A Good Yarn

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So Many Movies, so little time

OK, I've been overdosing on the M-SPIFF so I have a ton of movies to review. I know most of these are obscure and while I've gotten some great comments and I appreciate it, I know not everyone cares about a documentary about David Lynch, so I'm going to break this up into several posts and try to make them short reviews. If movies aren't your thing, check back next week and maybe I'll have some pretty knitting pictures!

I guess I'll start with some foreign films. I mentioned last time I saw one of the films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. I saw three more of them. The last Talk Cinema for this season was:

This is a bio-pic of Ghengis Khan. It's the first in what is intended to be a trilogy, so it covers the period of when he was 9 years old until he united all of the parts of Mongolia and became "Ghengis Khan". (Khan means leader) This is one of those big, sprawling movies that you need to see on the big screen. There's gorgeous scenery of Mongolia and huge armies fighting each other. I really think it would lose some of its power on television, so if you have a chance to see it on the big screen, take it. I think it may get a more wide release in the art houses later. I really enjoyed the film. I didn't know much about Ghengis Khan and I was just fascinated with his early life. It's very bloody, with those big battle scenes with swords and blood flying everywhere. But it's also a love story about the man and his wife. I was somewhat skeptical about the authenticity of the story because he seemed like such a modern guy, but it appears that a lot of it is probably based on historical facts. Since it was so long ago, some of the details are hard to verify, but the speculation does suggest this story is close to what really happened. Ghengis Khan was a pretty remarkable man and this is a flattering portrait. If you like big, historical epics, this is a film you'd enjoy.

Katyn is another historical film, this one about the massacre of thousands of Polish Army officers in the Katyn forest during World War II. Poland was being invaded by Germany on one side and Russia on the other. Russia was looking down the road to after the war and wanted to neutralize any dissent from Poland (most of the intellectuals in the country were army officers during the war), so they secretly massacred the entire group and blamed it on Germany. Of course Germany claimed innocense and blamed it on Russia, but since Poland became part of the U.S.S.R., the truth of what happened didn't really come out until Gorbachev came into power. It's another part of the war that I didn't know anything about until I saw this film and it was really interesting. There were some parts of the film that I thought were a little disjointed and I had trouble following. Sometimes I had trouble keeping track of who different characters were and sometimes characters seemed to just appear out of nowhere. But the end of the movie is so strong and so powerful that I forgave any of the weaknesses.

This last film is also based on a true story. This time it's about an Israeli military post in Lebanon on the Beaufort Mountain. The Israeli army captured the mountain during the Lebanon War in 1982 and maintained its presence there until 2000, when it decided to withdraw. The film is about the Army troops stationed at the post in the last days before the withdrawal. Hezbollah constantly attacked Beaufort and right before the withdrawal, they stepped up their attacks to try to make it look like the Israelis were retreating due to weakness rather than voluntarily withdrawing. If I had a vote for the Oscars, this would be my choice as best Foreign Language film (although I didn't see the last nominee, 12). It was a really powerful film about war and the futility of some military action and the way the soldiers get caught up in the middle of decisions made far, far away. If I had one criticism, it would be that a lot of war movie cliches are used in this film. When a guy starts waxing poetically about his girl back home and how he's going to ship back home in a couple of days, you kind of know what is coming next. Other than that, though the acting was excellent and the pacing was excellent. I felt like I was right there in that outpost with them, under attack. I just really found this one so moving and would highly recommend it.

More foreign films and lots more documentaries next time. The documentary I posted about before, "At the Death House Door" is playing again at Oak Street Cinema (as is Katyn) as part of the Best of Fest series.


Friday, April 25, 2008

More Movies, but not M-SPIFF

I saw a couple of movies outside of the festival this week. First up was:

Technically, The Visitor is part of the M-SPIFF, because it was the opening film. But I couldn't make it that night and was lucky enough to get tickets to a sneak peek this week. It's opened at the Lagoon this weekend and it's a wonderful film. It's about a Connecticut college professor named Walter who is living a life of quiet desperation. He is forced to present a paper at a conference in NYC, but when he shows up at the apartment he keeps in the city, he finds it's been illegally sublet to Tarek, a drummer from Syria and his Senegalese girlfriend. Walter doesn't want to force them out on the street, so he lets them stay with him in the apartment until they can find somewhere else to live. Then Walter and Tarek become friends, with Tarek teaching Walter how to play the African drums. One day after a day of playing drums in the park, Tarek is arrested and since he's in the country illegally, he's detained for deportation. The film is a small story about something real, but it doesn't come across as some great lecture or white liberal guilt. It's incredibly well acted and well written and directed. You get very involved in these characters' lives and really want things to turn out well for them. The writer/director is Tom McCarthy, who played one of the least sympathetic characters ever to appear on The Wire (a show that features drug dealers and murderers, dirty cops, selfish politicians and apathetic teachers). Obviously, McCarthy is just as gifted an actor as he is a writer and director.

I also saw this film:

The Counterfeiters won this year's foreign language Oscar and while I wouldn't say it measures up to last year's winner (The Lives of Others), it still is a very good film. The film is based on the true story of a group of Jewish concentration camp prisoners who were given the task of creating undetectable forgeries of British and American money. The Nazis planned to use the fake bills to flood their enemies' markets and weaken their economies. They also realized they could use the forged money to buy real supplies for their failing military operations. The film's main character is a master forger who is in the death camp not only as a Jew, but also as a career criminal. The film does a good job of exploring the themes of the high price of survival and the prisoner's guilt over the relative luxuries they got (comfortable beds, reliable food, easy work) for their work as opposed to the rest of the prisoners. The movie is a little bit formulaic in the characters, but things did not always proceed exactly as you expected. It's definitely the type of film that will give you plenty to think over and talk about afterward.


Monday, April 21, 2008


No knitting content today. I did have my Saturday knitting group this weekend, but other than stabbing myself with the knitting needle right in the palm of my hand (those Knitpicks needles are sharp!) I really didn't accomplish that much. I finished the other twined knitting cuff, but it looks just like the first, so I won't post again. Thanks for the really nice comments, though!

I did see a couple of movies at the M-SPIFF on Friday night. First was a documentary:

This is a documentary co-directed by Steve James, who directed Hoop Dreams and Stevie and it's an incredibly powerful film. If you've seen either of those earlier films, you know James' documentary style - he illustrates a larger issue by getting intimately involved in the life of someone dealing with that issue. In this case, it's the death penalty and the main subject of the film is Carroll Pickett, a man who served as the prison chaplain at the state prison in Huntsville, TX. While Pastor Pickett was working at the prison, the death penalty was re-instated and as you may know, Texas has been doing a booming business in executions ever since. Death Row inmates are transferred to Huntsville on the day of their execution and Pastor Pickett counseled and ministered to 95 prisoners on the day of their executions, including being present for the execution. The film really focuses on Pastor Pickett as a man - fully human, with weaknesses and strengths, like us all. Interspersed with Pastor Pickett's story is the story of one of the men he counseled, Carlos Deluna. Mr. Deluna was executed in 1989 and there is a great deal of evidence which demonstrates that he was an innocent man. This is an amazing film that everyone should see, whether they are in favor, opposed or not sure about the death penalty. It will be shown on the IFC channel on 5/29 and will be released on DVD. Mr. James was present for the screening at M-SPIFF and talked a little bit about some of the special features they will include on the DVD. Pastor Pickett made a tape recording of his thoughts following every execution. We hear some of those tapes in the film, but there will be even more of those recordings on the DVD. I would highly recommend this film to anyone.

The second film I saw wasn't quite as affecting:

This was an Irish film, directed by John Boorman ("Deliverance", "The General", "The Last Tailor of Panama") and starring Brendan Gleeson as a successful Dublin land developer who suddenly is being stalked by a man who looks exactly like him. The title is a reference to the term "The Celtic Tiger" which was the name given to the period of the 90s when Ireland had a huge economic growth. Ireland went from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the wealthiest by the end of the 90s. As a result of that, there'a a wide gap between the haves and the have nots and there's also been a huge increase in alcoholism and drug abuse. Gleeson's character gives a speech in the film where he warns to be careful when you have a tiger by the tail, because it can bite you in the arse. The political message of the film was pretty heavy handed - from that speech by the Gleeson character to the large number of people in the streets vomiting and getting high and the ongoing debate between the main character and his son, a Marxist, about the evils of capitalism. There was a section in the middle where I grew very annoyed with the film because the events occuring because of the mistaken identity between the main character and his double could have been easily solved with a few phone calls. I hate it in movies when conflict is created by people behaving as no real people really would. I liked how the film ended up, though, so by the end I had a little more fondness for the film. I liked Gleeson in both roles and I loved Ciaran Hinds in a small part as the main character's childhood friend who is now a priest. Kim Cattrall plays Gleeson's wife. She does a fairly good job, though her Irish accent comes and goes. I can't really say I'd recommend this film, but if you're interested in Irish film or have a particular fondness for Dublin, it may be worth a rental.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mid-week post

I posted a preview for this movie a couple of weeks ago and I got to see it last night:

I loved this movie. If you saw the preview (scroll down to my March 10 post if you want to watch it), you know it's about a chorus of senior citizens who sing rock n roll songs. Like all great documentaries, this film just brings you right into these people's world and you feel like you're part of it. Seeing old people sing The Clash and Coldplay could be cutsie and cheesy, but they and the chorus' director take it so seriously and professionally that it really is wonderful. These people really connect with the words to the songs and put all of their years of living into interpreting them. I cared so much about these folks by the end, it was almost like they were my own relatives. It's hilariously funny sometimes and deeply sad others. I would recommend this film for anyone. And, I have a pass for two free tickets to the next sneak preview on Thursday, 4/24 at the Edina Theater. If anyone would like the pass, let me know. The film opens it regular release next Saturday, 4/26.

It's also being shown as part of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF)this Saturday at 5:30 at the St. Anthony Main theater. The MSPIFF is also showing some of the foreign films I've reviewed here over the last couple of months that I saw through Talk Cinema. In particular, Roman de Gare, And Along Came Tourists, and Yella. So, if any of those interest you, you don't have to try to find a DVD, you can see them at the Film Fest. The MSPIFF starts today, so expect to see reviews of some more obscure films again over next couple of weeks.

I do have some knitting related news, too - I got some new yarn in the mail:

This is a sock yarn from C*eye*ber Fibers called "Yes We Can". It's dyed in the lovely blues and reds of the Obama logo with some lovely purple, probably to show how Barack is building a bridge between the "reds" and the "blues". And best of all, $15 from the sale of each skein of yarn goes to the Obama campaign. I love it!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Knit Intensive Week

Wow, last week was the most knitting focused week I've ever had, except when I've gone on knitting related trips.

Thursday night I was lucky enough to see the Yarn Harlot speak at St. Thomas. It was a dreadful day - snowing and cold and dreary. In April I've had enough winter and I hate to see snow. If it was just me, I probably would have skipped it altogether. But I was going with friends and we were driving together, so I decided to be a good Minnesotan again and venture forth. I'm so glad I did. I'm so behind in my blog reading that I haven't read the Harlot's blog in months, but she's still in fine form. Hilarious thoughts about how the rest of the world views us knitters and how much we benefit from this crazy knitting-obsessed lifestyle. After the talk a few of us went over to the Chatterbox Pub for more knitting and music bingo - so much fun.

Even though we were all super tired from our evening the night before, we ventured forth again on Friday for Stitch, Bitch 'N Die, Joseph Scrimshaw's latest production at Bryant Lake Bowl. I've mentioned on this blog numerous times how much I love Joseph, so it's probably not hard to predict what I thought of the show. It's a comedic murder mystery in which all of the suspects are the members of a knitting group. Seeing two of my worlds collide like that was fantastic and I thought the play was hilarious - and somewhat insightful of knitting groups, believe it or not. It's playing this weekend and next weekend again, so as always, I suggest you check it out.

As if all of that knitting fun wasn't enough, Saturday was the annual Minnesota Knitter's Guild Yarnover. I had a conflict on that day last year and skipped it and I forgot how much fun it is. It's just great to see a bunch of your knitting friends all in one place. And of course there's the market. I managed to kind of restrain myself. Sort of.

I took two classes. The morning class was Twined Knitting with Beth Brown-Reinsel. I really didn't know much about what this technique was, but I wanted to take a class with Beth Brown-Reinsel, so I signed up. I'm so glad I did - I love it! Twined knitting is a Swedish technique where you knit from both ends of a ball of yarn, alternating which end you knit with each stitch. It creates a fabric that is very thick and cushy and warm and you can make lovely textured patterns. One layer of stitches can sort of sit on top of the other layer of yarn, making it look very three-dimensional. I think it's lovely and I loved the technique. We started a sampler wrister in the class:

I finished up the wrister at home and I'll definitely be making the other one and trying this technique again in the future.

The afternoon class I took was a Beaded Knitting Bracelet class with Lucy Neatby. I've done a lot of beaded knitting before, but again, I just wanted to take a class with Lucy Neatby and of course I love beaded knitting, so there you go. I can't say I learned a ton of new things, but I really enjoyed the class. And I did learn how to get beads from a hank onto your knitting cotton in a quick and easy way. I was just stuck on the concept when I had read about it before, but having her show me how to do it did the trick. We started the bracelet in class, but I haven't finished it yet:

And to cap the whole week off, I finally finished Jessica's hoodie (just in time for the warm, sunny weather we're having now):

Project Name: Olivia's Sweatshirt
Designer: Julie Carles and Jordana Jacobs
Pattern Source: The Yarn Girls' Guide to Knits for All Seasons
Yarn: Crystal Palace Merino Frappe
Yarn Source: Needlework Unlimited
Date Started: 12/21/07
Date Completed: 4/13/08

Comments: This should have been a quick and easy knit, but it ended up taking me a long time. I think I just didn't have enough knitting time to work on it regularly. I had no problems with the pattern though - easy to read and understand and no errors that I found. I loved the yarn - it's a brushed merino, so it sort of feels like fleece. As I mentioned before, I ended up having to buy one more skein of yarn to finish the pocket bands, so if you make this sweater, buy an extra skein of yarn just in case or use a different yarn for the pocket linings as Cathy suggested. If I had thought of that before I sewed the linings in, that would have been a fantastic solution.

Jessica agreed to model it when I had just pinned the zipper in:

and the hood view:

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Weekend Update

Saturday was Talk Cinema and we got to see this film:

This is the kind of movie that you benefit from going in cold without knowing too much about it and figuring it out for yourself, so I'm not going to say too much. I'll just say that I liked it. Richard Roeper calls movies that have sort of interesting structure or twist endings "puzzle movies" and this would fit into that category. It's the kind of movie that you can talk about on a lot of different levels afterward - I love when a movie can bring up big philosophical issues as well as filmmaking and "taste" issues and you can really talk about it. If I still was in a movie club, this is the kind of movie I would choose to watch and then sit and talk about afterward. We had a good discussion led by a film critic from out east, but a small group where you could really talk about your thought and opinions about life would be even better.

After Talk Cinema, my friend and I had our monthly beading afternoon. I ended up just making one necklace and one pair of earrings because this necklace was very time consuming:

I really like how it turned out, though. The earrings were a little easier, but it was hard to work with the delicate chain - sorry about the poor photo quality:

In every picture I took, the camera focused on my hair, not the earring. I could have posted a lovely picture of my hair, but that's not what I wanted.

I also got the latest installment of the Amazing Threads sock club:

I should probably cancel my subscription for that, because I don't need any more sock yarn and I really only LOVE about half the selections, but now that it's only every other month, it's kind of fun to get and not that expensive. I'm going to wait until the May selection comes and re-evaluate then.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Other Fun

Besides going to the movies, I've had some other fun too. I think I forgot to mention I read this book:

I know, I'm late getting to these. I try to read each book right before the next movie comes out, so I have the book fairly fresh in my mind and I don't know what's going to come next when I see the movie. But after I finished book 5, I couldn't wait that long to read book 6, so I read it now. If you read the Harry Potter books, you've probably already read this one and if you don't, you probably don't care, so I won't describe it. I'll just say that I really loved it and I'm really sad there's only one more book left. So far I've managed to avoid any spoilers for the final book, so I may read that last one this summer before I do stumble across something I don't want to know.

I also read this book:

I'm trying to go through all of my books and get rid of the ones that I realistically will never read and read some of the ones that I've had for a long time. This is a mystery that's part of a series about a woman who is an attorney and grew up with hippie radical type parents. In the series, she sort of struggles with her identity and where she really sees herself in the world. I started reading this series either when I was in law school or shortly thereafter and really loved it and identified with the character. For whatever reason, I set the last three of this series aside and never read them. I wish I had read this when it first came out. It's set in the mid-90s and a lot of it is about computers and technology and all of that stuff is now incredibly dated. I'll still read the last two of the series because I enjoy the authors writing and the story and characters, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it to others to pick up now.

I also did a little visiting for Easter. I dyed Easter eggs with my niece, Alexis:

My nephew Jason, wasn't really sure about the taste of eggs, but he sure liked playing with the plastic Easter eggs:

Isn't he absolutely adorable? He turned 1 just after Easter, so I got to celebrate that with him too. Also adorable is my new "nephew", Dexter:

Alexis just loves him. He's so wiggly and puppy-like. Love him!

And finally, I've done some knitting. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting up with the Uberstrickenfrau while I was in Sioux Falls. We both managed to overcome our shyness and fear of meeting strangers from the internet to have coffee and knit and it turns out it's almost like we already knew each other and weren't really strangers. Huh, funny that. You can read her hilarious (as usual) tale of meeting on her blog. She's not as far behind in blogging as I am, so you'll have to scroll down a little bit. She even captured the moment for posterity with a photo like a REAL blogger. I'm so glad to have met in person and super excited to have someone to knit with when I'm ready to strangle my family (not those cute kids, just the adults).

As for the actual knitting itself, I am almost done with my other niece, Jessica's hoodie:

I absolutely ran out of yarn, so I was just going to sew on the zipper and call it done, but when I put my hands in the pockets, I think they are too shallow, so I'm going to see if I can still get another skein and knit on the pocket ribbing on the top of the pockets too.

I also finished the first of my Cable Lattice socks. What a difference a few stitches make:

In the ankle area, where I had a lot of stitches, the striping disappeared and the colors were sort of randomly spread out. By the time I decreased down to the foot size (4 stitches less than on the leg), the stripes had morphed into flashing. I actually kind of like it. I think it looks cool and so different. Here's how it looks on the foot:

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