Night Tide

Night Tide (1961) Directed by Curtis Harrington

I was lucky enough to see a 2017 HD restoration of this black and white movie recently on MUBI, the movie streaming service for those of us who like to look beyond mainstream cinema.

Written and directed by the late, great Curtis Harrington (Queen of Blood, What’s the Matter with Helen? and Killer Bees among others), I consider this more a quirky melodrama than a horror film, with a story of love and yearning at its heart. On shore leave, a young and lonely sailor (Dennis Hopper) becomes enamored of a beautiful young woman (Linda Lawson) he meets at a jazz club in Venice Beach. She plays a mermaid in the local carnival, but she is shrouded in sadness and mystery.

I can certainly see the cult appeal to film lovers like me – this is the kind of thing that played late on Friday night TV when I was kid and there’s a big nostalgia element for me. The score is by the celebrated David Raskin and the beautiful black and white cinematography by Vilis Lapenieks.

And even here, in one of his first starring roles, Dennis Hopper is a standout. This is a stunning restoration of a really sweet, moody and melancholic B-movie. If you get a chance to see it, do it!

When the Going Gets Tough – Make Soup!

With only a few days left until winter officially starts, it’s been a super busy week for me. I had the home stretch to traverse with a particularly difficult university assignment, lots of jobs building up around the house and loads to do in the garden. Okay, I’ll admit like any gardener, there’s ALWAYS loads to do in the garden and housework has never been my strongest suit. Cue the moment I come down with the latest virus that’s doing the rounds *sigh*

So I did all the right things, went straight for the Elderberry Syrup, did my best to do a little each day on my essay, slept as much as I was able, ignored a lot of things (mostly housework), kept my germs to myself for the first part of the week – and made soup.

Soup is my go-to comfort food almost year round, closely followed by any sort of salad from my garden. This time I went for the big guns and made a batch of rich and warming Slow Onion Soup. As the name implies, this is a long, slow cooking process and makes a very intensely flavoured, savoury soup. Be aware that I break it down with water and I recommend playing around with what suits you and your family. Any kind of stock is fine for the base (including vegetable for vegetarian friends), but I had pork stock on hand. Please note this takes two days to make so start this the day before you want to serve it. Here’s the recipe.

Slow Onion Soup (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

3 or 4 brown onions

1 head of garlic

Dried celery leaves (or 1 stick of fresh celery)

1 carrot

A sprig each of lemon thyme, sage and rosemary

2 bay leaves

2-3 cups stock

Approximately 1 cup white wine

Approximately 2 cups water

2 tabs Marsala or Dry Sherry (optional)

To serve:

Cream or plain yogurt (optional)

Parsley and croutons for garnish (optional)

Method:

Top and tail the onions and put them whole in a slow cooker with the carrot, sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves and celery stick. (I dry celery leaves when I have it growing and use a few instead in soups and stews). Break the head of garlic into cloves (I don’t bother peeling them) and put them in too. Pour over about half a cup of stock and half a cup of white wine – just enough to ensure it doesn’t burn – and cook on low for as long as possible. I did this batch for about 8 hours and switched the cooker off.

The next day when everything’s cold, use a slotted spoon and put the onions in a food processor or blender jar with the carrot and celery. The garlic will pop out of its skins very easily now and have a beautiful, nutty flavour. Take out the bay leaves and sprigs of herbs (I put mine in the compost). Strain the liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker and put that in the processor/blender too. Wash out the slow cooker – we’ll be needing it again!

Pulse the onions to start with and then blend until the mix is smooth. Feel free to add some more water if it’s too thick at this stage. Pour the mix back into the slow cooker and add the rest of the stock, white wine, Marsala and 1 cup of the water. Cook on low for at least 2 hours and check the flavour. I opted to add another cup of water to bring it to the consistency and calm down the intensity of flavour.

Serve with croutons, a tablespoon of cream or plain yogurt and a sprig of parsley. Some fresh crusty bread and a green salad are also great accompaniments to this comforting bowl of goodness.

I think just making this made me feel better – the whole house smelt like roasting onions for a couple of days – and I’m happy to say I managed to get my uni essay finished and submitted on time, (only five units left now!) and made a start on the many jobs in the garden this glorious weekend. The housework? I’m sure it’ll still be there next week 🙂

 

Fresh Lime & Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake

It’s been a wild time in more ways than one!

Just over a week ago, Hobart suffered a once in a century storm that saw major power blackouts, even cars being washed away and widespread flood damage, including heartbreaking scenes at the University of Tasmania Law Library, a few steps from my front door. We were incredibly lucky, with minimal damage to the yard and no perceivable harm to the menagerie apart from everyone – including me – being very damp!

I was particularly worried about some of the citrus trees that are something of an experiment in southern Tasmania’s cool climate. In particular, I’ve been nurturing a Dwarf Tahitian Lime for the past two years and let it set fruit this last summer. They were just getting to a reasonable size and I was hoping to pick them later this month, before the hard frosts hit. My worst fear was the torrential rain would cause them to all drop, though they all seemed firm and the tree still healthy. But a few days later, we had our first decent frost of the year and I hadn’t thought to put a bag over the little tree to protect it from freezing. Still, all the fruit were hanging in there (literally), and this morning, I picked the two biggest limes and a couple of lemons for a weekend treat.

Despite the shorter days and the distress of storms, my elderly chickens are still laying and I had a pot of homemade yogurt cheese I made earlier this week, so I thought I’d make a baked cheesecake for dessert.

Here are the recipes:

Lime and Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake

2 limes

2 lemons

6 eggs

400g yogurt cream cheese (recipe below)

¾ to 1 cup sugar

Pastry or biscuit base

Method:

Prepare base (I used pastry but a traditional biscuit and butter base would be lovely with this too) in a spring form pan and set aside.

Grate and juice the fruit, and put it in a blender or food processor jar with the sugar, eggs and cream cheese. Pulse to blend until everything is well combined and smooth.

 

Pour carefully into the prepared base and bake at 150 C (about 300 F) for 45 minutes. After cooking, leave the cheesecake in the oven for at least an hour.

This is incredibly delicious and really very easy to make – I think the hardest part is cleaning the food processor!

Yogurt Cream Cheese

1 litre (about 2 pints) plain yogurt

2 tablespoons salt

Cheesecloth and kitchen string

I make my own yogurt but any good quality store bought yogurt should be fine for this.

Tip the yogurt into a very clean non-metallic bowl and mix in the salt, stirring thoroughly. In another clean non-metallic bowl, lay the cheesecloth so the edges are hanging over the sides. Carefully pour the yogurt and salt mixture into the second bowl, taking care not to drag the cheesecloth into the mix. Gently draw the edges of the cheesecloth together and tie with kitchen string, leaving enough tail to make a loop. Hang the yogurt with the bowl underneath to catch the whey, taking care not to squeeze it. I usually make this in the evening, hang it on my laundry tap and leave it undisturbed until morning.

The next day, carefully remove the string and turn it onto a plate, making sure to get as much as you can off the cheesecloth. It should be very similar to cream cheese but with a beautiful sharp yogurt tang. Keep it in a closed container in the refrigerator. I use this in many dishes, from dips and desserts to ravioli fillings – anywhere you need cream cheese.

I’m seriously thrilled to be growing Tahitian Limes in cool temperate Hobart – it’s something of a gardening coup this far south! So my next question is, what’s your favourite recipe where limes shine? Let me know in the comments.

Take care 🙂

The Martian

The Martian (2015) Directed by Ridley Scott

I re-watched this tonight and was reminded what an excellent film it is and that I hadn’t written a review! In recent years, I’ve been very disappointed with Ridley Scott’s work but here, in a fairly straight science fiction drama, he’s in fine form.

Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is a scientist who gets stranded on Mars, but despite incredible odds, he manages to use his knowledge, training and problem solving ability to stay alive.  Damon brings a ton of heart to this role, there’s a lot of subtlety to Watney’s character arc and I think in lesser hands, this character could’ve become incredibly insufferable very quickly. Despite the set-up and resulting drama, the result is a surprisingly uplifting film, with some nice music choices.

The action switches between the earth-bound NASA personnel, who (when they realise he’s still alive) are desperately trying to work out how to help bring him home and Watney, who’s dealing with the vagaries of trying to survive on a planet which is hostile to him in every way. I particularly liked how Watney’s crew are reintegrated into the story after the tumultuous opening scene, led by the always excellent Jessica Chastain.

But the thing that really makes this work is the script, adapted from Andy Weir’s excellent novel by Drew Goddard (former staff writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer andx Angel as well as writer/director of the slasher homage Cabin in the Woods). Goddard makes the dialogue sing and brings both levity and pathos to the drama.

While the science is sometimes questionable (there’s one explosion that makes sense in the book but fails miserably in the film), the Mars sets (which I believe were shot in Jordan) bring a fabulous otherness and vibrancy to the movie and the supporting cast are uniformly great. But ultimately, this is Matt Damon doing the heavy lifting with the aid of a great script and Ridley Scott in all too rare form.

Very entertaining science fiction fare.

The Party

The Party (2017) Directed by Sally Potter.

Earlier this week, (before the madness of Avengers: Infinity War hit Australia) I was feeling decidedly tired and run down. Recovering from a head cold, too much work and generally worn out, I decided on an evening of solo self-care.

What would cheer me up? A hearty dinner for one followed by an acerbic, biting black comedy? Yes please! This film, written and directed by the wonderful Sally Potter (Ginger & Rosa, Yes, The Tango Lesson and the sublime Orlando) was just what I needed.

The Party is a short (71 minutes) and fast-paced ensemble piece that revolves around Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s just been made Minister of Health and is having a few friends around to celebrate her promotion. It was filmed just before the Brexit madness in the UK, proving again that truth is stranger than fiction.

Shot in digital black and white and beautifully lit, the focus is often on the faces of the ensemble, accentuating their flaws as much as their beauty. This is particularly true of Cillian Murphy’s often manic Tom and Timothy Spall as Bill (Janet’s taciturn husband). I also think this method showed the underlying dinginess of Bill and Janet’s house (particularly the bathroom), which could also be viewed as a metaphor for their lives.

The entire cast of seven are terrific (I’m a sucker for anything with Bruno Ganz in it) but for me Patricia Clarkson as the no filter, cynical and bitter April steals the film and has many of the best lines. There is a twist that I did see coming but I still laughed out loud when it finally arrived.

This has opened to mixed reviews and I can see that it does sound and look more like a theatrical production at times, playing with caricatures rather than characters in its short running time. Also note it has a MA15+ rating for some graphic drug use. But nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if you’re a fan of black comedy and farce. It’s currently playing at the State Cinema in North Hobart and selected cinemas across Australia.

Avengers: Infinity War (No Spoilers!) + Update

Update: In the last 24 hours quite a few people have asked me if I wrote this spoiler-free review because of Disney/Marvel’s Thanos Demands Your Silence campaign. I would like to be very clear that my allegiance is NOT to any corporate behemoth, but to the many fans and friends who want to see this for themselves and make up their own minds. I plan to revisit the film at some point (before Avengers 4 comes out) and discuss it in full – spoilers and all 🙂

I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I did ❤

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo.

Today I went to the opening screening at (oddly) my local art house cinema, The State in Hobart. I say oddly, because this isn’t high art, it couldn’t be considered quirky and it certainly isn’t an independent production.

This is the 19th movie in the MCU – a decade of blockbuster comic book cinema, which has changed how we think of big, loud action films and helped bring strong threads of fantasy and science fiction narrative into mainstream movie-making.

Essentially, Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of all those films, where incredibly well-paid (arguably overpaid) actors get to dance around in front of green screens, dangle off wires and sometimes wear motion capture (or mocap) suits, all the while acting their hearts out. In many ways, the MCU can be seen as everything that’s wrong with homogenised, formula-driven mainstream cinema – but I cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed this film.

Yes, there are faults. I think stylistically, the Russo brothers played it very safe, employing design and style elements from previous films which stand out against original scenes such as those on Thanos’ home planet Titan, which become almost too generic and to my eyes, bland. There was a moment early in the film where the CG really stood out – and not in a good way! – but fortunately, this was the only point where I felt the strain of all those pixels trying to be “real”. Also, unlike nearly all previous films in the MCU, this is not a stand-alone product and requires at least some background knowledge. The other is Captain America: Civil War (2016), which acts in many ways as a set up for this film.

Looking at it as a classic three act structure, we leave this story about halfway through the second act, and things are looking very bleak. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t miffed that I have to wait another year for the conclusion, reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010). But unlike the Potter experience, where nearly everyone I know had read the books and we knew what was going to happen, in the MCU not everything plays out like the comic book versions.

Thanos is a particularly complicated and multilayered villain, far more I think than in the comics. The rationale behind Thanos’ desire to reduce populations is psychopathic and extreme to say the least but he truly believes it – and despite the character being a CG/mocap mash-up, Josh Brolin makes us believe his sincerity too. And Brolin’s scenes with Zoe Saldana’s Gamora had me immediately thinking there’s going to be a lot to talk about in feminist film circles regarding Thanos’ “love” for his adopted daughter.

Perhaps the biggest plus is the slick pacing, which the Russo’s and their editing team did incredibly well. At almost two and a half hours, there’s barely time to breathe, let alone gasp, wince or laugh – and there are quite a few laugh out loud moments – but I was left wanting more. It’s like being on a roller-coaster joyride with heroic deeds, death and destruction all around. (So my pro tip is prepare with a toilet stop BEFORE the film starts!)

So why did I love this so much? Because at its heart, this is the culmination of really good long-form storytelling. While some characters don’t speak to me as much or as well as others, I’ve found myself over the last ten years completely invested in some stories and now, caring about their outcomes and departures. I’m really glad that Marvel have gone down the route of killing my darlings, raising the stakes makes their actions and how they say goodbye all the more important to us as fans. (Oh, that DC could understand this!)

I must also note there’s no mid-credit sequence after the film to set up part two (currently listed simply as Avengers 4), due for release in May next year. Having had a few hours to think about it, I think it’s because the whole film is the set up for the next movie. But I do encourage everyone to stay to the very end for a particularly pertinent sequence that leads down yet another narrative rabbit hole.

Roll on 2019!

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows – Book Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (The Cthulhu Casebooks, #1)

This is an expanded version of my review on Goodreads

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be honest, I wasn’t sure when my friendly, neighborhood bookseller Richard, from Cracked & Spineless recommended this to me about a year ago. I affectionately call Richard my “book pimp” for good reason. Like any bookseller in today’s cutthroat market, he makes it his business to know his clientele – and in my case he’s rarely wrong!

As a fan of Lovecraftian horror and Conan Doyle-style detective fiction, I had many misgivings about this particular mashup. I think the resurgence of interest in Sherlock Holmes as a media property in recent years made me more than a little suspicious of publisher intentions – it could easily be seen as a quick cash grab.

From the first pages, I knew this was something entirely unoriginal but oh so endearingly well written! Author James Lovegrove wears his heart on his sleeve, with an obvious love of both source materials and a clear professional, literary understanding of the respective narrative, style and pacing of each. It also caused me to see how many similarities there are between the two in these important areas.

Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t believe this book is in any way high art – but it is rollicking good fun, easy to read and highly entertaining, cherry-picking some of the best aspects of Lovecraft’s horror and Conan Doyle’s consulting detective. The entertainment factor for me was very high and I’m looking forward to the second book in this series that currently sits in my bookcase, waiting patiently to be read.

I also have to give a nod to the design team at Titan Books. The cover design and chapter plates are superbly in character, and even the typeface and paper used adds a good deal to the nostalgia elements of the book. It feels and smells like something that would’ve graced my late father’s library shelves – certainly not a bad thing!

Incredibly stylish and a fun, fast read.

View all my reviews

One final note, it was announced last month that Lovegrove is one of three writers chosen to pen novels set in Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe, something else to look forward to!

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