Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Very French New Year

Welcome to my first recommendation!

'Tis the season of New Year’s Resolutions (aka the reason I started this blog!) so I felt that it is only fitting to make the theme for the month of January “Resolve”. 

Now, this can be taking in any number of ways. I challenge you to watch the movies I think follow this theme, and you tell me how they fit. Maybe one of them has a great ending—there’s nothing like a good resolution to a compelling plot line. Or perhaps the main character may display resolve in the face of a seemingly hopeless quest. Anyway, what I am trying to get at here is that movies can speak to us in millions of ways. I think the really great films make you realize something new every time you watch them.
And my first recommendation for 2015 is… (Drum-roll please….)

Midnight in Paris: directed by Woody Allen and released in 2011. Rotten Tomatoes rates this film 93% (not easy to do). The cast includes: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrian Brody, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill and many others (including the previous President of France, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy’s’ wife, Carla Bruni!).  
I spent New Year’s Eve with my boyfriend, Joe, in Baltimore while my family celebrated in Boston. We were apart, but we watched the same movie, this movie, and I’m not surprised. 

If for no other reason, you should watch this movie for its soundtrack. Between the whimsical orchestral themes and Cole Porter ditties, you’ll be transported. I love the way that Woody Allen opens the film. There are no actors, no explosions or pivotal plot twists. Instead, Allen quite literally walks you through the streets of Paris. For those who have been, it plucks at your heart strings and reminds you of all your favorite moments in the city. Every street is its own wonderland.

(I feel it may be pertinent to interject here that I had the divine opportunity to live in Paris for a short period of time. I loved it. But even more than being in Paris, I loved what it taught me about myself. I love to travel and I think that is why I love movies. Because not only do I get to enjoy the thrill of the ride while it lasts, but also the exploration of myself and how I am changed once it is all over—it is a whole new kind of traveling. But anyway, back to the movie.)

For those who have not yet been to Paris, Allen’s opening serves as your introduction, the meet-cute that starts a grand romance between you and the City of Lights. He includes moments with famous landmarks and tourist attractions as well as smaller, more intimate interactions with the day to day life a Parisian would encounter. And when all the introductions are complete, we focus in on the story of Gill Pender and his love affair. Now, to my lovely gentleman who I hope are still with me, please do not be concerned. At no point during this film did I cry (and trust me, it’s not hard to make me cry during a movie as you will soon learn). It’s not really that kind of love story. And don’t forget, the main character is played by Owen Wilson, so there is no shortage of laughter.

In general, I have to confess that I am not a huge fan of Owen Wilson. To be fair, I don’t think it’s his fault. He gets type-casted into rolls in which he plays forcefully goofy and flat characters I have a hard time relating to. But this time, Wilson gets to bring his sarcastic, witty humor as well as his humanity to the screen producing a dimensional character you can’t help but want to be friends with. Oddly enough, he plays a part in the film I will be writing about for you next week! But we will get there when we get there. Back to Gill Pender.

Gill is in Paris, not for the first time, with his fiancĂ©, Inez and her family. Gill is a writer who has made his fortune writing movie scripts in California and is taking the trip as an opportunity to put the final loving flourishes on his first attempt at writing a novel—which he feels should have been is true profession all along. They say that there is no better way to learn about someone than by traveling with them. And this holds true with Gill and Inez. Inez takes her opportunities to go shopping and dancing leaving Gill to explore the city he wishes he never left. And what he finds is magical. I promised from the beginning that I wouldn't give anything important away so I leave it to you to find the magic of Paris at midnight on your own. But I will say this, while Gill travels through the streets, enchanted by a Cole Porter record playing in a nearby street kiosk, he is not alone, as no writer would be. My favorite scenes are the ones in which he is reminiscing, in particular, about Hemingway and Dali. You’ll see what I mean. He is surrounded by the writers and artists of the past who have given him the dream he has for his future. The trick is trying to reconcile the dream with reality. That’s why I chose this movie for my theme of “Resolve”. The biggest obstacle standing in Gill’s way is his own darn self. He has to figure out how to be the person he wants to be, before he can be happy.

Midnight in Paris is a great, feel-good (but not gooey) movie that will make any audience laugh. I recommend making it a real sensory experience and have wine, or even champagne (or sparkling cider), with a sliced French baguette and cheese while you watch. You’ll be walking the streets of Paris by starlight in no time at all.

Like the sound of that?

Well, then I have another suggestion for you. If you have been in New England during the past two weeks you’ll know how absolutely frigid it has been. Schools were closed across MA for fear of their students getting frostbite while waiting for the bus or walking to school. Yikes. Needless to say, there were a couple of days when my mom and I decided to brave the vast world of on-demand and escape the wind-chill in France, by way of Mumbai. 

We landed on The Hundred-Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallstrom based on a book by Richard C. Morais. The book is next on my reading list. Had I known about it before watching the movie, I would have held off and read it first. Oh well, I hope it is as good a read as the movie was to watch. I was surprised it didn't get better results from the box office (Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 67%)! The cast includes Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Minish Dayal, and other lesser known actors, but is full of emotion—watch out, I welled up a few time!

The movie covers a lot of ground in such a short time; from deeply traditional Indian culture and cooking, to the French tradition of Michelin Stars and cuisine, from love, to prejudice and bigotry, from the quest for personal identity to the realization of family heritage. All are noble pursuits that unfortunately played out somewhat predictably, albeit, beautifully. I did want for a little more depth. For example, I really enjoyed the relationship between the main character, Hassan, and his father. They both have bold and vibrant personalities that play off each other humorously. I wish that their relationship had been developed a little more carefully and thoroughly. Of course, Helen Mirren played the prim and stubborn French restaurateur perfectly. If you aren't craving foie gras with a side of yellow curry by the end of this movie, watch it again.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Viewing! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

An Introduction: What the heck am I doing here?

Happy New Year! 

And thank you for joining me here, in my New Year's Resolution. Don't worry, I won't be telling you about my diet, workouts, or endeavors to clean my closet. The end of 2014 brought me many new adventures and changes including moving from Baltimore back to my hometown of Boston. As always when I am faced with change, I feel a mix of bittersweet emotions; uncertainty and excitement, anxiety and motivation to begin, seemingly, all over again. During this strange time I am desperate for a little consistency, structure, and honestly a bit of comfort in familiarity. I am a writer. That is not only what I do but also a very large part of who I am. And as any writer will tell you, to be a writer ya gotta WRITE. And often. There is a lot to be said for writing in a journal when the only audience is yourself—but writing for an audience—that brings things to a whole new level. So my New Year’s Resolution is start this new blog, and be dedicated to it, and to you. I am going to write to you and I promise, the goal here is not just to keep the rust off my proverbial pen (well, I do hand write each of these posts). Every week I’m going to share with you one of my other passions, movies!

In the description of this blog I mention the “sacred ceremony” of watching a film. And in my family, it really is! Our favorite family pass time is enjoying a movie together. We have our traditions; Home Alone after Thanksgiving Dinner (Dad laughs at it every year like it’s the first time), or White Christmas during the cookie-making preparation before Christmas, Hitchcock during Halloween, and the list goes on. But even the most mundane occasions (like a chilly Thursday evening) can turn into something special when my family comes together to be transported to another place and time. I think we watch at least one movie a week. I remember during the muggy Massachusetts summers when it was just too hot to do anything, my mom and I would go to see whatever was playing at the local Tyngsboro cinema just to escape the heat (The Simpsons Movie and The Medallion were two such… let’s call them “memorable” features). Most of the time it didn't quite matter what we were watching, it mattered that we were doing it together. The drive home was always the best part, besides the movie theater popcorn, because our Roger and Ebert-like discussion always lasted to whole ride. And through the course of our cinematic adventures, we have found some real gems that have turned into family favorites. I’ll give you an example. My mom was the one who introduced me to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When she first suggested The Fellowship of the Ring (the first of the trilogy, and the only one that had been released onto DVD at the time) my sister and I put on the breaks and tried to whine our way out of it. I don’t know how your family works, but whining at my mom rarely gets me very far. And thank God! We watch and I fell in love. I immediately read the books and became an LOTR nerd to the max (just ask my sister, she’s got some pretty funny stories she would love to embarrass me with). So what started as a way to pass a low-key night during winter vacation quickly turned into one of my all-time favorite obsessions. Thanks, Mom!

Technology has been a blessing and a curse for movie-buffs. Never before have movies been more accessible and our options as viewers are endless. The other day I had a couple of hours before meeting a friend for dinner so I decided to pick a flick to pass the time. I wasn't hankering anything in particular; I just wanted to be entertained. The DVD collection didn't offer any viable solutions… so I switched to Netflix. There were so many options there and I hadn't heard about before that I quickly spent over half an hour browsing, but still no luck. I even tried looking a couple of the titles up on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB but there were either spoiler alerts that prevented me from reading the summary or a ranking based on box-office results  or how successfully (and/or sexy) the actors in the film were in their career, but nothing substantial about the plot or message of the movie! Not helpful. Switching gears, I switched to the free On Demand option available with our cable package. More of the same. Before I knew it, I didn't have enough time to watch a movie (without skipping the ending). And so, while my craving for a good movie was not to be satisfied, my blog idea was born.

Here’s the deal: My goal is for this blog to be a resource, a catalog of worthy films and what kind of occasion or company they pair with. I see myself as a kind of chef pairing a great meal with a fine wine. Each month will have a loose theme that guides my recommendations. The movies I talk about won’t always be the blockbusters currently in theaters, but instead the movies you can find any night of the week that have some special quality that I think you will enjoy. I hope that if you decide to try out one of my recommendations that you let me know how it goes! Feel free to leave comments and recommendations of your own! Just remember, no spoilers, and if you wouldn't put it on Grandma’s coffee table, please don’t put it on my blog (aka keep it classy, folks).

So let’s get started in this cinematic endeavor! Pop that popcorn and let the cine-a-thon begin.

Happy Viewing!