Movies: The Road


My favorite movie of all time is Schindler’s List. It’s saying a lot for me as a movie buff to declare one favorite at all. But as many movies as I watch, I think I keep waiting for one to affect me emotionally the way Schinder’s List did. Up until today, it never happened. But I think I may have finally found the next all-time favorite, the next Schindler’s List, in my mind.

The Road.

Spare. Human. Truth.

What kind of person are you?

That’s the essential question of this movie/book. Are you the kind of person who will do what is necessary to protect the ones you love when IT happens? Are you the type of person who would do almost anything to survive, but not anything? Are you the type of person who gives the man next to you a can of Fruit Cocktail when the end arrives? Or are you the type of person who will leave someone for dead to get what it rightfully yours? Will you stick it out until the bitter end, clawing your way to survival? Or will you decide that what’s waiting on the other side has got to be better and make the conscious decision to end your own suffering, even if that means suffering for others?

What’s beautiful about this movie is that no matter the question, one realizes that neither answer is really absolute in its morality.

One of the most common sayings in my family is, “You just do the best you can.” And this film brings new meaning to that phrase. And so it is my new favorite movie of ALL. TIME. Until further notice.

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Movies: Adventureland

The downside to being a movie buff is that the more you watch, the harder you become to please. I’ve been pretty disappointed with most of the movies I’ve seen lately, aside from a couple good documentaries. Adventureland is the only thing I’ve seen in a while that I would actually watch again. And that’s saying a lot for me, because there are some movies I’ve seen so many times I can quote them from beginning to end — accents included. This is also a significant statement due to the presence of Kristin Stewart.

It’s not really that I don’t like her. I think she seems like a cool person, and I would not mind hanging out and having a beer with her. Wait, she’s probably not old enough to have a beer. Anyway, I just feel like her acting is the same in everything. I guess that could be said about a lot of Hollywood celebrities nowadays. I suppose that is part of their marketability. I actually didn’t mind her in this because there were enough other good characters to prevent her from being the sole focus for two hours. She is definitely better as part of an “ensemble cast” rather than STAR!  I love Jesse Eisenberg — he is definitely the kind of nerdy-yet-adorable boy I would have had a crush on back in the day. And his acting is not half bad either.

Besides the fact that it’s set in the 1980s (and that’s pretty entertaining in itself), what I really loved about this movie is the period in life that it highlights — the time when you are just killing time due to unforeseen circumstances preventing you from progressing to the next phase, and trying to enjoy yourself while also feeling like you have no idea what the hell you’re doing, and you’re  into Lou Reed when the rest of the world is obsessed with WHAM! I’m not sure everyone goes through that stage in life. But it’s definitely something that I identify with. In fact, I would say I feel like that most of the time. Just trying to figure things out.

Two thumbs up. And great soundtrack.

Books: The Lost Symbol

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You want a review? Here it is. This book is a total waste of time. I am not one of those people who bashes Dan Brown for his admittedly bad writing, because I generally like anything with a subversive plot. I loved the Da Vinci Code. This book read like someone else trying (and failing) to imitate Dan Brown. The story was uninteresting. He didn’t make me ponder any new concepts. The villain is RIDICULOUS. The whole thing is completely unrealistic and cheesy. For more on why I didn’t like it, read this review by Maureen Dowd at the New York Times. Sums it up completely.

Thoughtful Thursday: Clan of the Cave Bear

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My friend Cheryl says this is her favorite series of books and has been telling me I should read them for years. I started this one a few years ago and couldn’t get into it at the time. But recently we talked about it again, and I picked it back up. This time, I am really digging it! The series is called Earth’s Children, and it “investigates the possibilities and some likely interactions of Neanderthal and modern Cro-Magnon humans living near each other at the same time.” It’s a fictional story about a little human girl who loses her family in an earthquake and is found by a Neanderthal medicine woman and nursed back to health. She is eventually adopted by the Clan.

I can’t even imagine the amount of research that must have gone into these books, but it is really interesting to me to learn more about how people at that time lived and interacted and survived using the land. Auel is skilled at interspersing the story with scientific details that help explain her characters without detracting your attention from the story. And it’s fascinating to learn about the differences between humans and Neanderthals through a story that imagines their interaction.

Upon having a drink with Jenny and Taper Nerd the other night, we discovered that Taper Nerd is also reading this right now! Strange that we’d both be reading the same book at the same time, especially because it was published almost 30 years ago. He’s farther along than I am so far, and he said he felt it was beginning to get a little predictable. These are thick books with small print, so I am going to need to be pretty blown away at the end of this first one if I’m going to read all six of them!

Film Fest Friday: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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My mom has reached the point in her life where she can no longer read or watch anything related to Vietnam or the Holocaust. It’s just too emotionally overwhelming, and she chooses to avoid it. While I can understand that completely, I hope that I never reach that point myself. I want to be overwhelmed by things. I think emotion is a powerful teaching tool. Once we avoid, eventually we forget. We can’t let that happen. So I think it’s necessary to keep watching and reading and remembering so we can teach others who are more distant due to age.

I heard someone say that the generation coming up in school now is the first one that is “once removed” from the horrors of the Holocaust. My generation has at least had the opportunity to meet and speak directly to people who were involved in that time period. Our grandparents fought in the war. I think it’s our responsibility to not let future generations avoid these things.

My grandfather died several years ago, but he used to tell me stories about Japan. He was a member of the first battalion of Military Police in Hiroshima after the bomb,  required to go door-to-door to the homes of survivors, collecting any weapons they may have owned. They had mostly knives; hardly any guns. People handed over ancient, family-heirloom Samurai swords without hesitation. That was one of the only stories he was willing to tell about being in the war that involved any specific memories. He tried to keep those conversations pretty vague and general, and that usually minimized the number of questions one could ask. He also liked to talk about the more “fun” aspects of being in the Army. He tasted sake for the first time in Japan and learned to drink steaming hot coffee in New Guinea to cool off — a trick we used in Brazil using hot black tea instead of coffee. It totally works.

Today’s movie selection was adapted from a novel of the same name. I can’t really go into too much detail about the plot because it will be too easy to give it all away. It’s best to watch this without really knowing anything about it first. All I can say is, I watch a lot of Holocaust films and read a lot of Holocaust books, and this is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced. Please watch it, and then make sure you tell others to watch it, so that they tell others to watch it. It is unforgettable.

Film Fest Friday: Revolutionary Road & Across the Universe

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I wish I had never seen a preview for this movie. There was really no need to watch it to know the story. Maybe the book was better? Superb acting by Kate & Leo. No real surprises. No real depth. It’s kind of interesting to me that people seem to think American society has changed so much in terms of the pressure to conform and live a life that has “acceptable” characteristics.

It has not.

It’s still about maintaining appearances and settling for what someone-something-somewhere has determined to be right. Especially in the social rung occupied by the characters in this film. Maybe that was why I was so depressed afterwards.

I think it would have been pretty interesting if the story had been paralleled with a present-day couple (or person) with similar issues. I wonder how many people watched this movie and thought, “Wow, we’re so lucky to have progressed so much that these types of things are not something we have to deal with! We can do anything we want as long as we have the money!” Because, you know, everything worth wanting has a price tag. Right? Right? 😉

Unfortunately, when it comes to “whatever we want” the collective imagination is lacking a bit of creativity these days. I heard a bit on the radio yesterday about how today’s teenagers don’t relate to Holden Caulfield anymore. That a free spirit desperately in search of freedom (release!) from a phony society is just not something that means much to them. Maybe because so many of them already have “whatever they want,” or at least what they are programmed to want. Which is really nothing of much real value. Does anyone today even really understand what word “revolution” means?

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As a follow-up, immediately upon the end credits of Revolutionary Road, you should pop Across the Universe into the DVD player to take the bitter taste out of your mouth.

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I avoided it for a while because I was afraid it would be cheesy and generalized. It was, kinda. But it also manages to be lighthearted and humanizing while examining some really serious topics surrounding the current events, emerging musical and artistic genres, political turmoil, and exploding youth movements — dare I say revolutions? — of the 1960’s. Oh, and did I mention that it’s also a musical? And all the songs are Beatles songs? Yeah. I actually loved it. What a complicated time. I totally cried my eyes out at a musical. Whereas Revolutionary Road just made me angry. Interesting.

Friday Film Fest: The Reader

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I have loved Kate Winslet ever since the moment her perfectly pale face appeared from underneath that ginormous hat in Titanic. She is so very underappreciated as an actor. Along the same lines as Rachel Weisz. Love her. And y’all know how much I love Ralph Fiennes already. The Reader is the best movie I’ve seen in quite some time, and I personally think it should have received Best Picture for 2008. I was hesitant to watch this at first, because the previews made it look like such a downer. And even though there was sadness and it involved stuff about the Holocaust, I didn’t find it to be depressing. I was captivated by the performances. I really liked how philosophical, moral, and ethical questions are raised but the viewer is left to think about the answers on their own.

Thoughtful Thursday: Tiger in a Trance

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Currently reading. Enjoying the descriptive prowess and the authentic dialogue.

From the New York Books Review: “What a surprise, then, to see such a hard-edged, unsentimental book emerge from the tie-dye vat. Tiger in a Trance, Max Ludington’s oddly-named first novel (the phrase is from the Grateful Dead’s “Saint of Circumstance”), with its blotter-acid jacket, is actually a work of clear-eyed realism in psychedelic disguise.”

Update: After reading this post, Jenny said, “Um, but what’s it about?” It’s about a guy who’s following the Dead around the country and the experiences he has with other people on tour and the “scene.” It’s just a perspective from which you don’t often see novels written. Plus, y’all know the hippie in me had to love it. 🙂

Film Fest Friday: Slumdog Millionaire

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I always feel bad, like a big snob, when I diss movies that have been officially categorized as excellent. I know it’s all subjective. And I’m not one of those critics who will diss a movie simply because it has been popular. Popular has its place. I feel the same way about music. I am not above yelling out some N*Sync lyrics in my car while doing the accompanying hand motions. I am less forgiving about books. There are a lot of books that are just not worth your time. I don’t care if it was a best seller.

But I watch A LOT of movies. And while I enjoy the occasional mind oreo, I really appreciate a truly great film. Every once in a while, Stephen King (etc) is okay, but there are so many Pulitzer Prize winners and so little time! Slumdog Millionaire was entertaining, had a good story, is definitely worth watching. The story is told mostly in flashbacks from childhood. I found the performances of the children who acted in the movie to be much more compelling than those of the adults. I was sort of disappointed whenever the childhood flashbacks would cut back to the present.

I never really connected with any of the characters on an emotional level, and maybe if I had cared about them more, I would have enjoyed it more. I didn’t love any of them, but I didn’t hate any of them either. I mean, of course you’re pulling for the underdog to win, but I found myself not really caring about the main engine for the plot, which was the love story. Freida Pinto, while very pretty, is not that impressive as an actress. My heart did not ache with theirs in their quest to be together. Apparently Freido Pinto and Dev Patel actually are dating in real life. Which is surprising, considering their lack of on-screen chemistry.

Watch it, but don’t go in with high hopes. It was not, in my opinion, Best Picture worthy.

Thoughtful Thursday: The House at Riverton

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Currently reading The House at Riverton byKate Morton, loaned to me by a co-worker after her book club read it.

“In her cinematic debut novel, Kate Morton immerses readers in the dramas of the Ashbury family at their crumbling English country estate in the years surrounding World War I, an age when Edwardian civility, shaken by war, unravels into the roaring Twenties. Grace came to serve in the house as a girl. She left as a young woman, after the presumed suicide of a famous young poet at the property’s lake. Though she has dutifully kept the family’s secrets for decades, memories flood back in the twilight of her life when a young filmmaker comes calling with questions about how the poet really died–and why the Ashbury sisters never again spoke to each other afterward.” ~ Mari Malcolm

So far, I’m enjoying it. It’s mostly what my favorite teacher would have called a “mind oreo,” with some truly poignant observations about ageing and the most privately experienced perceptions and emotions that most of us don’t pause to recognize or name.