The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

My sister and I took our mother to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last weekend. I had slightly low expectations, but we figured she would like it because it was set in India and the main characters were retirees, like her.

The film revolves around a group of aging Londoners who find themselves traveling to Jaipur, India to settle in a retirement resort that promises to be a luxurious, yet affordable, tropical paradise. The group consists of a recent widow, a married couple on the verge of their fortieth wedding anniversary, a wheel-chair bound woman seeking hip replacement surgery, a former high court judge, a single grandmother on the prowl for a rich husband, and a geriatric ladies’ man. Not exactly a fascinating crew on paper.

When they arrive to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, they find that it is a dusty shell of past grandeur. The paint on the walls are peeling, there are birds roosting in bedrooms, and the telephones don’t work. The current owner/manager is a young Indian man, played by Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire, who skips around, both physically and in speech, and who somehow convinces them all to bear with him while he restores the hotel to its former glory.

image via foxsearchlight.com
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy in Jaipur

Set against the bustling and colorful backdrop of Jaipur, new relationships are forged while old ones are tested. Personalities come out, as do stories of people’s pasts. The script is corny and predictable at times, and in the hands of a less talented cast, this movie would have been a complete failure, but it was saved by possibly the greatest acting ensemble to ever come together for such a simple project. The list is remarkable – Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, and Celie Imrie. There was a rumor that Peter O’Toole and Julie Christie had been slated to play two of the parts, and as hugely talented as they are, I think the final casting was better (Nighy and Wilton got those parts).

In comparison, British actor Dev Patel’s skills were lacking. I was disappointed by his inability to muster up a believable local accent; he sounded like he was performing a comical mimicry of an Indian person. His character is supposed to be from a successful, cosmopolitan family, and yet he spoke with a gibberish patois that was beyond irritating, although this could be blamed on the writing as well. His mother, played by the beautiful and reliable cross-over actress Lillete Dubey, spoke better English than her young son.

There were also some film conveniences taken that bothered me, for instance, how did these random strangers all happen to decide to move to India at exactly the same time? And how is it possible that for the two months of the film, not a single other retiree arrives at the hotel to check in? And why didn’t it ever rain? A film set in India in the summer has to have rain! And how did Judi Dench’s character’s Dell laptop never get swiped out of her room? I’ll have to put these questions to rest in my brain because I’ll never get answers to them.

Overall, the film was based on a silly premise, but the cast made it worth watching. Judi Dench and Bill Nighy were exceptional. Whether the chemistry between all of the actors was real or not, they’re so good you believe everything they do, and it’s enough to distract from all the failures of the film. Also, my mother liked it, so that was all that mattered.

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Daguerreville

This past weekend I was up in Orange County, NY and I attended a lecture given by Michelle Delaney from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. A photography historian for the past two decades, Delaney has recently focused on an area of the Hudson River Valley once known as Daguerreville. This unofficial name was given to an area near the Quassaic Creek (a tributary to the Hudson River right on the border of Newburgh and New Windsor) based on the presence of a large factory manufacturing photographic equipment, as well as interesting developments of early color photography.

Unfortunately, little is known about the company or the area in photographic history. Delaney has been researching local photography from the 19th century, as well as a Reverend Levi Hill who lived in Orange County around the same time and who was experimenting with colorizing daguerreotypes, in competition with chemists in Europe.

While the premise of the lecture was intriguing, it was a bit short and anti-climactic because her work is still in progress. Basically she is trying to broaden her findings and is looking to hear from anyone who knows more about the families involved in the daguerreotype movement in the Hudson Valley area, and who can provide more information about Hill, the equipment mills near the river, or where exactly Daguerreville was once located.

The setting for the afternoon lecture was the historic Captain David Crawford House in the city of Newburgh. Built by a maritime businessman for his family in the 19th century, the interior of the house has been restored with period-quality pieces, as well as some unique, original sketches of Crawford and his wife and child.

I’ve always loved touring old, historic homes and this was no exception. Downstairs, we could see a large greeting room, as well as a dining room. ¬†Upstairs were a master bedroom and a childrens’ room, as well as a set of doors going to what must be a very large reading library. The front of the house was under a bit of scaffolding, and the vast porch was experiencing some peeling and fading paint, but it was still an impressive home that had been maintained through history.

Sprinkles

Cupcakes
780 Lexington Avenue
(212)  207-8375
Website

I stopped in at Sprinkles for the first time last week. I had always heard that it was a hugely popular cupcake chain on the west coast (and their company slogan seems to take credit for the cupcake craze of the past decade), but it took me a year to finally check out their first store here in New York. The shop is very small and gets crowded quickly. There’s a cute little seating area that features big seats for adults and smaller seats for kids, or perhaps dogs – they seem very dog-friendly. In fact, they’re also very people-friendly. Everyone who works at the store is extremely nice. When I visited there were about four people working behind the counter. They took turns helping customers on line and made sure to ask everyone their name. Then they would address the customer by name several times while they packaged the order and processed payments. It’s like that party trick where when you meet someone new, you’re supposed to address them by name three times and then you remember it forever.

I loved the display cases. So streamlined and organized!

I purchased two cupcakes – the salty caramel (which has a limited run until May 27th) and the red velvet. When I got home I tried the salty caramel first. The cake was described as a caramel flavored cake, but the flavor was faint. It was, however, extremely moist and buttery. The frosting was a smooth butter and cream cheese frosting, this time with a distinct caramel flavor, sprinkled with fleur de sel. There was a little too much frosting for the amount of cake, but since it was so delicious, I didn’t mind. Overall, buttery goodness.

I decided to give the red velvet cupcake to my mother so I only got to try a tiny bite, possibly not enough to get a full impression. It was moist and sweet, but didn’t have the tanginess that I like in a red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting.

At $3.50 a cupcake, I doubt I will make frequent trips to Sprinkles, especially since I can easily make a batch of them at home for the price of just one there. However, in future moments of weakness and laziness, I can imagine being drawn to their salty caramel – when it’s available.

Community, the Video Game

I guess there’s no hug button.

Last night, NBC aired an unusual number of new episodes of Community, the final three of the season, and hopefully not the final three of the series. It’s a great show that hasn’t gotten enough recognition over the years, and as I recall the threat of cancellation loomed over it before this season began.

In the first of the three episodes, Pierce (played by Chevy Chase), finds out that his late father left a sizable inheritance, but the recipient would be the first person to win a custom-made video game using an avatar based on their likeness. The use of the video game was a final dig at Pierce who apparently thought video games were more important than what his father made his riches on – personal wiping cloths. This is made more interesting by the fact that Pierce is totally clueless about video games.

Pierce naturally invites along the rest of the study group, even before he knows what’s in store. In typical Community-style irony, they all sit down in personal, high-tech cubicles, only to be rendered as old-school video game characters in a pixelated world reminiscent of early Super Mario Brothers, but cross-bred with Oregon Trail with a dash of Prince of Persia version 1.0. Most of the episode is shown in this 8-bit universe as The Greendale 7 try to navigate through the levels with all of their usual quirks and personal interactions.

I was a super nerdy child of the 80s and this episode brought back a lot of memories of old games I used to play on my first computer – that is, my family’s first computer. Kids back then didn’t get their own electronic devices.

I really hope Community comes back in the fall. They’ve done an excellent job developing the core characters over the years and have always balanced humor, sentiment, and geekdom perfectly. I also hope the NBC website soon offers a version of the Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne game!

The beginning of the episode and a glimpse into the fun 80s era video game depicted in it are available here.

Baked Pineapple Oatmeal

Last week I bought a whole fresh pineapple and cut it up into rings and chunks to keep around as a snack. After two days I had gotten bored of it but there was still so much left. I decided to use some of it in a baked oatmeal dish for breakfast and it came out great!

I left two servings of steel-cut oatmeal soaking overnight in water as suggested on the packaging. The next morning, I put pineapple chunks into a baking dish and sprinkled them with cinnamon, nutmeg, light brown sugar, sea salt, and a few drops of pure vanilla extract. I covered the fruit with the soaked oatmeal, and topped it with more pineapple and seasonings. Then I poured milk over it, just enough to cover all the oatmeal, and baked it in the oven for about forty minutes.

The pineapple chunks retained their shape and tartness even after baking and didn’t get mushy, but that may be because they were on the large side of bite-sized. I also liked the texture of the oatmeal more than when I’ve prepared it on a stove top. This method could easily be used for any variety of mix-ins, like other fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, or even chocolate!