Sunday, September 14, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive: dark and delightful

Have you seen the film 'Only Loves Left Alive'? It screened in early 2014 and is now out on DVD, iTunes and so on. I wanted to write a little something about 'Only Lovers Left Alive' because it is so rare for me to find a film that I've enjoyed as much as this one.

This is a vampire movie (the trailer oversells that fact). I expected the film to be a generic horror melodrama. Surprise! OLLA turned out to be a sweet romance with many oddly funny moments, too. The vampire stuff was secondary.

Tilda Swinton combines her regal alien beauty with rock chick swagger - so perfect for a vampire. Tom Hiddletson became a very big name as a scene-stealer in comic book movies but I'm old school so I remember him as tactless, snarky Martinsson on Wallander. They were both excellent in this film: I am now officially buying into the Hiddleston hype.

Adam and Eve are an adoring vampire couple who have been married for centuries. Who cares about the 2,500 year age difference? Their chemistry is obvious. They are a true ying and yang pair. Eve is vibrant, a literary connoisseur who lives in Tangier. She is fascinated by everything and everyone she observes around her. Adam is a heavy-hearted musician living in an abandoned part of Detroit, hidden away from the 'zombies' (ie. humans like us). He is finding his immortality to be a little too much to bear. Who says vampires can't be clinically depressed? It's up to Eve to keep him going.

This is a film about the mundane moments in the lives of extraordinary beings. It asks, what keeps you interested in life if you're immortal? Art? Science? Love?

It struck me that 'Only Lovers Left Alive' has a lot of elements in common with another of my favourite films, Wong Kar-Wai's 'In The Mood For Love'. For example:
-rich atmosphere
-extremely slow and deliberate pace, very sparse on action
-focus on characters, story is made up of small moments
-so much texture
-more is left unsaid than is actually said
-impeccable soundtrack (I've had the OLLA soundtrack on repeat, listen here)
-nuanced, believable performances by the two leads

'Only Lovers Left Alive' is definitely not for everyone, as the reviews calling it dragging, pretentious and indulgent will show. However, I loved drifting through this charming, gorgeous, strange story and dwelling in the mood for a long time afterwards.

Filmwell posted a thoughtful and detailed review of OLLA here.

Note: if you're considering watching OLLA solely for that famous Hiddles smile, be warned that there is but one in the entire film and it was relegated to a deleted scene. I'll save you some time: here it is. Not a spoiler.

Bonus Tom Hiddleston details! A film called Crimson Peak was filmed this past spring in Toronto and at various heritage properties around southern Ontario. Hiddles stars in this one too and there were reports of sightings coming from all over. Two of my professional associates gave me their accounts of seeing him:

Informant #1: "I didn't actually meet him! I was so starstruck and intimidated I couldn't even make eye contact. All I could do was gaze! To be fair to myself, I was also trying really hard to be professional, since I was technically there as a consultant - I had to crush my inner fan girl. He seemed pleasant and laid back and gorgeous. He was much taller than expected. He was very tall, looked kind of Edgar Allen Poe-ish with black hair, a Victorian suit and the little round Victorian sunglasses. You can see why I was a little intimidated....but he didn't act snobby or anything he was smiling and chatting with people and very professional."

Informant #2: "I  tried very hard to get his autograph in Hamilton and stood in line for hours but to no avail. He was actually so polite: he was taking 10 minutes with each person and posing for photos with babies and dogs etc. But he drove past us leaving the park and I honked and he looked at us and waved! Sadly for me, I realized on account of bridge construction when he was filming in Hamilton that he was likely passing my house every day. My front yard was covered in bathroom reno stuff and looked super low rent. The thought of him seeing my ghetto front yard on a daily basis really irks me. He is a very huggy person - very physical - even with complete strangers. He was not in costume. They'd finished filming and I guess it was a meet-and-greet thing that they had organized on account of so many people wanting to see him. I think he stood there for hours and hours and hours. He had been there for hours already before I even knew he was down there and we were there for at least two. Very patient, lovely, very genuine and open - never seemed grumpy about the fact that he was standing next to a washroom in a public park for like five hours."

Sounds like a good sport.

Monday, August 18, 2014

FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Toronto: North Korea vs. USA!

The FIFA Under 20 Women's World Cup is being played here in Canada this summer. The rules of this tournament are just the same as the "big boys'" World Cup, except that the players are women aged 17 to 19. Sixteen teams qualified for the U20WWC.

I have always wanted to attend a World Cup match and this one was played on a Saturday afternoon just a transit ride from my apartment. Perfect. It was a quarterfinal match so when I bought the tickets last month, we didn't know which teams we'd be seeing. In the end, the opponents were USA versus the team variously referred to as North Korea/Korea DPR/PR Korea/PRK. It was a well-balanced pairing!

I brought my good zoom camera to the match, wrapped in a plastic bag against the rain. I think this is the first time I've used the 'sports' mode for photographing actual sports.

The match in photos from the third row:

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - flags
Opening formalities.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - North Korean anthem time
North Korean anthem time. Their uniforms seem to include a team haircut. Very practical, ladies.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - American anthem time
Star Spangled Banner time.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - the refs
Here are the refs.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - pre-game handshake
Pre-match handshake.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - USWNT huddle
US team huddle.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - North Korea huddle
North Korean team huddle.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup
Game on! Lots of excellent footwork on display for both sides. The North Koreans seemed to have more cohesive teamwork, though.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup
It was raining throughout the first half.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - BMO Stadium
The stands look a little empty but attendance was 7,200. More people were sitting on our side of the stadium.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - USA celebrates their goal
USA celebrates Mackenzey Doniak's goal at the six minute mark.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - North Korean throw-in
The famous Brazuca ball.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - FIFA in Toronto
FIFA flag over Toronto.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Half Time
USA was up 1:0 at half time.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Jon So-Yon scores
Jon Yo-Son scored with a penalty kick at 54 minutes. The ball is in the bottom right corner of the net. The score stayed at 1:1 through to 90 minutes and 30 minutes of overtime.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Mackenzy Doniak had a chance with this kick
Lindsey Horan had a chance with this free kick but couldn't break the tie in overtime.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - penalty kick time
A very close match: possession was 51% North Korea and 49% USA. Now it was down to penalty kicks.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - USWMNT reserves watch the penalty kicks
USA substitutes watch the tie-breaking penalty kicks.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - penalty kick time
Waiting for penalty kicks to begin.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Fans of North Korea
Some North Korean flags emerge from the crowd! To be honest, I think many of the Canadian spectators were cheering for North Korea... I confess I was favouring the reds, too, just because I suspect those ladies have had extremely tough lives training as athletes to represent North Korea.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Kim Chol-Ok stops the kick
Kim Chol-Ok stopped three of four penalty kicks. Apparently she just loves penalties! (The ball is in front of the S in Emirates.)

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - winning penalty kick
Katelyn Rowland allowed three out of the four penalty kicks she faced. (The ball is in front of the T in Emirates.)

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Winning Moment
North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Winning Moment for North Korea
The winning moment for North Korea!

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Kim Chol-Ok shakes US coach's hand
Kim Chol-Ok shakes hands with the US coach. The keeper was voted Player of the Match.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Handshake
Some long faces on the American players who were now eliminated from the tournament.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Winning Tears
And a few tears of relief for the North Korean players, particularly the girl with the taped knee who had been taken off injured.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - Winners' Bow
Thanking the crowd for their support.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup
We were undeniably damp but it was a good evening out with co-workers.

North Korea vs USA, U-20 Women's World Cup - After the game
It's all over at BMO Field. No more U20WWC matches in Toronto and sadly, none of the 2015 Women's World Cup matches will be played here, either.

Official FIFA video recap here. Match report here.

Four teams now remain in the tournament: North Korea, Germany, Nigeria and France. Follow the rest of the U20WWC here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Dubai Food Tour with Frying Pan Adventures!

Al Samadi Sweets, Diera, Dubai

When I visit someplace for a short amount of time, I hesitate to write about it in that authoritative travel blogger tone. I'm not an expert on the destination and I feel like a fraud pretending that I am. Here's the exception: I spent only three days in Dubai but I feel confident in writing that you've absolutely got to take a Frying Pan Adventures food tour if you visit the city.

Frying Pan Adventures was founded by Arva who writes about the Dubai food scene on her highly regarded blog "I Live in a Frying Pan". I have to respect anyone who takes their blog to a higher level and Arva has done that brilliantly by establishing Frying Pan Adventures. Although this is a relatively new venture, Arva's tours are already ranked as the #1 Activity in Dubai on TripAdvisor, with 234 five star reviews so far.

The Tour:
This is a review of the Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage. Frying Pan Adventures is more than an eating event. At each stop, Arva teaches about the culture, heritage, customs, ingredients and even etiquette of the different Middle Eastern regions. She also offers insight into the migration of people from around the world into the Emirates, the reason for the high density of good eats in the Diera neighbourhood of Dubai.

My cousin and I meet Arva at Al Rigga Metro station at 6pm sharp. Soon, we are joined by seven other foodies and the tasting marathon begins...

Sultan Dubai Falafel and Qwaider Al Nabulsi dishes
Shaworma at Sultan Dubai Falafel
Sweets on sale at Qwaider Al Nabulsi, Diera, Dubai

At our first stop of the tour, we are served specialty dishes from next door restaurants Sultan Dubai Falafel and Qwaider Al Nabulsi. The starter course includes appetizers like green falafel and chickpeas blended with herbs and olive oil. This was also the moment when I discovered that I love Palestinian-style sweets! I tried kanafeh for the first time: the dish combines soft, sweet, stretchy cheese topped with crispy threads of pastry, all saturated with sugar syrup. How did I not know about this delectable stuff before? (Note! I found tasty kanafeh at Patisserie Royale in Scarborough! Baklava too.)

rDSwg4 on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

Next stop: the show that is the Egyptian pizza shop! This dish is called feteer: the baker tosses around the dough to make it as thin as possible, then he stretches it out on a marble counter, smears on some cheese, folds the thing over itself a few times, adds more cheese, folds it again then he slides it into the oven. Fast, fast. And tasty, too.

Arabic coffee at Al Samadi Sweets, Diera, Dubai
The proprietor of Al Samadi Sweets offers me a cup of Arabic coffee.
Al Samadi Sweets, Diera, Dubai

At Al Samadi Sweets, Arva teaches about the complex and contentious origins of baklava over a cup of traditional Arabic coffee (I assume it's an acquired taste...). The famous baklava from Al Samadi is made with 18 layers of filo! Arva also trains us to recognize the different types of ma'amoul biscuits based on their decorative motifs. We taste delicate pastries rolled with sweet cheese and rosewater, biscuits with various nut fillings and a whipped meringue made from the root of the soapwart tree. Half of us like the meringue and half of us do not. Of course, I liked it!

Syrian sweet shop Asail Al Sham in Diera, Dubai

It is at a Syrian sweets shop called Asail Al Sham that I have my favourite bite of the night. Asail Al Sham is a beautiful shop, ornate with black and white marble and geometric patterns, not to mention the many trays of artful pastries. It's the Syrian-style ice cream, booza, that I get excited about. We watch ice cream being pounded into shape in a chilled cauldron and then rolled in pistachios. We are each served a small slice. The booza is dense and bordering on chewy, almost a hybrid of ice cream and marshmallow, with a perfume-y essence. I am still thinking about booza months later, upset that my search for Syrian ice cream in Ontario has come up empty.

Yemeni style Al Tawasol Restaurant, Diera
Yemeni style dinner Al Tawasol Restaurant, Diera
Yemeni style chicken and lamb at Al Tawasol Restaurant, Diera
Moving on: our group takes over the the Bedouin tent room at Yemeni restaurant Al Tawasol. Kneeling over the large platters, we help ourselves to mandi - rice and meat which was slow-cooked in the ground. The lamb is exceptionally tender and the rice has absorbed so much flavour while slow cooking.

in the tent at Al Tawasol Restaurant, Diera
Cousins, comfy on the majilis.

At the spice shop with Arva

There are two more quick stops along the way: we check out a spice shop where Arva tells us how to choose the best quality ingredients like saffron (hint: don't buy the dusty, sun-exposed stuff from the tourist souqs). We also sneak into an Iraqi restaurant, Kabab Erbil on Al Rigga Road, to see the unique method of cooking Iraq's national dish, masqouf (Tigris River carp). The large fish is cut open into a flat butterfly which is propped upright beside a fire to smoke and then placed directly on coals to cook and caramelize for up to three hours.

Iranian-style bread cooked on hot pebbles at Abshar Restaurant, Diera
Iranian tea and sweets at Abshar Restaurant, Diera

Our final stop, Abshar Restaurant, is the most refined of the night with its white tablecloths and fine china. This is an Iranian restaurant. Arva tells us that the place is usually very lively with music and singing but tonight it is quiet and nearly empty because the Persian community is in mourning for a recently passed notable person. After a restless four hours up and down the sidewalks of Diera, I don't mind a calm moment.

We get a close look at loaves of long, holey bread (sangak) being baked in an oven filled with hot pebbles then hung up on nails to cool off. Arva talks about the complexity of Persian cuisine which prizes sour flavours and perfectly cooked rice. We try some of that sangak with a delicate roasted eggplant dish. I could go for more if my stomach were not on the verge of bursting. We finish off the night with Persian mint tea (chai) and hey, more desserts!

At the end of the night, my brain is just as full as my belly. Arva managed to teach us so much about history, culture and politics of the region while we were munching our way around Diera. She has left me with a lot to think about as well as a mandate to seek out my newly discovered Arabic favourites when I return home to Toronto.

The Details:
The Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage walking tour costs 415 AED per person and includes more food than the average human can deal with. Several other tours are offered, see more info here. I suggest booking early.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin