Movies Movies Movies

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Here are mini-reviews of four recent movies we found enjoyable, plus links to some we saw over the past six to nine months that are now available in some theaters.

Spy****

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This one surprised and delighted me.

A mainstream movie, it stars Melissa McCarthy in a ‘take down’ of virtually every spy movie you’ve ever seen, especially the 007 ones. It’s a laugh out loud film about a woman who emerges from the basement of ‘Agency’ headquarters to track down and beat the bad guys.

McCarthy is terrific in her role and somehow walks the line between being funny and absurd. She’s helped by a good supporting cast (Miriam Hart, Jude Law, Rose Byrnem, and Jason Statham) and a script and direction by Paul Ferg that kept me laughing (despite myself).

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We saw a double feature on a Sunday afternoon (tho we paid separately for each film). These two were very different approaches to somewhat similar themes — films about young people who don’t fit in and how they ‘overcome’ their unhappiness.

When Marnie Was There ****

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I have seen very few animated films and generally avoid them (unless I’m with one of my grandchildren).

This one may make me rethink my prejudice against them (animated films, not my grandchildren).

In When Marnie Was There both the story and the animation grab you and keep you.

The story is of Anna, a 12-year-old Japanese girl who is unhappy, isolated, and withdrawn. Her parents send her to live with a relative in the countryside (Hokkaido), near the sea, and what follows is a mixture of a fantasy, a ghost story, and a mystery. It’s likely based on a fable that is unfamiliar to me.

Even better than the story is the animation. I don’t know quite what makes this film’s production more appealing for me than others I’ve seen. Each ‘scene’ is simply engaging and is a lovely mixture of colors, drawings, and transitions that seem both fantastical and real.

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl ****

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The three actors in the picture above make this film worth seeing.

The story is one that has been told before. In this case, it’s about three high school seniors — Greg (Thomas Mann), Rachel (Olivia Cooke) and Earl (R.J. Cyler) — whose lives intersect and who affect each other. Greg has carefully found a way to hide his inability to fit in; Earl, who is black, is Greg’s only friend, tho Greg calls him his co-worker; and Rachel, another senior and someone Greg barely knows, has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Their story is based on a novel by Jesse Andrews (loosely based on his own life?) and who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

All three of the young actors are engaging, and their interactions ring true. Mann is the star, and we see more of him than we do of Cooke or Cycler. But all three seem to ‘get’ their characters just right. They have a way of making the story legitimate.

I suspect audiences will enjoy this film more than some critics, who no doubt will correctly find parts of the film overdone and implausible. But whatever you might think of how the film portrays this story, the performances by Mann, Cooke, and Cycler are terrific and make for an effective, moving film.

Love & Mercy *****

132222_oriEllen and I saw this on a weekday afternoon, where the very young theater employee said, “It’s so cute helping you seniors navigate our new ticket buying machines.”

Harrumph.

So, if you’re younger than we are, you might take what follows with a bit of skepticism.

The Beach Boys.

You’ve no doubt heard of them. You might even have grown up with them, or you might think it’s old peoples’ music. No doubt you know more about Brian Wilson than we did when we went to see his story.

If you want to see a biographical movie that is different than most and is truly brilliant, IMHO, check out this one. It’s a story that delves deeply into the psychology of Wilson (the creative genius of the Beach Boys), and it will keep you involved for the two hours that it takes to learn about him. The film focuses on just two periods in Wilson’s life and gives you unusual insights into Wilson’s song writing as well as his struggles with his mental health. It will leave you with a deeper appreciation of his musical genius and what personal torments he experienced over a number of decades.

Wilson is well played by two different actors, Paul Dano and John Cusak. The former portrays him as he ‘was’ in the ’60s’ and the latter as he ‘was’ in the 80’s. The film flips back and forth between the two time periods, but it is not difficult to follow. Dano and Cusak both are outstanding, and several other key actors, Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter and Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy, also give strong performances.

I don’t know how accurate Love & Mercy is and whether it fairly portrays Wilson and the others around him. Wilson and Ledbetter were consulted during the making of the film, and Wilson is reported to have said the film is “very factual.”

I suspect there is a good deal of truth to what you will see. Plus, the script, the music and presentation of the film makes for a fascinating two hours.

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Many of the movies I ‘tout’ on MillersTime are ones we’ve seen in our Sunday Cinema Club, in a couple of the film festivals we attend (Philly & Miami), or in one of the (dwindling) theaters in the metro DC area that show independent or foreign films. If a film is from the first two of these venues, then I know most of you have to wait until those films come out. If your memory is as bad as mine, it’s easy to forget about those films. And not everyone who reads MillersTime, I know, has access to theaters that show independent or foreign films.

So, occasionally, I will mention films that have been nationally released and are now available a bit more widely.

With that in mind, here are some films we enjoyed that are currently being shown in the metro DC area. You can click on any of them to go to the mini review I posted when I saw that film.

Seymour *****

Testament of Youth *****

Clouds of Sila Maria *****

About Elly ****1/2

Gemma Bovery ****

The Farewell Party ****

Wild Tales ****

Woman in Gold ****

Join Me – Nats Tickets in July

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There are three games in July that are available to friends and foes to either join me or to use my tickets for upcoming Nats’ games.

Sunday, July 5, 8:08 PM vs Giants – two tickets available. (Note: For this game, if you get these excellent tickets (Sec. 127), you have to commit to getting to the stadium early enough to get two of the Strasburg Bobblehead Give Aways and promise to give one of them to me for my grandson.)

Friday, July 17, 7:05 vs Dodgers – one ticket to join me in Sec. 127.

Saturday, July 18, 4:05 vs Dodgers – two tickets available in Sec. 117 (behind Visitors’ Dugout, Row H). Tickets are free if you commit to taking a kid with you. (Note: Liberal Definition of a ‘Kid’, but my preference is to give these tickets to someone who is encouraging a future baseball fan to attend games. If no one has a kid to take, then the next preference will go to a Dodgers’ fan, preferably one who has been a fan before they moved West. PS – If you happen to have a kid to take and ever attended a game in Brooklyn, you’re probably the one most likely to get these tickets.)

Let me know by Friday, June 19th by 4:47 PM if you’re interested in any of the above. You do not have to be the first to let me know. If there are multiple fans interested in a particular game, I’ll use some as yet undefined system to choose who gets the ticket(s). Email me: Samesty84@gmail.com or leave your particulars in the Comment section at the end of this post.

I will have a few games also available for September but will wait a bit before I offer those. Pay attention to MillersTime emails in August for an announcement about those games.

“The Precious Ordinary”

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KENT HARUF - 1943-2014Kent Haruf – 1943-2014

This post is going to sound a lot like one from a couple of weeks ago — Summer Fiction Update — wherein I thanked a friend and MillersTime reader for introducing me to a writer I didn’t, but should have, known.

Yes. I got another recommendation of a writer somehow not known to me.

Plus, the subject matter and the writing of both these authors have a number of similarities: their novels are set in small, rural, fictitious towns (Holt, Colorado in this instance), and the characters are more important than the plot.

The ‘new’ author is Kent Haruf. Three of the four books I mention below are a trilogy of sorts. The fourth is Haruf’s final book, written when he knew he was dying and published after his death. Although this last one is also set in Holt, you have not met these particular characters in any of the previous Haruf novels.

I read these four over a very short period of time, a total of four days, as they are all quick reads. While the ‘plots’ are mostly devoid of excitement or complexity, all four novels were page-turners for me.

Thanks to Fruzina Harsanyi for pointing me to Haruf and his final book, which sent me looking for and to his earlier ones.

our souls.indexOur Souls at Night (2015)

I started with this one, his final one, and it hooked me immediately and thoroughly. It is very short, less than 200 pages and can be consumed in one reading. The story centers around two individuals in their early 70s who find a way to combat the loneliness that each is experiencing.

There is much to say about it, but you should have the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.

All of what is special about Haruf and his writing is contained in it.

468171_10150763600105977_76821524_oPlainsong (1999)

This one is probably the best known of the ‘Holt’ books and focuses on six or seven people who live in the town.

Their stories, their lives, overlap and are intertwined. Plot is secondary to character, as it seems to be in much of Haruf’s writing (maybe a bit less so in Our Souls at Night). These are ordinary people presented without being idealized or romanticized. They are generally good people, or at least people who have good intentions, but life events, circumstances, and individual decisions bring conflicts and difficulties for them all. How they respond to these circumstances is what seems to interest Haruf.

Eventide.indexEventide (2006)

This novel is partially a continuation of Plainsong.

There are further developments relating to some of the individuals you already know, but there are also new events and new characters introduced — a young boy who is caring for his grandfather and a new family that is unable to manage the circumstances of their life.

Plot is less important than character, and once again, Haruf quietly, simply, and without sentimentality brings you into the lives and everyday struggles of these characters.

1501168_10152079374670977_1079286281_oBenediction (2013)

I particularly liked this one, perhaps because it mirrored some events from my own life (care taking of a dying parent). We know almost from the opening chapter that “Dad” Lewis is dying, and there is no mystery as to what is going to happen or what happens.

While the story is largely built around a central figure (“Dad”), it is how Haruf presents the events of his life and particularly how he presents all of the important characters in the novel that is so effective. He has a way of bringing you into each individual and letting each of them ‘tell’ you their story.

I have purposely not described the plots nor many details of any of these four novels. Better to approach them, I believe, without knowing too much about what you will discover.

Know, however, that what you will find in Haruf’s works is not some idealized view of rural, small town America. Rather, these are all believable characters — “the precious ordinary” — whose lives are depicted without any need for “suspension of disbelief” on part of the reader. They are all about people you will think about and are likely to remember, and many are people you will like.

And Haruf’s use of language is wonderful. He writes with a quiet simplicity, using only the words that are necessary to convey what his characters are thinking and doing.

If you do not know the writings of Kent Haruf, you are in for a treat.

Ellen: “At Least We Won’t Have to Worry About an August Slump”

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Mostly it’s bad news for Red Sox fans, and it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to get too much better. Other than having a few young players who could be future stars — Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Eduardo Rodriquez — there’s not much to like about this season.

Elln.camdenHowever, there is one bit of good news: Ellen Miller is getting interested in sports’ photography. At least baseball photography.

We (foolishly) went to a Sox vs Orioles game the other night, with the usual result. But Ellen brought her camera and long lens, and here are a few examples of her first serious baseball pictures.

Grind: Extra Fine (Small Circles & Effect: High Contrast), Brew: Color Gels (1/2 Pic & Full Blended Circles), Serve: Stirred (Flash Burn Tone & Brown Bag Texture)

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Summer Fiction Update

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How is it that even though I read a lot and think I’m attuned to books and writers of value, I did not know of Marilynne Robinson?

The Marilynne Robinson who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for her novel, Gilead and whose other books have won or been finalists for numerous awards (National Book Awards, etc.).

Thanks to friend and MillersTime reader Robin Rice, I have spent the last two weeks reading Gilead, Home, and Lila. And rather than waiting for the year’s end listing of MillersTime readers’ favorite books, I thought of bringing your attention to Robinson and her writings now (in case you have been as clueless as I was).

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What Pres. Obama Believes About American Exceptionalism

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The Washington Post recently had a lengthy article about the background to the speech President Obama gave in March at the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.

That article sent me to read the entire transcript of his speech and then to watch the video of that speech. I was reminded why I thought the election of Obama was so important.

While we must wait for historians to judge what kind of president he has been, it can be said that his words and his oratory have been powerful.

As the presidential election ‘season’ is emerging, we are and will hear much about patriotism, about what it means to love America, to believe in America, to say America is exceptional.

If you want to understand what Pres. Obama has learned and believes about our country, take some time to click on one (or more) of the three links below. The first is to the WaPo article. The second is to the written transcript of the Selma speech. The third is the video of the Selma speech.

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Sheryl Sandberg Marks the End of “Sheloshim”

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Sheryl Sandburg, the Chief Operating Office of Facebook, the author of the 2013 book Lean In, and the mother of two children, has just posted the reflections below on her Facebook page, following the end of her 30 day mourning period for her husband David Goldberg, 47, who died in a recent accident.

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Through Ellen’s Lens: A Weekend of Babysitting

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When Ellen and I agreed to ‘watch’ the three grandchildren (6, 4, & 2) for a weekend while their parents attended a wedding out of town, I thought, “Well, at least I’ll get a good MillersTime post out of it.”

You know, one where I ‘gently’ chide the parents, ‘herald’ the wonderful grandparents, and feature the antics of the three young ones. As the weekend started, I jotted down some events that I knew would bring smiles (to readers, if not to the parents).

But then a ‘funny’ thing happened. All three kids somehow ‘performed’ well and were a joy. Plus, we didn’t even lose the youngest, as we have in the past. So rather than my expected post, I thought simply featuring Ellen’s photos would be the best way to ‘memorialize’ the weekend and entertain those of you who enjoy such things.

 

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Abby ‘Clarifies’ What Really Happened

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A few days ago, knowing that my grandson Eli was not yet reading MillersTime.net religiously, I read him my post about his 22-year-old hero Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.

Little did I realize that four-year-old granddaughter Abby was also listening to the story of Harper’s ejection by the home plate umpire.

Later that night I got a text message from their mother.

It read:

Abby tells me that Harper got in a fight with the vampire and got kicked out of the game.

And that clarifies everything.

Dear Eli: Good News/Bad News

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Dear Eli,

I know I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks. I’ve been traveling a bit and was with your Auntie Elizabeth in California, Oregon, and Washington. We got to see three Red Sox games, and they won two of the three. Not too bad.

Then when I returned, your Washington Nationals were playing two games against that *#!^x* Yankee team. So, of course, I had to go to those two games, Tuesday night and Wednesday night. The Nats won both games by close scores (4-3 and 3-2).

In fact, the Nats are playing really well and with the victories over the Yankees they are now in first place in their Division.

That’s pretty good because in their first 20 games, they only won 7 and lost 13 and were in last place. Then, in their next 21 games they won 17 and only lost 4. So they have gone from last place to first place.

And your favorite player, Bryce Harper, has been a big part of both their losing at the beginning of the season and winning now. In fact, he is now doing so well he has been named “Player of the Week” two weeks in a row. That rarely happens. But he’s been “on fire”, hitting lots of home runs, knocking in runs, and getting on base with a lot of walks.

But that’s where there’s a bit of bad news too.

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On the Move: A Life

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If you ‘know of’ Oliver Sacks, have read one or more of his 12 previous books, then the picture above might be a bit surprising to you.

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Usually, the pictures we see of this neurologist/author portray quite a different image.

More like this picture to your right:sacks_scourfield-300x298

As you may know, Sacks is a prolific writer, using cases from his work with a variety of patients to describe a world that most of us do not know, a world where anomalies of the brain lead to behaviors and lives that often seem strange, at least until Sacks explains them to us.

As you also may know, Oliver Sacks is dying of terminal cancer, as he announced in an eloquent and affecting NYTimes column, My Own Life, three months ago (although since writing that piece in February, he wrote a second column in April, A General Feeling of Disorder, NY Review of Books, and seems to have ‘rallied’ and may be with us for a while longer).

I have long been intrigued by Sacks’ work, his writings, his findings, and by the man himself. Thus, when his 13th book, a memoir, On the Move: A Life, was published several weeks ago, I, of course, read it immediately.

Some of what we read in this memoir is familiar as he has written about himself previously (particularly in his Uncle Tugsten and in his A Leg to Stand On). We know he is a doctor, a scientist, an author, and above all an advocate for (our) understanding strange behaviors and listening to the lives of (his) patients.

But there is much that is new also.

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“The Sympathizer” – A Brilliant First Novel

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Every so often, usually when I’m feeling particularly guilty about overly enriching Amazon by purchasing ‘Kindle’ books, I go to Washington’s independent bookstore, Politics and Prose, to buy a couple of hardback books.

Usually, I look for Mark, the head book buyer, I think, and ask him what are the two best books he’s read in the last couple of months. He rarely steers me wrong. (Because of suggestions he made, for example, I read All the Light Between Us and also The Son, shortly after each was published. The former recently won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the latter was one of the finalists for the Pulitzer in 2014.)

About 10 days ago I was in the store, saw Mark, and asked my usual question. He immediately went and got The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen and read me the opening page. Then he found a copy of Mary Costello’s Academy Street and said, “Also, here’s a little gem that hasn’t been reviewed yet, but I loved it.” (See my earlier post, Mary Costello – A New Voice.)

I read, actually consumed, The Sympathizer first and wanted to write about it, but I noticed the author was coming to Politics & Prose for an author talk and decided to wait until I saw and heard him in person. That happened Wednesday night.

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Don’t Tell More Than One Person

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I thought about keeping this place a secret, so it wouldn’t get too crowded.

But then a friend (SB) mentioned that maybe it needed more customers in order to stay viable

Thus, with some trepidation, I draw your attention to a gem in DC (good for those who live here and for those who visit too).

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Two Mainstream Films

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Readers of MillersTime often say they don’t live in an area that has all these small films I frequently review/preview. Generally, there is enough written about the mainstream, popular movies so I see no need to add to that chatter.

Here are two films, one of which is in the larger theaters now, Woman in Gold, and one, Testament of Youth, that will be released by Sony Pictures in the US on June 5th and will, I hope, get wide distribution.

Both films have to do with fall out from war, WWI & WWII. Both films are based on true stories.

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Mary Costello – A New Voice

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Rather than wait until the December posting of favorite reads, let me draw your attention to an author and a book I recently found delightful — Mary Costello’s Academy Street.

This first novel is quite short, 146 pages, but somehow this Irish writer has managed to pack a full life into the story of Tess, an Irish woman who comes to live and to stay in America after spending the first part of her life in Ireland.

Initially, Academy Street reminded me of a favorite read of a few years ago, Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, also a story of an Irish immigrant (female) who comes to America.

But in the short time it took me to read Mary Costello’s lovely gem, I thought of another favorite, John Williams’ Stoner, also a portrait of a person’s whole life. Both Williams and Costello seem to ask the question of the value of their main character’s entire life.

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