Top movies from 2007

I'm looking forward to reading Santosh's movie list for 2007. His advertisement of a forthcoming post inspired me to think about the year in movies. My first thought was a bit of a blank and I'm sorry to say that I had to resort to a wikipedia article on films of 2007 to kick start my memory regarding the many films I've seen this year.

These are in no particular order - but here's my 10 favourite movies from 2007:

Amazing Grace - I suppose this is a work thing, but I did enjoy the movie a lot.

Zodiac - Some complained that this was too slow, but I loved it, this one also wins the award for best screening. I saw it in a VIP screen in London complete with mini bar and extremely comfy.

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) - Brilliant adaptation of Harlan Coben novel, but made even better by setting the story in France rather than New England. One of the best of the year.

The Bourne Ultimatum - probably one of the best thriller franchises ever, made extra special for us Brits with a storyline that takes in London as well as the usual cast of cool Euro cities frequented by spies.

Knocked Up - This was probably my comedy of the year. Yes - pretty crude, but surprisingly thoughtful and an interesting take on exploring Pro-Life issues. The comedy continued when I read a glowing review/endorsement in a newspaper called The Irish Catholic!

Eastern Promises - tough and gritty, but darkly compelling. I'm a big fan of David Croenberg and Viggo Mortensen's collaborations and look forward to more of the same.

Into the Wild - Possibly my top film for 2007, perhaps swayed by the fact that I loved Jon Krakauer book. Sean Penn's screenplay is outstanding and the cinematography captures the majesty of the great outdoors.

American Gangster - Denzel was born to play the bad guy. Enjoyed this film a lot - interesting to see Crowe in a slightly understated role and playing a somewhat shambolic character.

Atonement - Another outstanding adaptation of an unforgettable novel. I liked this film, but it was by no means my favourite release of the year. Unlike Into the Wild I found it hard not to compare the book to the film.

Charlie Wilson's War - just saw this last week and loved it. Like American Gangster it manages to capture the mood and personality of its time. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic.

Two I'm still waiting to see: No Country for Old Men, I really enjoyed the book by Cormac McCarty and can't wait to see this film! Also There Will be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson directing and writing the screenplay and Daniel Day Lewis - this can only be great! Sadly it will be 2008 before I see them!

Finally the worst film I saw this year was Sunshine - seriously considered a walk out on this one.

It's a dog's life...

Julie and I are DINKS (Double Income No Kids) - not only are we DINKS, we don't have a pet of any kind. My Aunt Amy gave us an aloe vera plant last year, I haven't checked on it for a while, but I don't think it will providing soothing balm ever again.
Our lack of pets has been thrown into high relief during this holiday. My extended family includes two fine dogs: Oscar a standard Poodle and fellow vetran of tree-planting and Shawndee Ceopatra Paper Doll an Airedale Terrier better known as Cleo. Here they are on a recent walk in the snow:

Don't worry they are the best of friends! Anyway, tonight another dog arrived on the scene. She looks suspicuously like Oscar - those Poodles all look the same, but she's called Mabel and is in fact a labradoodle. She has joined us becuase Nancy has kindly agreed to do some dog-sitting.

So all these dogs and all this dog loving has made me feel a little insecure. When you are surrounded by dog lovers you start to question your own humanity if you don't tickle that pooch's tummy every time it joins you on the sofa where you have parked yourself to read crime fiction. You just start to wonder if you've got a heart. So I guess I'm feeling the need to confirm that I am indeed a dog lover. While I am currently dogless and have been for some time, it was not always thus. Somewhere in the deeper recesses of my memory is a dusty folder entitled "Cindy."

My earliest memory is the collection of "Cindy" our black and white Jack Russell. I think we had her for about 17 years so she was about 4000 in dog years when she died. I really did love that wee doggie, we all did. There are some great Cindy stories. I think my favourite involves the noxious lingering farts she laid round the house. (This is probably not how my Mum would choose to remember her.) On one occasion our entire family was at a family wedding in England and we'd left an American preacher who was visiting our church in the house for the long weekend. He had agreed to look after Cindy while we were away. Anyway, Cindy, as usual, had been farting liking a trooper all afternoon, some real sulphurous offerings. Our American preacher was being taken out for dinner by some kind folks from Church. These good Christian people came into our house to pick up the preacher and must have smelt the stench, they could not have missed it, but Cindy was no-where to be seen and the preacher was left to employ the age old tactic of blaming it on the dog. For the record, our house didn't always stink of dog farts, we ended up buying some really fancy and expensive dog food that miraculously made little Cindy's farts smell like roses. I could tell other great stories about Cindy, but I like this one, the canine guile is fantastic.

Cindy - a great example of man and woman's best friend if ever there was one. Sadly Cindy had to be put down in June of 1997. It was left to me to go pick her up and then bury her in our backgarden. I remember this episode with vivid clarity not just because it was really sad, but because I buried Cindy in the middle of a final cramming session for my Philosophy A-Level (Paper II). It seemed somehow fitting that I should break off from reading philosophy to bury my dog. Cindy - I miss that dog!

Dressing gowns were made for Boxing day

I didn't bring my dressing gown (house coat) to Saskatoon, but if I did I would have worn it all day. My family have always tried to fully embrace relaxation on Boxing Day. Everyone is overfed and a little exhausted after Christmas Day, isn't it strange how all that eating tires you out? For years now my Mum has spoken of looking forward to Boxing Day; a day when it seemed acceptable, perhaps even mandatory, to relax. What better way to make sure you relax than wearing your dressing gown all day?

Anyway - don't worry just because I didn't have my dressing gown didn't mean I sat around in the buff all day; this town is way too cold for that. But I did move pretty slowly and spend most of the day reading crime fiction. I bought the PD James novel, "A Certain Justice," last week at a second hand book store here in SK. Really enjoyed being able to read it for most of the day. As a child I once read an entire Enid Blyton novel, one of the Famous Five series, in one day, a feat of reading skill that I'm still proud of. I thought I might achieve reading zen once again, but I'm not finished and it's 1:30am. It's one of those stories that builds slowly, but really draws you in. Highly recommended. Anyway, Julie and I took a break from the relaxing to walk 10mins to Starbucks for an egg nog latte (reduced fat of course) and then went out with the gang (Nancy, Matt, Nico and Jeff) to see a documentary at the Broadway Theatre called, My Kid Could Paint That.

It tells the story of 4 year old Marla Olmstead who gained worldwide fame a few years back when her paintings started selling for thousands of dollars. Hailed as a child genius, Marla was propelled into the media spotlight and her story became huge. My Kid Could Paint That, offers an insider perspective on a fascinating story. I won't say too much, but you should see this movie. Along with the obvious artistic questions, this movie is also about family, ambition, childhood and how the media machine can swallow people up without them even realising, or perhaps realising too late. I really like documentaries and this is one of the best I've seen for a long time.
So that was Boxing Day. But the great thing about being on holiday is we can do it all again tomorrow.

A white Christmas

Happy Christmas!

If you're from Ireland, it doesn't matter how old you are, the sight of snow is always exciting. This year we were pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas; if Saskatoon has anything, it has
snow to spare!

Julie and I enjoyed a Christmas Eve walk today - Sam (happy birthday) requested some snow shots - here is a particularly impressive icicle, there are more on my facebook profile.

In the Broten family they open gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day, so it's 0:13 and we're all sitting round full of food and gifted out - look at these two happy girls:

We had a fun and busy day. Some food prep this morning (Julie's famous pies emerged from the oven and filled the house with that freshly baked aroma that drives you wild), a walk in the snow and a pub lunch; Julie and I decided this would be a new tradition for Christmas Eve. This evening we went to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, the Pastor, Harley Johnson is Dad to Nancy's boyfriend, Matt. It was a great service that climaxed with the church illuminated by hundreds of candles after a great message from Harley that offered a fresh vision of hope at Christmas. We also discovered that Matt, as well as being an expert pie maker and all around outdoor wildman, is a great singer.
A picture of Matt, Nancy, Harley

So we've had a good Christmas eve here in Saskatoon. I hope you have enjoyed your Christmas eve and have a great Christmas Day - enjoy that Turkey and remember thoughts of diets are for 31st Dec not 25th! Happy Christmas!!

Swearing shepherds

Have you heard anyone complain that we've lost "the true meaning of Christmas"? I've noticed this a few times already this year. The evidence is predictable, you know the usual suspects. But before we rush out to storm the castles of political correctness, I think it's important to point out that the chief culprit of killing the meaning of Christmas is those who think they know what it means. These criminals we catch In flagrante delicto.

We retell the Christmas story to each other at this time of year in a hundred different ways: gifts, church and parties each in their own small way express a little bit of the Christmas story. While the main aspects of the tale are retained we church folks have sanitised and polished the story so much that it is beyond recognition. Perhaps you've been to see a nativity play at church or school - aren't those shepherds so cute and those wise men, so wise and that stable so clean. Nothing wrong with cute kids, but the nativity version misses the best bits; those rough and ready shepherds, the dirty stable and those dodgy magicians from the east.

I once overheard some Christians discussing whether God had a sense of humour - yes, how very Northern Irish. While I hate to dwell on dumb questions like this for even a minute, I think the answer is so obvious when you look at the Christmas story - talk about a divine comedy. God born in a smelly cow-shed in some backwater town! My favourite part is that the angelic announcement of Jesus' birth was given to a bunch of shepherds. Far from being clean cut fellows cuddling nice cute lambs and singing hymns they were most likely a bunch of tough hairy outcasts, getting drunk and telling the 1st century equivalent of dirty jokes round the campfire. These were the people God decided to tell the good news!

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. "

One can only imagine their initial reaction when the angel shows up. What choice phrases did that visitor from the heavenly realms hear before adding "Do not be afraid." Perhaps the canadian freeze has damaged my brain but for me this year, the meaning of Christmas is not found in a word or a greeting or a nativity scene or a "religious" play - it's those 1st century shepherds thinking they must have had a bit too much hooch as they run for their lives having just heard the good news of great joy.

brass monkey weather

I've been telling Julie for weeks that I would happily swap the rain and continually grey skies of an Irish winter for the snow and sub-zero temps of the prairie. My reasoning is simple: if you're inside it's better to be looking out at brilliant blue sky and virgin white snow than fat raindrops and clouds that settle on the chimney pots and don't move for weeks. I'm still commited to this position, but Sask takes cold to a whole new level. I decided to go for a run this morning, the temp was

-15, I was dressed for a cold day in Belfast - my run lasted under 10 mins! The last few minutes of my run were accompanyied by my constant repetition of "so cold" - it was a great way to begin the day - sort of like a dry cold shower. Tough guy eh?!

Julie and I once bumped into "celebrity" chef Paul Rankin and his wife Jeanie in Belfast. Jeanie is from Manitoba so we made the - guy from Belfast, girl from Canada connection. Part of the conversation went like this:

Paul Rankin: "You ever been there (Saskatoon) in winter?"

Stu: "Yeah - we were there for Christmas and New Year last year."

Paul Rankin: "Oh Gawd - it would freeze the balls off a brass monkey!"

So I have a fresh respect for these Canadians! Everyone keeps telling me that it's really plesant at the moment and I should have been here a few weeks ago for -30. Anyway - either I dress a little more appropriately for the weather or hibernate and just enjoy looking out at those brilliant blue skies.

eggnog, elvis and evil...

A day of sleeping in, eating out, dog walking and drinking coffee - why do I feel so tired? Apologies if you are still working, but I have tasted the holidays and they are good.

After a slow-motion morning, Julie and I wandered the snow covered streets of Saskatoon with no real purpose - the best wandering is always without purpose. We lunched at the Broadway Diner. I had a Denver and felt comfortable with the numerous pictures of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elivis that adorn the walls. Which reminds me: earlier this year we went to a Church weeknd in Sligo, during one of the social/relaxing times this guy leaned across a table and said: "You've the face of evil..." I sort of smiled nervously and said "Right?" in a fairly non-comital fashion. A few minutes later I was relieved and somewhat flattered to discover he had actually said "You've the face of Elvis". I think it's the sideburns. However, we've never established if he meant the young Elvis or the old Elvis pumped up on fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Anyway, after lunch we had coffee with Liz McT at the Broadway Roastery. Liz is a wonderful person, someone who is as close to the Brotens as you can get without actually being a Broten. After a leisurely coffee Julie and I took Cleo (Nancy's dog) for a long walk - the poor pooch had cold paws by the end of the afternoon wander.

This evening we had dinner with the Pierce family. Another chance for Julie to catch up with old friends and my chance to meet new people. I always enjoy meeting people who have been an important part of Julie's life. Over the years I've acquired knowledge about many Sask people I've never met - such and such a person's son or brother or sister etc. Tonight I finally got to spend time with the Pierce brothers and Val - they lived up to their rep and we had a fun evening eating, drinking coffee and chatting. The conversation was wide-ranging and funny - they highly recommend The Movie Blog for all your movie needs.

This is my third north american Christmas, one in New Jersey and two in Canada. For some reason I always like to consume a little egg nog when I'm celebrating Christmas on this side of the atlantic - perhaps it's the whole Elvis thing. Today one of my few goals was to drink some egg-nog, but I've failed - I'll have to put that on the to-do list for tomorrow.


Busy day today. It was still dark when Julie, Chris (father-in law) and I left Saskatoon for the trip south to Regina. While the Queen City is always worth a visit our main purpose was to visit the Saskatchewan Legislature, sit in on question period and hear Cam Broten MLA (Julie's brother) give his maiden speech. Before the speech we were given a tour of the magnificent building by a wonderfully enthusiastic tour guide - we three felt like we were 6 years old again, but we sure learned a lot. Julie, an ex-tour guide was impressed!

It was great to be there on such a significant day. Cam's speech was excellent and we were really proud of our son, brother and brother in law.

After our time at the legislature we tried to visit the new RCMP (Mountie) museum, but we didn't have enough time to get the full experience so we settled for a cup of coffee and a conversation with a very random barista who was bored. Our chat with him made up for missing out on the tour.

No trip to Regina would be complete without some Rosom time. The Rosoms are part of Julie's extended family and we had dinner with them and the legendry dentist Nico at The Mongolie Grill - tasty! Yes it's Mongolie not Mongolian. We discovered that adding " bed" to the end of any fortune cookie fortune is guaranteed to produce much hilarity - seriously you should try it bed!! (see!)

So a good day in ole Regina - along with all of the above we accidentally stalked the Australian High Commissioner to Canada who was also in town for the day. He was sitting across from us during question time and also turned up at the RCMP museum, I guess he decided to pass on dinner at the Mongolie Grill...(in bed)!

happiness is only real when it's shared

Another day another post, this is a first! The holiday continues to do exactly as it says on the tin - relaxation all the way. Yesterday I skipped a baby shower that Julie and nancy had organised and went to see Into the Wild a film I've been hoping to see for some time. I read John Krakauer's excellent book a few years back and was excited when I heard that Sean Penn was working on a screen play. The film tells the story of Chris McCandless or Alexander Supertramp as he called himself - after graduating from Emory he gives the $24K that remains in his college fund to Oxfam and tramps around North America. After camping and living in various locations he fulfils his ultimate ambition and makes it to Alaska. I won't go into the details, but the story makes for a compelling tragedy. The movie does a great job of telling a complex story and I was impacted by Chris McCandless' geographic and psychological journey. His discovery that "happiness is only real when it's shared" is deeply moving within the context of his story. Incredible shots of Alaska - reminded me of our time in Northern BC and the Yukon.

Today was fun - Julie and I celebrated 5 years since we got engaged. Not sure if you're supposed to celebrate one's engagement, but we were back at the scene of the crime and thought we'd mark the day with a nice breakfast and a walk in the snow.

Aside from breakfast and coffee - we did some Christmas shopping and I indulged in one of my fav pastimes, browsing in second hand bookstores!

back in saskatoon

Yes - this blog is very neglected! Julie has done a good job of regular posting, so good that I gave up, but here I am again with a little time on my hands and that almost new year "must do a better job of (fill in blank)" feeling.

We are back in Saskatoon for Christmas and New Year - it's been a year and a half since our last visit and five years since we were last here for Christmas. On that occasion I got down on one knee and asked Julie to marry me - she agreed!

It's great to be back to see family, meet dogs and enjoy the 'deep freeze' that is SK. My poor wee irish body was somewhat shocked by the -10 temp (although this is pleasant according to the family). My mother-in-law was worried they would find a frozen stu before Christmas so I've got some long johns, a new hat and some approriate footwear to protect my body from the elements.

Aside from staying warm we have been relaxing and spending time with family. I think I'm totally switched off, although I had the most vivid dream last night about forgetting a meeting I was susposed to be at - very odd!