Archive for January, 2018


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.

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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.

Wonder

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.