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Reel Mama: February 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

LEAP boldly into your dreams

Leap day occurs only once every four years, and the day has me thinking about taking leaps of faith, because in life, these moments are rare.  It isn’t every day that I ponder a step into the great unknown, leaving my comfort zone, trusting that jumping into a risk will pay off, and that everything will turn out all right.  
As a kid leap year always fascinated me, and brought a smile to my face, because I had a visual image of the years playing leap frog, hopping over one another as in the childhood game.  Playing leap frog requires trust on the part of the child being leaped over, that the one jumping over her will land safely on the other side, and they’ll both remain unharmed.  Then it will be her turn to take the leap, and she has to trust that she can go the distance.
And so it is with leaps of faith.  
Another four years have danced with us and disappeared.  I’m ready to start the next chapter, and I want to make sure that I take the leaps that matter.  Not waiting, with my head down, as in the game of leap frog waiting for my turn, but surging forward, with no net, trusting that everything will work out, and that the right risks will pay off.  It’s a matter of trust in myself. 
This blog was a leap of faith, and I thank you for supporting me with your readership, and for the wonderful conversations we’ve been able to have.  On this leap day, I wish you trust in yourself, courage to take the leaps of faith that you wish to take, and the generous support of your loved ones as you do.

May you take the leaps of faith you wish to take

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ever miss those wild and crazy Oscar moments?

And so the sun has set on another night of Oscars.  No ostrich-feathered headdresses, no backwards tuxedos, nobody in drag.  Yes, we had Sacha Baron Cohen doing a pseudo-scandalous little red carpet promo for his upcoming film “The Dictator,” spilling the “ashes” of Kim Jung-Il on Ryan Seacrest, but it was a staged effort to build some buzz for his film.  

Bjork's Oscar swan song
It didn’t have the effortless grace of Bjork (rhymes with “jerk,” don’t forget) floating in a white tutu accessorized with a stuffed swan head.
I was hoping Brad Pitt would streak across the stage as much as the next person.  But it seems that the Oscars has become too formulaic, perhaps overly controlled and rehearsed in some way, for anything wild and crazy to happen anymore.  Now the stylists have made it impossible for celebrities to pull off an “I-did-it-all-by-myself” fashion train wreck.  The celebrities used to trumpet self-righteous political speeches left and right (well, let’s face it, mostly left) when accepting their awards.  

Bob Mackie made Cher look like the Black Swan does Vegas.  It was fun!

Brett Ratner, famous for liking
fast cars and faster women
If Hollywood bad boy Brett Ratner had produced as originally planned, I’m sure he would have worked in some big explosions and car chases.  He would have made the nominees battle it out for the awards, like real superheroes.  I would have loved to see the Iron Lady, Meryl Streep, dressed as a female version of Iron Man.  She would have jet-packed her way through the auditorium, fighting to the finish with Viola Davis, who would be dressed perhaps as Storm from X-Men.
And pole dancers instead of Cirque du Soleil of course.  
But Ratner revealed his true colors when he dropped an anti-gay slur at a post-screening Q&A session.  He was fired from the Oscars, rightly so, and now he’s trying to backpedal by tweeting sickly sweet messages to those he offended.  Thus we’ll never witness the spectacular Oscars shake-up Ratner would have delivered.  He probably wouldn’t have even wanted to call them Oscars anymore.  A name like Magneto is much cooler.
Nostalgia was in the air at the Oscars this year.  But I didn’t mind.  In fact, I loved it.  I like remembering that movies are, as Barbra Streisand put it, where we go to dream.
Rumor has it that Billy Crystal keeps a toothbrush in his pocket while hosting the Oscars, because he used to pretend that his toothbrush was an Oscar in front of his bathroom mirror.  Billy, I have bad news.  You’re probably never going to get that Oscar.  But a toothbrush is so much better than an Oscar.  I mean, you can’t use an Oscar three times a day.  Right? 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reel Mama's Oscar-nominated film reviews

Check out my reviews of Academy Award nominated films.  Just click on the title to read the full reviews:

The Artist: A highly charming and innovative black-and-white silent film about a Hollywood actor's struggle to transition to talkies

Hugo: A wonderful 3-D movie that is riveting with its dynamic camera skillfully and lovingly directed by Martin Scorsese. Leading the pack with 11 Oscar nominations

Midnight in Paris: Romantic, nostalgic, and hilarious, it's the best film from Woody Allen since Bullets Over Broadway.  My top pick for the best film of 2011.

The Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts programIf you've always been curious about this category at the Academy Awards, you'll want to check these out.  They are now in theaters, on iTunes, and On Demand with various cable providers (Note: Not for kids under 13)

The Descendants: A family drama with ho-hum comedic moments and no heart, passing itself off as a “complex” and “authentic” window into the American family 

My Oscar 2012 predictionsDon’t mortgage your house based on my Oscar predictions, but they might help you win the night at your Oscar party.

Check out my essay "Who is George Glass?" inspired by Bridesmaids.

Now kicks back, pop some popcorn, and let's celebrate the Oscars Hollywood style!  Join me for my Oscars Virtual Red Carpet Twitter party today at 4pm at !

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reel Mama’s Oscar 2012 predictions

Don’t mortgage your house based on my Oscar predictions, but they might help you win the night at your Oscar party.  Here are the artists and films I think will win in some of the major categories:
Best Picture
Safe Bet: The Artist
Dark Horses: The Help and Hugo
Other nominees: Tree of Life, Moneyball, the Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, War Horse, and Midnight in Paris
The Help is an inspiring movie with a message.  The Academy loves this kind of film.  Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s valentine to Hollywood. It’s a movie about movies and a remarkable technical accomplishment.  Nostalgia reigns supreme with the Academy, which overwhelmingly leans toward period films that touch the heart.  The accomplished performance by child actor Asa Butterfield as Hugo also helps.  
I’m of a mind that more than five pictures being up for Best Picture is too many.  What you might not know is that the Oscars started out with ten nominees in the early years, which were later reduced to five, and then in 2009 made the decision to return to ten.  But the Academy makes its own rules and reserves the right to nominate fewer then ten if a full ten films aren’t deemed worthy of Best Picture.  Last year we had the ten, now there are but nine.  
The original rational for increasing the number of films was to give more commercial films a shot at the big time.  In 2009, it was a surprise that The Dark Knight Batman movie that was shut out of a nomination.  Why then has the last Harry Potter film, an enormous commercial success, not received that tenth spot? This has me scratching my head.  Similarly, why do foreign films have such a hard time breaking out of the “Best Foreign Film” ghetto?  Fans of A Separation feel it’s also a glaring omission from the Best Picture list.   Life Is Beautiful and Il Postino were some of the only ones to do so, but these films, though bittersweet, had a great deal of heart, with story lines more favored by the Academy.  
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Safe Bet: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Close Second: George Clooney, The Descendants
Other nominees: Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Demian Bichir, A Better Life
The problem with Jean Dujardin is he’s the actor du jour, but for too many it’s “Dujar...who??”  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a special place in my soul for French films and talent.  I’d love to see him win, but Dujardin is not George Clooney.  The Academy is grateful to Clooney for his long track record as a major box office draw.  Nevertheless, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the Academy will grace sentimental favorite Dujardin with the Oscar for his portrayal of a major silent film star turned has-been with the onset of talkies.  Dujardin has received more major acting awards than Clooney.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Safe Bet: Viola Davis, The Help
Close Second: Meryl Streep, Iron Lady
Other Nominees: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs, Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
The most interesting and unpredictable category this year is for Best Actress.
With 17 nominations but no statuette in decades, Meryl Streep is long overdue for an Oscar.  Her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady is seamless.  Perhaps, like British actress Helen Mirren did portraying another British icon, Queen Elizabeth in The Queen, Meryl will take Oscar gold.  Glenn Close is also a major contender for her walk in a man’s shoes as Albert Nobbs.  Yet Viola Davis is the sentimental favorite.  She poured her heart and soul into the role of Aibileen Clark in The Help.  She perfectly understood the role of Aibileen, and has revealed that her own mother and grandmother made a living as maids.  Because of the profound honesty she brings to the performance, the Academy will have a hard time passing Viola Davis up.  This is Viola’s year.
Here’s a piece from my friend and entertainment news guru Hillary Atkin about the Best Actress Oscar race.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Safe Bet: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Close Second: Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Other Nominees: Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn, Jonah Hill, Moneyball, Nick Nolte, Warrior
This race is between two legendary octogenarians.  Max Von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close playing a mute grandfather, and Christopher Plummer for his adventurous role as as a man who comes out of the closet in his golden years in Beginners.  The sentimental favorite is Christopher Plummer, beloved for his role as the Captain in The Sound of Music, and admired for this adventuresome role that admirably displays his versatility.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Safe Bet: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Dark Horse: Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Other Nominees: Berenice Bejo, The Artist, Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs, Jessica Chastain, The Help
All of these actresses are deserving, but Octavia Spencer is the sentimental favorite, and she has scooped up every major acting award in this category.  For years Spencer paid her dues with guest spots on every TV show from ER to The Big Bang Theory.  Now her overdue moment in the sun has finally arrived.  It’s all but certain that she has a lock on this category.  However, if the vote for The Help is split between Spencer and Jessica Chastain, also widely celebrated, then my prediction is that Melissa McCarthy could walk away with the gold in a surprise upset.  She may seems like an unlikely candidate for Hollywood’s sweetheart, especially when one considers the classic Hollywood sweetheart portrayed by Berenice Bejo in The Artist.  McCarthy is a master of physical comedy and even gross-out humor, and like Spencer, she is finally receiving a hard-earned place in the spotlight.  Upsets galore have happened in this category before. Juliette Binoche won over Lauren Bacall in 1997, and people are still howling over Marisa Tomei’s win in this category in 1993, though Tomei has since proven her worth with an accomplished career and remarkable staying power.
Best Director
Safe Bet: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Close Second: Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Other Nominees: Terrence Mallick, Tree of Life, Alexander Payne, The Descendants, Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Hazanavicius has received every major directing award, but Martin Scorsese may be a sentimental favorite.  Scorsese has had his unfair share of Oscar snubs, for films like Raging Bull and Goodfellas.  Both of these directors have created valentines to cinema with nostalgic period films about the golden age of silent film, and this category has them neck and neck.  Mallick’s film may be seen as too cryptic. Payne’s direction in The Descendants is not his best, and it doesn’t have the bravura matching the works by Scorsese and Hazanavicius.  Woody Allen is a master, but Midnight in Paris is viewed as too light to take this heavyweight category.
Best Foreign Film
Safe Bet: In Darkness (Poland)
Close Second: A Separation (Iran)
Other Nominees: Footnote (Israel), Bullhead (Belgium), and Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
Holocaust films tend to do well at the Oscars.  Many of Hollywood’s great pioneers came to America to escape Nazi Germany.  Therefore, there is a very deep and time-honored tradition of recognizing films that deal with the Holocaust.  Director Agnieszka Hollland is a darling of the foreign film scene with previously nominated films like Europa EuropaA Separation has received the most critical acclaim, and this category is certainly one to watch, because it’s going to be a close race.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Safe Bet: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash,The Descendants
Dark Horse: John Logan, Hugo
Other Nominees: George Clooney and Grant Heslov, The Ides of March, Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Zaillian, Moneyball, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughn, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Bafflingly, every major writing award has been bestowed on The Decendants, a family drama with ho-hum comedic moments and no heart. My prediction is that the film has a lock on this category at the Oscars as well, because the screenwriters believe that this is a “complex” and “authentic” window into the American family.  But while Hugo is not a perfect screenplay, it does have some impressive plot twists and set pieces.  It is a heartfelt journey about a boy’s attempt to decipher a message from his late father.  And everybody loves anything Martin Scorses touches.  It could be a sentimental favorite over the bland film The Descendants.
Best Original Screenplay
Safe Bet: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Close Second: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Dark Horse: Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Other Nominees: JC Chandor, Margin Call, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids
Midnight in Paris has received every major writing award thus far for original screenplay.  The Academy loves this film, but not enough to reward it with Best Picture.  Still intent on recognizing the film’s creative accomplishments, the Best Original Screenplay Award will serve as Allen’s “consolation” prize.  Woody Allen is the perennial favorite in this category.  The irony is that Allen can’t stand awards shows, so he always makes it a point to miss them, even when his winning is a sure bet.  He’d rather be playing his clarinet.  The Artist might well sweep the Oscars, and if this happens, then its award for Best Original Screenplay will fall into line.  Nevertheless, the intricately layered plot of the Iranian film A Separation is also widely celebrated, and could steal the category away from the two leading contenders.
For a full list of the nominees, click here.

"The Descendants": The most over-hyped film of 2011

I remember years ago seeing a satirical film that made me laugh out loud with its razor sharp wit, in no small part due to the perfect comic timing of its young star, then a newcomer on the Hollywood scene.  The film was Election.  The star was Reese Witherspoon, and the director was Alexander Payne, also then a relative “new kid” on the block on the directing scene.  Since then Payne’s career has included some real standout films as a director, writer, and producer.  Besides Election and his latest film The Descendants, Payne’s best-known films are About Schmidt and SidewaysSideways could describe the angle from which he views the human heart.  His characters very often aren’t likable.  A lot of times they are losers.  In Sideways the characters are likable losers, and the journey they are on is interesting.  In The Descendants, the characters are so unlikeable, and their feeble attempt at “soul searching” so uninteresting, that I found it very difficult to care about their predicament.

George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller
star in The Descendants

It is thus with shock and awe that I’m attempting to process the accolades and awards that have been lavished on this production.  I’m offering, as far as I can tell, one of the only negative reviews of The DescendantsI checked on, a reliable source for reviews across the spectrum, and the only two negative reviews offered aren’t even in English.  One is in Portuguese and the other is in Greek (yes, it’s quite literally Greek to me)--so how do we know they are negative?  
The film is a slice of dysfunctional family life in paradise--in this case, Hawaii, where the family has resided for generations.  Tragedy strikes when Elizabeth King (Patricia Hastie) is severely injured in a boating accident that leaves her comatose and with little chance of survival. Her husband Matt King (Clooney) must now take responsibility for his two daughters, but he’s always felt like “the back-up parent, the understudy,” and his disconnection from his daughters is apparent.  The girls are hurling steadily towards Amy Winehouse territory.  Seventeen-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) is a foul-mouthed party girl who has issues with drinking and drugs, and ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller), who curses like a tiny sailor, is a spoiled brat who cyberbullies, loves flipping the bird, and watches porn with her friends.  Such is the state of the American family. 
It is soon revealed that Elizabeth cheated on Matt, and thus begins his mission to find and confront his wife’s lover Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard).  Daughter Alexandra conspires to help him succeed on this noble quest, thus enabling father and daughter to form an alliance of sorts, a somewhat dubious way for father and daughter to bond and come to grips with their impending loss of Elizabeth as wife and mother respectively.
Matt King is a real estate lawyer who, along with the rest of his large family, has inherited 25,000 acres of pristine land in Hawaii.  In the midst of the tragedy, the family must come to a decision about the future of the land.  The premise of The Descendants is interesting, but the characters are so selfish that any attempt to form a meaningful connection completely lacks resonance and fails to touch the heart.  
While the girls’ performances are convincing, I’m baffled that George Clooney is apparently one of two top contenders for the Oscars’ “Best Actor in a Leading Role.”  It’s interesting to me that the nomination is for “Best Actor,” rather than “Best Performance by an Actor,” because that would imply that a great performance took place.  For Hollywood, George Clooney is the “Best Actor.”  He is one of the last few reliable box office draws, and he’s got staying power that only a few legends in the business, like Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, and Brad Pitt, can rival.  Perhaps the Academy is recognizing him because they are grateful, but gratitude is better shown through nominations recognizing worthy performances, as is the case with Christopher Plummer in Beginners.
Actors have to act, but huge movie stars can just go through the motions and get an Oscar nod.  Yes, Clooney cries, but mostly he grimaces his way through a pointless story, and his enormous star power gets in his way.  It’s not a terrible performance; its just unremarkable and unmemorable.  
Two performances in the film are noteworthy: Robert Forster as Elizabeth’s father, and Judy Greer as the jilted wife of Elizabeth’s lover.  These two performers are at the top of their game.  Greer reveals a fragility and exquisite timing of heartfelt emotion in her few minutes on the screen.  Her performance really was a pleasant surprise, considering that many of her most memorable roles are zany, verging on slapstick.  Forster is perfect as the heartbroken dad whose little girl is slipping away, and he must deal with the double heartache of his wife losing her mind to Alzheimer’s. The young girls in the film are also talented: they have their fleeting moments of sweetness and depth, but overall the daughters’ roles are so unsavory, and seemingly created purely for shock value, that it’s difficult for that talent to shine through.
The film isn’t a dark comedy, but it has ho-hum comedic moments.  It’s a family drama, but with no heart.  It’s a male Lifetime movie passing itself off as an authentic and complex examination of the American family and one man’s struggle to find himself, with messages about the environment and the meaning of family tacked on towards the end as mere afterthoughts.  The Descendants doesn’t live up to the hype.
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for ages 16 and up.  Heavy cursing, adult topics including infidelity, graphic portrayal of a woman lying in a coma.  Refers to teen drinking and drugs.  The 10-year-old girl is over-the-top with the in-your-face shock value (example: she packs her bikini top with sand and calls them her “beach boobs.”)
The film may take place in Hawaii, but after watching it I felt like I needed a vacation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The "bad mommy" syndrome (Part 2)

As I wrote in yesterday's piece "The 'Bad Mommy' Syndrome," this generation of new moms feels judged for the big choices when it comes to parenting (i.e, how many children to have and when), and the little choices (i.e., white noise on the iPod next to your sleeping baby, or a soothing lullaby?). But while we are sweating the small stuff, it sometimes helps to take a step back in time to see just how far we've come.  This print ad from 1941 shows that moms back then were just as afraid of being "bad mommies" as moms are today, but the definition of just what makes a "good mommy" has changed with the times.

What do you think of this ad?

Credit for this print ad goes to the blog I'm Learning to Share, which covers very intriguing nostalgic collectibles such as movies, records, and magazines.  And a big thanks to one of my best friends from grade school, Elisa Evans Belmont, a fellow mom, for sharing the ad on Facebook!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The "bad mommy" syndrome

Have you ever felt judged as a parent?
I’m convinced that the new generation of moms is the single most “judged” generation of moms, and the most anxious because of it.  Others judge us; we judge each other, but most of all we judge ourselves.
Call it the “bad mommy” syndrome, the constant fear that we as moms are doing it wrong, that our every choice is the wrong choice.  We worry that we’re scarring our kids for life somehow, or perhaps depriving them of something that will help them succeed later in life.  I fret and I sweat, and I constantly call my goodness as a mom into question. And I know I’m not alone.  I want to be the perfect mom, but how?
The problem is that not only are the standards for “perfect parent” impossibly high, but nobody seems to be able to agree on what they are.  Parenting wasn’t even a topic until Dr. Spock published his book Baby and Childcare in the 1940s (and by the way, I feel like a bad mom for not having read his book).
I was made to wonder about this when a teacher at my daughter’s preschool took me aside and lectured me about “modeling at home” (how we set examples and act as role models for our kids by what we say and do).  I got a “talking-to” because after I dropped my daughter off, the teacher saw that my daughter’s jacket had the remnants of some stickers on it.  When she asked my daughter what had happened to her jacket, my daughter said, “I ruined it.”  The teacher immediately assumed that someone at home had accused her of ruining something, and that my daughter had internalized it, thereby crushing her self-esteem and self-worth, and thus indicating poor parenting.
It never occurred to this teacher that my daughter might have picked the saying up from another child at the preschool, or that my daughter might have taken “ruin” out of context and applied it to herself.  Admittedly, I can’t claim that I never used the word at home.  Maybe I let it slip a while back when I walked into my daughter’s bedroom, and she had colored one wall and her brand new toy box solidly green while I was in the bathroom.  My daughter probably overheard us bemoaning the fact that our two cats ruined our new sofa (it’s now nothing more than a huge, comfortable scratching post).  And just yesterday I caught myself saying, “She ruined her appetite with those cheese crackers.”  Whoops!  It’s probably not a great word for her to pick up. Young children are very sensitive.  On the other hand, for days I’ve been stressing over the words I use around my daughter.  I don’t curse like a sailor.  I’m not dropping f-bombs.  I consider myself to be a thoughtful and sensitive parent, but clearly not everybody thinks so.
I’ve been judged.
I’ve been judged for breastfeeding too long.  And not long enough.
I’ve been judged for enrolling my daughter in a preschool.  If I were really a good mom, wouldn’t I keep my daughter with me 24/7 for as long as possible? I’ve been judged for not going back to work full-time because my daughter doesn’t have a “proper” sense of autonomy.  In short, I’m judged for working, for not working, and everything in between.
I’ve felt judged for hiring a mommy’s helper to help out with household chores.  It’s frowned upon for any mom to admit that she needs help.  After all, you’re the mom.  You should be able to handle it.
I’ve been judged for letting my daughter watch TV. (But it’s Elmo, people!  It’s not like we’re chillin’ to Jersey Shore!)
I’ve been judged for letting my daughter eat Cheerios.  Yes, Cheerios, because they are too processed.
This is just the tip of the big, messy, opposing-parenting-philosophies, heaping-guilt-on-each-other iceberg.  No wonder my head is spinning.
I find myself agonizing over parenting choices, mistakes, and lapses of judgement.  The guilt others might heap on me is nothing compared to the constant guilt-fest going on in my brain.  Yup, it’s a party in there--just me and the mommy guilt.
It’s the little stuff: I feel bad when I’m the only mom who didn’t bring a fresh kale salad and fresh-cut papaya, while I’m whipping out the crackers and (fake) fruit roll-ups.  And then there’s the big stuff: I waited too long to have kids, and then I only had one.
I’m going to either have myself committed or be the best mom I can be based on my personal believe system.  I’m going to provide a safe and loving home for my child.  I’m also going to make time for myself: parenting is my most important journey in life, but isn’t my only journey as a human being.  I’m going to enjoy and savor this parenting adventure in spite of the stumbles.  I’m going to lighten up on myself, or at least I’m going to try.  I’m going to admit that I need a hug.
My life is my party, and mommy guilt, you’re not invited because I’m “un-friending” you.  I’m not a saint -- I’m just a mom.  And I love it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reel Mama: This week at the movies (2/17-2/23)

There are lots of films worth seeing this weekend, and a double feature might be in order.  You'll find links to my reviews by clicking on each title.

The Artist

Now in theaters:

* The Secret World of Arrietty just hit theaters. It's a reflective, visually stunning film that moves at its own pace yet touches the heart and delights with humor thanks to the comical voice stylings of Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett

* The program of 2012 Oscar-nominated animated shorts is still in theaters.  If you've always been curious about this category at the Academy Awards, you'll want to check these out (Note: Not for kids under 13)

*  If you are in an artsy mood, consider seeing the Oscar-nominated The Artist, a highly charming and innovative black-and-white silent film about a Hollywood actor's struggle to transition to talkies

* Check out Hugo, a wonderful 3-D movie that is riveting with its dynamic camera skillfully and lovingly directed by Martin Scorsese. Nominated for 11 Oscars

* Beauty and the Beast in glorious 3-D is still in theaters.  For a fun afternoon out with your little princess, this might be just the ticket

For your at-home viewing pleasure:

* Need a great film for your family movie night? How about Lady and the Tramp, just released in a stunning Blu-ray edition?  This classic is sure to be a favorite for dog-lovers, and is worth seeing for the romantic scene in which the two star-crossed dogs share a plate of spaghetti.

Lady and the Tramp

* Another breathtaking classic to consider for your family movie night is The Black Stallion.  The film isn't fast-paced, but the story is engaging, the photography is gorgeous, and the scenes of the boy bonding with the horse on the remote island shores are beyond words.

* Need a romantic movie for your date night?  Midnight in Paris just might fit the bill.  Romantic, nostalgic, and hilarious, it's the best film from Woody Allen since Bullets Over Broadway.  Also an Oscar contender and my top pick for the best film of 2011.

"The Secret World of Arrietty" will charm young and old alike

Arrietty, one of a tiny race of beings called the Borrowers

If you are looking for a sweet and reflective film with refreshing and colorful hand-drawn animation to watch with your children this weekend, look no further than The Secret World of Arrietty. Parents frustrated by the run-of-the-mill PG kids’ fare with its innuendo, mildly offensive language, and edgy ‘tudes -- enough of wildlife and lovable classic cartoon characters in sunglasses already -- will be delighted to discover that this movie is absolutely appropriate for all ages.  It’s poetry -- a lovely visual haiku that will gently surprise young and old alike with its touching story of an unlikely friendship that grows between Arrietty, a tiny girl for whom a stick pin is like a mighty sword, and Shawn, a young human boy of normal size with a weak heart.  Arrietty is one of a tiny and disappearing race of people called the Borrowers, who survive by taking things from humans, the disappearance of which usually goes unnoticed by them, and live alongside the humans in the walls or the floorboards unbeknownst to them.  
Arrietty is fourteen as the story opens, and her coming of age enables her to accompany her father on an adventure to collect the human objects needed for their family’s survival.  The Borrowers make ingenious use of the objects collected from the human world.  An earring becomes a means to scale a curtain, for instance.  A screw becomes a walking stick, and the aforementioned stick pin takes on great importance in Arrietty’s adventures.  When she discovers the pin, it is her first “borrowed” object --the first object she discovers left behind by humans -- and she sticks it through the side of her dress like a sheathed sword. 
Trouble begins when Arrietty comes face-to-face with Shawn, who has been sent to stay with his aunt Jessica (Gracie Poletti) so that he can have the rest and tranquility he needs for his heart condition.  The law of the Borrower’s land is that if one of them is seen by a human, they have to move.  Humans are considered dangerous.  Arrietty’s father warns her that too many of the Borrowers have disappeared when humans’ curiosity got the best of them.  Arrietty doesn’t want to believe that of Shawn.  She is astonished and intrigued by the world of the humans, and she is as curious about Shawn as he is about her.  She soon discovers that far from wanting to hurt them, Shawn wants to give them a lifeline.
Arrietty is the voice of Bridgit Mendler, the darling of Disney TV who stars in shows such as Wizards of Waverly Place, and she brings just the right mix of sweetness and strength to the role.  Her voice is perfect when expressing her sense of amazement when entering the rooms of the humans for the first time.  David Henrie, also star of Wizards of Waverly Place and featured on How I Met Your Mother, has a pleasant and sweet voice that makes Shawn sympathetic.
It’s a film that takes its time, but the Japanese anime (a highly recognizable form of Japanese animation) is a breath of fresh air.  The story is suspenseful, and Amy Poehler as Arrietty’s mother Homily provides plenty of humor with her penchant for making mountains out of molehills (no easy task for a Borrower).  Carol Burnett is the meddlesome caretaker Hara.  The animation of Burnett’s character isn’t as lively as the comic legend’s persona would merit, but she does deliver the funniest lines in the film with her usual perfect comic timing.  Will Arnett is Arrietty’s father Pod, a role that doesn’t showcase his profound talent; nevertheless, his simple and stoic performance is right for the character.
Reel Mama’s rating: While the film does address some serious themes, including Shawn’s illness, I really feel that the movie can be enjoyed by all ages.  There is a scene in which a crow gets caught in a window chasing Arrietty, and then Hara hits it in a slapstick manner with the sole of her shoe, but this is the most disturbing scene in the movie.  

Based on the children’s book “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton.  Produced by Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio responsible for such acclaimed anime films as Spirited Away.  Directed by renowned animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Lady & the Tramp": A dog lover on the quintessential dog lovers’ movie

Lady from Lady and the Tramp

Kika, the doggie love of my life

The fact that I did a portrait session of my dog Kika will give you some idea of how I feel about her.  She has been my sidekick for almost 13 years, and she was my first “baby.”  She was the Princess (I have always been queen of our kingdom), but since my husband and I had a baby, I’m pretty sure she’s feeling like a forgotten chamber maid.  
The prim cocker spaniel Lady from Lady and the Tramp can totally relate. “I don’t imagine anything could take her place in our hearts,” says Darling, Lady’s devoted owner at the film’s beginning.  But when Darling and her husband Jim Dear have a baby, it turns Lady’s comfy world upside down, and I think most dogs feel that way.  

Our dog Kika's world was turned upside down when we had a baby

More than two years have passed, and our dog Kika’s still trying to make sense of this whole baby thing.  Kika probably needs a few sessions on a miniature couch with a doggie psychiatrist, though I hate to admit that potty training my daughter is higher on my priority list.  (In fact, Kika’s probably watching this whole long, drawn-out potty training experience and asking herself, “What gives?”  I potty trained Kika to use a kitty litter box in an hour when she was a puppy.) 
Like Kika, Lady experiences what, seen through canine eyes, is a kind of fall from grace.  First Lady loses her cozy spot on the bed with the owners.  She’s forced to take up residence in the back yard and worse when Aunt Sarah moves in to take care of the baby while Jim Dear and Darling are away. Though Kika still has a basket at the foot of our bed, and only needs to go outside to bark at leaves, the sense of heartbreak at no longer being the favorite is palpable.
Lady is so hurt in fact that she considers leaving her family.  Enter Tramp, a roving rascal without a home, and that’s the way he likes it. He wants to take Lady away from all this: “There's a great big hunk of world out there with no fence around it, where two dogs can find adventure,” he tells her.  And indeed she does find adventure.  It's worth seeing the movie just for the adorable scene in the alley behind the Italian bistro, when Lady and the Tramp eat the same strand of spaghetti and their noses meet, then Tramp pushes a meatball closer to Lady with his nose.  It’s not just a great scene; it’s part of film history.   

The famous spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp

The movie tells the story beautifully of a world seen through a dog’s eyes.  The dogs’ movements are natural with hand-drawn animation, well before today’s motion capture technology used in character-generated animation.  The score perfectly complements the dogs’ movements.
Disney never shies away from tough subject matter when it comes to the world of the animals it portrays.  You’d have to be made of stone not to shed a tear at the “barkershop” quartet howling “There’s No Place Like Home” in the pound and the tears rolling down the noses of those poor homeless dogs.  There’s even an allusion to what happens to the dogs that don’t get adopted.  It makes a powerful statement for adopting shelter pets (visit the ASPCA website here for more information on pet adoption).
I don’t think I’d be giving too much away to say that in spite of this, there is a happy ending.  As for Kika, we always strive to give her a loving forever home, even if we are “only human,” as bemoaned by Lady’s two dearest friends, Jock the Scottish terrier and Trusty the bloodhound.  
Lady and the Tramp is a sweet and beautifully rendered tale about Lady’s struggle not only to win her owners’ affection, but to become a “lady” herself: a dog who is brave, self-sufficient, loved, and also capable of love.  She learns that home is where the heart is.  
So for all you dog lovers out there, Lady and the Tramp is the perfect choice for this weekend’s family movie night.  Snuggle up with your babies (kiddos and/or doggies) and enjoy a very sweet and special part of film history with the ones you love!
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for four and up.  Several dog fight scenes might be too intense for the youngest viewers.
Special note: Lady and the Tramp was released on a Blu-ray Diamond Edition last week.  The images are sharp, and the colors are vibrant.  The new combo pack includes a Blu-ray disc, DVD and digital copy, as well as extensive bonus materials.  You won’t be disappointed!