Friday, September 28, 2007

Life's Essentials, part II

This is the non-chicken bit.

To update swiftly, got turned down by an agent, kicked off BSSC at the second hurdle, and didn't get selected for Spark. What a cracking week that was. Is it any wonder I'm writing a novel at the moment, not a screenplay?

But now to the purely observational:

Went to West Yorkshire Playhouse to see Casanova, by Told by an Idiot - this is a collaboration between the company and poet Carol Ann Duffy, where Casanova becomes a woman. It was an interesting play, with Hayley Carmichael as Casanova being particularly engaging, but ultimately it left me cold. The physicality of the play was impressive, but it seemed to scoot too quickly over the actual motivations of Casanova herself. Here, she was a person all too willing to give, and therefore was exploited, which ends up being a play about the exploitation of women's generosity and good nature - would it have been the same with a male Casanova, adn the motivatiosn for his giving nature? I don't know.

Then saw Northern Ballet Theatre perform Midsummer Night's Dream. With music by Mendelssohn and Brahms, and choreographed by David Nixon, this is an utter delight. I saw them do this a couple of years ago and loved it so much that I had to see it again. The sets and staging are lovely, and speaking purely as an audience member with no technical knowledge of dance, it is engaging, charming, wonderfuly performed and well worth making an effort to see. Go, even if you're not sure whether you like ballet or not. Just for the music, it's worth it.

This time last week, was at the opening night gala reception for Bite The Mango in Bradford; saw lots of people I knew at the reception, which was fun, (there was a display of Bollywood dancing which was fabulous, Nina we definitely have to do that!) and also got to chat to the star of the opening night film, Jimi Mistry - he is uber-cute and very lovely indeed. He was ultra-patient with the hoardes of people who wanted their photo taken with him - huge kudos to him for being so charming and not in the slightest bit starry and arsey.

The film was Partition, a Romeo and Juliet story set in 1947 and beyond, as Hindus and Muslims moved between the newly partitioned India and Pakistan. I loved it, and thought it was beautifully pitched as an examination of a bigger story through the experiences of two individuals. The cinematography is simply gorgeous, capturing the lusciousness of the landscape and contrasting it with the horrors of war. Jimi Mistry does a fabulous job as the farmer returned from war who falls in love just when he doesn't expect to. Rob and Sue thought it was too sentimental but I thought it was pitched exactly right. It's a story that rips your heart out, and so it should. Jane and I both had tears dripping off our chins at the end. Go and see it if it comes your way.

Nina and I have had two film nights since I last blogged, hoorah for the Cineworld Unlimited card! Astonishingly, we both liked a film, at long last - 3:10 to Yuma, starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, directed by James Mangold. A classic, old fashioned cowboy movie - lots of horses, lots of desert, lots of guns. The battle of wits between Wade (RC) and Evans (CB), and the growth of the Evans character alongside the humanising of the Wade character was played to perfection. Anyone who grew up on Saturday teatime cowboy films on TV should go and see this.

We also saw Michael Clayton, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, which we were both looking forward to, on the basis that two hours of looking at George Clooney never hurt anyone. However, we were both disappointed. This film wants to be a John Grisham legal thriller, but it just isn't. I spent most of the film thinking "it'll get going in a moment" - then it ended. It's OK, but no more than that. It's not a twoey, that's for sure.

Not sure what we'll see next week, I still have to see Bourne Ultimatum, and I also want to see Ratatouille, despite the fact that in the ads, the title comes with a pronunciation guide for the totally thick. On the other hand, it may be time for a girls night in.

All of life's essentials

Film, food, and theatre - what more is there?

Haven't blogged for a while (there's been rather a lot of Real Life going on recently) so there is a backlog of stuff to catch up on - so this post will be in two parts, one on the food side of things, and one on the performance stuff. So, if you're not interested in tomatoes and chickens, please feel free to come back later.

Anyway, here's our first egg:
Laid the day after they arrived.

I thought the chickens (Milly, Dilly, and Sybil) would take a while to settle in, but in fact they started laying pretty much straight away, and we're getting two eggs most days. I'm not sure whether that means two are laying and one isn't, or all three are laying but not every day. In theory, they're all the same age, so should all be laying, so I'm leaning towards the second explanation. They're in their run during the day while I'm at work, and I let them out to free range as much as possible when I'm home. I've never seen or heard evidence of urban foxes round here but for now I'm not taking the chance. They seem to really like being out and about, having a good scratch and peck. So far they've managed to dig up a hyacinth bulb five minutes after I planted it, and make a couple of bare patches in the (so called) lawn. Dilly also made short work of a slug. The funniest bit is that they follow me about for a few minutes after I first let them out, until they realise they're not getting a treat just yet, then they go off to do their own thing. As for treats, they adore spaghetti, which is great because it means it's really easy to get them back in their run - I say "hello chickens", they run over to see what I've got, I fling spaghetti in the run and they dash in after it. Shut the door, and there they are, all locked in securely for the night.

Chickens are ace - I don't think you could own chickens and be unhappy.

The York Festival of Food and Drink is on at the moment, and V and I sampled quite a few of its delights last weekend. We went to a tomato tasting on Friday (8 different tomatoes, ranging from small marble size to cricket ball size) and afterwards the woman running the tasting was selling her produce so I bought four different types of tomatoes - Brandywine, a really meaty "heritage" tomato with hardly any seeds, great for sandwiches; Vicky, a small plum tomato; Marmande, a big beef type, and Black Cherry, a dark skinned cherry tom. So, along with the Rosada, Alicante and Gardener's Delight that I've been growing, that meant we had seven types of tomatoes in our house this week! Some of them were turned into oven dried tomatoes, and some into passata:

There are all sorts of drying recipes around, of varying degrees of complexity, but all I did was halve them, put them cut side up on a baking tray, and leave them in the oven at gas mark 1 for about 4 hours; leave them to cool, then put them in jars and cover them with olive oil.

We aslso did a cheese tasting, and a wine tasting followed by a dinner made with locally sourced food, which was great. Five wine suppliers offered a choice of wines, so we tasted probably around a couple of dozen different wines, then had a splendid Yorkshire-grown/raised/caught dinner. And tomorrow we're tasting chocolate. There's also a really good food market running throught out the festival in the city centre, so I've bought some really good olives, sausages, spices and coffee, and intend going back tomorrow for more supplies.

Handyman Steve brought some apples today, so they were turned into apple puree, slightly chunkier apple sauce, and chunkier still stewed apples to go in the freezer ready to make apple crumble at the drop of a hat. Here's the puree and the sauce:

They're brownish-looking because I use brown sugar when I stew them, to give better flavour. The puree wasn't supposed to be puree, it was going to be sauce, but I put the apples on to stew and then went out to see the chickens and they distracted me, so the apples got rather too cooked. Never mind, a quick whizz in the blender and we have another addition to our cupboard. I also made Tarte Tatin but you can't see a photo of that because we ate it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The chickens have landed

Here are our latest residents:
They live in an eglu and here are exploring their run, half an hour after arriving in their new home. I put them in the run in their travelling box, opened it up and for a few moments they sat there looking out, not moving - then one of them (the brownest one) jumped out, scoffed a bug, started pecking grass, and the other two soon followed. They then had a couple of hours of pecking grass, stretching their wings and clucking, then they took themselves to bed in their (hopefully) fox proof house.
We have three hens, and three names - we just haven't allocated the names to the hens yet. That will happen tomorrow.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Nina and Sal go to the flicks

... and guess what, we don't agree. We went to see "Atonement" - Nina liked it. I didn't.

I thought it was one of the most boring films I've ever seen. I speak here as a big fan of Ian McEwan, I love his books and unlike many people I prefer his later works over his earlier work. But as a film, for me this simply didn't work. The film is sluggish, slow, boring, dull. James McAvoy does the best he can with the limited scope he's given. Keira Knightley sticks her chin out. That's about it. It feels like Joe Wright said to his cast "watch Brief Encounter, channel Celia Johnson" - except that Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard were so much of their time that it simply doesn't work in the present day to pretend to be them. The only person who successfully pulled off the clipped voice was Harriet Walter as the mother. The best bits of the film were Daniel Mays as the surly squaddie, and Vanessa Redgrave right at the end. But that means you have to watch two hours of "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" for a couple of minutes of good stuff.

No doubt this will get all sorts of nominations for all sorts of awards - its a literary adaption, its period, its British, people can pat themselves on the back for being intellectual as they vote for it - it really fancies itself as "The English Patient" de nos jours, but it isn't; Keira Knightley is no Kristen Scott Thomas and despite the film looking lovely it just isn't that good. I wanted to like it - I wanted someone to show me that an adaptation of a book I like can turn into a good film - but along with Chocolat and Charlotte Gray, amongst others, this goes down as one of those adaptions that I wish had never happened.

One day, Nina and I will go to the flicks and agree that we saw the same film. Possibly.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Better Late Than Never

Said I'd be back later with some film reviews. Hadn't really thought it might be two weeks later.
Oh well.
Edinburgh followed by a week of intermittent internet followed by new job has meant I haven't been online that much recently, so I have mucho catching up to do with everyone's blogs. I'll get there, I promise.

Anyway, back to Best of the Fest, a day where it is possible, if you are so inclined, to see 6 films in a day. I saw 5, and in order of seeing them, they were:

Ever since reading Billy's review, I've wanted to see this film. And despite the build-up and the longing, it didn't disappoint. I completely loved this film. The story is simple - guy meets girl, stuff happens. The story is told partly through song, but (and I speak as a musical-hater here) it works. the songs are integral to the story, and utterly endearing, the sort of songs that play in your head til you manage to get the soundtrack from Amazon even though Borders and tell you its unavailable. Written and directed by John Carney, starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, its a wonderfully engaging film that's won all sorts of awards from festivals around the world. The characters are so real, and the story is so simple but so sweet and true. At the end, I had big fat tears rolling down my cheeks - not just damp eyes and a sniff, proper fat tears. Go and see it.

Skills Like These
Lots of low key publicity round the Delegate Centre and Filmhouse box office for this film - badges and postcards that make you think "hmmm - what's this about?" - which is good publicity, I suppose. Shame the film doesn't live up to it - quite. It has a basic premise which is quite good - bloke discovers he has a knack for stealing - but despite the laughs there was something lacking - heart, endearing characters, I'm not sure exactly. There were some laugh out loud moments but the characters just didn't make me care enough.

And When Did You Last See Your Father?
Adapted by David Nicholls from Blake Morrison's book, this stars Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent and Juliette Stevenson, which should result in some kind of cinematic release - one would hope so, at least. Not the most obviously cinematic book, yet it actually turns out pretty well as a film. Colin Firth is a master when it comes to showing repressed emotions, he must have one of the best faces ever for expressing everything while saying nothing, and he has a central role in the film as the adult son coming to terms with the passing of his overpowering, domineering father, played by Jim Broadbent. This is another film that had me in tears at the end. Its very English, and very resonant of a period of English life (ie if you're my age or thereabouts you'll recognise lots of it), but that shouldn't restrict its audience. Its lovely. Take tissues, and go see it.

The Waiting Room
According to its own website, The Waiting Room is a "riveting, sexy and insightful drama".
No it isn't.
"Riveting" rarely equates to getting to the end of a film, turning to your companion and going "god, how long did that go on for?" And if this was supposed to be a romantic comedy, then perhaps someone should have put some comedy in there. Oh, and some romance too. Unless you think Ralf Little's willy (he's misnamed, btw) and Rupert Graves's bum count as romance (I don't). A film that made me think "at least my screenplay has some funny bits in it". Worst film of the day. Actually, worst film of the festival.

The Hottest State
And finally. Written and directed by Ethan Hawke, this is the sort of film where you wonder just how much is autobiographical - a Texan actor goes to New York, tries to make it, falls in love, is estranged from his father - its a lovely, meandering, laid back film in just the way you would expect. Richard Linklater has a cameo, and Ethan Hawke shows up as the bad dad, but the film belongs to Mark Webber as the young actor. If you liked Before Sunrise/Sunset, you'll like this.

Next year Edinburgh FF moves to June. Can't wait.