Movie & Menu: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

While today is all about your bestie, tomorrow you’ll have trouble avoiding all the pink and red hearts.

I’m not anti-Valentine’s Day. I’m actually a hopeless romantic, but I think love is complicated. It’s full of messy emotions and memories. It makes you the best person and sometimes the worst person.

There are dozens of amazing romantic movies. I think, by far, one of the greatest is Casablanca (which I’ve written about before). When considering what romance film to write about this week, I was drawn to one I frequently revisit: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I first saw this movie while in college. I remember being blown away by the opening scenes – it is bold and unique. I remember being immediately curious about how the rest of the story would reveal itself. Many viewings later – knowing how it unfolds – I’m still memorized by it. There are many quotable lines from the film. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet shine as Joel and Clementine. Eternal Sunshine is the work of two brilliant people (director Michele Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) coming together to make something purely magical. This kind of film is rare and something to cherish.

mv5bodkymtyzndexnl5bml5banbnxkftztcwntawotmymw-_v1_sy1000_cr0015391000_al_
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

It is a story of intimacy and love entangled in our memories. Love so powerful that choosing to erase someone and escape the pain of being without them is a better option. That choice creates a peculiar void and deep down something seems off. This film beautifully shows how love is messy and not perfect. How our heart beats faster with each memory of a shared intimate moment. Many romance films show moments of passion and heartbreak, but Eternal Sunshine goes deeper than that. It encourages us to share all of our messy feelings with the person we love: the fear, the sadness, the frustration, the anger, the joy and the laughter. And, in one of my favorite exchanges in the film, reminding us to enjoy it.

I recommend getting some Asian take-out and settling in for the night. Whether or not you’re with the one you love, enjoy those precious memories of romance.

What are some of your favorite romance movies? What scenes from Eternal Sunshine stick with you the most? Would you erase someone from you mind if you could?

Watch Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
on Netflix, Amazon or iTunes

Shorts & Snacks: We’ll Find Something (2015)

Well, did you survive Thanksgiving? Did you eat your weight in turkey and pumpkin pie? I think I was rather successful in my attempt. I have returned from my coastal escape and it’s time to get back to work. Since it’s only Monday and we’re still easing into the week, it’s ok to take a short break and have a snack I think. Perhaps some leftovers, yeah?

In that spirit (and for those of you who financially supported America’s economy last Friday), I think Casey Gooden’s short film We’ll Find Something would be appropriate for today. Indie darlings Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz star in this short about a couple struggling to find a restaurant in New York City.

Shane Carruth is one of the more mysterious filmmakers in American cinema. He broke on to the film scene with his film Primer. Years later, he appeared again at Sundance with Upstream Color. His films are complex and beautiful. Even trying to explain his work is often simplifying all the various ideas and layers present. This time Carruth is back in front of the camera while his producing partner, Casey Gooden, writes and directs.

One reason why I love this short is because most of us have been in this situation: You’re out shopping with your partner or close friend. As the day goes on, the two of you become hungry. Each place you stop to eat, there’s a problem. Everything seems to go downhill from there. Then suddenly, you realize what you’re arguing about may have nothing to do with the actual problem at hand. Gooden captures this moment perfectly.

Time to grab your favorite leftovers (I’m a fan of a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce) and enjoy We’ll Find Something. Has this happened to you before? Let me know in the comments!

We’ll Find Something
Directed by Casey Gooden
2015 / 12 min / USA
A couple struggles to choose a restaurant while visiting New York.

Movie & Menu: Home for the Holidays (1995)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. My mother is a wonderful cook. I have fond memories of the house smelling amazing all day long and delicious holiday meals.

We never had an annual, large family gathering for Thanksgiving. It was typically small, just the four of us and my grandparents (and sometimes my Dad was working, so the day’s schedule worked around whether he would be home). There were one or two times we travelled to see family (and those road trips are memorable for various other reasons), but for the most part we did a low-key holiday. It wasn’t until I started dating E that I experienced another family’s holiday get-together. E’s extended family travels to Northern California every other year to spend Thanksgiving weekend together. The first time I attended it was a whirlwind: over a dozen family members under one roof. I was not as emotionally prepared as I needed to be. I managed to find a quiet spot to hide at one point and called my mother. I missed hanging out in the kitchen with her, observing how she managed to make it all come together and helping when I could. After spending several Thanksgivings with E’s family, I now know what to expect and understand how many other families often experience this holiday. This week is another one of the big family Thanksgivings. After having been in work mode for most of this month, I sat down to watch Home for the Holidays in an effort to get in the Thanksgiving spirit.

Directed by Jodie Foster, Home for the Holidays is a playful family drama and very much a ’90s movie: back when your parents could meet you at the airport gate as you walked off a plane. Claudia (played by Holly Hunter) has a rough day before her Thanksgiving trip to visit her family. She’s lost her job and her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is staying home to spend the holiday with her boyfriend. Claudia is not looking forward to spending the weekend with her parents. She confesses her current misery in a call to her brother Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr) on the flight home. Remember those giant airplane phones? Yep, more 90’s nostalgia for you.

This film hosts another wonderful ensemble cast. Besides Hunter, Danes and Downey, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg and Cynthia Stevenson fill out the family members. Geraldine Chaplin is the kooky aunt (we all have one, or several). The legendary Anne Bancroft plays Claire’s mother. How I miss her presence on-screen these days.

I’m drawn to ensemble casts. Interesting staging and playing with dialogue are typically key elements to the directing. In Home for the Holiday, Foster does this well during the main event: the Thanksgiving dinner scene. Emotions rise and fall, moving from awkwardness, to comedy, to that frustration we’ve all felt with our family before. Momentum builds with each scene. One scene quickly leads to another. Family members pair off in different ways and there’s no place to escape or be alone. Adults act in childish ways. Bitterness lies under the surface and compromises must be found through the tension. You’re all under the same roof for these few hours, love it or hate it. This is family. homefortheholidays

These holiday get-togethers pressure us to have it “together”. Let’s be honest here: none of us know what we’re doing with our lives. We’re all trying in our own way. We’re all making mistakes along the way too. None of us are perfect. And while this movie may not be perfect either, Home for the Holidays reminds us how Thanksgiving brings out the best and worst of our messy lives. We can be mean to family because they are just that, family. It takes work to be around siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and yet, the holidays are supposed to be a break from work. It is one of life’s great oxymorons.

Family takes different shapes and forms. It is having each other in life despite differences or frustrations. Deep down there’s love and understanding – even on those occasions when you have to dig really deep. Whatever your family, it offers community and belonging, just as you are. At the risk of being too warm and fuzzy, I must say, that’s something to be thankful for.

Whether or not you’re spending Thanksgiving with crazy family members or quietly binge-watching your favorite show after the parade & dog show, I hope you’ll have a slice of turkey and a holiday treat. Enjoy the moment before the real madness begins (aka Christmas).

Below is a recipe for a dip I made the first time I spent Thanksgiving with E’s family and away from my home. I figured with caramelized onions, cheese AND bacon, how could I not win them over?

Do you spend your Thanksgiving with lots of family or find a quiet escape? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving meal? What shows or movies get you in the Thanksgiving spirit? Please share in the comments!

Caramelized Onion, Gruyére & Bacon spread
Recipe from Cooking Light, Nov. 2011

Serves 8
Serve with crackers or bread.

Cooking spray
3 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded and divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/3 cup canola mayonnaise
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan lightly with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cook 20 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

3. Reserve 2 tablespoons cheese. Combine remaining cheese, caramelized onion, 1 tablespoon chives, and the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart glass or ceramic baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives.

Watch the films mentioned in this post:
– Home for the Holidays on iTunes.
– Or even better, support your local video store!

A Classic Combo: Casablanca (1942) & Champagne Cocktail

I’m not the first person to say how amazing Casablanca is, nor will I be the last. It only seems fitting to kick-start this blog with one of my favorite films and a celebratory champagne cocktail.

Rick, an American expatriate played by Humphrey Bogart, runs a saloon in Casablanca as the Nazi’s have invaded Europe. When his former lover, Isla (Ingrid Bergman), arrives to town with her husband, Victor Lazlo, Rick is forced to face the bitterness of his past. Victor, a renowned Nazi resistance leader, is on the run. Rick must choose between assisting Victor’s escape and his love for Isla.

There are so many wonderful things about this film that we could be here forever. But first, there’s Ingrid. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing Ingrid. Oh, how I wish I was her. Those eyes! Those hats! Her careful lighting makes her leap off the screen during every scene. Besides my massive girl crush, Casablanca truly is one of the best romance stories ever. Trust, love, war and making the ultimate choice. This film wraps you up and takes you away. Hollywood has been trying to top this ever since (and has failed often as we all know and will discuss later).

The champagne flows throughout Casablanca as refugees make the best of their war-torn situation. Rick and Isla share a glass of it often, most notably as the Nazi’s march into Paris (so the Nazi’s won’t have any to drink upon arrival).

Dating back to the early 1860s, the champagne cocktail is a sweet and bubbly delight. How could drinking a glass not make you feel like Isla or Rick, making you just light-headed enough and falling in love all over again?

If you haven’t seen this movie, seek it out immediately to remedy. Find a retro screening (support your indie theater or local film society!) or download from your favorite Silicon Valley tech giant. It is the perfect film for a weekend evening, perhaps with a glass of champagne by your side.

1 Champagne Cocktail
Champagne
2/3 oz Cognac or Brandy
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube

Dash the bitters onto the sugar cube, add the cognac and chilled champagne. Garnish with a cherry or citrus twist if you like

So here’s the classic question: Would you get on the plane? Have another Champagne cocktail favorite? Tell me in the comments below!

-Watch Casablanca on Amazon, iTunes or add to Netflix queue. Or even better, support your local rental store!-