books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: films

Bookminded Recommends: A Snow Day Movie.

Looking for the perfect snowy day movie? Then reach back into the archives and watch one of my all-time favorite movies–1996’s Beautiful Girls (and as a side note, how is it possible that this movie is almost 20 years old?!).
beautiful-girls-poster-2Set in a small Massachusetts town called Knights Ridge, the movie begins in the days leading up to the ten-year high school reunion of a group of friends. Most of the group have stayed in town (running a snow plowing business–ha!), but one of them–Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton)–has achieved some success with his music career in NYC. He comes home not just for the reunion, but hoping he will find the answers to his big city problems in the slower and simpler way of life in his hometown.

But of course his friends are facing the same life problems and questions–just in a different setting.

Featuring all-star cast including Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Michael Rapaport (hilarious!), Mira Sorvino, Rosie O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, and a young Natalie Portman, this comedy is as poignant as it is funny.
Unknown-1Portman shines as the Conway family’s 13-year-old neighbor, Marty, and in many ways serves as a moral compass for Hutton’s character Willie Conway. We get the sense that given a different place and time (that is, if Marty was closer to Willie’s age) these two would be “walking through [this] world together.” Watch this scene for some of their literary repartee:

And watch the trailer here:

Have you ever seen Beautiful Girls? What other recommendations do you have for snow day movies?

NB: Beautiful Girls is available for viewing via Amazon Prime and Netflix.


Memoir Monday: A book and its film.

Two years ago, I read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, which catalogues her time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And last night, I saw the movie based on the book.

I had read a few reviews when the book was released, but wasn’t inspired to pick it up until one day I held the book in my hand at the bookstore and read its opening pages.

“I was living alone in a studio apartment in Minneapolis, separated from my husband, and working as a waitress, as low and mixed-up as I’d ever been in my life. Each day I felt as if I were looking up from the bottom of a deep well. But from that well, I set about becoming a solo wilderness trekker. And why not? I’d been so many things already. A loving wife and an adulteress. A beloved daughter who now spent holidays alone. An ambitious overachiever and aspiring writer who hopped from one meaningless job to the next while dabbling dangerously with drugs and sleeping with two many men…As a teen, I lived back-to-the-land style in the Minnesota northwoods in a house that didn’t have an indoor toilet, electricity, or running water. In spite of this, I’d become a high school cheerleader and homecoming queen, and then I went off to college and became a left-wing feminist radical. But a woman who walks alone in the wilderness for eleven hundred miles? I’d never been anything like that before. I had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.”

And with that, I was hooked. I will tell you what it is not: it is not a saccharine, feel-good book about someone who decides to embark on a “life adventure” with book advance in hand and then write about it. Instead, the reader understands that this was a journey that the author had to take—to save her life.

The memoir Wild is beautifully written and emotionally evocative—so too is its film representation. Reese Witherspoon pulls off the role of Strayed convincingly (note that Strayed herself appears in the opening scene as the woman driving the pickup truck that drops RW off!) and the visual rendering of the narrative and landscape are real and resonant. Some of the flashback scenes are actually hard to watch as they don’t shy away from the gritty reality of the author’s experience previous to her four-months-long hike.

Read the book, if you haven’t yet—and then go see the movie. Both are very much worth your time.

Bookminded Recommends: Jon Favreau’s ‘Chef’.

On Friday night, I decided that it would be a good time to finally watch a movie that I had been wanting to see for a few months: the film Chef. Last week was a busy week, and that fact, coupled with the rainy weather, made me want to stay in and enjoy a good flick. Though sometimes I get nostalgic for the days of the video store, thanks to Amazon Instant and my Roku (!) I was able to rent my selection and begin streaming it immediately.

For foodie readers looking for a lighthearted movie to enjoy, I recommend Chef. When the film opens, Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is stressing about a noted food blogger’s upcoming visit to his L.A. restaurant. Casper is an innovator, but as we quickly learn, his creativity is limited by the owner of the restaurant (Dustin Hoffman), who wants his chef to keep churning out the dishes that have helped build a solid following. Casper wants to create a special menu for the visiting critic, but receives a contrary edict from his boss: no new menu items.

Of course, the predictable food does not impress and results in a scathing review that gets personal. Casper quits the restaurant and gets back to what he loves: cooking interesting and innovative food for adventurous foodies. Only this time it isn’t in a traditional restaurant: it is in the tiny kitchen of a food truck.

Chef may be a bit predictable at times, but it was an enjoyable film with a great cast (including John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson). Add it to your fall viewing list!

Bookminded Recommends: Boyhood

By now, you’ve likely heard about the film Boyhood, released earlier this summer by Richard Linklater. What you may not know is that the project was a twelve-year labor of love from the director that filmed portions of the film (with the same actors–including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) each year over more than a decade. The only thing that I have seen that is anything like this is the BBC documentary series Seven Up!, which began following the lives of fourteen British children at age seven–then checking in with them every seven years. The most recent installment in the series was in 2012, when the now-adults were 56-years-old.

Boyhood is different. For starters, our connection to the characters is continuous and second, there is a clear narrative arc and themes and patterns of behavior that emerge.
When the film begins, viewers meet Olivia (Patricia Arquette), a harried single mother in small-town Texas who makes the decision to move to Houston to further her education and provide her two children with a better life. At the start, it is the early aughts–and young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) are in first and third grade, respectively. In the final scenes, Mason is a college freshman.

Photo credit: New York Times

Photo credit: New York Times

At its core, this is a film about growing up–and young Mason is our guide on this journey. But there is so much more here. While we follow Mason on the path to manhood, we also see his older sister Sam moving from her Britney Spears lip syncing of childhood to her giving Mason a model of how to grow into a thoughtful and empathetic young adult.

One thing that Linklater does really well is to provide period anchors along the way–musical snippets and cultural markers, for example (in the last segment of the film, Mason is FaceTiming his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). This not only helps the overall pacing of the film, but it incites our own nostalgia for these past moments and in doing so, encourages a deeper investment in the lives of these characters.

Boyhood is also a quiet film on the surface–surely a contrast to the classic Summer blockbuster–but it still delivers a one-two punch. It reminds us of the fleeting nature of time, for sure. Especially for those of us that are parents–it serves as visual proof that “the days are long, but the years are short.”

Goodbye Old Friend.

Robin Williams.

When I was a kid, I had a pair of Mork from Ork suspenders. They looked like this:

I wore them proudly and enjoyed the laughs I would get from adults when I said, “Nanu, nanu.”

Through the years, Robin Williams made me laugh. Mrs. Doubtfire was a particular fave. I watched it again last month and laughed just as hard as I did the first dozen times I had seen it.

As a budding preteen writer, Dead Poets Society taught me to be judicious in my use of “very.”

And when I watched Awakenings, I cried. At the time of its release, my beloved Papa (a dead ringer for Robert DeNiro) was beginning his slow decline into the Alzheimer’s Disease that would eventually claim his life. I hoped that a Dr. Malcolm Sayer would arrive on the scene.

When a friend questioned his decision to attend nursing school at Bunker Hill Community College, I said, “If it was good enough for Robin Williams to work there, it is good enough for you.” Never mind that Dr. Sean Maguire was Williams’ fictional alter ego. His Good Will Hunting character rang so true.

I am not alone in thinking this. Look at the remembrance left by 29-year old Boston resident Nick Rabchenuk after learning of Williams’ death yesterday.

Matt Damon and Williams in Good Will Hunting. (Photo: Miramax Films)

Matt Damon and Williams in Good Will Hunting. (Photo: Miramax Films)

If you’ve never seen Good Will Hunting, or if it has just been a while, watch this scene. It gets me every time.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”
-Robin Williams (July 21, 1951-August 11, 2014)

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.

YA and Grownups

On Friday morning, at 10 am, I slipped into an air conditioned theater armed with a bottled water and a packet of tissues and settled into my seat ready for a good cry. The feature film that I had come to see was the film adaptation of John Green’s 2012 YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars. I had read the book, so I knew what to expect. It is simultaneously heart wrenching and hopeful. The former, obvious, as the protagonist has terminal cancer–but the latter, implicit, in the book’s overarching message that those who leave this world live on in the ones who loved them.


I enjoy the occasional YA novel, not because they reflect my life now, as a grown woman–but how they cast light on the sadness, silliness, and (yes) stupidity of adolescence. Though last week, Slate’s Ruth Graham published a piece titled “Against YA,” where she argues that adults “should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was intended for children.” Graham goes on to note that YA often suffers from a lack of critical reflection–that is, while the novels may be immersive (sending readers into the minds of teenagers), they do little (or nothing) to acknowledge the kind of perspective that an adult has gained in the intervening years. While I take Graham’s point, I would offer that some–like myself–read YA because we want to take a break from the adult mindset for a time and be transported into those moments of butterflies and first crushes and teenage angst. Because real life is always waiting for us after we turn the final page.