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Thursday, January 30, 2020

'Imaginary Feasts' and 'Mina's Recipe Book, Terezin 1944' DVD: Tales of WWII Survival

Icarus Films provides a sadly timeless lesson in survival as to its double-feature DVD release of the Anne Georget documentaries "Imaginary Feasts" and "Mina's Recipe Book, Terezin 1944." This message is that mentally escaping a harsh reality is an effective tool for surviving seemingly fatal horrific hardship.

"Feasts" provides a truly in-depth look at prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, Soviet Gulags, and Japanese prison camps discussing their favorite meals in order to survive near starvation and other atrocities as to their confinement. These include an American soldier and a woman who pays a heavy price for her unwarranted reliance on the principle of diplomatic immunity. 

The main focus is on female prisoners in a concentration camp who take thinking about their favorite foods to the next level; they risk heavy retribution to steal scraps of papers to write down the recipes for those treats. This extends to the contribution of each woman representing the cuisine of her region of her country. It is highly predictable that the French woman are the stars of this project.

A survivor, the ancestors of survivors. a historian, and a chef are among the talking heads who put everything in perspective. In addition to learning about these books, it is surprising to hear even more general information about concentration camps than many of us have known for decades. The relationship between the foods and their native regions is equally interesting.

"Book" tells about the pre-war life and the imprisonment of the author of that tome; we also learn of the post-war path of the book and the importance of it to the persons into whose hands it travels.

As indicated above, the larger impact of these films is how the prisoners used the books to survive when most of us would have chosen a run for the barbed wire as a relatively easy out as to a seemingly unsurvivable situation. It also provides perspective the next time that we endure an hour or so of hunger until our next meal, which likely will be exactly what we are craving at the moment. Even more importantly, fussing because a promised 30-minute wait at Olive Garden is at the 45-minute mark should be shame inducing, 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

'The Titfield Thunderbolt' BD: Keep Calm and Rail On

The Film Movement Classics division of Film Movement pairing the recent Blu-ray releases of the 1953 British comedy "The Titfield Thunderbolt" with a Blu-ray of the (reviewed) 1949 Ealing social-commentary-dripping comedy "Passport to Pimlico" provides an excellent chance for a taste of what the "Titfield" back cover aptly describes as the strong contribution of Ealing to the golden age of British cinema. The numerous comment elements of "Titfield" and "Pimlico" include legendary Britwit T.E.B. Clarke being the scribe of both. 

"Titfield" being the first Ealing film shot in Technicolor makes it especially apt for Blu-ray. The British countryside truly looks idyllic. 

Fans of '60scom "Petticoat Junction" will recognize many elements of "Titfield." A primary premise of both comedies is quirky good-natured small-town folk heavily relying on a rail line that operates between their community and a nearby town. Although the Hooterville Cannonball of "Petticoat" fame survives numerous attempts to shut it down, the effort to cease the operation of Titfield rail service succeeds. The rest of the story is that eliminating this competition profits a local bus company. 

The Titfield populace demonstrates their "keep calm and carry on" fortitude by deciding to run the rail service themselves. Getting the initial provisional approval is only the tip of the iceberg as to this titanic endeavor. 

The numerous obstacles as to actually running the train include a lack of necessary experience with the exception of a man who clearly does not work and play well with others. This is not to mention the opposition of those wanting to derail this effort. 

Hilarity soon ensues as to things such as first building up an adequate head of steam and subsequently preventing an overheating that threatens to turn a potential figurative train wreck into an actual one.

In classic film fashion, it seems that a combination of sabotage and ineptitude is leading to an inevitable bad end for the good guys. The ensuing hilarity begins with taking a page out of both incarnations of classic scifi series "Battlestar Galactica." 

This is the beginning of an extended climax in which the train being allowed to continue operating is conditioned on it making a monitored run on time. Of course, hilarity with a heavy dose of keeping "the suit" oblivious to the actual situation ensues. Suffice it to say that Clarke shows his awareness of a Hollywood ending.

The copious "Titfield" BD extras shows the same love for the film that Classic demonstrates for "Pimlico." A written essay provides great insight into the film, the bonus feature "Making 'The Titfiled Thunderbolt'" expands on that. We also get a handful of other "behind-the-scenes' features and the original trailer. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Apple Watch 5: B+ Product Makes A+ Gift

The apt starting point for this post on the Apple Watch Series Five is the 1999-2002 CW sci-fi teendram "Roswell." A central fine young brother from another planet is stressing over what to give his easy but demanding earth girlfriend for Christmas. He is advised to buy her something that she really wants but would not buy for herself; equally insightful but more amusing wisdom comes from similar series of the era "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The pithy remark from that show is "a gift certificate; like money, only less useful,"


The first part of the "Roswell" equation dates back to this summer; the panic of phoneous interruptus occurs when I realize just as it is too late to turn back that I have left my iPhone 8 at home. The consequences of this include cancelling plans to see a movie so as to not lose out on loyalty points by not being able to have the app for the chain scanned.

This incident prompts the first of many discussions regarding whether buying an Apple watch is worth it; a big pro for this guy who has always worn a watch since the seventh grade is knowing that I never would forget the watch. Related big pluses are not feeling compelled to always carry around the often bulky-feeling phone and the momentary panic associated with the phone not being in the remembered pocket. 

The cost and the inevitable forced obsolescence are big cons; another is the belief that having cellular service for the watch is an additional expense; time will tell if that is so.

The Unboxing 

Unwrapping a gift to find a gleaming white box is as exciting to lovers as tech. as discovering a robin egg's blue box is to a trophy spouse or significant other. Finding that said packaging contains the latest and greatest is even more thrilling. It truly is something that I really want but am unlikely to get for myself,

The same is true as to the AirPods with the charging case with which Apple gifted me roughly a year ago; I still use the wireless Beats headphones with which Apple gifted me a few years ago when flying.

Finding the watch in a protective pouch is exciting; finding the strap in two pieces in a separate sub-box is less enjoyable; it is understandable that some folks want to further line the pockets of Tim Cook by buying custom straps; it is less understandable that that requires the rest of us to suss out how to attach the provided straps in this age that greatly values instant gratification, Even being a "when all else fails, read the instructions" guy rather than a RTFM dude is not an issue when there is no FM.

The first few efforts to attach (and detach) the straps did not go well; even getting it right is not the end of the story. Fastening the watch to your wrist requires blindly lining up a prong on the lower strap with a hole on the upper strap; this is getting a little easier but evokes sympathy for women having to fasten bras. 

A cool element of the Apple watch for Gen Xers is that it looks like a Swatch; having one of those timepieces that is another great gift actually bought in Switzerland being destroyed in a very '80s way during my school days still evokes sadness. I ran it over when it fell out of my pocket when I got the keys to my Mustang out to drive home after renting "Ghostbusters" on DVD; yes, I was wearing Vuarnet sunglasses with a Ralph Lauren cologne and a polo shirt. (Of course, my feet were sockless and clad in Topsiders.) 

The Apple calculator working on the watch evokes thoughts of the nerd de rigueur accessory of the late '70s and eary '80s; the Casio calculator watch. 


The watch nicely pairs with an iPhone after downloading the watch app on the latter; however, not every app transferring to the watch is mildly disappointing; a little online research shows that Chirp for Twitter compensates for the Twitter app itself not being compatible with the phone.

An oddity is that the watch does not seem to be compatible with the Amazon or the Amazon Music apps but does display the Music song that you are playing on your phone; the lack of an app may be be attributable to the Notorious JPB trying to compel people to buy the Alexa that is designed for use in your car. 

A personal choice of having the time, the local weather, the phone, messaging, e-mail, and the battery life display on the "homepage" makes for an equally nice and practical display. The clear and adequately large display is nice for those of us whose eyesight is not-so-perfect.

Speaking of the battery life, it seems that moderate use sucks up 50-percent of the life each day. Also speaking of the battery life, it is disappointing that the watch simply does not have a port for the standard Apple charging cable. 

You must place the watch on an (admittedly cool) magnetic charging pad, which does quickly charge the watch. A big downside as to this effort to facilitate Tim Cook buying Greenland is that forgetting this charger on even an overnight trip (especially if you do not bring your phone) can create a big problem.

The better news is that the voice feature works very well as to both texting and telephoning with a technology that precludes butt dialing except for the occasions on which all of us speak out of that orifice. Although folks familiar with fictional detective Dick Tracy will think of his wrist radio, a very nifty thing is that you do not need to hold the watch very close to your mouth for it work. Further, the text feature is amazingly good at filtering out ambient noise such as music, television, and other people speaking. It would be nice if you could erase part of a message; rather than having to cancel and rerecord. 

One note is that watch technology not being especially widespread will earn you funny looks as people see you seemingly talking to yourself without holding a phone or having a bluetooth device in your ears. (AirPods work AWESOMELY with an iPhone.) 

The fun and functional Etch-a-Sketch style Scribble feature is a good way to avoid questioning looks. 

To Buy or Not To Buy 

Returning to the initial theme of the post, the gift of an Apple watch is guaranteed to thoroughly delight anyone with any interest in tech. It also is a stupendous way to treat yo self to celebrate a big win.

​At the same time (pun intended), this being a pricey luxury item that mostly is a substitute for another pricey luxury item makes running up a credit bill to purchase it foolish; in such a case, there are better uses for your money than trying to keep up with the Cooks. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

'Styx' DVD: 29 Wins for Film About Cruising for Ethical Bruising

The Blu-ray quality Film Movement DVD of the 2018 drama "Styx" proves that some do make 'em like they used to; aspects of this are showing that art and commerce are not mutually exclusive and that even a simple low-budget concept can be exceptional in the right hands, such as those of writer/director Wolfgang Fischer.

The well-deserved 29 wins and 18 additional nominations for "Styx" circumventing the globe shows apt love for this film about a solo sailing trip turned horrific ethical and moral dilemma. These accolades include Fischer getting the "New Auteurs" honor at the 2018 AFI Fest and several wins at the 2019 German Film Awards.

The following Movement trailer for "Styx" offers a strong sense of the multi-award-wininng perfect performance by Susanne Wolff in this essentially one-woman show, the aforementioned cinematography, and the compelling dilemma around which much of the action is centered.

The opening on-the-job scenes establish emergency-room doctor Rike (Wolff) as a compassionate and fierce medical professional; subsequently embarking on the aforementioned journey to what can be considered a Charles in charge natural paradise shows that her strong will and independence are not limited to her work. 

The first real obstacle on this trip is the most physically daunting; a warning of an impending storm does not deter Rike from literally and figuratively changing course. The ensuing tempest may not be perfect but does throw very rough weather at this fearless crew of one. Her tiny ship is tossed but not lost; nor does she run aground. 

The calm after the storm is disrupted when Rike encounters a ship in distress that is filled with people who do have to live like refugees. Rike wisely initially follows maritime protocol in alerting the authorities; conflict arises when the powers-that-be express less-than-hoped-for concern while strongly directing Rike to not come to the rescue. Part of this relates to not attempting a rescue that endangers the rescuer.

The next round of ensuing chaos relates to the passengers on the sinking ship seeing the sailboat of Rike as a sanctuary that prompts a literal swim for the figurative border. However, Rike does bring one of these passengers on board; the ensuing events epically proves that no good deed goes unpunished.

Fischer and Wolff expertly convey the mounting tension as the situation on the other ship becomes increasingly dire, the still-absent authorities amp up the intensity of their insistence that Rike not jump ship, and the now unwelcome passenger exerts strong pressure to come to the aid of his group.

It is predictable that everything comes to a head (no pun intended) near the end of the film as all act according to his or her nature; the surprising manner in which this occurs reflects the 29 wins for the film. 

Movement supplements this with the food-for-thought short film "Ashmina." The excellent pairing of this movella with "Styx" relates to the young girl at the center of it is like Rike in that she is caught between two clashing worlds and faces intense pressure to be a good girl and do as she is told. This is not to mention the girl having a similar third-world existence and aspirations as the refugees on the the "Styx" ship.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

'Passport to Pimlico' Blu-ray: Post-War Brits Get Gaul Up in Ealing Comedy

The Film Movement Classics division of Film Movement  December 31, 2019 pristine Blu-ray release of the 1949 Ealing Studios Oscar and BAFTA-nominated classic comedy "Passport to Pimlico" (paired with a (soon-to-be-reviewed) Blu-ray of the 1953 Ealing comedy "The Titfield Thunderbolt") adds to the mountain of evidence that British fare kicks the arse of American movies.

The scope of this post allows sharing that "Pimlico" is an esteemed member of the genre of brilliant mid-century British political satires. Although not as well known as films such as "Dr. Strangelove" or the cult classic "The Mouse That Roared," "Pimlico" offers the same quality witty subversive social commentary. Suffice it to say that 10 Downing Street gets the royal treatment. 

The "go to your local library to learn more" endorsement in this space is in the form of encouraging anyone who enjoys quality comedy based on strong material and quality performances to read the essay and to watch the bonus features in this set.

Highlights of the latter include the insightful and entertaining video interview with BFI curator Mark Duguid. His discussion of "Pimlico" includes its inclusion in the Ealing trilogy that consists of that film, "Whiskey Galore, and the Alec Guinness classic "Kind Heats and Coronets." Duguid also touches on the notable career of "Pimlico" screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke, which includes the Guinness film "The Lavender Hill Mob." Another extra "You Are There" tour of the on-location shooting shooting of the film.

From a more modern perspective, "Pimlico" plays out like an early-season "Simpsons" episode in that surprising increasing hilarity/mayhem ensures from an everyday occurrence gone comically awry.  

The excavation of "the last unexploded bomb in England" (until another "last exploded bomb" is found) largely is a non-event in 1947 for this middle-class London community that has a Springfield-quality cast of quirky characters from every walk of life. This literal bombshell named Pamela becomes more newsworthy when a post-Blitz Bart Simpson and his pals engage in shenanigans that cause Pamela essentially to go nuclear. 

The first twist is that the explosion reveals an 500 year-old treasure chamber. The "special guest star" that plays a major role in things getting out of hand is Margaret Rutherford of "Miss Marple" fame. Lumpy Rutherford plays the academic historian called in to investigate the discovery; Professor Hatton-Jones indisputably determines that both the treasure and the surrounding environs are the property of Burgundy. 

The ensuing hilarity largely revolves around the once (and future?) Londoners in the community embracing living in Burgundy. Much of this glee revolves around these reverse-Brexit individuals determining that they no longer are subject to post-war rationing and other restrictions that the British government is imposing on them. This escalates to "border town" residents rushing to get in on the act in the same manner that Americans flees to Canada and Mexico for similar advantages.

A memorable moment in the interview with Duguid relates to his mentioning a scene in "Pimlico" in which a character comments that the community is defying the British government because that group believes in British principles. 

This revolting (pun intended) development triggers a hazy memory of Springfield and/or Homer Simpson declaring sovereignty either separately or in the same episode sometime in the 31 seasons of "The Simpsons." 

In true diplomatic fashion, each move by either the new residents of France or their British enemies prompts escalation on either side; this culminates in a siege in which the Brits try to isolate and starve out their former subjects. This culminates in a highly symbolic London ending that reflect the British attitude that many uproars ultimately turn out to be much ado about nothing.

​In this case, the play especially is the scene and all's well that ends well. Adding that where there's a will, there's a way is mandatory.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

'Toy Story 4' 4K: Proves the Rule of Three

A review of the theatrical release of Disney flick "Toy Story 4" aptly notes that "Toy Story 3" ends the adventures of Woody (Tom Hanks) et al on a perfect note that should have been the end of the story. This evokes strong thoughts of "Crystal Skull" being such a huge (and inconsistent) follow-up to the sublime "Last Crusade" in the Jones trilogy. Both "4" and "Skull" make one yearn for the days when big-screen tributes would consist of bigger, bolder, re-releases of the classics.

One of a two related general notes is that the once groundbreaking but now mature Pixar technology does not hold the same thrill as it does as to "Toy Story" (1995), which is the first Pixar feature film. Although "4" looks spectacular in 4K, it seems that even folks who could not color within the boundaries or draw a straight line but now can suss out how to operate an Apple watch can learn the Pixar system and do as well as (if not better than) the "pros."

The next related note is that a combination of having 4k at home and Disney sinking to the level of merely shamelessly rehashing old ideas has led to no longer seeing Disney films in theaters; it does not take long for 4K sets to hit the $15 mark, which is not much more than the price of a matinee ticket.

One of the biggest narrative flaws of "4" is that it quickly abandons the fun (tinged with some darkness in "3") of the original trilogy. Speaking from the perspective of someone who largely shares the views of W.C, Fields regarding kids (but not animals), "4" preying on the deepest fears of children is highly disturbing. This is aside from the creepy aspect of "Story" lore that the toys play dead whenever a meat suit of any age is around. 

The cold open of "4" lulls viewers into a false sense of security as to both quality and tone. It is a flashback to a simpler and kinder time nine years ago. Now college man Andy is a happy everykid, and his friends with active secret lives are a large part of his life.

Sheriff Woody leads a harrowing covert mission to rescue an RC car that is left out in the rain; the thoughts regarding "It" are moderate, Bo Peep plays a pivotal role just ahead of being boxed up and shipped out. Woody pursuing this soulmate provides foreshadowing of stranger things to come.

We then move to the present; the Freudian nightmare begins with a superficial room cleaning leading to an angsty Team Woody being locked in the closet of new owner Bonnie, The symbolism is apt as to Woody and his rival for the affection of Andy turned best buddy Buzz Lightyear. The horror continues when all but Woody, who aptly remains trapped in the closet, make a great escape. 

Woody soon takes (and mostly retains) center stage when he stows away in the backpack of Molly to support her during her kindergarten orientation; the activities of that day lead to Molly making new kid on the block Forky. Forky is a spork with googly eyes, a pipe cleaner for arms, and Popsicle stick feet. 

Forky being a dim-witted freak is perfectly fine, and the other toys welcoming him into the tribe sends a very positive message. The problems with this character extend well beyond his intense suicidal tendencies in the form of frequent aggressive attempts to throw himself into the trash.

Suspension of disbelief allows accepting that toys that at most are occasionally brought to school can articulately think and talk. The fact that they have ears allows accepting that they can hear. However, Forky can speak within seconds of his "birth" and does not have ears. 

A more annoying issue relates to big brother figure Woody explaining to Forky that the latter is a toy (rather than trash) because Bonnie writes her name on his feet. The first flaw in this logic is that the "Story" kids and their real-life counterparts do not "mark their territory" as to all of their playthings. There is no personal memory of ever having done that.

The even more annoying aspect of this is that, per Woody, the food that I would bring to work would come alive in the refrigerator. This is not to mention the beer that I would put in the counselors' refrigerator when spending college-era summers at a camp. The "Story" logic provides that I drank my friends and ultimately subjected them to an even worse fate. 

The illogical plotting fully take place when Bonnie takes her toys on a RV road-trip; Forky does not suffer any harm on jumping out of the window of a vehicle that is going at least 45 mph. The same is true as to Woody, who goes after his friend. Woody stating that he easily can catch up with the group when they stop 5.3 miles down the road builds on this frustration as to the lack of logic.

A less annoying aspect of this is the bigger plot point that the "good" toys repeatedly go to great lengths to prevent Molly from losing current favorite toy Forky. Once more returning to real life, I do not recall any soul-scarring trauma on getting separated from favorite toys. The angst of Molly relates to Millennials and the next generation always getting participation ribbons and having every whim indulged. 

Things turn truly dark on Woody and Forky taking a detour on almost reaching their destination; Woody finding evidence of Bo Peep prompts him to drag Forky into a dark antique shop. This leads to a fateful (and potential fatal) encounter with evil queen of the shop Gaby Gaby and her even more creepy ventriloquist dummy minions. 

The plot thickening agent at this point is that Gaby essentially wants to harvest a kidney of Woody in the form of replacing her defective voice box with his functional one. The rest of the story is that this plaything that makes Annabelle look like Raggedy Ann thinks that an ability to speak when her string is pulled will prompt someone to want to take her home.

Woody gets away at the cost of Forky becoming a hostage; this leads to a standard "Story" development of the toys embarking on a perilous mission. 

The most disturbing event as to the ensuing lack of hilarity would be a major spoiler that evokes thoughts of a #MeToo villain. The toys subsequently putting themselves at great risk solely to help psychopath Gabby is slightly less upsetting but makes absolutely no sense.

Another bothersome aspect of trying to find Gabby a good home reflects the same nth degree of corporate greed of Disney under Czar Robert Iger as does the film itself. 

Team Pixar clearly is trying to guilt parents into buying their little darlings every toy that they want; the idea is that the Forky (or the Sven the reindeer, etc.) on the shelf at the Disney store will be miserable until a child brings it home to love. Again, I still like toys and collectibles (and have shopped at Disney World stores) but have not blinked an eye as to leaving lion cub Simba collecting dust under harsh fluorescent bulbs. 

The bottom line regarding all this is that the cult of Disney is so pervasive that the above observations will not influence many people; however, these musings reflect that this childhood favorite studio is loosing its grip on those of us smart and insightful enough to see through the mouses**t.

Friday, January 3, 2020

'A Feast of Man' DVD: Who Wants to Eat a Millionaire

Indiepix Films fully lives up to its name as to its December 17, 2017 DVD release of the 2017 dark comedy film "A Feast of Man." This low-budget film that literally provides food for thought is textbook arthouse fare.

"Feast" centers around four childhood friends gathering at the upstate New York vacation house of a family friend. This quartet reunites with a hope of profiting in the wake of the announced death of peer/stereotypical trust fund baby Gallagher. The other members of this rogue's gallery are fiance Ted (aka have you met my friend Ted), quirky loyal butler James, and French trophy girlfriend Arletty, 

Attorney/executor/nepotism hire Wolf, Jr. is thrown back on arriving at the house to learn that Gallagher recorded a video will after making a traditional one. The shock and awe extends to conditioning Wolf and all the rest each inheriting roughly $1M on literally eating the deceased.

"The rest" are former flame/current Ted fiancee Judy and stereotypical wimpy TFB Dickie.

The concept and the look of "Feast" evoke strong thoughts of the highly similar '90s cult film "The Last Supper." That one has a group of intellectuals who share a home invite people whom they agree have no right to live to the titular meal for the purpose of killing them.

The "Feast" beneficiaries accept the terms of the will to varying degrees as they relive their past and consider their presents in both senses of that word. This, including unwarranted extreme cruelty to a "townie," shows that all of our gang fully stays true to type.

This leads to a wonderful perverse climax that includes a totally out-of-the-blue twist that proves that the rich are different. 

An element of this reflects the class divide. One million dollars is not chump change but is not enough to prompt many high-net-worth folks to seriously considering cannibalism, would likely prompt many middle-class people to consider expanding their diet, and would almost certainly prompt folks with McJobs who live paycheck-to-paycheck to ask where's the beefcake.

Indiepix supplements this with a clever main menu that labels the scene selection option "ala carte" and ironically title a fauxmmercial" "A Touch of Luxury."