Thursday, April 30, 2009

Like Water for Chocolate

As with many memorable titles, the name of this movie (and the book upon which it is based) has multiple meanings, subject to the viewers’ (or readers’) interpretation.
First, it’s important to know that the people of Mexico have been making chocolate drinks for millennia. Chocolate is made from cocoa, a product of the seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Originally native to the low Andean foothills and the Amazon and Orinoco River basins, the cacao tree grows to a height of 25 feet and requires humid conditions, regular rainfall, and good soil in order to thrive. The Mayan people brought cacao to Central America, and cocoa became an important cultivated crop of the Toltecs and the Aztecs who inhabited the lands of Mexico. The Aztecs were great lovers of cocoa drinks, called xocoatl in their Nahuatl language, which they flavored with vanilla, chili pepper, annatto, pimento, and other spices. In fact, the word chocolate comes from the Nahuatl word for this drink, xocoatl. But cocoa was somewhat of a luxury item: it takes 300 to 600 cacao seeds to make 2 pounds of cocoa paste, but a mature tree yields only about 20 seed pods in a year, and each pod contains only 20 to 40 seeds—so one tree would produce less than 4 pounds of cocoa paste. In fact, the Aztecs used cacao seeds as a form of currency. In addition to their relative scarcity, cacao seeds were also prized because they contain theobromine, a stimulant similar in effect to caffeine. In addition to preventing fatigue, cocoa was also believed to promote health—and with good reason, for it has about twice the anticancer antioxidants of red wine and three times those of green tea. The Spanish conquerors of Mexico knew a good drink when they tasted it, and soon consumption of cocoa spread throughout the world. Cocoa’s association with Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of fertility, didn’t hinder the drink’s popularity either.
Europeans took to mixing the extract of the cocoa seeds with milk and sugar to make chocolate, but the Aztecs used water instead of milk, and their Mexican descendants have continued to follow the ancient recipes, mixing the cocoa extract (sometimes known as chocolate liquor) into boiling water. “Water for chocolate,” then, is literally water that has reached its boiling point, and the phrase “like water for chocolate” describes a condition of intense heating, to the point of boiling. Some translators feel that the phrase como agua para chocolate should be rendered in English as “like water for hot chocolate”—emphasizing that what’s really important is the high temperature involved.
By analogy, an emotion or situation that is “like water for chocolate” is one that is boiling, perhaps ready to explode. It is a metaphor that describes a state of extreme or hot passion—perhaps from anger or bitterness or frustration. It is also a metaphor for a state of sexual arousal—just as the water is hot enough to receive, melt, and absorb the chocolate, so the lover is aroused and ready to receive, embrace, and transform the beloved.
For viewers (or readers) accustomed to making hot chocolate with milk, the phrase like water for chocolate can also imply a diluting or a watering down of the chocolate—by analogy, a loss of something that is essential or definitive in nature, making the person less than he or she could have been.
In one sense, the film’s (and book’s) main character, Tita, confronts situations that are “water” to her “chocolate,” that threaten to dilute or weaken her spirit. At the same time, Tita herself is that “water” for the problems she encounters, hot enough to dissolve and refine them within herself, in the process becoming much more than either “water” or “chocolate” alone could ever be.

This is our favorite recipe from Like Water for Chocolate: Codornices en Pétalos de Rosas (Quail in Rose-Petal Sauce)--as delicious as it is beautiful:

The Food of the Gods

The Food of the Gods is a “B” horror film based on the book of the same name by H. G. Wells. The title refers to a “spring” of food that miraculously bubbles forth on the Skinner’s farm, located on a remote Canadian island. When fed to the livestock, the food (named “food of the gods,” or FOTG, by the Skinners [Lupino and McLiam]) enables the chickens to grow to huge proportions. Catastrophe, of course, results when worms, wasps, and rats feast on the “food of the gods” and, once grown to giant size, attack the farmers, campers, visitors, and anyone else who dares to interfere with Nature.

Released June 18, 1976
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by Bert I. Gordon (screenplay), based on the novel by H. G. Wells

Starring Ida Lupino as Mrs. Skinner, Marjoe Gortner as Morgan, Pamela Franklin as Lorna Scott, Ralph Meeker as Jack Bensington, Jon Cypher as Brian, John McLiam as Mr. Skinner, Belinda Balaski as Rita, Tom Stovall as Thomas, and Chuck Courtney as Davis

Feast of Love

Feast of Love features many flavors of love: well seasoned by a life together, spicy with illicit pleasures, fresh in untested youth, simmering outside of societal conventions, even stale with the taste of desperation. But the film features no food—only coffee, from Bradley’s (Kinnear) coffee shop, Jitters.

Chloe: Hey, you need anybody to work here?
Oscar: Yes! Yeah. (to Bradley) I mean, if that’s all right with you.
Bradley: You have any experience with this kind of work?
Chloe: No.
Oscar: Neither did I when I started.
Bradley: Do you like coffee?
Chloe: Not much.
Oscar: She’ll learn to love it.
Bradley: But why here?
Chloe: I don’t know. I just kind of felt a harmonic convergence in this place.
Oscar: She’s right, you know? I felt the same kind of thing.
Bradley: Ah.

Esther Stevenson: How was your walk? Did I miss anything?
Harry Stevenson: A cool breeze, softball game, and two women falling in love.
Esther Stevenson: With each other?
Harry Stevenson: And one of them is married. Funny thing is, nobody noticed. Not even the husband, two feet away.
Esther Stevenson: I'm sorry I missed that.
Harry Stevenson: I imagine he will be, too.

Released September 28. 2007
Directed by Robert Benton
Written by Allison Burnett (screenplay), based on the novel by Charles Baxter
Starring Morgan Freeman as Harry Stevenson, Greg Kinnear as Bradley Smith, Jane Alexander as Esther Stevenson, Radha Mitchell as Diana Croce, Billy Burke as David Watson, Selma Blair as Kathryn Smith, Alexa Davalos as Chloe Barlow, Toby Hemingway as Oscar, Stana Katic as Jenny, Erika Marozsán as Margaret Vekashi, and Fred Ward as Bat

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Breakfast in Hollywood

Set in Hollywood in 1946, Breakfast in Hollywood is centered on a morning radio show and the romantic comedy that results when the host, Tom Breneman (Himself), plays matchmaker between audience members Dorothy Larson (Granville), who is looking for her fiancé, and Ken Smith (Ryan), who falls for Dorothy, knowing that her fiancé has married someone else. Although listeners tune in to a “breakfast” show, filmgoers glimpse only coffee and donuts, with other breakfast offerings only hinted at. Though light fare, the movie features entertaining performances by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, Nat “King” Cole and the King Cole Trio, and crooner Andy Russell, not to mention splendid character studies by Billie Burke, Zasu Pitts, and Hedda Hopper—the last of whom appears wearing a fishbowl hat!

Mrs. Annie Reed: Oh, excuse me, is this seat taken?
Elvira Spriggens: No. No, I came alone too.
Reed: Well that’s nice, so did I.
Spriggens [speaking of her odd hat]: I didn’t want to embarrass anyone.
Reed: Why don’t you put a clove in your mouth and then nobody will know you’ve been drinking?

Released February 26, 1946
Directed by Harold D. Schuster
Written by Earl Baldwin
Starring Tom Breneman as Himself, Bonita Granville as Dorothy Larson, Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Annie Reed, Edward Ryan as Ken Smith, Billie Burke as Mrs. Frances Cartwright, Raymond Walburn as Richard Cartwright, Zasu Pitts as Elvira Spriggens, Hedda Hopper as Herself, Andy Russell as Himself, Spike Jones as Himself, Nat “King” Cole as Himself

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Breakfast with Scot

Scot: It’s a “T,” like the one off the end of my name.
Sam: Have a pancake.
Scot: I used to make it for my mom that way. If you want, I can pour your syrup.
Eric: No, thanks. I’m good, I’m good.

Breakfast with Scot is a family comedy that shows what happens when an “in the closet” gay couple become guardians of their flamboyantly gay preteen nephew. Because Scot (Bernett) is so undeniably “not straight,” the men, former-pro-hockey-player-turned-sportscaster Eric (Cavanagh) and sports lawyer Sam (Shenkman), must confront their own homophobia in order to accept and nurture the newest member of their family.
Despite the title, Breakfast with Scot features only three very short breakfast scenes, which encapsulate the relationship between Eric, Sam, and Scot. In the first, Scot is preparing pancakes shaped like the letter “T”—because his mother spelled his name with only one “T”—and the men find the very idea of shaping pancakes to be unacceptably bizarre. In the second scene, Scot has been stripped of everything that makes him different, and the pancakes are plain and simply round. In the third, having accepted Scot’s wonderful uniqueness, the adults themselves are cooking shaped pancakes: Christmas trees, with colored jelly candies for decorations—and they allow Scot to pour the maple syrup.

Fun Facts:
By allowing the director to use jerseys, game clips, and memorabilia belonging to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the National Hockey League became the first professional sports organization to endorse a gay-themed film.

Released January 11, 2008
Directed by Laurie Lynd
Written by Michael Downing (novel); Sean Reycraft (writer)
Starring Tom Cavanagh as Eric McNally, Ben Shenkman as Sam Miller, Noah Bernett as Scot Latour, Colin Cunningham as Billy, Graham Greene as Bud Wilson, Fiona Reid as Mildred Monterossos, Jeannanne Goossen as Nula, and Benz Antoine as Greg Graham
Awards: 2008 Directors Guild of Canada “Team” Award for Feature Film-Family