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I've just had an incredibly pleasant dinner at the Cana Cuban Parlour towards the distant edges of Florida St. We shared a creamed black bean soup starter, topped with just enough a light sprinkling of cheese and cream. Imagine all the comfort of Chinese sweet black bean soup, but savoury, the meaty flavour of the beans just mellowed enough to not overpower. There were mojitos, very good mojitos, that were served with little shots of the underlying rum (mostly Seth's job to taste). We learned that Cuban-style rum is supposed to be smooth, surprised that rum could be smooth in the first place, and Florida-style rum is distinctly more caramel in colour and taste, also sharper -- rather more like the rum we'd had state-side before. His mojito was soda, mint and lime, pleasantly simple -- I may get one of those for myself next time. My mojito was all berry and mint and I was really happy plantains are such good tummy absorbent liners.

Seth got the arroz con pollo. I thought the rice was done well, he liked the sauce, but found the chicken erring on dry. I asked the waiter which he thought better, the slow-roasted meat, or the daily special (swordfish baked in banana leaf). Our lovely server seemed to think on this a second, then kind of gave up trying to compare the two and just described the meat in loving detail. We heard a tale of meat marinaded in orange crush, pulp and all, then cooked, a process of some twelve hours. The sauce is meat juice and orange bitter reduction. It's all served on yuca mash with many sprinklings of crisped onions and sweet plantains, topped with a richly mellow yet perfectly garlicky garlic. That description more or less sealed my dinnery fate. Cue me spending every next five minutes after my meal was served telling Seth, "This ish good. I'll be having cravings for this." Dinner win means we are going back. It means we have to find friends to drag there. It means I will have to visit during lunch hours for sandwich reconnaissance (and this stuff on the menu about sweet and savoury plantains deep fried and served with garlic sauce).

We were in the neighbourhood at all because I got this postcard in the mail saying a chocolate factory had opened in the area, called Charles Chocolates (surely it must be factory). They have an amazing space. Big glass walled kitchen, where they constantly replenish the little boxed pralines from, in fleur de sel-based flavours. There are chocolate covered nuts, 65% dark chocolate things, with peel, nuts and other wonderments. The cafe space is still being built, but there is hot chocolate, and daily pastries. We got Honey Bunnies (dark chocolate bunnies filled with sage honey -- this is sheer genius), and Seth got peanut butter pralines in dark and milk, and a sweet and salty hazelnut bar. I got a Charlemagne (it looked like chocolate mousse; what bovine says no to chocolate mousse?) and their last Meyer lemon curd white chocolate tart (because saying no to lemon curd is wrong and bad), and a dark chocolate, cherry and hazelnut bar (because dark cherries in chocolate... you get the idea).

I finished watching Chungking Express again, which I hadn't watched in at least a decade. It shows its age, most notably in how young all the actors look. Admittedly, Takeshi Kanehiro is relatively ageless, and Faye Wong could pass off as elfin in her 50s. Tony Leung improves with age, and Brigitte Lin, who plays these intense onscreen murderers (if only the old DVD-version of Ashes of Time didn't have such horrible subtitling; her entire substory of the transsexual assassin in love with himself is sincerely one of the best darn things I've ever seen). It's one of the faster Wong Kar Wai movies to go through. There's less tragically beautiful people staring off into space, which became high (if overly wrought) art by the time In the Mood for Love came out, more dialogue, actually more action. The one scene I love best in the movie, and the only I haven't forgotten over the years, is when Faye starts stalking No. 663 with gusto, changing out things in his house one after the other, set to her cover of the Cranberries Dreams (my preferred version, if only because Faye Wong's voice has a more etheral quality). Sif spent the movie in a delicate curl on one end of the sofa, then on my lap, soft grunting Sif.

As I write this, there is a cat curled up on each sofa. Dorian accidentally got to massaging my arms before I could cover them. They sting from his sharp, happy little claws. But he is a good little guard cat. He comes when he is called. I am sipping vanilla black tea with milk, and looking forward to one of the chocolate pastries, or a praline. I am liking the books I read, remembering what I love about books, finding and listening to music that makes me think. Writing seems less ephemeral, perhaps I will write about that one day.
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In between sleeping, spacing out and looking sad, I spent my first two weeks of vacation watching movies. These are the leftovers.

Fearless )

Ashura-jo no Hitomi )

Shinobi ~Heart on Blade~ )

School Daze )
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There are movies I think I seem to walk into when I need them most. All About Lily Chou Chou is at once a kind of emotional voyeurism as it is a criticism of emotional voyeurism. Anyone who indulges in media, the reason we watch movies, read books and listen to music, is in it for the emotional value. It's a form of emotional vampirism. It's a brief interlude in our lives. But we don't come out of it different people, even if we'd like to think so. Musicians put up their feelings for show. Records are out there to make money. The face we put up for other people is a lie.

Lily Chou Chou is the deconstruction of Hoshino: middle school student, head bully, small-time pimp and hardcore Lily fan. Offline, he terrorizes his classmates, blackmailing one into prostitution and arranging for the rape of another. Throughout, he is a silent spectator, handing down orders but never dirtying his own hands, watching other people in their worst moments, but never participating in anyone's downfall directly himself. Online, he's Blue Cat, the shy new member of a Lily Chou Chou BBS run by Lilyphillia.

Something with spoilers, something blue. )
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Just caught this on SBS. Seems timed to match City of Men yesterday. It would've gone down as another documentary about successful grassroots social movements by me, had it not been for two things:

1. The opening lines of this show pointed out that about 430 Israeli and Palestinian minors died from violent conflict in a year. But nearly 4,000 Brazillian minors died from violent conflict in the same period - in Rio de Janeiro.

2. In the opening minutes of this film, the founders of the AfroReggae Cultural Group asserted that they believed in the force of Shiva, that destruction and creation worked in tandem with the other.

And so I stayed from the start to the end of Favela Rising, an amazing film filled with spontaneous percussion, quiet strength and a lot of blood.

Somewhere out there, they tell me Baghdad is going to be broken along ethnic lines, that the democratic Iraq is making another sort of social choice to keep their country whole. Approximately 6,000 Iraqis currently die every month as a result of the violent conflict in their country, a rate of about 100 people a day. All over the same region, people are choosing to shoot themselves in the foot.

It is for that reason, films like this exist. Because whether it's a big war or a small war, ultimately, it's a territorial pissfight.
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Started watching this last week. From the people who brought us City of God, we have this TV spin-off that shares a basic premise -- the daily lives of young adults in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, normalized to violence and rather much teenagers everywhere else. Unlike the movie's distant, stylized drama, however, the focus of City of Men is on the people more than the place and the characters more than the circumstances. It's a great load of grit, charm and cheek, as we are brought into the lives of Larajinha and Acerola, two pre-teens growing up best they know how, surrounded by drug dealers, daily gunfights, school trips and visits to grandma. Their stories are as claustrophobic as the handicams used in some of the closest scenes, as wise as the imagination that retells Napoleon's conquest of Europe in purely territorial gangfight terms, and as brilliantly clear as the petty jealousies in the heart of a child.

It's a surreal undertaking -- within the comedy of a gang boss acting as village chief over broken sewerage pipes and runaway smoke from neighbours' stoves bothering the missus, we also know the money that makes things work is drugs sold to the rich in the suburb next door, that somewhere in the next frame, the village chief carries an M-16 because the gang up the hill has grenades. Bullies in the schoolyard stop for a game of football on the slopes, because Brazil's won the Cup five times, and damn if praise for anyone can get higher than that.

And if we forget how much the story reflects a kind of normalcy, we are reminded within the first episode that none of the young people we've met are very different from their real selves offscreen. Even the border of a TV screen can be removed, as a group of kids gathered around a videogame pause to tell us about the violence they've seen outside of their game world, before returning seamlessly into the story. Amateur actors feature heavily here, and we might even recognize recurring faces from City of God. There is absolutely zero chance anyone could mistake the people of this series as Hollywood gloss -- whether in beauty or ugliness. People are beautiful simply because they are life.
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Go Go Second Time Virgin )

Pistol Opera )

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind )

Kiki's Delivery Service )

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