filmmaven's coffee chat

a morning discussion of film and popular culture over coffee


November 2015

The Darkness of Noir (or Building a Post-Modern aesthetic)

Dynamic grand narratives pull an audience through the, this is where it started, here is where we went, then this happened, and my grandmother was …but then we moved over here and now ….I found love after many tribunals and whew…….we are happily ever and after. In film this can be done in montage / flashbacks or instructive linear story telling. Think “Grapes of Wrath” or “Gone with the Wind”. You have not only generations but weather and location variations that gives you years and layers of story.

Noir……does a lot of things in  a more compact and structured way. It thrives on moments, telling one small portion of a characters story most often with very little background or future outlines. We are here, now. We are various levels of gray-scale. But never really black nor white. Everyone lives either just into the dark or just into the light. Add some stockings, an A-line skirt and several tilted fedoras, well, Baby, you’ve got something. Think “Laura” or “Double Indemnity”.

A lot of film writers dig deeper in to the moral ambiguity of Noir that works so well it has traveled into every film and television show currently being made; think about all the shadows and half lite faces in television shows. I’ve never seen a cop shop or office building with so many dark corners ?? The set of Law & Order seems to have run out of florescent tubes. Only rarely do we find a character now that doesn’t ride that I did wrong for the right reasons train. ….Yet, my point is …its a complete alteration of story telling from the Grand Narrative of epics, “Clash of the Titans” for example that tell you a generational story towards a post-modern viewpoint that includes only what happened on that Tuesday in November to my friend Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon”.

Current film (and television) is attempting to combine these techniques into a grand narrative, “Gotham”, with segment story-lines with shadowy visuals “Arrow” & “CSI” along with I’m the bad guy with a good reason “Blindspot”, “The Walking Dead”, narratives.

Its like we are torn between how history deeply affects us and the here and now is all that matters. Instant gratification OR thoughtful studied examination?





Pieces of April (2003, dir & writer:Peter Hedges) — I just adore Patricia Clarkson, there is something in her voice and her expression that I think -wow- I bet I would like her for reals. She can be pleasantly annoying while being understandably cranky and emotional. As the Mom to goth/punk April (Katie Holmes) Patricia works it in the worst ways. This film works so well as it confuddles and confunks all concepts of family, holidays, cooking a turkey and quirky cute girls.

Cold Turkey (1971, dir: Norman Lear) — Fun, silly, serious, adorable, and that is just the writing. Let’s talk casting – Bob Newhart with Dick Van Dyke is just the cherry on top of a really interesting cast, you have to watch carefully – don’t be distracted – these are comic deliveries that need your attention. Watch for: Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Edward Everett Horton (Top Hat, Its a mad mad mad world), Tom Poston (Newhart), Bob & Ray (Experts on the Komodo Dragon), Judith Lowry, Barnard Hughes, Paul Benedict, M. Emmet Walsh (I know right?), Vincent Gardenia, Woodrow Parfrey……and I’m sure you’ll recognize a few more …..A silly romp that holds up as well as can be expected for a movie that was canned for 2 years…..

and one I would love to view made in Turkey…….has any one seen this?

Dracula in Instanbul (1953, dir: Mehmet Muhtar) — Now this has to be good in that bad way that Dracula movies are awful and wonderful AND made in Turkey? I am on the hunt ! If you have seen it..Please share your thoughts ….


Happy TURKEY Day !! I will be cooking and watching cartoons, or maybe Dexter? Its my guilty pleasure binge favorite.



Snuggle up for Dinner & A movie home ….

Fall has finally arrived here in Michigan and we are ready for those comfort food meals where the oven stays on for hours…filling the house with warmth and delicious smells. My first thought is what movie goes with that? If you watch films at home that feature food, you’ll want to eat ….what meals & movies can I offer…..nothing too outrageous, or over complicated ….filling and tasty with just a hint of “oh how did you do that?”

The Big Night (1996, dir; Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci) — So many wonderful elements in this film, music, costumes, sets, oh the CARS & Isabella Rossillini, and of course…the food …..there is no way I can compare to the amazing elements of the preparation and visual elements much less the end result of the food in this film….so, find a decent red (Chianti is fine and the bottle looks romantic!) and pour a glass while you prepare a lovely meal. My suggestion Lidia Bastianich’s Pork Roast in Apple cider Vinegar; its cooked with turnips and so so delicious, will make the house smell amazing and is just the right density,with a lusciousness to make everyone feel if you cooked along side Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci  ….my extra little tweak is to do a roast winter vegetable side combining Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and parsnips  tossed with a little virgin olive oil baked with the turnips required for Lidia’s recipe.


Bella Marta (2001, Dir/Writer: Sandra Nettleback) – The stand out for me in this film is the music as much as the kitchen …Gelato a Limon by Paulo Conte — anything by Paulo Conte..makes me smile …the film is stark (the German landscape in winter) and contrasted by the warmth and emotional tribulations of the cooking ….very satisfying to watch. A unassuming pesto with a really good pasta and a desert of gelato would be the perfect choice….. Mario Batali offers a nice easy pasta recipe (I don’t have a pasta press, I roll it out with a heavy wooden rolling pin and its like a work out!) and his pesto is simple in the food processor and I take his advice to use it right away -s so amazing!

Ratatouille (2007, dir/writers Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava) — It takes a certain kind of talent to make a funny, sweet and tasty movie that includes my mortal enemy RATS. This film is delightful – I’ve used it in teaching art to children (they have a wonderful segment on the DVD about the making of) and share it now for a fun afternoon of cooking with kids and then relaxing with your whole family over a movie & a meal. I give you the Disney Ratatouille Recipe, which is really easy and fun to make (its those layers, if you want the really pretty version) and suggest a warm crusty bread ….the french do it with out an oil which creates the airy center and crusty combination so good with a soup or stew. This recipe from Peter Reinhart is one of the better ones, Lean bread.



Love and Heartbreak ….how movies got it all mixed up ……

While everyone was dreaming of the handsome cruel James Spader or the cool but on the fence Andrew McCarthy …I was hoping the girl in Pink would end up with Duckie ….I think by the time she realized her mistake, he was happily in love and married to another creative awesome girl.

I was always glad that Ilsa went off with Victor instead of staying with Rick, who wants to live above a smokey bar in Morocco with a man who stays up all night?

When I first saw Katie fall for Hubble, I was right with her …but after several viewings (the first film I watched more than 25 times all in the theater…I was addicted) …I thought wow…he is good for a first love, but that was never going to be enduring ..right?

and of course, the one story so often told up to the point they finally get together …the bad boy gets the good girl when he does the right thing at the last moment …..and then what? ….Well..then you have John Norman (or Norman Maine) and Esther Hoffman (or Blodgett) ….When the bad boy can only stay good until his next drink, gamble, robbery, fight…whatever it is …

so help us Hollywood …How do we get love RIGHT?

Moonstruck (1987, dir: Norman Jewison) — Haven’t we all felt cursed in love? At one time or another we just say, fine…I attract the wrong thing, make the wrong choices. Love is not for me…Oh? Its just me? Okay..fine…..I loved the generational romantic relationships in this film (it helps me pass over the idea of Cher as normal and scruffily), the actual conversations about romance, love and commitment.

Now, Voyager (1942, dir: Irving Rapper) –  One of my favorite films that I will watch again and again still enjoying every moment of Bette Davis on screen …I can’t agree that its the most romantic of endings….I always sort of hope things get more on track ….but I do love the story, the strength of characters, the idea of knowing your limitations and moving ahead together anyway.

Desk Set (1957, dir; Walter Lang) — I’m going to pick Desk Set, but have to side mention “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike” ….I love the characters portrayed by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in all of these films ….a strong couple, building on romance and friendship and a general sense that the competition or war of the sexes doesn’t have to have a winner / looser. I do blame the success of these films  for some of the bland and stupid rom coms of the modern age….Without Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin or Pheobe & Henry Ephron to write the screenplays we have lost some of our intellectual component– perhaps Amy Schumer can save us?

Idlewild (2006, dir; Bryan Barber) — While I adore this film for its combination of fantasy and realism and mixture of musical styles, the romance is super hot. One of the best kissing scenes on film – what is it about rain? But also, the story of struggling to find oneself..the keep your center among turmoil …the story isn’t about a bad guy or bad girl and their redemption through a good mate.. ..but two people both struggling to find a goal, to understand who they are ….try to avoid being together because of what they don’t have to offer…..yet are drawn together. Both characters are strong/weak in different ways- and while it does lack the open conversation I love about the other films I’ve listed, the complexity of these lives is riveting to watch.

Saving Face (2004, dir & writer: Alice Wu) — Endearing complexity…I’m not sure how else to describe this …Each character is endearing in their own way and extremely complex and dynamic. The camera caresses each moment, as if there is so much behind every view, every character and every conversation that it (the camera) will reach in and pull out the depth, love and sincerity. Beautifully done!

Day of The Dead (its really 3 days)…..What are we watching?

I get so torn with options…its the suffering of plenty …where to go? More scary movies? Intelligent contemplation of death? or joyful remembrances of those gone?

I think I’ve had enough of the scary and the slasher for now, yet not really in the mood for deep feels.  Let’s go with something a little more quirky and celebratory.

Book of Life (2014, dir; Jorge Gutierrez)  — a fun, scary, rompy musical with great songs and bright colorful animation. I think the story falls just short becoming too much love story but carries it well with the action and terrific animation. Fun to watch, might be too scary and wild for younger viewers. Delightful refreshing film for adults after all the gory slasher films of the past month!

This inspires me to stay on a Mexican theme; 

Frida (2002, dir: Julie Taymor) —  I think this film created an interest and delight in the stories of artists and women; is it just me? Or have you noticed the trend too? ..anyway: a beautiful film that celebrates the life and art of the dynamic Frida Kahlo with out over glorifying her; she is a human heroine. Flawed, complicated, beautiful, talented,  tormented by life and her choices. Salma Hayek was born to play this role, she is Frida with every breath and movement. Wonderful casting choices, beautifully filmed; hitting all the right  places of interest and drama. A really nice choice for an afternoon of movie watching that might even get your teens to pull up a chair and hang out.

ooohhhhh ..Now that we are on a trend with love stories and complicated lives ….later today, around dusk as you are settling in for the evening with a cuddle partner, this next film will require a quiet room with low lighting: 

Like Water for Chocolate (1992, dir: Alfonso Arau) — I know you are wondering, Filmmaven, why are you getting all romantic and sweet right now ??? Well don’t worry – chocolate in mexico is not always sweet and creamy ..sometimes its bitter and harsh …like life itself…. A wonderful (WONDERFUL) example of magical realism, the novel by Laura Esquivel is one of those amazing once in awhile books that you just can’t put down. Its so captivating and full of whoa moments that you have to keep going ….only a particular director with just the right heady flights of fancy could pull off making it into a film …Alfonso Arau does accomplish this and watching the film is just as enchanting.

I want to recommend NO COOKING for any of these films; try to keep neutral and steady with your consumption until they are watched. Halloween candy and popcorn balls are fine.

Dia de Los Muertos, may your ancestors find you with peace and gratitude. 

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