Thursday, April 28, 2011

21 Films You Should See That Maybe You Haven't

I made up this list for a swap over at Swapbot, and I was inspired to share it here. It's a highly idiosyncratic list, populated with highly idiosyncratic commentary. Some of the films are old classics that deserve never to be forgotten, some are quirky little films, etc., and let's just get to the bloody list already!

Blame It on Fidel—This is a French period piece set in early 1970's Paris. It follows the changes in the life of a young girl as her parents become more politically active during this turbulent period. I love this film for its compassion—it is sensitive both to the world of a child, so dependent on structure and sameness, but also to the difficulties faced by the parents who are trying to do the right thing.

As It Is in Heaven—I just saw this Swedish film recently, and I think I'm in love. Starring Michael Nyqvuist from the Millenium trilogy, this film follows a world-renowned composer who returns to the hometown of his youth and takes up a small church choir, with transformational results. This film really feels like it approaches the sublime, particularly at its climax, which manages to be gut-wrenching and beautiful with no dialogue whatsoever.

Inside Daisy Clover—An older piece that, despite a handful of big names, barely crawled onto DVD. This is a “Star is Born” type story, following a young Natalie Wood as she goes through the Hollywood studio star-making machine. Superb performances from Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford round out the cast, but what I really love here is the darkness of the film and its tumultuous climax.

An Education—This British period piece, set in the 1950's has the charmed combination of a strong story and a gorgeous “look.” The costumes, the hair, the general cinematography are all unmissable, but so is the acting and the dialogue and the story's quiet feminism and uplifting righteousness.

Desk Set—This is an old Hepburn and Tracy classic, and I will confess that you may have seen it. But then again, you may not have, and that would be a terrible shame! Dry wit, Hepburn at her funniest and most ripely beautiful, and a fun story are just some of the charms of this film. I recommend it for an evening when you're feeling a bit blue.

Alice Through the Looking Glass—This is the Kate Beckinsale version, and I will say straight off that it's a little odd. But, really, what Alice adaptation isn't a little odd? Featuring an adult Alice, it nonetheless is otherwise a faithful Looking Glass adaptation, with some beautiful visual homages to Tenniel's illustrations. I like to watch this and dream.

To Sir with Love—Another old classic, this one starring Sidney Poitier. I have watched this film many times and have never lost my affection for it. It's about a teacher who turns a group of frankly horrible students in one of London's worst neighborhoods into somewhat less horrible students! Seriously, though, inspirational (though, warning, guaranteed to make you feel inadequate should you happen to be a teacher).

Picnic at Hanging Rock—a creepy little Australian film based on the novel of the same title. Beautiful, frightening, completely unsatisfying but massively thought-provoking, this is a modern masterpiece.

Angel and the Badman—John Wayne stumbles into...Quaker country? Yes. Gail Russell cuddles tiny lambs! And John Wayne must decide whether he's willing to shed his bad guy image for the girl he loves. Seriously, Wayne does a bit of actual acting here, and it's a charming film, a departure from his usual.

Still Crazy—Great film about a group of washed-up 70's rockers trying to get their shit together to do a reunion tour. Stellar performances from Stephen Rea and Bill Nighy here. Funny, heart-warming, and generally just a good, off-beat time.

Little Miss Sunshine—What can I say about this film? That Greg Kinnear has never been more brilliant in his career? That it understands multi-generational family dynamics sensitively? That it is a love story about middle class America? That it makes you weep with pleasure? Yeah, something like that.

Cold Comfort Farm—More Kate Beckinsale, but this time dry as a good martini in this wicked little film based on Stella Gibbons's delicious novel. Stand-out performance by Ian McKellan, but generally just hilarious and really faithful to its wonderful source.

Holiday—I spoke earlier of a ripely beautiful Katharine Hepburn, but this is the place to catch her delicate youthful beauty. This film drips with silver screen elegance as Carey Grant tries to negotiate his engagement to a rich beauty all the while dreaming of seeing life and discovering what it has to offer. A film devoted to learning about happiness? Yes, please!

Masked and Anonymous—This film starring Bob Dylan is an odd little piece that could easily have been a piece of pandering to an aging star's vanity but instead becomes a piece of important cultural commentary. Watch it for the acting, the music (well, if you like Dylan), and the oddly poetic story.

But I'm a Cheerleader—In this campy but sweet comedy, a girl discovers love at the “gay rehabilitation camp” she's sent to. It's hilarious, and it's a little bit heartbreaking at the same time. Watch it when you want a little non-traditional romance.

The Lion in Winter—I'm not obsessed with Katharine Hepburn! I swear! But how could I leave this film out? When I think of brilliant acting, I think of this heavy-hitting historical drama about Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II. This is history as Edward Albee might have written it.

Enchanted April—And, to lighten things up a bit, a pretty villa in Italy where everyone finds happiness. And Alfred Molina! I love the setting for this film and the beautiful cinematography. Watch it and dream of your next trip abroad.

Bread and Tulips—Or perhaps Venice is more your thing? This Italian film about a housewife who hitchhikes to Venice has its own share of enchantment and a little more substance than the previous film. Could almost be watched without the subtitles, for while the dialogue matters, everything important is conveyed through gestures and the expressions on the actors' faces.

Stealing Beauty—Have you noticed this is the Italian section? Young Liv Tyler goes to Italy to lose her virginity. No, seriously. This film is smart and beautiful and nervy as it follows its heroine's emotional journey towards maturity.

A Patch of Blue—This early Sidney Poitier film from the 1960s traces the developing relationship between an African American man and an abused blind girl. It is by turns a sweet romance, a distressing melodrama, and a think piece about American racism.

The Closet—One for the road, because why not? This French romp starring Daniel Auteuil is simply hilarious. Aware that he's about to lose his job for being too dull, the hero takes on a new persona as a homosexual. Improbable? Mais oui, but who cares when it's so fun? The best part of this film is that Auteuil does not camp up his homosexual performance, but merely lets others and their perceptions do the work for him.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Moving Freely

I had the most astounding epiphany the other day, as I was sitting in the ruins of my apartment trying to figure out how I was going to get all my junk into storage: I don't have to keep this stuff.

There are so many laws and regulations in place in our lives, that it's liberating to realize that the one thing no one can make you do is keep stuff you don't want. I don't want to own most of what I possess. Like, ninety percent of it.

So I scheduled a pickup from Houston Charity Agencies, started selling my books at Half-Price Books (yes, those SAME books I was mooning over a little while ago), and began throwing things away! This is perhaps the single most liberating experience of my life, letting go of so many things. I've been glowing with happiness and peace ever since and spreading news of my decision like an evangelist.

I do understand that not everyone can realistically do this. I'm in a unique situation, moving home to be cradled (figuratively) in the maternal bosom and put up in a furnished place. But I still think that at many points in our lives it may be good to say, "I need a fresh start."

After all, think of your life as, not a single drama (or comedy), but rather a theater company. Every now and again, when a run gets stale, you start casting around for scripts that will express the core vision of your company along with your sensibilities right now. Do you really want to have a theater full of props from your long run of "The Master Builder" when you've totally decided that it's time for a Noel Coward piece? Of course not! Time for new props, new costumes, and a new set.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hot and Sour Comfort

The Move has been inducing in me every kind of nervous ailment you can imagine, and today, it added one more: a stress sinus infection of some kind. My first warning was a sore throat. Basically, it went like this:
5:00 P.M.: Hmm, I'm thirsty
5:30 P.M.: Odd, my throat hurts
6:00 P.M.: Crud, I'm sick

I've managed to stave off most of the repercussions with vitamin C and hot and sour soup, and if you asked me which of the two I thought was more potent, I'd be hard pressed to give you a definitive answer. I believe in hot and sour soup like some people believe in chicken soup, or aliens, or Justin Bieber. Assuming it's the proper spiciness, it opens up the sinuses and promotes healthy drainage all while providing delicious sustenance and nutrition. Truly, it is a magical food.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Herding Cats

I've been working on harness-training my cats in preparation for the move because I worked out that there was no way I could keep them all in the carrier for the duration of the seventeen-hour drive. Instead, they will wear their harnesses and be restrained with leashes anytime I open the car door.

So far, the training is...interesting. My two older cats are fairly relaxed about the harness itself, but the leash still wigs them out a little bit. But my little girl is not pleased by the harness. She walks around like she's crippled, even though the harness doesn't obstruct her movement in any way, meows pitifully, and is generally not happy with the situation.

My basic plan is to get them used to wearing the harnesses for longer and longer each day until they're completely relaxed in them, then do some leash work. All this is supplemented by lots of petting and treats, naturally.

Overall, the thing I'm dreading most about this move is listening to these guys cry for seventeen hours and trying to keep them contained. My mortal fear is that one will escape during a stop for gas, and I just couldn't handle that, but I think with the leashes, everything will be okay.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Hunger

I've been packing my books today, packing them to go into storage until goodness knows when, and it evokes a kind of panic in me. Old favorites suddenly demand to be reread, and books that I bought and shelved without taking the time to read them (yes, this is a horrible habit of mine) have suddenly taken on an urgency.

For this reason, I'm taking a break from my Kindle (it gets to come with me, after all) and rediscovering the treasures I possess already. Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels is high on the list, as her sister's Love in a Cold Climate. The latter is an old favorite, the former I haven't read.

I feel like I'm in a race against time, trying to get all the words crammed into my brain that I can before they're backed away, mute and helpless. I know there will be more books, that I will see these books again, but the pangs I feel are terrible.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Le goûter

This afternoon, I was assailed by the kind of sinking feeling that, legend has it, caused the Duchess of Bedford to create the institution of afternoon tea. I wasn't in the mood for tea, however, just a light and tasty bite, and so I decided to go across the channel for my afternoon repast and enjoy, instead, le goûter.

Le goûter is the traditional afternoon snack of French schoolchildren, served at about four o'clock in the afternoon. It might often consist, like my own snack pictured above, of a piece of bread, butter, and some chocolate. In the fabulous film La Faute à Fidel!, though, the young protagonist is extremely put out when a succession of nannies of different nationalities causes a bewildering variety to her afternoon snacks.

For those who speak French and would like some ideas for le goûter, there is an entire blog devoted to the pleasures of this ritual.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Strawberry Pie!

Today was a baking day, mainly because I finally saw some strawberries that looked like they had some juice in them at the store. I don't eat strawberries too far out of season because they just taste like water to me, but when they are in season, there's nothing I love better.

I usually make a fresh strawberry pie with a single shell, but I realized that I had thrown out my cornstarch in preparation for the move, which scotched that plan. Instead, I found and modified a baked strawberry pie recipe. I will admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I used pre-made pie crust. My theory about pie crust is that I want to eat pie much oftener than I want to prepare pie crust (can you call that a theory? or just simple greediness?).

I used maple sugar for part of the sugar in the pie because it offers a nice dark counter-note to the brightness of the strawberry flavor. It doesn't, as you might expect, taste excessively of maple but has a beautifully subtle flavor.

And, of course, the best thing is those colors--just look at that juice oozing out!

Baked Strawberry Pie Recipe

2 pie crusts
1 quart strawberries, hulled and halved
1 cup sugar (I used half organic sugar and half maple)
Three tbsp. flour

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss strawberries with sugar and flour. Place one pie crust into tin and add filling. Top with second crust and cut vents before crimping edges. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Patched with Virtue

One of my old stand-by skirts has been developing some irritating holes. I should, probably, just get rid of it, but I don't know when I'll find another that will suit so well. I decided, therefore, to patch it. And not simply to patch it, but to patch it with crimson silk. The effect is a little irregular, but striking, I think. Please excuse the piss poor photography.

Silk is frustrating to work with, and I had to use about twice the pins I normally would, but I'm actually looking forward to showing off my rather gaily bohemian skirt.

The Pleasures of Fresh Muesli

Fresh muesli is one of my favorite breakfasts. I make it with a base of oats, honey, and milk, then build from there. The simple combination of raw foods tastes incredibly fresh and healthy, and is just the thing to coax the stomach awake in the morning. Here's how I make muesli.

I start with about half a cup of oats, then douse them in maybe three-quarters cup of milk. I top it with a tablespoon of honey and pop it in the refrigerator overnight. Then, in the morning, when it's very soft and sweet, the real fun begins.

I grate a half an apple and toss that into the bowl (some smushed banana can also be very nice), then head to the pantry to see what I have in the way of nuts and dried fruits. This morning it was chopped pecans and dried cherries. I mixed them into the bowl, then chose to top the whole with a big dollop of greek yoghurt.

This dish is both simple and forgiving, allowing many different combinations while always tasting delicious.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Officially in Transit

I discovered this morning that I was not selected for a job I had rather hoped to get. That job was my last hope of remaining in Houston in the near future. As it stands, I will be moving at the end of this month to Arizona to live near my mother, look for work, write on my dissertation and sponge off my relations.

I'm feeling nervous about this, of course--being stuck in a small town with no friends and no job isn't the easiest situation in the world. But I'm also grateful that I have a place to go and people who care about me. And, to some extent, I'm looking forward to a fresh start.

I have always been a fan of metamorphosis. Five years ago, when I moved to Houston, I stopped going by my Christian name and began being called by my confirmation name. It was, to me, more meaningful and frankly more attractive. And it was all part of the process of becoming who I needed to be. Sophie.

Now, I suspect there may be a new Sophie that I need to be. She may be a Sophie who builds chicken coops (wouldn't fresh eggs be divine?). She may be a Sophie who does things I can't even imagine yet. All I know is that I'm loading up my Beetle with one big box of books, two suitcases and three cats so that I have a chance to keep becoming.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Minimalism

I have been reading The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide. That sort of book is a dime a dozen, certainly--they basically tell you what you already know, which is that you need to throw out some or most of the things you are perpetually tripping over every day. Very good.

What I find myself questioning is how minimalism and luxury intersect, about which not enough is said. Because as I pare down my belongings, I find that what remains are usually the finest and most luxurious items. I have always thought that the minimalists would get further if they said, "All right, throw out those seventeen sets of stained sheets and go buy two sets of really high thread-count sheets." Or simply, "Half of what you own is ugly: get rid of it and buy two or three really nice things."

Surely the best thing about minimalism is that the nice things you do own or can lay your grubby paws on then don't get swallowed by all the crud that you own? Maybe the real tool to minimalism is buying one really beautiful piece for each room and seeing how cheap it makes everything else look--you'll be a minimalist in no time, doubtless!

I'm interested in the trope in minimalist texts that refers to having to "curate" items. That is, that you, as the owner of different items, then have to curate them in some way. Am I the curator of my Cuisinart? Perhaps. I know it's meant to give you an a-ha moment, but for me, it doesn't, precisely. It's clearer if you say I am the storer, washer, and mover of my Cuisinart. Then it all becomes perfectly clear.

This is all highly relevant for me as I face a large move without most of my belongings. The few I will bring are all highly utilitarian, though not, I must confess, in the main luxurious. Suddenly, my coffee press has become precious, as has my stalled knitting project. I'm sorting everything from books to cat toys to see what's worth packing away and what is, very simply, trash.

Torn Cashmere

I began this blog because I wanted to talk about my life. A life that included demanding the best--demanding it in the most plaintive tones imaginable, mind--and getting...well, something that resembled torn cashmere.

But this is not a morose blog! This is a blog about darning your sweaters, making a pile of millet into a tasty supper, trying to make yourself into a better person (because I have to believe that's still possible), reading your way into another world, and changing everything around you.

I am thirty-one years old. I am unemployed and halfway to a purposeless (for me) PhD. I decided to begin this blog because I believe that writing is transformative, and because I want to record this part of my journey and share it with others.