Month: February 2015

Quote of the day

I’m reading Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam right now. I’ve got many favourite authors that I love for various reasons, but McEwan is a writer whose command of English language just makes me pause and go, damn this man can write.

This passage really stuck with me, partly because of some personal things going on in my life that made me reflect on people and relationships:

We know so little about each other. We lie mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our visible social selves projecting only cool and white.

Favourite Fictional Felines

51VjV1cS1oL1. Behemoth (The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov)

This list is not really in an order of preference, but Behemoth is probably my favourite fictional cat, and not just because I’ve read this book about 50 times over, in both Russian and English. He’s an enormous black cat who accompanies Satan on his visit to Soviet Moscow in the 1930s, and provides some of the novel’s best humourous passages. He walks on two legs, has a fondness for sarcasm, pistols and vodka, but is polite enough to offer to pay for the tram ride. What’s not to love?

tumblr_m8908sp2ep1qf2010o1_5002. Greebo (Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett)

Greebo is a scarred, one-eyed, evil-tempered cat belonging to Nanny Ogg, one of the witches residing in the kingdom of Lancre. Despite her insistence that Greebo is just a big harmless softie, he makes local wolves shake in their metaphorical boots, has once eaten a vampire (while in bat form), and is probably the male ancestor of every other cat in the kingdom. In one of the books, he was briefly turned into a human, who was pretty much a human equivalent of Greebo the cat: a handsome swaggering bandit with a certain greasy charisma that makes women swoon. Greebo doesn’t have the gift of speech, but he sure does have presence. If you ever had a secret suspicion that cats are just selfish bullies who fooled the humans with their sense of style, Greebo pretty much embodies that. But he is awesome despite that… which probably proves the point above.

cheshire-cat-53. Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland)

There are a few onscreen versions of this mischievous character with a famous grin, but my favourite was always the one in the classic Disney animated film. Maybe because he’s so trippy: I mean, pink and purple coat?

unikitty4. Unikitty (The Lego Movie)

She’s part-unicorn and her exact species is debatable, but who cares when she’s so damn adorable. Princess Unikitty is all about fun, happiness, rainbows, harmony, positivity, and keeping the negative thoughts deep down below where they never ever EVER get out. Naturally, in the end she turns into an unstoppable vengeance demon once her buttons are really pushed.

jonesy5. Jonesy and Spot (Alien & Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Cheating, yeah, but they’re both gingers and sci-fi.

Jonesy doesn’t get all that much to do in Alien but he’s got some memorable moments nonetheless, and also serves to bring out the softer side in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. I have to confess, I think that the dated special effects really bring that movie down; I got to see it as a double feature with Aliens once, and the cinema’s audience absolutely roared with (affectionate) laughter at the moments which were supposed to be terrifying. Still, when it doesn’t depend on special effects and instead relies on building suspense and atmosphere, the movie is still effective as heck. I always found the moment in which the camera zooms in on Jonesy’s impassive feline face while a crew member dies horribly offscreen incredibly creepy.

spotLikewise Spot is probably more memorable for how he/she affects the show’s characters (and probably for mysteriously switching genders at some point in the final season when they started to refer to Spot as “she”). One of the funniest moments on the show is Ode to Spot, a poem which Data composes for his pet – it sounds exactly like something an android would write.

matroskin6. Matroskin (Three from Prostokvashino)

There were many wonderful animated films when I was growing up in Russia, and one of my favourites was this series based on popular children’s books by Eduard Uspensky. Matroskin is a talking cat who sets up a house in a village with Sharik the dog and Uncle Fyodor, a six-year-old boy. Matroskin is a serious, practical individual – his advice to Uncle Fyodor when they first meet is to eat a salami sandwich upside down so it’s tastier.

Wild

wildFriend and I saw Wild at Classic Elsternwick, in the tiniest cinema I’ve ever been to – it felt more like a private screening room. I’ll admit, when I first heard of this movie I wasn’t very interested. I haven’t liked Reese Witherspoon in anything since Walk the Line, which was 10 years ago (holy crap time runs fast), and perhaps her role choices coloured my view so I half-expected this movie to be on the sappy, glossy side. Then I got swayed by the excellent reviews, and the movie proved my preconceived ideas very very wrong with its opening scene, in which Witherspoon’s character pulls off her bloodied sock and tears off her black, bloody toenail, then loses one of her hiking boots as it tumbles down the rocks and throws her remaining boot after it while swearing her head off. Eat Pray Love it was not.

The film is based on the real story of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail trail alone, inexperienced and completely underprepared. When she first starts out, she buys the wrong kind of fuel so she can’t cook, her backpack is so heavy she can barely lift it, her hiking boots are way too small. She makes this decision at the lowest point in her life, after the death of her mother (Laura Dern, who’s never been more radiant and appealing onscreen), dissolution of her marriage and a period of destructive behaviour and drug abuse. So, early on Cheryl is a rather messed up person and often an unlikeable one, for instance in the flashback where younger Cheryl casually remarks to her mother how strange it must be to have a daughter who at her age is already more sophisticated than she is. Weirdly enough, I like Reese Witherspoon much more when she’s playing difficult characters like Cheryl or Tracy Flick in Election, than when she’s trying to be a rom-com sweetheart. Her natural look of determination works really well in this role and there’s not a trace of gloss in her appearance or the gritty performance.

The trail Cheryl walks runs from the USA border with Mexico all the way up to the US-Canada border. I haven’t been to those exact places when I travelled the national parks of the West Coast, but the starkly beautiful scenery in the film really brought back the memories of the vast, open spaces, the silence and the sheer indifference of nature, the way your tiny tent becomes a hub of light and safety. Cheryl meets a few people on her way; mostly decent ones except for one tense encounter with a pair of hunters which made my skin crawl and which you feel could have ended very badly.

The only thing about the movie that rubbed me wrong was the reoccurring fox, or foxes, who cross paths with Cheryl often enough throughout the movie to signify something obviously important and symbolic. I haven’t read the book so for all I know real-life Cheryl might well have seen the fox darting around, but to me it struck a false note in a movie where everything else felt very natural and raw.


Pet moviegoing peeve: the guy sitting next to me was one of those people who chuckle at everything they see onscreen, even things which are not actually funny. Arghhh.

I don’t exactly want to repeat Cheryl’s experience and hike a thousand miles or anything, but the movie reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve been out in wild places and how much I’d like to visit them again.