Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Music is so evocative too. When I first heard "Clair de Lune," I was intoxicated by it, and had to play it over and over, to such an extent that I called my mother, who informed me that she had played a recording of it endlessly when expecting me. Hmmm! Today I found some old tapes on my shelves that have not been replaced by CDs or downloads. So I was playing Roxy Music and Dire Straits. The tapes are old however, so there was a slightly muffled, hollow sound quality. I was immediately taken back to the 1980s, a house party, I was upstairs in this creaky old house, bad paint job... and the music pounding downstairs, coming up to me in that same hollow, distant way. The feelings I'd had at the time were brought back to me too: confusion, hope, optimism, romance... in that regard not much has changed and that's just fine.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Travis: I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of fallin'.
Dean Stockwell as Walt and Harry Dean Stanton as Travis in Paris, Texas (1984), directed by Wim Wenders, written by L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard, with a soundtrack by Ry Cooder. What a line-up! What a movie... I remember living in London in the 1980s when the movie came out and - I can't remember who this is credited to - reading the first line of a movie review which stated (I paraphrase): "In the opening scene of Paris, Texas, Harry Dean Stanton stumbles out of the Mojave desert as only Harry Dean Stanton can." That made me go to see what they were talking about. Then it was one discovery after another: Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders, Ry Cooder... etc.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I'm very easily frightened in a movie, particularly by the power of suggestion. The last film I saw that nearly did me in was The Grudge, (U.S. version). For at least two weeks afterwards I was nervous when alone at night. *SPOILER ALERT* And of course, for those of you that saw it, you'll know that it broke that unspoken pact between audience member and film maker, that no matter how frightening a scene is, when you are at last home in your bed you will be safe with the blankets pulled over your head. You know the scene I'm talking about. The bastards! How could they do that to me? So I had to be reassured that I am Legend wouldn't do me in too badly. The first half was fantastic. Will Smith was sympathetic and admirable as potentially the last human being left in the world after a devastating man-made virus is unleashed, with Will - so far as he knows - being the only human immune to its effects. *SPOILER ALERT* Not that everyone died. If you've seen the trailer you'll know that there are vampire-like survivors who he has to hide from at night, when they roam the streets of an abandoned Manhattan. Until we actually saw the creatures it was brilliant. The suspense was terrifying. I wasn't sure I could keep watching. As soon as I'd seen them, my reaction was "Meh..." What was such a great premise - what do you do if you might be the last person left on earth? How do you deal with the crushing loneliness? - became a ghoul flick, and they were CGI-created no less, so they were much less scary than they might have been. *SPOILER ALERT* Also, how where did the running water and electricity come from? An amusing touch was the female vampire that Will captures and has tied down on a gurney as he tries different antidotes on her. What in Sam Hill was with her breasts? I'd never seen anything like them! We had a good laugh over those. Hee hee.
Pat and Mike (1952)
A wonderful Garson Canin/Ruth Gordon script is brought to life by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn under director George Cukor. This is one of my favourite movies ever. Hepburn's patrician, East-coast, California-based, very proper, professional lady athlete comes into the scoundrelly radius of Tracy's New York-Irish, not-entirely-legit, sports promoter. *SPOILER ALERT* The scene of the disarming of the thugs (featuring a very young Charles Bronson who is credited as Charles Buchinski) is wonderful. So is the scene where Pat and Mike realize that they have found themselves in an actual relationship with real feelings for each other. No kiss has yet been shared and he seals their decision with a firm handshake. I watch this one at least once a year, usually on a double bill with Adam's Rib (1949), which has the same creative team.
The Eye of the Needle (1981)
I remember this film coming out when I was very young and have wanted to see it ever since. Finally got a chance too. *SPOILER ALERT* Donald Sutherland is perfect as the lethal-yet-charming spy and Kate Nelligan heart-breaking and sympathetic as the lonely wife living on a remote Scottish island. Where is that island? I'd like to be stranded there too. Sigh. There's a slightly crazy soundtrack which seems to have been lifted out of a 1940s Hollywood melodrama and it's distracting. I'd like to read the book now.
Sweeney Todd (2007)
*SPOILER ALERT* I love this musical and I raced to see this film with much anticipation, but not sure entirely what to think. It's visually stunning. It has a fine cast (although Johnny Depp is altogether too handsome and young to play the part of this ravaged man.) The music isn't very well served when you consider the kind of voices that could have sung it. On some level this film never engaged me fully... especially towards the end, with all the blood. I mean, this looked like red paint, and there were gallons of it. GALLONS. Spewing forth every five minutes. It just got silly after a very short while. I think the stunning visual was part of the problem. It was distractingly stunning. And Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter were more like brother and sister with their matching cheekbones and coal-black eyes, than broken, older man and ravaged-yet-hopeful older woman. I think the photography didn't help either. I had the impression whoever was filming it wasn't used to musical form. Hmmmmmm. Well, those are my current thoughts. Part of me would like to see it again, as I think part of the problem might have been that I wasn't really in the mood for it.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Last spring, when I first saw this, I figured it might have to be my new Christmas movie, and so it is. I bought the DVD last week and watched it on the weekend. It's a delight. One of the final scenes featuring Frank Morgan (famed as the Wizard of Oz) as Mr. Matuchek and the new delivery boy Rudy, is tear-inducing. A wonderful movie about friendship and not being alone on Christmas Eve.
Casino Royale (2006)
I got my mother the DVD for Christmas. We're both extreme fans - me of Bond in general - she of Daniel Craig as Bond. When it was released last year, December 2006, I ended up seeing it three times at the cinema, which is unique in my experience. Craig is a great Bond, playing him as he learns how to be a double O. He looks like a marine, like he could perform the stunts. Casting Judi Dench as M is perfect. She is so authentic and so classy. The locations are stunning, the casting is perfect, the editing is breathtaking, and - after a few listens - I love the theme tune. That same month I also saw Borat twice at the cinema. The first time I was not so much breathless with laughter as I passed that point fairly early on... it was more like I was going to be sick with laughter. In the intervening months, I had assumed that it probably wasn't as good as I remembered it. Then I saw part of it again, and fell about laughing like a nine-pin. Ow.
All This and Heaven too (1940)
What a premise! Charles Boyer as an unhappily-married French duke in the mid 1900s, and Bette Davis as the gentle governess who loves his children as though they were her own. And of course - in the manner of all great romances - his beautiful-yet-cruel wife being the bitch to end all bitches. But it's so indescribably one-sided... Bette is so long-suffering, such a perfect victim, and Charles Boyer is such a unmeaning cad... I couldnae take it lassie! But I did watch it all the way through, willing it to be a better film. The sets and costumes are wonderful. Sigh...
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
As for the food portion of Christmas Day... the game pie was a success (i.e. the pastry worked), but I wouldn't bother with it again. It's a lot of work for something that didn't appeal to my taste buds. However I'd do my old game pie again in flash, which was pheasant-based and much juicier and more pleasing. Or a pork pie.... but these are all things I make once in a blue moon - they're very rich and designed to be consumed by people who work all day in the fields, not by sedentary city types. But you can see from the picture we got through about a half of it last night. The ham is in the background.
The ham was really good, the best I've had. It'll be the first left-over to disappear. The glaze was intoxicating. The butternut was so creamy and it's crumble just golden and crunchy. Along with the ham, the trifle was the star of the show. My mother makes it something like this (the recipe is - of course - not written down anywhere):
The bowl is layered with sponge cake, sprinkled LIBERALLY with raspberry wine and Amaretto di Saronno. Subsequent layers are: raspberry jam, crushed amaretti biscuits, fresh raspberries and custard. Then an hour or two before serving, a thick layer of freshly whipped cream is smeared over the top and crushed amaretti biscuits and fresh raspberries decorate the top. I cannot tell you how creamy, cool and heavenly this is, with the perfect balance of booze and sweetness. Well, with that list of ingredients, how wrong can it go?
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
Butternut squash soup with wild mushroom sauté - READY
Cheddar-sage biscuits - READY
Maple-glazed Berkshire ham - BAKED TOMORROW
Raised hot water-crust game pie - IN THE OVEN (I'm calling it the Bambi/Thumper pie as it's - you guessed it - venison and rabbit)
Green beans with Shiitake mushrooms - PREPPED TOMORROW
Glazed baby carrots - PREPPED TOMORROW
Butternut squash crumble - WORKING ON IT NOW
Cranberry/orange relish - READY
Raspberry-amaretto trifle - READY, just waiting for it's whipping cream topping
Single-malt scotch chocolate truffles - UH OH, better get melting!
However, gift cakes are made and decorated:
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Butternut squash soup with wild mushroom sauté
Maple-glazed Berkshire ham
Raised hot water-crust game pie
Green beans with Shiitake mushrooms
Glazed baby carrots
Butternut squash crumble
Single-malt scotch chocolate truffles
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A big snowflake, ready for some raffia strung through the little hole on the top so I can hang it on the tree:
Snowflakes, Christmas trees and little people, naked... but with buttons. Hey... something doesn't make sense.
These make sense. A tradition for me: anatomically-correct gingerbread people, ready to be hung on the tree.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Ian McKellen as Amos Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm (1995).
"Highly sexed young men living on farms are always called Seth or Reuben."
Kate Beckinsale (lovely and pre-boob job and pre-dye job) as Flora Poste in the same movie.
"You're all damned! Damned! Do you ever stop to think what that word means? No, you don't. It means endless, horrifying torment! It means your poor, sinful bodies stretched out on red-hot gridirons, in the nethermost, fiery pit of hell and those demons mocking ye while they waves cooling jellies in front of ye. You know what it's like when you burn your hand, taking a cake out of the oven, or lighting one of them godless cigarettes? And it stings with a fearful pain, aye? And you run to clap a bit of butter on it to take the pain away, aye? Well, I'll tell ye, there'll be no butter in hell!"
Ian McKellen, yet again, as Amos.
This is a very funny movie based on Stella Gibbons' novel about a polished, orphaned young woman (Beckinsale) in 1920s London, who goes to live with an eccentric branch of her family, the Starkadders. Begrimed farm people with an opera-worthy collection of emotional baggage, they speak in over-the-top rural accents, scattered liberally with a made-up country vocabulary. Cold Comfort Farm was written as a take-off of the sort of novels Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy and the Brontes wrote. The film is played straight, as it should be, which makes the over-wrought emotions so funny. The cast is rounded out with Rufus Sewell (as Seth), Eileen Atkins and Stephen Fry. But the whole cast is perfect!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
However Tibby's favourite new spot (when he slips by me and into the bedroom) is in my cupboard, next to my biggest suitcase, on top of an old bedside table I keep in there to store things.
He's loving the season, especially the visitors, being a very social guy.
It's still snowing horizontally, hard to tell how much of it is settling as it is blowing around so much. The gingerbread is baking. The recipe as I listed it here is correct. But with my own batch I made the mistake of consulting the original (unmarked up by me) version. I used 7 cups of flour instead of 6. The new batch today is silky and highly workable. Yum yum!
"Everything seems like nothing to me now, 'cause I want you in my bed. I don't care if I burn in hell. I don't care if you burn in hell. The past and the future is a joke to me now. I see that they're nothing. I see they ain't here. The only thing that's here is you - and me. Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice - it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die! The storybooks are bullshit! Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!"
Nicolas Cage as Ronny Cammareri. You either hate or love this movie. It's operatically indulgent, full of quotable quotes, Cher looked like a goddess in it and I love it for the massive heart it wears on its over-sized sleeve. I'm talking, of course, about Moonstruck (1987.)
In the final moment of Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003), Bill Murray whispers something in Scarlett Johansson's ear. The audience never heard what it was. Someone on http://www.youtube.com/ has played around with the soundtrack and has determined that what he said was:
"I have to be leaving, but I won't let that come between us, okay?"
It's not proven yet, but I don't really mind one way or another. I loved the movie.
I remember the Everyman as being a bit shabby but they sold good tea and very healthy sandwiches (handy when you're doing a four- or five-hour film marathon.) Now I see it's been tarted up into a more upscale venue, the Everyman Cinema Club. I'll have to visit it when next I visit London.
One day (on the double-bill with La Belle et la Bête) I saw a 40-minute film Partie de campagne (1936) by Jean Renoir. It's apparently part of a longer film he never completed. It tells the story of a Parisian shop-owner who comes to the country for a day's holiday with his flirtatious wife, shy daughter and unfortunate shop clerk. The daughter feels an intense attraction for a local man, while her mother flirts outrageously with the man's friend. But she is meant for the shop clerk. And so it goes... it's about missed chances, family duty, and regret. It's funny, moving, and truly tragic. The dreamy shots along the river and the river bank still come to my mind over 20 years later.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I used to love Formula One years ago, until the death of the death of Elio de Angelis cured me of it permanently. That was May 1986. De Angelis, who had fared so well on the Lotus team, was now on the Brabham team, and died unneccessarily during a test run in his car. When it caught fire, a lack of officials and stand-by aid was blamed for his death as it took apparently took a very long time to free him from his smoke-filled car. The Roman-born De Angelis (below) was an elegant man, dubbed the last gentleman player of the sport, and a very talented, classically-trained pianist.
It was John Frankenheimer's movie Grand Prix (1966) that got me hooked on racing. I saw it one summer in my teens on tv. Great cast, including the old French smoothie, Yves Montand. I think it's time to see it again.
Monday, December 10, 2007
This picture is of my paternal grandparents in - I am estimating - 1929. He was 23 and she was 18. I miss all my grandparents. Just when you get old enough to realize you want to really know them, it's too late.
This is such a romantic picture. I'm so happy for them.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
*SPOILER ALERT!* There was also this feeling that they might have done some chopping around of the story line at the last minute. In fact, if you see the full-length trailer, there are definitely scenes filmed that belong to the end of the novel that do not appear in the final movie. Unlike the novel, Lyra visits the bear's palace before Bolvangar and Iorek takes her there. But... as he's already become King of the bears, why doesn't he bring his army with him? It just doesn't make sense. The very last scene of the movie felt added on too... as though they had decided to suddenly cut it short but needed to wrap things up. I'm sure that's what happened. I still enjoyed it and recommend it. And I'll probably see it again at the theatre some time.
I did my daemon test on the official Golden Compass site, and his name is Thalius and he's a tiger. Tibby got a bit jealous I think.
Here's one of my favourite Christmas tree ornaments, it's a little sparkly as you can see. And... not only am I a human hot water bottle, but I'm also a human magpie... just love things that sparkle!
The Tibmeister continues to sleep...
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Tomorrow is the real start of the Christmas season for me - with a visit to Trinity College Chapel for the Service of Lessons and Carols, followed by eggnog and sherry in Seely Hall afterwards. Once back home, we'll decorate the tree, watch Raymond Briggs' magical The Snowman, eat sausage rolls and bake gingerbread.
Here is my gingerbread recipe, culled years ago from Gourmet magazine, and slightly amended by me. It's a very forgiving, easy-going, lovely, silky dough that is sturdy enough to make houses, and tasty enough to nibble on. I make lots of gingerbread people (anatomically correct, kind of like fertility symbols) for the tree. Sometimes I ice, sometimes I don't, depending on how rushed I am. I don't like to get too busy. If stress rears its ugly head at Christmas, I back off - that is not what it is about for me.
6 cups all-purpose flour
Friday, December 7, 2007
Jimmy: It's dark for everyone, moron!
Chazz: Not for Alaskans or dudes with night-vision goggles.
Will Ferrell as Chazz and Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder as Jimmy in Blades of Glory (2007). We just watched it tonight. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard.
Marlowe: Who's he?
Vivian: You wouldn't know him, a French writer.
Marlowe: Come into my boudoir.
Lauren Bacall as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge and Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946). Great movie, with a sharp script and an incomprehensible plotline.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
After a busy night miaowing in annoyance at being kept out of my bedroom, he is gradually making his way around all the chairs, deciding which is best for his wide frame.
I think he's looking pretty relaxed.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
From The Rains of Ranchipur (1955), directed by Jean Negulesco. Richard Burton as a self-sacrificing, noble, blue-eyed, heavily eyelined Sikh doctor, and Lana Turner as a spoilt and selfish heiress, who falls for him on a visit to India with her embittered English lord husband, played by Michael Rennie. If you get a kick out of over-dressed, over-the-top 1950s melodrama, this is your next watch!
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Sunday, December 2, 2007
As a complete contrast, I watched Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) on Friday. This had to be one of the worst examples of screen chemistry ever. Okay, the movie is not particularly a love story, but this couple is supposed to be in love. Myrna Loy and Cary Grant had about as much chemistry as two mismatched salt and pepper shakers. I wish I could watch The Thin Man (1934) right now, see how it worked (the machinations I mean) with her and William Powell. And think of Cary Grant and his on-screen chemistries. He had plenty of those, and one of the best was with Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest (1959). Cary as Roger, Eva Marie as Eve:
Roger Thornhill: The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her.
Eve Kendall: What makes you think you have to conceal it?
Roger Thornhill: She might find the idea objectionable.
Eve Kendall: Then again, she might not.
Now, I'm back to writing up menus and shopping lists for Christmas. The baking list is quite manageable as I tend to forage for and store baking supplies like an over-grown, chocolate-obsessed squirrel all year. For Christmas dinner itself, we are forgoing turkey and having a ham and a raised game pie instead. For the latter, I'm using Delia Smith's recipe. It's quite mouth watering. And also, making her cranberry-orange relish, which is good with many different meats. The whole meal will be basically served at room temperature (another departure). We'll see how it goes. All I have to prepare this week is the gingerbread (anatomically correct ones for the tree and all sorts for eating) and also the Christmas cakes (which are not the really dark ones you make months in advance, but a much lighter, sherried fruit cake that is really moist - a fruit cake for people who don't like fruit cake.)
I'll keep you posted.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
I am safely home, the DVD fireplace is crackling in the DVD hearth, and I am cocooning for the next 36 hours at least.