“Noah”

30 Mar

“I am not alone.”

Noah-2014-Poster-HD

Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of the story of Noah from Genesis hit the theaters Friday and, my, has it stirred up a ruckus. Well, any time the Bible is depicted onscreen there tends to be a ruckus. Even Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments caused some drama in its day, though Christians have pretty much embraced it now. (More on that in a bit.)

Part of the grumpiness from some sectors with Noah is that this particular story in the Bible is quite brief. Unless making a 20 minute short, a filmmaker is going to have to pad out the story. Which for some people is a problem even if the padding is tame and reverent. Whatever. Even Michelangelo padded things out or depicted images and story points that are not specifically detailed in the Bible. I don’t see anything wrong with doing so, it’s an artist’s interpretation of something from the Bible, which is a worthy artistic goal. Besides, long stretches of the Bible are up for interpretation anyway and if the Bible can’t handle discussion, interpretation or challenges, it would not be worth much. The Bible, of course, can indeed withstand it which leads to this latest of biblical epics.

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For the record, for this discussion, it seems relevant for me to say that I am myself a believer in God and Jesus, have read the Bible through a number of times, I’m a John 3:16 guy, and if you don’t believe any of that, please come sit right by me and let’s have a great time. I’ll also say that while Noah certainly has some problems, I found the movie to be very engaging and at times riveting. I also found it to be shockingly reverent toward God (referred to most of the time as ‘The Creator’ in the movie) and was deeply moved by much of the movie.

I have been reading a lot of commentaries from people who are of course complaining about the movie. Frankly, I can’t imagine what they were expecting and can only believe they went into the movie loaded for bear. I want to keep this relatively short (yeah, yeah, not possible) so I won’t break the movie down scene by scene, which I would enjoy doing, but for these people who complain, I’d like to point out three of many lines that struck me and their relevance in the film.

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Shameless Self Promotion Vol 3

21 Mar

It’s my yearly self promotion post… yeah, yeah, exciting I know. Much more food and film on the way in the following weeks, I promise, if you will have patience with me for the moment!

First, if you haven’t taken a look, I’d love to know what you think of the relaunch of my professional website, cinema language.org.

Second, we also have another Cinema Language seminar upcoming on May 10th and 11th.

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The seminars have been growing with each round and are a blast. I show tons of clips and stills from the best movies ever made, there are a lot of smart people discussing movies… it’s a fun and informative weekend. One of the best editors in town came last year and had this to say:

“As a film editor, I am in constant search of ways to grow my art. Tom Provost’s brilliant dissection of every aspect of story telling for the screen opened me to a new and greater understanding of my craft, and the filmmaking process as a whole. I highly recommend this weekend to filmmaking professionals and newcomers alike.” - Sean Albertson, A.C.E  (Warrior, Rocky Balboa, The Killing Season, Rambo)

(BTW, if you have not yet seen Warrior, you are missing out. It is easily one of the best films of the last 10 years. Incredible.)

This round we already have people flying in from Connecticut, NYC, Colorado and even the UK! My good friend Janet Batchler, one of the best writers in town, is also doing her amazing ‘How To Pitch’ lecture as part of the weekend. Her lecture relates not only to pitching your product and yourself in the most effective way possible, it relates generally to a very interesting and provocative way to approach life.

Perhaps the best thing for me about these seminars is that, after doing them for a few years, we’ve had a number of people take the class and then go out and make a great movie. We’ve even had people meet in the class, form a production team, and make a movie together. It’s awesome.

These seminars are for film professionals and movies lovers both. We’ve had many people who don’t work in the industry and simply love movies come and have a great time. So if you know anyone in Los Angeles you think would enjoy it, or if you yourself work in the business or love movies and want to come, post a comment or send me a message, I have great deals for the readers of the blog! More information about the weekend and purchasing is here:

http://cinemalanguage.eventbrite.com

Stay tuned for some great posts, thanks for the patience and, as always, thanks much for reading the blog and for the support!

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Richard Linklater’s Brilliant ‘Before’ Trilogy

20 Feb

Many people justifiably went ballistic last fall over the opening shot of Gravity, a 17 minute tour de force by Alfonse Cuaron, Sandra Bullock and company. It’s one humdinger of a shot and will be regarded as one of cinema’s great triumphs for years to come. Gravity’s opening shot, however, has nothing on the dizzying, electrifying long takes rampant in Richard Linklater’s brilliant romantic trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight.

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Take for example ‘the car scene’ near the start of the third film, Before Midnight. Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse  (Ethan Hawke) drive through the countryside of Greece having a conversation that will resonate throughout the film. This, too, is a very long take, 15 minutes, but without the aid of special effects or 3D to cover any breaks or mistakes or to keep the audience enlivened. There’s no need. What we instead have are two actors and a director working at the peak of their powers creating a single take as breathtaking as anything in Gravity.

Please understand, I don’t mean to disparage Gravity, a mind boggling film that, like Life of Pi before it, will change filmmaking as we know it. But this amazing ‘Before Trilogy’, hailed by A. O. Scott of the NY Times as “the great romantic epic of a generation’, dazzles the heart and mind in a completely different way.

If you have not seen the films, each written by Linklater, Deply and Hawke, an intro: Eighteen years ago came the wonderful and surprising Before Sunrise wherein two strangers, Celine and Jesse, meet on a morning train to Vienna and end up spending 24 hours together. We watch as they walk around Vienna, see the city, have coffee and talk. They also fall very much in love. The movie was famous for its long takes of the two characters simply walking and talking (that’s pretty much the entire movie) and also for taking place in a 24 hour time frame. Before Sunrise ends as the sun comes up, Celine headed to Paris, Jesse to the US. They must decide if or how they will continue their relationship. We see their decision as Celine gets on a train but we are left in the dark as to what then becomes of the two.

Click the link below the photo to continue!

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise

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The Oscar Nominations

16 Jan

I’ve never done an Oscar post but, hey, this half a film blog, it’s time for a new post and the nominations came out this morning. If you need a primer on who is nominated, click here.

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BEST PICTURE 

If you read my last post, 2013 In Review, you read about my favorite films of the year: her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners, American Hustle and Before Midnight. I won’t go over my reasons for loving these again. But while it is no surprise Prisoners received little love from the Academy, it’s a damn shame Llewyn Davis also was almost completely overlooked, save a well deserved nomination for Cinematography, which, thankfully Prisoners also received. Prisoners is simply too dark and unsettling for the current Academy to embrace. It’s also regarded as a mystery-thriller. While Prisoners is much deeper than a standard mystery-thriller, this type of movie rarely gets love from the Academy, hence Alfred Hitchcock’s scandalous lack of nominations over the years. Llewyn Davis, though… well, I guess I can’t say it is a huge surprise, given how many people did not like the film. Those of us who love it, though, continue to champion it as one of the best films in many years. I am confident years from now this snub will be looked back on as, well, a polite terms would be short sighted.

BEST DIRECTOR

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I’m thrilled her was nominated for Best Picture. I was worried. It’s so modern and original and deep I figured a lot of the older members might not get it. (This happened when the equally brilliant Inception was completely overlooked.) Spike Jonze thankfully received a well deserved screenplay nomination and has, I think, a very good chance to win. His not being nominated for Best Director, though, is a huge shame, particularly given his slot was taken by Martin Scorcese. The Wolf Of Wall Street isn’t a bad film. It’s enjoyable, sure, and boasts some terrific performances. But it’s overlong and undisciplined with little to say about anything. As with many Scorcese movies, it’s a huge mess. The elegance, humor, beauty and creepiness of her, combined with the fact it has a great deal to say, should have given Jonze the slot.  But, to be blunt, Scorcese can shit on toast, submit the toast and get a nomination. My own guild, the Directors Guild Of America, did the same thing to my great irritation. DGA, you at least should know better. Alfonso Cuaron pretty much has a lock on Best Director for Gravity. When he wins, it will be deserved. But David O. Russell could be a surprise win here and that would make me just as happy, even more so to be honest. I love American Hustle and think Russell is the best director working in Hollywood today. Two years in a row all four acting categories have been filled with actors from his movies – Silver Linings Playbook (winning Best Actress) and American Hustle. A year before that, with The Fighter, three actors were nominated and two won. This is very rare and is indicative of the work he is doing.

Click the link below to continue!

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My 2013 Review

30 Dec

I’m having a difficult time believing it is ‘that time of year’ again. Time seems to move so fast. 2013 may have zipped by much too quickly but not without encountering great food and film that deserves mention. Behold, my second annual ‘best of’ list, with the usual extras.

FILM

Movies first! 2013 was terrific for cinema. Sure there were a few absolute train wrecks, including one of the worst movies ever, ever, ever made. It’s about a lawyer everyone calls counselor and a drug deal and beheadings and sex with — not on — a car, and long rambling monologues that make you want to shoot yourself in the head. It’s so bad, like Lord V, it is the movie that must not be named.

Still, I’ve been blessed to see many terrific, often wildly original movies. My favorites:

PRISONERS

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Intense, brutal, devastating, demanding. Prisoners is not the feel good movie of the year, which is one the reasons, even though it received excellent reviews, it is being overlooked in many ‘best of’ lists. Don’t make a mistake and miss this methodical, intricate, morally complex mystery. Why is it so good? First there’s the script: rarely have I encountered a script so tightly woven. Each word and every plot point matters, there is nothing extraneous. The script also packs an emotional wallop and works on many levels. It’s a surprising mystery with red herrings galore, a very complex morality tale with no easy answers (it’s up to the audience to draw conclusions regarding the characters and their actions) and it is a piercing character study, with some of the best acting of the year. Hugh Jackman is astounding. The guy is of course insanely talented. I’ve seen him twice on stage singing his heart out, charming everyone in view. I’ve seen him dark and mysterious. But I never suspected he could go to the angry emotional depths of this film. His performance is ferocious and dangerous, keeping the movie on a trigger wire. He’s matched by Jake Gyllenhaal who has the less showy role but whose work is just as deep and profound. Prisoners had me so overwrought on first viewing I almost left the theatre towards the end, my stomach was in such knots over the possible outcomes of the story. When it was over, I left the theatre and went straight to a bar for a shot of whiskey to calm down. That may not be the most enticing recommendation, given we usually go to the movies for fun and frivolity. Trust me. If you have not yet seen it, check it out. Not only do the intricacies of the mystery hold up on repeated viewing, it will resonate deep into your soul.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

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I didn’t think any movie could match Prisoners as ‘best of the year.’ And then I saw The Coen Brothers latest. Like most Coen Brothers movies, Inside Llewyn Davis is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. The movie focuses on one of the most dislikable characters ever to be seen in a motion picture, at least on paper. Llewyn Davis is a dick. The movie does little to redeem him. Which makes the lead performance of Oscar Issac that much more astounding. Issac somehow keeps us interested and engaged in Llewyn, as do the innumerable gifts of The Coens, two of the best filmmakers ever. Ever. Every scene is perfection. The movie is stunningly shot, the directing spot on. T-Bone Burnett supervised the music, so of course the music is incredible… and I don’t even like folk music! The acting across the board is as good as can be. (Is there anything better in life than John Goodman delivering Coen Bros. dialogue? I think not.) Somehow, even though the main character is an asshole and the plot a bit of a downer, the movie was joy to me. I laughed constantly, happy to watch such impeccable filmmaking. I also loved what the movie had to say about art, the struggle to be an artist and also the struggle to live. Beautifully crafted and surprisingly rich in meaning, this ranks with the Coen Brothers best. 

For an excellent, relatively spoiler free 7 minute video about the making of the film and the music, click here.

Click the link for many more picks!

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Winter Salads

13 Dec

Even though it is freezing cold and there are no fresh spring or summer vegetables flooding farmers’ markets and grocery stores, you can still enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures: the salad.

I’ve been a fanatic for salad as long as I can remember, all kinds. Even the simplest of salads, correctly prepared, can be sublime. One of my favorite dishes in all the world, for instance, is Union Square Cafe’s  Bibb & Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad, their version of a dinner salad that thankfully never leaves the menu. I dined there once with a friend who is not partial to salad. Given my raves about the salad, she decided to order it, figuring she might as well try one of the world’s best dinner salads to see if her mind might be changed.

She tasted it, waved down the waiter and ordered a second one before continuing. Her reaction for the next few minutes eating the salad was not unlike Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

That’s what can happen when you have good salad.

You can always make a simple, wonderful green salad with fresh lettuces any time of year. Add a few herbs and toss with a wonderful vinaigrette (never ever store bought, learn to make a great one, with variations, here) and you will have the perfect start, or end, to any meal.  Let me also, however, give you two salads tailored specifically for the ingredients and tastes of winter: a fantastic Raw Kale Caesar (with video!) as well as a delicious and crunchy Nutty Pesto Vegetable Salad.

RAW KALE CAESAR

Here is a video demo I did with some friends prepping a few videos to use for the website. I of course left out the anchovy when I made it! See the additional notes and written recipe below for more details:

NOTE: When you make this, be sure to add the anchovy! Sautéed pancetta is a wonderful addition I often toss into the salad, particularly if I omit the rustic croutons. If you want the salad really healthy, add no croutons, no pancetta and very little cheese… it’s still terrific. But a touch of cheese and pancetta won’t kill you! Those are tastes where a little goes a long way and does not get in the way of healthy eating.

Click here to get the full recipe: Raw Kale Caesar recipe.

PESTO VEGETABLE SALAD

Cabbage Salad

The next winter salad has become one of my favorite dishes to make. It’s my own version of a salad I had at one of my favorite places in the world, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. This rustic inn, located in one of the most beautiful locales imaginable, is one of the best havens from the outside world you can find. While the inn is down the road from a couple of the most expensive hotels in the world, Deetjen’s itself is very reasonable. And romantic. And relaxing. No phones, no TV’s, not even locks on the doors. Comfortable beds, a glorious woody setting right across from the Pacific… I get lost there for days.

Deetjen’s has a terrific restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner, both glorious. The restaurant’s Eggs Benedict are the best I’ve ever had. Ditto their Blueberry Pancakes. Best ever as well. At night, the restaurant is soft lit, warm, romantic and, again, rustic. Oh, and wonderful food. For me, Deetjen’s is heaven on earth.

The last time I was lucky enough to stay there a few nights, they offered a special salad made with cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes and a variety of nuts, lightly tossed in a wonderful pesto vinaigrette. I liked it so much I ordered it two nights in a row then came home and figured out my own version.

This is a terrific salad, very much a ‘throw together’ salad that is virtually impossible to mess up. Just be sure to include a variety of nuts and don’t miss using the peanuts: they help give the salad a wonderful, salty kick. While you can make this any time of year, I make it all summer, it’s great on a cold winter’s night as a starter to your dinner. Or as part of a buffet with other winter salads and dishes. Or, if you are eating light, a solid meal on its own. Get the recipe here: Nutty Pesto Vegetable Salad.

Thanksgiving

21 Nov

I wanted to give you a few ideas for Thanksgiving, easily my favorite holiday of the year. I wrote last year about Christmas which, as an overall season, certainly is the my favorite. But when it comes to a single holiday, Thanksgiving reigns supreme.

There is no better day to throw open wide the doors of your home and ask everyone in. I’ve been doing this for years, in different forms, and it is always one of the best days of the year. Last year we sat 35 people at a single table. (Creating an”L” shape was the only way to make it work.) We had a blast and so can you. Here’s a picture of the table before the chaos began:

Thanksgiving Table 2013

Thanksgiving Table 2013

Note that you don’t have to have plates or silverware or anything that matches. Who cares?! If you can’t create such a long table, no worries!  You can do your meal buffet style, as we used to do in my home growing up. We have a huge extended family and would sometimes have many more than 35. Using paper plates, then sitting anywhere we could find, the holiday was just as wonderful. So don’t let anything deter you. It’s about food and fellowship. Whatever you space you have, it will work. 

I like starting this type of meal in the late afternoon. You have plenty of time during the day to get ready, it’s less stressful than trying to get everything ready by noon. Do some of your prep the days before, you might even work in an afternoon nap before people show up! Also, the meal can be eaten after dark, by candlelight. We do cocktails and appetizers at 5, then finally hit the table between 6:00 and 6:30.

For me, there is only one way to get through such a day and maintain my sanity: a list. Below is an example of the type of list I create. I spend a lot of time on it the night before, making sure it works perfectly. Then on Thanksgiving itself, I don’t have to think much, I just follow the list. Subsequently, I can enjoy myself the day of. My iPhone or kitchen timers tell me when I need to do something. I follow the list and it enables me to spend at least a little time talking with people before we all end up at the table.  This was last year’s list:

Survive the day list

Survive the day list

I also refrain from drinking until we sit, to make sure all the food comes out right. You can be assured, however, there is a rather large martini waiting in the freezer. As soon as people start filling their plates in the kitchen, martini is out and in the shaker. Then in the glass. Then I am off and running to catch up. (I don’t worry so much about dessert. It pretty much handles itself.)

It’s a genuine pleasure to open your home and have both people you love as well as friends of friends come over. Of course, that is not the main reason Thanksgiving is the best. Thanksgiving is my favorite because it is All. About. The. Food. So let’s talk some food, people!

Click below for many amazing recipes!

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