Archive for Oscar winner

The Philadelphia Story

DVD (1940) Written by Donald Ogden Stewart/Directed by George Cukor           STARRING: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart

(image: MGM Studios)

The story  A writer and photographer for a tabloid magazine concoct a plot to sneak into the fabulous and private wedding of Tracy Lord, a member of one of Philadelphia’s oldest families. The young and beautiful Tracy is a cool, self-righteous socialite who is determined not to marry another husband with as many flaws as her first one (she and her first husband C. K. Dexter Haven had “married on impulse and divorced in a rage” two years ago). Refusing to ever let passion control her again,Tracy thinks she is very much in control of her world now. But when the tabloid reporters — along with her ex-husband and her estranged father — show up at the Lord Mansion just 24 hours before the nuptials, the cold and seemingly unfeeling goddess finds her marble exterior is starting to crack.

This is the role that made Katharine Hepburn’s career (prior to this she was referred to as  “box office poison”). Hepburn as Tracy Lord is the master of aloofness as she floats about the great Lord mansion like a partial deity. Her home is full of classical Greek and Roman statuary and architecture which seem to add to her mythical force. Katharine is brilliant as she slowly softens throughout the film. And if you’ve never had the pleasure of watching Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant on screen, this is the exact right film in which to do it. Both are super charming as C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant) and tabloid writer Macaulay Connor (Stewart).

The Philadelphia Story is more than 70 years old, but it feels very fresh. Despite the annoying depiction of two female characters turning a blind eye to their man’s infidelity, it’s a wonderful comedy and a strong female role for 1940s Hollywood. And there’s nothing like 1940’s film dialogue, is there? “Oh, Dext,” despairs Tracy Lord, “I’m such an unholy mess of a girl.” In romantic comedies like The Philadelphia Story, the dialogue clips along at a wonderfully entertaining pace. Some of the greatest dialogue in film history comes from films of this era.

The envelope, please The Philadelphia Story was nominated for six Oscars, and won two: James Stewart for best actor, and Donald Ogden Stewart for best adapted screenplay.

Sweet extras Best opening scene of a rom-com ever. Forty seconds of genius. 

Good for who? Call up the Baptist minister’s wife! The language is clean, and although there are numerous adult themes, this is 1940 filmmaking so sexual innuendos are heavily veiled. Children wandering into the room while you watch won’t be a problem either: they won’t have a clue what’s going on. This is an excellent choice for any adult, as long as he or she likes classic films (be mindful that it’s black and white, which drives some people to drink).

Where can I get it? Netflix doesn’t carry it yet, but you can buy from Amazon or rent the DVD from a place with a good classic film collection. In Halifax or Bedford, Nova Scotia, you’ll find it at Video Difference.


Love this movie? Live this movie! Bathing baldies … I mean, beauties. 

“My, she’s yar!” Tracy Lord says of the model yacht True Love. Well yar swim cap is pretty yar too, we want to say in return! It’s true, ladies — bald can be beautiful. If you too want to be a stone-cold retro goddess,  a bathing cap is where it’s at. Here, Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord takes a dip in the large pool on her estate, sporting a plain white cap.  Keira Knightley showed off the same look (with chip strap) in Atonement, a 2007 film set in 1930’s England. Similar caps can be purchased at Amazon.com and Speedo.com.



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Moonstruck

DVD (1987)  Written by John Patrick Shanley / Directed by Norman Jewison

(image: MGM)

You should never love  the man you’re going to marry. “When you love them, they drive you crazy,” says Italian mama Rose Castorini to her Italian daughter Loretta. The 30-something Loretta (Cher) is going to marry mild-mannered Italian Johnny Cammareri — not because she loves him (she doesn’t) but because he’s nice and sweet and why not? She was married once before, to a man she did love, but he died after being hit by a bus (Italian?). Now she just wants practical and easy — and that’s Johnny.  But things get messy for Loretta when Johnny has to fly to Sicily to attend the deathbed of his ranting, Italian mother. He asks Loretta to call his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) and invite him to the wedding. Loretta does and, much to her dismay, she and Ronny connect on the deepest of levels.

Cher as Loretta is part girl-next-door, part Roman goddess, part Rocky Balboa. She offers up some deadpan brilliance and I like her character’s practical approach to all aspects of life: “I’m in love with you!” confesses Ronny. “Snap out of it!” Loretta instructs.  One of my favourite scenes has Loretta at the kitchen table with her father (Vincent Gardenia) as she tells him she’s getting married again. I love their timing, animated gestures, and the real sense of relationship.

As for Nicholas Cage, have you ever watched an ultra-weird acting performance and wondered “Wow, was that on purpose?”  A young Cage gives one of those here as Ronny, a tormented soul whose life experiences are the stuff operas are made of.  He works in the ovens at a New York bakery and stokes the fires like he’s fueling his hatred and bitterness. “I have no life! My brother Johnny took my life from me! And now he’s getting married!” he stews.  Moonstruck is my favourite all-time Nicholas Cage performance and he delivers two  priceless monologues, the kind that would seem so old-school and out of place in  21st-century film and television.  Ronny “ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice,” and you gotta love it.

As well as being a story about love and  transformation, Moonstruck  describes the joys and pains of being a part of a close-knit family. You can see the many ways in which My Big Fat Greek Wedding must have been inspired by this earlier film.  Greek Wedding,  however, is a light-weight compared to the more sincere and tension-driven Moonstruck. The film has a beautiful simplicity and if you like romantic comedies but doubt it’s a genre that can produce anything truly worthwhile, you should watch this.  The film won several Oscars: lead actress (Cher), supporting actress (Olympia Dukakis as Rose), and screenplay (John Patrick Shanley). It was also nominated for best picture and best director.

Sweet extras   The opening shot features the New York City skyline, with the twin towers as a prominent feature. It’s cool to see the city that way again, although it’s also a little startling, even nine years after they came down.

Good for who?  Moonstruck is great for couples, a night with girlfriends, or just watching alone. It’s inappropriate for kids (there’s mild sexytime scenes and conversation), and might be a little too daring  for the Baptist minister’s wife.

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Opera and eggs

Ronny Cammareri, the sexy bread-baking drama king, loves to brood and suffer to the sounds of his favourite arias. His apartment is a shrine to opera, with framed posters,  an album collection, and musical scores affixed to the wall.  The opera featured in Moonstruck is Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 work La Bohème — the story of a poet and a seamstress brought together by chance in 1830’s Paris. They fall in love but, in the end, the seamstress falls ill with tuberculosis and dies in the poet’s arms. La Bohème is one of the most frequently performed (and most romantic) operas ever put into production. The poster for La Bohème shown on Ronny’s wall (and seen here) is a vintage Metropolitan opera poster from 1978, created by artist Jamie Wyeth. This poster pops up on various internet auction sites, selling for between $150-$350.

If, after watching Moonstruck, you are craving Puccini,  there are plenty of options to satisfy you. (If, instead, you are just craving “Eggs in a Nest,” see two paragraphs below.) I recommend working yourself into opera gently with a CD for the car or kitchen. Jumping too quickly into a full three or four-hour production on DVD or in person might ruin your opera buzz, or even kill you.  The Moonstruck soundtrack contains a contemporary film score plus two beautiful arias from La Bohème: Che Gelida Manina and O Soave Fanciulla. I suggest you go beyond the soundtrack and buy a CD completely devoted to operatic arias.  One that I enjoy very much as an opera newbie is Puccini Gold, recorded in 2008. It highlights pieces from an assortment of Puccini operas including La Bohème, Turandot, Tosca, and  Madama Butterfly and features opera house superstars such as Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballé, Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, and Anna Netrebko.

Most classical operas will be in a language you probably don’t understand — like Italian or German. If that bothers you, you can google translations of your favourite vocal pieces. What I prefer to do is not look up a translation of the libretto but rather read an English synopsis of the entire opera (just a quick summary). It makes listening to the aria more like looking at a painting — a bit of background helps me appreciate the movement and emotion of the piece without my imagination being restricted by too much information.

Rose cooks up some special toast and eggs for Loretta one morning while they sit and chat in their big New York kitchen. Eggs made this way are often referred to as “Eggs in a Nest,”  “Italian Eggs,” or, yes, even “Moonstruck Eggs.”  I made them for myself this morning and, wow, they were so good I refused to share them with my dog Chach. (I always share my breakfast with Chach, so he wasn’t happy. I think he wailed out the entire last act of La Bohème while I ate).  I believe this was one of the first times in my life when I didn’t miss bacon with my eggs.  I can imagine that having some bacon with this — like having too much opera too soon — would just knock a person unconscious.

I need to stress that the key to this little breakfast delight is the fresh Italian bread and the olive oil. Using regular sliced bread and butter just won’t cut it. Many of the recipes online varied and so I took the elements I liked most and put together my own recipe. You’ll need: a pan, olive oil, fresh Italian bread, eggs, a green onion, and a red bell pepper.

1. Slice your Italian bread, about  a quarter-inch to one-inch thick. Make a hole in the center of the bread with whatever will work (I used the end of a little cylindrical grater). The hole should go clear through the bread. I made the hole while the bread was untoasted, and that squished the bread a little. It might work best to make the hole after step four.

2. Chop up a green onion, and cut long thin strips of red pepper.

3.  Heat olive oil in a pan and begin to stir fry the red pepper and green onions until the pepper is softening and browning a little around the edges. THEN:

4. Put bread slice(s) into pan and toast side 1, making sure there is enough olive oil still in the pan to absorb a little into the bread.

5. When side 1 is toasted, flip the bread over to toast side 2. Crack an egg and drop it into the hole to cook.

6. Keep stirring the peppers and green onions around the pan so they don’t burn.

7. For eggs over-hard: once side 2 is toasted, flip onto side 1 again for two or three minutes until the egg is cooked, then serve. For eggs sunnyside up with a soft yolk: do not flip onto side 2 again. Instead, cover the pan and the egg will cook to your desired consistency.

8. Remove toast from pan; put onions and peppers on top or on the side.

9. Salt and pepper to taste. Then let me know what you think!

Paula Jane

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Roman Holiday

DVD (1953)  Written by Ian McLellan Hunter / Directed by William Wyler

(image: Paramount)

I was raised on black-and-white movies. My dad is a film buff, and as for me, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what Ioh, oops, flashback, sorry, I mean I saw hundreds of old movies as a child. Yet of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she…no wait, I mean, of all the old movies I’ve seen growing up, I don’t remember ever being shown an Audrey Hepburn film. So it was really exciting when I recently got to watch my first Hepburn film at the Oxford  in Halifax — a classic theatre, complete with balcony.

The film was Roman Holiday, a 1953 romance-comedy which tells the story of a princess and an unscrupulous American newspaper man. On a tour of Europe, Princess Anne (“from a country which shall remain nameless”) seems to be on the verge of losing her sanity.  Unable to handle the pressures of her  exhausting schedule, she slips away from her guardians in the middle of the night and enjoys 24 hours of freedom in Rome. She meets reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) who spends much of the day with her as she experiences life’s little pleasures, many of them for the first time. The catch is that she doesn’t know that he knows that she’s Princess Anne. He’s secretly recording her every move, and we’re cringing at the thought of what he’s going to do with the story once they part ways.

Hepburn has such likeability, and it’s no wonder she won an Oscar for this role. If you’ve never seen Audrey Hepburn in action, you’ll fall in love with her here. Her character’s sparkling personality and naïveté is such a great contrast to co-star Gregory Peck, who is tall, dark and kinda grumpy and bitter.  The story feels so fresh and clever, despite the age of the film. Watching Roman Holiday caused me to re-assess my definition of rom-coms, which I truly thought was etched in stone when I started this blog. So I don’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll just say the ending of Roman Holiday pleasantly surprised me. I loved how it played out, and it brought to mind the wise words of my screenwriting professor which I have since added to my article What’s a romantic comedy? Not this.

Sweet extras The 1994 film Only You referenced Roman Holiday in more ways than I originally realized. The most obvious, of course,  is the visit to the ancient sculpture La Bocca della Verità (“The Mouth of Truth”), a scene in which Tomei and Downey Jr. actually recite lines from the Hepburn-Peck film. Watch both films and see if you can spot the references to Roman Holiday in Only You. I found five.

Good for who? This is a movie for absolutely anyone, except those who really dislike black-and-white movies. There is a colourized version of the film available, but I encourage you to watch it in black and white—the way the good Lord intended it!

 

Loved this movie? Live this movie!

When life overwhelms you and drives you to little princess hissy fits, take a lesson from Princess Anne and shake up your routine. Explore your own city or a nearby town, or maybe just try something you’ve never tried before: a new hairstyle, gelato, or perhaps a little champagne with your lunch. The idea is just to get out, enjoy something new, and appreciate the little things each day has to offer. I’ve been working on a writing project for the past two weeks and yesterday decided I needed a Princess-Anne-inspired break. With a Pavarotti CD, a bag of roast chicken chips, and my smelly dog Chachi, I drove to Wolfville, a little college town I love about 45 minutes away. Wolfville is not Rome, and I am no princess, but you get the idea. This would be a nice afternoon to myself.

Since the whole experience was about exploring and trying something new, I’m proud to say that I learned two new things about my dog that day: one, he is not a Pavarotti enthusiast (see photo. His ears are back. I think they’re bleeding.), and two, Chach is a little Houdini. When we first got out of the car, he slipped his collar while my back was turned. I found him at the side of a pizzeria, a few blades of grass stuck to his face. I scolded him, but he seemed in great spirits and was jumping around happily. I think the little numbskull was having his own Audrey Hepburn moment.

We strolled for a half hour, enjoying the sun that had broken through the clouds. I then put Chachi in the car while I explored a few shops and ate lunch. I chose a creepy dark pub where I was one of three seated customers. There were two junkies at the bar. I watched a darts competition on the widescreen and admired a set of faux Greek vases next to the beer signs. I said to the waitress: “I want to try something I’ve never tried. Name some weird things you serve.” She suggested some sort of mundane sandwich with a pickle. I exclaimed “Seafood chowder! Got any?” My plan had been to go my entire life without eating seafood chowder (most seafood does not appeal to me) but heck, I’d do it for Audrey. The waitress said that yes, she had some homemade Nova Scotia chowder, but she looked very concerned as she said “It’s got lobster in it…it’s got scallops in it… it’s in milk…it comes with a roll…” She said these things as if it were a list of dire warnings. No matter, I said, please bring it to me with a Diet Coke.

The chowder soon arrived — with some of the sauce splashed around the sides of the bowl as if the haddock had been jumping mere seconds ago — and I was taken aback. “Lady,” I wanted to say to the waitress, “this fish soup smells like fish!”   But it was actually very good, although way too rich in taste for me to finish.  It was like a Hershey’s Cookies n’ Crème chocolate bar in that way,  only full of fish.  In the bathroom stall afterward, I was scrawling notes about the chowder and when I got  up, my pen dropped into the toilet. I would have left it there, but this was the last of my favourite pens (Basin Stationary has discontinued them). So the Princess put her hand into Rome’s Mouth of Truth and I put mine into Wolfville’s toilet water. Ah, sweet synchronicity.

The best discovery of the afternoon was an excellent used bookstore called The Odd Book which has a terrific history and classics section. I bought a book called Late Medieval Italy, and I could have browsed the store all afternoon had I not been required to return to my responsibilities and duties as princess of the Woodlawn subdivision.  I returned a better, more worldly woman.

Paula Jane

 

 

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