Sunday, November 27, 2016

Week in Seven Words #314

They love talking about actions having consequences, until it comes to something they've done. Then, good intentions are all that matter.

She writes a tribute to her friends, the three closest, who cluster around her when shockwaves spread through her life.

The greatest gift her parents gave her, she writes, is a love of cheese. Cheese platters and wine are what hold her family together at home and abroad.

We play charades. I act out a kangaroo. "Karate bunny!" she shouts. I try again.

The boy runs straight at the headlights. He cries when his parents snatch him away.

The basketball flies around like Flubber in the cluttered room.

Dark windows and deserted streets tell me stories I don't know how to interpret. Some neighborhoods wither like unwatered vines, and it isn't always clear why.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Six movies that fit the holiday season

Title: Home for the Holidays (1995)
Director: Jodie Foster
Language: English
Rating: PG-13

In spite of its premise - woman visits her bonkers family for Thanksgiving - the movie isn't a standard, sitcom-like holiday comedy. The main character, Claudia (Holly Hunter), reconnects with some of her family, runs up against resentment and anger, and falls in love with her brother's guest, Leo (Dylan McDermott) - but these developments don't feel contrived. The actors inhabit the movie naturally, as if they aren't putting on a performance.

I like the exploration of the family, the ways in which they're close or have fractured. Claudia and her brother, Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), cling to each other as the unconventional children, while their sister, Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson), is perpetually on the outside and profoundly unhappy; she's married, has two kids, helps her aging parents, and so one would think she'd be comfortably settled at the heart of her family, but she seethes with stress and joylessness, pushing people away while also living with unnamed betrayals (including self-betrayal).

Among the older actors, like Anne Bancroft and Geraldine Chaplin, there are also strong performances, especially Chaplin's heartbreaking, eccentric character, also a family outsider. The filmmakers don't let the movie get melodramatic, though. There's restraint to the anger and pain, and there's plenty of light-heartedness and some moments that made me laugh. Though Claudia's life is in a bit of an upheaval, she has good things going for her; she's smart and fierce, and has a close relationship with her teenaged daughter, Kitt (Claire Danes). Not all is right in the world, but there's enough that's good.

Title: I Remember Mama (1948)
Director: George Stevens
Language: English and some Norwegian
Rating: Unrated

The movie centers on the matriarch of a Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco in the early 20th century. She's played by Irene Dunne as practical, devoted, steadfast, and sharp, her influence present in everyone's lives - such as when her older daughter, Katrin (Barbara Bel Geddes), has dreams of becoming a writer.

I Remember Mama is warm but not cloying. It's spiced with enough humor and character complexity to keep it from becoming too sentimental.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Week in Seven Words #313

Catching up on housework while the Internet and phones aren't working. Keep glancing at the router to check if service is back. Resume dish-washing.

We're side-by-side on the couch, our legs pressed together beneath a staticky blanket.

Fairy lights, purple skies, an evening chill.

We speak through scarves, our voices smothered.

After services in the synagogue, a boy and his father take turns being rabbi and cantor. When it's the boy's turn to be the rabbi, his father asks for a speech or some wise words about the week's Torah portion. "L'Chaim, L'Chaim, L'Chaim!" the boy says.

The quivering gray-brown rocks on the reservoir are ducks.

Kids run up and down the synagogue aisles. The space for prayers is also one for play.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Week in Seven Words #312

Blunt, cranky, and doesn't care about popular opinion. A pinch of humor in his mouth, lips turned up at the corners.

For unknown reasons, the restaurant plays a kind of soft, demented circus music. Everything turns sinister: the glint of cutlery, the irregular laughter. The waiter's secretive smile when I order a hamburger.

He introduces me to "Two Truths, One Lie," where you share three things about yourself and everyone tries to guess which one is false. The U.S. states I've visited and number of miles I've walked in a day throw people off.

For a couple of hours, we're absorbed in building train routes across Europe.

Unwilling to do something fun, she claims the sofa and calls attention to herself by complaining.

When the adults are being childish, take a break from them and sit at the children's table.

He's absorbed in his rain forest of pop-up trees and plastic prowling animals.