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When The Royal Tenenbaums premiered in theaters in 2001, I saw it not once, but four times on the big screen. That was back when the prospect of a brand new Wes Anderson film brought joy and thrill to most cinephiles, before he became mocked (unfairly, in my opinion) for his quirky, precious style.

RoyalThe story is of the self-serving, largely absent patriarch Royal Tenenbaum, turning a new leaf to save his undone “family of geniuses” from a figurative “sinking ship.” Royal’s charm and missteps stem from his approach to fixing the wreck that has become his estranged family: “I’m not talking about dance lessons. I’m talking about putting a brick through the other guy’s windshield. I’m talking about taking it out and chopping it up.” There are hiccups and bumps along the way as Royal attempts to reconnect to his grown children: the washed-up tennis champion Richie; the angry, uptight, and widowed entrepreneur Chas; and the once-notable playwright Margo, who, as Royal always points out during introductions, is adopted.

Royal Kids

In addition to his three kids and the “true-blue” mother of his children, Royal has to win over a skeptical crew of newcomers to the Tenenbaums; that proves difficult as he must allay his reputation as the abandoner, and he must check his thoughtless albeit hilarious nature at the door. For instance, he makes a valiant effort, with a ‘Royal Flair’ when meeting his motherless grandsons, Chas’ boys: “I’m sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.”

Wes Anderson examines this rather eccentric and lost family by means of dissection: he opens the family’s dwelling like a cross-sectioned dollhouse in which we can explore each character’s fastidiously maintained collections. Although we have all seen Anderson employ this aesthetic time and time over for the rest of his subsequent films, the technique was relatively new and oddly comforting when the film premiered. In The Royal Tenenbaums, in particular, it appears that the characters preserve their childhood trinkets and keepsakes in an attempt to revel in their brilliant and magnificent childhoods that unfortunately erode into disappointing and lackluster adulthoods.

f80e7bbb8a012d6940ef12708b73f5eeFurther, what seduced me was the immensely clever and surprising dialogue. The actors and the writers worked together in symbiosis to depict heartwarming sincerity, venomous resentment, abject loneliness, and matter-of-fact assertions, often simultaneously. Frequently, the actors deliver dialogue while their expressions portray the opposite of their lines, or, exhibit an arrant lack of affect. The dry, sometimes ironic, zingers are mostly delivered by Royal and family friend Eli Cash, Richie’s childhood chum and author of a newly celebrated book that revises the history of the American West. “Everyone knows Custer died at Little Big Horn. What this book presupposes is … maybe he didn’t?” Thankfully for Eli, his latest book erases the utter failure of his former, which he confesses he wrote “in kind of an obsolete vernacular.”

Eli CashTo this day I quote the film as a way to add humor to the banal and the frustrating, like when I read through my divorce papers or when I’m studying for my real estate exam or while I’m consolidating my student loans. All that drivel is written in an “obsolete vernacular,” and everyday, I want to thank Anderson (and co-writer Owen Wilson) for handing me that phrase, among others, to add levity to everyday drudgery, sporadic sadness, and rare tragedy, especially in regards to family matters. Lastly, I want to thank Anderson for sharing his obsessive compulsive visions and collections on a cinematic scale. His obsessive nature ties in with my own, and I can think of no better way to banish the unpredictabilities and disappointments of adulthood than to open a box of childhood trinkets or to settle into a Wes Anderson film.

ChateauChateau Montelena, the winery responsible for putting California on the international wine map and inspiring the movie Bottle Shock, runs an uncanny parallel to the early notoriety of the Tenenbaum children. Founded in the 1890’s, the winery, after many unremarkable and unproductive decades, was restarted and replanted in 1972 by Jim Barrett. Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay was the first American wine to win the renowned Paris Tasting in 1976. Barrett and crew peaked early, but, according to my resident sommelier Justin Chin, were soon overshadowed by the three big name wineries: Mondavi, Joseph Phelps, and Rudd Estate. To make matters worse, in the early 2000’s wine enthusiasts started to notice inconsistencies such as off-flavors, corked bottles, and musty smells, which were caused by the nasty and unwanted chemical compound, TCA. Chateau Montelena cleaned-up their wine storage facility and have been producing quality wines ever since, though they never regained the notoriety achieved during the 70’s. So be it. Quality over notoriety is always best. Plus, Chateau Montelena, like the Tenenbaum family, will always be able to reminisce over their past glories.

Try the buttery and slightly herbaceous Chateau Montelana 2010 Chardonnay. It’s the least expensive of their wines and can be found at BevMo.

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“A love story so erotically charged that it short circuits our higher functions.”

—Joe Williams  St. Louis Post-Dispatch

My higher functions were indeed short circuited after I exited the theatre.  I was spell-bound, heart-broken, and utterly absorbed into the characters’ story.  I couldn’t articulate anything but, “Oh my God!  Wow!”

A film about the raw longing for true identity, belonging, and love, Blue is the Warmest Color chronicles the life of Adele.  As a 15 year old, Adele, meticulously played by Adele Exarchopoulos, is bright, popular, pretty, though reserved and shy.  She attracts the attention of a handsome senior and embarks on her first sexual relationship.  Unfortunately, Adele becomes disenchanted by her new love, and thus, is overcome by the sense that she is damaged.

Everything changes, though, when Adele passes a blue haired woman on a crosswalk.  Although the woman drapes her arm around another woman, she turns back to Adele as Adele turns back to her.  Both of their faces question, “Do I know you?”

From that moment on, Adele’s dreams are erotically haunted by the blue haired woman.  Obsessed and possessed, Adele visits a lesbian bar and sets her eyes upon her target.  And, so begins this fierce love story, unflinchingly raw.

Adele, younger and less experienced than her blue haired artist Emma, becomes besotted.  She begins to live inside of her breaths, watching her shoulders rise and sink in centimeters at night.

Emma is at first totally immersed in Adele’s fresh faced presence.  But, as years go by, their love wanes, like most young loves.  Adele, however, is determined to hold onto her first true love—a love that has defined her sexual identity.

As a younger divorcee, I can attest to the love these characters experience; I know what it is to hear one’s breath and feel one’s heart beat at night and to vow that, when those two things stop, I will stop too. Also, I understand how it feels to lose that young, raw, true, intense love and not want to let go.  True love is so rare, so you believe, “I must hold on because I will never have this kind of love again.”  And, it’s true.  You won’t.

A movie about youthful, rapturous love deserves a young, luscious, and juicy wine.  Justin Chin, certified sommelier and personal trainer at Fit Life, recommended the Domaine de la Bonne Tonne 2011 Morgon Beaujolais.

According to Justin, “Beaujolais comes from the Gamay grape variety with aromas and flavors of strawberries, watermelon, and cranberries.  Aromas and flavors also present are bubblegum, cotton candy, violet, lilac, and peonies.”

The wine smells like youth and all of the fresh and curious prospects of love that accompany that wonderful age.  Once the wine decants and opens, however, gone is the cotton candy and strawberry bubblegum; what ensues is a sharper more jaded cranberry flavor.  Domaine de la Bonne Tonne 2011 Morgon Beaujolais, which you can buy at K&L Wine Merchants, clearly and beautifully mirrors the film’s coming-of-age tale.

Below is the trailer for Blue is the Warmest Color:

The-Room-Loft-Cinema-Web-01The Room, renowned for being the worst movie ever made, plays once a month at midnight at San Francisco’s Clay Theatre.  I’ve been aware of this showing for some time, but the thought of a long line of hipsters bickering about the etymology of the term “irony” and its rampant misusage, frankly, turned me off.  Nevertheless, I caved because none other than Tommy Wiseau himself, the quasimoto-esque, enigmatic director and star of The Room, was hosting his movie for Clay’s November showing in celebration of its tenth anniversary.  I became intrigued.  Does this guy realize that he made one of the most laughingly horrible movies ever, and thus, is he a mere good sport?  Or, is he delusional?

The night started out rocky as I was surrounded in a long line by several drunken frat boys parroting their favorite lines from the film.  Annoying.  Once inside, though, I proceeded to have the most rip-roaring fun I’ve had in a while.

The cinema landscape is littered with bad movies.  There’s Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, Pootie Tang, The Trailer Park Boys, and Basket Case, but each film is intended to be bad, and each belongs to a fringe genre: grind house, exploitation, psychotronic, mockumentary… .  But, none of these genres can proudly claim The Room as its own.  The Room is a unicorn of cinematic history.

The film portrays the everyday struggles of a bleeding heart investment banker, Johnny, his fiancé Lisa, their ‘hot’ friend Mark, and a bunch of superfluous characters who waltz in and out of the frames yet do not, in any way, drive the film’s plot.  Tommy Wiseau plays Johnny, who is being “torn apart” by his manipulative and treacherous strumpet of a fiancee.  Sex scenes are plentiful, yet anatomically confusing and awkward; each actor’s delivery seems to have no connection to the script; and, in addition to Wiseau’s wealth of pointless characters, there are a number of scenes that beg the plea, “Can someone throw me a lifeline here?”  One scene in particular still has me scratching my head: Johnny holds a tuxedo party in which he invites his male cronies.  Once they have all arrived, they proceed to a nearby alley to engage in a game of catch with a football.

As a consummate film buff, I can attest that there is something to be said for consistency.  The Room is more consistently bad than the great and revered movies are consistently good.  It’s amazing actually.

Wiseau manages to break all the rules from Film 101 for…I don’t know…infants?  But, if someone set out to make a movie this bad, it would be impossible to achieve the same level of sincere awfulness.  There was no irony in the making of this film.

Ten years old, The Room still draws long lines for its midnight showing at the Clay Theatre and at various theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. The film’s legacy rests in its dualistic relationship with its audience: The Room cannot exist without its audience, and its audience cannot exist without the film.

The Room is The Rocky Horror Picture Show of the Millennium.  The audience celebrates the film’s poor taste, uproariously calling out the film’s inconsistencies while throwing a ton of plastic spoons (the reason for which I will not divulge).

As for Tommy Wiseau, well, even after watching his antics live on the Clay’s stage during a pre-show Q & A, I still have no idea what kind fuel runs this man.  So, bring plenty of plastic spoons and a jug of Carlo Rossi’s Red Sangria—that is, if you can find it.

Upon deciding that I must marry The Room with Carlo Rossi’s Sangria, for intuitive reasons, I set out to buy it.  After two Safeways and a few corner stores failed to provide me my Carlo, I concluded that in certain urban settings, Carlo Rossi, which I thought to be ubiquitous, has also become a unicorn.  Carlo Rossi is bad; but, as with The Room, does it have any redeemable qualities?  Sure.  It tastes like baby aspirin, and it reminds you of a time in your life when you didn’t care about such things as nuanced taste in wine and coherent character development in film.

Just as Carlo Rossi intends to make serious wines, Tommy Wiseau set out to make a serious drama about the entropy that is our lives.  Both movie and wine fall short of their intended goals; however, experiencing such spectacular shortcomings, in both cases, is where the fun lies.

A woman walks through an empty, dim, maze-like house, holding her laptop in front of her.

“Baby?  Can you see me?”

She moves from room to room, attempting to strengthen her Wi-fi signal.

“Baby?  Can you see Mommy?”

“I can hear you, but I can’t see you.”

She continues to pace through the stale house.  A Christmas tree, strewn with lights, withers in the corner.

“Can you see me now, Baby?”

“Yes…Mommy…who’s that behind you?”

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And so begins the 2012 horror movie The Pact.  Upon the passing of their estranged mother, two sisters return home to manage her estate and plan her funeral. These arrangement are waylaid when the elder sister vanishes, ostensibly, into the walls of her mother’s Middle America tract home.

The younger sister, desperately searching for her sibling, is pushed to uncover the creepy and deviant legacy hidden within the walls of her mother’s house.

The Pact, directed by Nicholas McCarthy and starring Caity Lotz is quiet, understated, and intensely ominous.  It’s a moody ghost story that slyly packs grisly punches and ghastly images into its labyrinthine, well paced plot.  Old Ghost Zinfandel, Lodi 2011, hosts a sneaky right hook: it’s a big, but eloquent wine much like the themes within The Pact.

 

La Dolce Vita- KittenRam’s Gate Winery, located at the gateway to Sonoma Country, is a stunningly handsome winery. Half open-air and half enclosed, this unparalleled structure is described on their website as a “modern interpretation of the weathered farmstead of old Carneros.”

Ram’s Gate’s allure, however, doesn’t rely solely on its aesthetics. The people behind Ram’s Gate have managed to create an experience: sit-down tastings, guided tours. My favorite, though, is the picnic lunch, comprised of a charcuterie plate, artisan cheeses, french bread, homemade pickles, fig jam, and candied almonds.

After a wine tasting, you can pick a bottle to accompany your picnic basket and enjoy an afternoon by their pond, tailor fit for a bon vivant.

Below is what to expect from an afternoon at Ram’s Gate:

The Basket

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I’m always so deflated when I have to leave Ram’s Gate. One time I even broke down, crying all the way back to San Francisco. Fortunately, I have the perfect remedy for this infliction: an extension of this deliciously sensual afternoon via cinema.

La Dolce Vita, directed by Federico Fellini in 1960, offers a morality tale about the “bon vivant” lifestyle. This film centers around a celebrity journalist who aspires to write a beautiful novel. Because of his work, he is surrounded by famous actors and the idle rich, and he becomes completely seduced by their frivolous lifestyle. Our protagonist begins as someone who can see and appreciate real beauty, but he ends as someone who becomes so dissipated, he can no longer recognize beauty and goodness as it waves at him from across the beach.

But, I wouldn’t concern yourself too much with the moral of the movie while you savor your afternoon at Ram’s Gate.

Incendies Poster

Incendies, written and directed by Oscar nominated Denis Villeneuve, follows twins who, at their mother’s posthumous request, must travel to the Middle East to discover their family’s luridly unorthodox origin. Jumping back and forth from past to present, Indendies examines the stark contrast, as well as the startling similarities, between unrest and peace within a country and within oneself. Montreal, where the twins were raised protected from their mother’s past, is shot in muted, blue hues: these urban sets are haunted by monolithic structures, gray and quiet, and gridded, vacant city streets. The Montreal set projects safety but emits coldness and sterility. Scenes from their mother’s Middle East, by contrast, are filled with invitingly lush but violent images: rustic olive tree groves, grainy limestone and sandstone mountains, carved by deep gorges, and razed villages indelibly ruined by the Lebanese Civil War.

Incendies’ brilliance lies in its ability to balance polarities. The characters, and the viewers, are forcefully shifted between fury and love, cruelty and compassion, hope and desperation, and past and present; but Villeneuve manages to allay the turbulence, which happens from such dramatic transitions, by his camera work, lighting, and editing.

With a movie as intense and complex as this, I usually ten toward a counterpoint wine: something simple and straightforward, like a table wine. Recently, though, I was introduced to Lebanese wine and its archaic history.

Lebanese winemaking, which dates back 5000 years to the Phoenicians (or so we are told in the Bible), has seen its fair share of bullets and tanks during the Lebanese Civil War. Its story is also one that balances polarities: despite wrenching violence in their backyard, the vintners not only maintained the integrity of their ancient recipes, they improved and refined their art while also incorporating French Provençal techniques to make well-balanced and delicious wines.  Bekaa Valley’s Chateau Musar, in particular, is held in high regard and distributes outstanding wine globally.

While tasting Chateau Musar’s Hochar 2007, Justin Chin (aka, a former Marine, sommelier, and personal trainer) offered these tasting notes:

As you drink the Hochar while watching Incendies, consider how the struggle between ferocity and tenderness, despair and dedication, come through in every frame of the film, and in every sip of this feisty wine.

Yes. Halloween is indeed over. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t relish and rank the horror genre all year long.

Top Ten International Horror Flicks and their respective grapes:

The Descent

The Descent

1) The Descent (by Scottish director Neil Marshal / 2005): a claustrophobic and bloody masterpiece that hinges on the dark side of feminine potency, as suggested by the Bacchus grape’s namesake.

2) [REC] (by Catalan directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza / 2007): a TV crew follows a couple of firefighters into a den of Catalan heathens. Add another expression of Spain’s rambunctious spirit: the Tempranillo grape.

High Tension

High Tension

3) High Tension (by French director Alexandre Aja / 2003): a change in environment is anything but a serene, rural French escape for two urbane Parisians. Its hidden layers may even rival those of the heady and spicy Malbec grape.

4) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (by American director Tobe Hooper / 1974): this movie instilled in me a nasty distaste and uncontrollable fear of Texas. “Bits and pieces” feature prominently in the movie’s unholy arch, so why shouldn’t they in your wine selection! A Grenache-Syrah blend provides an elegant coordination that both offsets and parallels the characters’ unforgettable demise.

5) Lake Mungo (by Australian director Joel Anderson / 2008): I wrote earlier about my new Australian gem that echoes the enticing themes of Twin Peaks. Much like the main character’s own double life, the Shiraz (aka., Syrah) has maintained its own duel identity. But, whether sampling it in its Australian or French guise, its intense color and frenetic palate will not disappoint.

6) 28 Days Later (by English director Danny Boyle / 2002): this film is a tour de force that follows our dear hero, played by the beautiful Cillian Murphy, as he wakes up after a viral infestation that leaves behind a post-apocalyptic England. The director has his own fun by presenting alternative endings; if more than one ending sounds good to you, pair this movie with a bottle of Chardonnay. Actually, I mean two. One aged in stainless steel and one aged in French Oak.

Tale of 2 Sisters

Tale of 2 Sisters

7) A Tale of Two Sisters (by South Korean director Ji-woon Kim / 2003): this film interweaves elegant cinematography and timeless themes: a mother lost during adolescence, the intrusion of a younger woman, and two sisters who form an unhealthy co-dependance. The Cabernet Franc, ancient, rich, heavy, and complicated, mirrors the movie’s refined filming and undying themes.

As an alternative for those who prefer close encounters with the supernatural to an object lesson in social awkwardness, take a look at an Australian film entitled Lake Mungo. Like Catfish, Lake Mungo has a litany of revelations and twists that it springs on the viewer as this creepy-as-hell ghost mockumentary inches along. The film centers on the drowning of a 16-year-old daughter and the dread, nightmares, apparitions, and epiphanies that ensue. My own sensibilities were honed at the tender age of 12 by David Lynch’s masterful series Twin Peaks, and I felt the spirit of Laura Palmer haunting this movie’s seedy and unexpected underside. To wet your appetite, consider this evocative fact: the dead daughter’s name is Alice Palmer and she had secrets… .

Warning: Spoiler Alert

This week I made two discoveries that revel in fortifications: Catfish by Henry Joost and Arial Schulman and Predroncelli Vintage Port from the Dry Creek Valley. Catfish explores the possibilities and sparkle that online social networking (i.e., Facebook) has injected into our relationships. More importantly, though, this surprising little documentary or mocumentary (who knows) displays and deconstructs a life so unlived and unrealized that this individual must fortify her life with a virtual fairy tale. Meanwhile, the Predroncelli Vintage port, like all ports, stews its own essence. It’s wine with extra sauce. It’s juice with added sweet. Having started life in the same fashion as its unfortified peers, additional sugars and alcohol boost its charisma beyond nature’s measured intentions. This port is akin to liquid chocolate. Predroncelli employs four grapes to orchestrate a silky (but hardly subtle) digestive—one suited for Catfish’s twist and turns in addition to any chocolate or other sugary treats you may be enjoying.

Armenian Dolls

La Méditerranée, a Pacific Height’s neighborhood retreat, serves up delectable Middle Eastern cuisine presented at a reasonable price. The atmospheric décor and relics reflect the owner Levon’s eclectic tastes and sentiments: Armenian dolls, collections of photographs, and news articles, celebrating the history of la Méditerranée, pepper the walls. Warm and colorful, this setting suggests that, instead of eating at a restaurant, you are dining in a friend’s home.

When ordering at la Méditerranée, close your eyes and point to a menu item; you will relish your selection, no doubt. Some favorites of mine include the Armenian Tomato Salad (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta topped with a sweet tomato vinaigrette and mint), Chicken Cilicia (cinnamon-spiced chicken, almonds, currants, and chickpeas inside a fillo pastry topped with powdered sugar), and Chicken Pomegranate (juicy and tender drumsticks marinated in a pomegranate sauce). If you have never visited la Méditerranée, I would recommend the Mediterranean Meza, which is a sampling of appetizers followed by a selection of la Méditerranée’s most popular items.

More often than not, Levon or his son Vanick can be seen chatting with guests or running beautiful catering platters out for delivery. Overall, the service is excellent, and the entire staff exudes such a friendly and graceful vibe. Efficient service and good food, however, do not always inspire customers (unless it is poor enough to inspire the customer to leave). Instead, customers respond to a unique aesthetic, an amiable server who knows and appreciates the cuisine, and a special dining experience that is born from individuality, effort, and care. La Méditerranée boasts character, novelty, and meticulous attention to detail.
Mermaid

After dinner, stop by D&M, two stores down, to pick up the chocolaty 2007 Bliss Merlot, and retire home to watch The Triplets of Belleville, an animated French-Canadian-British-Belgium film by Sylvain Chomet.

The Triplets of Belleville transports you to a world that celebrates and accentuates strange little curiosities and observations. It takes liberty with proportions and perspectives, while containing almost no dialogue. In fact, the film is a modern day Cabinet of Curiosities.

Akin to la Méditerranée’s aesthetic, The Triplets of Belleville flawlessly weds a diverse collection of eras, cultures, and styles. Its retro animation remains provocative, and most importantly, absolutely breathtaking. Both restaurant and film are transplants, and although they both transcend their legacies and exceed all expectations of cuisine and cinema, they manage to remain true to their beloved foundations and traditions.

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