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April 18, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | April 18, 2008 |

Pop culture item consumed: There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic oil baron period piece starring Daniel Day-Lewis. More importantly, however, the film was viewed in the Business Class cabin of Air France Flight 0084 from Paris to San Francisco. Hah!

Beverage consumed: In a defiantly celebratory gesture on the last day of my 18-day vacation, one-and-one-half bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte super brut, a crisp, clean champagne, courtesy of Air France, on a substantial hangover during a five-hour cinematic orgy that also included The Golden Compass, about which all I will say here is “ugh - did I miss Daniel Craig or is he actually not in it?”

While I strongly caution against champagne as an everyday hangover cure, to every rule there is an exception. French champagne served in a premium Air France cabin not only defuses post-drinking woes, it also (1) cures consumption, (2) generates peace between Israeli and Palestinian passengers, (3) renders genital warts not contagious (at least that’s what the flight attendant told me in lavatory), and (4) makes the snaggle-toothed Dutchwoman in 4C bear a striking resemblance to Juliette Binoche.

Summary of action: It’s hard to describe the feeling of sitting in Business Class on Air France, drinking expensive champagne and watching a great film. “Good” springs to mind, along with “Mmmmm, Zog like!” and “plus frommage, ma minx petite.” Three columns in a row could not fully extol the virtues of fine bubbly, but a few words of hard-earned wisdom are on offer here.

Nothing feels quite like quality champagne, with its genial, effervescent nature and inherent things-could-be-worse optimism. The flip-side of that coin is, do not drink crap champagne. If it’s worth having, it’s worth avoiding a sugar-coma-inducing “sparkling wine” on special at Albertson’s for $7.99. As a bonus to its general wonderfulness on its own, champagne is sturdy and versatile. The champagne cocktail is a fine, honorable squire suitable for sipping; the French .75, discussed here at length several weeks ago, is one of my favorite cocktails of all time, with gin, lemons, champagne, and bar syrup.

A few more observations about champagne:

- Serve it super cold, even the good stuff. When we’re feeling especially daring, the missus and I put it in the freezer for 20 minutes before opening, but be careful, as it will explode on your ass, leaving you a messy clean-up and ripping a hole in the Ore-Ida/time continuum. The safer method is to fill the flutes and place them in the freezer for ten minutes, but I like a challenge. Yes, kids, ol’ socalled’s big thrill of a Saturday night is taunting Murphy’s Law by attempting the fabled champagne slushy.

- A word on Prosecco; that word is “no.” I admire the Italians for many things — after much study, I have to say probably the hottest women on the planet — but once you get past red wine, their contributions to alcohol are questionable at best. Prosecco, Campari, grappa … I could gag on and on.

- The dollar is trading so poorly against the Euro right now that champagne has spiked in cost in the last couple of years; look for primary label workhorses from larger quality houses like Taittinger or Laurent Perrier, which can be had in the $25 range, or try a good California sparkling wine like Gloria Ferrer or Taittinger.

- Do not play quarters with champagne.

- Do not drink champagne between other beverages, especially if you’re playing quarters. Beer-then-liquor-never-sicker is an old wives’ tale, as is liquor-then-beer-you’re-in-the-clear. But mixing champagne into a series of imbibements will fuck your shit up, hard. The worst Level Five Hangover of my life followed a beer → vodka → Korbel → Canadian Mist debacle. The Five Levels of Hangover will be another column, but for now, a word to the wise: Champagne is for starting and/or finishing.

Now. What could better complement my dinner of foie gras terrine et bouef avec choux de Bruxelles (Hide, megbon, hide!) than a viewing of There Will Be Blood, which, despite my cinephile hard-on for Daniel Day-Lewis, I had not previously seen. At the press of a button, my Business Class seat/monster-truck reclines to a point where I am at a 20-degree angle from the floor, tilted slightly toward the surprisingly large personal viewing screen. Seriously, Air France’s premium seat is the shit; it looks like Captain Pike’s wheelchair/limo from “Star Trek,” but it is wonderfully comfortable and has an array of buttons designed to bring music, video, booze, snacks, or games, not to mention calling for assistance with operating the fucking chair. Air France woobie comfortably covering my toes? Check. Half-bottle of Feuillatte snagged from the beverage cart in First Class? Check. Mrs. socalled safely asleep? Check. Let’s drink that milkshake!

Three hours later: [NOTE: Minor thematic spoilers ahead] No mistake about it, There Will Be Blood is great cinema, a masterpiece. Can I just say, I’m a little perplexed by the bulk of the commentary I’ve heard about this film, which focused on its “indictment of capitalism” and Daniel Plainview’s “maniacal oil baron.” Wow, I can’t disagree more. There Will Be Blood is a full frontal attack on organized religion and its willful, dishonest crackback block on the can-do spirit of the independent American entrepreneur. The film does not shy away from the evils of unchecked capitalism, to be sure, such as Plainview’s brusque indifference to full disclosure with potential business partners. Plainview is every bit the protagonist, however, and his moral lapses are firmly in the grey areas (except for that last, um, murder). More to the point, Plainview shuns stereotypical capitalist mores, hewing closely to his own heart’s desires and shunning the established capitalist structures of the large oil companies. When he makes a contract, he’s honest on his statements and backs up his guarantees; when tragedy strikes, he is responsible; when cornered by a greedy oil company, he innovates.

Interestingly, if “innovation” includes faking religion to win over the mouth-breathers, then Plainview does it. Do we think that’s wrong, viewers? In so doing, dear Pajibans, he’s just like your probable candidate-of-choice, be it Hillary, Barack, or Johnnie Mc, not to mention countless other ambitious schemers who could not give a shit about the big J.C. but dearly, dearly want to separate you from your vote, your cash, and probably your panties. Especially Hillary.

Americans in particular, but Westerners generally to some degree, have become accustomed to having their protagonists presented to them in white-hatted glory on a field of black opposition. “Wait, Daniel Day-Lewis murdered someone? Well, he can’t be the hero then.” Um, yeah … sometimes the hero murders someone who betrays him. Sometimes the hero is a plain old businessman who uses his superior knowledge to wrangle the best contract from the townsfolk. Sometimes the hero isn’t the best father in the world. Sometimes the hero pretends to be something he’s not in order to get his way.

Plainview is a deeply flawed man, without a doubt, and the final 30 minutes of the film are a cautionary tale about excess and obsession. Yet examining the film, and Plainview’s life, as one whole piece, I’m struck by the tale of a man from humble circumstances and a dysfunctional family, seizing the opportunity to make his own successful way in the world, a magnificent tower of iron will who carves bounty out of the earth. In all that I’ve read about this film, the betrayal by organized religion of its espoused ideals has received only minor attention, though it feeds the critical denouement of the story. In the end, the supposed spiritual bulwark and protector of the common folk is revealed as an imposter, a greedy wretch lower than the most base businessman. That is the essence of this film, and I think I enjoyed There Will Be Blood all the more because it thumbed its Daniel Day-Lewis hook nose at the conventional “wisdom” I had received before viewing it.

See it with eyes open; ignore what you have heard and form your own opinion of Daniel Plainview and his nemesis, Eli Sunday. (And if those two names don’t tell you who to root for, I can’t help you.)

Random Travel Notes and Trivia: Strangely, Air France denies passengers a metal butter knife while at the same time handing out wine glasses like a fire sale at Bed Bath & Beyond. To Mrs. socalled’s chagrin, I kept miming breaking my wine glass and making threats like “Vhee haf taken zee plane, Herr Frog!” and “If vhee are Deutschland unt First Class iz zee Rhineland, den vhee vhill be in zee pilot’s seat by zupper!” [What are you doing, honey? The life preserver is already under your seat, you can’t get under there too!]

No one sleeps harder than Mrs. socalled on an international flight. Sunlight streaming in, people chattering, glasses clinking, socalled whining in fear of what used to be Nicole Kidman, and the missus is lights-out. Even if I could sleep on a plane - and I can’t — I’m not sleeping on this one! I cashed in 160,000 points to get two business class tickets to Europe, which raises two important questions: (1) Do you know how long it took me to spend $160,000 on one credit card? And (b) Why would you sleep when you can watch all the free movies you want and, far more importantly, drink as much champagne as FiFi LaCooch can roll out during an eleven-hour flight? No one cats around like ol’ socalled in his rare appearances in Business Class.

I wish I could report that I vomited on Sarah Jessica Parker while at the Plaza Atheneé in Paris, as “Sex and the City” has absolutely ruined the place. (For the unwashed, SJP stayed at Plaza Atheneé during the SatC finale.) Mrs. socalled and I were married at the Plaza Atheneé several years ago — this trip was for our fifth wedding anniversary, though we’ve been together for donkey’s years — and that first go-round was the finest hotel stay of my life. Alas, the hotel’s flavor-of-the-month status has both elevated its already-high opinion of itself and provided an excuse to fleece guests at every turn, starting with the €20-per-beverage minibar prices and continuing to laughable €120 breakfasts, as well as laundry charges that would make Marie Antoinette join the Peace Corps.

How well the pairing held up: Are you kidding? Feuillatte champagne was invented so that one could sit in Business Class and sneer at the groundlings in coach — where, of course, I would ordinarily be — all the while making comments in a faux French accent, like, “Eet eez reegreyttabull they have ohnnlee zee Culd Dook een Coach, nawhnn?”

Tastes like: Ah, Air France; U.S. carriers look like the swine trolleys they are once you’ve ridden a fine European carrier a few times. (When I say “ridden a fine European carrier,” I’m referring to Air France, but I’m imagining Brigitte Bardot.) I don’t usually get to ride up front, but Air France coach is still pretty stylish. Anyway, tastes like … a week in the penthouse of a luxury Parisian hotel with a frisky French stewardess named Geneviêve. You’d like to get in her knickers, but she doesn’t. wear. knickers … .

Overall rating: 18 out of 19 tears, all of which were shed the morning I woke up to my old life.

Next Week: Alien! Aliens! Insomnia in Roma, in Italiano!

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

What Happened, What Happened? He Spoke French, He's Dead!

There Will Be Blood: The Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

Boozehound Cinephile | April 18, 2008 |

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