Saturday, December 24, 2005

Fellini's Roma

Roma (1972) is Fellini's tribute to the chaotic, jumbled, surreal city of Rome. Some viewers might find the film's lack of a traditional plot and characters a bit too chaotic and directionless, but in my opinion, it's one of the film's strengths. Freed from any allegiance to plot or character, Fellini roams the city, past and present, real and imagined, unhinged from any purpose other than the sheer joy of throwing his frenzied fancies onto the screen, one after the other.

He offers us a series of vignettes all connected--more or less--to the autobiographical character of a film director (named Fellini) making a film about Rome, complete with self-reflexive debates about what sort of film to make and what to include: glimpses inside of two old-fashioned Roman brothels (the expensive and the cheap), a group of construction workers digging a metro line, the discovery of ancient Roman frescoes which begin to disappear a few moments after they're uncovered, a warren-like maze of a boarding house full of odd characters, and best of all, a Papal fashion show.

Some of the scenes satirizing Roman manners (if that's the right word) may be a bit too specific for a non-Italian audience: a long, drawn-out scene in a busy neighborhood restaurant and another at a rowdy old-fashioned vaudeville performance may still please viewers with their surreal inventiveness, but the object of their satire--Roman eating habits and communal behavior--might be lost on an audience not intimately familiar with the Rome of the 1960s. Also, his portrait of a city overrun with hippies seems a bit dated

But in the end, the city of Rome is the perfect love-object for Fellini, and his perfect film subject: a strange and infinitely-faceted palimpsest of images and memories whose complexity and mystery only grow in the imagination and with the passage of time.

FilmStocker Rating: A-

Friday, December 23, 2005

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Here's a simple, classic way to prepare roasted vegetables.

You can use any combination or amount of vegetables. Some favorites for winter are potatoes, peeled garlic cloves, chopped onion, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, turnips, carrots and beets. You can also throw in some green beans, eggplant and bell peppers if you have them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the vegetables well. Peel the root vegetables and squash, and then chop everything into bite-size pieces.

Put the vegetables in a roasting pan (You may need to use two, or even three pans, if you've used a lot of veggies. ie If the vegetables are mounded so high they're above the edges of your roasting pan and threaten to fall out, you'll need to divide them between pans).

Coat the vegetables with olive oil (about 1/4 cup per pan) and toss well. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10-15. Check the hearty vegetables (potatoes and beets) for doneness and continue cooking until everything is tender.

The Miracle

A yogi wanted to cross a river and had not the penny to pay the ferryman, so he walked across the river on his feet. Another yogi hearing of this said the miracle was only worth the penny it would have cost to cross on the ferry.

-W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer's Notebook
(London, 1949-51)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Santa Baby

In the spirit of the holidays, we here at Film Stock have put together our Christmas wishlist. Just in case you're at a loss for what to get us:

1. Lasik surgery. Oh, the gift of sight. To toss aside these glasses forever.

2. Phono preamp. One that works.

3. Digital projector. The Infocus 4805 would be fine. We love to watch movies on the big screen, thanks.

4. A trip to Europe or Venezuala.

5. You can always just give money. That's fine. It will do. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Floating Cloud" Broccoli and Tofu

This isn't a dish to make when company comes. It's more of a reliable "healthy dinner in pinch" to make when the question "What's for dinner?" is met with blank stares and a bare fridge. The flavor combinations in the "Floating Cloud" dressing--miso and sesame, garlic and ginger--could make anything taste delicious. The recipe for the dressing comes from the indispensable Book of Miso by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi.

Put chopped broccoli florets and a block of tofu, cut into half-inch cubes, into the basket of a steamer. Steam until the broccoli is tender-crisp and the tofu is warmed through.

Serve over hot rice, and top with the dressing and toasted sesame seeds.

Floating Cloud Dressing
6 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 clove garlic
Dash of powdered ginger, dash of powdered mustard.
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, or else whisk or shake well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Three Slaves Dancing

Three Slaves Dancing (2004) tells the story of three brothers who are struggling to deal with their mothers' recent death. The hyper-sexualized, fleshy atmosphere in which the story takes place is hypnotic and gorgeous, but, unfortunately, also a little stilted. At times, the visual artifice can make it seem that the film is depicting--not so much a relationship between three brothers--but a fantasy about brotherhood. The film's images are a little too composed, a little too perfect--gorgeous faces and bodies cavorting in beautiful French lake country--all photographed with a care that can be excessive.

The narrative, on the other hand, has an admirable sense of meandering independence. The writer-director's willingness to relinquish control over the story's direction allows his characters breathing room and a chance to develop some compelling autonomy, but, at times, this same detachment can create a sense of vagueness and inconsequentiality. Issues of homosexuality and race are represented with straightforwardness, frankness and complexity, which is admirable, but in the end, the events in the film never really seem to amount to much. Everything seems to be in the right place, but somehow the film's heart isn't ticking.

A word of warning: there is an upsetting and traumatic dog death. Scenes of row after row of ham hocks in a packing plant where one of the brothers works may disturb some vegetarians.

FilmStock Rating: C

Monday, December 19, 2005

Epson MovieMate: Review

This weekend I had the opportunity to look over and use the Epson MovieMate 25, the new, all-in-one DVD projector system, which currently retails for around $1200.

The Epson MovieMate is sold as a package which includes the projector, a built-in DVD player, a built-in 2.1 sound system, and an 80" screen. At $1200 it represents a pretty good deal: digital projectors, at the bottom of the line, begin in the $1000 range, DVD players begin at around $50, passable sound system $200, and screen $150.

The Epson MovieMate, unlike a plasma screen, is incredibly simple to set up. (For my complete comparison of digital projectors to plasma screens click here). We had it playing just a few minutes after we took it from the box. Controls for adjusting the image and focusing were clear and easy to use.

The easiest place to put the machine is on a coffee table in front of the couch where you plan to sit when you watch movies. However, the lens is adjustable so that the projected image on the screen will not be distorted even if the machine is at an angle to the screen. Therefore, a side table or any number of other arrangements would work nicely as well. It may seem obvious, but one of the most important things to know about the MovieMate (and any other digital projector) is that you will need a dark room to watch it in. Although you will get a decent watchable image in the daytime, the darker the room is the better your image will be. Even eliminating small sources of ambient light will produce a dramatically better image.

The Epson MovieMate is attractively designed, looking like a square, chunky white robot. It's a simple design that's pleasing, but also unobtrusive. The screen comes in a long, narrow, black carrying case which sits on the floor on built-in feet. You pop open the top, unfold a central stand and then unroll the screen vertically. The small sound system is surprisingly impressive. There are no surround speakers, but the provided speakers do a good job of projecting sound convincingly around the room. The sub-woofer is small, but adequate: it managed impressive effects. It's also possible to connect the MovieMate to another sound system, if you'd like to, say, connect it to a separate 5.1.

The MovieMate also has RCA-video-in hook-up so you could concievably connect it to your VCR to watch your old video collection on the big screen. It also reads picture CDs so it would be a great way to do family slide shows.

In order to test the machine I watched Fassbinder's Whity. I also took a look at pieces of Fellini's Roma, a recording of the ballet Coppelia, an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets, the animated film Watership Down, and the black and white film noir Strange Love of Martha Ivers. All of them looked fantastic on the big screen. As I've said before, there is simply something ineffable about projecting a movie, something that isn't replicated any other way. Images were large, sharp and colorful. Roma was particularly breath-taking. Animation, if you're a fan, is one area where the MovieMate particularly shines.

One of the problems of digital projectors for some people is that they notice rainbow effects in the projected images. For the people who see them, rainbow effects can range from a minor nuisance to a major problem, causing headaches and irritation, even making movies unwatchable. (It's therefore essential to test any digital projector before you buy it to find out if you are one of the people who is sensitive to rainbow effects!!) . I did not notice any rainbow effects in the movies I watched. There was a small "screen door" effect, but it was not at all obtrusive and after a few moments my attention was drawn elsewhere and I didn't notice it any more. Others in the room didn't notice it until I pointed it out, so it's possible I only saw it because I was looking for it. (Screen door effect refers to small digital cross-hatching in the image, as if you were looking at the image through a screen door).

The Epson MovieMate is one of the best options for people who want a home theater projector system, but who don't want to spend a lot of money or time installing something complicated and expensive. Sharper images and more impressive sound are certainly possible, but at much greater expense. All in all, a great little machine.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Tarnation (2003) is the debut film by Jonathan Caouette. It's an autobiographical documentary about growing up with his schizophrenic mother, comprised mostly of old home movies, super 8 footage, answering machine messages, family photographs, etc. which Caouette edited together himself on his iMac. The small, independent film debuted at the New York Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and was later picked up for wider theatrical release.

The movie is an incredibly moving document about Caouette's enduring love for his mother, in spite of the pain her illness causes to those around her. His manipulation of images, graphics, sounds, music and titles is innovative, but never self-consciously so. It's amazing to see so many new ways of piecing together a story, but to still have the film retain a very natural, straight-forward, easy to comprehend narrative line.

To call Caouette's childhood "troubled" or "difficult" is an understatement. Foster homes, sexual abuse, a mentally disturbed mother, drugs, institutions, and dysfunctional family members are all part of the picture. And Caouette doesn't shy away from sharing even the most discomforting and revealing of recorded family history: young Jonathan trying on drag for the first time at 12, early and twisted attempts at horror movies, his mother and father bickering on camera at a reunion, his own institutionalization and his mother hamming it up for the camera in a series of manic episodes.

As depressing and harrowing as much of the film is, Tarnation is ultimately about the redemptive and transformative power of love and artistic creation.It really is one of the most amazing little documentaries around, truly inspiring what someone creative can make with so little money and backing. Its budget is touted (minus the home computer) as being about $150.

FilmStock Rating: A

Sushi Party

Last night we went to my sister's place up in Roswell for a sushi party. Roswell is a suburb about 650 miles north of Atlanta where she moved when the taxes in Atlanta got too high.

It was fun playing with her off-the-hook-cute kid who is getting ready to turn one, but is already cruising around the house at warp speed on hands and knees, giggling at everything.

To have a sushi party, you will need sushi rice (about 1/2 cup per person is enough for a feast), rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, nori sheets (the ones that are about 6x8 inches), soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi (green horserasish root). You also may want some inari wrappers.

You'll also want some stuff to put inside the sushi. I suggest roasted red pepper, peeled cucumber, slices of Japanese omelette, spinach steamed and squeezed dry, steamed carrot, avocado, grilled tempeh or tofu, etc. For the "flexitarians," as my sister calls them, you may want to have on hand some smoked salmon, cooked crab meat or even sushi tuna if it's available and your friends are brave.

1. Make the sushi rice. Follow the directions for rice I've given here.

2. Cut the veggies and other stuff into long skinny pieces about the size of a fat pencil.

3. Once the rice is cool enough to handle, set up rolling stations for everyone with a cutting board, serated knife, nori rolls, rice, sushi ingredients and a bowl of water for moistening fingers. Turn on some good music and make sure everyone has a glass of wine. My sister served the delicious Vina Borgia.

4. Lay a piece of nori, shiny side down, on your cutting board. With moistened fingers, lay a strip of rice horizontally on the nori about one inch from the bottom. Lay a few ingredients on top of the rice. (Here's what it should look like so far).

5. Now roll the nori tightly around the rice. Some people find a bamboo rolling mat helps, but I've never quite gotten the hang of those so I just roll it up on my own, free-stylin'. It yields okay results.

6. Lightly moisten the open edge of the nori roll with water, seal it shut and let it sit for a moment before slicing it into rolls with a serated knife. Continue to make nori rolls til the wrappers are gone or you're sick of it and then break out the inari wrappers. Toss the remaining rice with whatever you like in your inari and stuff 'em.

7. Arrange everything on a serving platter and serve with the pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi. Enjoy!