Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and Blessed Holidays

From my house to yours, a blessed and wonderful holiday season, surrounded by those you love  and warmed by the fire of your hearths.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

Friday, December 9, 2011

J. Edgar, Shame (some spoilers here) and Brad and Angie

Much as I liked Coriolanus (still working on my review), Ray Fiennes wonderful adaptation of the Shakespearean classic and all the performances in it, including Gerard Butler's very natural turn as Tullus Aufidius, as well as the Gerry's very good performance as Sam Childers in Machine Gun Preacher, after seeing Leo DeCaprio in J. Edger and especially Michael Fassbender in Shame, I have to admit that this is one hell of a tough year to have to compete for the too few movie awards.  There are quite a few good films out there and I am trying to catch a few of them.

J. Edgar

I went to see J. Edgar last week and have to give it up for Clint Eastwood as a director, for the kind of movies he makes and the intelligence he exhibits as a filmmaker.  The screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, who penned one of my favorites of a few seasons ago (Milk), was excellent and Eastwood, a darling of screenwriters for not fucking up their scripts, did a masterful job bringing it to the screen.  The final ingredients were, of course, some fine performances, especially by Leo DeCap, who again proves that he can tackle the tough roles and bring them to life with great skill and verve, but not to exclude some good supporting players in Armie Hammer, Dame Judi Dench, and the always good Naomi Watts.

This is a movie where story counts and the movie makers make the most of of the good script in telling it.  The cinematography and costumes add a great deal, but for me it all goes back to a good story, a savvy director and terrific actors and this movie has all three ingredients that line up to make it a strong award contender.  I highly recommend it.

Perhaps this is Leo's year?  Always the bridesmaid, but never the bride, he has consistently chalked up some impressive performances and his J. Edgar is no exception.  Oscar is surely taking note?


Last night I went to see Shame.  There are two words that came to mind as the ending credits for this film went up on the black screen in a very quiet theater.  The first one was "gutsy."  The second, "wow!"

As opposed to a meticulous detail to get the story right in J. Edger, Shame, although just as meticulous in presenting its theme of sexual addiction, was an exercise in "in your face" filmmaking.  It grabbed you from the moment you went in, with it's starkness,  and it didn't let you go until the final tortured scene.   For me, I think this was due to the gutsiness of the director to go deeper and deeper into obsession and addiction and his apparent symbiosis with his lead actor to put it out there with little or no frills, such as the usual, and to me, important back story to fill in the blanks.   Steve McQueen lets his actors and the camera do the talking and here the payoff is one very bleak, but fascinating story that makes you, or at least it did me, go "wow!"

After seeing Michael Fassbender in a few films (300, Inglourious Basterds, some BBC work, and now in just about every movie coming out), this is one fearless and talented actor.  From the first scene to the last, he gives an impeccable performance as the sexually tortured Brandon.

*Since going through puberty at 10 and my first orgasm too many years later, when I lost my virginity to the player who was to be my lover for the next five years, that electrical current, unlike any other, that starts in your brain and travels down your body to your genitals, that most pleasurable of sensations that leaves you limp and satisfied and craving the next one,  has fascinated me.  That's how the first time was for me.  I guess I was one of the lucky ones, as I was crazy about the man who was responsible for it and (as he was later to tell me) he had met his sexual and emotional match.

Not being sure exactly what to expect, other than the obvious, what shocked me back then was the fact that sexual climax (for me at least) completely took over my brain where I  had expected it to be more confined to other parts of my body.  It was an inexplicable thing, that euphoric fuzziness, almost like you are going to faint from the pleasure as your whole body convulses, the kind of pleasure that begs for a repeat....because addiction (as well as sexual excitement) starts in the brain.

This is what made me think that that is what a sexual addict like Brandon is striving to sate and recreate in the obsessive pursuit of sexual gratification at all hours of the day, that euphoric fuzziness that obliterates everything else and takes over your body, even if for just a few moments.

But it can't be just that, that drives a man like Brandon.  There is a hole (no pun intended here) somewhere in his existence, that can't be filled up with anything else, a kind of vacuous nothingness that his life is and he can't face, that has to be filled up with  mindless ejaculation, the only game interesting him, exchanging glances with his prey on the subway and progressing to wherever his need for gratification leads him.   And in this movie, where it leads him...well... some of it isn't pretty.

If you go to this movie, expecting to be titillated by lots of full frontal, you may be surprised how naturally it is presented here.  The nudity in this movie is essential to its telling and Fassbender (and even Mulligan) seems so comfortable in his skin that it is his face that becomes the magnet here, so eloquent in going from flirt, to conqueror over and over and over, until all you see is the tiredness and the desperateness for that next click in his brain that may obliterate whatever it is he is afraid to face...the emptiness perhaps, his eyes looking more tired, his climaxes becoming more grimace than pleasure, a desperateness that makes you cringe...the silence palpable in the theater as the audience (each in his own thoughts) feels his pain and self loathing.  

Michael Fassbender's performance blew me away, literally.  It was raw, unvarnished and perfect.  Carey Mulligan, as his sister Sissy, also gave a fearless, earthy performance and her rendition of New York, New York was poignantly lovely and, its slow, almost sad,  execution became an anthem for these two damaged siblings whose past is left for us in the audience to fill in, but our hearts ache for them and whatever has brought them to the place where  seeking a closeness and a connection with something or someone, each in their own manner.... he, unable to love anyone else because he can't love himself... and she, perhaps for the same reason, but at least willing to reach out to her brother, but again, both seeking their redemption in self-destruction and ultimately, a self loathing rush to oblivion.

Steve McQueen has done a masterful job bringing this movie to life and the bleak tones of the cinematography is his partner in setting the tone and theme for this very compact film.  

I recommend this movie highly, but not for the silly minded, even though I will have to add as an afterthought that any actor considering doing full frontal might be a little intimidated after seeing this movie.   Mr. Fassbender is obviously blessed in a few areas, but not the least in his acting ability, because in this movie, it IS the acting and the actor's facial expressions that carry the day and the attention of all but the most puerile.

Brad, Angie and other Trivia for the night.

I saw Shame at ArcLight in Hollywood, where I was supposed to meet some friends.   As I was going down the stairs after parking, I almost ran smack into Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie getting ready to make their grand entrance to the red carpet for the premiere of her movie, In the Land of Milk and Honey.  

I was surprised, as I was unaware of this event going on, and delighted, as well to get to see them up close, as they both looked quite lovely, especially the regal Angie, in a stunning, dark navy dress.   I smiled and continued to the forecourt of the theater, where the photographers were lined up behind the ropes and the fans behind other ropes, all trying to get a glimpse of their idols.   

Once in the theater lobby, I waited around, for my friends were stuck in the traffic on Sunset.  While they were moving people around, I was very happy not to be hassled by the security, perhaps because I looked like I belonged (I was wearing a dress and heels as we were going to dinner afterwards to celebrate my friend's birthday) and because I was not gawking (I do not gawk).  While everyone else was trying to take pictures with their phones,  I was happy to exchange a few glances with Mr. Pitt, perhaps because I was one of the few in the lobby not preoccupied with them, and really most anxious that we might miss the movie if my friends arrived too late.  Or perhaps because I looked familiar (I do have a double out there).  Either way, it was very nice.

Anyway, once my friends got there, we embraced and headed for the theaters and made it just in time before the lights went down.   I have to give thanks to the young man at the ticket counter, who let me have their tickets on good faith (they had  two free vouchers) so that we could sit together, and trusted me to bring back the vouchers for him once they arrived.  

After the movie we ate at Cleo's at the Redbury,  where the food is good, even if the acoustics are horrible.   We got a booth and, once several tables full of  very young women (who all looked the same...dresses up to their asses, high heels they could barely walk in, and yelling instead of speaking) left, it was very pleasant and we could discuss our impressions of the movie.  M and I also had fun discussing our recent trips to Paris and, to my credit and his liking of me, I was able to convince the strict vegetarian that he "must" visit a certain taxidermy shop on his next visit.

After toasting our friend T, who had just returned from another grueling trip to Shanghai, for her birthday and  discussing the merits of a house in Palm Springs' old movie colony that M is thinking of purchasing, we made plans to go out to dinner again soon before heading to the valet.

I still have several movies to catch up with before awards season starts, so I anticipate a few trips to the ArcLight, though probably not so hectic and exciting as this one.

All in all, another great night in La La Land.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

*My apologies if this is too much personal information for some, but as a writer and even as a person, I can't intellectualize the feelings of the character without digging deep to understand his motivation.  I am a person who tends to empathize a great deal and if that means tapping into my own experiences of something for some kind of understanding, than I need to go there and do.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Paris - Day Five - Oscar Wilde, Exotic Animals and L'Ami Jean

Tuesday, true to predictions, was a rainy day in Paris.  It drizzled on an off and we were prepared with our umbrellas.  Today we were going to the Musee d' Orsay where I wanted to see the exhibit titled Beaute, Morale et Volupte dans L'Angleterre D'Oscar Wilde (Beauty, Morality and Voluptuousness in Oscar Wilde's England).

We got there in the early afternoon and there was a very long line, despite the rain.    A lot of good people watching in the large courtyard in front of the Musee.  There were two guys selling (and wearing)     umbrella hats out front and I was reminded of a story Gerard Butler once told on Jay Leno about his father, owning an umbrella store and wearing one of the things around town.

After an hour of waiting in line, we finally got in and were able to see the exhibit.

It was very good, the main theme being that with so much Victorian Era (and residual Calvinist) conservatism and functionality in the arts, this repression ushered in a sort of backlash led by the, painters, artists and style icons of the period.   The thrust of it in art, furniture, etc....was beauty for beauty's sake, without regard to functionality, which to some, implied a certain decadence.  The era ushered in many portraits of beautiful women, some scantily clad, lounging around playfully and the use of color, vibrant, their features showing a youthful, maidenly,  yet voluptuous sensuality.  The furniture followed the same form over functionality credo and we see some eastern influences in their designs.

One sweet little moment was watching a crowd of elderly tourists (female heavy) feasting their eyes on the pen and ink drawings of Aubrey Beardsley Erotica with its depictions of penises everywhere.  That was the one wall you could not even get near.  Being familiar with them, D and I found it very humorous observing these elderly ladies, their noses barely inches from the art, almost as if they could sniff the subjects.  Aside from the big grin on my face, all I could think was "hooray for decadence!"

Some Examples of Aubrey Beardsley Erotica

After several hours of browsing this exhibit and a few others, we opened our umbrellas and headed for our next destination, Deyrolles.

For those of you not familiar with the famous Paris taxidermy shop, this is a "must see" when you are in Paris.   It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to.  One could spend several hours just browsing through this jungle of exotic creatures, from the largest to the smallest, all featured in a charming, old wood plank floor environment that invites one to stroll from one room to the other.

The storefront window displays a few of the animals, but the downstairs is a small room featuring whimsical gardening and horticultural tools, postcards, catalogues, etc... and when you walk in you think you are in the wrong place.   But beware,  once you round the bend of the stairs going up to the second floor, because what meets you there is a wonderland unlike any other and better than any natural history museum I've ever been to.

           The front window at Deyrolles is but a small appetizer to the wonders inside and upstairs.

Here is a link that will help you learn a little about this French wonderland, since there is no photography allowed once inside the establishment.

More links to Deyrolles:

Several hours later, with the perfect little bat skeletons still in my mind,  we left the shop as they were setting up for some kind of cocktail party that night, the cases of bubbly and catering starting to arrive.  That made us remember we had seen some of the animals at another such party scene, except it was in 1920's France as shown in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and wondered if it was filmed in the shop.  Will have to check it out now and see the movie a third time to verify the memory.

By that time it was getting late and we took the metro back to our apartment to freshen up a little for our 10:00 p.m. dinner reservation at Chez L'Ami Jean.

Small but cozy Bistro.

Still raining, we entered the small restaurant to find it was very crowded.  We took off our coats and the lady behind the bar hung them up.  There was a group of four people leaving (American) who took forever and were very loud in trying to locate their umbrellas among the many.  I hung on to mine (it was a nice wood handled one that belonged to the Apartment) while they were in the process and the French lady, after 10 minutes of them blocking the entrance, looks at me and rolls her eyes a little before coming forward to help them out the door.

Breathing a sigh of relief,  I finally put my umbrella down and we waited a few minutes for them to clear us a place at one of the communal tables.  It was a very cozy arrangement, as a lot of the smaller Bistros are and, if you know what to expect (we did), the food takes center stage and the general, serious enjoyment of it by all concerned is part of the experience.

After getting a recommendation and some tasting samples, we ordered a nice bottle of red to go with the heartiness of the Basque food before trying to navigate the incomprehensible menu.  To help us along, we were brought some thick crusty bread and olive oil.

Between my not so extensive French and D's better (she studied French at the Sorbonne for a six week summer course while in college - my idea, which she is now grateful to me for) and a little help from our non English speaking waiter, we ordered several appetizers to include some charcuterie and cheese, plus a salad.   I ordered a pork stew entree and D ordered a white fish.  While they were both delicious, her fish was full of small bones and whenever she got a mouthful, I would see this look come over her face, which made me laugh.

The evening was very enjoyable and we relaxed in the warm, convivial atmosphere.   As people left, I was quite content to see my (the apartment) umbrella, which I was keeping my eye on, was still there, nice wooden handle visible among the cheaper fold up portables.

Some serious eating going on at Chez L'Ami Jean

By the time dessert rolled around, we ordered some berry tart and the specialty of the house, the creamy rice pudding.  When they brought it out, we were surprised how large a bowl it came in, served with foamy cream on the side and some candied nuts.    While the tart was yummy, the rice pudding was "to die for."

I hadn't tasted rice pudding that good in ages.   My maternal grandmother, whose father was Basque, was an excellent cook, but this one even beat hers.   It was heavenly, and although we were full, we made a very valiant attempt to eat it all.  As I am writing this, my taste buds are salivating at the thought of it.

"To die for" creamy rice pudding with sides.

When we were finally able to pry ourselves away from the table.  We had the waiter call a taxi for us and when he signaled it was there, we scrambled to find our coats and grab our umbrellas before heading out into the rain.

When we got back to the apartment, as I was closing the umbrella (with the nice wood handle), I got the shock of my life to discover that it had the name of a famous hotel on the canopy, while the apartment one had been plain black.  

I started laughing again, after all my wasted effort and worrying, it looked like someone else, somewhere, like me, was holding a nice umbrella with a wooden handle and wondering where their fine hotel logo went.

So far, with all the eating, I weighed myself on the bathroom scale, only to discover that, with all the walking we were doing, I had lost a pound and half. D was not far behind in that regard. That is the beauty of living in a city.  One can indulge in food (fresh, well cooked food, to be fair) to one's heart's content and, if one has a good metabolism and loves to walk, it doesn't show a bit, except on the contentment on one's face while indulging. 

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate 

Photographs of Chez L'Ami Jean (Basque Restaurant) courtesy of

Friday, November 18, 2011

Paris - Day Four -Saint Honore and Hotel Costes

Monday was a crisp, but sunny day and our first destination of the day, after a repeat of yesterday's satisfying breakfast, was 211 Rue Saint Honore...and more specifically The Chantal Thomass Boutique  and the trendy and uber cool Colette, next door.

There is a new man in D's life and some fine French lingerie is never a bad idea.  She also wanted to buy him some unique little thing at Colette.  I told her that the proper modeling of the lingerie after cooking him a nice dinner was the best gift she could give him, but, well, I'm just her mother. What do I know?

Chantal Thomass Boutique on Rue St. Honore

We took a taxi to the shop and after browsing around a while and seeing some things she liked,  she decided she wanted to check some other places out before making a final purchase.  We headed over to Colette next door and the place was very crowded but interesting.  I loved browsing some of the expensive dresses on the mannequins and the different designer shoes.  It was also fun looking through the great book section. The store is such a melange of different things, none of them cheap and after spending another hour browsing and people watching, we ended up buying nothing.

We walked further on Rue Saint Honore stopping at a few boutiques and another lingerie store before walking to our other destination for the day, The Hotel Costes for champagne and a late afternoon snack.  Seems one is always eating, drinking wine or coffee when in France and why not, they are some of life's
finest pleasures.


Patio Restaurant- View from Above
Hotel Costes Patio - Day
Hotel Costes Patio - Night

Under the Canopy

In addition to a very nice sparkling Rose' we had truffle risotto, a very colorful salad and some crusty bread with butter.

Avocado and Tomato Salad
Black Truffle Risotto

The Flower Shop at the Hotel Costes was tres chic and very beautiful.   D couldn't take enough   photographs.

Hotel Costes Perfume Shop (above and below)

After several glasses of the lovely Rose', we followed up our "late afternoon snack" with profiteroles and  tea over some good conversation and some interesting people watching.  We were in some very pretty company, including a designer I knew by looks but I couldn't put a name to him and some very well dressed model types, as well as several business people.  A newly svelte Kirstie Alley was also having drinks with friends.

The servers were quite pretty too and I couldn't help thinking that a certain Scottish actor would definitely have asked one of them out.  She was a very tall,  leggy girl of mixed race with very beautiful face and lithe figure.

The patio of the Hotel Costes was a very inviting  place to spend a large part of day and our bill reflected it (over $200.euros).  It WAS a very nice bubbly, after all!

After leaving the hotel, we walked around a little more and since it was getting dark, we took the Metro to the Champs Elysee and Laduree to pick up some gifts to take home.

After spending another small fortune on candies and chocolates for my sisters and  a few others, we decided it would be a good night to visit  La Maison Angelina (Tea Room) for the "to die for" Hot Chocolate l'Africain, served with Whipped Cream.  It has a wonderful history which can be viewed here:

Unfortunately for us, after hopping a taxi to the Rue de Rivoli and being dropped off, we discovered that it was closed on Mondays.

After pondering what to do and still in the mood for hot chocolate, we decided to walk back to Cafe d' Flore, which entailed going back across the Seine and past the Tuilerie Gardens and around I'l St. Louis.

We arrived back in Saint Germain and were lucky enough to find a seat outside where D had another glass of wine and I ordered the very thick hot chocolate with a side of Grand Marnier to ward of the now very cool evening.   Hot chocolate is heavenly with Grand Marnier added.   It looked so pretty, she photographed it.

Thick Hot Chocolate  topped off with Grand Marnier

After some more people watching and making plans for the next day, which was supposed to be a rainy one, we walked the few blocks back to our apartment, where I washed my hair, wrapped it in a towel, and again soaked my bones in the lovely big tub (where I almost fell asleep) and, after going through my bedtime beauty ritual, I hit the bed with a book, tired but happy, and promptly fell asleep.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Paris - Days Two and Three

Our Corner Boulangerie-Patisserie

We awoke very late and had an afternoon breakfast at the nearby Cafe Metro, then did some more exploring of our neighborhood, visiting a few pharmacies to check out some products that had been recommended by friends.  After visiting several more places and picking up some extra groceries, including some espresso and milk, we returned to the apartment and sat down to  decide which  restaurants we wanted to make reservations for and plan out a  loose schedule for the week.  By the time we finished, we decided to stay in the neighborhood and seek out one of the nearby restaurants.

We walked the few blocks to San Germain des Pres and tried to find somewhere healthy to eat, finally deciding on Thai food and a place called Sam Woo's, where we shared a very nice bottle of a light  Rose' to go with our leisurely and surprisingly good dinner of chicken coconut curry and several lovely seafood salads.

After walking around a little, we returned to the apt, where I retired to my room, scrubbed my face, put on a layer of Cellex C and moisturizer and filled the lovely 6ft. Villeroy and Boch tub in my bathroom for a very warm,  sybaritic soak after which I applied one of the lovely new cooling leg and feet creams I had bought at the pharmacy and crawled between the cool, smooth sheets with a silk sleep mask over my eyes, to get the first good night's sleep I'd had in quite a few days.

Sunday morning we awoke and had oatmeal with almonds, walnuts and fresh strawberries, followed by fresh O.J., flakey croissants with lots of butter and made espresso with the great Alessi stovetop pot and heated up whole milk for typical French Cafe au lait.

D wanted to revisit and photograph nearby Luxembourg Gardens.  Stores are closed and Sunday is family time for the French.  

Here are some of her photos of the French in one of their natural habitats (the other being the sidewalk cafes).

Loved seeing so many older couples holding hands as they walked in the street.

Sun Worshiping?

Neighborly Greetings?

Returning to the apt, we freshened up and headed out to do more exploring with our eventual destination being the Marais and our dinner plans at Le 404 Moroccan Restaurant.

Sun on the Buildings

The plants against the color of the bldg. looked attractive.
Someone with a sense of humor added a hat to the statue.

An old classic.

A little Cuba in Saint Germain above and below.

Our walk took us over the Pont De Arts where D was enchanted with the many locks which attest to Paris as the city of love and the many couples who go there to leave their names and perhaps a little of  their memories of the trip with their loved one  on the bridge.                                                            

Je t'aime!

The Love Boats on the Seine
View from the Bridge

And finally, our destination in the Marais, Le 404 Moroccan Restaurant, where after eating a wonderful pigeon pie, laced with cinnamon and powdered sugar, we ordered a Moroccan stew (tajine), spiced sausages, a vegetable couscous, topped off by a bottle of a nice red and some sweet, fragrant tea.

We took a taxi home, sated, very merry and very tired.    Good article about No. African dining in Paris.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate