie reveals to Stingo that she was forced to choose between which of her children would live and which would die while in a concentration camp.

The movie has been parodied in pop culture on many different TV shows and movie scenes. The term Sophie's choice has become synonymous with choosing between two things (in most situations with satire/sarcasm. ie: 'I can't decide between the fish and the duck' 'a real Sophie's choice you've got on your hands'.) Not that making a hard choice is a new thing in literature or media or anything like that

Meryl Streep's acting was at its best in this role. One of those performances that if you didn't know who she was, you would certainly think she was actually a Polish women struggling to learn English. The inflection and pauses were great. As was quickly becoming evident at the time, Meryl Streep is one of the premiere actresses of the last four decades.This movie, combined with Kramer vs. Kramer and The Deer Hunter would prove to be a strong start to a long and illustrious career. The choosing a kid to die part unsettled me a little, but not enough to drop below a 7.75/10.

Random Movie Review: Europa Europa

Europa Europa (1990)
Starring: Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, Solomon Perel

















Europa Europa follows a Jewish boy Solomon(Solly) and his family in Nazi Germany. After his sister is murdered by Nazis, he and his family move to Poland. When the war starts and the family gets split up, Solly decides to try to pass as a German to survive. He is a Russian-German translator for German soldiers and eventually joins the Hitler Youth. Throughout his journey, he runs into issues concerning hiding his Jewish heritage whenever there is a medical examination or any other situation where anyone might notice his circumcision. At the last minute during combat he runs across the lines onto the Soviet side and surrenders himself. Brought back to their camp, he's about to be shot until his estranged brother runs over to find him.

This is based on a true story, which makes it that much more astounding. I can't believe that as humans, we could ever do anything like what happened in that war(although not naive enough to think that's the only instance of such atrocity). I also can't imagine that anyone made it through, especially in such a way as this. I suppose group mentality can go a long way and I've never been in such a position and hopefully never will.

As a side note, the bottom of this poster appears to say that it gets four stars for being 1/2 of a harrowing true story. I enjoyed this movie and I always like war movies that tell a story to do with something other than the fighting part. Not that I mind war movies themselves, but there are so many of them that a change in pace is nice. I'll go 7.25/10 for this.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007 French w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze















Whoa, I've started to compile a backlog of movies to review, so I should hop on that and churn out as many as I can this week to catch up.

This lovely drama-docu-biopic is based on the book of the same name (le scaphandre et le papillon, en francais), details the life of Jean-Dominique Bauby a hot to trot editor who suffers a life-altering stroke. The stroke sends him into a condition called 'locked-in', where he is able to think normally, but loses control of all bodily functions except the ability to blink his eyelid. With the help of a speech therapist who has developed a system to communicate using a board of letters sorted from most commonly used to least, he begins to be able to express himself again. He employs a very patient note-taker, Claude, who pain-stakingly dictates his story, which becomes the book.

The use of flashback and POV filming make this incredibly interesting and opens up a whole new cinematic style that is breathtaking. Parts of the movie were hard to watch and it did lag a bit in other times, but as a whole, it is quite enjoyable. A note on the Wikipedia page said that Johnny Depp was originally tagged for the role. I am so happy that quirky self-righteous guy was busy doing something else (note: I enjoyed his work before, but he either oversaturated himself or believed too much that he needed to be ever so quirky in every role and I gradually stopped caring).

As it stands, however, he did not leave his mark on this film and it gets a solid 8.25/10 from me.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Record a Week: Al Hirt - The Best of Al Hirt Vol. 2






















SIDE 1.
BYE BYE BLUES
STAR DUST
THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA
ALKIN'
SLEEPY LAGOON
I CAN'T GET STARTED

SIDE 2.
CLARINET MARMALADE
(DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS) NEW ORLEANS
EASY STREET
LET'S DO IT (LET'S FALL IN LOVE)
THE JITTERBUG WALTZ
PERSONALITY

Now that's what I'm talking about. Another week, another musician who is the namesake of the record without being the singer. It's nice to hear, because as nice as instrumental music is, sometimes it is good to hear music with a singer where they aren't drowning out the music. Maybe if Guns n' Roses were just called Slash, Axl wouldn't have become the ego-maniac that he did and we'd still have that same 90's rock band (although after The Spaghetti Incident, maybe it's better this way).

It is clear after listening to this record that Hirt was a solid trumpet player. This album covers all styles of classics and he nails it all the way through. He was born and raised in the hot bed of jazz, New Orleans, but studied music up in Ohio. He played swing and big band music as well through his time after Ohio and thus gained the tools to be able to play all the styles of music that he exhibits on this record. I've always been jealous of people who play the brass instruments, as they always made my cheeks hurt and I just couldn't get past that. Maybe it will be something I revisit as an adult to see if I've built up any durability in the cheekal region. (I know that's not a real word)

It is a good thing to get a few records like this under your belt if you consider yourself to have a diverse knowledge of music. I myself think that I need to dig deeper into the last 2 artists I've reviewed, as they're both great and I have only mildly increased my hold on what they're about.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Savages

The Savages (2007)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney

















This is not 'Savages' the new Oliver Stone film of mediocre reviews. It wasn't a great film either, but it definitely wasn't that one.

Wendy and Jon Savages are siblings from a broken family that have to come together to take care of their aging father when his wife dies and he is left with nothing and nobody to care for him. Each child feels as if they should care, but they weren't raised all that well and in turn don't feel like they owe him much care in return. They have become self-involved, generally failing adults, and now they're in charge of someone's well-being. They put him in a home and visit him, until he eventually dies. His death causes them to take a look at their own lives and re-evaluate.

This film came out right after Hoffman made the jump from excellent character actor to star of the film Capote. Perhaps wanting to bank on that, they paired him with fellow character/ensemble actress Laura Linney, hoping for a cult hit and some mainstream success (would be my guess). The disconnect of the characters makes it hard to care for anyone in the film, which in turn makes it a bit hard to latch on to. The acting was good; the two mains played their parts as well as they ever do. I guess I just felt there was nothing to pop for either character. Neither Linney nor Hoffman was given anything to run with, really. That being said, it was an interesting look at dystopian family life and the ways in which we are affected by our upbringing, and how we are forced to deal with that.

Imdb suggests Squid and the Whale for people who liked this movie, which I feel is apt, as I felt the same about each of these movies. Good, interesting - but not great. Let's say 7.25/10 on this one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Random Movie Review: Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles

Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles (2005 Chinese w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Ken Takakura, Shinobu Terajima

















Riding Alone For Thousand of Miles is a touching story about a man who goes to visit his estranged son who is dying and ends up on a journey to complete a project the son was working on when he became ill. Along the way, he meets a young orphan boy and feels a parental draw to him. His guilt over being a bad father to his actual son drives him to care for the young boy in a way he knows he should have to his own.

This movie pulls you in two ways, in that you feel sad for the man losing his son and a tug at the heartstrings over his bond with the young boy, but kind of not bad for him because he was not a good father to his own son. His attempt at making amends with his son falls short, but that does not stop him from pursuing the completion of his son's film. It seems to be a symbolic theme in Chinese film to have a course of action and fulfill it as if it were a debt to a greater power or karma. I can only assume it is taken from some sect of Chinese culture, though I admit to know nothing about that other than what I take from movies.

I'd put this in the same category as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, though it wasn't quite at that level for me. I'll give this a 7/10.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Record a Week: Earl Hines - Fatha and His Orchestra On Tour




















SIDE 1.
I JUST WANNA MAKE LOVE TO YOU
SECOND BALCONY JUMP
PASSION FLOWER
MY HEART STOOD STILL
I FEEL SO SMOOCHY
ALL OF ME

SIDE 2.
SOMEBODY LOVES ME
NIGHT IN TRINIDAD
CANNERY WALK
THINGS AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE
MELODICA BLUES
EASY TO LOVE

Listening to this record, I am reminded that there was a time when the player was the namesake of the group, even if he or she was not the singer. Not to take anything away from the singer in this group, she's wonderful; but it is clearly Hines that is in control and the best of the bunch.

Teaming up with jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington(among countless others) he over the years, Hines was considered amongst the elite in jazz and what would later become 'bebop'. He triumphed through a move to Chicago(where jazz was king at the time), powered through the times when African-Americans were discriminated against everywhere, and even maneuvered much of his band being drafted into the army, missing only a short stint as a result. I am not an aficionado of this style of music at all, but I can tell a good piece when I hear it. If my record player were upstairs, this would certainly be perfect cocktail party background music. I'm going to go against the grain of saying 'I should have been born in (insert era)' and just go ahead and say more modern musicians should do well done versions of music from eras past.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others (2006 German w/ English subtitles)
Starring: Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Müle, Martina Gedeck

















In the time of the Berlin wall, Georg Dreyman is a writer/playwright in East Berlin whose plays star his beautiful and talented girlfriend Christa-Maria. Haupmann Gerd Wiesler, a member of the Statsi (secret police that monitor anti-socialism) is instructed by his boss to monitor the playwright. He discovers along the way that his boss is in love with the actress and that the lives of the playwright and his friends may not be entirely innocent after all. He becomes infatuated with their lives and even manages to change his hard-edged tune a little and becomes protective of them. He loses everything to protect them and it doesn't help the artists relationship in the end either. The wall falls and the entire secret policing goes away in the end anyway.

It's an interesting look at life during the Berlin wall era, something I can't even fathom. The other movie that comes to mind for me when it comes to the Berlin wall and its falling is Goodbye Lenin!, which is a more comedic way of looking at it.

I absolutely loved the performance of Coch and Müle (that surely sounds much more absurd anglocized than in native German where those similar english words may hold little or no meaning). The two of them stole the show for me, though Gedeck was enjoyable as well. I am probably rating foreign films a bit off from what I usually might (still undecided as to whether it is higher or lower), as I am just getting back into them after years of movies that the people in my household can tolerate. I think my overall feeling is pretty accurate with an 8/10 on this one. It didn't completely wow me, but it was very interesting and certainly quite an accomplishment as a feature debut for its director (maybe he took a wee step back with his next film The Tourist).



Friday, June 29, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Trotsky

The Trotsky (2009)
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Colm Feore
















A Canadian film dipping into the well of Canadian talent, The Trotsky employs the upstart Jay Baruchel as Leon Bronstein, a child of privelege, who decides he is the reincartnation of Leon Trotsky (whose last name was, incidentally, originally Bronstein). He beings by rebelling against his father's own company and then when he moves to a public school, moves to form a union giving the students a voice. In his journey, he encounters a powerful pricipal and his sidekick, meets an older woman he assumes must be his wife-to-be (as she has the name and approximate age difference as Trotsky's wife) and a group of students who he has to get on his side.

The movie centres around the struggle between apathy and boredom amongst teenagers. Bronstein believes they are apathetic and just need provoking and the principal believes they just don't care. Using the Trotsky plotline as a vehicle for this is an interesting idea, but carrying the two plots at times proves too much an undertaking and each story suffers a bit as a result. The love plot develops too quickly and is frankly a little hard to fathom (17/27 is a strange age gap no matter which gender is in which role). Not to say it wasn't interesting, I learned a bit about Trotsky along the way and enjoyed how the character felt the need to force the pieces into place. It just felt like each piece had to be hurried along to fit it into the span of the movie.

Without Baruchel, who I personally feel is proving he can hold his own as a strong supporting actor and the occasional lead role, and Feore, whose veteran acting presence is felt in anything he does; this movie would certainly not rise above the status of made-for-tv. However, they made it a viable movie and filled the holes in the plotline enough for me to give it a 6.75/10. I feel like a 7/10 is approaching 'great' and it's just not quite there, but close.






Thursday, June 28, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Orphanage

The Orphanage (2007 Spanish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo

















The opening scene shows Laura, an orphan at an orphanage, being adopted. Years later, she returns to the orphanage with her husband and son Simon. Before long, Simon develops invisible friends and spends much of his time playing with them. A worker named Benigna visits them and reports that Simon is HIV-positive. After a fight, Simon disappears and Laura unearths the truth about what happened at the orphanage after she left so many years ago and how Benigna and Simon's 'invisible' friends are involved. Laura can only connect with the past when she acts out thigns from her time at the orphanage.
This movie was directed by critically-acclaimed Guillermo del Toro. I personally prefer Pan's Labyrinth, but I guess he didn't write this one and thus only his style was infused. I found the story a bit disjointed and it didn't have the creeping effect that I had hoped it would. It was a well-shot movie and the acting was decent, I suppose, though I did lose a little in translation, perhaps. I should say, I think some of the suspense may not have carried over as much. I did enjoy the storyline of the boy who was nearing death being able to see the dead and his parents thinking they were just invisible. It is a twist on the traditional 'only kids can see the evil/dead/monster' theme.

It was certainly not without enjoyment or suspense, but it didn't quite live up to what I thought it could be (not that I could put my finger on exactly what was missing). I will give it a 7/10.











Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Random Movie Review: Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

Headhunters (Hodejegerne) (2011 Danish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Ansel Hennie, Nikolai Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund















I went to see this movie with my dad, because we used to go to movies every month or two when I lived in Toronto, but we don't get the chance as often these days. I had a day off work and he was heading down, so I thought I'd check out the one theatre that plays independent and foreign films here and see what was playing.

I'm sure glad I did, as I'm not sure I ever would've found this movie otherwise. Roger Brown(Hennie) is at the top of his game as a headhunter, but he feels it isn't enough to keep his wife Diana interested. He turns to stealing art to fund the life he thinks she wants. He eventually gets caught in an elaborate trap when he denies a man a job and attempts to steal an expensive piece of art from him. The plot thickens as you begin to wonder who all is involved with the conspiracy and who are the 'innocent' parties.

The main actor reminded me veery much of Steve Buscemi. He has a somewhat similar look (if not so bug-eyed) and at least in this role, acted with similar style. The antagonist (Clas Greve, played by Coster-Waldau) and the women in the movie have that Nordic beauty to them that I personally find alluring.

I don't get to the movies all that often these days, I usually end up watching them on my computer or at least on dvd, especially these types as I am the lone member of my house that likes them and that seems like a waste of money. It was an enjoyable, refreshing experience and the 8/10 I am giving it probably owes at least a half point to that experience.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Random Movie Review: Love and Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs (2010)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer
















I've had a pretty good streak of movies to start this off, but oh boy does that end with this one. Usually I don't mind Jake Gyllenhaal, but his middle of the road acting was offset by the always terrible Anna Hathaway. There was a point, much like the hated-by-me Gwyneth Paltrow, where Anne Hathaway looked like she might be a promising young actress. Then, over time, she just flat-lined and that was that. I don't know if it was when she disrobed her t-shirt in Brokeback Mountain and set into motion her career of being topless, or if it was just that she was just never as good as she appeared.

You know a movie is going to be trouble when the opening credits plays the song 'Two Princes' and within 5 minutes, it has 'Macarena' (unfortunately, also later has 'Jackass', which I like)The movie is based around a womanizer who is not as successful as his brother or parents. His brother sets him up a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep and his life changes when he meets a female patient (Hathaway) in a doctor's office. I find her unbelievable as the sickly patient and she seems to overdo it in almost every way. The brother is a b-rate version of the fat Jonah Hill and comes off as such. The bright spots of the movie are the loveable Judy Greer as the secretary at the doctor's office and Oliver Platt as Gyllenhaal's co-worker. I wish there were more Greer, because she is waaay more likeable than Hathaway. I mean, she spent most of the movie naked and it wasn't even remotely enjoyable.

I was hoping it might be an enjoyable rom-com, but instead it just dragged along and I was happy when it was over. I'll give this one a 4/10

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Churros

In honour of all the movies I've been reviewing, I am going to officially call this recipe Benicio del Churros

 














INGREDIENTS:
Oil for frying (make 1 inch deep)
1/2 cup Water
1/4 cup Vegan Margarine
1/2 cup Flour
1 Egg Replacer
dash Sugar
dash Salt
Sugar + Cinnamon for topping 


Heat oil in a large, deep pan on medium-high (bring to 375F or so...if you let it heat on med-high while following the rest of the directions, you should be good)

Bring water and margarine to a low boil. Stir in flour, salt and sugar and mix into a ball. Remove from heat and stir in egg replacer. Pour mixture into a piping bag or piping tool (used for icing) with a large star or circle tip. Pipe long pieces into the oil and fry each side for 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan, shake off excess oil and toss with cinnamon and sugar. Enjoy while warm!
 

A Record a Week: Na Caileagan - Aireamh 2 (The Highland Lassies Volume 2)



















SIDE 1.
HO RO NIGH'N DONN BHOIDHEACH
GUN CHRODH GUN AIGEAN
MHIC IARLA NAM BRATACH BANA
EILEAN MO CHRIDH
AN FHIDEAG AIRGID
E HO RO MO NIGH'N DONN
GRADH GEAL MO CHRIDH'
GABHAIDH SINN AN RATHAD MOR

SIDE 2.
UBHI, ANHI MAC A PHI: STAD A MHAIRI BHANARACH
THA MI SGITH
A BHEAIRT FHIGHE
DEIRDRE A' FAGAIL NE H-ALBANN
A TILL A LEANNAIN
NA CNUIC 'S NA GLINN
M'EUDAIL M'EUDAIL MAC 'IC AILEIN

Two things off the bat. I can't pronounce any of the names of the songs; I am not capable of judging this style of music at all.

This is really my first exploration of this style in any way. I've heard Celtic music of varying types and Scottish bagpipes, but never this style. It sort of reminded me of opera, in a way that I could tell songs that had a sad (minor) tone to them and the ones that were happier, but not the specifics of what they were about. The music is beautiful in the same way as opera as well. Choir-style music always has a haunting beauty that I enjoy, even if it's not a style of music I particularly seek out.

This almost certainly was from the well of records I received from my Scottish stepfather, so I will have to dig a little deeper with him when I seem him next weekend.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Random Movie Review: Rear Window

Rear Window (1954)
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly

















I was a little dismayed to find out that there was a remake of this movie with Christopher Reeve and Daryl Hannah. I guess the wave of rehashing old ideas started a while ago. Hopefully this means that this won't be on the long list of movies that they seem to drag out of the grave and beat to death. Even worse, it appears the Reeve version was post-accident and he lives in a house decked out with paralysis assistance. This means they were trying to find roles for him and thought they'd butcher a classic in the process. No disrespect to Reeve or his accident, but couldn't they just have done an original story instead of jamming his disability into this role?

But I digress. The original film, which is the one I watched, is quite good. Grace Kelly does a great job as the airy girlfriend who not only becomes interested in what is happening, but gets herself heavily involved. Stewart's character is a photographer known for getting the close-ups and daring shots that has broken his leg during a shoot and ends up holed up in a wheelchair with nothing to do but watch the world from his rear window. After watching a couple argue, he notices the wife is gone and a series of bizarre events leads him to believe he's killed her. He can't convince his detective friend and decides he needs some hard evidence to do so. When he sends his maid and girlfriend over to check it out, calamity occurs.

Hitchcock was long the master of suspense and this movie had a whole new technique. To have a movie shot almost entirely from the perspective of the window leads to characters moving in and out of screen as opposed to screen following them, as is the restrictions of watching anything from a window. The result is that L.B. 'Jeff' Jefferies (Stewart) only has the pieces of information he can gather from the shared yard and the rooms with the rear windows in the opposite apartment. He has to wildly extrapolate with that information and when his assumptions turn out to be truthful, he is left caught in his own apartment.

I enjoy the fact the camera rarely turns in on the apartment and never into any of the other apartments. It keeps the focus on the scenes unfolding in the opposing apartments.

It would have been interesting to be around in a time when cinematic techniques like this were being discovered. I guess we are watching the entire digital effects era turning over now, but these earlier accomplishments seem to involve much more creative prowess. Maybe I'm just generational-ly cynical.

Anyhow, this movie isn't perfect, but it is terrific. I will give it an 8.5/10



Thursday, June 21, 2012

Random Movie Review: Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs (1971)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan
















I watched this one back-to-back with Mysterious Skin and I think it was a bit of an overdose on terror/suspense involving the rape vehicle.

This movie details two Americans who move to a town in England and face a group of locals who are bent on terrorizing them. At first it seems harmless, but it escalates quickly and  turns murderous (to say the least). Hoffman does a great job as the too-passive man that turns aggressive when the situation calls for it.  Out of all the Hoffman movies I have seen, this one ranks high if not highest of them. The supporting cast does a good job portraying a gang that is basically like a Clockwork Orange Lite.

On another note, isn't the name 'Peckinpah' the best last name? I sure think so. This is probably also the best of his work, now that I think about it.

This was from the era of story over effects and it is nice to see. I'll rate it a 7.5/10.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random Movie Review: Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin (2004)
Starring: Joseph  Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, Michelle Trachtenberg, Elizabeth Shue















Well, if you've seen Gordon-Levitt in 3rd Rock From the Sun or Inception, then this will be a bit of a shock. Well, maybe not a shock, since he's an actor after all, but let's call it a change of pace. Neil (Gordon-Levitt) is a hardened male prostitute who was sexually assaulted by his childhood baseball coach. Brian is an outcast who is obsessed with a lost period of time from his youth that he believes was an alien abduction. Brian seeks out Neil, who was on his little league team and whom he believes was involved in the abduction, only to uncover the truth of what happened to the two of them when they were younger. Neil's life is entirely laid out from his experience and he is left scarred and emotionally hollow. He takes increasing risks with his life and it leads him into a dangerous situation.

It was uncomfortable to watch, but the movie was bold and well done. I can't even imagine how people who were sexually assaulted as children survive, but this certainly takes a look at two very different paths (complete life-altering and complete repression). There are certainly other factors that are in play in both of their situations, but it is interesting to see them get to the heart of their issues and finally confront them in a raw manner years later.

I got the feeling that I had seen the movie when I started watching it, but I must have only caught 10 minutes or perhaps a long trailer. I certainly don't remember the culmination. Now that I have taken in the movie in its entirety, I will give it a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Random Movie Review: Alien

Alien (1979)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto
















A mining ship returning from a mission is re-routed to investigate a signal from a nearby planet. Upon arrival, they find an alien lifeform torn apart from the inside. In Searching around, the officer finds a room filled with eggs, one of which explodes and attaches to his face. They return to the ship and start heading back to earth. The creature attaches from his face, leaving him seemingly okay. Not until later, when the creature explodes from his chest do they realize there's a problem. The creature rips through the crew and long the way, they expose one of the crew as an android who has been programmed to return the ship regardless of the crew being alive or not. Ripley desposes of him and at the end is the only one left. She boards a pod and sets to return to earth, unaware of the alien being aboard with her. She kicks it out into space after a struggle, living to see the next movie (which will be reviewed at a later date).

It was interesting to re-watch this right after seeing Prometheus. Obvioiusly it was many years before and the special effects show it. However, some parts, such as the steam releasing from the helmets as they explore, I found to be interesting. I like looking at old sci-fi and seeing what they did creatively to make up for the lack of special effects technology. A lot of times it makes it seem more realistic, since it was made up mostly of things humans could actually replicate.

I'm not a big fan of Weaver, but she did a good job in this one. The story was well-written, decently tense, fairly well acted and was well set up to have a prequel, which surprisingly took 40 years to come out. I'll give it a 6.75/10

Monday, June 18, 2012

Random Movie Review: Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace
















Well, this was a better go for Charlize than Snow White. The dreadful accent is gone and delivery of lines is not so drawn out, so good job director. Actually, there is one (fairly obvious to me at least) 'reveal' line she has that is a bit overstated, but I guess it can be forgiven.

Set as a prequel to the Alien series, Prometheus is named for the ship that a group sets out to discover the beginning of human life upon. I wish I had boned up on the original movies first, alas, I watched the first one the day after instead.

Some of how they arrived at the setup for Alien was done well, but some of it felt a little forced. I do find it amusing when a prequel comes out so many years later that the objects they use to tie the movies together (in this case a ship or parts therein) are technologically advanced or, obviously, look better in general. All of that stragness aside, the movie was visually stunning. I skipped the 3d, because I find it cumbersome over top of my regular eyeglasses and a bit strenuous on the eyes. Plus I was at the cheap theatre where they don't offer that option. The acting was decent, the effects were nice and the plot was interesting enough to keep me paying attention throughout.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll just say one thing I find amusing in general is when people in movies run away from a large item that starts a ways away from them, why do they run in the path that the item is travelling? With the distance, I would figure just evacuating the course might be the best plan.

While it certainly did not answer all of the questions about Alien, the movie stood alone as a visual piece and the story doesn't necessarily hinge on having watched the other series either. I will rate it a 7/10.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Brunch: Cornmeal Biscuits

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 cups Flour
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp Cornmeal
2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tbsp Sugar
6 tbsp Margarine (I used 4 tbsp Becel VEGAN and 2 tbsp Vegan Shortening)
3/4 cup Vegan 'Buttermilk'




Preheat oven to 400F. Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Using two knifes or pastry cutter, cut in margarine until it becomes mealy with some small chunks:
















To create buttermilk, add 1 cup soy milk (or other protein-rich milk substitute) and 1 tbsp lemon juice and let stand 10 minutes. Take 3/4 cup of resulting liquid and add to flour mix, stirring until blended. Roll out dough (I had to add a dusting of extra flour to the mix to be able to roll out) until 1-inch thick. Cut out circles or whatever shape you enjoy and put on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Brush the top with extra 'buttermilk' and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Record a Week: Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks - Last Train to Hicksville


















SIDE 1.
COWBOY'S DREAM NO. 19
LONELY MADMAN
MY OLD TIME BABY
VIVANDO
SUCCESS
CHEATER DON'T WIN

SIDE 2.
PAYDAY BLUES
I ASKED MY DOCTOR
SURE BEATS ME
THE EUPHONIUS WHALE
SWEETHEART
'LONG CAME A VIPER
IT'S NOT MY TIME TO GO

This album started off sounding a lot like one of my new favourites, The Gourds. However, it swims through many styles in a seemingly random way. It goes through a sort alt-country beginning, then on to what sounds like Polynesian lounge music and in there somewhere is the slap-bass sounds of 70's disco-infused rock. All encompassing, I would refer to it as an eclectic version of an alt-folk or alt-country album.

Given the time of release (1973) and the Californian roots of the band, I suppose I can see why a folk/country act can end up sounding like this. At the heart of disco time and being from coastal California, those influences would certainly be there.

The name sounded familiar to me, but I feel like I might have just made the 'similar name' connection to Stevie Nicks (not at all the same).  Not sure where this record came from, but I imagine it would have fit in with any of my parental units' record collections. I really enjoyed the songs that were alt-country and alt-folk, but did get lost in some of the slap bass and slower songs. I'm going to look into some of their other work and see if I can find a cohesive album of that stuff.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Random Movie Review: Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar (2011 French with English Subtitles)
Starring: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émillien Néron
















This movie was another one like Turtles Can Fly, that gripped me early and kept me on hooked.

The movie begins with two children(Simon and Alice) in the schoolyard. Simon runs in to get milk for all of the kids. When he goes inside, he finds that his teacher has hung herself in the classroom. Simon runs to the office and the school is cleared, but not before Alice gets a view as well, thus the two children have an emotional tie to the death throughout the movie that the other children do not. It turns out that the death weighs heavily on Simon due to an earlier interaction and he blames himself.

The replacement teacher is a refugee from Algiers who has escaped a world of death himself. He has a distinct interest in the two children who saw the teacher and isn't able to drop the subject. The ensuing interactions leave the class in a state of turmoil and have a negative impact on the children. The parents aren't happy and the ensuing investigation opens up a lot of truths about the teacher and students.

Like Turtles Can Fly, the young girl did an excellent job creating a vibrant character. The cast of her(a Genie winner), Simon and M. Lazhar are a great group and make for an incredibly touching story. I give this movie an 8/10. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Record a Week: Grease - The Soundtrack



















SIDE 1.
GREASE
SUMMER NIGHTS
HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU
YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT
SANDY

SIDE 2.
BEAUTY SCHOOL DROP-OUT
LOOK AT ME, I'M SANDRA DEE
GREASED LIGHTNIN'
IT'S RAINING ON PROM NIGHT
ALONE AT THE DRIVE-IN MOVIE
BLUE MOON

SIDE 3.
ROCK N' ROLL IS HERE TO STAY
THOSE MAGIC CHANGES
HOUND DOG
BORN TO HAND JIVE
TEARS ON MY PILLOW
MOONING

SIDE 4.
FREDDY, MY LOVE
ROCK N' ROLL PARTY QUEEN
THERE ARE WORSE THINGS I COULD DO
LOOK AT ME, I'M SANDRA DEE (Reprise)
WE GO TOGETHER
LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDOR THING
GREASE (Reprise)

Another alphabetical mishap, current me is slapping the me who put these records in order.

Watching the movie, it's easy to forget that it actually was released in the disco era. It's all about the rock n' roll in the film, yet the album starts off with the Barry Gibb produced title track. Listening to the record, I was confused for a minute and actually had to say to myself 'is this film more disco than I remember?'

Well no, it isn't...it's just that song. This album includes that song as well as all of the great songs from the movie (Greased lightnin', Summer Nights, You're the one That I Want, We Go Together) and all the ones that I had forgotten due to how banal they are (Beauty School Drop-Out, Sandy, There are Worse Things I Could Do), as well as some songs I don't remember at all from the film and one entire side done by Sha Na Na (which may or may not have appeared in the movie at all..now that I think about it, probably in the dance-a-thon scene).

I probably have purposely watched this movie maybe twice, but have 'second-hand' seen it 100 times or so. I wasn't entirely into musicals (especially movie form) when I was younger, but I've come around on them. Also, this was a time when John Travolta wasn't as crazy as he is now. If I remember correctly, my sister watched this movie so many times the vhs tape got fuzzy. I don't think I even consciously watched it all the way through until well into the time when DVDs were a thing, probably some time when it was on tv.

Enough about the movie though, this isn't Random Movie Review. This record was a fun listen for nostalgic purposes and also because the upbeat songs are really, really fun. Those songs, while perhaps not being on my iPod, are good ones to have to play at a BBQ or a wedding or anywhere group dancing could break out at any given time.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Random Movie Review: Shame

Shame (2011)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
















The first scene in this movie lays out the NC-17 rating by showing you a full-view shot of Michael's Fass-member.

The story follows Brandon (Fassbender), through his exploits as a sex-addict. He keeps a private, lonely life, which allows for his habit to exist without interference. When his sister Sissy (Mulligan) shows up, things start going awry. She stumbles upon his exploits, his work begins to suspect something and he finds himself unable to perform with a woman he actually has feelings for. Sissy also has a number of issues and the two of them together brew a perfect storm for a terrible event. In the end, it all leads to Brandon wondering if he can change his ways.

It is an interesting exploration of human flaws and how they effect various situations and relationships. Fassbender is quickly becoming the 'it' guy in Hollywood after the indie hit Fish Tank and the Tarantino hit Inglourious Basterds, he's appeared in X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, as well as this film and Prometheus (which I will review shortly).

Fassbender and Mulligan did a wonderful job in this movie. I usually am drawn to Mulligan, so I was surprised to find her off-putting in this role, but then realized that that was sort of the point and came around on her performance. However, the movie sort of doesn't go anywhere in the end and it is sort of anti-climactic (though many climaxes are shown throughout - har dee har). I will rate this a 7/10


Friday, June 8, 2012

Random Movie Review: Turtles Can Fly

Turtles Can Fly (2004 Kurdish w/ English Subtitles)
Starring: Soran Ebrahim, Ajil Sabari, Avaz Latif
















Wowzers, this was (as the cover notes) a powerful movie. Emotionally moving and gripping throughout the whole thing. This is the type of movie I went to see frequently in my single days living in Toronto, but see less of these days. I am sure happy I caught it, though.

The first film shot in Iraq post-Hussein era, it tells the story of the US invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein. The story, though, is not told through the US soldiers, nor the Iraqi soldiers' eyes, but instead revolves around a kid, Soran (nicknamed Satellite) and his gang of friends who disable and sell landmines. Satellite gained his nickname by helping bring news of the invasion by hooking up satellite dishes. In a town on the Turkish-Iraq border, he and his two right-hand men begin seeing a quiet armless boy and beautiful girl with a young child and becomes intrigued with them. They keep mainly to themselves, because it turns out, the armless boy is clairvoyant and can see the future. After protecting Satellite's group with some information, Satellite is set on befriending the group and appears to have a specific interest in the beautiful girl. When the main story of the war meets the critical point at which typical war movies would have their redemption/victory scene, tragedy falls upon the main group of children.

The story pulls you in quickly as you root for the nerdy Satellite, who reminds me of a lifelong family friend of mine (in appearance, mainly). The beautiful girl character strongly reminds me of a character named philothei from the novel Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernier. Philothei is a beautiful Turkish girl who is quiet and has scattered one-page monologues throughout the story and the main boy falls in love with her in a time of war and things end badly. I was gripped by that character in that novel and this cinematic character as well. As I revisit the plot of that book, I find some eerie similarities between the two. If they ever make a movie of that book, she would be the perfect girl to play that character.

Needless to say this will receive a high rating from me, I will give it an 8.75 and a strong recommendation that you check it out if you get the chance.

Random Movie Review: Cape Fear

Cape Fear (1991)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange
















While I was watching this movie, I thought to myself, 'boy, De Niro and Nolte both sort of peaked with this'.

Reading through their imdbs, they have each had a few good movies since then, but De Niro has mostly gone soft and 'adult contemporary' and Nolte, he's just crazy.

This story follows a recently released rapist who follows the man who was his lawyer and his family and terrorizes them. Lesser roles contributed by Gregory Peck and Juliette Lewis (at the end and beginning of their careers, respectively). De Niro does an excellent job playing the antagonist and really gets inside of Nolte's head (or his character, rather) by interacting with his wife and daughter. The name of the movie plays a double, as they are on their houseboat at a place called 'Cape Fear' and, well, the fear part is rather obvious.

This brought to mind one of my favourite Simpsons episodes that was based on this movie. In that episode, Sideshow Bob plays the De Niro character who chases the family out of town, forcing them to relocate under the witness protection program as 'the Sampsons'. Bob, much like De Niro, straps himself to the bottom of the vehicle to follow the family. In the Simpsons, there is obviously the addition of comedy, such as the family taking a detour through a cactus field while Bob is under the car and Bob stepping on a slew of rakes right after he detaches himself. The saviour in the movie is a can of lighter fluid sprayed by Juliette Lewis onto De Niro while he lights his cigar, combined with a crash of the boat allowing the family to get away. The saviour on the Simpsons was Bart asking Bob to sing the entire score of the H.M.S. Pinafore when he realizes they will be back in Sprinfield by the time that is over.

While not really scary or terrorizing by today's standards, it was still a well done movie. I'll give it a 7/10, with probably .5 or 1 point of that coming from the fact it reminds me of that lovely Simpsons episode.