And the Nominees Are: Catch Up

So this award season has felt like it has stretched on forever, which is both wonderful (because I love award season) and awful, because I got really burnt out on trying to watch all of the movies. But in the last couple of weeks I have seen a few more of the nominees in various categories (though some of these aren’t actually nominated for Oscars but have already lost other awards but whatever.

The Past (Le passé)  

When my dad saw the trailer for The Past, he whispered “how very French.” And if by that he meant how artistic and emotionally overwrought, then he was correct. And the premise, a man (Ali Mosaffa) travels from Iran to France to get a divorce from his wife (Berenice Bejo), who is already engaged to another man (Tahar Rahim) whose wife is in a coma, could be the plot summary of Days of Our Lives, but the performances are so wonderful that it somehow becomes relatable.  I went to see this at the Landmark on a night when I needed a good cry and I got one, because basically this film examines all the ways people can be terrible to the people that they care about. But it had my favorite child actor performance of the year from the young Elyes Aguis, whose eyes are incredibly expressive.

August: Osage County

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love Steppenwolf, and therefore must worship at the altar of Tracy Letts, but damn he makes it hard to like people. (I’m also a big fan of all of John Wells TV shows that are set in Chicago so it made me happy that he got to direct this.)

Generally I felt like I would like the play better, but this cast was unbeatable as far as film ensembles go. And as good as Meryl Streep was, because she always is, I was actually more impressed by Julia Roberts. But that might have just been because, though I’ve always liked her, I’ve never thought of her as a strong presence before, and she exuded toughness and anger here which was a wonderful surprise. (Side note that I cannot fully explain without ruining the whole plot: Julianne Nicholson and Benedict Cumberbatch are incredibly charming.)

Rush

I really don’t care about car racing. As one character in this movie puts it ‘it’s just men driving in circles’ close to death. So I avoided this movie for a long time, because it seemed hyper masculine and car obsessed. And it is, but Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl were wonderful and Ron Howard has paced the movie really well. It zips along, and managed to actually keep me interested in a long decided Formula 1 season so that’s something. This is one of those movies that had it come out any other year would probably be a Best Picture contender because this year is so stacked. But I will say that the relationship between Bruhl (Alexandra Maria Lara) and the woman who plays his wife is truly beautiful.

The Butler

 

I’m not sure why I was reluctant to watch this, I usually love all of the things that it stands for and huge cast movies, but something kept stopping me. After watching it, I felt like it was fine, but I didn’t regret my decision to wait. Oprah was great, and totally deserves the attention she got for this, but my only lasting impression was that David Oyelowo does a wonderful job of going from a young teenager to a middle aged man, without really relying on makeup, which was pretty cool.

Although that cast list is very impressive, I felt like this became and endless round of celebrity presidential impressions at a certain point. Leaving that aside I did like the sensitivity the screenplay had for its titular character, it’s hard to tell a story about a black man who is resistant to the Civil Rights movement, but this does a good job of telling a believable story about why that might happen. This is another one that in any other year would be up for Best Picture, but alas…

Enough Said

This is one of those movies, like Frances Ha, that I knew as I was watching it that I was supposed to be loving it. It’s filled with wonderfully believable human characters (particularly the late Mr. Gandolfini), and the situations felt incredibly real. But it was very hard for me to watch, maybe because of this realism, these people felt very vulnerable to me and I wanted to stop them from making their inevitable mistakes. I didn’t want to watch Julia Louis-Dreyfus break her own heart when it was so preventable. It felt like watching a good friend make a horrible decision, without the ability to even hopelessly tell her to stop.

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Weekly Adventure: The Belle Game at the Empty Bottle

I don’t have a lot of coherent things to say about this show, because it was at 9 last night, and though I am very far from old I do feel too old to be going to concerts in Ukrainian Village on Tuesday nights. But this band is totally worth it. I took some blurry photos:

Lovely ladies before the show. (Happy Birthday Lindy!)

Lovely ladies before the show. (Happy Birthday Lindy!)

belle game bandbelle game band 2

Andrea Lo (she's amazing)

Andrea Lo (she’s amazing)

I mean just listen to her:

I would have taken a video of this song (their last of the night) but I was too busy dancing like an idiot, so you’ll just have to watch the (wonderfully strange) music video instead:

 

Best Picture Baking Project: Amadeus

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After a long holiday/award season/winter from Hell imposed hiatus, I finally got my act together this weekend to screen the next film on the Best Picture list, Amadeus. Google informed me that there was a cake called Mozart cake, which seemed like a no brainer of a choice (it was not however a no brainer to bake as you will see below.)

Had I seen this one before?

Somehow not. Apparently almost all of my friends were shown this at some point in school (which seems really inappropriate at times honestly), but I managed to get to 24 without ever having the opportunity. Everyone kept telling me how much I was going to love it, which could have been the kiss of death, but they were thankfully correct.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. Powdered wigs are the most ridiculous fashion that ever arose. Especially those for children. I know that isn’t a very substantial thing to focus on, but the wigs are so omnipresent and have the curious effect of making the actors (especially the delightful Elizabeth Berridge who played Constanze Mozart) look like dolls.

2. F. Murray Abraham, who won the Oscar for Best Actor, makes creepy obsessive jealousy, compelling and terrifying, but I have to agree with the sentiment of his acceptance speech:

Tom Hulce was just as remarkable to me, and had to pull off a broader range of emotions.

3. Opera is fucking crazy, but this movie did a wonderful job of conveying the emotional content of classical music, something I’ve had a problem connecting to in the past.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

The Killing FieldsAnother blind spot for me unfortunately

A Passage to India – I’ve seen half of while half asleep

Places in the Heart  – Is this the one the Academy “really liked” Sally Field in?

A Soldier’s Story  – Never heard of it

A case could probably be made for The Killing Fields, though I’m obviously not the one to make it, but Amadeus is pretty excellent.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Nope. This whole movie is pretty much a series of conversations between men about another man (Mozart). But there are at least 3 women with names, and a baby Cynthia Nixon as a maid who may have a name that I forget.

The Director’s Cut of the movie, which is the one available on DVD, is a long and complex film, which I guess is a great segue into this recipe, which is tedious I warn you. Though the cake ended up tasting good, I’m not sure it could ever be worth the amount of time I spent on it…

Mozart Cake

[Note: I’ve adjusted the recipe at the above link to include fewer nuts (which is just a personal preference) and to make the timing make a little more sense.]

Ingredients for Meringue Base

–          4 egg whites

–          ½ cup sugar

–          ¾ cup powdered sugar

–          ½ ground hazelnuts

–          ½ ground almonds

Ingredients for the Mousses

–          3 cups sweet whipping cream

–          8oz bitter chocolate, chopped

–          8oz white chocolate, chopped

Ingredients for the Chocolate Crème

–          3.5oz bitter chocolate, chopped

–          1/3 cup whipping cream

–          3 ½ tablespoons butter

Ingredients for the Topping

–          ½ cup whipping cream

–          5oz bitter chocolate, chopped

Directions

Prepare the mousses

–          Prepare one bowl with the dark chocolate and one with the white

–          Heat the whipping cream until just before boiling

–          Pour half of the hot cream over the dark chocolate and the other half over the white chocolate

–          Mix until smooth cream is formed for each and chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours

Prepare the meringue

–          Preheat the oven to 225F

–          Whip egg whites in mixer until just foamy.

–          Slowly add sugar and continue whipping until soft, stable peaks are reached

–          Fold in the powdered sugar, hazelnuts and almonds

–          Using the base of a 10-inch spring form pan, outline the circle of the pan on two separate pieces of parchment paper. Turn the papers over (so the pencil side is down) and place on a baking sheet.

–          Using a spatula or piping bag, fill in circles of the meringue using the pencils marks at the outer border. Bake for 2 hours until the meringue hardens.

Prepare the chocolate cream

–          When the meringue is dry and the mousses are chilled, combine all the ingredients for chocolate cream in a pan and melt them, mix and cool.

Putting it all together

–          Place one meringue base in the spring form pan and spread the chocolate cream over the top.

–          In a mixer, whip the chilled white chocolate mousse.

–          Spread the whipped mouse over the cream.

–          Place the second meringue base on top of the white mousse and press firmly down.

–          Whip the dark chocolate mousse and spread evenly over the top meringue layer.

–          Freeze for at least 24 hours

After the freeze

–          Heat the last of the whipping cream to almost boiling

–          Pour the cream over the last of the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts

–          Pour the topping over the frozen cake evenly.

–          Return to the freezer for about 10 minutes, until the topping hardens

–          At this point you can cover the cake with plastic wrap and leave in the freezer for a few days.

 

Award Show Round Up: BAFTAs 2014

I’ve taken a bit of an unplanned blogging vacation (I have this annoying real job that takes up my time sometimes – that combined with the continuing brutality of this Chicago winter I just haven’t been able to sit down and write anything. Sorry!)

Anyway last night was the BAFTAs, which were as classy and charming as they always are, because I’m an American and as cliché as it is, everything just seems classier in an English accent.

Refreshingly though, not all the winners were completely predictable (though I would have loved for Lupita to win). The British Academy didn’t nominate Dallas Buyers Club at all, which left the male acting awards completely up for grabs and they went (very deservedly) to Chiwetel Ejiofor and Barkhad Abdi, who both gave delightful speeches:

There were also a lot of completely predictable (but no less deserved) awards. Case in point – Cate Blanchett, who did a lovely thing, and dedicated her speech to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman:

Speaking of lovely surprises (on a much happier note). The winner of this year’s public vote “best newcomer prize” was a delightful chap names Will Poulter:

Continuing on with the trend of delightful human beings, Stephen Fry’s habit of introducing each presenter like he actually knows/cares about them as human beings combined with his wonderful speech at the close of the night (which I of course can’t find on YouTube)completely confirms for me that he’s just one of the great humans.

Also the Duke of Cambridge was there to present the BAFTA Fellowship (essentially Lifetime Achievement, but they don’t give it every year) to Helen Mirren, which was great and led ot one of my friends (who will go nameless) being confused about whether or not Mirren and William were actually related, which may have been my favorite thing that has happened in a while.

Also he high-fived this guy that was doing a completely unnecessary rap number, which was pretty cool

The Gravity wins everything all night and then 12 Years A Slave wins best picture trend continues, and I think it will happen on Oscar night, but who knows, this year was just such a crazy good one for film.

Dresses!

(I got to admit, it was a weird night for fashion last night – a lot of severe, black dresses with weird shoulders, but there were a few standouts)

Lupita Nyong’o in Christian Dior (Photo Credit: Getty/David M. Benett)

 

Emma Thompson in Maria Grachvogel (Photo Credit: Getty)

Eddie Redmayne (in Gucci) and Hannah Bagshawe (Photo Credit: Getty/ David J. Hogan)

 

Angelina Jolie in Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane and Bradd Pitt in Valentino (Photo Credit: AP)

Weekly Adventure: The Playboy of the Western World at the Raven Theater

I have a lot of feelings about The Playboy of the Western World. I’ve read it in so many classes in high school and college that I could write multiple thesis papers about it. (Actually I have – want to discuss the cultural implications of the Abbey theater riot and the over reliance on the line about “girls in their shifts” when discussing the general reaction of the Irish public to Synge’s work? Great we will probably get along, but that’s not really what this blog is for.)

PotWW (because I can’t shorten it just to Playboy – thanks Hugh Hefner) is also central to one of my favorite stories from my childhood, because when I was 9 or 10 my mother took me to a production of it at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT. I was the youngest person there by about 30 years and all the old ladies kept turning around and glaring at my mother whenever anything violent would happen on stage (which is basically the entire second act.) I loved the play and was totally fine, but those women were apparently very concerned for my emotional well-being.

What’s hilarious about both the historical controversy and those old biddies judging my mother’s parenting skills, is that PotWW is essentially a screwball satire. Yes, there’s truly despicable human violence discussed and suggested, but the whole point of the play is that we love the sensationalized heroic image of violence and despise the small terror of actual human cruelty in front of our faces. This is not a documentary about Irish peasant life at the turn of the century – this is a satire about the human condition and out obsession with story.

OK so now that I’ve veered off into term paper territory let me speak to this new production, in its first week of previews at the Raven Theater. From the minute I walked in and saw Andrei Onegin’s beautiful set, I knew that I wasn’t going to be disappointed. This felt like an isolated pub, and these people for the most part, really inhabited their characters. I don’t want to nitpick too much, as I saw just the second preview, so instead I will just say that Graham Emmons steals every scene he’s in as the cowardly Shawn Keough. And it’s hard to steal a scene from the charming Sam Hubbard as Christy and the at once powerful and girlish Jen Short as Pegeen Mike. There’s also really wonderful original music from Leif Olsen, which made the former Irish dancer in me tap my toes.

The show runs through April 5th at the Raven Theater at 6157 N. Clark St.

Tell Me What’s Wrong With Me: Girls Episode 5

This episode really solidified for me that a lot of what Lena is doing is trolling her viewers’ expectations. If at the end of season two you bet me that Ray and Marnie were going to hook up, I would owe you money right now. Also if you told me at the end of season one that I would be empathizing with Adam way more than Hannah I would have wanted to slap you. (I’m not going to lie; I sort of want to slap Lena about that.)

Continuing on the journey of the depths of our girls’ narcissism this week:

 Hannah manages to quiz her editor’s widow about the publication of her e-book, at his funeral.  (Side note: the widow was played by the delightfully scattered Jennifer Westfeldt, and I have to admit that Hannah’s reaction to her presence was wonderful. What do you say to the female wife of an obviously gay man at his funeral?)

Jessa decides that she is going to turn her life around by connecting to innocence, by starting a job an infant’s clothing store? Which is absurd of course, but not anymore absurd than marrying some guy because you want to feel like a grown up…I guess. I think it’ll be funny to see this unravel though.

Marnie, who just keeps spiraling into really pathetic loneliness, is on some sort of self-help kick that makes her go to Ray for some sort of emotional flagellation ritual, which then becomes an awkward sexual encounter, which, while hilarious, is a ridiculously bad decision on a lot of levels. I know it probably doesn’t say great things about me that I’m really enjoying watching Marnie be such a mess, but please remember how smug first season Marnie was this sort of a great karmic turn around.

Shosh was really mean to Jessa. Not that Jessa doesn’t deserve it, but I have to say that her weird charm is starting to thin for me. She used to be a sweet naïve, and now she just a clueless mean girl most of the time.

In other words, it’s getting harder every week to want to spend time with these women. (The men have conversely become wonderful, I would love to hang out with Ray or Adam – in a completely non-sexual context.) This is an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t want to be the kind of viewer the demands likeability from female characters that I don’t from male anti-heroes, but I don’t think my feelings about this season are that simple. The reason I fell in love with this show in the first season was that it gave me a narcissistic thrill of recognition, these girls were like my friends, they were like me. And though that is still sometimes true, I would fangirl over Zadie Smith no matter how inappropriate the location, these girls have all become caricatures in my mind. Young women are able to be ambitious people and still have empathy, at least I think so. And I like to think that Lena, who is constantly supporting her friends in interviews and on social media, knows that too. It would be nice if she could show that at least a little bit.

Quick Note: I’m not even going to go into the whole thing with Caroline and Adam, because I thought it was wonderfully done, but I don’t know if I have a way to write about it that doesn’t insult my friends that are only children. All I’ll say is it is totally possible to want to kick your sibling out of the house while still feeling the need to stand up for them. Rang true to me.

The Shakespeare Project: Henry IV, Part I

I have been dreading getting to ‘H’ in my alphabetical list of Shakespeare’s plays, because with this one I start a long stretch of plays about kings named Henry. From my very cursory knowledge of these plays, based mostly on trailers for BBC mini-series and that one production of Richard II I saw that time, this is apparently one long story about how for a long stretch of time English noblemen kept rebelling against each other. Or something…

That is what this first part of Henry 4’s tale is about anyway. Well that and the fact that Falstaff is fat and untrustworthy. And there’s also an epic battle over who is the nobler “Harry” the licentious Prince Hal or the able but hot-headed Hotspur. There is a battle of some kind, that I mostly followed, I think. (It’s not over at the end as far as I can tell…hence “Part II.”)

My problem with reading this play (which has some really wonderful speeches in it, and particularly nasty Shakespearean insults) and the histories in general is that I always feel like I’m missing something. I don’t know if there’s just an assumed knowledge of the monarchy that I’m not going to have as I am not an Elizabethan Englishwoman, or if there are plot holes, but either way it frustrates me. Case in point: as far as I can tell Hotspur’s whole beef with the King, based on his speeches, is about the fact that the King dared to slander his cousin Mortimer by calling him a traitor that has colluded with the evil Scot Glendower. Slanderous? Sure, but it doesn’t really seem like grounds for war – especially when in the next scene we find out that Mortimer was totally colluding with Glendower, which doesn’t seem to bother Hotspur much.

Also Worcester seems awful…is he awful in Richard II? I can’t remember. I guess I’ll find out…if I ever make it to the Rs.