Friday, January 01, 2016

Films I loved in 2015

I always enjoy rounding up my recommendations for films for the current year.  I keep track of movies as I see them during the year and I jot down a few thoughts and give them a star rating out of 5.  These are all movies that received a 5 star from me.  As usual, these are the best of the films I saw - I am sure there are other great movies out there but I might not have seen them.  In no particular order

1.  Mommy By Xavier Dolan 

This film was about the intensity of the love between a mother and her son.  What I loved was two-fold.  First off I loved the telling of the intensity of this relationship because the son is very challenging and obviously has some mental health challenges that make parenting particularly taxing.  At the same time you have the sense that mom hasn't always known how to be the best mom either.  Though explosive at times, the underlying emotion here is devotion between the two of them.  I also loved how this was shot on a square format.  There were some camera techniques that were very unique and I thought really added to the overall feeling of the movie.  

French w/ subtitles, this one got a 90% rating on rotten tomatoes. 

2.  While We're Young by Noah Baumbauch

If you're over the age of about 39 you know someone who is desperately trying to stay young.  And failing.  Because if you're trying too hard to stay young, I guarantee it's not working. If you know that person (and maybe even if you are that person) this movie is just the thing to both confirm how ridiculous it is to try to stay youthful and relevant, while at the same time perhaps reminding you youth is really mind over matter anyway.  The young all just want to be established and successful and the old just want to be young again.  It's a silly existential dance we do when we try to circumvent the natural progression of life and stay transfixed in time we no longer belong to.  But don't let the seriousness of that description I just penned dissuade you - this is actually really funny.  There are some hilarious comparisons between the newer generation of hipster and the aging gen x adults who grapple to understand why a VCR would be somehow trendier than digital and trying to remember why we gave up vinyl music albums in the first place if they were so dang cool.  This hit home for me too because there is a scene where the desperate to be cool Ben Stiller and Noami Watts decide to try Ayahuasca in hopes the hallucinogen will bring them to some deep and profound point that will erase the angst of aging and renew their youthful outlook while giving them buckets of meaning.  If you know anything about Ayahuasca you know it usually brings buckets of puke along with it's insight.  This hit home for me because I recently had a long conversation with a 40 something who bought a trip to South America specifically to go try Ayahuasca in the hopes of finding her purpose in life.  I really think she's just having a mid life crisis and I wanted to prescribe she go watch this film instead.  I think you'll enjoy this no matter your age and no matter how cool you're trying to be (or not).  

Rotten Tomatoes - 86%

3. Dior and I by Frederic Tcheng 

This film is an absolute dream.  Later, I had to buy this on digital so I can watch it whenever I want.  Seeing the inspiring creative process of Dior's Raf Simons (who sadly, just left Dior a few weeks ago) is nothing short of miraculous. Watching the process of creating the couture gowns and all the hand stitching was just incredible.  The amount of work that goes into a collection and a show is just astounding.  I can't really recommend this enough.  

This one is in french a fair amount of time  but not always - partially english. Rotten Tomatoes 81% 

4.  Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen 

Okay look pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I love Kurt Cobain so maybe I'm a little biased on this movie.  But I think even if you don't like Cobain this is still entertaining, informative, and an enjoyable ride.  The documentary takes an intimate look at Cobain using footage never before seen and augmenting the movie with his artwork in ways that are both provocative and give context and meaning to who Cobain was.  For me it was poignant, profound and heartrending.  

97% on Rotten Tomatoes

[if you want to really go down a Cobain rabbit hole, follow this up with the way more non-mainstream view of the Kurt and Courtney story on Netflix and watch "Soaked in Bleach"]

5.  Diary of a Teenage Girl - by Marielle Heller 

This film, in spite of being a somewhat disturbing subject matter on it's face, really hit a an interesting balance between tackling a difficult topic and keeping it non-exploitative.  To simplify a complex topic the movie is about a coming of age for our teenage protagonist Minnie.  But that coming of age is fraught with the difficulties of a mother who parties too much and pays little to no attention to what is going on with her daughter.  That daughter's first real boyfriend is also her mother's boyfriend.  You sort of want to hate Alexander Skarsgard for taking advantage of a teenage girl and you feel compelled to consider him a predator or a pedophile, but you also realize it's more complicated than that for Minnie.  There are no simple emotions or situations here and the film is set in the midst of San Francisco during the post free love age that pretty much confused everything for everyone.  High moral ground you won't really find here.  But what you will find is a portrayal of everything that is both awesome and horrible about being a teenage girl.  The setting of the 70s was so spot on where some films get it wrong, this is really what the 70s looked like.  

Rotten Tomatoes 94%

6.  Far From the Madding Crowd -  Thomas Vinterberg

Based on Thomas Hardy's original book - the melodrama of some of these old stories is both kind of funny and refreshing.  This movie is as romantic as it gets.  I loved Carry Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts chemistry in this movie.  What can I say?  This movie is about star-crossed love at it's best, improbable and perfect.   Enjoy it for what it is.  

Rotten Tomatoes 86%

7. Crimson Peak  - Guillermo Del Toro

Sometimes you just want a good old fashioned gothic style ghost story and this one really worked for me.  Del Toro is a dude with a huge imagination and I thought this film really captured all the elements of a perfect ghost story.  The film is also beautiful and the attention to detail with the sets and costumes is excellent.  

Rotten Tomatoes 69%

By the Sea - Angelina Jolie 

Okay hear me out on this one.  Do not go if you don't like slow movies, movies with very little plot, subtle subtext, or long shots that linger on stylistic elements.  DO see this if you like any of those things, and additionally love little sea villages, gorgeous clothes, beautiful rooms, languid shots, subdued plot, pretty people, and general moodiness.  This is right up my alley, but I'm fully aware I am in the minority about these sorts of things.  There's also some kinda deep stuff about voyeurism and obsession with other people's lives which feels particularly interesting coming from Angelina.  Whatever else can be said about this I think there is no doubt Angelina meant to make a film that felt more like something created in the mid to early 70s.  A beautiful film that gets all the right shots and that is totally accomplished here.  

32% Rotten Tomatoes (see, no one liked it except me)

The Intern - Nancy Myers

First off, Nancy Myers is my feel good guru.  This movie was just sweet as all get-out.  How rare is it that a movie explores a friendship between a man and a woman and it REALLY is just about friendship. Sometimes I like to just sit on the couch and escape from the world with a good Nancy Myers movie and this is one I'll probably buy for that purpose.  There's also, as usual with Nancy, some scrummy interiors to drool over and the main action of the movie is a JCREW-like office in New York that is also visually lovely (and a dream work place environment).

Rotten Tomatoes - 61%

The Second Mother - Anna Muylaert

This is as foreign film that explores the complexities of a classist society.  Set in Brazil, the film is about the relationship between a maid and the household family members she has been employed with for a long time.  Her relationship with the son of the household is more like that of mother and son rather than an employee.  There are other complications with relationships between family members as well including difficulties with her own daughter.  It sounds overly dramatic and there is some drama, but it is also very funny at times, and heartfelt.  I really liked the overall message of the film and I thought it was very well made.  

Portuguese with English subtitles - Rotten Tomatoes LOVED this with 96%

Love & Mercy - Bill Pohlad 

This was super excellent and not just because I think my boyfriend John Cusack did a great job of portraying Brian Wilson.  Probably one of the best biographical movies I've ever seen it really helps give context to all of the weird Beach Boys/Brian Wilson drama we've heard about over the years.  It also shows what a genius Wilson is and really helps him get his own story out there when for many years other people tried to control his story and give their own versions that were inaccurate. It's a sweet love story to boot and will make you fall in love with Beach Boys music all over again.  Both Cusack and Paul Dano do an excellent acting job here. 

Rotten Tomatoes totally loved this with a 90% approval rating

Iris - Albert Maysles

LOVED this.  Iris Apfel is a national treasure.  If you don't know who she is or why she's pretty much the most awesome senior fashionista in existence, run out and rent this right away.  You'll fall in love with her immediately.  I can only HOPE to be 1/10th as cool as this lady is when I'm old.  

Rotten Tomatoes agrees she's super awesome with 98% really you can't get a higher rating than that!

 Animals - Colin Schiffli

This is one probably not that many people saw.  If you're interested in a story about the toll of addiction, this is a really good one.  Realistically providing insight into how addiction both humanizes and dehumanizes a person at the same time.  The movie is both empathetic towards their heroin addiction, and yet ultimately not overly sympathetic.  Which is a difficult and nice balance to strike.  A lot of times movies about addiction sort of feel like they get it wrong, but I felt like this one really got it right.  Beautifully filmed as well.  If you're not into a movie about two drug addicts and their struggle to survive, I understand.  But if its a topic you find remotely interesting and you like good filmmaking, this one is good.  

Rotten Tomatoes -  84% 

Lastly here are honorable mentions - movies I really liked this year but didn't make my cut for top 10-15.  All are movies i enjoyed and you might like as well - some are more mainstream and therefore didn't make my cut to review them because it's likely you already heard PLENTY about them (Inside Out, I'm looking at you)

Inside Out 
Straight Out of Compton
The Gift
Me, Earl & The Dying Girl
The Overnight
I'll See You In My Dreams
The Big Short
An Irrational Man

AND as a bonus - I asked all of my girlfriends what movies they enjoyed most this year and I got these which I neglected list myself: 

The Martian
Still Alice
Infinitely Polar Bear 
Bridge of Spies
Big Hero 6

Anything you loved that I didn't mention? Checking out the list above should keep you busy for a while.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

A love note to Harkins Camelview

Will I be able to make you understand why I love this place so much and why I will miss it so much? 


 I do not remember the first time I went to this theatre* (*blogger wants to tell me this is spelled wrong, but its Harkins Theatres and I'm sticking to that.)  I just know that since I moved to Phoenix in 1995 I have been in love with this place. I love that it shows all independent and foreign films. I love that it's an older building and the screens are kinda old school, the seats aren't stadium and they aren't fancy, the clientele is a weird mixture of middle aged people and college students, and the experience feels very intimate. The whole place is cozy as hell. Even the bathrooms are likable. The murals are cool and the walls are slightly dingy and nothing about it is really slick or what I've come to experience at the nicer newer theatres and I totally dig that. And those mushroom shade structures out front? It hurts my heart they are going away.

But what I think I probably love the most about this place is that it helped me heal from my divorce. It helped me get to know myself better and to be a happier person. I am being totally honest when I say I don't think I would be doing as well as I am emotionally without this place.

Let me back up for a minute.

When I was in high school I got into this thing where I felt like I needed to be out doing something every Friday night. I mean maybe sometimes that would be hanging out at a friends house, but a lot of times it was going to the movies, going to a football game, going to a dance, or being silly with my friends driving around Rexburg Idaho. I went out on Saturdays sometimes too but it felt like I pretty much ALWAYS went out on Friday.

In college it was similar. When I was in college I had another experience that contributed to why I love Camelview so much - and really movies in general. The summer between my Sophomore and Junior year of college was little rough (an understatement) - for lots of reasons I was pretty depressed. I had recently moved to Provo and while I love Provo that first summer was a little bit of a difficult adjustment. I remember one day I was in my room which was part of the attic of an old house in downtown Provo. It was hot. No air conditioning! I was sweltering and in a very bad mood. I remember there was no one at home to do anything with and I really needed to get out of the house. I remember having this vague idea about the movies and air conditioning. I got dressed up in this summer dress, put on full make-up, did my hair, and then walked to the movie theatre in downtown Provo. The movie was "The Secret of My Success" with Michael J. Fox. I went to that movie alone. I was so much happier afterwards. Not only was it so much cooler getting out of that stifling old attic but it just felt good to go and do something. From then on I used going to the movies by myself from time to time as a way to regroup.


There's something so magical about movies for me. That summer in Provo I learned there was a Foreign Cinema on campus in the Kimball Building. I quickly fell in love with Foreign films. Pretty soon I was traveling to Salt Lake with my friend Nan to see movies we couldn't see in Provo. Movies like "Manon of the Spring" and "My Life as A Dog". These are still old favorites. I don't know why exactly I grew to love films of a quirkier and more exotic quality. I loved the pacing of foreign films. I loved that a lot of the time they are just more of a contemplation on life than an action packed sequence of events. They are often more quiet and I need that sometimes. I like the feeling of watching something in a foreign language and then having that language kind of wash over me. I delude myself often into feeling I can speak Portuguese for an hour or two. I enjoy American movies that are independent usually much more than mainstream films for the same reason.

For many years when I was married we went out on Friday nights. Sometimes just to dinner, or maybe to the art gallery, or First Friday, or some event - maybe dinner with friends. I always enjoyed going out on Friday. It felt like a great way to kick off the weekend and my fall back "go-to" activity was a movie and dinner. In retrospect I am not sure if my husband really enjoyed that as much as I did.

To me there was nothing better than driving around in the convertible with the top down on a warm Arizona evening, smelling all the goodness of the desert, anticipating a perfectly cooked steak and a movie. When my marriage ended my husband and I had 50/50 custody and we split the time the children were at his home and mine. I had them slightly more often than he did and one of the things we agreed on was that they would go to his house on Friday nights and stay until sometime on Saturday. I was okay with that and at first I would try to fill my Friday night schedule with meeting friends for dinner or something similar. But often I felt like I was just trying to fill up the time so I didn't have to think too much about being alone. It is weird when you have a bunch of friends who are in couples and suddenly it really doesn't work to hang out with any of them anymore. I totally understand why that happens, but it doesn't make it suck any less. Eventually I started to plan ahead that I would always go to a movie by myself if I didn't have anything else to do. And often (usually) I preferred that to anything else. It was the perfect way to spend my Friday.


I would drive, up Lincoln Drive to Scottsdale Road with the windows rolled down, smelling the desert and glad I had somewhere to go and something to look forward to. When you're overcoming something difficult spending time alone can be very soothing.  There's no one to answer to and if you want to feel sad or cry - you can go right ahead.  I healed one Friday night at a time. Camelview was a huge part of that and for that reason I will always love it. In the movies, in the dark, you have epiphanies about things. You learn a lot of important things about yourself. You see things you never saw before. You hear things in a new way. You become a student of human nature and it teaches you. You cry. You laugh. When you leave - whatever was wrong when you came is all better.

I know losing one movie theatre isn't going to totally ruin my little ritual. There are other theatres. And there will always be great movies. And the new movie theatre that is replacing Camelview will be awesome with it's stadium seats and dining options and blah blah blah. Very slick and beautiful and I'm sure lovely in it's own way. But it definitely will not be the same. I hate that we throw things away because they are old. I hate that people always want newer things and shinier things. They are hardly ever better. People usually figure that out when it's way to late. My last movie there was last weekend watching Amelie. Which is one of my favorite movies and I saw it there when it first came out. It was a fitting note to end things on. Anyway. This is my love note to Harkins Camelview. Thank you.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Podcasts I Love

Hey there!  It's been a long time!

I've had this blog post in the back of my head for a while now.  Do you listen to podcasts?  I drive a lot for work and while I'm driving I sometimes listen to a book on audio or music of course - but other times a podcast is just the right thing to keep me awake and my brain engaged.  When I'm listening to an audio book and I'm tired I can find myself drifting off and getting distracted and all of the sudden I have to rewind because I don't know what was just discussed - with podcasts, for whatever reason, I am less likely to do that.

So here are the Podcasts I have discovered that I really like:


This one is my newest and probably most favorite and you are going to love it guys.  So Starlee Kine,  who I have listened to and liked for many years on This American Life, has this new show which is kinda sort hard to explain but genius and awesome.  Basically Starlee takes a mystery that you cannot solve on your own and she solves it for you.  The offerings thus far have flung us into the weird world of Britney Spears reading habits, video stores who mysteriously vanish in the middle of the night, and a rambling sleuth all over the southwest for a belt buckle's owner.  I know it sounds weird and it is but it is also HIGHLY entertaining and wonderful.   There is something about Starlee's quirky yet soothing voice combined with offbeat amateur detective work that is perfection.

Starlee Kine

2. Reply All  

Reply All sort seems like a show I would not think I would like.  The common theme here is shows related to the internet and technology.  That sounds like snooze fest.  But that is not really what this is.  The stories Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt give us on this show are much more than that - they are about things as interesting as how an orthodox Jew continues to find access to his community through the internet even when he's no longer orthodox, how teenage girls have vast conspiracy theories about One Direction, and phenomenon like "weird twitter".  Just try it, I think you'll really dig it.  These guys are very entertaining and do a great job of finding really interesting stories.  

Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt

 3. The Moth 

The Moth is really cool.  It's people performing their personal stories live, under a spotlight in a roomful of strangers.  They hold live events around the country and broadcast them here.  Super interesting to listen to people share their personal stories and the emotions and content are all over the place but they are always entertaining.  

4.  This American Life

The list would be incomplete without this - I have loved This American Life for many many years.  I don't always get to catch it on the radio on Saturday afternoons and now you can listen via podcast.  Ira Glass is one of my favorite people ever and this broadcast has made my life more rich than it otherwise would have been and how many times can you say that about something entertaining?  

Ira Glass

5.  Invisibilia
 Invisibilia takes a stab at understanding human behavior - delving into beliefs, assumptions and emotions.  The two hosts are Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel and they manage to combine science, research, social science, and old fashioned story telling into this wonderful mix that makes you feel smarter and to see the world in different ways all at the same time. 

Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel

6.  Love + Radio 

I want to warn right up front this show sometimes veers into some territory some may find offensive.  Nick van der Kolk will give you a warning up front if he thinks you might be offended by something or if it's explicit in some way.  I will tell you I have found many of these episodes absolutely mesmerizing.  It's about love, human nature, and all the weird ways human beings experience love and relationships.  But they create this show by talking to some really interesting human beings.  They then mix the show in a way that makes you feel like you're on drugs sometimes.  Really.  It's pretty awesome if you're into feeling your brain stretch and expand as you listen to a podcast.  

Nick van der Kolk

7. Rumble Strip Vermont 

Rumble Strip is produced by Erica Heilman in Vermont and the concept is basically she interviews random people and manages to come up with some really surprising and interesting stories.  One week it might be an artist or a criminal or even a soccer mom but they will tell you about what they love, hate, think, feel or something they have done.  It sounds weird and maybe boring but it really never is anything but fascinating.  

Erica Heilman

8. Serial 

If you somehow missed the phenomenon of Serial I have no idea what rock you've been hiding under.  Seriously?  Anyway, if you did you really MUST go listen to the episodes already produced by Sarah Koenig.  Serial this season was the story of a man accused of murder and sitting in jail but there were a lot of answered questions in the case.  It's possibly the most entertaining piece of detective work I've ever heard.  I was so hooked I would look forward to each Thursday morning knowing there would be a new episode.  Sarah is currently producing a new story for the new season but we don't quite know what that story will be yet.  With her talent, I'm sure it will be amazing.  

Sarah Koenig

 I'm positive these will keep you busy for a while!  Let me know if you have a favorite I haven't mentioned.  I'm always looking for more ideas. 


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekend Photography - Tucson's Colorful Adobes

Sometimes you actually get to go on vacation for a half minute, spend some time with people you really like, and take some photos.  Tucson is a fun place to take photos because there is so much to love about the colors.

These were all just taken on my phone.  But they still turned out pretty good.

I should be doing homework.  I am so over school.  And by "over" I mean just plain old tired.  Hopefully I can rally!


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