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Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

When doing the annual St. Patrick’s Day column, I try to stay away from those movies I write about every year.

I heart IrishNot going to talk about Into the West yet again. If you haven’t seen it, then you should. It’s a great movie featuring a legendary horse out of Irish folklore.

The same goes for Ondine and The Secret of Roan Inish. Both movies feature selkies, the latter is from the past, the former is set in modern times. While there are not chase scenes both are worth while. Check them out.

I have not talked about any Daniel Day-Lewis movies in the past. Just know that he is one of the best actors ever but his movies tend to live on the serious side of life. They are worth the time spent watching.

Before we talk movies, I will tell you that my friend once again had her wonderful potato party. I was lazy and did not bring a topping for the potatoes. Instead I focused on my green dessert. I made dark chocolate brownies with minty green frosting. Yes, the brownies had mint-flavored frosting.

They were tasty and since I under cooked them, slightly, they were soft and moist. When I took them home, there was great remorsing. I have no regrets.

Tara RoadSo this year for movies, I am suggesting chick flicks, the kind that make women cry and laugh and want to throw things at the TV. Thank God Irish novelist Maeve Binchy had two novels made into movies before she passed away in 2012.



First up is Tara Road starring Olivia Williams and Andie McDowell as two women who switch houses for two months after their lives have fallen apart irrevocably. Ria and Marilyn swap houses between Dublin and the United States. Both hope to seek a respite from their own lives while healing from the pain of loss.

Is this a first rate production? Not really but I do enjoy it for the strong performances by Williams and McDowell. They slowly meld into the other’s life while discovering strengths of their own. Its the perfect movie to watch with girlfriends.

Circle of FriendsThe other Irish movie for a chick flick festival is Circle of Friends starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. This movie is about two friends (Benny and Nan) who go to University, meet up with a childhood friend, and discover love. Driver plays the sweet Benny who is never allowed to forget that she is heavier than most girls.

O’Donnell is the pre-med student from a wealthy family who falls in love with Benny. Some how they find each other and work towards developing a relationship. But life and other manipulations work towards disaster. Benny finds herself challenged and heart broken and ready to move forward.

This is the kind of movie to watch to remember life when everything seemed ‘simplier.’ All you need now is some popcorn and dark chocolate brownies with mint frosting.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.


Becoming Churchill

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

One of the things that I always find amazing about the movies is the ability of the make-up and special effects crews to create the spectacular from tiny bits of powder and cream and prosthesis skin coverings.

darkest hour oldman churchillI haven’t seen Darkest Hour yet. But it is simply incredible how Gary Oldman goes from looking like himself to Winston Churchill in all of the trailers that I have watched. We follow Churchill as he is elected Prime Minister after Neville Chamberlin. We watch as he tries to keep the country motivated to fight against Hitler’s army that seems unbeatable.

Movie watchers know Oldman from the Harry Potter series as Sirius Black and Christopher Nolan’s Batman series as Commissioner Gordon. He is a younger man who is thin and three inches taller than Churchill who was 5’6”.

The make-up used on Oldman made him look older as Churchill was 66 years old during the time period depicted in this movie. Oldman turned 59 during the shooting of the picture.

Maybe it’s me but I sometimes think we have begun to age differently. I know people in their 60s who look younger than I remember my grandparents looking at the same age. I am often told I look ten years younger than I am (for which I am grateful. I don’t care if people are just being nice to me.) When I see Gary Oldman at 59, I think I am seeing a man in his 40s.

Darkest Hour oldmanBut as Churchill. Oldman is jowly. He is heavier and moves differently. Oldman stated he intensely studied Churchill for a year in order to have his moves and quirks, speak patterns and accent. In the end, though, Oldman stated he had to do more than impersonate. He had to interpret the man who brought England through the roughest part of WWII when it looked like the war was about to be lost.

Now that was the challenge. In every clip I have seen, Oldman is Churchill, he embodies all that we have ever known about him. He sounded like Churchill, especially during the “Beaches” speech. I know it is Oldman’s job to be incredible, to capture his subject’s spirit. Not everyone succeeds at the job. But even actors who have portrayed Churchill in the past, including Robert Hardy, have stated that Oldman’s performance is the best so far.

Others must agree for Oldman has won a Golden Globe award for this performance along with nominations for Best Actor from the Screen Actors’ Guild, BAFTA, (British Academy Awards), and the Academy Awards aka the Oscars TM.

churchill-darkest-hourOldman’s performance may be trans-formative but he is supported by other actors, including Kristen Scott Thomas and Ben Mendolsohn, that brings the era to life. Director Joe Wright has been incredible in his past efforts which include Atonement.

Darkest Hour is a movie I am looking forward to seeing, not just because I am a history buff, but because I enjoy high art that is also accessible to anyone and everyone..

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Avengers and Freedom

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

All this past week the only movie I heard being discussed was Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman.

blackpantherIt is setting records like crazy for highest box office, for highest pre-sale tickets. People are marveling over the fact that the director is only 31 years old. But Ryan Coogler also directed Creed, winning Sylvester Stallone an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

His other movie was the highly touted Fruitville Station, the story about a man shot in the San Francisco mass transit station. All three movies feature Michael B. Jordan. Ever since I saw Jordan on the TV show, Parenthood, I had a feeling he would be a force in Hollywood.

Some people have that ‘something’ and Jordan has ‘it.’ When I saw him in Creed you could feel his charisma. But one of his goals was to play a guy totally unlike himself, completely different and that meant finding a ‘bad guy’ role. He has found that role in Black Panther as Erik Killmonger.

I plan to see this movie sometime in the near future, Black Panther will surely be around for sometime. I‘ve made due with clips and trailers that I can see on Youtube. My youngest has been ordered by his brother to stop giving away the secrets of the movie.

If I am lucky I will still know nothing by the time I get to see it.

Captain America Civil warIn the meantime, I will have to settle for Captain America: Civil War. In this installment of the Marvel Universe, Captain America/Steve Rogers and Iron Man/Tony Stark do not see eye to eye about legislation meant to keep these superheros in check. Tony is for it while Steve believes it goes against everything that America stands for.

Rogers saw what happened the last time people were forced to register and does not want a repeat of that world. Stark, on the other hand, understands why governments want to control the damage that can be done by these super battles.

Soon, the various members of the Avengers, including a whole host of new people, are choosing sides. Some side with Cap, others decide to join forces with Tony. It is not pretty and some of the team members have total fanboy moments. All of this leads to an epic fight between Iron Man and Captain America.

More importantly, there is another force taking advantage of this divide. The reasons why seem crazy and not so crazy. And in the end, it makes us question what we know to be true.

Cap and ironman fightThis is a movie I have watched a few times. While I have a crush on Captain America and his philosophy of what it means to be American, I am fascinated by Tony Stark’s emotional development. Stark appears to be suffering from PTSD but wants to hide it. He also wants to be in charge and constantly improving his technology while ignoring that he made his money from weapons. These are characters that are complex and act out in ways that seem contradictory to what we view as their intrinsic values.

While I notice new details about sets, I never cease to be amazed by the development – both good and bad – of the characters in the Marvel Universe.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Moonstruck by Love

Family Movie Night

Family Movie Night

Every year Valentine’s day comes with read and ink hearts all over the place.

There will be candies and wine flowing. People will go out for dinner or stay home to make a magical feast.

At the moment of this writing, I have no idea what we might be doing beyond youth group that evening at church.

Moonstruck But the one thing I do know is that I want to watch Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicholas Cage. It is a classic although a bit non-traditional love story. I find it to be one of those few perfect movies that makes you laugh and cry. Every scene feels as if it could stand on it’s own.

The story is about an Italian-American woman who lives with her parents. Loretta works as an accountant and has been widowed for many years. She has just accepted a marriage proposal from Johnny, a man she does not love.

Before he leaves for Italy to visit his dying mother, Johny asks Loretta to invite his brother to the wedding. They have been estranged for many years but Johnny wants a fresh start. When Loretta meets Ronny, sparks fly and they fall in love.

moonstruck_mahoney dukakis Meanwhile, her mother is dealing with the knowledge that her husband is cheating on her again. Her sadness is broken for an evening with an interlude with a professor who has played out a usual scene of a break-up. This coule is the great Olympia Dukakis and the late-great John Mahoney who dance around the idea of an affair.

All of the cast, including Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, and Fedor Chaliapin Jr., make this a rich family drama that is so much more than your typical romantic comedy. You have stories about the renewal of hope, the power one holds in marriage when you don’t think you have that power. The binds of family and resposibility.

Moonstruck - family breakfast There is the great musical selections of Dean Martin, Vicki Carr, and songs from La Bohome that seal each moment of feeling and emotion.

And then there is the other character that is not listed, the city of New York with its historic buildings and distinctive neighborhoods. We see the lovely opera house and toodle around Brooklyn. We see Loretta’s life that might be dull to some people but makes sense for her in the life of a broken dream.

I could go on and on about this movie for the richness of the characters, the pack of dogs led around by the grandfather, the beauty of the moon, the intensity of feelings by Nicholas Cage, and the need for great love in any of these characters’ lives.

Because the feelings are so real, so close to home without a false note, there is almost no way I could ever fall out of love with this movie. That’s why it is the perfect Valetine’s day movie.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Three Billboards

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Lately the boys have been watching horror movies. They keep watching horror movies from the 70s and 80s.

I am not a big fan of horror movies.

Monster movies don’t thrill me either. I know that there are real monsters in this world that are frightening more than any movie. When I saw the video of the father who went after the doctor who sexually abused so many female gymnasts, I can’t say that I found him completely wrong. I understood his emotions.

Three BillboardsIt is those same emotions that are on display in the Oscar TM nominated Three Billboards outside Ebbings, Missouri. The story is about a woman who rents three billboards outside of her small town. The bright red billboards question why the sheriff has not found a killer.

The killer that Mildred (Frances McDormand) wants brought to justice raped and killed her teenage daughter. And she feels that Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is not doing his job. The Chief wants to find the killer. But he is dealing with many other issues, including a deputy (Sam Rockwell) who is accused of police brutality.

There’s more, as there is always more with a story like this. There are many blind alleys and unexpected happening.

I am not going to tell you about them.

To do so at this time would ruin the movie for you as it is still so new in the theaters. But I will say that this movie took me to places I did not expect. Just when I thought I understood what was happening, a curve would be thrown, a mystical element appeared, bitterness could not be denied.

Director Martin McDonagh also wrote the original screenplay. He stated that during a bus ride across America he saw three billboards asking questions about a crime. He wanted to explore how a person could come to a point that they needed to do this and that is how he came up with the character of Mildred.

Three Billboards 2

From the commercials, I thought the movie would be more of a black comedy. But as it went on, I felt is was more of a slice of life movie through the eyes of a person living through deep grief. I believe that this is one of those movies for adults dealing with the adult topic of grief on various levels. The swearing alone would put off some people, especially the scene in which Mildred tells off the priest.

It’s a role that only a fearless actress could portray and McDormand is certainly that. She allows Mildred’s grief and anger and fear to take over, showing the extremes a mother might go to to find the killer of her daughter despite their rocky relationship.

Other cast members put in solid performances that don’t let you down during an onslaught of tension and continuous storytelling. The nominations for various awards are all deserved.

There are no easy answers, no simple solutions to this movie. That is why it will reap many Oscars come March 4th.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Game, Set, Match

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

When I was in high school I played tennis on the team. I loved the game of getting the ball in the right place at the right time.

My racket was a Chrissy Evert racket. I still have it along with another racket I used in high school. For years I followed the Grand Slams. I remember when Venus Williams came on the scene, I remember when Martina Navratilova retired. But I also remember when Billy Jean King was playing.

She was great, a tough player. It was magic.

Billy Jean had that something that made you watch her.

battle of the sexesFor that reason I was very excited to see the movie Battle of the Sexes. The movie is about more than her historic tennis match against Bobby Riggs. But it is also a snapshot of that time period when Women’s tennis started to get recognized as a force all its own.

Now that all seems to be so far away, that women were payed paltry sums compared to the male players despite the fact that they sold just as many tickets. Serena Williams makes the money she does thanks to Billy Jean who stuck her neck out for other women players.

In this movie, we see the start of the Virginia Slims tournaments. Laugh all you want at the athletes smoking cigarettes but that is how those players got paid.

As I watched this movie and heard Billy Jean/Emma Stone talk about what drives her to be the best, what drives her to want to make changes, I couldn’t help but remember how hard my teammates played. There were good players who made jokes about washing the uniform every night because it would get dusty. I saw my former teammates in these women.

The movie is about how the Battle of the Sexes came to happen. That Riggs, a compulsive gambler, tried to get King to play him but she refused. He eventually got Australian champ Margaret Court to play him. Court’s loss to Riggs spurred King to agreed to play. They set a time, a place, and even bickered about who would do the announcing.

King began to focus her training on how to beat Riggs while Riggs seemed to focus on being the biggest show on earth. He took her for granted because he beat Court and Court beat King.

Battles of the sexes 2Those who remember history, know who will win in the end. What I liked about the movie was the way it tried to humanize both characters, showing Riggs as a goofy dad and King as a woman exploring her sexuality. There are risks and dangers in this action, and we see that King considers all sides. Steve Carell and Emma Stone bring a lot of heart to each of their characters.

They never shy away from the circus created by Riggs or why that part of his personality was both his charm and failing. Nor does the movie shy away from King’s relationship with her hair dresser or why its discovery could lead to her downfall. Or how tennis is everything to her.

This is not a movie for everyone, especially in the parts that deal with grown-up relationships of both players. I suspect the younger crowd will find it boring. Others might be scandalized by part of this story. The thing about a DVD or streaming service is you can skip over the parts you don’t agree with or don’t like and get to the best part – the tennis.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The Big Sick

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Some movies make it through the festival rounds, find a distributor, and hit it big.

They are called sleeper hits or big surprises or revelations. They make us think while finding a common denominator that everyone can relate to.

I picked up one of these types of movies, not knowing if I would like it or not.

The Big Sick starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazen is described as a romantic comedies of sorts.

big-sickThe story line is about a Pakistani stand-up comic and Uber driver who meets an American grad student one night at one of his shows. They sort of hit it off, decide not to date, and then begin to do exactly that. Meanwhile his mother is constantly trying to fix him up with Pakistani women so that he can marry and have a traditional family.

The problem is he has fallen in love with Emily, who is definitely not Pakistani. He puts off having her meet his family until she breaks up with him. Once faced with the end of their relationship, it gets worse. Much worse. Suddenly Kumail must figure life out also getting to know her parents as Emily is in a coma.

In case you have not figured it out, this not a movie for little kids. We have sexual situations, swearing, and scenes dealing with huge illness and family dynamics that are not always happy. Even contextually, this is not a movie little kids are going to want to watch. I would guess since there are no car chases or explosions a few big kids will not be interested either.

But don’t let that stop you. People in my house were surprised that they actually liked it because this seemed to be more of a chick flick. You have an unlikely couple falling in love, facing family differences, and being challenged. What keeps this from being a soupy mess is the heart and challenges faced beyond the big illness displayed by actors Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.

Big sick 2One scene that I especially loved was Kumail getting challenged by a Pakistani woman, who could be a good match for him, for not being honest with her. Both characters are leading lives that are outside of the definitions of their family and culture, both are searching for meaning within and beyond those constraints. But she is demanding something even more elusive. It is both painful honest and stunningly accurate.

What I love is that we are never hit with the frying pan of knowledge. This movie allows us to figure things out. It doesn’t move in the direction of most romantic comedies with obvious montages and giddy simplicity. Like most great romantic comedies, it explores a different issue beyond the love plot line. In this case, why one moves to a different country and then expects to have all of the old customs.

This movie has seen some awards come its way and I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes some nominations and awards at Oscar time.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Total Teen Drama

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

The other day I came home to find the boys watching a teen movie. These are not meant for the younger members of the family because the context of it is in that not quite adult while being in an adult range.

Bring it onThey were watching Bring It On from 2000 in which the new captain of a cheer leading squad learns that the former captain stole all of their routines from a poorer but more talented high school.

This is one of those movies that is fun to watch, with the exception of one or two scenes that are downright embarrassing. I love the rivalry and later understanding between the two captains. And I have fun with the love story in which Kirsten Dunst lays it out for Jesse Bradford.

But can it compare to the other more serious teen movies?

My first thought always goes to Rebel Without a Cause (1955) starring James Dean as the misunderstood middle class teen who wears a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle. He is the epitome of bad-boy cool, the lost soul that you want to save. And maybe that is the point of all of the characters – each one has a trait you want to change. Part delinquent movie, part romance with incompatible partners.

The OutsidersOne of those inspired teen movies could be The Outsiders (1983). Based on the S.E. Hinton novel of the same name, it is the story of love not bringing two groups together when Diane Lane of the socs and C.J. Howell of the greasers meet at a drive-in. They fall in heavy-duty like but their friends try to kill each other.

Every relationship has its obstacles.

Funny thing is years later when I read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography I saw the same groups fighting each other in the streets and beaches of New Jersey, each knowing where they could and could not go.

But when you talk about teen movies, can you avoid the John Hughes movies of the 80s? The Brat Pack would come together in several of these movies, showing teen angst from the upper middle class bastions John Hughes Collageof the North Shore suburban communities. From rich kids taking a final day off in high school (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) to rich boy trying to date poor girl (Pretty in Pink) to middle class girl pining for a senior hunk while her family forgets her sixteenth birthday (Sixteen Candles) to a stereotypical group of kids being forced to attend all day detention (The Breakfast Club), Hughes explored it all.

The awful and funny things that happen in high school that no one believed could happen and we know did. The snobs, the jocks, the social layers that seemed impossible to fathom or pass through are all there. The practical jokes, the poor judgment, the unbelievable good things that can happen. Somehow, they survived and so did we. Looking back at those movies, I feel those feelings again.

Its great, its horrible. And I wonder when can we watch it all again?

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The One about the Race

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Recently I heard someone talking about the movie Hildalgo. These people had the wrong impression of the movie, thinking it was an action movie.

It is an action adventure movie but in an old-fashioned way. You are not going to get car chases, or shoot outs.

hidalgo-movie-poster-2004Instead you get a sort-of based on a true story movie about a horse race in the Middle-East. It is such a great story that you might forget it is not-exactly true and have a good time.

To me, those are the best stories. You know in the back of your mind they may not be true or that there is something too incredible to be real. And yet you sit there enthralled. I am the best audience for a good storyteller because I want to hear how the story ends and I want to believe that it could be true.

That is probably why I am such a sucker for a story such as Hildalgo which features real people in real places.

We start in New York City as Frank Hopkins and his mustang pony, Hildalgo, are appearing in the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He is friends with Bill and Annie Oakley, the female sharp shooter star. One night a sheikh comes to the show. He is impressed with Hopkins and invites him to participate in a race in Arabia, the Ocean of Fire.

Hopkins wonders if he should. His horse is a Mustang pony that has won endurance races in America. But his alcoholism has gotten out of control. He cannot run away from his past mistakes or heritage fast enough.

You know he is going to take the ship over. Once he gets there, he faces the scorn of the other racers as they prepare their Arabian stallions. Beautiful horses that could surely beat the Mustang pony. Along the way, Frank develops a few allies, including the sheikh’s daughter.

This is a perfect movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon when you don’t want to leave the house. It goes through the current story and Frank’s past, helping us to understand his motivations. But it is also beautiful, depicting an era that is long gone in an area that is exotic and different from our current snowy terrain.

hidalgo1Viggo Mortensen gives a stoic and wry performance as the cowboy who has things he wants to forget. It is not a passionate performance but one of control and a desire to survive. There is something touching and vulnerable about the man that endears him to the audience.

While little children do not have the ability to sit it out for two hours, I do think this movie is better suited for tweens and teens. They are old enough to understand the struggle this man is going through.

For the adults, it might remind you of the family classic movies that used to be shown on local TV many years ago. It is nostalgic of how movies used to be made, with a story slowly drawn out. The ending resolves things as they should be with some happiness.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.


Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Over the weekend, I gathered a bunch of friends to see the movie Wonder.

WonderI was certain that hardly anyone would be there because this movie has been out in theaters for the last six weeks. But the theater was filled to capacity at 44 people.

Starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as the parents, it is one of those movies that makes you like a kid who had a genetic deformity that has required several surgeries just to do those things we think of as normal occurrences. You know, like breathing, hearing, and seeing.

Auggie, played by Jacob Trembley, is both scared and excited about going to school for the first time in fifth grade. He is afraid of being picked on for being different because he is different. His mom tries to give him the usual “leave them alone” speech while dad whispers to him fight when the situation arises.

Slowly but surely Auggie makes one friend. He hits a roadblock, loses a friend, gains a friend. He also has to deal with a bully that is unrelenting month after month.

Wonder Auggie and jackNow this movie could have been a saccharine sugar fest, all about anti-bullying and making the victim too good to be true while the villains are pure evil.

Except its not. It is done factually and in language that sounds like 5th grade kids.

We even get to see some of the family dynamics with Via feeling left out in some ways because she appears to be able to handle all of the complications that Auggie’s condition brings to the family.

One of the blessings is that we begin to see the story from others’ point of view. Auggie’s sister Via, his friend Jack, Via’s former best friend, and back to Auggie. By seeing these different points of view, we see how different characters think and feel, even when they blow it and make mistakes.

Which is another thing I love about this movie. Everyone messes up or tries to fix things that seem right to them although wrong to others. There are ways to make a family movie that really appeals to families and this movie does it. I kept waiting for the worst to happen that never did and I was so glad of that.

Perks of being a wallflowerI have always been impressed with Walden production company, their movies tend to be good with less treacly sweetness. They understand that any old crap is not OK just because this is a family movie. It also helps that Stephen Chbowsky directed. He made the fine The Perks of Being a Wallflower which was perfectly fitted for a late teenage audience.

When it comes to family movies, I want something that all family members can watch, quality writing, and characters that are people you would actually know.

What makes Wonder a wonder is not the story but how it is told. Easy criers will get teary, you will laugh, and get mad at injustice. And, chances are, you will really like this movie.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.