Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oscar Race 2013

So!  It's been awhile I know.  I actually have three (count 'em) THREE movie posts I'm working on simultaneously.  Prepare for serious posting.  But in the midst of this, I wanted to comment on the early noise I'm getting for the 2013 Academy Awards.

I'm not sure what it is this year, but I'm feeling very disconnected from the films popular this year.  I saw Avengers, like most of the population, but other than that haven't really felt the pull.  I was shocked, however, to quickly scan a list of those movies in contention, only to realize that not only had I not seen them, I hadn't even heard of them!  Not even the trailers!  Nada.

Okay, well that's not completely true.  I knew Les Miz would be coming out, and of course there was The Dark Knight Rises.  But otherwise I, completely shocked, stared at the list with some misgiving.  What were these movies?  Was I really that disconnected?  And finally, why did they all have such weird names?

I immediately began Googling, watching trailers, getting "up" on the movie info.  And I started compiling a list.  Because even though I usually end up seeing most of these movies in February---it might be nice to get a head start.  I finally gave myself a pass when I realized most of these were yet to be released.  That's not my fault...right?

According to my new favorite site,, here are are the current possibilities (ranked in order of votes from top critics), along with their release dates, descriptions (from IMDB), and my initial comments.  Any takers?

1.  Silver Linings Playbook - November 21, 2012
After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano (Cooper) moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
I'm going to reserve judgement and get behind Bradley Cooper as a serious actor.  I am.  More excited about Jennifer Lawrence, because, as my good friend just said, "it's nice to know our generation has produced one non-crazy, non-crack addict actress."

2.  Argo - October 12, 2012

As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.
I  want to see this!  Funny/Serious/Wacky.  Ben Affleck nonwithstanding.  Lets hope he doesn't ham it up too much.

3.   Lincoln - November 16, 2012
As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.
Alright Spielberg.  Stop Oscar pandering.  I didn't like it when you did it with War Horse so stay away from the Civil War.  That goes for you too Daniel Day-Lewis!  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I thought you were better than this.

4.  Les Miserables - December 25th, 2012

An adaptation of the successful stage musical based on Victor Hugo's classic novel set in 19th-century France, in which a paroled prisoner named Jean Valjean seeks redemption.
Yay!!! YAYYYY!!!!!  Now I just have to convince my boyfriend to go with me.  Okay so it's a four hour musical about the French Revolution....

5.  Zero Dark Thirty - December 19, 2012

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.
Eh, not sure.  Osama bin Laden?  Too soon?  But hats off to Kathryn Bigelow for nailing down her own niche.
6.  The Master - September 14, 2012

A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.
Decidedly less yay than Les Mis.  Joaquin and Philip be straight cray.  However this one may be straight up the boyfriend's alley.

7.  Life of Pi - November 21, 2012
The story of an Indian boy named Pi, a zookeeper's son who finds himself in the company of a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and a Bengal tiger after a shipwreck sets them adrift in the Pacific Ocean. 
Never read the book so I can't be one of those that raves--but I'm sure it's interesting.  I've just never been really interested in the coming-of-age-young-boy-on-an-island thing.

8.  Beasts of the Southern Wild - June 27, 2012
Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
Cool/Interesting/Weird.  I'm definitely down, especially with the whole non-actor thing they have going on.  And it definitely fills a niche for the Academy.

9.  Django Unchained - December 25, 2012
With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. 

Oooo!  I've got chills.  A Tarantino flick with Jamie Foxx, Leo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Kerry Washington.  Yes, please.  Besides, how many other times can you use the phrase "slavery caper"?

10.  Anna Karenina - November 9, 2012

Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
Oh god, Tolstoy.  It's just so...cold! So...Russian.  You just know it's going to end miserably.  At least Chekhov is short.

11.  Flight - November 2, 2012  
An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.
I'm expecting the predictable Denzel role.  Yelling, speeches, stopping trains, etc...however I am intrigued by what Zemeckis brings to the table.

12.  Moonrise Kingdom - May 25, 2012 
A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.
Wes Anderson, Coppola, Bill Murray, and you know where this is going.  I may still watch it based on the fact that it takes place on Cape Cod in the 60's.

And then there are the B-listers...But still a possibility!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - December 14, 2012
The Dark Knight Rises - July 20, 2012
Amour - October 5, 2012
Promised Land - December 28, 2012
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - May 4, 2012
End of Watch - September 21, 2012 
The Impossible - December 21, 2012
Hitchcock - November 23, 2012
The Sessions - October 19, 2012
Cloud Atlas - October 26, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Burnt Cream

Before my boyfriend and I piled in the car to head down to my parents' for Christmas, we stopped at the mall to finish up our holiday shopping.  Unfortunately, that was the day I had found out I did not get the job I had applied for (no worries!  I've since gotten another, even better opportunity!)--and after some tears and heavy lunch drinking, I wandered off to buy him Celtics cufflinks he didn't need.  Despite the fact that he had already bought me enough Christmas presents, my boyfriend felt so bad for me that he did what all good boyfriends do: he went to Williams Sonoma.  And on Christmas Day I unwrapped an entirely unnecessary, completely extraneous present.  Yes, you guessed it---a blowtorch.

Why a blowtorch, you ask?  Why not a knife, peeler, or pancake mold in the shape of Darth Vader?  These are all great questions.  I'm not sure even he knows.  He simply plucked it off the shelf and asked for it to be gift wrapped.  And yes.  I am now the proud owner of a blowtorch.  My mother was absolutely horrified.  My brother promptly went to look for lighter fluid and things to light on fire.

Why the back-story?  Because for a Parisian film, what better treat to make than crème brûlée?  And so, never having attempting such a difficult, and, well, blow-torchy dessert, I thought--why not?  And while it did not end up exactly perfect, I do present to you my recipe for crème brûlée.  Oui Oui.  Eiffel Tour.  Berets.  Feeling french yet?
Vanilla Bean

Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
(Adapted from Williams Sonoma Recipe in the blowtorch box.)

You'll Need:
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 4 Tbs. sugar
  1. Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Line a baking pan that is 2 to 3 inches deep with a small kitchen towel.
  2. Using a small knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds into a 2-quart saucepan. 
  3. Add the cream, mix together and then turn on the heat to medium-high. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside, about 15 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually whisk in the cream to the egg mixture, continuing until blended. 
  5. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. 
  6. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.
  7. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.
  8. Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch (woohoo, open flame!), torch the sugar until it hardens and is slightly golden brown.  Do not burn--no matter how much fun the torch is.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

Despite my best efforts, the custard did not completely harden and took on an almost yogurty texture.  I was also a little overzealous with my first torching, and used too much sugar and too much flame.  (Note to boyfriend: I can totally use the torch.  You don't need to hover next to me, eyes wide with terror.)  Burnt sugar=yuck.  Still, though a little burnt and soupy, the taste was delicious.  Make sure you use real vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract.  It makes a serious difference.  I also used some leftover strawberries as garnishes, as seen below.  Now I just have to figure out--what else can I torch?  Muhuhahahahaha....

There are several very helpful videos online, and I've put the one I used below.  Check him out--doesn't he look official?

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Monday, July 16, 2012

An American in Paris

"I'm a concert pianist. That's a pretentious way of saying I'm...unemployed at the moment."--Adam Cook (An American in Paris, 1951)
Well I remember seeing this movie long ago, when my grandmother gave it to me.  She knew I liked old movies, and she gave me a few for Christmas or my birthday or something.  Anyway I loved the others, but this one I absolutely hated.  My idea of a musical was West Side Story or Sound of Music!  This movie was long, didn't have a plot, and riddled with incomprehensible 20 minute ballet sequences.  What?  No Jets or Sharks?  I hated it and never watched it again.  Many years later I got a chance to watch Singing in the Rain, then Brigadoon, and On the Town.  And I gradually began to realize what a Gene Kelley musical meant and what he was trying to do with this film.  Even so I was resistant, and I warned my boyfriend (Yes, he watched it.  No teasing!) what he was in for.  And then I watched it as an adult, as a film connoisseur, and a secret Gene Kelley fan.  It's terrific--still not my favorite, but surprisingly--my boyfriend actually liked it?

The Plot
Gene Kelly is Jerry Mulligan, an American and former G.I. who stayed in Paris after World War II to become a painter.  He is a struggling artist who lives on the Left Bank, but he is content with his bohemian lifestyle.  He is friends with many of his neighbors, including the local children (to whom he gives American bubblegum) and the cynical and misanthropic American concert pianist Adam Cook (played by Oscar Levant), who lives off a series of fellowships.  Adam's old friend, Henri Baurel, played by Georges Guétary, is a rich and famous French singer who used to live on the Left Bank, and who is as happy as Adam is pessimistic.  

Jerry Mulligan in his apartment.
Henri comes back to visit, singing "Nice Work If You Can Get It." Henri explains he is so happy because he is dating a young and beautiful girl.  Her parents, friends of Henri's, were in the resistance, and Henri let her stay with him when they got into trouble.  They met again many years later, and he fell in love with the woman she became.  When he tries to describe her to Adam, however, he gives many conflicting views of her character, which leads into a brief ballet dream sequence to the song "Embraceable You."  Afterwards, Adam introduces Jerry to Henri, who then promptly lends the starving artist some money.  After Henri mentions he prefers the waltz to jazz, the three then goof around, singing "By Strauss."

Leslie Caron's Montage
One day when Jerry is particular poor, he goes to Montmarte and sets up some of his work on the side of the street, hoping to sell something to a tourist.  Milo Roberts (played by Nina Foch), an American heiress living in Paris, admires Jerry's paintings and buys two of them.  Because she doesn't have the cash with her, Milo invites Jerry to ride back with her to her hotel.  Jerry isn't impressed by her expensive hotel room or chauffer, but he agrees to come back to a party she's throwing that night.  He goes home, and entertains the children of the Left Bank with a new song, "I've Got Rhythm."  When he returns that evening, Milo is provocatively dressed and he realizes the party is just for the two of them.

Gene Kelley in "I've Got Rhythm"
Jerry is insulted, and tries to return the money for his paintings.  Milo, however, convinces him that she really wants to help him and his work, and asks if they can discuss it over dinner.  Jerry agrees, but only at a place he can afford.  They go to a jazz club in Montmarte, and everything is fine until Jerry spots a pretty girl and overhears her name, Lise Bourvier (Leslie Caron).  While Milo is dancing with a friend, Jerry finagles a dance with Lise by pretending he knows her in front of her friends.  Lise is annoyed, but Jerry does manage to trick her into giving her phone number.  Milo observes this and is annoyed, lashing out at Jerry in the car ride home.  Jerry gets out of her car and determines he wants nothing to do with her, despite the help she has promised for his work.

Milo invites Jerry to a "private" party.
The next morning, Jerry phones Lise at the perfumery where she works and asks her out.  She turns him down and asks him not to call her.  A few minutes later Milo shows up at Jerry's neighborhood cafe and apologizes for her behavior.  Insisting again that she only wants to help his work, she invites him to have lunch later with her and a well-known art dealer.  Jerry agrees, and after she leaves goes to the perfumery.  Lise is at first annoyed, but eventually Jerry charms her into meeting him that night at 9pm.  Jerry comes home to Adam, and tries to convince him of his happy mood by singing, "Tra-la-la (This Time It's Really Love)."

Jerry sings "Tra-la-la."
Unbeknownst to Jerry, Lise is in fact the girl that Henri Baurel is in love with.  Henri is debuting a new number that night and wants Lise to attend.  Lise agrees, and though she is torn, still meets Jerry at 9pm at a cafe near the Seine.  She refuses to sit at the cafe, but does agree to walk along the Seine with him, and the two slowly fall in love.  Eventually, Jerry singings "Our Love is Here to Stay," to Lise, and they dance an extended ballet sequence, ending in a kiss.  When Lise discovers that it is 11pm, however, she runs back to Henri's theater, after agreeing to meet Jerry again on Saturday morning.

Lise and Jerry fall in love.
Henri's new number is "Stairway to Paradise," which he sings in a Ziegfeld's Follies-type way.  Lise runs into Henri afterwards, and he doesn't realize she's missed the song.  He informs Lise excitedly that he has just gotten an offer for an American tour, and tells her they could get married and go together.  White-faced, Lise nods and agrees that it would be wonderful.  
"Stairway to Paradise."
The next day as Jerry goes off to have lunch with Milo, Adam daydreams a piano concert where he is every member of the orchestra, playing "Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra." After lunch, Milo takes Jerry to a studio that she has bought for him, and informs him she has scheduled an exhibition at an art gallery for him in a few months.  Jerry is angry, because he cannot pay for the studio and does not think his work is ready.  But eventually he agrees, only if Milo lets him pay her back with the proceeds from the exhibition.

Jerry and Milo
Over the next several weeks, Jerry paints with a vengeance, often using Lise as a subject.  Later, when Lise and Jerry are in a taxi, they both realize they have been evasive, especially Lise.  They pull up to the Left Bank cafe that Lise knows Henri frequents, and she drives away without Jerry and without an explanation.  Dejected, Jerry has coffee with Adam, and explains that while he loves Lise, he is confused by her behavior.  When Jerry mentions her name, Adam chokes on his coffee, realizing she is Henri's girl.  Before he can mention it, Henri arrives and announces that he is engaged.  He gives Jerry advice on love with Adam nervously watching and trying to change the subject.  Henri insists that Jerry must tell his girl how much he loves her, and that love will conquer all.  Henri and Jerry sing, "'S Wonderful."

Georges Guetary, Oscar Levant, and Gene Kelly in "'S Wonderful."

Later that night Jerry tells Lise he loves her, and Lise tells him she's getting married.  She tells Jerry she loves him, but feels she owes her life to Henri.  Hurt, Jerry tells her he has been seeing Milo as well.  He rushes over to Milo, kisses her for the first time and invites her to the art students' costume ball.  At the wild black and white ball, he dances with Milo and pretends he is happy.  Milo meets Adam, who tells her how Jerry really feels about her.  Milo returns to Jerry just as he runs into Henri and Lise, after which Jerry admits to Milo his true feelings.  Milo leaves, and Jerry walks out onto the balcony, where he is joined by Lise.  Lise tearfully says goodbye to Jerry, not knowing that Henri has been smoking a cigarette nearby and has heard everything.  He meets Lise downstairs and drives her away from the party as a desolate Jerry watches from the balcony.  Jerry fantasizes about Lise and imagines an extended ballet sequence where the two of them dance through Paris (An American in Paris Ballet).  Jerry is suddenly startled by a car horn.  Henri has brought Lise back to Jerry, and as he runs down the steps to meet her, the two embrace.  They walk down the rest of the steps hand in hand.

Jerry and Lise leave together.
The History
Gene Kelly was born Eugene Curran Kelly on August 23rd, 1912 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  As a boy, he and his brothers were forced to take dance lessons, much to their chagrin.  Gene Kelly didn't take dance again until his was 15, and then only as a way to meet girls.  He graduated from high school and went to Pennsylvania State College to get a journalism degree, only to have to drop out when the stock market crashed.  He and his brother brought in money by dancing in nightclubs and talent shows, and eventually Kelly enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh to study economics while his family opened a dance studio nearby.  He taught at the studio while at school, eventually going on to law school.  But he became more and more interested in dance, and eventually dropped out of school as he started to get various choreography jobs.  Bored with teaching young children, Kelly moved to New York, and eventually worked his way into being a star choreographer, actor, dancer, and singer.  He gained a reputation as one of the hardest working and most driven men in the business.

Gene Kelly in An American in Paris
Eventually Kelly left New York to try his luck in Hollywood, staring in small films with actresses like Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, and Rita Hayworth.  He was well received by the public and therefore was given larger roles and more creative control over his musical numbers.  In 1945 he was paired with Frank Sinatra in what became the most popular movie of that year, Anchors Aweigh (where he received his first and only nomination for "Best Actor" from the Academy). Despite his success it was now World War II, and Kelly joined the Air Force only to be commissioned to film and direct several war documentaries.  It was during this time that he discovered his love for directing.

An American in Paris Ballet
Kelly returned in 1946 and made a few smaller pictures.  MGM wanted him to make safer vehicles, but Kelly fought to for creative control.  He acted in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, again with Sinatra, and it was this hit that convinced producer Arthur Freed to let Kelly give it a try on his own.  He partnered Sinatra for the third and final time in On the Town, and Kelly's directorial debut was a smash, and considered a breakthrough musical drama. Kelly did a non-musical role in the gangster film, The Black Hand, and then followed with Judy Garland's last film, Summer Stock.  Afterwards, finally, Kelly would film his two greatest works, Singin' in the Rain, and An American in Paris.

An American in Paris Ballet
An American in Paris was to be Gene Kelly's declarative statement in musicals.  Arthur Freed had bought the film rights to George Gershwin's "An American in Paris - A Tone Poem for Orchestra" for $158,750, in his weekly pool game with Ira, who also received $56,250 as a consultant to write any necessary new lyrics for songs used.  Ira Gershwin made the deal on the condition that the resulting musical would use only Gershwin numbers as its other songs.  Once Kelly got his hands on the new musical, he screened the film The Red Shoes for MGM film executives as proof that a film featuring ballet could work.  Suddenly Kelly was involved in a film that would be as meticulous as his dancing style.  He started by casting dancer Cyd Charisse, who had to drop out of the film after learning she was pregnant.  He then moved on to cast 19-year-old Leslie Caron, who he saw performing in a ballet in Paris.  She was an unknown ballerina 19 years his junior, who was so malnourished from World War II and unused to the vigorous pace of filming that she could only work every other day.  But Kelly felt the film needed a real French girl in the part.  
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron
They got the French girl, but despite his protests, Gene Kelly was not allowed to film in Paris.  The film was shot mostly in backlots at MGM, with Vincent Minnelli as director.  Minnelli was unfortunately tied up with his divorce with Judy Garland and Kelly ended up picking up a lot of the slack.  Kelly was responsible entirely for the directing of Leslie Caron's small dream sequence at the beginning of the film, which many censors thought too scandalous for a young girl.  Still, production was running behind schedule, and there was a push to cut the final ballet scene.  In one of his last acts at the studio before being forced out, Louis B. Mayer stood by Gene Kelly, and insisted the film wouldn't be complete without it.  The 17 minute dance sequence took a month just to film, and cost half a million dollars. Each scene is individually painted and choreographed to mimic French impressionistic paintings.  The backgrounds took six weeks to build with thirty painters working nonstop.  The dance rehearsals themselves took a little over a month.  

Leslie Caron in her suggestive chair dance.
When American in Paris opened in July of 1951, critics gave it a rave review.  Charmed by the beautiful new star, the groundbreaking choreography, the re-worked classic old songs, and, of course, Gene Kelly, people showed up in droves to see the film.  It made millions.  But Kelly still looked to the Academy for validation: "There is a strange sort of reasoning in Hollywood that musicals are less worthy of Academy consideration than drama," he said.  "It's a form of snobbism, the same sort that perpetuates the idea that drama is more deserving of awards than comedy."  He was up against some serious contenders, however, with A Streetcar Named Desire, A Place in the Sun, and The African Queen all lining up as heavy hitters.  MGM itself put its money behind Quo Vadis, a Gone With The Wind-style epic in the Roman empire.  Decision Before Dawn was Zanuck's pick--a glossy World War II drama.

An American in Paris Ballet
Oscar night came and once again, the Academy voted down the decision to broadcast the show on television, allowing only ABC to broadcast the show on radio for the either consecutive year.  The stars showed up at the Pantages theater, but were a bit of a motley crew.  Shelley Winters and Leslie Caron had the flu. Humphrey Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall was very pregnant.  Debbie Reynolds showed up with a bag full of girl scout cookies, and Montgomery Clift was a little "worse for the wear."  Despite these eccentricities, things went more or less as expected:  Gene Kelley won an Honorary Oscar for his "versatility" and "his brillant achievements in the art of choreography on film" and producer Arthur Freed was given a standing ovation when he was awarded the prestigious Thalberg Award.  But everyone was completely floored when the throw-away film, An American in Paris, actually beat out so many serious dramas for the coveted "Best Picture" award.  Producer Sidney Skolsky demanded a recount and The New York Times's Bosley Crowther, who had put the musical on his "Ten Best" list, was furious that the Academy was full of "people so insensitive  to the excellencies of motion picture art that they would vote for a frivlous musical picture over a powerful and pregnant tragedy."  MGM displayed its unexpected success with an ad depicting Leo the Lion (their mascot) holding an Oscar and apologizing, saying "Honestly, I was just standing In the Sun waiting for A Streetcar."

Set of the Pantages Theater, 24th Academy Awards
In addition to "Best Picture," An American in Paris won "Best Art – Set Decoration, Color," "Best Cinematography, Color, "Best Costume Design, Color," "Best Musical Score," and "Best Writing, Scoring and Screenplay."  It also won the "Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy."  The film was #68 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1998 and #9 on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals in 2006.  In 1993, An American in Paris was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

The film was also named as one of "The 20 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time" by Premiere.  Over the years An American in Paris has declined as a favorite movie musical, in favor of the more popular Gene Kelly film, Singin' in the Rain.  It is still, however, a popular, well liked film, and a favorite of movie theater revival houses.  And of course, Gene Kelly fans the world over.

The Verdict?
I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would.  I seriously disliked it the first time around, but with age comes wisdom, and I've realized that there's a lot more to this film than 30 minute ballet sequences.  

Oscar Levant in An American in Paris
Firstly--it's actually funny!  Not laugh-out-loud funny, but definitely chuckle worthy.  There are witty one-liners, puns, and double entendres.  Secondly, the cast is, well, for lack of a better word, charming.  Leslie Caron is sweet and engaging, Oscar Levant has great facial expressions, Georges Guetary is a lovable bon vivant and of course, there is Gene Kelly.  But all this is pushed to the side when you consider the incredible choreography and score.  Who knew Gershwin songs could be so much fun?  And nothing is better than when Gene Kelly tap dances.  Each musical number is well rehearsed and planned out.  You don't need the flashing lights and special effects of Chicago--just Gene Kelly tap dancing with a gaggle of French children.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just pure movement.  There's something to be said for that.

Georges Guetary, Gene Kelly, and Nina Foch
Do I think it was the best film that year?  Probably not--it's hard to say without seeing the others but considering their reputations I would assume not.  However I find myself agreeing with Kelly's main point, that musicals and comedies are not afforded the same weight as dramas.  They are hard to judge against one another, but it is my opinion that it is just as hard, if not harder, to be funny or effortlessly musical, than it is to be dramatic.  Elizabeth Taylor may have vamped her way across the screen to great stirring effect, but An American in Paris represents years of hard physical practice.  The Golden Globes acknowledges this difference with different categories for "Best Picture."  Perhaps they have the right of it.

An American in Paris
Whether you think this film the finest example of Gene Kelly's work (and I don't--I'm still a die hard Singin' in the Rain fan) or you think think it a classic example of a musical genre that will never be made again, this film was, and still is groundbreaking for the American movie musical.  Gene Kelly proved that people will continue to love art--and the average person can admire beauty in movement.  And he was right--my boyfriend was a big fan.    
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Burger Envy

Although I'm a big fan of most food (clearly) burgers have a special place in my heart.  So it's no wonder I was easily swayed in their direction.  With All About Eve, I wanted to make something with apples.  Apple Crumble, Apple Pie, Apple Strudel...but I decided to go a little crazy.  I found a recipe for Portobello Burgers with Apple-Celery Slaw and then decided to finish it off with fabulous baked Sweet Potato Fries.  Jealous?

Apple Slaw and Envious Burgers (with Sensational Sweet Potato Fries)
(Adapted from

You'll Need:

For burgers:
1 medium onion, chopped
10 ounces portobello mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
4 hamburger buns, toasted

For slaw:
2 celery ribs
1/2 Granny Smith apple, cored (left unpeeled)
1 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Sides:  Sweet Potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper.

 Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  1. Slice the sweet potato into french fry like strips.  Drizzle with oil and top with salt and pepper.
  2. Bake for about a half hour, until cooked through and crispy.  Remove from head and 
  3. Meanwhile, finely chop mushrooms and onion, or pulse in a food processor.  
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add mushroom and onion mixture, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown and liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. 
  5. Transfer to a bowl and cool to warm, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

  6. Cut celery and apple into 2-inch-long thin julienne strips.
  7. Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, mustard, sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add celery and apple, tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes to develop flavors.
  8. Mix ground beef into cooled mushroom mixture with your hands until well combined. Add in 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.  Form into 4 (4-inch) patties.
  9. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook burgers, turning once, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare.  Add the remained cheese to top of burgers, if desired.
  10. Serve burgers, topped with slaw, on buns with a side of fries.  Enjoy!

These burgers were incredible---but a little mushy.  The moisture from the mushrooms made the patties difficult to form, and hard to cook, with the end result that the burgers tasted more like meatballs than burgers.  Even the brand new fabulous burger press we used didn't help!

Adjustable Nonstick Burger Press
But the slaw was fantastic, with the apple giving a great sweetness and crunch.  And if you've read my blog you know how I feel about homemade french fries.  All in all I'd probably skip the mushrooms and do regular burgers---but keep the slaw and definitely the fries!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

All About Eve

"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"--Margo Channing (All About Eve, 1950)
I didn't know what to expect from this film, and I still don't.  I think it needs many more viewings before I can fully understand it.  There's some great acting, and really strong female characters.  In fact, it is only the women that can see clearly, whereas the men are blind to the action going on around them (except for the most effeminate man).  I liked it, but I feel a little muddled.  Can I see Bette David scream at people again?

The Plot
The film opens with a prestigious theater award ceremony at the "Sara Siddons Society."  Theater critic Addison DeWitt, played by George Sanders, introduces the main characters who are attending the banquet, nonplussed, while the award recipient, Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter, waits in the wings.  He claims that he will explain "more of Eve, later. All about Eve, in fact."  Around the table are playwright Llyod Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife Karen (Celeste Holm), producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) and famous dramatic actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis).  Karen, watching her introduction, flashes back to when she first met Eve...

Addison DeWitt at Eve's Awards dinner
It's a dark, rainy night and Karen gets out of a cab, hurrying to get in to see her husband and their friends, who are recouping after a long show.  Eve, who is huddled in a doorway, approaches Karen and mentions she has been to every performance.  Karen takes pity on her and invites her in to see the play's star, Margo Channing.  Eve meets everyone backstage, and proceeds to tell them of her poor childhood in the mid-west and subsequent marriage to Eddie, an Air Force technician who died in the war.  Eve claims she first saw Margo perform in San Francisco and was so enraptured she followed the performance to New York.

Bill, Eve, and Margot at the airport.
Director Bill Sampson, Margo's younger boyfriend, comes to say goodbye before he leaves to direct a film for Hollywood.  Eve accompanies them to the airport and captures Margo's affection, who them hires her to work as her assistant.  Eve does a remarkable job but still earns the enmity of Margo's maid, retired vaudevillian Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter). Soon however, Margo begins to distrust Eve and suspect she is trying to supplant her.

Birdie and Eve
Eve plans a welcome home party for Bill and doesn't inform Margo until Bill says something.  Margo quarrels with Bill when she catches him entertaining Eve with jokes, and he accuses her of insecurity because of her age.  The night goes downhill as Margo drinks and picks fights with her guests.  Max Fabian takes Margo aside and admits he has agreed to audition Addison DeWitt's stunningly beautiful protegee Miss Casswell (played by a very young Marilyn Monroe).  Margo agrees to read with Miss Casswell but asks that Max get Eve a job as an administrative assistant in his office.  At the same time, Eve asks Karen for a shot at replacing Margo's pregnant 
understudy. Karen agrees to help, but warns Eve that Margo always performs.

Eve and Margot at the party.
Margo shows up late to read, only to hear from Addison DeWitt that Eve is her new understudy and has already read with Miss Casswell--brilliantly.  Margo storms into the theater and fights with Bill and Llyod, accusing them of rehearsing Eve behind her back.  Bill follows her backstage, and asks Margo to marry him, as he has many times before.  Still fearful that he will one day leave her because of her age, Margo declines and Bill leaves her.  Lloyd come home to Karen and raves about Eve's performance.  He then tells Karen he longs to teach Margo a lesson and finally put the diva in her place.  Karen remembers that she, Llyod, Margo, and Bill have planned to go to the country together that week and then calls Eve to hatch a plan to finally get back at Margo.

Karen and Margo in the car
After a tense weekend with Margo (Bill not having shown up) Llyod and Karen drive Margo to the train so that she can make her performance.  Suddenly the car runs out of gas inexplicably and Llyod goes for help.  Margo takes the time then to apologize to Karen, explaining that her fear of aging and her illustrious career have done so much to hold her back in love and life.  
Funny business, a woman's career - the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.
Karen forgives her and apologizes that Margo is going to miss her train.  As Margo asks her why she's apologizing, and scoffs that it isn't like she poked holes in the fuel tank, the camera pans out on Karen's guilty face.

Eve attempts to seduce Bill
Eve performs that night, and somehow, all the literary critics in town end up invited to the show, including Addison DeWitt.  After the show, Addison goes backstage and happens to overhear Eve making a pass at Bill, who rejects her.  After he leaves, Addison comes in and offers to help her with her career.  As he questions her back-story about discovering the theater in San Francisco, he starts to realize everything isn't as it seems.  Even so he writes a column the next day praising Eve's performance while making comments about "mature" actresses in youthful roles.  Bill returns to Margo's side to comfort her and Karen agrees that Eve was manipulative to be a party to that article.

Margot reads Karen's note.
Lloyd later tells Karen he would like to start on his next play right away, rather than wait until this one ends.  He explains he would like to cast Eve as "Cora" a role that was originally designed for Margo.  He claims that Addison manipulated a naive young girl and that Eve is truly sorry.  Karen is beginning to suspect the truth about Eve and tells Lloyd he'll give Eve that part over her dead body.  That night Lloyd and Karen join Margo and Bill at the Cub Room, and Bill announces that he and Margo are finally engaged.  With Margo gushing happiness, Karen suddenly receives a note that Eve wishes to speak with her in the ladies room.  The rest of the table encourages her to go, and so Karen goes to listen to Eve's apology, filled with chagrin at how Addison had used her and manipulated her words.  When Karen doesn't buy it, Eve turns nasty and threatens to reveal in Addison's column just how Margo had managed to miss that performance unless Karen endorses Eve as "Cora" in Lloyd's new play.

Karen remembers meeting Eve.
Horrified and a little shaky, Karen returns to the table.  Before she can speak, Margo announces that she does not want to play "Cora" in Lloyd's next play.  She and Bill are going to get married in city hall, after which she wants to spend some time at home with him.  Karen bursts into hysterical laughter, to the surprise of her friends.  In Karen's voiceover, she claims that as it turned out, Lloyd didn't need her permission, and ends up casting Eve.  Bill at first refuses to direct her, but at Margo's urging, finally agrees.  Karen claims that she never knew Bill and Lloyd to fight as much as they did over this play, but Eve always played peacemaker.  Karen decided she didn't need to be a rehearsals as much anymore.  The middle of the night before the premiere, Karen gets a call from Eve's roommate, claiming she is seriously ill.  Lloyd rushes right over, leaving Karen at home.  As the roommate hangs up, she exchanges a smile with the very healthy Eve.

Eve and Addison.
The night of the premiere in New Haven, Addison greets Eve before her performance in her suite.  Eve gloatingly informs him that Lloyd is going to leave Karen and marry her.  Her plan is that they will become a power theater couple, with her as his muse.  Addison listens, then coldly vetoes her plan.  He tells her that he owns her.  Addison has discovered her scandalous past, which includes sleeping with her married boss.  Eve's story is both more sordid and less interesting than she has told the world.  Eve falls to her bed in tears; Addison tells her she better perform the best she's ever done, and then leaves.

Eve accepts her award.
Back at the awards banquet, Eve accepts the award for the performance she gave that night and subsequent nights as "Cora."  She gives a humble speech, and then promises to return to the theater after her upcoming role in Hollywood.  She thanks her "friends" who have attended the banquet and who are staring coldly back at her.  After the banquet, she leaves in a taxi with Addison, declaring that she is too tired for the after-party in her honor and just wishes to go home.  Addison leaves her at her apartment, and, tired and depressed, she fixes herself a drink, only to see a young girl asleep in her apartment.  It is the president of one of her fan clubs, who, after taking the train from Brooklyn, snuck into Eve's apartment in the hopes of meeting her.  Although initially terrified, Eve allows the girl to take care of her, and to answer the doorbell.  It is Addison, who has come to return the award Eve left in the cab.  The girl introduces herself as Phoebe, and Addison gives her the award, telling her to ask Eve how to become a famous actress.

Eve returns home.
Phoebe lies to Eve and says the taxi driver brought the award, and then takes it into Eve's bedroom.  She tries on Eve's cape and poses in front of the mirror with the award, a determined glint in her eye.

Phoebe is the next Eve.
The History
The original story, "The Wisdom of Eve," by Mary Orr, appeared in "Cosmopolitan" magazine in 1946 and was based on a real life incident involving Austrian actress Elisabeth Bergner in the early 1940s.  It was then produced as a radio drama for NBC, but no studio thought it a worthy film project until Fox eventually bought the rights for a small amount of money and no credit stipulations. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz combined the story with one he was writing about an actress who remembers her career while she is accepting an award.  Producer Darryl F. Zanuck and his pet director, Mankiewicz, considered Marlene DietrichTallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, Ingrid Bergman, and Jeanne Crain as possibilities for the starring roles.  In the end they settled on Claudette Colbert as Margo and Fox's recent award winners Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm as Eve and Karen, respectively.  They edited the script to make Eve's conniving less apparent until later on in the film and to add some ambiguity to the characters before production began.

Production still for All About Eve
Right before filming, however, Colbert injured her back in a skiing accident and could no longer be in the picture.  Mankiewicz had to come up with an actress, fast, and so Bette Davis stepped in.  Although she and Zanuck disliked each other, Davis was perfect for the role--even going to so far as to fall in love with Gary Merrill, who played Bill.  They would later marry and adopt a daughter, Margot (they got divorced in 1960).  Although Mankiewicz had been warned that Bette Davis would be a terror to work for, she knew a great script when she saw one and had little to say to Mankiewicz, who described her as "one of the most agreeable and professional actresses" he had ever worked with.  Not so for Celeste Holm, who was also at loggerheads with Zanuck.  Holm claims she arrived on set and greeted Davis, who then responded with "Oh shit, good manners."  Holm never spoke to Davis again.  Davis recalls that everyone on set was a pleasure to work with, and the only "bitch in the cast" was Holm.  Davis herself was going through a tough time--she had burst a blood vessel in her throat from screaming at her current husband, William Grant Sherry, who she was in the process of divorcing.  Mankiewicz decided he liked the raspy quality of her voice and kept it.

Marilyn Monroe's early role.
Marilyn Monroe would have one of her first small film performances in the role of Miss Casswell--and was so nervous in front of the great Bette Davis she had to repeat her scenes several times before she got them right.  Margo's famous cocktail dress was made by Edith Head, but at the last minute didn't fit Davis's shoulders.  To make it fit, Davis simply slipped it off her shoulders. Zanuck changed the film's working title "Best Performance" to "All About Eve" after he heard Addison DeWitt's opening lines.  The film opened to glowing reviews from the critics.  Bette Davis won her first New York Film Critics Award and told Mankiewicz "You resurrected me from the dead."

Sketches by Edith Head
But All About Eve would be fighting against a few other popular films that year.  Long time Oscar winner Billy Wilder had started on a new film that he took care to hide from the studio execs until the last minute--going so far as to lock the script up every night before leaving the studio.  The project was Sunset Boulevard staring Gloria Swanson as a middle-aged silent movie star losing touch with reality.  The project was a hit with the critics, although Louis B. Mayer felt slighted to be kept in the dark, telling Wilder "You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!"  Also vying for the award would be the story of a dumb blonde trying to better herself in Born Yesterday.  Although he had to be talked into it, Columbia boss Harry Cohn would later hire the young actress who had played the part on Broadway, Judy Holliday--or as he put it "that fat Jewish broad."  He released it on Christmas Day, just in time for the Oscars; it made a ton of money and Judy Holliday a star.    Last in contention was former Best Supporting Actor nominee Jose Ferrer, who took a chance and starred in the surprising hit Shakespearean film, Cyrano de Bergerac.  Everyone was gearing up for the awards.  And yet, HUAC cast a pall over everything, investigating both Judy Holliday and Jose Ferrer.

Gloria Swanson, Jose Ferrar, and Judy Holliday
Despite the vigorous race, many of the nominees would not be able to be present at the awards.  Bette Davis was filming a British movie, Another Man's Poison, on the Yorkshire moors.  Gloria Swanson and Jose Ferrer were both staring in a Broadway revival of Twentieth Century in New York.  Jose Ferrer decided that he was hosting a birthday part for his co-star on Oscar night, and rented out the La Zambra restaurant.  New Yorkers Judy Holliday, Celeste Holm, and Sam Jaffe (a Best Supporting Actor Nominee) decided to join him.  The Academy quickly set up a radio hookup in New York, should any of those actors win.

Marilyn Monroe presents "Best Sound Recording" to Thomas T. Molton
Fred Astaire was this year's host at the Pantages theater, and the show opened with a lavish medley of all the songs nominated that year, including Cinderella's "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo."  Backstage, newcomer Marilyn Monroe was preparing herself for her Awards show debut as a presenter.  She suddenly noticed that her dress was torn, however, and promptly burst into tears, claiming she couldn't go on.  Her fellow starlets consoled her while a fashion attendant worked some magic.  She pulled herself together and went onstage but barely managed to look up from the podium the entire time.  This would be the last time Marilyn Monroe would attend the Oscars.  Louis B. Mayer would win an honorary Award for "distinguished service to the motion picture industry."  Mayer would be forced out of MGM a few months later after a bitter dispute with their parent company, Lowes, Inc.

George Sanders and Mercedes McCambridge
All About Eve received a record breaking 14 nominations, 1 more than Gone with the Wind.  Only Titanic would equal this record, 47 years later.  Of that 14, the film won six awards, "Best Costume Design," "Best Sound Recording," "Best Writing, Screenplay," "Best Director," "Best Supporting Actor," and "Best Picture."  When George Sanders, who played the cynical Addison DeWitt, won his award he sobbed backstage. "I can't help it," he claimed, "This has unnerved me."  Mankiewicz was a two-time award winning director who had won both the Director and Screenplay Awards two years in a row.

Best Costumes, Black and White, is awarded to All About Eve
Though Anne Baxter is credited with lobbying to be in the Best Actress category (rather than supporting) and thus splitting the vote to ensure both she and Bette Davis would lose---in actuality this was a scheme developed by Zanuck himself.  Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday sat at the same table in New York, and when Holliday won she couldn't stop sobbing.  The much older Swanson handled herself well and gave Judy a hug.  But she couldn't help but say, "Darling, why couldn't you have waited till next year?"  It seemed HUAC was beaten--and Best Actor winner Jose Ferrer joyfully said, "This is a direct rebuke to the people who tried maliciously to affect the voting by things that are (a) beside the point and (b) untrue."  Unfortunately, columnist Florabel Muir stated, "I didn't cast my vote to vindicate you on the charges that you may have failed to be a good American citizen.  As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on that category."

Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" 
All About Eve was #16 on  AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies in 1998, and #28 in the new list in 2007.  Eve Harrington is #23 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains, and the above mentioned quote is #9 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.  In addition it won various awards in the Golden Globes, NY Film Critics Awards, Director's Guild of America Awards, Cannes Film Festival, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.  More recently, in 1990, All About Eve was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  The film received in 1997 a placement on the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame. The film also earns a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  It still enjoys revivals in indie movie houses, Bette Davis exhibits, TCM and AMC.  It is a certified classic that helped solidify Bette Davis an eternal movie star.

Bette Davis and Gary Merrill
The Verdict?
This is a movie with strongly written female characters, something that is not always common in this time period.  However, they work as a cautionary tale against women who deviate from the reinforced female stereotype of the 1950s.  Post-war America faced a labor problem.  During the war, women had been encouraged to join the workforce and replace the men who had gone to war to protect them.  Images of strong, patriotic women like Rosie the Riveter were used as propaganda to propel women to leave home and go to work in armament factories.  But when the men returned, women were expected to go back home and leave the jobs to the returning war veterans.  If they didn't, America was facing a high unemployment rate and possibly another economic depression, especially with the war factories now being deemed unnecessary.  Some women did indeed go home,  but some were still their family's breadwinners and couldn't afford to.  Thus the propaganda against working women began in the 1950s.

Birdie and Eve first meet.
All About Eve delves into the roles of women as different versions of the classic Eve, the symbol of femininity.  In a deeper sense, Eve, Karen, and Margot represent the virgin, the wife, and the crone (unfortunately), the three phases of women dating from the Ancient Greeks.  But each woman runs into problems because they are unable (or unwilling) to adhere to their archetypes.  We discover Eve is neither an innocent girl or a virgin, as she is treated in the first half of the film but in fact a manipulative, promiscuous woman who uses her femininity as a weapon.  Karen is a wife, but not a mother, perhaps the most important part of her role.  And Margot is fighting her age by pretending to be a young girl on stage, heavily wigged, costumed, and made up.  Each violates the roles they are supposed to fulfill.

Margot with Max and Bill
In a simpler sense, all three women come to grief because they fight the proper female roles that have been assigned to them by society.  Popular culture, society, even the government, want women to settle down, abandon their careers, and become "happy little housewives" as Margot once calls Karen early on.  Margot is a drunken, raging, unhappy bitch until the end of the film, when she decides to settle down and marry Bill.  She comes to the realization that she is not a women if she does not have a man.  After that, Margot, one of the most powerful women in the film, becomes silent and generic.  She must abandon her career (she couldn't be a star by playing an older woman!) and play house with Bill.

Margot watches Eve receive her award.
Karen is happy in the beginning of the film, and actually only comes to grief when she attempts to meddle in her husband's affairs without consulting him.  Her husband straying from her is a natural consequence of Karen taking an active role in her married life, rather than a passive one.  And Eve is perhaps the most cautionary tale of all.  She is perceived as sweet and unassuming until she goes after a career and attempts to usurp Margot.  She might have been able to escape her fate, but as the villain, is kept from marrying and settling down by Addision DeWitt, who unnaturally insists she remain single and further her career.  Although she has gotten what she wants, she is depressed and downtrodden by the end of the film.

Margot after a performance
In addition to the reinforcement of female roles is the emphasis on heterosexual relationships.  Both Addison and Eve have homosexual leanings, and this just reinforces their villainous natures.  They are an unnatural, unhappy pair, as apposed to Bill and Margot and Karen and Lloyd.

Margot at the cocktail party.
Despite this negative view of femininity, it is only the women in the film who can actually see what is going on.  All the men, with the exception of Addison, are ignorantly in the dark, being led by the nose by their respective women.  Addison is able to remain in control because of his effeminate leanings, but as it is a warped femininity it can only be used for evil, rather than good.  In All About Eve, women are both in control and powerless.  It is the dominant, masculine side of Addison that finally conquers Eve.  These women are all Eve--they've eaten the apple, but must pretend they haven't.

"Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn't worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be."
All in all,  this film is a complicated exploration of women, and something I must watch again and again to understand.  And from this film I plunge into something that will seriously confuse my gender assumptions---An American in Paris.  God help me...
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