“Bliss”–A Downward Spiral

A Turkish movie made in 2007,  “Bliss” is anything but.  From the opening scene of the hillside in spectacular cinematography recalling “Woman in the Dunes”, “Bliss”  is a beautifully acted cinematic gem that pits village customs against modern urbanization, religion against secularism, the disenfranchised against a justice system that blames and punishes the victim of the crime, not the criminal.  I found “Bliss” spellbinding.

The story is about three characters.  Meryem, a seventeen-year-old shepherdess, is brutally raped and then ostracized by her community and its leaders.  She is expected to commit suicide or face an “honor killing”.  The male cousin (Cemal), son of the village leader (Meryem’s uncle) is assigned the task of murdering her. A professor they meet (Irfan) gives both Cemal and Meryem shelter.

Meryem’s father and grandmother are inconsolable and powerless in the face of village customs but resigned to accept the tradition of “honor killing”.  Cemal is unaware of the nascent love he is developing for her. Against his own best interests and fundamentalist values, Cemal decides to abandon tradition and go on the run with Meryem, first to the city to see his brother and a friend, then to a distant fishing village. Serendipitously, Cemal and Meryem meet up with Irfan, a generous, exuberant university professor who is embarking on a sailing trip, and needs a crew. Together this unlikely trio sets forth on a journey that will change their lives. In the final half of the film  Meryem, the shy girl who has been almost invisible throughout her life, controlled by others and without a voice of her own,  quietly emerges as a courageous young woman igniting no less than a revolution through her determination to discover happiness, no matter how seemingly inconsequential it may seem to others.

Celebrate Beer!–Awaken Your Senses!

Last weekend my husband and I went to a class in the Artisan Series  at Montrio Bistro in Monterey.  We found it particularly interesting because, although we love beer and have visited microbreweries, we had not been to a seminar on the art and craft of making beer and studying the different types of brews.

There were two different presentations on beer and its production and distribution.  The first speaker represented English Ales Brewery in Marina, and gave a presentation while we tasted eight different beers they made, each placed on a chart in front of us, so we wouldn’t forget which beer we were drinking.  This was a nice touch, since the beers were quite different.  We  learned about the difference between ale and porter,  two types of yeast cultivation (top-fermenting aerobic ale and bottom-fermenting lager), and a rich vocabulary for describing beer–something we had not been exposed to before.  Now we can say that a beer is “hoppy” (has a bite) or ” malty” (roasted, smoky) , “nutty”, “peppery”, “salty”, and “bitter”.  We also got a chance to touch and smell samples of hops and barley, the hops a lovely dried flower and the barley a nice nutty snack in its own right.

After the English Ales Brewery presentation, a husband-wife team from BeerGeek.com talked about the regional differences in breweries they visited throughout Europe with a planned trip to Asia later to study their beer production processes as well as distribution.  This was an entertaining travelogue which demonstrated that one can plan a trip around visiting breweries and having tastings just as easily and with just as much fun as wine tasting.  A great idea for our next trip!

And finally, we had lunch–an appetizer of Wicked Lizard sausage with a mustard tinged with beer and a small cup of cheddar soup spiked with one of the local beers we tasted (Dragon Slayer IPA).  We then had a wonderful green salad with nuts, cherry tomatoes,  and pickled purple onions.  Our main course was an outstanding lamb shank in a delectable mushroom reduction, on top of a very creamy polenta with tidbits of corn.  For desert there were tiny minced meat pies!   The price is $45 per person and includes lunch.  Feel good about what you eat!

“Lincoln Lawyer”–More Than an Ambulance Chase

We saw the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” a couple of days ago, and it was a highly engaging–not brilliant–courtroom thriller of a movie in the “Grisham” style. Think the best of the courtroom dramas of the recent past: “Fracture” meets “Presumed Innocent”, for example. This film noir, based on a book written by Michael Connelly, is pure entertainment–with a few twists to keep it original and not the same old courtroom drama we’ve seen done well and also done poorly. Michael “Mick” Haller (Matthew McConaughey in one of his very best performances since “North Star” and “A Time to Kill”) is a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car sedan–hence, the name “Lincoln Lawyer”.

Having spent most of his career defending down-and-out street criminals, Mick unexpectedly is recommended for the lucrative assignment of representing Louis Roulet (played chillingly by Ryan Phillippe), a spoiled Beverly Hills playboy who is accused of attempted murder. Roulet has been accused of brutally beating a young prostitute he met in a bar. Mick senses there is something incredible about this windfall. If Roulet has unlimited funds and really is innocent, why is he hiring a guy like him, who works out of the back seat of a car? The lawyer has spent all his professional life afraid that he wouldn’t recognize innocence if it stood right in front of him, a caveat from his father. He wonders if he could be staring into the face of evil, not innocence, and is terrified that he doesn’t know the difference.

Fueled by McConaughey’s and Philippe’s bravura, career-reshaping performances, the supporting cast sustains the audience’s attention: Marisa Tomei as Mick’s ex-wife and fellow attorney, Frances Fisher as Roulet’s intimidating mother, and especially William H. Macy, as Mick’s friend and loyal but offbeat private investigator.

McConaughey has brilliantly played the hard-edged law officer before, either as a sheriff or a lawyer with Southern overtones. Returning to that type of role in “Lincoln Lawyer” may indicate that he is heading for a highly acclaimed “Paul Newman”-type of second act (as exemplified by Newman’s Academy Award-nominated performance as a marginal lawyer in “The Verdict”). He effortlessly maneuvers between charm and sleaze as Mick Haller, yet retains some basic human scruples, which will allow him to save his soul. This movie is a delicious two hours’ entertainment, not just another potboiler of ambulance chasers–you won’t be disappointed!