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 fiancé, 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! 

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Let me know what you think! As always, if you wouldn't want it on Grandma's coffee table, please don't post it on my blog. ;)