Sleepless in Seattle

DVD (1993)  Written and directed by Nora Ephron                     STARRING  Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Bill Pullman, Rosie O’Donnell

Are there any rom-com lovers out there who haven’t seen Sleepless in Seattle? I suppose not. That would be like an art history student who wants nothing to do with the Louvre, or a Los Angeles police officer never spending time with Charlie Sheen. Sleepless in Seattle is required viewing. What’s unique about this movie as a romantic comedy is that the would-be lovers don’t say more than a few words to each other throughout the film. We don’t even see them kiss. It’s magical and romantic to the Nth degree. If you love love and want to believe there is a man out there who will remain lovesick and devoted to you long after you’re dead, then hurry off to the video store and indulge in this rom-com gem once again.

Tom Hanks stars as Sam Baldwin, a Seattle architect whose wife has died.  It’s a year and a half later and he is unable to move on. Out of concern, Sam’s 8-year-old son Jonah calls a radio talk-show on Christmas eve and tricks his dad into getting on the phone with the radio psychologist — where Sam eventually begins sharing about his wife and his grief. Across the country  is Annie, engaged to be married to a very nice man played by Bill Pullman (does Pullman ever not play a nice man?).  Annie listens to Sam’s story on the radio that evening and feels an immediate connection with him. She soon discovers that she can’t get Sam out of her mind and sets out to find him. Even dressed as a stylish bag lady (this was cute in 1993), Meg is adorable and a perfect match for Tom Hanks who is a true sweetheart.

Sweet extras  Watching this movie sent me back to a happier time, when Rosie O’Donnell was funny and elastic-cuff sweatpants were acceptable cozywear.  Also look for Tom Hank’s real-life wife Rita Wilson as Tom’s sister Suzy.

Good for who?  If you have a boyfriend or a husband who relentlessly mutters about hating “chickflicks” (a term I detest), then this movie is not for him. But it’s perfect for a girls night or a night alone.  For those concerned about content, it’s a rather clean movie but has a few scenes with words and phrases like “get laid” and “orgasm” chucked in to take away the movie’s sugary sweetness and bump it to a PG rating.

If you liked this movie you’ll also probably like You’ve Got Mail (which once again pairs up Tom and Meg).

 

Love this movie? Live this movie! Bringing back sweatpants and a warning to Zac Efron

“You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.”  This is what Rosie O’Donnell’s character says to her best friend Annie, and Annie knows it’s true.  Watching the super romantic film An Affair to Remember, Annie is inspired and decides to pursue Sam.  In essense, what Annie is doing is loving the movies and then living the movies. So if I were to tell you to live this movie, I could suggest that you live this movie by living this movie by living this movie. It could be a never-ending chain that blows the mindhole, but in all fairness to the exercise, of course, Annie didn’t live this movie, but rather she lived An Affair to Remember.  So you would live this movie by living that movie by perhaps meeting a lover at a secret location in 6 months time, or, if you’re adventurous, getting yourself struck by a car and nearly killed. Although, technically, to live Sleepless in Seattle, you could choose any of your favourite movies to re-live — you wouldn’t have to live that one. But be careful which one you choose because if you pick a movie like Groundhog Day, you will end up living this movie by living that movie by re-living that movie, over and over, until you learn to love unselfishly. As you can see, the levels of this exercise could go deeper and deeper until the more weak-minded of you spiral to your psychological deaths.

In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Zac Efron said he lives out his fantasies through the movie roles he plays. So, in playing a role,  Zac Efron is simultaneously living his life. So if he chose to live this movie, he might live one of his own movies in which he is already living his life, therefore creating a rift in the space-time continuum and either creating a duplicate version of himself or negateing himself and ceasing to exist! This is not bogus science. Zac Efron, don’t live this movie!

If this whole thing frightens you, dear reader, how about you just live this movie by renting An Affair to Remember and watching it with a girlfriend? (Don’t forget the baggy elastic-cuff sweatpants — there’s nothing comfier!) 

Paula Jane

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17 Again

DVD (2009)  Written by Jason Filardi / Directed by Burr Steers

Mann and Efron in “17 Again”   (image: New Line Cinema) 

A 37-year-old is thrust into the body of a 17-year-old. No, no, that’s not a description of the photo above — it’s the plot of 17 Again, one of my favourite movies from last year.  Many of you probably haven’t seen the movie because you think it’s for kids, but it’s not.  Nor is it a tale of cougar angst, or a lame vehicle for Disney-grown prettyboy Zac Efron.  17 Again is very much a story for adults (and older teens), and it’s so much fun from start to finish. If you can accept that Zac Efron is going to look like Chandler Bing in 20 years, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Matthew Perry plays 37-year-old Mike O’Donnell. He works at a dead-end job, he’s just weeks away from finalizing his divorce, and his teenaged kids want nothing to do with him. Life is terrible, but with a little help from a mystical high-school janitor, Mike is given the chance to re-do the last 20 years of his life.  He arrives back in 1989 — not to the year, but to the body he inhabited during his senior year in high school. The grumpy and tired Matt Perry turns into the delish and energetic Zac Efron, and once again Mike O’Donnell has life by the tail. Within a day, he’s back as the star of the basketball team and just a scout visit away from a full college scholarship. Plus he can Hammer Dance like there’s no tomorrow. Mike soon realizes, however, that he’s been sent back to high school not to salvage a lost basketball career, but for a greater purpose, and he sets out to save his kids and his marriage to his high school sweetheart Scarlett (Leslie Mann).

This movie contains shades of everything from Big, Freaky Friday, Peggy Sue Got Married, and even  Back to the Future. It’s not really a new idea, but what sets this one apart is Efron’s performance. He channels a 37-year-old man with such authenticity and a lot of the film’s humour is built on this. Efron is a true multi-talent, and in 17 Again he proves he can act, do comedy, and probably also steal away some of our moms if he tried. There is a courtroom scene where he reads a letter to Scarlett, and it’s so well done and so sweet that we suspend all disbelief and feel for this lonely body-transformed man-child who wants so desperately to have a second chance with his wife.

Lovely moments like that aside, 17 Again is a great date movie and it’s both male and female friendly. I imagine there are a lot of you out there who would rather have Jack Bauer cut a cellphone memory card from your stomach than watch a movie starring one of the High School Musical cast members. I urge you not to dismiss this movie because you think you’re too good for Zac Efron (you’re not). If for no other reason, watch this movie for  Thomas Lennon, who plays Mike O’Donnell’s best friend and faux-father. He’s hilarious plus his house of sci-fi memorabilia will keep you drooling for the duration.

Sweet extras   A bit of trivia: at one point in the film, Thomas Lennon claims to be speaking “Elf”, implying it is Elvish, the language created by J.R.R. Tolkien. What Lennon is actually speaking is a form of Gaelic — Elvish is a registered trademark of the Tolkien family and you aren’t allowed to use it without special permission.

Good for who?  I recommend this for 14+ teens and adults. This is definitely not appropriate for little kids (and would probably make the baptist minister’s wife a little uncomfortable). You can find a detailed content description of 17 Again at Screenit.com, a site I highly recommend for parents with movie-loving kids.  I let my 12-year-old daughter watch 17 Again because I liked the movie’s message and because I knew she could handle the content — it was nothing I hadn’t already discussed with her for the most part.  

 

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Hammertime

Did MC Hammer ever stop to think that maybe we don’t WANT to touch this?  In case, however, you’ve got the godforsaken urge to bust a move after watching 17 Again, you can review the dance steps in the basketball court cheerleading scene near the beginning of the movie. In a special feature outtake included on the DVD, you can watch Zac Efron learn to Hammer Dance as well as do The Running Man, The Prep, and The Roger Rabbit (“What IS that?” he asks, after watching the choreographer demonstrate).

If you just can’t wait to rent your DVD before having your own ’80s-dance refresher, watch my favourite description of the Hammer Dance from Howcast.com and get started right now!  The video says Hammer pants are optional, but I think we both know they’re a necessity!

 

 

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Something’s Gotta Give

DVD (2003)  Written by Nancy Meyers / Directed by Nancy Meyers     STARRING: Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Frances McDormand, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet

(McDormand, Keaton, and Peet in “Something’s Gotta Give.”   Image: Columbia)

We first see the house of our dreams as the male lead and a female secondary character pull into the driveway. “The perfect beachhouse,” he says, in awe of the expansive cedar-shingled oceanfront home. We too are in awe, and giddily await the architectural delights beyond the front doors. The characters say a few more things — things that are probably pertinent to the plot — and then enter the “fabulous two-storey livingroom” which oozes both comfort and New York chic. We ooo, we ahhh, we don’t notice that the female character is removing her pants. 

Okay, yes, we do notice she’s removing her pants, but I just wanted to stress how gorgeous this beach house is. Just being able to admire the film’s set and settings for 128 minutes was, for me, worth the theatre ticket price for Something’s Gotta Give.  The script and the cast in this sophisticated romantic comedy by Nancy Meyers are unbeatable to begin with, and the addition of such a glorious set is like warm caramel sauce on an already delicious bowl of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s borderline indulgent, but I love it.

This Hamptons beach house belongs to divorced 50-something playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton).  Erica and her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand) had hoped to spend a quiet weekend at the beach, but that plan goes out the window with the unexpected arrival of Erica’s daughter Marin (Amanda Peet) and her 63-year-old boyfriend Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson).  Erica is put off by the age difference between her 30-ish daughter and the new boyfriend, and she and Harry clash. Things get weird when Marin and Zoe must return to the city, leaving Erica to spend a few days alone in the house with the cigar-smoking rap-pushing girl-chasing Harry. The situation is so tailor-made for laughs and romantic encounters that only a couple of chumps like  J-Lo and Alex O’Loughlin could screw it up.  The fact that Jack Nicholson’s charm is in the mix makes Something’s Gotta Give my top-of-the-heap romantic comedy favourite.

My friend J. says she doesn’t usually like Keaton because she is just so over the top when she’s acting. Yes, Keaton has really rubbed me the wrong way a few times, like in 2007’s  Because I said So, but in Something’s Gotta Give she seems to be in the zone. Keaton is at her best when she seems to be playing herself, and it’s been said by critics that she’s doing that here. I’m not suggesting Diane Keaton should be a one-trick pony, but if the saddle fits…

Anyway never mind all that. Did you get a load of Erica’s freaking kitchen? And her office. My lord, her office.

Sweet extras  Two words: Keanu Reeves. He appears throughout the movie as Dr. Julian Mercer, and as a love interest for Diane Keaton. Also to note is Frances McDormand: she’s the coolest romantic comedy sidekick, and I wish there had been more of her in the film, but alas, more time given to her would have probably meant less time for Keanu, and that is unthinkable.

If you liked this movie, you’ll probably  like  It’s Complicated, also written and directed by Nancy Meyers.

Good for who?  If you’re any kind of adult and you don’t enjoy Something’s Gotta Give, then you should have your head examined by the handsome Dr. Julian Mercer. I will just note that sexual references and scenes are numerous although not graphic, and the f-bomb drops two or three times. I know these things bother a few women who frequent this blog (no matter how artfully placed the cussin’ is), so I’m just issuing a little warning for you, ladies.

 

Loved this movie? Live this movie! Late night pajama-and-pancake party

(Keaton and Nicholson, sharing a late night snack.  Image: Columbia Pictures)

Erica and Harry are night owls and meet up in the beach house kitchen one evening for pancakes and conversation. It’s here in the smiles and looks they exchange that we realize these two really are attracted to each other. Before it can amount to anything (not even the pancakes come to fruition), Marin returns from New York and her lively presence and attention to Harry has a disappointed Erica saying she’s going back to her bedroom to write.  “You don’t want pancakes anymore?”  Harry asks — perhaps the saddest and most sweetly pathetic question ever uttered in rom-com history.  “No,” replies Erica quietly. “I don’t.”  Ouch. Shot through the heart.

Well, Erica Barry may not want pancakes anymore, but I do!  The movie gave me new appreciation for the idea of pancakes as a late-night snack. They’re delicious, filling and easy — plus the world is quiet after midnight and a little cooking and chatting is a great way for you to get to know or re-connect with your boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, roommate, child, neighbour, or anyone you might find  hanging around your yard at that time of night.  Keep the work to a minimum by using a good pancake mix instead of cooking from scratch. I use Aunt Jemima  buttermilk mix.

If pancakes seem too cheap and low-brow for your bourgeois tastes, don’t knock it until you try it. Hey,  Erica and Harry shunned leftover coq au vin for pancakes. Plus some toppings can turn pancakes into more of a highfalutin dessert than a breakfast staple.  Here are some quick and easy topping suggestions that require minimal effort (there are lots of fancy homemade syrups and sauces you can make, but the idea is to make it easy — no intensive cooking and boiling and fussing. It’s freaking midnight, afterall). Have the toppings alone, or mix and match with others from the list:

  • Maple syrup, of course
  • Blueberries (that’s what Erica was planning to use)
  • Strawberries
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Whip cream
  • Milk chocolate chips (on top or cooked right into the batter)
  • Chocolate or butterscotch syrup
  • Sugar with lemon juice (recommended on several sites online)
  • Applesauce
  • Jam (spread cold with a knife or warm in the microwave)
  • Yogurt
  • Powdered sugar
  • Peanut butter (cold or warmed and melted over the pancakes)
  • Ice cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Caramel
  • Honey
  • Bacon (quickly cook in the microwave and then crumble either on top of the pancake with syrup, or sprinkle the bacon pieces into the uncooked side of your pancakes while they’re in the pan. Top with a little maple syrup afterward.)

Do you have a favourite quick-and-easy pancake topping that I haven’t listed here? Let me know and I’ll include it in the list.

Paula Jane

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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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Only You

DVD (1994)  Written by Diane Drake/Directed by Norman Jewison 

(Image: TriStar Pictures)

Damon Bradley. This is a name 11-year-old Faith Corvatch gets from a Ouija board one windy spooky evening. It’s the name of the man she’s going to one day marry. “My soul mate! My other half!” she exclaims. Cut to 14 years later: the sweet and slightly-flakey Faith (Marisa Tomei) is a school teacher who seems to have forgotten all about the mysterious Damon. She’s engaged to marry a practical podiatrist named Dwayne and although Faith still believes in true love and destiny, she has resigned herself to the fact that “life’s not like how it is in the movies.”

But 10 days before her wedding, she hears that name again — Damon Bradley. Chasing what she truly believes is her destiny, Faith flies to Italy in pursuit of the man she’s meant to be with, even though she’s never met him.  “It is irresponsible of me to marry the wrong person!” she wails. Faith is a bit self-absorbed (the kind of friend you’d love to monkey-punch now and again) but she is kept in check by her sister-in-law Kate (Bonnie Hunt) who joins her on this spur-of-the-moment trip to one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Hunt is the quintessential BFF and rom-com sidekick: she’s consistently funny and really knows how to work a chiffon scarf (see “Live this movie” below).

If you love romantic comedies, and you haven’t seen Only You, you must beg for my forgiveness and then rent this movie immediately. It’s the ultimate girl-trip movie with spectacular scenery, and it’s fun to see Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. when they were so young and unmarred by time, prison or Mickey Rourke.  Only You often rates just a “6” or “7” with most critics, but don’t listen to that nonsense. I agree with Roger Ebert: on the rom-com scale, Only You is easily a “9”.  I love this quote from Ebert’s 1994 review: “Only You is the kind of lighthearted romance that’s an endangered species in today’s Hollywood. It is total fantasy, light as a feather, contrary to all notions of common sense, it features a couple of stars who are really good kissers — and it takes place mostly in Venice, Rome, and the glorious Italian hillside town of Positano. What more do you want?”

Sweet extras  Two beautiful hotels in the film—the Hotel Danieli in Venice, and the Hotel Sirenuse in Positano—are real, and their exteriors and parts of their interiors were used in the making of the film (see “Live this movie” below).

Good for who?  This is a perfect girls-night movie – maybe not so much for the boyfriend or husband; it’s also a great one to watch alone. As for content, there’s a bit of quick groping and Robert Downey Jr. throws a couple of JCs our way, but it’s clean beyond that.  I have a friend who’s freaked out by Ouija boards,  soothsayers, and skeletons in old-lady dresses: this movie has two of those things, but only at the beginning and they are played out in a lighthearted way.

Loved this movie? Live this movie!

When taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to stalk a man you’ve never met, you’ve got to pack light. So how do you keep yourself looking fresh and sophisticated with a limited wardrobe? From Venice to Positano,  best friend Kate made genius use of a black and white chiffon scarf which reappeared with her time and again over the weekend.  Here’s how to do what Kate did while exploring la bella Italia.  You will need a square large chiffon scarf.

1. The hairband:  When that naughty Giovanni took Kate on a tour of Rome’s fountains, she wore her scarf this way with her hair down.  (a) Fold square scarf in half to form a triangle.  Continue folding along the bias like this to form a long band.  (b) Place band over the head and tie securely but not too tight into a knot behind the head. The knot should be  under the hair and at the neck. (c) Let the ends of the scarf drape over one shoulder.

2. The scarf  scarf: Dress up a plain sweater by just draping the scarf around your neck. Allow one end to fall to the front, and the other to the back.

3. The Grace Kelly:  This style is worn for drama or for protecting a hairdo. Kate wore the Kelly when the gang hit the coastal roads of Italy to Positano in an open convertible. It’s easy: (a) Fold square scarf into a triangle. (b) Place atop the head with folded side toward the front and the triangle point toward the back. (c) Cross the two ends in front of the neck and pull them to the back. (d) Tie the ends in a knot at the back, tucking in any loose edges of the scarf under the knot.

4. The shawl:  This style looks lovely with a sleeveless dress. Just fold the large square scarf into a triangle and drape it over the shoulders — either pinning it in front or allowing it to drape naturally.  Kate wore the scarf in a shawl style as she arrived at the Hotel Sirenuse in Positano.

 

Live the stalker lifestyle!  If you’re travelling to Italy, you can retrace the steps of Faith and Kate on their hunt for Damon Bradley. From Venice, down through Tuscany to Rome and then along the coast to Positano, you can stay in two of the actual hotels featured in the movie.

 

Hotel Danieli, Venice:  The girls alight from a gondola at the Hotel Danieli in Venice, but they’ve just missed the elusive Damon Bradley by an hour. The girls hang out in the lobby (featured in the film) and ransack a hotel room, looking for clues. This five-star hotel overlooks Italy’s Arno River.  For reservations, or just to drool and dream, visit www.danielihotelvenice.com. Rooms start at approximately EUR 550  a night ($700 US/CDN). The ever-generous Kate put the room on her credit card.  I’m sure your BFF will do the same for you.

Sirenuse Hotel, Positano: Faith and Kate stayed at the gorgeous Sirenuse Hotel overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Book online  or just watch the Positano webcam and wish you were there at  www.sirenuse.it. (photo: caprionline.it)  A two-bedroom suite with a seaview is just EUR 2,000 – EUR 3,400 per night — that’s approximately $3,000 – $5000 US/CDN per night.  Did Giovanni pay for this one, or did Kate put it on her credit card again?

Paula Jane

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding

DVD (2002)  Written by Nia Vardalos/Directed by Joel Zwick

Toula Portokalos’ family is full-on Greek and proud of it. “While my people were writing philosophy, your people were swinging through the trees!” shouts Toula’s father Gus at all non-Greeks. Though the family lives in Chicago suburbia, the father roasts lamb on a spit on the front lawn and the grandmother sleeps with a knife under her pillow to ward off invading Turks. Toula’s siblings and cousins are all in her face  24/7, and it has been predestined that she work at the family restaurant until she is dead. So it is no wonder that the frumpy, loveless 30-year-old Toula (Nia Vardalos) dreams of living a “normal” non-Greekcentric  life.

Enter all-American Ian Miller, his long John Corbetty hair (easy to achieve since he is played by John Corbett) blowing in the Chicago breeze. He is perfect, we will soon see, and Toula is smitten. But will her Greek family accept him as the man she wants to marry? We have our answer when Toula’s father yells  “Is he a nice Greek boy? No! A xeno with the big long hair on top of his head!”  “Xeno” is Greek for ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’ and that is what Ian will always be to Toula’s  family because he is not Greek. The father is not pleased with their relationship and the story moves on from there.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a relatively low-budget film, but it blew away the box office in 2002. The movie is full of warmth and humour, and you are guaranteed to laugh throughout. My only complaint about the film is that there is never truly enough tension between Toula and Ian—despite the fact that Toula’s family life is threatening to tear the couple apart.  Ian is just so understanding and wonderful that the threat to their relationship just doesn’t feel real. That being said, romantic comedies operate in the world of fantasy and what’s more unreal than a man who’d be willing to be baptized in a kiddy pool at the front of a Greek Orthodox church to impress the father of the woman he loves? Truly, it’s only something John Corbett or George Costanza would do.

I like this movie and the lessons it offers, one of them being that a loving family (no matter how intrusive or out to lunch they are) is something to be valued, not spit upon. (Although, the Portokalos family does plenty of spitting, too.  So maybe a loving family IS something to be spit upon? Don’t ask. Go watch!)

Sweet extras Learn the many uses of Windex!

Good for who? A fun pick for couples (especially ones about to get married!) or girlfriend get-togethers. Very mild language and only mild sexual references, so it’s great for moms with kids or for DVD night with the baptist minister’s wife.

Loved this movie? Live this movie!

If you’re heading to Toronto Dying to see the site of  Ian Miller’s kiddy-pool baptism and the big fat wedding itself?  Two churches in Toronto were used in the film:  The Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church (23 Henry Street)  provided the exterior shots of the church in the movie, and the interior comes from not a Greek Orthodox church but the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church (4 Bellwoods Ave).  Built in the first half of the 20th century, the church’s interior is decorated in the tradition of  medieval Byzantine Christian art. To see the inside of this gorgeous church, you can attend a Catholic church service on Sundays at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. or 6 p.m.  (I verified with the church that services are open to everyone who’d like to attend — although be mindful that the services are probably in Ukrainian.)  photos: saintnicholas.ca

Not just for windows Says Toula: “My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non Greeks about being Greek and that every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex.” I’m sure this Windex comment was a joke, but before dismissing it as such, I felt I should collect my own data. I sprayed it on my face before going to bed last night, and this morning I woke up like this:

 

 

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