Favorite Movies Watched in 2013-2014

Romantic Comedies

Obvious ChildObvious Child –  In this funny, feminist rom-com movie, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a New York City stand-up comic dealing with the break up with her long-term boyfriend and with an unwanted pregnancy after an amusing one-night stand. The movie deals with abortion in a funny, sweet, no-nonsense way as Donna figures out how to deal with the earnest guy from her one night stand. Jenny Slate, who played the hilariously obnoxious Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation, is both appealing and humorous as Donna.  I also loved the interactions between Donna and her parents—overall an enjoyable movie. (Available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime, also on iTunes for purchase.)

Dramas

PersepolisPersepolis– This movie had been on my to-see list forever and I’m glad I finally broke down and watched it.  It’s based on the graphic novel of the same title and follows a young girl’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution.  Her family has some connection with France too, because she and her family speech French—so the whole movie is in French with English subtitles. I remember watching the Iranian revolution as an American teen but only knew the details from an outsider perspective.  This movie shows how the revolution personally affected its own citizens, especially young intelligent women.  (Available on Netflix Instant and for purchase on iTunes or Amazon online.)

Frances HaFrances Ha– One of those slice of life movies about some lost young creative person living in New York. I tend to like these kinds of movies.  In this one, Frances is a dancer who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s probably not going to make it professionally in dancing. It’s a more likable Girls or Woody Allen movie. (Available on Netflix Instant, Netflix DVD, and available for rent or purchase on iTunes.)

 

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars- (Available on Netflix DVD, also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online.) I think by now everyone’s heard about John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer.  While I slightly prefer the book, the movie does an excellent job.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through.

 

Animated

Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke– (Available on Netflix DVD) – My son watched this movie with me when I was super sick with thyroid issues.  I can see why it’s one of his favorite movies.  It’s unique to western animation films in that there really is no “good guy” and no “bad guy”.  Instead there are two groups with opposing ideas that they are equally passionate about.

 

 

2012 Favorites (Part 1: TV, Movies, and Music)

Favorite You Tube Series
Husbands (seasons 1 & 2) –  An entertaining web TV series written by Jane Espenson and Brad Bell about a baseball player and an actor who get so excited that gay marriage is legal that they get married during a drunken night in Vegas, though they’ve only been dating for 6 weeks. They don’t want to set a bad example so they decide to make their marriage work– for the cause.  Espenson wrote for Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Dollhouse, etc.  There are tons of fun cameos by actors from various Whedon projects (including Joss himself in season 2), plus a few actors from other shows too.  Each season is only 25-30 minutes.

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries – In Hank Green’s charming modernized version of Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennett is a vlogger who tells us about her marriage-crazy mother and her life with her sisters in short weekly You Tube videos.

Favorite Movies (Total Watched – 18)
The Descendants
Hunger Games (2012)
Marvel’s Avengers (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Favorite Music Albums (Total Listened To – 26)
Greg Evain All Better Now (2012)
Ellie GouldingHalcyon (2012)
Lana Del ReyBorn to Die (2012)
Anna NalickWreck of the Day (2005)
Frank OceanChannel Orange (2012)

Favorite TV Shows (Total Shows Watched – 36)
Alphas (season 1)
(The) Big Bang Theory
Castle
Fringe
Girls
(The) Good Wife
Grimm
Man Men
Nikita
Parks and Recreation
Revenge

One for the Money

Saw the movie, One for the Money, on iTunes rental this weekend. It's got the same fun, junk food thriller vibe as the book. I wasn't so sure about Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum but she was really cute as the New Jersey bonds agent and nothing like anything else I've seen her in.

Top Favorites of 2011 (In A,B,C Order)

2011 was a good year for me. I started biking, went on a writing retreat, camped at Assateague, and visited Vermont.  I even finished a first draft of my middle grade novel!  It's spectacularly crappy, but it's got a beginning, middle and end, and now I can start revising it into something better. 

I also did all my grocery shopping by foot or bike, bought all most all my produce at farmer's markets, and did the majority of my cooking from scratch this year.  Plus, I watched my oldest kid graduate from high school and sent him off to college. 

I was disappointed by how little I read in 2011 though. Hopefully in 2012 I can figure out how to do all those things and read more too. Anyone know where I can buy a Time-Turner like Hermione used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? That would be useful. Here are my favorites during 2011:

Books – Middle Grade Fiction (Total Read -5)
Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Books – Young Adult Fiction (Total Read – 9)
All Unquiet Things, by Anna Jarzab
#Legend, by Marie Lu
# Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins

(I also read 3 fiction books for adults.)

Books- Non-Fiction (Total Read – 7)
#Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, by Stephanie Staal
The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the Word's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom, by James W. Stigler and James Hiebert – review coming

Movies (Total Watched – 19)
After the Wedding
#Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Heartbreaker
TiMER
Titanic

Music Albums (Total Listened To – 28)
#Adele, 21
Florence & The Machine, Lungs
The Frames, Cost
The Glitch Mob, Drink The Sea
Jack in the Box, Play It Again Jack!
K'naan, Troubadour
#Movits, Out of My Head
The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love
Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise & Age of Adz
#Vanessa Carlton, Best of Vanessa Carlton

TV Shows (Total Shows Watched – 42)
#Being Erica
#The Big Bang Theory
#Fringe
#The Good Wife
Misfits
#Nikita
#Parks and Recreation
#Revenge
Skins, series 5
#The Vampire Diaries

Honorable Mentions:
#Up All Night
#Doctor Who

# – Indicates the book, movie, album, or TV season debuted in  2011.  Many of my favorites were works I discover this year but debuted earlier.

Middle Grade Fiction – For around 9-14 years or 4th-8th grades
Young Adult Fiction – For around 12 years and up or  7th grade and up

The Glitch Mob, Women at the Movies, and My Fall TV List

TV Quote: "For a while in the 1970's, our town was run by a freaky cult.  Every few years the remaining members predict the world's gonna end and they have an all-night vigil in the park. It's so annoying.  Turns out when you think the world's ending you don't aim so carefully in the Porta-Potties." (Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation)

Music:
The Glitch Mob, Drink The Sea [2010] (***1/2) – I asked my kids to give me a list of musical groups they enjoy so I could broaden my musical listening.  This electronic group was on my son's list.  It's good — mostly wordless — atmospheric music for driving, biking, walking or writing.

Blogs:
Flick Chicks: A Guide to Women in the Movies – Check out these funny descriptions of women in the movies by Mindy Kahling.  She not only plays Kelly Kapor on The Office, but is also one of the show's producers and writers.  Her description of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is probably one of the clearest descriptions I've read on this character-type:

The Ethereal Weirdo

The smart and funny writer Nathan
Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl to describe this archetype
after seeing Kirsten Dunst in the movie “Elizabethtown.” This girl can’t
be pinned down and may or may not show up when you make concrete plans
with her. She wears gauzy blouses and braids. She likes to dance in the
rain and she weeps uncontrollably if she sees a sign for a missing dog
or cat. She might spin a globe, place her finger on a random spot, and
decide to move there. The Ethereal Weirdo appears a lot in movies, but
nowhere else. If she were from real life, people would think she was a
homeless woman and would cross the street to avoid her. But she is
essential to the male fantasy that even if a guy is boring he deserves a
woman who will find him fascinating and perk up his dreary life by
forcing him to go skinny-dipping in a stranger’s pool.

Her other descriptions are equally funny:

The Woman Who s Obsessed with Her Career and Is No Fun at All
The Forty-two-Year-Old Mother of the Thirty-Year-Old Male Lead
The Sassy Best Friend
The Skinny Woman Who is Beautiful and Toned but Also Gluttonous and Disgusting
The Woman Who Works in an Art Gallery

Check them out here:  http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2011/10/03/111003sh_shouts_kaling#ixzz1cdwYe83v

TV:  I've seen all the new pilots, given the new shows their chance, and taken a hard look at all my old shows.  I like to spend about 10 hours a week watching TV so I'm pretty picky about what shows made it to my 10 hours list. 

My Fall TV List

One-Hour Shows: The Good Wife, Once Upon A Time, Castle, Revenge, The Vampire Diaries, Fringe, Grimm, and Nikita
Half-Hour Shows: Parks and Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, and Up All Night
Shows I'm Undecided About: Ringer

What shows made your list?

The Magnificient Twelve, Titanic, and New TV

TV Quote of the Week: "Just because I tell you things doesn't mean you're allowed to know them," Caroline on The Vampire Diaries.

My Life:
 I like having one of my kids at college.  The daughterling gets to enjoy the benefits of being an only child (something my son got when he was young), and I love texting with my son and reading about his new adventures in college.  I've successfully kept to my writing schedule and already had my first sub job. I had subbed for many of the same kids last year so I was called, "Mrs. Evil Octopus," all day by a bunch of happy second graders. Teaching is a lot more fun with a heaping dose of silliness.

Book Review:
The Magnificent Twelve: The Call, by Michael Grant [2010] (*** 1/2) – The Magnificent Twelve is a good choice for fans of The Wimpy Kid series and other fans of irreverent humor or lots of action.  Middle-schooler Mack has a lot of phobias. The only thing he isn't afraid of is the school bullies.  It's this quality that gets Mack selected to save the world from some ancient villain called, The Pale Queen, who had been sentenced to hell for 3000 years and has just been released.  This middle grade fantasy is packed with humor, quirky characters, and lots of action.  Apparently it's the first book in the series because the ending is pure cliffhanger.  [For ages 8-12.  Read the eBook on Nook for Droid.]

Movies:
Titanic (****) – Titanic is one of the many  popular movies I didn't see in the early to mid-90's, when my kids were young and needy.  The story pulled me in and made me care about these characters. It dealt with a lot of issues that are becoming problems again, like class inequality  and the dangers of capitalism without regulation.  Mostly, the movie made me feel like I was right there on the ship while it was sinking and suddenly I cared about the 1,500 plus people that died in this tragedy long ago.

TV:
Doctor Who, season 6, pt. 2 (*** 1/2) – I am liking the second half of this season a lot more than the first half.  The emotional level has simmered down to realistic levels,  Rory is fun and reasonable, and there have been a number of good plots.

New Girl, pilot (** 1/2) – Quirky Jess (played by Zooey Deschanel) decides to get over her breakup with her cheating boyfriend by living with 3 guys she met through a Craigslist ad. I liked the actors in the show and I enjoyed some of Jess's odd quirks (like how she has her own theme song), but there were a ton of tired gender stereotypes in the pilot. Plus, Deschanel's Jess is pretty much a  manic-pixie dream girl (kind of like the modern dumb blonde updated for a new century.).  I'm willing to give the show a couple more chances to see if they iron out some of these problems.

Ringer, pilot (***) – Sarah Michelle Geller (Buffy) stars in this noir-mystery soap opera about twin sisters.  There was a lot of exposition in the plot but I was intrigued enough to keep watching and see what the writers do with these characters.

The Vampire Diaries, season 3 (****) – The season premiere was as fun and exciting as the first two seasons.  Can't wait for the next episode!

The Secret Circle, pilot (***) – This soap opera about a town of secret witches is written by the same people that wrote The Vampire Diaries, so the plot speeds along with secrets and intrigue, though so far, it lacks the zany fun of its sister show.  Instead the show has a very CW vibe about with plenty of beautiful people and soapy teen happenings.  The Vampire Diaries also started off overly soapy for the first 6-8 episodes, so I'm willing to give  it a few more chances to impress me.

Up All Night, pilot (*** 1/2) – I enjoyed this show about new parents.  While the pilot wasn't laugh aloud funny, it did make me smile a lot. I love how Christina Applegate's and Will Arnett's characters manage to be a caring couple, totally in love with their baby daughter, without being saccharine or clichéd.  The show explores work-home issues in a fresh way with lots of respect for both the working parent and the stay at home parent.  Part of the freshness is accomplished by having the man stay home and the woman go to work — a trend I see a lot more in real life too.

Netflix Instant Movie Reviews For: Heartbreaker and After the Wedding

Heartbreaker
Year: 2010
Genre: French Foreign Film / Romantic Comedy
Format: Watched on Netflix Instant in French with English subtitles
Rating: *** 1/2

An adult brother, sister, and brother-in-law work as a team of professional heartbreakers.  According to our team, there are 3 kinds of women in couples, "knowingly happy, knowingly unhappy, and unhappy without admitting it."  The heartbreakers work for the family and friends of the women in category three.  "The goal: open their eyes. The method: seduction."

Heartbreaker
is a fun romantic comedy that just happens to be in French. One of the leads is Vanessa Paradis –Johnny Depp’s partner– who looks like a younger, French Michelle Pfeiffer, but with an adorable gap in her front teeth.  She’s quite cute and so is the movie. Check it out.

After The Wedding
Year: 2006
Genre: Danish Foreign Film/ Drama
Format: Watched on Netflix Instant in Danish with English subtitles
Rating: *** 1/2

 Danish Jacob has been in India for over a decade working at an orphanage.  He dislikes Denmark and everything having to do with the wealthy.  When the orphanage director asks him to fly to Denmark to meet with a potential wealthy donor, Jacob is reluctant, but the orphanage is almost bankrupt and the donor insists on talking to Jacob in person. Once Jacob gets to Denmark his life is changed in ways he hadn’t planned. 

This is a wonderful small drama about people, family, and helping others.  I don’t want to say anymore or I’ll give away the plot, but check it out, it’s worth watching.

Review for the movie: TiMER

Title: TiMER
Year: 2009
Motion Picture Rating: R
Format: Movie Viewed on Netflix Instant
Rowena’s Rating: *** 1/2

TiMER is an entertaining indie film about relationships, with a sci-fi twist. Twenty-nine year old Oona (Emma Caulfield) lives in a slightly futuristic world that’s almost like our own, except that most people have what’s called a TiMER implanted on their wrist.  The TiMER tells them the exact moment when they will meet their soulmate.  Poor Ooona’s TiMER is blank, meaning either her soulmate doesn’t have a TiMER yet, hasn’t been born, or doesn’t exist.

Oona deals with this issue by dating one TiMER-less guy after another, convincing each one she has even the slightest connection with, to get his own TiMER.  That strategy leaves her with a string of men who find out she isn’t their soulmate.  Her best friend (and stepsister) Steph, whose TiMER setting is far in the future, decides that the key to happiness is blissfully wasting away her time on one-night stands and go-nowhere jobs. Steph convinces Oona to try her own fling with a cute younger guy. 

This charming movie isn’t your typical romantic comedy.  While most romantic comedies seem to be told from a pretty sexist point of view, this story is far more respectful of both women and men as people, not stereotypes.  It’s fun to see Ooona’s fling with adorable, amiable Mikey (played by John Patrick Amedori). The movie empathizes with all the characters (women and men) and makes some interesting points about relationships. I also liked that the end isn’t neatly tied up in a big bow with an easy, happy ending.  Instead, you the viewer are given more say in deciding what happens after the film ends.

Casting Trivia
I tend to watch online movies with the IMDb website opened in another window since I go crazy trying to place actors who look familiar to me.  Here’s a list of where you might have seen these TiMER actors:

Emma Caulfield (Oona) – She played ex-demon Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Emma Bradshow on Life Unxpected.

Michelle Borth (Steph)- She’s on the new Hawaii-Five-0 as Catherine Rollins, but I recognized her from her one episode in Supernatural where she played Dean’s instant girlfriend Carmen (a girl from a beer ad) during Dean’s djinn-fueled wish-fulfillment dream.

John Patrick Amedori (Mikey) – has had some bit roles in movies like Scott Pilgrim and played Aaron Rose in Gossip Girl.

Kali Rocha (Matchmaker Patty) – She played Dr. Sydney Heron on Grey’s Anatomy, but I knew where from her role as Halfrek — Anya’s demon friend —  on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

JoBeth Williams (Oona’s mom) – She’s been in a bunch of things.  Most recently she’s played Gail Brandon on Dexter, but I most remember her from her roles in the movies The Big Chill and Poltergeist.

Reviews of Remakes: The Karate Kid, Skins, and Being Human

Last night I watched three different remakes. My philosophy on remakes is that they’re worthwhile if they offer a new twist on old material. So remakes of Romeo and Juliet often turn out well as each generation has different rules on what’s considered a forbidden romance. The Office is another example of successful remake material. Each country has its own business culture. A British Office and an American Office can tell a similar story but with the unique differences that speak to each country. Here’s what the three remakes I watched last night had to offer:

The Karate Kid (*** 1/2) – [2010]  I loved the original version of this movie. It was very California-based though, which made it ripe for a remake.  In this version, 12-year-old Dre (played by Jaden Smith) and his mom move to China to start a new life.  He meets the standard bullies, gets in the forced–but necessary–humiliating beat down by those bullies, and vows to learn to beat them fairly with the help of an older and wiser mentor.  

Jaden Smith is as vulnerable and charming as Ralph Macchio and adds a broader American definition to the role.  Jackie Chan is a solid replacement for Pat Morita and moving the story to China adds a global twist with stunning scenery during the crucial training montages. Though the romance of twelve-year-olds was a bit awkward,  I liked how the story was updated with more of a friendship theme where the boy and girl promise to support each other’s dream. It was especially nice to see the girl have her own talents and life instead of just being a handmaiden for the boy. 

At almost 2 1/2 hours the story is a little overlong but includes tons of wonderful scenes of China.  Overall, the new Karate Kid is a solid version for a new generation. [Watched on DVD rented from Netflix.  Also available for rental on iTunes.]

Skins (***) – The first two seasons of the British version of Skins were sublime.  In just 20 episodes Skins told a story of adolescence that was wild, unrealistic, bawdy, sweet, cautionary, and all too real. If you never saw the British version, GO WATCH IT. 

That said, the American version isn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.  Most of the cast is solid with a couple exceptions.  In the British version, Tony is a charismatic, manipulative alpha-boy who holds the group together. It’s not a easy role to nail and unfortunately American Tony doesn’t.  Instead he comes across as merely smarmy and bland. Some of the actors — the one who plays Chris, for example– offer a uniquely American take while still being the embodiment of the original character.  The one major casting difference is that Maxxie– the level-headed gay boy and talented tap dancer– is replaced by a lesbian cheerleader named Tea.  I haven’t seen enough of her to know what I think about  this change.

While it was nice to finally watch a show about working class American teens instead of yet another show about rich teens, the American pilot is line-for-line and scene-for-scene an almost exact copy of the British version. It’s not a bad show, just a lesser copy.  [New episodes on Mondays at 10/9c and available for online viewing  the next day at MTV online.]

Being Human (*** 1/2)  – Three twenty-somethings share an apartment together.  They just happen to be a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost.  I liked the first British season a lot but wasn’t too keen on the second season, so I’m more open to an American version of Being Human

The American version is very similar to the British version but not an exact copy.  The characters have different names and slightly different personalities and lines.  Like Skins, it’s refreshing to have a show about working class young people instead of the usual glossy wealthy characters that are the standard of American shows.  Aiden, Josh, and Sally aren’t as endearing as Mitchell, George, and Annie yet, but they’re interesting and different enough that I’ll keep watching to see what happens. [New episodes on Mondays at 9/8c on SyFy and available for online viewing the next day on Hulu.]

What I Did With My Winter Break

Life Highlights:
An Eloise Vacation – This winter break the daughterling and I decided to vacation inside the new hotel we watched being built near our house.  We studied their website carefully, wrote ourselves a schedule for our visit, packed up a few clothes, books, and toiletries, and walked over.

Our favorite activity was exploring the hotel, checking to see if the vending machine selections differed from floor to floor — they did — then gazing out each hall window and comparing the view.  The daughterling told me she’s glad to have a "childish mother".  "Child-like," I suggested.  That sounds better, doesn’t it?

We also ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and soaked in the hot tub.  The rest of our stay we lounged in our room, reading books, watching a bit of TV, and eating our room service dessert until it was time to cuddle up in our comfy beds and sleep.

Movies:
Easy A (*** 1/2) – [2010] Socially invisible Olive (Emma Stone) starts with a simple white lie to spare her friend’s feelings and accidently invents an entire tale about an imaginary one-night stand.  The school gossip eavesdropping thinks the story is true and suddenly Olive is thrust into her high school’s spotlight.  When a gay friend asks her to pretend to have sex with him to keep him from getting bullied, she decides she might as well continue getting attention.  As Olive helps more guys build their credibility with fake sex sessions, she starts regretting the type of attention she’s getting.

Olive is a smart, fun character, as are her parents.  The movie does a fairly good job pointing out the hypocrisy in American sexual mores — though the introspection is more glib than truly thoughtful.  Also, the abstinence-only Christians are presented as pretty cartoonish villains.  Still, as mainstream teen films go, this one is smarter and more fun than most. [Watched as an iTunes rental. Rated PG-13.]

Going the Distance (*** 1/2) –  [2010] This is one of the few current romantic comedies that actually seems romantic versus just stereotypically bland and sexist.  Thirty-somethings Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) cute-meet while playing a video game at a New York bar and hit if off so well that they both want to continue the relationship the next morning.  Both of them know Erin’s only in New York for six more weeks — when her journalism internship ends and she returns to San Francisco to finish her degree — but they decide to see where the relationship will go anyway.  By the end of six weeks, they’re getting along so well they decide to try out a long distance relationship.

Going the Distance is refreshingly realistic about the pitfalls of being apart while managing to be funny and romantic at the same time.  Erin and Garrett seem like actual, well-rounded people and the movie takes both of their careers and points of view seriously.  Instead of the movie simply having the girl give up her life for her boyfriend, the couple grapples with finding a fair solution for both of them or deciding if they should just break up. 

The one flaw to an otherwise enjoyable movie is their stereotypical friends and family.  Though they’re completely unoriginal, they all are well-intentioned, actually seem to care for the main characters, and don’t take up too much of the movie’s time.  [Watched as an iTunes rental. Rated R for language and brief male nudity.]

Scott Pilgrim versus the World (*** 1/2) – [2010] A fun movie about a twenty-something guy (Michael Cera) figuring out relationships.  I never read the graphic novels the movie is based on, but from what I’ve read on the Internet, the movie pares the story down to just Scott’s point of view and leaves out the perspective of Ramona (the girl he’s pursuing). 

Though the women in the story are pretty much just goals or obstacles for Scott, the whole saga told as a video game is awfully charming and entertaining, as well as insightful.  It did go on about 10 minutes longer than my interest held, but I enjoyed its celebration of the 90’s indie music scene all the same.  The playful style reminded me of a modern Wayne’s World.  [Watched as an iTunes rental. Rated PG-13.]