Month: May 2015

Quote of the day

What a luxury a cat is, the moments of shocking and startling pleasure in a day, the feel of the beast, the soft sleekness under your palm, the warmth when you wake on a cold night, the grace and charm even in a quite ordinary workaday puss. Cat walks across your room, and in that lonely stalk you see leopard or even panther, or it turns its head to acknowledge you and the yellow blaze of those eyes tells you what an exotic visitor you have here, in this household friend.

– Doris Lessing, On Cats

Mad Max: Fury Road

madmaxI haven’t seen any of the older Mad Max films and had no interest in the new one, until all the gushing reviews started to pop up. After watching the movie yesterday, I needed about an hour or so to decompress, because man that was one intense, exhilarating, bonkers insane experience that left me completely steamrolled, in the best way possible.

What I loved about it is that it had no problems plaguing most of the modern blockbusters. No dull exposition, no pointless scenes or characters thrown in for the sake of setting up sequels or franchise building. While of course they used CGI, everything in the film feels real and organic; I really forgot what it’s like to watch action scenes with stakes and dangers that actually feel real. Just compare this movie with its grime and dirt to that wretched sterile new Terminator trailer. It really felt like an idiosyncratic work of a filmmaker with a singular artistic vision who just did whatever the hell he wanted. A dude dressed in red playing a giant flamethrower guitar while hanging on cords in front of a speeding car? Sure why the hell not, put him in!

While I’m not obsessed with cars by any means, cars in this movie felt almost like characters in their own right. I’d watch it again just to get a better look at all the detailing and designs. The film was in fact full of weird little details, like the two-headed lizard in the opening scene, a bunch of lactating women hooked up to machinery or the War Boys spraying their mouths with silver paint when they’re about to go berserk. The desert imagery was absolutely stunning, the dunes and canyons of Namibia made for a magnificent film setting and now it’s firmly on my list of places to visit before I die. You’d think that after seeing so much computer-generated spectacle in movies I’d become totally jaded, but those desert storm scenes made my jaw drop, they were so glorious. It becomes obvious how important it is to fill your onscreen world with real things – they in turn make you accept the CGI elements as real too, rather than leave you thinking, wow neat effects I wonder how long they took.

The plot is dead simple: Max is kidnapped and brought to the citadel run by a tyrannical bad guy in a freaky mask, then gets involved into an epic chase after the bad guy’s top driver who decides to rescue her boss’ harem. The action is almost non-stop, but the film still follows the classic three-act structure and manages to develop its characters and their relationships amid the mayhem and the few quieter scenes. Even though Max is the titular hero,¬†Charlize Theron’s tough-as-nails Furiosa easily stole the film for me. Which is not a slight to Tom Hardy, who is fine in the role, but I simply found Furiosa’s clear mission and drive more appealing than Hardy’s opaque hero who just kinda falls into her story. I don’t think I loved Charlize Theron so much in any previous movie; she was ferocious and vulnerable and just amazing. Their dynamic and the growing emotional connection made both characters more compelling though, and the fact that it remained purely platonic until the end was refreshing. It’s such a cliche that a man and a woman drawn together by circumstances just have to fall for each other, cause it’s just the law of the universe y’know. Nicholas Hoult was memorable in a supporting role as a War Boy who is somehow both feral and adorable. I did find Megan Gale’s appearance a tad distracting though, and the women rescued by Furiosa get bits to do here and there but remain largely faceless. Those are very minor quibbles though. Movie is awesome.

St Kilda Film Festival

Friend and I went to the festival tonight, which was a first time for me. Saw a selection of six short films; events like this are always a mixed bag and the offerings varied wildly in style and quality. But at least, this being short film, the crappy ones didn’t stick around for too long.

1. Blood Pulls A Gun
A moody noirish short about a teenage girl who helps her Dad run a motel in the middle of nowhere and has a crush on a dark handsome dangerous stranger, with tragic results. Rather melodramatic but with some nice imagery and a dreamy soundtrack.

2. Stuffed
This one was about a shy, socially awkward man whose two big loves are his mother and taxidermy. When his mother passes away, he decides to keep her around, so to speak… but how will this affect the budding relationship with a woman who fancies him? I really liked it – a perfect balance of whimsical/creepy/funny.

3. Milkmaid
A bit of a dud. I think it was meant to be something like a fairytale about an Eastern European milkmaid (who wears eye make-up on her way to milking, because that’s just what milkmaids in Russia do), with an environmental message about cutting down the forests. However, it’s all rather clumsily made and the message has the subtlety of a brick in your face. Plus, if you can’t afford decent CGI for the human faces on the trees, better not go there at all – it just screams cheap otherwise.

4. The Story of Percival Pilts
Hands down the best
short of the night; a charming, witty stop motion animated film whose main character decides to live his entire life on the stilts. You could tell that the filmmakers made the most out of their budget, and that a lot of love and care went into the film. The story is told in rhyme, too.

5. Scission
This short was so WTF the audience were too confused to clap at first. Something about a guy traumatised by the loss of his son who loses his mind and kills his family… maybe? Mostly it seemed like an excuse to throw some surreal weird-ass imagery onscreen.

6. High Tide
A story about a teenage boy who must choose between going fishing with his Dad and going to the cinema on the beach with a girl he likes. Pretty cute.

Mushrooms

Every autumn or so, we go picking wild mushrooms in various spots around Melbourne with my Dad and recently my sister. This seems to be a European thing to do, and gets a pretty bemused reaction from most of the Australians I know:

A. Mushrooms? Are they magic mushrooms, hahaha?

B. But how do you know which ones are good to pick?

To which I answer that A, while quite delicious they have no hallucinogenic qualities whatsoever and B, easy, you just stick with the mushrooms you know are safe to eat.

Mushroom picking can be a bit like fishing – long stretches of finding absolutely nothing interrupted with brief bursts of excitement when you finally spot something that is actually edible. It’s best to see it as an opportunity to get some fresh air and roam around the pretty countryside, with mushrooms as a bonus. Eucalyptus trees are no friends of mushrooms – you need a good pine forest, and some rainy weather beforehand increases your chances. On rare occasions, we’ve had outings where the ground was virtually littered with mushrooms, to the point where we could get snooty and select only the prettiest ones. But even when the pickings are slim, it’s best to stay away from the old, overgrown mushrooms, as they won’t taste great. Also, mushrooms tend to cluster, so if you find one it’s worth looking around closely as its friends and family might be hiding nearby.

Slippery Jacks

74The Russian name for these translates literally as “butter mushrooms”. The names refer to their sticky, slippery brown caps, which are usually peeled off before cooking. There’s a kind of inedible fungi that looks rather similar, but you can tell slippery jacks by the yellow colour of their spongy underside. The brown caps often make them hard to spot on the ground, but they’re definitely worth the effort. These mushrooms are divine when marinated, and they’re pretty good fried too.

Saffron Milk Cap (or Red Pine Mushrooms)

mushroom-picking-australia-images-005-340x226These mushrooms are so distinct they’re impossible to confuse with any others. The Russian name translates as “ginger”, for obvious reasons. The older mushrooms grow into a sort of a wine glass shape, but the smaller ones are just the cutest little round things. They have a tougher texture and some people find them a tad bitter to taste – I find them delicious personally.

Toxic Beauties

toxic-mushroomSpecial mention goes to these guys, who are surely the supermodels of the mushroom kingdom. At least in looks, as they’re unfortunately poisonous and will stuff you up good. But hey at least they’re out and loud about it, without the weaselly tricks of trying to imitate edible mushrooms. And they make for a stunning addition to the autumn landscape.

Nameko

2These mushrooms are my personal favourites which, sadly, do not grow in Australia. Back when we lived in Siberia, we went on a long day trip on a bus to pick them; I never liked the city we lived in but the Siberian nature and outings like these were its one saving grace. Nameko (or opyata in Russian) grow in clusters and our dream jackpot was always to find a tree stump covered with these babies. I can still remember the smell of the drying mushrooms as they hung in rows around our kitchen.

Quote of the day

G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories are some of the most original detective stories I’ve read. I didn’t always find them 100% plausible – sometimes the mysteries are solved with pure intuitive leaps that seem a tad too far-fetched – but there’s no denying they have an atmosphere and style all of their own, not to mention Father Brown himself, an unassuming, shrewd, empathetic, endearing character. My favourite passage from the entire series is the speech he gives to the thief Flambeau in The Flying Stars:

I want you to give them back, Flambeau, and I want you to give up this life. There is still youth and honour and humour in you; don’t fancy they will last in that trade. Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down. Many a man I’ve known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime. I know the woods look very free behind you, Flambeau; I know that in a flash you could melt into them like a monkey. But someday you will be an old grey monkey, Flambeau. You will sit up in your free forest cold at heart and close to death, and the tree-tops will be very bare.

This is my chair

cat-on-a-chairby Paul Gallico, on behalf of cats everywhere

This is my chair.
Go away and sit somewhere else.
This one is all my own.
It is the only thing in your house that I possess
And insist upon possessing.
Everything else therein in yours.
My dish,
My toys,
My basket,
My scratching post and my Ping-Pong ball;
You provided them for me.
This chair I selected for myself.
I like it,
It suits me.
You have the sofa,
The stuffed chair
And the footstool.
I don’t go and sit on them do I?
Then why cannot you leave me mine,
And let us have no further argument?

Living Alone: Pros and Cons

I’ve been living in my one-bedroom apartment for a few months now, and a few hiccups aside (leaking shower, wardrobe that still stinks months after painting) it’s been mostly wonderful. It goes without saying though that, like anything, independence comes at a price.

The Good:

1. Personal space and freedom
This is where you’re supposed to say stuff like, yeah you can watch movies until 3am, walk around naked and eat ice-cream and pizza for dinner every day!! I can’t say I have much inclination to do any of these things to be honest; but it’s true, having a place all to yourself is awesome. Cook whatever you want, eat whenever you want, clean the house however often you want, listen to whatever music you want.

2. You can have your place looking just as you wish
I’m basically treating my apartment as a giant creative project, picking every single detail with the utmost consideration.¬†I’m well aware that, if I end up living with a partner some time down the track, I’ll have to work on compromising and letting go of wanting every single thing to be just so. For now though, it’s great to have the freedom to create a living space without having to contend with anyone else’s tastes or possessions, and know that everything in my apartment is there because I want it to be there.

3. Feeding one person is easier
Sure I sometimes end up making classic single-person mistakes like buying too many greens that end up in a rubbish bin. But on the plus side, one person requires much less groceries and the meals made in bulk last longer. I’m quite content to eat the same leftovers for dinner for a few days, and if you spend an evening once in a while cooking up freezer-friendly food, your lunches are sorted for weeks to come.

The Bad:

1. It’s all on you
Mortgage, electricity, water, gas, council rates, body corporate fees, groceries, renovations, repairs. I’m lucky to have a great family who can loan me money and help with things if need be, but still there’s no one there to share these costs with me on a regular basis. Needless to say, my spending habits changed a lot and holidays to Europe will not resume for quite a while. No one to help out with the housework either. Washing the dishes is particularly annoying; you wouldn’t think that one person could generate much, and yet, in a short amout of time, there goes my entire supply of spoons and tea cups.

2. OCD
My particular obsessive behaviour has always been checking the cooktop, and it got much worse when I started living alone. Just before I moved in, I accidentally turned on the gas one day and only realised this when the smell got bad, so this made me even more paranoid. I have to tell myself that the gas is switched off and everything is fine so calm down and chill out for the love of god! at least a couple of times a day.

3. Company (lack of)
Being fairly introverted, this is not usually a problem. After a day in the busy studio at work I’m totally fine with being by myself for the rest of the night, and I get to see family and friends over the weekend. Still, I’m a kind of person who can disappear into their own head a bit too easily, and sometimes, after spending a few days at home, I can feel like I’ve retreated into myself too much. You need other people to remind you that it doesn’t all revolve around you and put your problems into perspective.