After an idyllic summer, it’s easy to forget that winter still hits Southern California. Granted, the weather doesn’t get horrible, sunny days are throughout, but temperature does drop enough that those outdoor Pacific Ocean activities take a hiatus. So, with the final season approaching, what better time than to take a trip to beautiful Catalina Island, for their annual film festival. We hopped on the Catalina Express from Long Beach, Bloody Mary and breakfast burrito in hand to arrive at Avalon an hour later in a setting that feels like a true vacation and a million miles from the LA hustle. Although we attended primarily for the Premiere screening of my film “Stefano Formaggio”, it was impossible not to indulge in the island life and activities, so between screenings and gala premieres of Nicolas Cage’s “Left Behind” and “William H Macy’s promising directorial debut “Rudderless”, we trundled off-road on the island conversancy’s Jeep Eco Tour amongst wild Buffalo (left behind from a 1920’s film shoot); sang our way through the Nautilus yellow submarine tour of the ocean floor, complete with fish food torpedoes; kayaked amongst sea-lions and leopard sharks; explored the trails on the island’s signature golf-carts; and zip-lined from the mountains to the Descanso beach club for a refreshing margarita. A sumptuous seafood lunch at the Bluewater Grill and a stunning coastal view from the refreshing corner suite at the Metropole hotel finished us off nicely before returning to the mainland.
Americans love going all out for festivities, so from day one of October it’s acceptable to get in the Halloween spirit. We stretched our zombie-killing muscles at Hollywood Haunted Sports, an amazing paintball arena (nestled not in Hollywood, but worringly adjacent to the real battleground of Compton) where live action ghouls become the targets in an interactive spooky shooting range. From rigor mortis to rock, we were thoroughly impressed with Eric Zayne’s energetic set at Molly Malone’s, before returning to the hood of Watts, this time on screen for a introspective examination of criminal reform in the gritty yet ultimately uplifting “Imperial Dreams” starring Brit John Boyega. The special event at agency powerhouse CAA also raised awareness for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and InsideOUT Writers to tackle the problem.
Less thought-provoking was a private screening of “Noah”, where during a Q&A with director Darren Aronofsky, I never got to ask exactly what Sir Anthony Hopkins’ fascination with berries was, or how much he got paid to crawl around on the floor for a couple of days. Clearly much more than the budget of “Stuck” by Stuart Acher, who managed to wow cinema audiences with great performances that weekend, in his tale of morning-after discomfort and the excellent tagline “Wham. Bam. Traffic Jam.” A post-movie cocktail at Brit stalwart Soho House carried me over to celebrating the anniversary of Brits In LA at their famed Cecconis breakfast, thanks to sponsor Air New Zealand who provided the munch that morning to promote their new LA – London routes.
They say a way to a man’s loyalty is through his stomach – I booked my Christmas flight home on ANZ, whilst zooming up the Pacific Coast Highway in my Jaguar XJS to Carmel, home of once-mayor Clint Eastwood, where “Stefano Formaggio” was selected to play the film festival. It was great to return to where we shot many of the scenes, and stay in this picturesque storybook town. The Vagabonds House Inn hosted us with an exquisite courtyard room with inventive, personalized classy decor, a stunning wine and cheese party to promote the film and rejuvenating massages and body scrub treatments – one of the best boutique hotel experiences you can have. The weekend breezed through a blur of films, food, drinks, and an incredible filmmakers beach BBQ party, and we bid adieu, driving north to San Francisco, just in time to catch Brit dance icons Massive Attack perform their hits at the Treasure Island Music Festival looking out over the iconic bay.
Back in LA, I caught up for a brief brunch at the Larchmont Bungalow with some great UK talent making waves on these shores: Jimmy Akingbola, Tehmina Sunny and Ty Glaser. The UK actors are definitely in vogue right now (particularly Tehmina who was actually IN Vogue) and with shows like the stylish “Peaky Blinders” hitting Netflix, US TV better watch out. Just like we did, at Halloween attraction Knotts Scary Farm, the theme park’s take on the spooky festivities, adding extra frights to every ride and hilarious adult shows that make you laugh hard and question your morals. If I’d had any intact, I’d certainly lost them by the time we attended Festival Supreme – a bizarre music and comedy fest at the Shrine auditorium which made you feel like a participant in a loony bin with a deafening soundtrack of gurgled oddity. Hats off to Eric Andre though, whose riotous stand-up interspersed with clips from his Adult Swim TV show confirmed him as the future king of crazy. By the time Halloween actually came around, we opted for a quiet night (not) dressed as Despicable Me minions at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt.
Phew, back to work. A little light networking at Legacy Entertainment partners fruitful American Film Market party set me up right for a day off to enjoy my LAversary with friends and the happy hour at Littlefork, where I celebrated 8 years in Hollywood with the same number of beers and deliciously prepared oysters. Perhaps a few more. I got my 70’s groove on at Houston Bros’ hotspot Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, and got my entrepreneur on at BeGreatFest checking out the latest startups and advice from Silcon Beach’s new kids on the block. We bounced through the Nike Jordan NBA party in an aircraft hangar, and trundled through the west watching Tommy Lee Jones’ epic turn as director / actor in The Homesman, with a Q&A by Oscar-winner Hilary Swank. We checked out cool concept cars including the new Mini, at the LA Auto Show as VIP guests of Jaguar and Britweek, and then roadtripped in our own Jag to wild-west town Temecula to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a little light wine-tasting, a lot of cooking and a round of hysterical retro board game “I Think You Think I Think” where players are tested on their knowledge of their buddies. Before I could say Black Friday, we’d packed our bags, played out our Christmas farewells at fun Hollywood game center Dave & Busters, and boarded our Air New Zealand flight back to the homeland, for a whole month. It was a great feeling to land in London at Christmas time, with clear blue skies, condensed breath and frosted grass. It’s truly a stunning city, full of incredible architecture, and this time, I really noticed the positive and warm energy amongst people, sporting their Christmas jumpers two weeks early. My first stop was strangely the dentist, where I was advised my American orthodontist wanted to drill and pull healthy teeth, so rest assured that my Christmas dinner would not need to be blended, we sashayed through a grand old London time: ice-skating on South Bank, cozy pub lunches, mulled wine and fun rides at the epic Winter Wonderland, the opening of bridal designer Hermione Harbutt’s Kensington store, dinner at Shepherd Market, and morning runs through Regents Park. Being a hop skip and an easyjet jump away, it was rude not to pop to Geneva, for a five star stay in the ultra-luxurious Beau Rivage, a hotel steeped in family history, elegantly designed, overlooking Lake Geneva. We prepped our Christmas appetite with an extraordinary chef’s tasting menu by Phillippe Bourrel at Le Richemond’s Le Jardin which carried through a rich and delicious black truffle theme in each course, followed by a lunch of culinary artwork at Mandarin Oriental’s Café Calla. We ventured to the cute town of Carouge for some low-key fondue before returning to London for Christmas with the family, and one last zip around via high-tea and pantomimes in Bath, Birmingham curry, and rustic roast dinners in The Cotswolds, before jetting to Poland, to eat too many pierogi and shout “Szczęśliwego nowego roku!” in Warsaw, as we welcomed 2015, with my news year’s resolution to…. Never fly Ryanair again.