Film, Food & Drink, Inspiration, NYC Culture, Uncategorized

Watching “jiro dreams of sushi” was like a sweet escape. Jiro, his sons, and apprentices are irresistible and remarkable in their singular focus and dedication, especially in comparison to our overstimulated multitasking lives. Go see it at IFC before May 10th if you can. It is time well spent. This quiet and elegant film is a meditation on work, family and the art of perfection. It centers on 85-year-old Jiro Ono’s restaurant, inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station, which has been honored with three Michelin stars.



Film

Found in the New York streets: a strangely ambitious list of mediocre popular movies. Hey, at least the kid’s got goals. Soon, he or she will have a Netflix queue a mile long, just like the rest of us.

-EM



Fat Tuesday, Film

Woody Allen has always thrived on charm. Throughout his career, his unconventional charm made him his own best leading man. His writing and directing lent his fellow actors his adorably flustered cadences, and his love of New York brought the charming city to life on screen. It follows then, that his latest film, “Midnight in Paris” relies almost purely on charm, and succeeds. There is a little more substance, but not much, and that’s ok. Allen finds an actor in Owen Wilson who starts with his own charisma and adds a classic Woody impression to the performance much more naturally and enjoyably than Scarlett Johansson’s panicking “nerd” in the painful “Scoop”.

Other characters are familiar to the Allen oeuvre, picked up by new talents like Michael Sheen, who channels Alan Alda’s narcissistic know-it-all in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”. After capturing New York and London, Allen finds a new muse in Paris, the ultimate city of enchantment, and banks on the seductive presence of a long list of literary and art world heroes.

The incarnation of Ernest Hemingway provided the most amusing scenes in the film, delivering tongue-in-cheek lines in the frank, deadpan manner of his writing style. Hemingway waxes monotonously poetic about truth and writing, Paris, love, bravery, honesty and good meals, as he does in A Moveable Feast, his brilliant memoir about living as a poor writer in Lost-Generation Paris with his first wife Hadley.

“Midnight in Paris” explores the nature of nostalgia, and A Moveable Feast has that feeling as well, as Hemingway recounts romantically on this time long past in his life. About his lifestyle and sharing it with his wife, he writes that although they were young and poor, “…we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Brasserie Balzar’s Midnight Onion Soup
La Gratinée de Minuit Brasserie Balzar

3 pounds onions
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2/3 cup dry white wine, such as Sancerre
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
Several sprigs fresh thyme, wrapped in cheesecloth
Several fresh or dried bay leaves
8 thin slices baguette, toasted
1 pound Swiss Gruyère cheese, freshly grated

1. Peel the onions and halve them vertically. Cut the halves lengthwise into thin slices.

2. In a 10-quart stockpot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the oil, onions, and salt, and stir to coat the onions. Cook, covered, over low heat– stirring occasionally so the onions do not scorch– just until the onions are soft but still pale, about 15 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir to coat the onions. Immediately add the stock, wine, 4 quarts water, the white pepper, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Bring just to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

4. Preheat the broiler.

5. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof soup bowls. Top each serving with a slice of toasted baguette. Cover the bread with a thick coating of grated Gruyère. Place under the broiler. As soon as the cheese begins to bubble, serve the soup.

Brasserie Balzar
49, rue des Ecoles
Paris 5
Métro Odéon or Cluny-La Sorbonne

Recipe courtesy of: Patricia Wells. The Paris Cookbook. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001.

-EM



Film

AT HOME FILM FESTIVAL

Aside from simply loving movies of all genres and eras, I’ve always felt there was a really good reason to fill out my personal watched list: to catch every single joke on The Simpsons. From the beginning, The Simpsons referenced and parodied tons of film classics, but if you haven’t seen them, those allusions go right over your head. Familiarity with the original is similarly satisfying when viewing remakes. During a summer when it seems that Hollywood has no ideas of its own and every movie is a rehashing of something else, its easy to see remakes in a bad light. But for every affront to a brilliant original (Ahem, Disturbia, a hopeless re-imagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s flawless Rear Window), there are a few pairs of which the original and reinterpretation are surprising and unique.

Woody Allen took frequent inspiration from cerebral European directors like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini and twisted them into his own quirky, self deprecating romps. The epic samurai films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa were perfect to adapt into the Western genre by pioneers like Sergio Leone and John Sturges. So, as blockbuster season bombards you with lackluster remakes, think about looking back to some tried-and-truly satisfying classics and their masterful homages.

Smiles of A Summer Night, 1955- Ingmar Bergman
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, 1982- Woody Allen

8 1/2, 1963- Federico Fellini
Stardust Memories, 1980- Woody Allen

Yojimbo, 1961- Akira Kurosawa
A Fistful of Dollars, 1964- Sergio Leone

The Seven Samurai, 1954- Akira Kurosawa
The Magnificent Seven, 1960- John Sturges

-EM



Film

AT HOME FILM FESTIVAL: WESTERN EDITION

As other New Yorkers head to theaters for the TriBeCa Film Festival, I am mining my Netflix Watch Instantly arsenal to create my own very small-screen film festival. Westerns are on my brain right now for quite a few reasons: the spellbinding creativity of Rango, wanderlust for a road trip through Monument Valley, and the lingering obsession with Proenza Schouler’s southwest influenced Spring 2011 show. The selection on Netflix Instant spans a range from classic to contemporary revisionist, and these are my picks for the best.

Stagecoach, 1939
Director: John Ford
Starring: John Wayne

Seminal work with genre giants John Ford and John Wayne, Stagecoach has all of the qualities that define Westerns: the outlaw gunslinger hero, a hooker with a heart of gold, Apache raids, and a theme of revenge.

High Noon, 1952
Fred Zinnemann, with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

A heroic Marshall defends his town from a band of criminals, who are arriving on the noon train.

River of No Return, 1954
Otto Preminger, with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe

There Western stock character- a sultry saloon singer with a secretly pure heart- who is the equivalent of Marilyn Monroe’s screen persona. So in this film, Monroe is playing her own Western stereotype, and it works.

Giant, 1956
George Stevens, with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean

This epic is an epic time commitment, but worth it.

Hud, 1963
Martin Ritt, with Paul Newman

Paul Newman stars in this atypical Western as an unlikeable anti-hero, but SO easy on the eyes.

Cheyenne Autumn, 1964
John Ford, with Ricardo Montalbon and Jimmy Stewart

A reversal of the stereotypical villainous Indian in Westerns, this film reveals the abuse by the United States government of the Cheyenne Indians as they attempt to move their tribe from Oklahoma to Wyoming to avoid starvation in 1878.

Blazing Saddles, 1974
Mel Brooks, with Gene Wilder

Mel Brooks is at his absolute best in this hilarious send-up of the genre.

Dances with Wolves, 1990
Kevin Costner, directing and starring

Love Costner or hate him, this movie is beautifully shot and a moving revisionist Western.

The Good the Bad and the Weird, 2008
Ji-Woon Kim

A South Korean interpretation of Sergio Leone’s influential Spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood, 1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

-EM



Film, Inspiration

April showers indeed. Another gloomy, gray, 40-something degree day in New York. Sigh. With no chance of the weather taking a miraculous turn for the better anytime soon, what choice is there but to take a cinematic vacation? The Endless Summer, one of the favorite 60’s films, is no cheesy Beach Party . Part surf documentary, part travelogue, Bruce Brown circumnavigates the globe filming two surfers chasing the perfect wave.

Brown, along with Mike Hynson and Robert August, travel from their native California to West Africa, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii. The boys take the waves in places no one had ever surfed before, meeting local people who had never seen a surfboard. It is charming to watch the two California surfers interact, strap their surfboards to whatever vehicle they could find, and catch any wave that came along.



I love when the Brown lingers on the gorgeous beaches, which vary widely around the world. In Tahiti waves run into black sandy coves, while in New Zealand, huge cliffs hang over the shore. More than just a surf film, the movie inspires travel and wanderlust.





However lost you get in the beautiful landscapes and fascinating cultures, there is still plenty of exciting surfing. I’m living vicariously through the surfers, imagining diving in warm oceans…



…and wiping out. After a winter of doughy hibernation, I would welcome a good ocean thrashing!

As the sun sets after each day of surfing around the world, I hope this summer is as endless as the winter has been.

The Endless Summer. Bruce Brown. 1966.

-EM