Posts tagged ‘movies’

Double Feature

One of the most memorable post-kid dates for Tony and me came sometime around Ben’s first birthday. We went out to a movie (American Splendor) and then, realizing the night was still young and Ben wouldn’t need to nurse again for a while, we went to another (The Secret Lives of Dentists, which I wrote about much later). They are both good movies, but it didn’t even matter; what mattered was that we were free enough to do something extra, something spontaneous. It felt great.

Since then, of course, we’ve been getting out a little bit more regularly. I don’t feel so movie-deprived (the list over there in the sidebar is growing nicely), but the double feature is still a very rare treat. I wasn’t expecting one this weekend, after the 6 PM show of Avatar, but leaving the movie theater at 9 and knowing, since the kids were on a sleepover, that we wouldn’t have to get up early in the morning, we circled back to the ticket counter and checked the listings. 10 PM, Sherlock Holmes. Perfect.

Usually I have a lot to say (or write) about movies, but this pair took it all out of me! They are equally gorgeous; the watery blues and greens of Avatar‘s Pandora are getting all the press, but that actually felt more familiar to me (maybe because I am a frequent aquarium visitor?) than the foggy steampunk world of Sherlock Holmes’ London, and I thought both were innovative and beautiful (the closing credits of Sherlock Holmes are the best credit sequence I’ve seen in years). They are equally, unnecessarily long; I took a little nap during Avatar because I was bored, and another little nap during Sherlock because I was up past my bedtime, and I found myself editing each in my head.

As for the writing, well, there’s really nothing much to say about Avatar‘s script, is there? Though I do find myself wanting to make the distinction here between the story — fine, as far as it goes, though we’ve seen it before (“Dances with Smurfs,” scoffs a friend); I have no problem with new contexts for old stories — and the actual script, which is so full of tired lines it’s a wonder the actors could say them without laughing (“Bring the pain,” indeed). Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes doesn‘t rely on any one story for its script, in favor of the more sequel-friendly overview, which felt like a bit of a loss, even for someone like me who hasn’t absorbed all the stories. But watching Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law banter and flirt is so pleasurable, I’m ok with the filmmakers setting this one up for a franchise.

Finally, Sigourney Weaver, welcome back from your roles in Baby Mama (meh) and Infamous (loved); to me, you belong in space, and seeing you channel Ellen Ripley and Dian Fossey was one of my favorite aspects of Avatar.

image source

Fantastic Mr. Fox: The Sequel

At lunch today, Eli started talking about the differences between Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Wes Anderson’s film version. We’ve only seen the movie once, but Ben has been reading the book to Eli in the car, and the conversation about the two different versions of the story shows no sign of abating. So Eli announced he wanted to write a sequel to the book, one that would come to a more exciting conclusion than Roald Dahl’s. I offered to type it up for him, not knowing that I have been harboring a budding Gertrude Stein, someone who will write the same sentence over and over and just when you think you know how the paragraph is going to end — bam! — surprises you with a new detail.

Or maybe it’s just that while I was typing, he was running circles around the living room. Anyway, here it is:

Once upon a time, there were three farmers. Their names were Bunce, Boggis and Bean. They were trying to catch a fox, but he was too clever. So they were waiting at the fox’s hole so when the fox came out, they could shoot him. But the fox was too clever. Bunce was a geese and duck man. Boggis was a chicken man. Bean was a turkey and apple man. Let’s go back to the story. So, each night Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, “What should it be now, dear? chickens from Boggis, ducks and geese from Bunce, turkey or apple from Bean?” And then she would say, “A turkey from Bean, or, a chicken from Boggis, or, a geese from Bunce.” So after she said what she wanted, Mr. Fox would go out of his hole, sniff the air, and go to fetch what she wanted. The farmers did not like things getting stealed from them, so each night, they’d go down to the hole with their shotgun and wait. But the fox was too clever for that! So each night he would look around or sniff around and then he would go to whatever Mrs. Fox wanted and help himself. Then he would come back and get dinner ready and then they would eat dinner. Then they would go to sleep, wake up, Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, “What should it be now, dear? A chicken from Boggis, a geese or duck from Bunce, or some cider or turkey from Bean?” Then Mrs. Fox would say whatever she wanted and then Fantastic Mr. Fox would go out of his hole and help himself. The farmers had a bad idea. They would go in front of their farms, waiting for the fox. But then the fox went into the back door and they saw the fox go into the back door and they hid their gun in the back door and then Fantastic Mr. Fox would go into the front door and help himself. The farmers did not like that so they tried going back to his hole with their shotguns. And then it turned dark and Fantastic Mr. Fox said, “What would you like, dear?” And Mrs Fox would tell whatever she would like. And Mr Fox would dig a tunnel to solve the problem, a pretty big tunnel and then come out, do you know why? because if he came out the regular way he might get shot, so he dug a little tunnel where the farmers aren’t. So he would come up, and help himself. And the farmers saw his tunnel so they moved to that tunnel. He would come back out the regular tunnel and then fix up dinner and after dinner they would go to sleep. Then after they went to sleep, morning would come, so they would wake up. Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, “What should it be now, darling?” So Mrs. Fox would say whatever she wanted and then Mr. Fox would help himself. Then he would come back, fix up breakfast, eat it, have a little rest, then go get lunch. After lunch, the one fox would have a little play, then dinner arrived. Mr. Fox would say, “What should I get? A chicken from Boggis, a duck or geese from Bunce, or a turkey or jar of cider from Bean?” Mrs Fox would say what she wanted and then they would fix up dinner, go to sleep, do another day, next day they would wake up, get breakfast, eat breakfast. The little fox would have a play, get lunch, the little fox would have some play, then dinner arrived. They would eat dinner, another day passed, they would wake up, have breakfast. The little fox would have some play, eat lunch, the little fox would have some play, eat dinner, another day. [“It’s a long chapter,” noted Eli, “to get you into the story. You might not keep reading if it was just, “Once upon a time there were 3 farmers. Next chapter.” Fair enough.]

Next Chapter
They would get breakfast. The little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. After lunch, the little fox would have some more play, dinner arrived. Eat dinner, go to sleep, another day passes.

Another Chapter, Chapter 3
They would wake up, get breakfast, the little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would have some playtime, then dinner arrived. They would eat dinner, another day passes. Wake up, eat breakfast, the little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would have some more play while Fantastic Mr. Fox would read the newspaper while Mrs. Fox would clean dishes.

Chapter 4
Dinner arrived! They would eat dinner, go to sleep, another day would pass. They would wake up, they would get breakfast, eat breakfast, the little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would have some play, then dinner arrived.

Chapter 5
They would wake up, get breakfast, eat breakfast, the little fox would have some playtime, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would play while Fantastic Mr. Fox would read the newspaper and Mrs. Fox cleaned dishes. Then Fantastic Mr. Fox would fetch dinner, then they ate dinner, the little fox would have ten minutes of playtime and go to sleep. Another day passes.

Chapter 6
So they would wake up, get breakfast, the little fox would have some playtime, Fantastic Mr. Fox would get lunch, the little fox would have some playtime.

Chapter 7

To be continued…

Mama at the Movies: Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of the sweet highlights of our Christmas vacation was our first-ever family movie outing, which provided fodder for my newest column at Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve been looking for Ben’s first movie theater-movie for years. It had to be fairly quiet: no big explosions, no loud soundtrack (though we would bring ear plugs to protect against overzealous projectionists.) It had to be a gentle story: no heightened drama, no second act inflated by chase scenes. I could do without a lot of violence, car crashes or gun play (which make a surprising number of appearances even in G-rated kids’ movies) and a well-written movie that didn’t traffic in stereotypes would be welcome, though mostly I just wanted something that would make Ben laugh.

And so we found it, a movie about a fellow who makes a living as a thief until one day, while he is imprisoned for his crimes, he learns his wife is pregnant and he decides to go legit, writing a little-read column for the local newspaper. He settles into a modest life with his wife, a landscape painter, and his quirky son, a boy who embarrasses his father because he wears a bath towel as a cape and tucks his socks into his pants. When the boy’s cousin comes for an extended visit, the father isn’t ashamed to say that he prefers his socially-adept, athletic nephew to his son. But the quiet life bores him and he is tempted back into his life of crime, stealing from his neighbors, deceiving his wife, and ultimately putting his entire community at risk.


Fantastic Mr. Fox was perfect for us; ever since we saw it, the boys have been quoting lines, working on their whistling (to mimic Mr. Fox’s trademark), we even made the cookies. Click on over to Literary Mama to read more.

Mama at the Movies: Motherhood

How perfect! A movie about a woman trying to raise two kids in the city while also carving out time to write. I was eager to see Katherine Dieckmann’s new film, Motherhood, especially after reading the interview with her on Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt from my latest column:

Dressed in jeans and an old fleece, my hair pulled back into a messy bun, I looked exactly like what I am: a mom who’d just barely made it out of the house, leaving the post-dinner mess, homework supervision, and the kids’ bedtime to my husband so that I could see a movie. Glancing around the theater, I saw my compatriots, in ones and twos, one pair with a sling-cozy baby, eating balanced dinners of popcorn and peanut M&Ms.; Not date night, but mom’s night out at the movies as we all waited for the start of Motherhood, Katherine Dieckmann’s day-in-the-life film about Eliza Welsh, New York City mommy-blogger, former fiction writer, wife, and mother of two.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest, and let me know what you think!

Mama at the Movies: Where the Wild Things Are

We are not, I admit, a Where the Wild Things Are family; we’re In the Night Kitchen folks. Sendak’s fantasy of naked Mickey’s romp in a New York City kitchen offers an airplane ride, guitar-playing, and the promise of breakfast cake; it depicts a child’s solo adventure, but leads him gently back to bed at the end. It is the perfect story for my airplane-drawing, music-loving, kitchen-happy boys. Where the Wild Things Are, with Max’s fierce temper and the Wild Things’ raucous rumpussing, despite its blue-green cross-hatched beauty and peaceful ending, just scares my kids. There was no question of my movie-shy children attending the new film adaptation by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, especially after I heard them clarify that Where the Wild Things Are is not a film for children, but a film about childhood.

And for that, I love it.

click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

Where the Wild Things Are

no spoilers, I promise…

A lifetime ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I worked for a literary agent who specialized in children’s book writers and illustrators; his clients’ books now fill my kids’ shelves. Initially, I was hired to read manuscripts that came in from potential clients, and to help the subsidiary rights agent handle the contracts for foreign publication of our clients’ books.

But the job I aspired to, and the job I eventually earned, was handling permissions. Anyone who wanted to use one of our client’s illustrations on a greeting card or a t-shirt, or wanted to quote some lines from their books in their newspaper article or dissertation, first had to call me, and I would work out the details with the writer or illustrator. It was fun to talk to our clients of course, but it was fun, too, to talk to folks who had interesting ideas about how to use their work, and I was always glad when I could help make an agreement.

Among the many artists we worked for, Maurice Sendak was the one whose work is in such high demand that I got to speak to him by phone every day. The office didn’t have email at the time, and we only used faxes for overseas communications. We all wished sometimes that there was a quicker way to conduct this business, some way that didn’t involve both parties being available at the same time, but I knew that I was really lucky to be making these phone calls to Mr. Sendak.

There was a prescribed time of day to make the call– just after lunch, as I recall, though I could be mistaken about that–and I always had my notes about each permission request typed up clearly so that I could be really efficient on the phone. I understood that he had more interesting things to do and I didn’t want to waste his time. There were some requests that never reached his ears; every month, it seemed, some fraternity would ask permission to make and sell “Delta Chi, Where the Wild Things Are!!!” t-shirts. I’m sure plenty of fraternities made such shirts anyway, but if they thought to ask permission, we had to turn them down.

I suppose he could have issued a blanket No for all uses of his work and never even bothered with us. But he didn’t do that. In those pre-caller ID days, he screened his calls, so I would begin talking, introducing myself and starting in with the first request, and hoping that he would pick up. One of the first times I called, I made the mistake of mentioning another artist who was going to be included in the project, one Sendak felt had copied his work, and he picked up the phone only to utter a short, withering “No” before hanging up. Or there was the time he commented, about a request that I have since blocked, “I would rather chew glass.” But most of the time, I had vetted the requests well enough that they interested him, and he’d ask probing questions about them and sometimes I’d be talking to him long enough that I could stop being distracted by the excited little voice in the back of my head that was always saying, “You’re talking to Maurice Sendak!”

So, all of this is a very lengthy preamble to the fact that when I first heard, years and years ago, that a movie was being made of Where the Wild Things Are, I didn’t believe it. I’d seen proposals come and go and although they very moved quickly off my desk and on to the desks of more important people, they never went very far beyond that. But I kept hearing about this movie. And then I heard that Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers were involved, and I began to believe it was really happening. Also, I knew it would be good. Not just because I think Jonze and Eggers are the right guys for the job (though I really, really do. I mean, come on; Spike Jonze made Adaptation. Obviously he was going to do something interesting with this book). No, mostly I knew it would be good because if Maurice Sendak was letting it happen, he clearly trusted that his book was in good hands.

I saw the movie early, as a benefit for Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It is not a kids’ movie, or at least not a movie for kids who are still reading the book; kids who have outgrown the book might think the movie is too young for them, but convince them that they are wrong and take them with you. I don’t want to give anything away here now, so will say only that they have expanded on the story in good and moving ways. The actors, from Max Records as Max to Catherine Keener as his mom, to the amazingly-cast actors who voice the Wild Things (Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Paul Dano, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose and James Gandolfini) are all fabulous. I am planning to go back to see it a few more times, if only just to hear the heart-breakingly wistful note in James Gandolfini’s voice when he says to the other Wild Things that he just wants to sleep in a real pile.

But here, don’t take my word for it. Hear what Sendak himself has to say about the film.

An Interview with filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll

As a college student, I interned with Women Make Movies, an organization that helps female filmmakers at every stage of their projects. I caught a glimpse of how difficult it was for women to get their stories to the screen, but I never saw into these women’s private lives, didn’t know if any were mothers; now that I’m a mother myself, I think about the intersection of motherhood and creativity all the time. So after I watched and wrote about the documentary, Who Does She Think She Is?, which profiles several mother-artists, I decided to interview the woman behind the film, director Pamela Tanner Boll. The result of that conversation has been published at Literary Mama this week; here’s a brief excerpt:

Caroline: How do you write a documentary film? Do you start with a loose script and then adapt based on interviews? Are there certain questions you have in mind before you begin, or do you leave yourself open?

Pam: I did not “write” the documentary until we began editing. I had a very firm conviction that I would follow these awesome amazing women as they made their way through their days, their art studios, their breakfast dishes, and errands, and loneliness and see what happened.

I wanted to stay open to the story. I did have certain questions, the main one being, what made it possible for these women to not give up on their dreams? What made it possible for each of them to believe in their voice, their talent, their truth despite lack of support and often, little recognition?

Caroline: Who are some filmmakers and writers you admire, or who influences your work?

Pam: I am more influenced by writers than filmmakers. I grew up reading, reading, reading. Some of my favorite books and authors are Virginia Woolf, especially To the Lighthouse; George Eliot’s Middlemarch; Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; The Color Purple, just to name a few.

I was an avid movie watcher all throughout my childhood and early adult years. I loved all the Walt Disney films and the Tarzan series with Johnny Weismuller and Bonanza — big family dramas.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

Mama at the Movies: The Business of Being Born

A couple days after my first son’s birth, I walked down the street of our busy neighborhood with my baby in a sling, awestruck. Everybody I looked at, I realized, every child, every adult, had come out of a woman’s body. I walked home slowly, mind-boggled at the wonder of it all. I was still a little stunned by my short, hard labor, and felt like I had been initiated into an amazing new society; I wanted to tell my birth story to anyone who would listen, and wanted to hear other women’s stories. Now, nearly four years after I gave birth to my second son, I still often find myself in groups of women that drift into sharing birth stories; we commiserate over past pains, cheer for supportive attendants, and, as we tell our stories, come to a better understanding of this sometimes joyous, sometimes traumatic, always transformative event.

Better understanding is the impulse behind the documentary, The Business of Being Born (2008). Producer Ricki Lake, unhappy with the interventions she experienced during her first child’s birth, set out to research American birth practices. She and director Abby Epstein (who became pregnant during the filming) dig up incredible documentary footage and still photos to create an informative, gripping film that should interest anyone concerned with healthcare in the United States, especially parents and parents-to-be.

Click on over to Literary Mama
to read the rest!

Mama at the Movies: Baby Mama

The first I heard about the movie Baby Mama was when our accountant emailed this poster over and said “They stole your cover design!” Well, I don’t think we had a monopoly on the use of alphabet blocks, but still it somehow triggered a teeny sense of totally unreasonable resentment toward the movie, and that, coupled with a busy summer, meant I never got out to see it.

And then Sarah Palin was nominated for VP, and Tina Fey made Saturday Night Live relevant again, and I thought it might be worth checking out her movie. I wrote about it this week for Literary Mama; here’s an excerpt:

I lost sleep over the election. Partly because of my investment in the outcome, certainly, but also because for the first time since I was in my 20s, I regularly stayed up past my bedtime watching Tina Fey’s sharp Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. So when my family planned a relaxing weekend away with another family, I thought Fey’s recent comedy Baby Mama would be a good rental to toss in the bag. After a busy day at the pumpkin patch, we settled the kids into their beds and settled ourselves in front of the TV, prepared to be entertained.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest! and while you’re there, check out columnist Karen Murphy’s newest installment of Motherhood from Afar; Elrena Evan’s Stepping Stones; Ona Gritz on Getting to Yes; and finally, if your kids are anything like mine, you’re still answering dozens of questions about the election, so check out Libby Gruner’s thoughts on political picture books in Running for Office.

Movie Minutes

I have a lot of catching up to do! So here are my quick thoughts on some of the big summer releases and quieter fall films, current releases and Netflix picks.

Burn After Reading: Boring. What a surprise! Great cast (Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins–who is so lovely in The Visitor, and is wonderful in a doomed role here), playing really pretty stupid, uninteresting characters. Oh, well.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: This is such a pleasure to watch; it’s an essay film in the classic Chris Marker sense: one proposition explored via the stories of two characters. I found the conclusion (no one can change; love is doomed; etc) ultimately a little depressing, but still: Barcelona, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, and the fabulous Rebecca Hall–I’ll spend two hours in their company any day.

Conversations with Other Women: Riveting. A ninety-minute conversation between a man (Aaron Eckhart) and woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who meet up at a wedding, about fidelity, friendship, and love. Best declaration of love: “I am available to tolerate you in your golden years.” The only thing that bugged me was the split screen: the entire movie is shown in two side-by-side squares. Sometimes the characters move from one into the other, sometimes they don’t. I understand that it’s a Very Significant Metaphor, but it started to wear thin.

Sex & The City: Eye candy. It’s not nearly so well-written or satisfying as the series, but I went with a group of friends and the movie theater served cocktails, so I have no real complaints.

The Women: Not even decent eye candy. The mothers (Debra Messing and Meg Ryan) are all flowy dresses, messy hair and long scarves, the others (Annette Benning and Jada Pinkett Smith) are too buttoned-up and skinny and fierce. This remake bothered me in so many ways, but it’s not worth detailing them; just go rent the original instead.

The Visitor: An “unlikely friendship” movie, this time between a weary economics professor and the young Syrian man he finds squatting in his apartment. I didn’t love this, though it’s very well-intentioned and has two wonderful performances by the male leads (Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman). There was an earnest inevitability to the story that distracted me.

Frozen River: Oh, this is a very good, very sad movie. It’s the story of a mother who gets involved smuggling illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants over the Canadian border into New York and (again) the unlikely friendship she develops with a young Mohawk woman who lives on the reservation. The performances — from the two women and the children–are heart-breaking. Best bit of dialogue:

Son: “There’s nothing to eat.”
Mom: “There’s food!”
Son: “Popcorn and Tang?!”

Murderball: A documentary about paraplegic men who play wheelchair rugby. Fascinating. A little uneven–the film digs into the details of some of the men’s lives and leaves others unexplored–but I learned a lot.

Iron Man: If you like Robert Downey, Jr, you will enjoy this movie, a politically savvy spy/action movie about what happens when a weapons manufacturer has a change of heart. Smart and fun.

Then She Found Me: Loved Bette Midler. Didn’t love the assumption–which drives the second half of the movie– that if you want a baby you can just go pick one up in China (that snarky line from Juno is still resonating).

Tropic of Thunder: More Robert Downey, Jr, this time with Ben Stiller and Jack Black, too! A wicked satire about the Hollywood production of a Vietnam War movie. Brilliant.

Infamous: This came out about the same time as Tru, and with its smaller budget and less famous actors, got overlooked. But Sandra Bullock is wonderful as Harper Lee, and the portrayal of her complicated writing friendship with Truman Capote had me engrossed.

The Swimming Pool: Charlotte Rampling as a frustrated novelist with an overactive imagination and Ludivine Sagnier as her frequently-topless muse. I watched this around the same time as Infamous, and so can’t help comparing them. Infamous is more interesting, and less clichéd about women writers.

Helvetica: A documentary about the font. I enjoyed it for a while–I do love listening to people who are passionate about their interests–and then I confess I fell asleep.

The Counterfeiters: A terrific movie about an expert forger who’s imprisoned in a concentration camp and enlisted to make counterfeit British and American currency in order to destablize their economies and support the Nazi war effort. The main character, played by the incredible Karl Markovics, is a thief but also an artist, and it’s interesting to watch him wrestle with the ethical questions raised by his situation.