Lamb – No Spoilers

Lamb (2021)

Directed by Valdimar Jòhannsson
Written by Valdimar Jòhannsson and Sjón

Like many people, I try and avoid movie trailers these days. They’re often made by PR companies without input from the director and can include potential plot/action spoilers. It’s disappointingly common to go into a showing having already seen the best bits! So, on a wet and miserable Saturday afternoon, I caught up with a friend at our local (the State Cinema in North Hobart) and watched Lamb, directed by Valdimar Jòhannsson. All either of us knew about this was Noomi Rapace was top billed, it’s an Icelandic film, and A24 were distributing. And that was enough information for us to have a thoroughly enjoyable cinema experience!

From the opening scene, I found Lamb a wonderfully atmospheric film, sumptuously shot and one of the most original pieces I’ve seen for ages. That said, there’s a timeless, dark undercurrent as the story plays out, suggesting nordic mythology and folk horror. Rapace is excellent as Maria, who with her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Gudnason) farms sheep on an idyllic but very isolated farm. There is an air of magic realism that runs throughout and scant exposition that leaves much up the individual viewer. But these supernatural touches are elegantly juxtaposed by situations and conversations which are very relatable and believable, especially when Ingvar’s brother, Pètur (Björn Hlynur Haraldssen) visits. Also, having spent a lot of time living in relatively remote rural areas, I could relate to the very realistic depictions of farm life, from helping deliver animals to the ubiquitous thermos of hot coffee out in the paddocks.

The minimalist script by Jòhannsson and celebrated Icelandic writer Sjón (former member of The Sugarcubes and Bjork collaborator), marries perfectly with the superb sound design (Björn Viktorsson), unobtrusive original score (Poraninn Gudnason) and the carefully framed cinematography (Eli Arenson) offering touches of John Ford and Hitchcock in scope and intent. This lack of exposition combined with a delicate balance between the natural and supernatural audiovisual elements leaves adequate space where we, as active audience members, can draw our own conclusions.

With its minimal dialogue and haunting visuals, this film is a wonderful lesson in “show, don’t tell” storytelling and while it isn’t a horror movie in the mainstream “splatterfest” mode, I know it won’t be for everyone, no film ever is. For my part, I found it uplifting, genuinely creepy, unbearably sad – and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Directed by Zack Snyder

I grew up through the Silver and Bronze ages of comic books and loved team-up stories. Although Thor was my favourite, I ate up The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Justice League and any comics that involved multiple characters in convoluted story arcs. At that age I didn’t really care or fully understand who published what, I was just there for a rollicking good tale that could take me away from my small country town life for a little while.

In many ways, that’s what I’ve continued to look for in what can only be described as, this golden age of superhero films. Unfortunately, DC’s cinematic offerings have fallen way short of the mark, with the exception of most of Wonder Woman (2017) and elements of Aquaman (2018). Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017) are distinctly below par, particularly when compared to Marvel’s unbelievably coherent productions and the tour de force that was Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019).

Rather than focus solely on what’s wrong, I’d like to stress that Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League is infinitely superior to Joss Weedon’s theatrical cut from 2017. As many critics have noted, the Snyder cut is far more coherent but sadly, still a mess! While I really appreciated the extended version of Cyborg’s story, I wonder if it would be better served by a short series or a standalone origin story film. Similarly, The Flash (despite being part of the Arrow small screen universe), here seemed somewhat overblown. But upon reflection I wonder if it was the grating dialogue Ezra Miller had to say, which cheapened the character for me.

Above all, what lacks here is true character and narrative development. Instead, I see wasted opportunities. For instance, there is no building on the character branding and fan goodwill established through the Wonder Woman (2017) and Aquaman (2018) origin films. Instead, these two characters seem to get lost in the maze of the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” ad hoc storytelling and set pieces. There appears to be no cohesive narrative and even in this superior version, character motivations seem at best, muddled.

To my eyes and ears there are many problems with this film, not least of which are the (at times) incredibly intrusive score, the dreary colour palette (something of a DC trademark these days) and the overblown seriousness of absolutely everything! Also, this film runs in at just over 4 hours long, requiring a dedicated time investment and making it off-putting for many more casual viewers. But this is what the fans wanted, and to his credit, Snyder has responded.

Overblown and still pretty boring, but at least it sometimes almost makes sense now.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the theatrical cut are both currently available to stream on Amazon Prime in Australia.

Mushrooms – a Different Kind of Gardening

First of all, a big thank you to those of you who’ve been asking after my health, particularly my hands. Psoriatic Arthritis is in short, bloody awful – and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! I still have great difficulty typing and repetitive tasks that require any amount of strength, so I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve got great gardening gloves, I’m a no-dig gardener and that I’ve bought Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software!

A heartfelt thank you from me, under the beautiful chestnut tree. Here’s to a better year in 2021!

I’ve been fascinated by mushrooms since I was a small child, foraging with my parents for giant field mushrooms in paddocks where dairy cows had been. My father used to carry an old cloth flour bag and my mother a pillowcase to collect the bounty that my sister and I would collect. Some were huge, with big flat caps, ribbed brown gills and the wonderful earthy smell that only comes from fresh mushrooms.

Once we’d get home, we would pick over our treasure, making sure we had only collected clean edible mushrooms, discarding any that were too old or bug ridden. My mother would usually slice them into thick strips and fry them in a hot pan with butter, salt and a grate of nutmeg and we would eat them on hot toast for lunch. I remember when very small, making a spore print and marveling that this dark brown dust could produce more mushrooms! In recent years, I’ve bought bags of compost from commercial outlets and been rewarded with a bonus crop of Swiss Browns or Portobello mushrooms for my trouble. For many reasons I’ve moved away from using this compost in recent years and it got me thinking about growing mushrooms myself.

One of the many wonderful things about gardening is learning new skills, so for the past few weeks I’ve been researching how to grow mushrooms outdoors in my climate. (For context, in Australia Hobart is considered cold climate but my patch has a northerly aspect and my summer growing season is often extended far into autumn). My research led me to straw bale inoculation and cultivation, with the end product of not only mushrooms but also mycelium enriched mulch for garden beds.

Several varieties of culinary mushrooms can be grown outdoors on straw substrate. In particular, Oyster mushrooms and King Stropharia, aka Red Wine Caps or more correctly Stropharia rugosoannulata. I ended up choosing the Red Wine Caps for several reasons. Firstly and perhaps most importantly, this is a fairly easy-to-grow and forgiving mushroom for the home gardener. In my experience nothing breeds further exploration than early success, and being an utter novice at this, these seemed like the best option. I’d also read that Wine Caps, while not being the most delicious mushroom on the planet, are quite tasty – especially when picked young before the cap is fully opened. Stropharia is very robust and will not only colonise very quickly, outcompeting other fungi but will grow in relatively sunny conditions. Finally, once it’s finished fruiting, this produces a a compost that is very beneficial to the soil.

There are quite a few places that sell spawn in various forms to home gardeners. I opted for Aussie Mushroom Supplies, a small family business based in Victoria, though I’ve since discovered Forest Fungi here in Tasmania and I’ll be trying them out in the near future. I ordered a bag of grain spawn and it arrived very quickly, well packaged and smelling sweet and earthy. Before opening the bag, I massaged it thoroughly to break up any larger clumps of spawn.

I am blessed with a very large Sweet Chestnut tree that provides a haven for bees when it’s in flower, dappled shade in summer and abundant crops in late autumn but it’s dead space for growing anything beneath the tree. For years I’ve used it to stack bags of manure, pots or anything else that was in the way. So, after watching a number of videos (mostly on YouTube) I arranged four full-size very clean bales around the base, away from the trunk and soaked them thoroughly for the next few days. Using a steel rod, I poked holes throughout the bales, widening them with a wooden stake and filling these gaps with the spawn. I used extra barley straw to plug the holes and gave each bale an extra dousing with the watering can. All but one of the bales will get moderate sun throughout summer and autumn, so I’m interested to see how that one in the shade fares.

The finished bales around the chestnut tree

In the meantime, I’ve signed up for a local mushroom growing workshop next month and I’ll be keeping these bales damp and watching for signs of mycelial growth over the coming weeks.

I’ll post updates as things happen, but for now me and the Site Manager will just lounge around and wait!

Neko the Site Manager, hard at work

Wherever you are in the world, stay safe friends and I’ll see you soon! ❤

Beyond the Door

Well, it’s October and in the run-up to Halloween I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies, albeit fairly obscure titles. I love cheesy horror films and it’s been a welcome distraction from the near constant pain in my hands and fingers. So the next few blog posts will all be reviews of some of the best worst movies I’ve been watching lately.

Beyond the Door Poster

Beyond the Door (1974)

Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Roberto Piazzoli.

This Italian/US made supernatural chiller leans heavily on Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973). So much so, the original cut was subject to a lawsuit from Warner Bros against the producers for copyright violation, which was settled some years later.

It stars Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia and most notably, Juliet Mills who was looking for more adult, dramatic roles to take her away from the Mary Poppins image cultivated by her popular starring role in Nanny and the Professor (1970-71). Mills plays Jessica, wife of Lavia’s Robert and mother to two particularly obnoxious children. Johnson plays Dimitri, Jessica’s former lover who sold his soul to the Devil in order to survive an otherwise fatal car crash. Jessica finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and of course, from here all kinds of shenanigans ensue.

The look and feel of this film is really very good, with exteriors shot in southern California and interiors in Rome. Make-up artist Otello Sisi does an excellent job, as do special effects artists Donn Davison and Wally Gentleman, who famously made the spaceship models for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Unfortunately, the writing really lets this down, and the actors do the best they can with a story that doesn’t really have that much to say and a script that hasn’t aged well.

Worth watching and quite a lot of fun- but not a patch on the films that influenced it. Beyond the Door is available to watch on YouTube via the excellent channel New Castle After Dark.

Automata

Automata Poster

Automata (2014)

Directed by Gabe Ibanez. Written by Igor Legarreta, Javier Sanchez Donate and Gabe Ibanez.

On paper, this film should be really, really good. It has a strong cast, the cinematography is equal to many contemporary films, and the overall production design is really excellent, albeit a little too reminiscent at times of some other, better known films. The narrative premise (again, nothing new) is solid and offers the promise of a deeper interrogation of questions of value, the nature of life and so on.

So why doesn’t work?

By the end of the first act I found myself wondering why I was watching yet another dystopian sci-fi, with a jaded but essentially goodhearted male anti-hero at its core. Antonio Banderas is in the hot seat this time, just trying to do the right thing by everyone – the company he works for, his heavily pregnant wife and increasingly, a sex robot named Cleo and her group of fellow robots trying to escape human interference across an irradiated wasteland. Yeah, I know, I don’t get it either.

This sombre piece uses a faded colour palette, and often overbearing score, the age-old cinematic tropes around femininity and motherhood and some very clunky dialogue to hammer home its message of human frailty in the face of self-aware machines. All in all it’s incredibly heavy-handed and should have been much more fun.

Automata is available to watch in Australia on Netflix, but I’d suggest revisiting Blade Runner (1982) or Mad Max (1979) for better quality dystopian sci-fi.

The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth Poster

The Wandering Earth (2019)

Directed by Frant Gwo.

This 2019 Chinese science-fiction film is loosely based on a novella of the same name from 2000 by Liu Cixin. Made for a relatively modest US$50 million, this made US$700 million world wide, making it the third highest grossing Chinese production of all time.

Narratively, it’s messy with too many side plots, but essentially, the sun is dying and in an audacious move, a newly formed world government decides to turn the earth into a spaceship, using multiple propulsion engines around the planet. The remaining inhabitants are sheltered deep underground in specially built bunkers, only returning to the now frozen surface to carry out maintenance activities. Leading the earth on its 2500 year voyage is a massive rotating space station, complete with a HAL-like computer, all eerily reminiscent of 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968). As the station and Earth pass by Jupiter things start to come unstuck and shenanigans ensue.

Directed by Frant Gwo, this is a big movie with big ideas and big themes. Everything about this film is over the top, with spectacular special effects, bombastic performances and frenetic pacing throughout. At times, it was really hard to keep up with the action and in many respects, it reminded me of an anime or manga.

Unfortunately, this was only ever released in the west on the streaming platform Netflix and I think it could have gained much from a cinematic release outside of China. Also, the science is frankly preposterous, and that did take me out of the action at times. Nevertheless, I had fun with this film and for all its flaws, found it quite enjoyable.

The Wandering Earth is available in Australia on Netflix in the original Mandarin with English subtitles, English closed caption or dubbed.

2020: The Year of Topsy-Turvy

IMG20200902091555

Nectarine blossom September 2020

Well, if nothing else this year has proven to be always eventful, challenging and more recently, downright overwhelming.

It seems a lifetime ago now that I was hoping to fill my days in isolation with gardening, watching films, reading, music and writing. That was back in March.

Since then, I’ve had to sit quietly and watch while the world changed irrevocably. There have been illnesses, deaths, joys and triumphs – but above all things, hundreds of films to keep me going.

In June, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a postgraduate course at my alma mater, Griffith University. I could do it part-time, fully online and there was enough interest from Screen Studies academics on staff to make me feel confident in my choices and less like an imposter.

Then in July my ex-husband died. This unleashed a torrent of conflicting emotions which I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say it was a very difficult time.

A few weeks ago, I started to notice unusual and frequent pain in my hands and fingers. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, so put it down to a Spring flare up. (Those of you with autoimmune and/or arthritic conditions will understand!) But it didn’t get any better, and by last week I couldn’t type, hold heavy objects or really do anything that required strength in my fingers. I was devastated.

Yesterday I went to my GP and I’ve started new anti-inflammatory drugs. Today I had x-rays taken of my hands and I started wearing compression gloves. Tomorrow it’s blood tests to determine if I have rheumatoid arthritis, which both my parents suffered from. Currently, the smart money is on psoriatic arthritis but we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I do what I can to keep everything moving, including some gardening, household/urban farming chores and patting the cat – who is purring next to me at the moment. I am eternally grateful for the support I have here at home, I really am a very lucky woman!

I’ve also made an investment in my future and bought voice recognition software – and that’s how I’m typing (or rather not typing) this post.

Hopefully, this will enable me to fulfil my uni requirements without causing undue pain and encourage me to write/dictate more blog posts, training this new software along the way.

I think I’ll call him Jarvis 🙂

Out of Blue

 

Patricia Clarkson in Out of Blue (2018)

Out of Blue (2018) Written and directed by Carol Morley.

To the best of my knowledge, this existential neo noir never got a full cinema release in Australia, but I heard a very positive review by British critic Mark Kermode and had been listening to the excellent Clint Mansell soundtrack since it was released to streaming services. It seems to have divided audiences and critics, with some finding it boring and pointless, while others (like me) find it a satisfyingly open-ended examination of memory, belonging and our place in the universe that happens to be woven around a straightforward crime narrative.

I watched this last night and now (the following morning) I just want to watch it again! Like so many films that defy standard conventions, I think there’s a lot of subtext to be found on repeat viewing and this is one of those movies that’s really got under my skin.

British filmmaker Carol Morley loosely based her screenplay on the 1997 novel ‘Night Train’ by Martin Amis (a book I haven’t read) and from all accounts, turned the narrative on its head in order to bring this singularly thoughtful film to the screen.

At its core is the excellent performance of Patricia Clarkson as the troubled detective Mike Hoolihan. The stillness that Clarkson brings to this role provides a solid central point that makes it work so well for me. The fine cinematography by Conrad W. Hall and production design by Jane Levick bring tremendous atmosphere to the movie and the continued use of a red and blue colour palette work beautifully.

I can see that some viewers would be confused by what appears to be a standard crime thriller turning into a visual essay on metaphysics but I like films that challenge as well as entertain. Despite some critics finding this confusing or messy, I really enjoyed it. If you’re in the mood for something a little more abstract in narrative cinema, seek this out.

Out of Blue is available on YouTube Movies or Google Play to rent or buy.

Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader – Book Review

A much shorter post today!

One of the things I did manage to get done during Neko’s recovery was read Madeleine Chapman’s new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and I enjoyed it. Chapman writes in an engaging style and it’s a good introduction to the woman, her background and the New Zealand political system.

I’ve started doing occasional reviews for the Tasmanian Times, an independent digital news platform that draws on contributors from across the state and my full review can be found here.

I’d love to know what you think about my review, Ardern or New Zealand in general – it’s a place that fascinates me and is on my bucket list to visit once the Covid-19 shenanigans are over. I’d particularly appreciate input from anyone else who’s read the book.

Take care all, wherever you are ❤

The Worst Month of the Year (So Far…)

This is a long post, for which I make no apologies.

I’ve been very absent from this blog the last few weeks – apologies to regular readers! With the current shenanigans surrounding CV-19 I’d planned to write a regular blog at least four times a week to cover what’s going on in this part of the world (southern Tasmania/Hobart region).

Unfortunately there was a big spanner thrown in the works by the cat that’s been with us a year. We named him Nekomata for one of the Japanese cat demons (good choice!) and being Australians who shorten everything, just call him Neko. You can read about how he came to own us here.

Neko was nowhere to be found one afternoon when we went down to feed him and the rest of the menagerie. I eventually found him perched on a pile of straw mulch that he likes to sun himself on – and he looked terrible. We gently picked him up and took him inside where we examined him quite thoroughly for visible wounds, gently massaged legs, hips, spine and shoulders but nothing seemed out of place or damaged. But he wouldn’t eat and barely made eye contact with us. We put it down to shock.

The next morning we knew something was seriously wrong. Ever since he came into the household, we’ve been slowly encouraging Neko to become an indoor cat and considering he’s 8 years old, we think it’s been a big success to get him to overnight indoors. This means a regular dawn alarm clock of cat opera (often on the pillow, right next to an ear!) but it’s worth it for his improved well being – not to mention the health of the local wildlife! But this morning there was no chorus of “Mother I’m starving, feed me now!”to start the day. I eventually found him under the bed, looking even worse than the previous evening.

His food hadn’t been touched and his litter tray unused, which meant a trip to the vet immediately. As is always the way with these emergencies, this was Easter Sunday and our only option for treatment the after hours clinic. Yes, incredibly expensive but a brilliant service we’d used in the past for sick rabbits. They were run off their feet and with Covid-19 lockdown orders in place, no owners were allowed into the facility with their pets and only one person could hand the animal over to a masked vet nurse in the outdoor car park area.

It was a long wait.

Neko had a lump under his tongue and the vet had given him a shot of antibiotics but it would require further investigation after a course of tablets to ensure no infection. It might be a wound, it might be a cancerous growth but the vet simply couldn’t tell without further testing. In the meantime, we had to give him water via a syringe feeder which he couldn’t swallow – so there was no way we could get him to take the tablets. Again he wouldn’t eat or use his litter box.

Poor Neko was obviously becoming severely dehydrated (a surprisingly rapid path to death for small animals) so it was back to the after hours vet on Easter Monday. This time we insisted he be given hydration via a drip to at least ensure he survived the next couple of days. He seemed a little brighter but still didn’t eat, wasn’t cleaning himself and was obviously losing condition very rapidly.

Finally the following day, we got in to see our regular vet, Dr Moira at The Cat Clinic in Hobart. We came home with emergency care food, some serious feline painkillers, liquid antibiotics and a very stoned and tripped out cat! It seems Neko had been in a fight, and taken a claw in the mouth that ripped gum away from bone along one side of his lower jaw. He was down to 4.2 kg, a loss of around 800 g. She could see no indications of a cancerous lump but there was a possibility that he’d need corrective surgery to reattach the gum. Given his poor condition, we needed to get him through the course of antibiotics and get his condition back up or he wouldn’t survive the trauma of surgery.

It was slow going to start with and various setbacks but the moment we knew we’d turned the corner was when he started to eat and purr again, even if he did drool out of one side of his face in the process. The other big positive was when he began grooming himself again – Neko really was starting to smell like an old man cat and I think even he found it offensive!

Two more visits to Dr Moira and the gum had reattached, so no need for surgery – hooray! His weight is still under 5 kg but only just and he’s back to eating everything that’s put in front of him and demanding more five minutes later. We have to go for another weigh in soon and I’m confident we can have him back up to his optimal weight by then. The other thing that’s been gratifying is that he’s now only outside with me in the mornings, while I feed the other animals and potter around the yard.

Neko’s become a very smoochy house cat who’s trained the humans into looking after him 24/7 and taught them to treasure the love of a little stray cat. I think he chose his humans pretty well, though I don’t want a month like the last one if it’s all the same to you.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever develop a taste for cat opera!

Skinny but on the road to recovery

Previous Older Entries