Star Wars – no spoilers

B and I with daughter T went to a Monday morning showing of the new Star Wars movie in the renovated Regal Theaters near us. Yay for new reclining seats – especially because my legs aren’t long enough to touch the floor! Not quite as posh as our Loew’s Cinema recliner loveseats, but still nice.

We went to a showing that was 2D, as all three of us have issues with vision, motion sickness, or both. And at the bargain price of $5 a ticket, what could possible go wrong?

Short answer – nothing went wrong. We all loved the movie and had a great time.

B and I saw the original Star Wars movie when we were in high school – and already a couple. A long time ago in this galaxy…  The original Star Wars was a great good guys vs bad guys story with young, engaging characters, older sages, technology, robots, and space travel. So much fun!

In Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we all loved the classic familiarity of the opening credits, location shooting, strong characters, action sequences with spacecraft and light sabers, and state of the art effects. State of the art now is more advanced than it was then, of course, but the “wow” feeling is the same.

We also loved that John Williams was back to do the music, which adds so much to the film. We were glad to see that he brought on a collaborator to help with orchestration and conducting. Given that he is 83, it seems a very sensible thing to do.

Our daughter E and her spouse L arrive tomorrow. They saw the movie over the weekend in Honolulu, where they live. We are all hoping to catch another showing together while they are here. I’m sure we’ll  enjoy it as much the second time around!

Lava and Inside Out

In keeping with family tradition, my daughter E and I went to the movies this morning to see the Pixar film Inside Out, which premiered yesterday.

One of the many things I love about Pixar films is that there is a short before the main feature. This one is called “Lava” and is a love story – with volcanoes. E and I, sitting here in Honolulu, with our spouses thousands of miles away, both got teary. It is beautifully rendered and so touching.

Inside Out is the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley as she moves to San Francisco from Minnesota and what is going on inside her head, as told through her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. We also occasionally get glimpses into other characters’ emotion quintet, which is both enlightening and entertaining.

The best adjective I can come up with to describe the movie is poignant. Having once been eleven and having two daughters who were once eleven, I found myself empathizing with Riley as she tries to navigate a difficult situation. Yes, E and I did some more crying.

At the end of the credits, the filmmakers dedicate the movie to their children, asking them not to grow up, but, as E and I discussed later, that wasn’t really the point. Growing up is complicated and necessary and one’s own work and responsibility. E and I talked over lunch about how undesirable/impossible it is for parents or anyone else to make someone happy – or even to be happy a lot of the time. We were both glad that the emotion is named Joy rather than Happiness.  Joy is deeper and more able to integrate with the other emotions than happiness could ever be.

Wishing you all as much Joy as possible,


This morning, I went to see Annie. I had hoped to see it with T before she headed back to school, but the holiday period didn’t go according to plan, so I went today before the movie leaves the theater tomorrow.

I was a bit leery about going as I am not often a fan of updating older work. Annie appeared on Broadway in 1977. We had the cast album at home and I knew all the songs. We sang some arrangements from the show at my high school. I can still remember some of the choreography for “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Over the years, I’ve seen some live performances and was annoyed with the 1982 movie version for changing the time frame to July because then you didn’t get to have “A New Deal for Christmas.” I also come from a classical/church music/classic American songbook sort of background and tend to be pretty clueless on the popular music side.

But, I really enjoyed this version of Annie with Quvenzhané Wallis.  Wallis is amazingly talented. She doesn’t seem as though she is acting, even when that involves breaking into song and dancing on a regular basis. Her charm and energy really carry the movie.

I thought that the transformation to the present day worked well, with foster kids replacing the original orphanage of the 1930’s NYC.  I did miss the song “NYC” although its replacement “The City’s Yours” worked in the context of the film. I was particularly moved by the addition of literacy as a plot point. Dyslexia runs in my family and I was pleased to see literacy embraced as a cause here.

Review: Into the Woods

When our daughters were children, one of their favorite videos to watch was the the Great Performance’s recording of the original Broadway cast of Into the Woods. For a while when T was very young, we only let her watch the first act, deeming the second act, which goes into the aftermath of “happily ever after,” too dark for her – until her four-year-older-and-wiser sister filled her in on the rest of the play and we let her watch the whole performance.  All of which gives you insights into the kind of family we are…

At any rate, long before the current spate of fractured fairy tale mash-ups, there was the brilliance of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Into the Woods.  Besides uncounted viewings of the original Broadway cast, my daughters got to see the 2002 Broadway revival with Vanessa Williams, for which we also owned the CDs, for singing along on long car rides. We have also seen local productions, most recently at the CIder Mill.  So, I had high hopes and a few misgivings about the new movie version of our family favorite.

Fortunately, I enjoyed the movie very much. While there had to be some cuts to shorten the length from the original theatrical production, they were made very judiciously, with only a few song/dialogue cuts that we missed. We had to admit that, while we enjoy the reprise of the Princes’ “Agony,” it was better for the flow of the movie to have cut it, especially when the first act version of it is so charmingly (over)played as it is in the film.

There are a number of songs performed by an ensemble of characters and I thought that the filming of these, moving among the characters in their different settings was very effective, especially the opening version of “Into the Woods.”  I also thought it was a great choice to use the sung finale music over the first part of the credits.

My favorite performers were the three main female characters. Meryl Streep made a very convincing witch, aided by cinematic effects that let her appear and disappear in a swirl. Working for a camera instead of a large theater, she was able to show more subtlety than she would have been able to in a theater. Anna Kendrick made a wonderful CInderella. We especially liked that “On the Steps of the Palace” took place on the steps of the palace, rather than in the woods, giving her the chance to sing about her decision as it was happening, rather than reflecting on it later, as she does in the stage version.  Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife carries a lot of the heart and lesson-learning of the film. One hopes that this role, which won a Tony for Joanna Gleason in the original Broadway cast, will win some awards for Ms. Blunt.

The real star of the movie for me is Stephen Sondheim, whose clever and sophisticated lyrics and music make the whole production lively and touching, ably assisted by James Lapine, who wrote the book/screenplay. Because I know the show well, the clever lines were familiar to me. I was sitting next to someone in the theater who did not know the musical at all. It was fun listening to him react to the wordplay.

I’m hoping to be able to see the movie again while it is in the theaters and will definitely want to add it to my DVD collection when it becomes available. I hope other people will enjoy it as much as I did.

Julie, Julia, and blogging

My first big exposure to personal blogging was the film Julie & Julia.  I knew that blogging existed in some vague way before I saw the movie, but hadn’t read many blogs or heard much about blogs that were written by individual folks.

I have to say that I was not impressed.

Julie, the blogger in the movie, becomes so obsessed with her blog about making all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year that she becomes whiny, petulant, and inattentive to her job, her friends, and her spouse. She gains media attention, notoriety, and a book deal, but the costs to everyone around her are high.

On the other hand, I loved the intertwined story of Julia Child in France.  Her question of “What should I do?” and her quest to figure out what that was and to pursue it with passion, persistence, and good humor, all the while staying connected to her spouse and her friends, resonated with me.

My greater affinity with Julia has a lot to do with some similarities.  Julia McWilliams Child was a proud member of the Smith College class of 1934. I am class of 1982.  That women’s college/liberal arts background was evident to me in her ability to tackle new challenges and discern her way forward, especially as an outsider at the very French and very male Le Cordon Bleu, later as part of a circle of women chef-teachers, and finally her decades of teaching people to enjoy cooking and sharing food through her television shows and cookbooks.

I also related to Julia’s age in the film. She was about 49 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published, which was my age when I saw Julie & Julia.  I could appreciate the re-invention(s) that women make in their middle years and the ability to keep learning and growing that makes re-invention possible.

Maybe, if Julia’s story were unfolding in the 21st century, there would be a fabulous blog or website to accompany her book and television endeavors.

Maybe not.

Still, despite my initial bad impression of blogging, here I sit, writing a blog post about it.

Julie taught me things that I didn’t want my blog to be:  limited to a narrow topic, time-constrained, high-pressure, all-consuming.

Julia taught me to stay open to change, to accept criticism but to maintain the integrity of my work, to remember to enjoy time with family and friends (and food), to persevere even when it looks like the goal is unattainable.

So, I find myself five years after the film with a blog that is almost a year old that is eclectic and (I hope seen as) thoughtful, that has started to attract a small group of readers and commenters who appreciate some of the topics I write about and the way in which I write about them.  I have also in these years rediscovered poetry and am working to improve my poems and find appropriate journals or publishers with a goal of being published in print.

Unlike Julie and Julia, I am unlikely to ever publish a full-length book. I may eventually be able to publish a chapbook of poetry, but it won’t be as a result of my blog – or my cooking.

And I won’t give up from the discouraging number of rejection notices.

Julia didn’t.



“The Fault in Our Stars”

While I usually try to read a book before seeing a film adaptation, I did not read “The Fault in Our Stars” before seeing the film earlier this week. The book was written after my daughters were of an age to have read it, so it wasn’t on my radar.

Within the first few minutes, I correctly guessed the final outcome, but that didn’t really matter. The film resonated with me because it re-inforced ideas that I know to be true.

1. Young love is real love. Even without the maturing influence of battling cancer at a young age, young people can be very deeply in love. My husband and I met in our early teen years and have been married for 32 years and friends for 40 years. Obviously, our story is not that common nowadays, but it is a testament to young people being capable of both love and good judgement.

2. Words are powerful. There are many instances in the film where words – spoken, written, emailed, texted – are what drives the plot. A book and its author are a central plot device.

3. Reality trumps fiction. I knew before I saw the film that there was a scene in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that some people found gratuitous. My reaction was different. The preceding scene dealt with the main characters’ interaction with the author of a work of fiction that was important to them. The viewer expects this to be a breakthrough moment for the two young friends; instead, it is incredibly disappointing. It is a taxing trip through the Anne Frank House, with Anne’s words of hope appearing in writing and speech and the realization that only Anne’s father survived the concentration camps, that leads Hazel to accept Augustus’s desire to be more than platonic friends. I also felt using the Anne Frank story as a plot device made sense, given that the intended audience for the book was young adults, because most US schoolchildren read either Anne’s diary or a play based on it as an early teen, so they would immediately be able to make connections with it.

4. It’s really difficult to be the parent of a sick child. I thank God that I have been spared having a child with cancer. I have had to deal with difficult, long-standing medical issues, though, and could empathize with parents desperately wanting to do everything they can to help, even when they intrude too much on their child in their efforts.

5. Funerals are for the living. A character in the movie says this and it is true. As a music minister, I’ve been to more than the usual number of funerals. While a funeral often reflect the person who has died, its function is more to comfort the living, even when that means avoiding some of the truth about their final days.

6. Don’t wait to be kind, loving, authentic, and open. None of us have a guarantee as to how long we have here.

%d bloggers like this: