Apollo 11

Apollo 11 (2019)

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller

Like so many kids of my generation I was obsessed with space and space travel, something that has persisted in my love of pure science as well as science fiction literature and film. One of my earliest preschool memories was running around our yard in rural Australia with an empty cereal box as a helmet, telling anyone who would listen I was going to be the first singing astronaut.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and my local, the State Cinema in Hobart has joined with a few other independent cinemas to run a Moon Festival. This short season of moon-related features opened tonight with the documentary Apollo 11.

As a child of the 60s (I was 10 when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon) this film bought back many memories, such as having the day off school in the middle of winter, sitting with my friends on our couch, all with our legs raised trying to put our foot on the ground the same time as Neil Armstrong. And long conversations with my beloved father about physics, space travel, what we might find there and the hope the Apollo missions represented for humanity.

So, as soon as the pre-mission countdown began at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) and the luscious sound design started to work its magic, I knew I was being emotionally manipulated by a very cleverly made documentary – and I welcomed it with open arms! Rather than filling screen with facts and figures, this film explores more the feeling of the time and the profound nature of the mission. Even though I know how the story goes, I felt the tension build in me as the astronauts and their ground crews approached crisis points.

Everything about this film is big – the opening scenes of the Saturn 5 rocket sitting on the launch pad, the crowds who came to Florida to watch the launch, the sound of take-off and the beautiful, insistent score by Matt Morton that doesn’t intrude but blends beautifully with the overall sound design by Eric Milano and the superb film editing by Todd Douglas Miller.

Unsurprisingly, this movie won the editing award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (documentary) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and I have no doubt it will go on to earn further industry accolades. If you have an interest in the moon landing, space exploration, lived through the event or just an interest in modern history, this is a great film. See it on the largest screen you possibly can, (there is an IMAX version) preferably one with a very good sound system.

This superb film has taken archival footage and made it meaningful for new audiences half a century later, no mean feat! I found it stirring and incredibly uplifting but I left the cinema with a profound sense of sadness that my generation never followed through on the promise of truly going to the stars.

The Moment I Wept – Ode To a Little Hen

It’s been a very sad morning.

Apart from suffering from a very nasty virus the past few weeks (I blame Dark Mofo Festival) the weather’s been pretty awful and I’ve been watching the elderly hens and particularly B1 & B2 fairly closely. Although they’re younger than the rest, Isa Browns are notoriously frail little things, not bred to live long, just as egg-laying machines. These two came to us over 4 years ago from a paddock-run operation outside of Hobart. At 18 months they were too old to be commercial layers, but they suited us just fine and have been reliable egg-layers ever since. Incredibly tame, these docile little girls also enjoyed being picked up and petted, unusual among my rabble

Today I had to made the call to euthanase B2. I examined her and she was clearly starting to suffer, so I removed her from their run to a sunny spot near the apple trees. It was quick, as pain free as I could make it with a sharp hatchet. She left this plane being thanked for the joy she bought into our lives – not to mention the eggs. She was buried deep with great ceremony in a fallow bed, her final task to condition the soil over the coming months.

I was sad but this is the pact we make when we decide to keep backyard poultry or any companion animal. Chickens in particular can go downhill very quickly and I hate the thought of any creature in my care suffering needlessly. I kept it together until I went back with some barley greens for the other chickens.

There was B1, standing at the gateway, looking for her sister……

Vale B2

 

The Story of the Cat Who Came to Stay

 

Look deep into my eyes…

Back in the start of the year, when I was almost tearing my hair out trying to deal with extremely dry and hot weather, failed crops and the ever increasing work load with university, I noticed a skinny little cat had started hanging around the yard. I live near the university, so there’s a lot of unit blocks all around me and I wondered if this little thing belonged to one of the mostly student tenants.

I’m not a cat person. I’ve got large breed rabbits and a retirement home for elderly chickens in my patch as well as multiple vegetable beds, fruit trees (many on dwarfing rootstock in wicking barrels) and a greenhouse that I purposely didn’t plant out last year in order to concentrate on study. Because of the high number of rented units, this area gets a lot of stray cats that wander into the yard. So the old chooks have a fully enclosed rat, raptor and cat proof run, with grape and passionfruit vines to provide summer shade as well as a covered back section with roosting and nesting areas. (We call it ‘Frankenhutch’). The two remaining bunnies are in their own very secure enclosures and Boudica (the biggest, most sweet natured rabbit on the planet) has been seen taking pieces out of cats when she was still a breeding doe. In fact, we’ve worked out since that she is more than twice as big as Neko, who weighs in at under 5kg (11lb).

It’s common to see an occasional mouse trying to get at the chickens’ kibble but they usually don’t last long, gobbled up as extra protein by the chickens and even the odd rat in the yard looking for feed. Imagine my surprise when I came down one morning and found a freshly dead rat on the pathway!

And up on the fence was perched this very scrawny grey cat, watching me very intently. It had no collar and I asked a few people over the next few weeks if they knew who owned the little charcoal tabby – but no one could help. Over the next couple of months, I surprised it a few times in the greenhouse or saw it watching me from behind a tree and there were further gifts of what I can only describe as pieces of dead rodents. The cat, whether I liked it or not, had moved in. The chickens were still laying, the rabbits were showing no signs of distress and none of the native birds that always hang around in late summer seemed fussed at all by the grey terror in the greenhouse. So who was I to complain about a mouser in the yard? I started leaving a bowl of water out near the greenhouse door but I kept thinking that there must be someone, somewhere missing this little creature.

Then one day, when I was inside the chicken’s run feeding them some of the choicest weeds, the cat, sitting outside the enclosure, started to meow at me. Henrietta, the maddest and feistiest chicken ever, lunged at it, ready to peck its green eyes out if it got any closer. The cat didn’t turn a whisker, it plainly wasn’t interested in chickens – it was looking and talking only to me. I started to meow and sing back to it and so, we gradually came to an understanding. I never tried to approach it or touch it, and bided my time.

Henrietta, Queen of the Chicken Coop

In the end, it was Mister Him Indoors (who is not a natural gardener but incredibly good with animals) who made first physical contact. He came down to help me get the autumn vegetable beds ready and called the cat, who sensibly came straight to him and then it was on. There was a quite alarming rumble of purring and rubbing its face on our legs, boots and hands, nibbling fingers. It made us realise just how terribly thin this cat was, how dull its coat but how bright its eyes – and how much it enjoyed the affection! This was obviously no rank stray, it’d spent at least part of its life as someone’s pet. It was beautifully marked and fine boned, we thought maybe a female and a tail that was extraordinary in length and movement. We gave it some dry cat food I keep on hand for the chickens. (Don’t laugh – the extra protein is the best conditioner when chickens are moulting and fabulous in mid-winter when they need a little extra bulk). I was astonished – I’d never heard a cat purr while it was eating before. We included it in the regular twice a day feeding schedule – chickens first, then the rabbits’ mixed greens from around the garden and a little kibble and finally, the cat. It started sunning itself on the top of the back stairs outside the laundry in the afternoon, waiting for us to come down to do the evening feed. With the weather starting to cool, we had to do something. It would be too cold in the unheated, drafty greenhouse in the middle of winter.

So I took a photo, plastered it over my social media network and posted it to the local lost pets register. No response. We had to make a decision.

As I said we’re not a cat-loving household, having spent time in the bush and knowing the damage feral and unconfined cats can do to wildlife and the environment generally. The last thing on our minds was getting one, let alone adopting someone’s dumped pet. There were options. We could call the local cat centre. They would come and collect it, scan to see if it has a microchip identification and if not it would be put up for adoption.

But what if no one adopted it?

We talked it over, we discussed making a bed for it in the laundry, discussed the pros and cons of having a young cat come into our lives for potentially the next 15 years. Big decisions!

Through the lost pets register, I met Suzi, who works at a dedicated cat-only veterinary practice in Hobart and we made an appointment, discussed what to do if it didn’t have a microchip, wasn’t neutered, the cost, the commitment.

The day came and we were so uneducated in feline ways, we had no idea the best way to get a cat into a pet carrier is to put it in backwards. There were deep scratches and much plaintive meowing from the backseat of the car – but we got there.

At the vet’s we discovered little cat was a boy! Skinny, but not undernourished thanks to our ministrations. There was no desexing tattoo but a microchip, and a registered owner in Launceston, about 200km (125 miles) away. Suzi rang the owner who was surprised. She’d bought him as a kitten in 2012, had him desexed and wanted an indoor pet but he was not happy confined in an apartment alone all day. Very responsibly, she rehomed Harley (as she named him) a couple of years ago to a rural family in Richmond.

She gave the number of the new owners and we held our breath while Suzi called them.

Yes, they had a cat they called Smokey but it went missing in December last year. No, they hadn’t transferred the microchip information. Did they want him back?

No, they had another cat now.

Mister Him Indoors (always the scholar of mythology) named him Nekomata for the devious monster cats of ancient Japanese tales. How he got from Richmond to Hobart will always be a mystery. It’s some 27km (over 16 miles) from Hobart and we can only presume that he got caught in a truck or fell asleep without anyone noticing.

Currently, he’s still sleeping in the greenhouse. There seems to be some trauma surrounding being confined but he’s starting to come upstairs into the laundry, where he will have shelter, a warm bed and appropriate facilities (a litter tray) for the long winter nights.

No one’s really sure how it happened, but now we have a cat.

In truth, I think it was Neko’s plan all along.

You will love me and obey…

Ant-Man and The Wasp + Adieu 2018

Well, watching this film was a nice way to finish up the year for a lot of different reasons.

I recently found out I’ve been given in principal support by my course convenor to do a critical analysis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for my final year project – a lot of reasons for rejoicing! Essentially, I plan to concentrate on villains in the MCU (yes, I’m sure I’ll be devoting some time to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki!) and at this stage, I plan to approach it as a possible chapter to a much broader work.

2018 has been harder than I’d hoped, often in ways I didn’t see coming! But it’s also bought me greater rewards, opportunities, self-awareness and confidence that are beyond what I’d hoped for. Swings and roundabouts as usual!

And I’ve watched a LOT of films (about 80 on MUBI alone), making notes on nearly all but only reviewing a fraction of them. I could blithely promise to rectify that as a new year’s resolution but it would be disingenuous to do that. As my final year of undergraduate study, 2019 is going to be much too busy for that!

Nevertheless, here’s my last review of this year. Many thanks for reading, your kind comments and all the best to you and yours in 2019. ❤

Ant-Man and The Wasp 2018

Directed by Peyton Reed

I only bought the Blu-ray this morning, bringing me up to date with MCU releases but this review will all be first thoughts rather than considered opinions.

There’s something really endearing about Paul Rudd. I know he has a lengthy performance CV stretching back to the early 90s, but I never really took that much notice of him until Ant-Man (2015). In that film he showed off his talent for comic timing but proved himself able to lead a film – no mean feat, alongside the likes of screen heavyweight, Michael Douglas and Lost (2004-2010) star, Evangeline Lilly.

Here, Rudd reprises his leading role as Scott Lang, now in home detention after the events in Captain America: Civil War (2016). His daughter (once again played by Abby Ryder Forston) still thinks he’s the best dad in the world, plus Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are back as Dr Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne. Michele Pfeiffer comes in as Janet Van Dyne, lost in the quantum realm and Michael Pena is wonderful as Luis, stealing every scene he’s in.

I’m really pleased that Lilly has much more to do this time around as she dons the Wasp costume and Hannah John-Kamen from Killjoys (2015-2019) is convincing as Ava/Ghost. As good as the acting talent is though, my standout performers throughout are the incredible stunt team and the coordinator George Cottle. (Follow the link to IMDB, his CV is amazing!) Similarly, the visual effects are absolutely top notch, and testimony to how far we’ve come with CG and motion capture in recent years.

Coming so quickly after Avengers: Infinity War (2018), this could easily have fallen between the cracks, but director Peyton Reed has delivered a very entertaining film, much lighter in tone than Infinity War but more serious than either Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) GotG Vol. 2 (2017).

In conclusion, despite all its connections to the broader MCU, this film stands up well on its own merits (always my benchmark) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A superior popcorn/superhero movie that with a PG-13 rating, is suitable for most of the family.

Wins & Losses – An Early Summer Update

Birthday bounty!

Well, life got in the way of this blog again – it’s been four whole months since I’ve posted anything! Apologies to all you lovelies who follow my fractured, meandering posts. I had another birthday on the weekend and (besides attaining full membership of the Grumpy Old Ladies League) was given a generous stack of DVD & Blu-ray releases that I don’t have in my collection or I’ve worn out with over-use and I immediately watched Bridge on the River Kwai when I worked out I hadn’t watched it for well over 10 years

It’s true that you only miss something significant when it’s not there. I’ve come to realise in the last few months how much of a fabulous thing writing this blog has been, is and I’m sure, will continue to be in the future. I’ve realised what a significant stress release it is to randomly type a few hundred words about things that matter to me, not because I HAVE to but because I WANT to. So thank you to a few folks who reached out wondering where and how I was, encouraging me to continue – you are gold!

Most of my time in the last few months has been taken up with my big three passions; music education, urban farming and film criticism/university study. Music teaching is gradually winding back for the summer break but I’m constantly enriched and amazed at my marvelous, talented tribe.

With respect to film criticism, I’ve been keeping brief notes on films watched, and there’s quite a backlog to catch up with, many of which I’ll expand out to reviews here. Also, I’ve just completed a unit on Screen Celebrity and Stardom, which takes a cultural industries approach to the generation of celebrity and I’m proud to say I received outstanding marks. Unfortunately, this is also probably the last Screen Studies unit I’ll be doing for my degree course but the good news is I’ll be completing my studies and graduating next year! I also have to do a major project, which I’ll talk about at length here once it’s finalised with my course convenor.

And of course, being early summer here in Tasmania the garden has been going gangbusters despite unseasonably cold and wet conditions. I have a spectacular crop of weeds as a result but the cooler weather didn’t suit most of my heritage tomato seedlings and I’ve had to resort to buying some Burnley Bounty as my main crop. Similarly, my entire basil seed failed this year and I’ve had to buy in punnets and pot them on for the greenhouse. I suspect it was a dud packet and I’ll be contacting the seed merchants more out of courtesy than just to complain. Meanwhile, I’ve had a lovely (albeit small) first crop from the asparagus I grew from seed a couple of years ago, the salad veggies are leaping out of the ground and the fruit trees are laden.

Pricking Basil seedlings into paper pots in the rain last week

There have been some sad losses too. The elderly Ladies Who Lay have sadly been reduced to five, Hipster passed away peacefully in her sleep in early September at an estimated age of 10 years. This is pretty remarkable for a laying hen and I’m pleased her final years were stress free and comfortable, with lots of room to run around in, plenty of things to eat and good earth to scratch. Harder still was losing my beautiful Bella B. Bunny at the beginning of October. She was a truly awful mother, bordering on incompetent, completely disdainful of any other life form (including me most of the time) but I adored her and I’m still trying to adjust to life in the yard without her nosing her way in.

The beautiful Hipster, late of the Ladies Who Lay

Nevertheless, the seasons turn and life continues. The other rabbits Bernard Black and Boudica are well, though dear Boudica is getting noticeably older and slower. I’m inundated with eggs as usual for this time of year which is astonishing as my chickens are commercially, well past their use by date. It just goes to show what plenty of space, a more natural diet and low stress does for any creature’s well-being. Speaking of which, I’m going outside to enjoy the sunshine that’s finally arrived

Take care lovelies wherever you are in the world and I’ll post again soon ❤

My Bella

Extinction (No Spoilers)

Extinction 2018 Directed by Ben Young.

It’s been driven home to me recently that I’m getting old. My local cinema, the State Cinema in North Hobart is putting on a couple of screenings of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release. But this also gives me cause to celebrate, as 2001 was one of the films that really hooked me into science fiction film, going to the movies in general and remains a film I still love to watch.

This release from Netflix reminded me again what in influence Kubrick still has over the genre, with some early shots from Extinction clearly paying homage. I also spotted a cinematic nod to Ridley Scott’s Alien (which is rarely a bad thing) and in hindsight, these little crumbs set the tone for this flawed but interesting piece of near-future sci-fi.

Essentially, this feature directed by Australian Ben Young is a film about family – what it means to be a family and how those bonds can be stretched, twisted and (in this case) strengthened – but it is quite a dour tale.

Michael Pena plays Peter, a building engineer cum maintenance worker who lives in an architecturally beautiful unnamed city with his engineer/town planner wife (Lizzy Caplan) and his two young daughters. Peter is troubled by dreams of an alien invasion that destroys his family but as his dreams become more intense and frequent, he finds himself increasingly alienated from those he’s trying to protect. I’m not going to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t seen this yet but suffice it to say that Peter’s nightmares turn into reality and the ensuing shenanigans provide the bulk of the film. The first act/set up tells us all we need to know and above all, doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Once the action starts, it wisely relies more on practical than computer generated effects, which at times look very cheap. The tension mounts in a good but fairly predictable way but despite this, overall I found the second act pretty lacklustre. There’s a flatness about the action that took me out of the film on several occasions and I suspect this is one of the issues of trying to be a big blockbuster on a budget. Also, I felt Michael Pena and Lizzy Caplan were sadly wasted in their roles, and the inclusion of Mike Coulter (Luke Cage) as Peter’s boss confused me. One of the things I really liked were the young daughters not being the standard stereotypical “plucky kids” so often seen in this kind of film. They’re not brave or particularly resourceful, they’re just terrified kids, which was refreshing.

The twist in the third act was very good and although I knew something was coming, I didn’t spot it specifically. (Again, no spoilers here – go and see it for yourself!)

Apart from uneven pacing and lacklustre CG, my main gripe with the film is the ending. Apart from clearly leading with a case for a sequel (please don’t do it!) I feel the movie lingered way too long after the denouement. I wanted it to wind up and wave goodbye at least 10 minutes before it did.

Despite this, I am increasingly impressed by Netflix’ foray into original sci-fi film distribution. While Extinction isn’t brilliant, along with Mute, Anon and the wonderful Annihilation (all of which I’ve written about elsewhere but neglected to review here!), Netflix is bringing a welcome breath of new(ish) science fiction to my screens. The ongoing issue I see here is the platform – these films were all made to be at their best on a big screen, with so much of their cinematic value being lost on my home television or laptop.

Or perhaps, I’m just getting old and feeling nostalgic for the magic of seeing something for the first time in a cinema? Nevertheless, I’m still watching with interest!

Winter Warmers Part 1 – Boeuf en Croute

Moon set at sunrise over kunanyi/Mt Wellington 30th June 2018

Now we’re past mid winter’s day the weather has taken a much chillier turn (very common for this time of year) and unfortunately it’s wet as well. Normally, most Australians south of the tropics would welcome rain but tanks are full, garden beds are waterlogged (very bad for the garlic crop!) and the chicken’s yard is rapidly turning into a quagmire.

The biggest issue is that it’s kept me housebound. As a rule, winter in Hobart is much drier and colder but we are blessed with crisp, clear blue days, ideal for outdoor activities. Winter is normally the time of year when I want to do things with fruit trees, sharpen spades and secateurs, clean out the greenhouse, prepare beds for spring planting, and generally charge around the yard, doing things to keep warm.

So, although it’s been milder than usual, it’s just been too wet to do a great deal out of doors on the days when I’m home to do so. As a result, I’ve been cooking more and watching a lot of movies!

Last weekend, I started half heartedly taking stock and cleaning out the freezers (yes, I was that desperate to be doing something). There were lots of treasures for winter meals – home made pork and chicken stock, roasted and peeled chestnuts, slow cooked beans in meal size portions, leftover servings of curry and soup and bones from the christmas ham that need using very soon. To my horror, I discovered the last beautifully packaged piece of truffle that was lurking in the back corner of a freezer. I buy a Tasmanian truffle every winter and try and make the most of it fresh and then spend the rest of the year dreaming about truffles, so I was horrified to think I’d neglected this exquisite morsel, hoping it hadn’t denatured or suffered freezer burn. Thank goodness I wrapped it so well – it was fine!

I had a piece of beef fillet that was looking for a good recipe too, and a need to do something special for myself as well as my long suffering partner (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To). So I decided to make a rather spectacular but remarkably easy dinner. The preparation is everything with this but in my opinion, the easier you can make the flavour profile, the more clearly the core ingredients can shine through, in this case the truffle and the beef. I think it’s worth making just for the aroma. My house smelled amazing for days after ❤

Before we get into it, I just want to talk about expense. At first glance this looks incredibly expensive, and compared to most of the food I share here, it probably is. I did a rough costing and (without wine or power allowances) this comes to approximately AU$70 of ingredients for two generous serves. Given that a quality pub meal in Hobart can vary from AU$25-35 for steak per person and something like this in a restaurant would be more in the order of AU$45-65 per serve, I think this is really good value for something exceptional that most home cooks can easily manage. Now, let’s crack on!

Boeuf en Croute (serves 2)

Beef fillet piece (approximately 500g/1 lb)

1-2 sheets frozen puff pastry

2 rashers of good quality bacon

Truffle (my piece would’ve been just under 20g)

1 clove garlic (optional)

Fresh herbs (I used oregano and sage)

Salt and pepper (optional)

Method:

Heat a skillet to high and sear the beef on each side quickly. The idea here is to seal the meat, not to cook it through, so make sure the skillet is very hot. Remove the meat once every side (ends included) has seen the pan and set it aside to cool completely. (I left mine for about an hour).

Preheat an oven to 180 C (350 F). Lay the pastry sheet(s) out on a parchment covered board to defrost. How much pastry you need is determined by how big your piece of beef is and how much you like puff pastry. Once defrosted you can roll the pastry out a little to make it fit or be lazy (like me) and make a patch with another piece of pastry.

On a clean board remove the bacon rind, chop the garlic and herbs finely and slice the truffle. On a defrosted pastry sheet, lay out the rashers of bacon side by side and cover with the chopped herbs and shaved truffle. I don’t have a proper truffle shaver but find the slicing blade of a box grater does very well. Also, I don’t generally use salt and pepper but if you do, this would be the spot to use it.

Now for the tricky bit! Position the beef on the top side of the pastry sheet like this –

Use the parchment to help make a tight roll. Also, I find rolling towards yourself lets you see what’s happening and poke any stray pieces of truffle or herbs back into place. I used a little water and a pastry brush to tack an extra piece of pastry to one edge and finished the roll, using this as the surface the roast sits on. At this stage, I also trimmed a little excess pastry off the sides and folded the sides tightly, making sure the meat was completely sealed in the pastry. I put a few decorative slashes on top to give some indication where to slice for serving but you can decorate it any way you like.

Place on a small roasting tray and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different so adjust your cooking time accordingly. Mine came out medium rare though it looks more like well done in the photograph (and the pic of the pastry lies too – it was nowhere near as dark as the photo!)

Leave the meat to rest for 10 minutes and then carve carefully into four slices. Serve on a bed of wilted spinach or silverbeet (Swiss chard) and a glass or two of good red wine.

Next time, I’ll share how I used the ham bones to make home made Baked Beans – one of the cheapest and heartiest meals ever. Although it costs far less, it actually takes more time to make than Boeuf en Croute!

Also, please let me know if you try this recipe – I always love to hear from you 🙂

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