Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hotel Paradiso (1966)

Writer's block is demoralizing for any artist. It can last days, months, years and sometimes stall a brilliant writing career forever. And there is nothing like the feeling when a bit of inspiration comes along and breaks through the barrier between you and your words.

In the film Hotel Paradiso (1966), playwright Georges Feydeau is suffering from a bought of writer's block. He finds inspiration for his next play by observing the shenanigans of his neighbors in turn of the 20th century Paris. First there are the Cots. Marcelle Cot (Gina Lollobrigida) is annoyed by her husband's neglect and starving for any kind of affection. Henri Cot (Robert Morley) is too busy in his architectural work to pay much attention to his beautiful young bride. They live next door to another disgruntled couple the Bonifaces. Angelique Bonafice (Peggy Mount) has 20 years on Marcelle and is driving her husband batty with her incessant nagging and her controlling nature. Benedict Boniface (Alec Guinness) seizes an opportunity while his wife Angelique is away to have an affair with his neighbor Marcelle. Everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong in this hilarious comedy of errors.

Based on Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres' L'Hôtel du libre échange, Hotel Paradiso changes the original play by putting the playwright into the story. The film was directed and produced by Peter Glenville who plays Feydeau in the film and also directed the successful Broadway and London theatre productions of Hotel Paradiso. Alec Guinness and Douglas Byng reprise their stage roles for the film.

Hotel Paradiso is chockfull of gags that will have you doubled over laughing. There are lots of fun characters each with their own quirks. Douglas Byng plays Monsieur Martin, a friend of the Bonifaces who brings his 4 daughters for a month long stay in Paris. M. Martin is a human barometer and develops a terrible stutter when the weather is bad. He's also a witness to the goings on that implicate the main characters. One of my favorite actors Akim Tamiroff plays Anniello, the proprietor of the Hotel Paradiso where most of the film's antics take place. It's the sort of seedy hotel where you pay by the hour for a secret rendezvous. Anniello's new hire George (David Battley) is a wrench in the works and fails at every task much to the audience's enjoyment.

Alec Guinness and Gina Lollobrigida in Hotel Paradiso (1966)

Gina Lollobrigida and Alec Guinness are the two reasons why you should watch this film. They're a mismatched pair which adds to the hilarity of their adulterous romance. Lollobrigida, known for playing prim and proper ladies on screen, excels at these kind of comedic roles. Her character is both horrified and intrigued by the idea of having an affair with her neighbor. Marcelle's husband's neglect drives her need for attention. Guinness' Benedict has years of pent up lust bursting out of him which he channels into this affair with Marcelle. The two escape to the Hotel Paradiso for a clandestine evening together only to be unwittingly followed by almost everyone they know, including playwright Feydeau who is writing down everything he observes.

The film is very British despite being based on a French play, taking place in Paris and having an Italian film star as the female lead. At different points in the film I had to remind myself that this was turn of the century Paris and not London.

Peggy Mount, Alec Guinness, Gina Lollobrigida and Robert Morley in Hotel Paradiso (1966)
I'm a sucker for a good comedy and it didn't hurt that two of my very favorite people, Gina Lollobrigida and Akim Tamiroff, were in the film. The motley cast of characters, hilariously enacted scenes and a two part ending that flips everything on its head makes the Hotel Paradiso (1966) a must see.

Monday, January 9, 2017

TCM Movie Night Menus

Movie Night Menus
Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by Films We Love
Tenaya and Andre Darlington
TCM - Running Press
9780762460939 - 224 pages
December 2016

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

"For a title to make it into these pages, it needed to have rousing food and drink scenes."

It’s not enough for me to just enjoy classic movies. I incorporate them into my every day life. For me, being a lover of classic film is not a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.

This is why I’m glad the brother-sister team Tenaya and Andre Darlington have released their newest collaboration: Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by Films We Love. As someone who loves to cook and enjoys a great cocktail, the idea of pairing both of these things with classic films was just a recipe for success. Once I heard about Movie Night Menus I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. It’s published by Running Press who partners with Turner Classic Movies on a dedicated imprint of books for classic film enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

The Darlingtons are experienced food writers with sophisticated tastes for food, cocktails and entertaining.  Inspired by the movies and their love for fine dining, they built menus around 30 different classic films ranging from 1930 to 1987. Each film is spotlighted with an introduction that gives some background on the film, helpful for those who haven't watched it yet, as well as movie quotes and promotional stills. Every movie gets one cocktail and one or two food recipes. Some of the menus are full meals and others are meant for grazing throughout the movie. The recipes are inspired by food and drink featured in the film but also by other factors including style, era and setting. In addition to the recipes there are trivia bits and advice on how to decorate or set the table for entertaining.

The writing in this book is as delicious as the food. I even enjoyed reading the recipes and picked up a few tricks. Some of the recipes serve double duty and can be made for more than one film. The authors are very particular not only about ingredients, especially with the cocktails, but method as well. I cook a lot and can appreciate how good technique enhances the quality of the final product.

I've already made a few drinks from the book and last night I made the meal assigned to Casablanca (1942). See below. It consisted of Roasted Eggplant Tagine, a Moroccan dish, and a French 75, a gin and champagne cocktail. I added some grilled yogurt marinated chicken for some protein, plated it up, built the cocktails and we sat down to watch Casablanca. The meal was divine and I discovered a favorite new cocktail. My only quibble was that the recipe never called for roasted the eggplant. Carlos hates eggplant but ate the meal with much gusto. We clinked our highball glasses when Paul Henreid heads to the bar to order a champagne cocktail.

Casablanca (1942) meal

French 75 cocktail

Eggplant Tagine

It was so much fun to build a meal around a film. In my previous attempts I made meals exactly how they were depicted on screen. I made complete dinners for They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and Fortune Cookie (1966). Sometimes older recipes or food choices lend themselves to contemporary palates. The Darlingtons adapted several drinks and dishes for more modern tastes and use substitutes when certain liquors are no longer on the market.

There are so many recipes I want to try and only a few I'll skip. I'm not sure why but in the 1930s they really loved adding raw eggs to cocktails. Besides the occasional Pisco Sour, these are a pass for me. I really adored the pastry and fun ice cream champagne cocktail assigned to Breakfast at Tiffany's (1960). And I love how the authors had fun with films like Rope (1948) which includes recipes for Parmigiano Rope Twists, Camembert in a Coffin and the Art of a Choke, a cocktail made with an artichoke digestif. Other movies include: The Divorcee (1930), Grand Hotel (1932), Female (1933), The Thin Man (1934), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Adam's Rib (1950), Giant (1956), The Apartment (1960), Dr. No (1962), The Graduate (1967), The Sting (1973), and so on ending with Moonstruck (1987).

I wish every recipe came with a photo but alas it wasn't the case. Fair warning to those of you who don't drink, this book is heavy on the booze. I much prefer cocktails to wine or beer so this was perfect for me. The entertaining tips were fun to read but I'm not sure if I'll actually put them into practice. Knowledgeable classic film buffs will pretty much know everything that's included in the intro and trivia bits which are more for newcomers.

This is such a fun book to read. Don't give in to the urge to just flip through to look at the pictures. Savor each and every page.

Tonight TCM will be airing some of the movies featured in the book and the authors will be taking over TCM's twitter during the marathon. If you're a classic movie fan with fine taste in food and an appreciation for a good cocktail, Movie Night Menus is a must-read.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of this book to review!

Monday, December 26, 2016

La La Land (2016)

Poster for La La Land (2016)

City of stars 
Are you shining just for me? 
City of stars 
There's so much that I can't see

If ever there was a contemporary movie that could charm its way into the hearts of classic film fans it's La La Land (2016).

Based on an original screenplay by filmmaker Damien Chazelle, La La Land tells the love story of two struggling artists trying to make it in Hollywood. The lovebirds, actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), get off to a rocky start but as they discover their common ground sparks fly. Their passion for their individual crafts and their support for each other's dreams brings them together but also drives them apart. It's a love story where love for the art and love for each other are in conflict. There are song and dance numbers throughout the film, lots of amazing costumes, on-location shooting and finery that make this film a visual spectacle to savor. The most striking part of this film is the alternate ending within the ending which caps off this marvelous film.

La La Land (2016)

La La Land (2016)

Musicals require us to suspend our disbelief that everyday people can break out into song and dance. Classic film fans (and theatre goers) embrace this genre but even those who don't will find much to enjoy in this film. The song and dance numbers are expertly choreographed and the theme song City of Stars is a catchy tune. I can't speak to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's singing skills but as a former dancer I didn't think they necessarily had the chops to pull off the dance moves. There weren't many of those for them and the signature song and dance number that graces the advertising for the film was decent. In the early days of Hollywood, triple threats, actors and actresses who could act, sing and dance, were a lot more common than they are today.

La La Land (2016)

La La Land is influenced by many classic movies. In one scene, Gosling mimics Gene Kelly's signature Singin' in the Rain move where he climbs a lamp post. Stone's Mia wanted to become an actress when she was exposed to films such as Notorious (1946) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) as a child. Ingrid Bergman is practically an extra in the film. Mia's bedroom is adorned with a gigantic poster of her, she graces a Hollywood Hills billboard and Mia shows Sebastian a spot on the Warner Bros. lot where Casablanca (1942) was filmed. Mia and Sebastian have their first real date at the Rialto Theatre to see Rebel Without a Cause (1955). They visit the Griffiths Observatory shortly afterwards for one of the more ethereal musical numbers. The on-location shooting gives the movie a real sense of place. Mia works on the Warner Bros. lot and lives in the Hollywood, both places that Carlos and I have come to know after traveling to the area for the four previous TCM Classic Film Festivals.

La La Land was filmed in Cinemascope on 35mm. I watched a digital presentation of it and it was a bit fuzzy especially during the group dance numbers. If you have an opportunity to watch this one in 35mm do it!

When I left the theater after the film was over I was in a state of mild euphoria. La La Land had it all: good music, a great story with excellent character development, classic film references galore, stunning visuals all wrapped up in a beautiful package. There was very little I didn't like about the film. It's not perfect but there is much to enjoy.

La La Land is a fine film worthy of even the pickiest classic film fan.

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