I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,  a book I liked.  Upon second reading, I re-liked it all over again…but even more.  I LOVED it on the second read.
Why?  Well, could it be attributed to growing older (I first read it in 2009)? Or experiencing more loss and pain in life?  Or maybe just being in the mood for a sentimental book?
Well, whatever it was that made me change my GOOD read to a GREAT read, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this story.  There is something for everyone here…romance, history, sentimentality, friendship, etc.
One of the things I forgot was how immersed you get into the world of Guernsey and the period of the story (post-WWII).  I remember adding Guernsey to my “must see” travel list right after I finished this book the first time.  Well, this time, I wanted to RUN there.  Between the sense of place and the sense of history, I felt like I was right there, in 1940s Guernsey, chatting with the characters and partaking of some potato peel pie.  The characters all jump off the page so it is easy to imagine them conversing with me about books and travel and the hardships of the war.
Told exclusively through letters exchanged from Guernsey natives to Juliet, a writer who is searching for her next story, this book begins in 1946, after the Germans left Guernsey.  Juliet lives in London and somehow, one of Guernsey’s residents comes across a book that has Juliet’s name in it so he writes to her.  This letter strikes up a series of events that leads to Juliet and some of her friends traveling to Guernsey and becoming one of the Guernsey family.
No, it is not one of the finest books ever written.  But, sometimes you just need a book to transport you to another world for a little while…something that takes your mind away from the ordinary and the mundane.  For me, this was that book.  Maybe it will be yours too.

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Summer in Provence sounds good to me. Since this year I cannot afford to go, I’m rewatching two of my favorite Provence films. If you are in the same boat as me (no money), try watching the South of France go by on your TV, rather than running up your credit card. Two films come to mind in particular that breathe new life into the Provence region of France…an area consumed with lavender, wine and the art of kicking back! Can anything be better than that?!?!?!

Both films are based on books by British native and Provence transplant Peter Mayle, a former ad man in London who, along with his wife, decides to retire early in a farmhouse in Provence’s Luberon region. Mayle began writing both fiction and nonfiction once in France and all of his books reflect the art of fun, sun and relaxation that Provence seems to have perfected.

Mayle’s most famous book, A Year in Provence, tells the story of his first months in Provence and what hurdles he and his wife had to overcome to adjust to French living.  It was later made into a mini-series starring Inspector Morse’s John Thaw and is a true experience of the culture, people and general “soul” of the place.  You get a true sense of the area, the people and the lifestyle that the French call La Dolce Vita…which means The Good Life.  A Year in Provence is filled with the “air” of Provence…the images, the language, the smells, the culture, etc.  This is a FUN time…there is something for everybody: scenery, humor, culture, beauty. How can you miss?!?!?!

A Good Year is based on a novel by Mayle about a London financial wizard who returns to Provence to sell the estate left to him by his late uncle. This film transported me to Provence…body, mind and spirit. It is a charming, fun-loving film that made me not only want to go to Provence, but wanted to buy a chateau and vineyard there for a permanent move. And of course, fall in love there. Will any of this happen? Probably not, but watching A Good Year will bring all of us about as close to those things as we’re ever going to get. This movie really brought the region and its people and its sense of romance alive. And when I say romance, I do not only mean love. I mean a romantic feel in the charm and the general air of the locale. Basically, the romance of life. In this story, the Russell Crowe character has a life with NO romance in London. He’s money-driven and career-obsessed. He even has lost touch with his expatriate uncle who had a winery in Provence where Crowe’s character used to vacation as a child. Why did he lose contact with the uncle? Well, because money and his job and his quest to be the best got in his way. After his uncle passes, he finds out the chateau has been left to him. Most people (myself, most definitely) would jump at the chance to live in France rent-free but, of course, this just gets in the Crowe’s character’s way in his pursuit of power. Once he gets there, though, it is another matter. And that’s pretty much the power Provence has over someone even as career-minded as Crowe. And it’s also pretty much the same power this film had over me.

So instead of heading to the airport, head to Niles to check out these titles that are set in a region in France that hopefully we will all visit one day. Until then…these movies will have to do!

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Now, this is not one of my favorite films ever, but, for a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s very strong…mostly because of its performance by Christoph Waltz as Nazi officer Colonel Landa. It’s a long film, and like Tarantino’s other works, it’s very stylized and very violent. But, it features performances that make it worth seeing and Waltz’s performance, in particular, propels this film from standard-violent-war-movie to an excellent work of cinema. Waltz steals every moment he is on screen…unlike most Nazi characters portrayed in movies (I’m especially thinking of Ralph Fiennes’ cold-blooded killing machine in Schindler’s List), Waltz plays Landa with a sincerity and seeming likeability. We think “what is he after,” since we never know what to expect with this quietly deranged character; his light demeanor constantly keeps us off guard. And Tarantino really does capitalize off of this stellar performance. Landa’s scenes are visually elegant and the cast in scenes with Waltz seem to be pulling out all of the stops to give their best performance to match Landa’s maniacal, yet pleasant chill. As for the movie on a whole, it is a new twist on the WWII years in Europe…told with a strong film and filmmaking element. For movie buffs (like myself), I did enjoy the dialogue between the characters about the movie industry and 1930s directors and actors, etc. And, whether you like that “Hollywood” angle or not, it is something that really has not been touched on in a major way before. The style is unique, as usual for Tarantino, and his brash, bold techniques add to the power and intensity of the film. If you can tolerate the violence, check this one out! It’s a far cry from Pulp Fiction, but it’s a strong film on its own…highlighted by exceptional performances.

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The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle is a fun, light wine mystery set mostly in the South of France that will get your taste buds all set for a good bottle of vino! Not really a true “mystery” (there is a caper element towards the end of the book) but rather more of a breezy whodunit where the end result is no where near as much fun as the finding-out-who part. Mayle (of A Year in Provence fame) knows how to write great characters with wonderful inter-play and chemistry…making this almost as much fun as an episode of Moonlighting (the TV show from the 1980s). And the setting of Marseilles, rural Provence, Paris, and even Los Angeles make for a perfect backdrop to this entertaining romp about stolen wine.

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This film is what I wanted the film Under the Tuscan Sun to be…a true experience of the culture, people and general “soul” of the place. The region of Provence in France is a beautiful region…similar to Italy’s Tuscany in the way people rave of its beauty and its scents and its postcard images. This series is based on the book of the same title by Peter Mayle, a former ad man in London who, along with his wife, decide to retires early in a farmhouse in Provence’s Luberon region. Mayle’s book became a sensation (mostly because it is about someone who actually does something that most people just dream of) just like Frances Mayes’ book about “escaping” to Italy…Under the Tuscan Sun. Unfortunately, the film version of Mayes’ book was changed into more of an exploration of romance instead of a study of Tuscany and its people. This TV version of Mayle’s book, on the other hand, is exactly what the book is…and more! When I say more, I do not mean to criticize Mayle’s beautiful book in any way. I just mean that SEEING Provence in its full glory surpasses the written word some. And what sights you see here! A Year in Provence is filled with the “air” of Provence…the images, the language, the smells, the culture, etc. This is a FUN time…there is something for everybody: scenery, humor, culture, beauty. How can you miss!

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From the writer and director of The Closet, this film is another French comedy success…in the grand tradition of some of the classic French farces (i.e. La Cage aux Folles). The main character is a nerdy guy who’s unsuccessful in the love, looks, and job departments (he’s a valet). Coincidentally, he gets photographed next to a supermodel. Because of a series of comic circumstances, he and the model must “pose” to be lovers and even live together so it appears their proximity in the photograph is legit. Both actors, the valet (Gad Elmaleh) and the model’s real but married lover (Daniel Auteuil), are just perfect in their roles…especially Auteuil, who is one of France’s most talented actors, in both comedies and dramas. It’s a short movie that you want to go on and on since it’s almost too good to end. A must for all comedy lovers…whether you like foreign films or not! And, while you’re at it, check out The Closet too. That one is also a must see!

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When I saw Monster or The Queen, I felt like I had seen movies where the actors (in these cases, Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren respectively) embodied the persona of a real-life person. In La Vie en Rose Marion Cotillard takes it one step forward…she embodies the persona and the SOUL of the Edith Piaf. When I was watching this, I just became immersed with Piaf and this movie. I was in a trance…mesmerized in the performance. I had seen Cotillard in A Good Year, a romantic comedy in which she played the love interest to Russell Crowe. She was a striking, tall, stunningly beautiful woman with close-to-perfect features and almost an ethereal quality. In La Vie en Rose, she is truly Piaf…hunched over, small, course, and beautiful only the eyes of a few select people. What is beautiful, mostly, about Piaf, is her voice. Watching Cotillard, though, makes this short, awkward woman a striking person without an overabundance of physical beauty. Without adding any physical attributes to her, Cotillard brings out the inner beauty of Piaf…in both the depth of the fabulous performance and with the sparkle always shining through Piaf’s eye whenever Cotillard is shown. The movie, itself, is a good deal too long and would be quite tedious if I were not memorized with the performance. I’m sure it could have benefited with some serious time in the editing room…as long as no scenes featuring Piaf were cut out. She’s way too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

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Blake Edwards’ directs this comedy about a destitute singer (Julie Andrews) who meets up with a gay, out of work nightclub performer, Toddy. He comes up with a plan for them both to be successful involving her changing her image from a woman to a man to a woman. Complications set in when she falls in love with a mobster (James Garner) who is homophobic and convinced she is a woman. Alex Karris steals all of the scenes he is in as Garner’s bodyguard who is coming to terms with his own sexuality in the midst of this whole mess. Definitely the best film from the husband and wife team of Edwards/Andrews.

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