Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Rated R for language.

Three tabloid journalists, Darius, Arnau, and Jeff, set out to investigate the author of this mysterious ad in the paper. Time travel? Is this a joke or the ravings of some crackpot? By staking out the post office box a respondent should reply to, they soon find Kenneth. He doesn’t seem that weird, in fact, he seems like an okay guy. It is quickly decided that Darius is the most likely of the three to gain his confidence.

Pictured: Aubrey Plaza, Karan Soni, Jake Johnson

Won’t tell you more, but this is high on my list of all-time favorite films for various reasons– terrific acting, quirky plot, setting, and mostly heart. This film has a lot of heart and chemistry, between the three investigators, and between Darius and Kenneth. Funny and moving, it managing to rehash the old girl-meets-boy story in a refreshingly original package.

Makes you want to read the want ads to find that special call for a partner…

Looking for a feel good movie? This is it.

Quick comment. You know how sometimes there’s just a special moment in a film that blows you away? This film has one. It’s so simple, so minor, and yet so amazing. When Darius “meets” Kenneth in the grocery store, she knows she has to hook him or she’ll lose him. She holds his gaze with her riveting, large eyes, while putting a can on a display shelf over her head. Plaza must have practiced this a few times, it sure doesn’t look easy to do. Impressive. Memorable. It works. He’s hooked. So are we. I was tempted to put a link to the trailer, but decided no, just go for it. The less you know the better. Just get the popcorn and hit play.

Favorite line: Kenneth: “That was before I got skills.”

FIVE MONKEYS!

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

I will say up front that this film is rated R for bloody images and violent content, so viewer discretion is advised. These days, it seems, kids see stuff far more graphic than this, but there are a few scenes that might be questionable.

This is one of my favorite movies. They made a TV series out of it, and I haven’t seen that yet. It’s on my list. The premise to this mockumentary is that a film crew was granted access to interview a group of vampires who share a flat in New Zealand–reality television with the undead. It’s hilarious! They don’t really get along all that well. They have the same mundane problems that college roomies do: there’s always someone who leaves a mess, doesn’t pay rent on time, won’t cooperate with flat rules. Then there are other problems, such as, how do you get dressed for a fancy party when you can’t see your own reflection? And then there’s that annoying gang of werewolves to deal with. (Know how to distract them? Throw a stick!) There’s an ancient vampire named Petyr in the basement who looks pretty corpsey and doesn’t speak. Viago, the most agreeable of the bunch, is in charge of feeding him. It seems Petyr might eat Viago if he’s not careful.

Co-written and co-directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this film is fresh, clever, and thoroughly entertaining. Taika as Viago is the pleaser, the one who wants to keep harmony and maintain a clean, respectable flat. Jemaine as Vladislav, self-described as “dead, but delicious” is charming but his love life is in shambles and he is tormented by “The Beast”–not who you might think. No need to wait until October to see it, though it’s a great way to start the spooky season. Even if you aren’t into vampires, you should expect to sink your teeth into this film.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 96/100!

Here is a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAZEWtyhpes

I GIVE IT FIVE MONKEYS!

Twig Ants / Oak Ants

So, I’m having one of those nothing-going-right days, and feeling pretty darned bleak about the state of the world today. Thought I’d take advantage of the tropical depression and take my aggressions out on some coral ardisia sprouting up in the woods. Got the bug spray, gloves, shovel, heavy-duty trash bags and set off. Dug up one big mama of an ardisia that had deep roots and tiny baby pups all around. Felt good to dig that up.

And then there was this repeated stinging sensation on my leg. Whipped my pants down and could not find the culprit. Shook them out. Pulled them back up.

Ouch! Another sting, higher up. Did the pants on the ground and the sweeping and the shaking. Didn’t find the culprit. I recognize the sting. I know who it was. According to a webpage called Green Pest Services Florida Ant Identification Guide (link below for full article), our culprit is the twig ant:

“The Mexican Twig Ant (Pseudomyrmex gracilis) sometimes referred to as an Oak Ant or Tree Ant, is a relatively minor pest on the Treasure Coast because they rarely come into homes. They are however quite numerous and common around homes and in commercial landscapes. These long thin ants are orange and black and typically found as single individuals. A sharp eye can spot one almost anywhere outdoors in South Florida. They prefer to live in trees and hedges and use their painful sting to defend their territory. Anyone having to do any tree trimming or landscaping runs the risk of becoming acquainted with this ants defense mechanism.”

Funny how it says a sharp eye can spot them. This is probably true. I don’t have sharp eyes. I only find them when I’m madly hunting through my clothing. I never see them in trees. If you live in a residential area in Florida with lawn service and pest control, you probably won’t encounter these demons. I live out in the woods and get to enjoy nature to its fullest: the ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and twig ants. It makes me feel better to read that they bite “defending their territory”. I thought it was just random sadistic pleasure, honestly. I have yet to invite one of these things into my wardrobe. But to be fair, perhaps I missed some frantic waving “No, go back! Get away!” from a tree branch.

I dunno. I don’t like them. I came inside, put some salve on and sat down to write this.

May your day be blessed and twig ant free.

Here’s the link to the full Florida Ants Identification Guide I mentioned:

https://greenpestservicesfl.com/florida-ant-identification-guide-list-of-stinging-biting-ants-in-florida/

Twig Ant bites 2 days later

What is Haint Blue?

What is Haint Blue?

Haint Blue is a color spectrum ranging from pale blue, to slate blue and even periwinkle.

Yup! My nickname is a paint color. I was born Helena Bluszczski but the nurse in the South Carolina hospital preemie ward saw that I was an albino and, well, no one could pronounce Bluszczski… so since I looked like a “haint” (ghost), I became Haint Blue. My brother Iggy took to calling himself Iggy Blue, but as far as I know, that’s NOT a color. Yet.

Here are some links to some videos about Haint Blue:

“The Story of Haint Blue” by This is Alabama https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im4qkbMjazU

Here’s a cool little video of porch paint colors in varieties of Haint Blue. I like most of them. Blue Allure, Dix Blue are good. Icy Moon Drops is my favorite. Hey, who gets the cool jobs of naming paint colors anyway? I want that gig.

“Prettiest Shades of Haint Blue for Your Porch” by Southern Living https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6vBGTHoHDE

Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) Italian giallo

Oh, Kittymuffins, is this a humdinger of a film! This might, just might, bounce Bird With Crystal Plumage out of the #1 spot in my favorite giallo list.

Where to start…

It has all the best elements of a great giallo, plus Mimsy Farmer–she’s terrific.

If you aren’t familiar with the genre, here’s a quick catch up. In the late 50s or thereabouts, a German production company got rights to do a series of films based on Edgar Wallace novels. They were usually in black and white with less than stellar acting, a good bit of camp, some detection, some slasher stuff. They’re called krimi (=crime). About the same time, this type of thing caught on in Italy. They derived from cheap pulp novels published with predominantly yellow covers. Giallo means yellow. The giallo genre runs a spectrum from gory sadistic slashers (not my thing) to detective story. Anything mystery/thriller/horror/supernatural. But there are some elements to a giallo that make it a giallo: masked killer in designer leather shoes, paranoia, helpless heroine —

Mystèrew, I find this trope surprising really. I watched a fair number of Sophia Loren films and as I recall, she was not a shrinking violet who would just cower against the wall as the killer came at her holding a knife. And older Italian women look pretty tough–like collectively they would beat anyone to death with skillets and rolling pins while their hair remained perfect, protected in kerchiefs, know what I mean? Anyway, the trope is usually gorgeous women whose clothes seem to fall off easily (fire the tailors!) and are ridiculously easy targets. In The Killer Reserved Nine Seats for example, a woman in a cocktail dress and three inch heels goes poking about in a basement. “Hey, crazy killer– come find me! No one could possibly rescue me here! You can’t miss me, I’m sparkling in my dress and click-clacking in my heels!” But not always. Mystere is a glorious departure from this. Wish they’d make a series. She’s fabulous.

Where was I? Oh yes, giallo elements. Lots of red herrings and mystery, and sometimes, like with this one, a saturation of gorgeous colors. Plot aside, this is a luxurious film cinematically speaking. Good thing colors don’t have flavors (unless perhaps you have synesthesia, in which case, I really want to know what that blue in the bedroom tastes like!) or you’d be wanting to lick the screen.

The plot is pretty simple: Sylvia is either a chemist or a manager of a perfume company. She is invited to a gathering of friends and the discussion veers into the dark arts of witchcraft in Africa. It is explained that when a sacrificial subject is chosen, he/she will gradually descend into madness. From this moment, Sylvia begins to experience hallucinations that become increasingly more bizarre and it is obvious that her sanity has broken free from its mooring. We learn more of her backstory, including trauma from the suicide of her mother, whom she remembers sitting at her dressing table in a black dress with white polka dots, spraying herself with perfume. I don’t want to give away much more, but I will say that the ending is quite a shock. You almost feel like that time at the theater where you went to the bathroom and accidentally returned to the wrong theater. What? Zombies? This can’t be right. Oops! Wrong film! Only it’s not.

Now here’s the thing. Up until the ending, you think you know what’s going on. As the credits role, you will probably have questions, as I did. “But…but…huh? What about–?” And while the first half of the film is pretty tame relative to the hack-and-slash gialli, it does get to the blood splatter eventually. I’m going to assume that if you are going to give this one a go, you can handle that. Brace yourself for the ending though.

I’ll be honest, I had to hunt up reviews so someone could explain the ending to me. So glad I did! Many thanks to giallo aficionado, Carlin Cook. I add the link to his review below. His take on it, and I totally agree, is that this film is similar to Identity and the ending is not literal but symbolic. Carlin suggests, and I agree, that multiple viewings would reveal just how amazing this film is–so much subtle symbolism and plot hints along the way.

FIVE MONKEYS!

Here’s a link to a video explaining the giallo genre that includes pics of the original giallo book covers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU3nyeFiDK4

Here’s a link to Carlin Cook’s review on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=l5MkkiEDp5Q&fbclid=IwAR3IKG4sUbDq92VlOEEKQt9w-75DKp4EwsuCyZeBlqKsQo8acCbA3c-qcbY

Update

Hi friends and followers!

A quick howdy to say that after quite a long time of struggling, I’ve gotten my review blog menu fixed. There were quite a few posts that weren’t visible in the dropdown boxes before. So if you’d like to take a look, I bet you missed something!

It’s embarrassing just how much of a technophobe I am. The menu thing was making me nuts. Even techies can have meltdown days, right?

Anyway, all better now!

Ooh, I’ve got some ideas for more movie reviews. Just watched a really odd one last night, and I’ll confess, I didn’t get it. Had to get help. So glad I did! Can’t wait to tell you about it. Gotta run– be well!

And meanwhile:

Monkey Mind and Monkey Heart

Beach season is almost over, but in case you are looking for your next book, check out my little promo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay5MIAeUAFs

Most of the time, monkey mind is annoying. You know, that blah-blah chatter in your head all the time. But you’ll enjoy this Monkey Mind, a funny murder mystery. Join me, Haint Blue, at my retreat in Catfish Springs, Florida. You’d think it would be all tranquil abiding, meditation and yoga, nature walks and gourmet food. Trust me, things get tense when the weather, feisty wildlife, and difficult guests, make for a killer weekend.

Monkey Heart picks up where Monkey Mind left off. After a totally dead month business-wise, bookings suddenly pick up for Halloween.

preppers

a weight loss club

a group of Wiccans

cryptozoologists

and drag queens

on Halloween?

You get French farce, Monkey Heart. Guests go missing. Uh-oh. Did they leave on their own? Were they murdered? Abducted by a Skunk Ape?

While worrying if someone or something may have absconded with my guests, Buster, the Bigfoot hunter, was stealing my heart.

And coming this winter:

I thought I was going to run off to the beach to unwind for the holidays. Everyone else had holiday plans. I just wanted to disappear. Sit on the beach. Read a book. Nap. Binge-watch cold case file shows.

Well.

You know how there’s what you plan, and then there’s what happens? Aunt Moira tried to warn me. “I had a dream you needed to stock your pantry. You’re going to have guests.”

I didn’t believe her at first. Silly me! An interstate accident, a plumbing backup, a testy gas stove, a trailer fire, a visiting pregnant alpaca–just a few of the elements that made Christmas in Catfish Springs something quite memorable.

COMING FOR THE HOLIDAYS!

Strictly Ballroom (1992) (Australian PG)

This feel-good, romantic-dance dramedy is a one I can watch over and over. The characters are way over the top, except for the two main characters. The initial camp and cheese of this doesn’t cloak the themes of this coming-of-age film, where Fran is an awkward girl whose Spanish family doesn’t fit in with the Australian culture they’ve moved into or the glitzy dance world she’d like to enter. Scot Hastings was born into a dancing family. He’s a young maverick whose dance heritage, his birthright, makes him a darling of the dance circuit–until he decides to veer off course and introduce new dance steps.

This is a modern day Fred Astaire, film, where dance is the language of self-expression and love.

The plot is simple: boy meets girl, boy doesn’t think much of girl, boy dances with girl, they fall in love, big dance finale. Don’t worry, you knew that was going to happen anyway. I haven’t given anything away really. You’ll cheer them along as they go against the system and find each other in the process. Honestly, this movie gets funnier after multiple viewings.

Fran gradually transforms from an insecure and homely girl to a gutsy, attractive woman. Scot breaks from the control of his parents.

Themes:

following in someone else’s steps or setting or your own steps

Coming of age

Conformity vs. integrity

Dependence vs. independence

rigid rules vs. creativity

insecurity vs. confidence

Honoring family and heritage

I want so much to add photos from the film, but you just have to see it. A fun film for teens or adults. Some good messages for kids about integrity and inner strength.

The ending will make you want to put on heels and stomp around the house until the neighbors consider calling the cops. Don’t even watch a trailer. Just do it. Jump in! It’s weird and campy in the beginning, it might throw you, but hang in there. Lavish costumes, saturated colors, great dance sequences–

Hey, have you got the popcorn going yet?

I feel sure Fred would approve of this review. If you love dance and like a rom-com, I’ll be surprised if this one doesn’t satisfy.

FIVE MONKEYS!

I found this article, a psychological breakdown of this film.

I’d read if after you’ve seen it.

https://psy317giannisa.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/week-2-strictly-ballroom/

Let’s Make Okinomiyaki

One of my favorite Japanese dishes is okonomiyaki. Many years ago, a sweet friend wrote out a recipe. It’s showing it’s age, but it’s so cute, I wanted to share it with you. I’ll also put some links of videos on how to make this savory pancake. If you are a foodie, you’re going to love this. Yukari did this with pork and shrimp. You can change up the ingredients–you can make a vegetarian version, loading it up with vegetables, but, oh man, I gotta tell you, if you like shrimp, scallops, and or bacon, you are going to love this!

It’s best if you can hunt up an Asian market to get a Chinese cabbage or one of those soft squatty ones, I’m not sure what those are called. They aren’t as firm as the standard, round green or red cabbage, though I’m sure those would work okay too. I’ve never tried either.

Basic Ingredients

***You may have trouble finding the yam powder. Ask at the market. They should carry the special sauce in a Japanese food section. When I first got back from Japan, I had to get a friend in NYC to tromp across town to buy it and ship it to me. It was a huge deal. These days, if you need something, you can order it online. So if you can’t find the okinomiyaki (yam) flour in your store, ask, and if all else fails, you can order on the internet.***

***If you get anxious about trying new recipes, relax. This may seem a bit intimidating, especially flipping the pancake–but even if it doesn’t flip prettily, it’ll still taste fabulous. If you really can’t abide mayonnaise, you can skip it. Don’t sweat it. But if you can, go for it. It is so complimentary to the sauce, you’ll be amazed. And you might even splurge on traditional Japanese mayonnaise in the squirty bottle. I don’t know what they put in it, but squirty Kewpie is a staple with this dish. So savory. Hmm. I’m getting hungry! Might be trundling off to the Asian market today!

My humble apologies about the dingy gray of this. I even laminated it to protect it, but it’s seen some use. I’m still glad I have this treasure. Is 1990 considered vintage yet?

Here are some links to YouTube videos on how to cook it. I know visuals help–check them out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f8pLcnpXOg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcopO_OVSpg


Peggy Sue’s White Sauce

I’m getting some advance reviews of my next book, And I’ll Have a Haint Blue Christmas which I’m determined to get out in time for the holidays this year. My publishers at Hedonistic Hound Press are editing feverishly.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some request for some of the recipes. Someone just asked me for Peggy Sue’s white sauce recipie and I she was kind enough to write it out for me.

It’s got a bit of zing to it, but unless you can’t handle any spice at all, it’s got just enough kick, but not too much. And if you do like spicy you can, of course, go a lot heavier on the cayenne.

So here it is folks, compliments of Peggy Sue:

Makes a super dipping sauce for wings–

really tasty with chicken!