The Two Movies That Got Me Through January

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We’re well into 2019 and I’ve barely watched any movies because my kids have been so sick. January was a festival of viruses, a nasty cold that just never left and then, last week, when the last of the phlegm departed, my baby brought home a novel stomach flu that incubated for about 36 hours before hitting me, my husband, and my first-grader in six-hour intervals.

I feel like this is the third or fourth time I have written about illnesses, so at this point it is a leitmotif of this blog and probably warrants its own tag.

Anyway.

When Under The Tuscan Sun came out in 2003, I was 25, and I remember kind of wanting to see it, but feeling that it was for older women. That feeling didn’t always stop me from seeing movies I wanted to see–for instance, I sat in a theater of seventy-somethings watching the 2004 Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely–but in this case, I think a part of me thought I should save this movie for a time in my life when I needed it.

Well, my two readers, that time has come. I’m 40, and I spent the past six weeks cooped up in a virus-ridden apartment with a six-year-old, a one-year-old, and an unfinished novel manuscript. (The second unfinished novel to take up residence in my laptop in the past few years.) One night, I was perusing HBO’s offerings and I saw beautiful Diane Lane and a bouquet of yellow sunflowers. I thought, that is exactly what I need: beautiful Diane, sunflowers, Tuscany, and a serious real estate makeover.  Continue reading “The Two Movies That Got Me Through January”

My Favorite Movies Written and Directed by Women in 2018

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This post is long overdue. First I got sucked into a holiday vortex and then all the viruses came to roost in our household. The little one would get sick, then the bigger one, then the bigger one, then the little one, then the little one . . . meanwhile, I got some variation of everything. I’ve done a lot of reading but have barely watched any movies. I have, however, had a chance to think back on the movies I saw last year.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that for the past year I’ve made a special effort to see movies written or directed by women. After the Harvey Weinstein revelations, I felt so sickened by the movie industry that I wanted to change my viewing habits to see more films made by women—not only to support women, but for my own viewing pleasure.

In 2017, before I made any special effort to see women-made films, only 9 of the 28 movies I saw were written or directed by women. This year, I watched 43 movies, a mix of old and new, but mostly new. Of those 43 films, 29 were written or directed by women. So, that’s a big improvement over last year! Still, given that I only saw around 30 movies written or directed by women, it seems a little too easy do a top ten list of film. There’s not a lot of discernment when you’re choosing the top third. Instead, I’ve decided to make two top three lists: Top Three Films Directed by Women, and Top Three Films Written by Women.

As I was putting together these lists, I asked myself how much they would differ from a top three list of all movies, regardless of gender, and I will admit that First Reformed, Roma, and Sorry To Bother You might have edged out some of the films on these lists. But, these films would definitely make any of my top ten lists—and that’s one of the reasons I limited myself to three films. One last caveat: I never got to see Happy As Lazzarro, Zama, and Let the Sunshine In, and judging from the critical response, these were great films that might have also made the list.

Continue reading “My Favorite Movies Written and Directed by Women in 2018”

Review: SHIRKERS

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Writer & Director: Sandi Tan

In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of SingaporeThe title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”

To read more follow this link to The Common

My Weekend with the Gyllenhaals

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I spent the weekend watching two new movies that star the Gyllenhaal siblings: The Kindergarten Teacher, starring Maggie and Wildlife, with Jake. In both films, I thought the Gyllenhaals were especially well cast. I know they aren’t to everyone’s taste — and when I got home my husband and I got into a debate about whether or not Jake Gyllenhaal is actually a good actor — but I found them both to be pretty magnetic and appealingly odd. Neither really melt into a role and both have a way of throwing things off-kilter. So, they need the right movies for their talent.

Continue reading “My Weekend with the Gyllenhaals”

Falling Leaves and O. Henry

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The other day I discovered, quite by accident, that Alice Guy Blaché’s short film, “Falling Leaves” is based on the O. Henry story “The Last Leaf.” I was reading Meg Wolitzer’s editor’s introduction to 2017’s Best American Short Stories, and she mentioned that her favorite O. Henry story was about an artist who convinces a girl suffering from pneumonia that she will survive. The girl believes that she will die when the last leaf falls, so the artists paints an incredibly life-like leaf outside her window. It never falls, and the girl survives through sheer belief. But — and here’s the O. Henry twist — the artist dies from standing out in the cold and taking all the time to paint the leaf.

Initially I thought, hmm, did O. Henry see the Blaché film about the girl who ties leaves to a tree in a vain effort to save her sister, who is dying of tuberculosis? But I checked the dates and O. Henry’s story was published in 1907 while Blaché’s film was released in 1912:

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Then I did some googling and sure enough, Wikipedia already has it covered:

The plot of Falling Leaves owes elements to the O. Henry short story “The Last Leaf” (1907). The child hero is a recurring theme in Guy-Blaché films; the first film produced by Solax, A Child’s Sacrifice (1910), which also starred Magda Foy, is another example.

It’s just a little thing, but I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into Blaché’s creative process. By the way, you can watch the original film, “Falling Leaves” for free on Kanopy as part of the program, “Three Films by Alice Guy Blaché.”

 

Review: Land of Steady Habits

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Writer & Director: Nicole Holofcener

If you’re thinking about moving to the suburbs but would like to be convinced otherwise, I recommend streaming The Land of Steady Habits immediately. With the exception of a divorcee played by Connie Britton, the characters in this movie are all low-key unhappy as they try to make the best of their affluence. Adapted from Ted Thompson’s novel by the same name, it follows the midlife crisis of Anders, a fifty-something guy who is attempting to forge a new life for himself after divorcing his wife and quitting his lucrative job. The film opens with the screenshot above: Anders trying to choose towels for his new single-guy condo. It’s a striking image that shows both the state of Anders emotional life (bewildered, overwhelmed) and the soul-numbing indecision brought on by big box stores. Maybe it also hints at the extraordinary class divide, where a small percentage of Americans have an endless array of meaningless choices while a huge percentage have no choice but to get by.  Continue reading “Review: Land of Steady Habits”