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Pre Thanksgiving Goings-on

Hello my dear readership.

Yesterday Lauren and I woke up late and had brunch at La Madeline in Westlake Village. It had been years since I had eaten at one of these fine provençal-style French cooking establishments so, upon rising later in the morning, it seemed like the perfect brunch spot.

I had forgotten what a nice establishment it ( they ) are. The wood has that well-sanded French farmhouse feel, the chairs are simple, yet sturdy, and the cuisine prefers grainy breads and farmhouse produce. We found a solid oak table near the multi-paned glass windows and enjoyed our meal in the aenemic winter’s morning light.

I looked up the movie times at the Regal Arbor Cinema at Great Hills Trail ( where we tend to see most of the movies we go see ) and noticed that the amazing Helen Mirren was executing another demonstration of her excellent gift for playing royal, british, women, named Elizabeth. Her presentation of the hard and vulnerable, bossy yet irresolute, royal yet crude in Elizabeth II made me a big fan, and the reviews for The Queen were nothing short of glowing.

In addition to her awards honors, Mirren was recently named the sexiest woman over sixty by The Daily Record.

“The Queen” is an excellent exploration the psychology of the royals and into just what an eventful time the British were having in the summer of 1997. The movie opens with Tony Blair coming in upon a popular, modernizing mandate to throw off the shackles of Tory ideology. The Queen shows the mastery of this traditional role, though she was rather displeased with the result, she knew how to graciously put the young man into his place ( “Winston Churchill once sat in that chair…” and “You’re my Nth prime minister”“, etc.”)

Yet while on holiday at Balmoral ( stunning scenery! ), the events of the summer of 1997 unfolded with the death of the ex-princess, Diana, in Paris. As the public sorrow grows their yearning for a statement from the queen grows. Blair tries to navigate the distance between a modern public raised on the Oprah culture of tears and public pain displays ( which, I must agree, has gotten a bit much, hasn’t it? ) and the more stately British “stiff upper lip” society which requested its queen to show resolve, hardness, and stability.

The miscalculation of this change in attitude is masterfully displayed by directory Stephen Frears who offers an exceedingly even-handed demonstration of the complex rules of protocol to which her position is still bound. With her consort Philip asserting the old guard of protocol, and Blair trying to help keep the royals modern and connected to their public, the queen ultimately adapts to the new reality.

Mirren is one of the best actresses from below her nose to her chin. With her slight pout and crinkled mouth she conveys the spirit if not the actual facial mannerisms of Elizabeth II.

The movie made my audience laugh out loud in several spots because of the decisions that make sense in royal-land. One interesting exchange results around the informing of The Queen that the flowers being lain by mourners are blocking the entrance for the changing of the guard. The Queen, not looking up from her reading material, says “Yes, yes, have them cleared away.” Attempting to save her from her PR gaffe the secretary suggest that it “might be better if the guard were to use the North entrance.” The Queen looks up and, without a hint of the gaffe she’d been saved from says, “Oh yes, yes, quite so.”

There are some great tongue in cheek jokes as well. Waxing humiliated ( yet always queenly ), to Mister Blair that her public had come to ‘hate’ her ( 1 in 4 in favor of abolishing the monarchy ), she remarked to the the-wildly-popular Blair that one day the public would turn on him, faster than he could have expected. Blair seems to absorb this truth, and the queen, with her track record of experience, was absolutely right. The support of the Bush war seems to have run the Lyndon Johnson treatment on his record of stunning public works.

After the movie we headed over to the car wash and cleaned the buggy before heading home. Later that night we watched The Constant Gardner. As always Rachel Weisz was beautiful, Ralph Fiennes was handsome, the corporations were evil, the wretched poor of Africa were wretched and poor, and people of noble intentions were crushed under the wretched love of money and Klashnikovs of a tribally-oriented which keeps Africa a wasteland of misery ruled by kleptocratic strongmen.

I had to give much thumbs up to Weisz for letting herself be filmed without makeup in facial close-ups. After the first ahem intimate afternoon between our protagonists, in softly lit tones against white pillows Fiennes' character is talking sweetly to her and we see Rachel’s face: ill made up, kinda cross-eyed from the proximity, crooked-teeth, everything. It’s probably the most real scene of intimacy I’ve ever seen presented on film. I applaud her daring as an actress for this.

Further, in the African scenes she’s not made-made up, slightly sweaty, in ugly T-shirts, etc. She’s wearing what you’d wear if you were in malarial heat and had been walking through squalor. And on top of that she lets herself be filmed nude and pregnant ( for she was so with director Darren Aronofsky’s child at the time of filming ). All in all, in our beauty-obsessed film culture she was very daring and very, very real.

The movie, as I alluded to in the summation, is a real downer.

Oh Friday night we visited The Hyde Park Bar and Grill in Westgate not, uh, in Hyde Park. Apparently they’re expanding their empire. It was an excellent meal. Chicken, salad, and excellent fries were shared by we two. It was also surprising when I saw The League’s brother, Steanso, come meandering in with a small horde. I gave him a brief shout of hello and Lauren and I introduced ourselves on our way out. It’s strange seeing people you know in town. All those years in the valley I can’t remember coming across people I knew just by accident. Life there is broken my friends.

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