Weekly Adventure: Family Christmas Texas Style

I know I promised this post yesterday, but I got a little sidetracked by going to see Foxcatcher and then going down an internet rabbit hole about John Dupont, so I wasn’t really in a blogging mood by the end of that. But anyway last week my brother and his lovely girlfriend came down to Austin from Portland and my parents drove down from Connecticut (yes they are crazy, but it was to bring me a bookshelf my dad had built me – because I’m totally spoiled.)

We had a fun and food filled week (seriously I’m still about explode), which included these photo highlights:

Mom making friends at the Capitol

Mom making friends at the Capitol

Garrett and Kate at a wonderful brunch at the South Congress Café

Garrett and Kate at a wonderful brunch at the South Congress Café

Dad having a lot of festive fun at the Big Top Candy Shop

Dad having a lot of festive fun at the Big Top Candy Shop

Stalker shot at the Austin Graffiti Gallery

Stalker shot at the Austin Graffiti Gallery

photo (66)

The view from the top of the gallery

The view from the top of the gallery

My vote for the family Christmas card

My vote for the family Christmas card

The campus turtle population

The campus turtle population

G taking in the Do Ho Suh installation at The Contemporary

G taking in the Do Ho Suh installation at The Contemporary

photo (71)

We met Miró and her parents for BBQ at Black's - which we clearly hated

We met Miró and her parents for BBQ at Black’s – which we clearly hated

Dual family portrait

Dual family portrait (Photo Credit: Cashier at Black’s)

The Hot Texas Swing Band at the Highball on their last night in town

The Hot Texas Swing Band at the Highball on their last night in town

And my parents danced and were adorable

And my parents danced and were adorable

Overall it was great and tiring…but I have a lot of break left to recover. Happy New Year Everyone!!

Advertisements

And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 2

I decided to include the Critics Choice Awards to my list this year (mostly because I no longer have a job to go to during the day and it gives me an excuse to spend even more of my time watching movies.) Anyway, that means I have a few new catch up movies this week as well as some ones I saw in the last two weeks – my family was in town for Christmas this week (post to come tomorrow) so that isn’t as long of a list as it could be.

Anyway onto the nominees:

The Fault in Our Stars

You all know that I love this story, and this was a remarkably faithful adaptation, and I cried and cried and cried. So much that the teenage girls sitting next to me and all my girlfriend’s in Chicago were questioning our sanity. (It also may have had something to do with the fact that we smuggled some beers in with us…) Anyway, Shailene Woodley is taking over the world, and, despite her disappointing views on feminism, I’m pretty happy to watch her perform in anything. And she does a great job of capturing Hazel’s sardonic, hopeful despair. Ansel Elgort seems a little slimy to me in real life, but he was adequately charming as Augustus. The scenes in Amsterdam were delightfully shot (and gave me total wanderlust), and the soundtrack is great – but the book is better.

The Skeleton Twins 

This was hard to watch, I think especially if you have a sibling…but Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have wonderful chemistry and are so comfortable with each other that you believe they might have grown up together. Hader especially surprised and impressed me, I don’t think I’d ever seen him playing anything other than a variation on a clown and he has a heavy story to tell here and he remains believable throughout. Luke Wilson, as Wiig’s unassuming husband, is perfectly cast as the blandest of ‘nice’ men, and it was nice to see him again (am I wrong that he had seemed to disappear for a while there). The other standout performance was definitely from Joanna Gleason as their flighty mother, she’s in one scene but she so perfectly conveyed everything about her character in five minutes. What I loved about Skeleton Twins was the way it resisted clichéd answers to difficult questions. Sure, they include a sing-a-long bonding session between the siblings, but it’s not like their problems go away the second it ends; they just have moments of happiness interspersed with the tough stuff and that was realistically portrayed.

Interstellar

I resisted seeing this for a while, but I’m not completely sure why. I love Inception and all the actors on this cast list, but something was nagging at me that I wasn’t going to like it. And I guess that it might have something to do with the fact that I’m not the world’s biggest sci-fi fan in general, because I think that stories tend to get a bit bogged down in world-building. Stop explaining how worm holes look to people who are supposed to be an aerospace engineer and tell your fucking story. Because this is a good story, and you have some of the best actors alive and you’re wasting their talents.

That being said, the characters all felt wonderfully human (even the robot playfully voiced by Bill Irwin) and the best moments of this movie are the parts about family and the importance and sadness of being parents and children. I especially loved Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck as the earth-bound children of a man on a mission to the stars. (But then again I love those 2 actors as much as I love any actors that are working today, so I would watch them do anything. And I mean anything.) Overall it was visually stunning, and emotionally affecting, but too damn long.

Force Majeure

I can’t shut up about this movie. (Like I’ve literally tried to describe this briefly to 3 different people and ended up recounting the entire plot.) So I will try to avoid doing that, but I seriously loved this film – though it will make you want to avoid ever going on vacation with your partner or children ever in your lives. The basic premise: workaholic father goes on ski vacation with his wife and children, there is a controlled avalanche that seems like it may be uncontrolled, he panics and runs off leaving the wife to hold the kids. Then they deal with the fact that he did that. It seems at first that it is going to be about the varied ways that people can remember the same thing, but it’s actually more interesting than that. It’s about masculinity and partnership and family. In a lot of ways it’s a look at how we tell men to be one way until they are fathers and then suddenly there’s another set of rules (which is obviously also true of women, but I’m not sure if we talk about it in the same way when it comes to men.) The whole cast is really lovely the lead actor Johannes Kuhnke and the supporting couple (their friend and his much younger new girlfriend played wonderfully by Kristofer Hivju and Fanni Metelius) are completely compelling.

Also the Alps are gorgeous…

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I don’t know why I never get around to seeing Wes Anderson movies in the theater (not counting  the time my mom and I went to see The Royal Tenenbaums and walked out), but for some reason I always end up watching them months after the fact. So I’m sure that I missed some of the visual detail was lost on my tiny TV screen, but I still got the general dollhouse effect that I’ve come to expect from him. The cast was perfectly in Anderson rhythm – how had he not worked with Ralph Feinnes before? Overall, I had the same issue with this as I do with most Anderson films (other than Moonrise Kingdom of course) that it just never seemed to rise above feeling like a group of friends putting on a show as a lark. Which generally would be fine with me, except in this particular story is about rise of European fascism in the lead up to WWII so the confectionery atmosphere felt forced and mismatched. It is a fun movie on its own though, and it made me feel like Anderson should design a hipster theme park, his world is very inviting.

St. Vincent

 This one wasn’t great. I can’t exactly pin down why, the cast is good; the little boy (Jaeden Lieberher) is precocious, but not so much that you want to slap him; and Bill Murray dances strangely yet wonderfully to a jukebox playing “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane; and Chris O’Dowd plays an adorable priest/teacher…but it never really comes together into anything. I suppose it’s meant to be a “feel good story” but instead it feels like a cliché about how even jerks have hearts of gold. But sometimes old angry men who frequent race tracks and underpay their pregnant sex workers (played by the funny but trying too hard Naomi Watts) are just jerks not the “saints” hidden among us.

Wild

I haven’t read Cheryl Stayed’s book that this movie is based on, but seeing this made me really, really want to, so I guess that’s a plus. Strayed (as played by Reese Witherspoon) seems like a truly inspirational woman without feeling like she’s out of a Hallmark card, which is refreshing. The cast all does a good job, though the jumping timeline doesn’t do them any favors. I especially loved Laura Dern and Thomas Sadoski in the flashbacks. But I’m not sure that film is the best medium for this story. It feels like it’s the kind of things best told directly and though the mountains were pretty, her struggle got lost in them a bit.

Into the Woods

I love the play Into the Woods, it’s one of my all time favorites from my favorite genius, so I had to release expectations for the movie. It was never going to be the same as the play, because movies and theater do different things. (I know they may seem similar but the liveness of theater really can’t be replicated in any other medium. Theater audiences are a part of the performance in a way movie audiences can’t be. But that’s a post for another time…) And I understand that they needed to condense some things, but I was sad that we had to lose “Ever After” and “Agony (reprise)” and the endings for some of the characters. That being said the parts that are in the film are very well done (the Agony sequence was hilarious) and Meryl Streep is a goddess. And I do think that overall the spirit and philosophy of the show was captured here, though it wasn’t quite as bleak feeling as the stage show. But the music is still some of the best I’ve ever heard and I’m glad that it’s being shared more widely with this adaptation.

Weekly Adventure: Minibreak in Houston

My family is all en route to Austin to celebrate Christmas with me, which I’m so excited about, but to satisfy my own wanderlust, Miró and a quick trip to Houston this weekend. I knew literally nothing about Houston except that a few of Miró’s friends live there and oil money, but the part of town that we hung out it was actually super pretty and I took a ton of pictures. Rather than a timeline, I’m just going to share those with you!

Rice is pretty (even in the rain)

Rice is pretty (even in the rain)

like really pretty

like really pretty

We had lunch at this great English pub

We had lunch at this great English pub

photo (46)

Miró was really excited about it (and mad at me for taking pictures)

Miró was really excited about it (and mad at me for taking pictures)

Awesome mural on the side of an antique store - if you can't read it the text reads "Love is the light that sparked when only darkness existed. Dedicated to our mother."

Awesome mural on the side of an antique store – if you can’t read it the text reads “Love is the light that sparked when only darkness existed. Dedicated to our mother.”

Pretty park near the Museum of Natural Science

Pretty park near the Museum of Natural Science

Mr. Sam Houston himself (we think)

Mr. Sam Houston himself (we think)

Mini-Mall

Mini-Mall

They had amazing chicken dumplings (seriously so good)

They had amazing chicken dumplings (seriously so good)

hipster beer at The Hay Merchant

hipster beer at The Hay Merchant

hipster coffee at Siphon - this is also the moment when I remembered that Reality Bites was set in Houston

hipster coffee at Siphon – this is also the moment when I remembered that Reality Bites was set in Houston

The most Texas thing I've seen so far

The most Texas thing I’ve seen so far

Great brunch at Tout Suite

Great brunch at Tout Suite

They had great food - and  a note that made the archivist in me fall more in love

They had great food – and a note that made the archivist in me fall more in love

Outside the Menil (which is a really cool little museum)

Outside the Menil (which is a really cool little museum)

And the Nominees Are 2015: Round 1

It’s that time of year again! I’m making my list and checking it a million times, to make sure I’ve seen all of the nominated movies that don’t look like they will give me nightmares (sorry Jake Gyllenhaal). I’m off to a pretty good start with this years SAG and Golden Globe nominees (helpfully this coincides with my winter break from both school and work so I pretty much plan on doing very little except reading and watching movies (with a break to go to Houston with Miró and then another when my family descends on Austin for Christmas).

Anyway, so far I’ve seen:

Boyhood

As I was walking out of the Landmark in Chicago this summer after seeing this movie I literally texted Jules “no movie will ever be the same.” That was, of course, a bit hyperbolic, but I’ve seriously never seen anything like this, and I honestly don’t think I ever will again. In a lot of ways it was an experiment from Richard Linklater (who is one of my favorite artists working today). He decided to film a boy growing up over the course of twelve years, writing each section of the story each year with the cast. The results could have been a muddied mess or nothing more than an interesting formal risk, but as I got in a fight with my friend Taylor about at a party this fall, I think there is a real emotional truth depicted here. The movie isn’t “about” much of anything, but to me it captured really well the way that we gradually come to understand ourselves and our world through the little moments that don’t seem important. By focusing on scenes that lead up to or follow right after the milestone markers that would be included in a traditional coming of age movie, it told a mundane story in a truly artful and beautiful way.

I can see why people may have been frustrated by the lack of any real plot structure, but to me it was just a lovely and quiet film, and it’ll be really hard to watch two actors play the same character at different ages going forward.

The Normal Heart

I got very excited when I found out that Larry Kramer‘s brilliant play was finally going to be adapted into a movie for HBO. And then I found out that it was going to be directed by Ryan Murphy and I got nervous. Here’s the thing, this story, the response within the gay community in NYC to the AIDS crisis in the 80s dealing with a government that didn’t seem to care, will never fail to move me. I sat (and sobbed) through a truly terrible student production of this show just so I could see the words spoken aloud. For that reason, when Jules and I decided to spend the first half of our Memorial Day this year watching this I cried my eyes out at all of the appropriate times (basically all of the times) and fell a bit more in love Mark Ruffalo than I already was before. I remember not loving the amount of shaky cam, and feeling like it was a bit colder than the passion of the writing in the play, but I can’t really objective about this story. It breaks my heart and I was glad to see it told again in this new medium.

Gone Girl

 I wrote a couple of years ago about how compelling I found Gillian Flynn’s novel and so it’s probably no surprise that this movie had a tough bar to jump over, but when it came out it kept getting amazing reviews saying it was better than the book. I really respect David Fincher, and I love the fact that Flynn adapted the book herself, but I honestly don’t buy that the movie is an improvement. I get that with any adaptation you have to change things, but some of the omissions were things that struck me as most interesting about the book (like the girl Amy knew in high school and the extent to which her parents were completely self involved.

But the cast was amazing. Rosamund Pike seemed like she was a 40s film noir villainess, slightly campy but great. I had a friend who once said that Ben Affleck is great when “he’s just playing a dude,” which is exactly what he does here, and he uses that “trying to hard to charm you” thing he has to great effect. I thought Neil Patrick Harris had a great balance of creepy and ineffectual going on, but the stand out for me was Carrie Coon as Ben’s sister Go – A character who I think is often overlooked in the constant discussion of whether or not Gone Girl is feminist or anti-feminist – (1. stories don’t just have to portray heroines to be pro-feminism 2. Go is a great example of a strong, sane female character.) There were also great supporting and cameo turns from a bunch of actors I love, but I won’t list them all here.

Visually, I really loved the way that Fincher used light, especially the paparazzi camera flashes through the windows of Nick (Affleck)’s house. But overall I liked it, but didn’t find it as spectacular as I wanted to. But maybe that’s just because I knew what was coming…

Whiplash

This is probably the most aptly titled movie I’ve seen this year; the way the drumming is shot is unrelenting and after a while you feel exhausted right along with Miles Teller‘s character Andrew as he practices ad nauseam to live up to J.K. Simmons‘ expectations. It’s a unique take on the mentor/student relationship. A movie about a young jazz drummer pushed to his limits by a conductor could have been trite, but instead it’s disturbing and exhilarating.

The movie raises a lot of questions: Is there a line when the goal is greatness? (Because if there is Simmons’ Fletcher definitely crosses it)  Is greatness even a worthy goal? What this movie really showed me is that there are two types of people: those who understand why that is a question (like Andrew’s perfectly happy mediocre supportive dad played by Paul Reiser) and those that truly believe they can be Charlie Parker.

Obviously, a lot of this movie is about the music, and I don’t even really like jazz, but the way these guys play it I was sort of hooked in. Mostly because I was hooked into the train wreck chemistry that Teller and Simmons had. I’m super happy for J.K.’s nominations, but sort of bummed Miles is getting passed over this time, he threw literally every part of himself into the role (and I really mean that – who knew drumming could be so bloody?)

The Theory of Everything

 As I correctly predicted in my Thanksgiving post this movie is basically designed to get nominated for awards, because it set in the past, in England, and one of the main characters has to overcome adversity (that requires physical transformation by an actor) but ultimately triumphs. But, it’s also a way more nuanced, and less maudlin, film than it could have been. And honestly, Eddie Redmayne’s transformation and performance really are truly impressive. Especially when you take into account the fact that the film was not shot chronologically so he had to portray a degenerative motor disease at various points in the process without the benefit of being able to simply build upon where he was in the scene before.

Refreshingly, for me at least, while this is a “great man” biopic, because it was based in part on Jane Hawking‘s account of her life, she is treated as a full complex character with her own motivations and struggles and joys, and my favorite, Felicity Jones, does a wonderful job of portraying her.

There’s a wonderful balance between his math, and her faith, and both of their music, and the power of love in all its complexity that made this simply a joy to watch. It may not be the most important film ever made, but it’s worthwhile one (especially if you’re looking for something to see with your parents over the holidays.)

Also – Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s score is gorgeous.

Birdman 

 I wanted to like this so much, but the ending just made me so angry. (I’ll get to the specifics of why below the spoiler warning.) But first let me say that I thought that all of the actors were amazingly cast and wonderful. Michael Keaton as the protagonist/former big screen superhero turned serious NY theater actor wanna be Riggan is powerfully tense (aided by the (in my opinion) obnoxious drum score by Antonio Sanchez) and has the requisite madman magnetism to pull off being a narcissist that is somehow still likable enough that the audience roots for him. As great as Keaton is, this movie belongs to Edward Norton (doing a sublime self parody) and Emma Stone, who deserves all the awards in the world for simply being Emma Stone, but who is also particularly wonderful  here for being uncharacteristically raw and vulnerable. (They also have wonderful chemistry.) Also delightful, if a bit underused, were Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and the previously unknown to me Andrea Riseborough.

Stop reading here if you don’t want the ending of Birdman completely ruined. 

Basically my whole problem with the movie stems from the fact that I didn’t buy the life and death stakes of it all. I get that Riggan is desperate to make himself seem legitimate, but at the end of the day this story is a backstage farce dressed up with fancy effects. Apparently it’s being submitted as a comedy, which is strange to me because while I laughed (especially at Norton) I wasn’t ever sure if I was supposed to be laughing. Everyone involved (seemingly including the director) seemed to be taking themselves and this story so seriously. And if we’re supposed to be laughing at the characters about their self seriousness then the dual endings, where Riggan shoots himself on stage and then is seen to escape his hospital room by “flying” out the window” is even more sick and incongruous than it felt to me watching it. I get that artists take their art seriously, even when it seems frivolous to the outside world, but basically implying – as I believe that this film does – that the only way to create real art is to destroy yourself is dangerous and disgusting to me. It didn’t earn suicide as a metaphor, and the callous handling of the end of the movie negated any warmth I had built up for its quirky world view in the hours before it.

Six Degrees of Cinema: Heaven Can Wait

I’ve never really gotten the appeal of Warren Beatty, probably because my mental image of him basically looks like this:

 but in Heaven Can Wait, he looks like this:

 so it became a little more understandable. The basic premise of the movie is both ridiculous and wonderful: a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams (which were apparently a thing in my lifetime, but I didn’t know that) gets in a car crash and his ‘escort’ into the afterlife (a sort of functionary guardian angel) takes his soul too early so then he gets to come back to earth in the body of an eccentric rich man who was almost murdered by his wife (the wonderfully flighty Dyan Cannon) and his dimwitted personal secretary.

I generally don’t like mistaken identity movies, they make me nervous, but there’s no one to get hurt by the deception here, because the only other people who interact with Farnsworth (that’s the rich man’s name – of course) are the servants who are used to dealing with him being crazy. In fact the general message of this whole film seems to be that rich people are crazy and they need to be possessed by a good-natured oaf to act like normal people. Also Julie Christie coming in a power suit will help things along.

 OK, that’s a bit dismissive, and I did actually like this movie. I even laughed out loud a couple of times (which makes sense given that the legendary Elaine May co-wrote the screenplay), but there really wasn’t much more to it than a fun romp through the fantasy land of the mega rich. I mean, even his original body was an NFL player, this isn’t exactly rags-to-riches. It’s kind of crazy to me that Beatty went from this to Reds within just a couple of years. Reds, is currently on my Classics from the Queue list, but I’m going to push it up to make it the next link of this chain (because it’s frankly embarrassing that I haven’t seen it at this point – given that my parents have had this poster on a wall in every house we’ve lived in in my lifetime.)

In this chain: 

What If – Ruby Sparks – Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice – Heaven Can Wait

Merry Christmas Music!

Our almost finished Christmas tree! - I still need to find this year's topper - any suggestions?

Our almost finished Christmas tree! – I still need to find this year’s topper – any suggestions?

Happy Holidays everyone (that celebrates a holiday around this time)!! I can get a bit giddy about Christmas (just ask Victoria to reenact my reaction to finding Santa mugs on sale at Target.) And part of that is the music. I’m one of those people who doesn’t let myself listen to Christmas music at all until after Thanksgiving, but it is the height of the season, so I thought I would share some of my favorites (new discoveries and old standbys) with all of you.

Maybe This Christmas – Ron Sexsmith

Elf’s Lament – Barenaked Ladies (feat. Michael Buble)

White Christmas – Otis Redding 

May your days, may your days, may your days… Also I need to watch Love, Actually.

Happy Xmas (War is Over) – John Lennon (and some random children)

Generally choirs of children on pop records are sort of creepy to me (and by sort of I mean they are absolutely creepy to me), but there’s something about this song that overcomes it for me.

Last Christmas  – Wham!

Because George Michael. (Also Jules recommends the Jimmy Eat World cover, which I had completely forgotten about, but it also really fun.)

Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher! – the Original London Cast of Billy Elliot: The Musical

In general Billy Elliot isn’t my favorite show (Don’t hate me, I just think the movie is almost perfect and the play seems unnecessary and incongruous to me.), but I do love hating on Maggie Thatcher so…

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Sufjan Stevens 

Because, let’s be real, this whole post could easily be Sufjan Christmas songs (maybe next year…)

Jingle Bells – Barbra Streisand 

I have to give credit to my friend Paige for alerting to me that Ms. Streisand’s interpretation of “Jingle Bells” exists. I can’t get over the crazy tempo changes…classic.

Christmas Biscuits – Glen Hansard & Mark Geary 

As long time readers know, Glen is one my favorite artists (in any medium, ever) so I can’t believe I was unaware of this gem, but thanks to my friend Katie’s excellent Spotify playlist (that you can find on her company’s blog) I’m now obsessed.

All I Want for Christmas if You – Mariah Carey

Because it is perfect. It just is.