Archives for posts with tag: Review

In recent years the wife and I have made an effort to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible, including the shorts. This year we saw the short subject documentaries for the first time. If this is an option in your town go see it. Fill your pockets with candy. Buy some popcorn. Settle in.

In case you don’t get a chance (or maybe to start a conversation if you do) here are my mini reviews:

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life


Going into a film about a Holocaust survivor, one expects tears. This documentary however, delivers those tears on more than one level. At 110, Alice Herz Sommer is the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor. She and her son lived through the war due in large part to Alice’s skill as a pianist. If you’ve read Victor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning or you just want a dose of positivity you’ll dig this uplifting film.

Karama Has No Walls


Shot during the early days of Yemen’s 2011 student uprising, this film shook me to my core. A peaceful protest turns violent yet the protestors, students and journalist don’t flee. They walk towards the violence. They bare their chests and carry away the wounded. This is a revolution.

Cave Digger


Ra Paulette is republican nightmare (or wet dream). He is an archetypal hippie. He makes his living, however meager, as an artist whose art is digging caves into the malleable sandstone of the New Mexico desert. Something about this man rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t quite pin it down. Though the caves are indeed beautiful, my official review is, meh.

Facing Fear


Conceptually powerful, this film reaches for a lot. Twenty years ago a group of neo-Nazi teens nearly beat to death a young gay hustler in LA. Now, one of those teens is a former neo-Nazi and that hustler has gone legit. They both work at the Forgiveness Museum in LA. They present to groups on how they have grown into the people they are now. It seems like both men know what they are supposed to say, hell maybe they even know what they will say in few years. I’m just not sure how honest it is yet.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall


More than twenty years ago, Jack Hall, a veteran of WWII, killed a man. He would spend the rest of his life in prison for that murder. This film catalogs his last days in one of the nation’s only prison hospices. Emotions are raw. Edges are unhewn. I fucking loved this documentary. That’s all I have to say.


This is a bit embarrassing but I figure I might as well start off the new year with honesty. I, Elizabeth Merritt Abbott, could not finish a book. Specifically, I could not finish this book:


Don’t get me wrong, Bobcat by Rebecca Lee is well written. The sentences are lovely. Lee draws a portrait of the Midwest college campus unlike any I’ve seen before, both loving and critical.

But that’s where the topics and settings stagnate. Each protagonist is either professor or student or administer in a 1980s Midwestern college campus. I spend my week days on these college campuses, I don’t want to spend my reading hours there too.

Putting a book down isn’t as traumatic for me as it once was. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time with the first 141 page and I feel no longing for final 67 pages. We simply didn’t click, this book and I. That’s ok.

Happy New Year, dear ones.


Most of the conversation around Blue is the Warmest Color has revolved around the sex. And yes, there are three very explicit sex scenes. Scenes that, personally, I would rather not watch with a theater full of people. At the end of one such extended scene, a gay fella sitting in our row said “oh thank god that’s over.” But maybe that’s just me and puritanical friend.

Beyond the sensational sex scenes, the movie is pretty damn good. It is the portrait of a relationship, one that spans some awkward times. High school and college and first jobs. Young professional life. Our dear protagonists must find their footing in the world and with each other. Largely the emotions feel true – which gets big points in my book – and the acting is suburb (despite the fact that sweet Adele can’t remember to use a napkin when she eats):


With all the buzz around this movie, I hadn’t heard (or blocked out the fact) that it is three hours long. THREE! Like The Godfather and Schindler’s List and Titanic. THREE! I thought we were past that fad. I was more than a little wary of that benchmark but you shouldn’t be. I’m sure this movie will pop up at the Oscars so you might as well check it off your list.

I ate this book in a week.

AM Homes-Music

What is it about? It’s not about music. (There may not be a single reference to music in the whole novel, not one I can recall at least.) It’s not as much about torching as you might think after the first thirty pages. It’s about suburbia and infidelity and love and fear and marriage and remodeling and asthma and, and, and….

The book covers one week. And it really covers that week. Our dear characters wake up, they eat breakfast, they go to work, many things happen through the day, then they come home and eat dinner. I didn’t realize exactly how linear it was while I was reading it. Maybe that’s a good sign. I wanted to know what happened next. Those little details were beautiful not routine.

If you’ve never read A.M. Homes before you’re missing out. I read This Book Will Save Your Life a few years ago and I’m not sure why I waited so long to read another. I know she’s written a new one. Fine, I’ll jump down the author hole.

This isn’t a movie about children of divorce – though I suppose the title doesn’t exactly suggest that it is. It’s a movie about stereotypes and one terrible couple (Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins). It’s a comedy that’s more drama or maybe it’s a drama with a weird sense of humor. I’m just not sure. Maybe you’ll have a better time with it if you go in knowing that the movie is a little unsure of itself.


As a child of divorce myself, I have some opinions on the topic. I never have much patience for people who blame their adult problems on their parents’ divorce – though that feels like a controversial thing to say. What do I know about anyone else’s experience? Nothing. All I know is that my parents got divorced and that’s a thing that happened in my life. It’s not good or bad but it happened.

Enough of that hippie-dippy, psychoanalytic silliness.

Back to the move… I love Catherine O’Hara. She is quick and offensive and unexpectedly warm and a little gross. She’s great. She certainly as the best lines in this movie. Maybe I’ll have to go watch a Christopher Guest film to cleanse my palate.

The wife and I were a part of this weekend’s box office busting turnout for Gravity.


Between the two of us, the reviews are split. I loved it. She didn’t.

The movie is, at turns, gorgeous and gruesome. The latter I hadn’t expected. I expected tension and terror and isolation. The movie is so much more than that. Sandra Bullock, both in her spacesuit and out, proves worthy of the Oscar buzz that has been spinning for weeks.

Well, I thought so. The wife is less convinced.

She didn’t find the dialogue or the tension up to the hype. I’ll admit the screenplay won’t win any awards. The backstories are a little predictable but I’m ok with that. The focus is the terror. The vastness of space. I must disagree with her about the tension, however. I gripped her leg from the opening scene to the end. I couldn’t imagine how Bullock would survive each consecutive peril. How does a person function under such trauma? This was simply the most compelling action movie/big budget movie I’ve seen in years.

We don’t often disagree on movies – or much else. Maybe that’s a good sign for the movie. It’s worth talking about and pulling apart and finding the merits. Give it a go. Let me know if I’m in the minority on this one.

The Thin Red Line was on TV this afternoon. Unedited and beautiful and heartbreaking and entrancing. I couldn’t help myself.


War movies, particularly WWII movies, feel a bit like vitamins. Like they are good for me. Good to remember our history. Good to remember that the good ol’ days were sometimes terrible. The Thin Red Line serves both those purposes. Despite the relatively few number of battle scenes the movie is incredibly tense.

It’s a gorgeous film, impeccably acted – directed by Terrance Malik. If you’ve seen The Tree of Life you’ll see the resemblances, but this is far better. (The Tree of Life was indulgent and trite, but that’s a conversation for another time.)

Trust me, if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and stars in the new film Don Jon. As the muscle bound, porn-loving, good Catholic boy Jon, Gordon-Levitt is absolutely charming. Paired beside Scarlett Johansen, you can’t ask for a better almost Rom-Com.

Just don’t go into this movie expecting the guy to get the girl.


If you’ve seen the previews you probably saw the gender rolls conversation coming. A big strong man seduces a woman in a tight dress at a club. A story as old as time.

In general I’m not a huge fan of the gender norms conversation. The whole issue feels a little circular. There is a scene in the movie, however, that screams to be discussed. ScarJo tells our beloved Don Jon that it’s not sexy for a man to clean his own apartment. Jon responds that he likes to take care of his stuff but she won’t back down.

I can only wonder, is this a real thing? Are there really women out there don’t want their men to participate in good ol fashion women’s work? Is this still women’s work? (There are far more male than female janitors at my university these days.) Before this scene I just took the compulsion that Jon cleans his apartment as part of the whole picture. He keeps everything nice. His body. His soul (confessions every week). His apartment. She saw it differently.

It’s only when I ask myself questions like this that I think, “Huh, I guess I really don’t understand straight couples…” When you see the movie let me know what you think. And yes, I think you should see the movie.

You won’t be disappointed.

Olive Kitteridge is one of those books that has been on my radar since it was published in 2008 (and subsequently won the Pulitzer in 2009) but I never read it. I’m glad I waited.

The book is fucking delightful.


Olive Kitteridge sits as my central character and the small town of Crosby, Maine bustles around her. Olive is essentially unlikeable, yet compelling enough for it to be a joy when she returns to the page. Others might disagree but that’s why I feel grateful that I’ve waited so long to read this book. I like talking about books. Hell I’ll read any pulp novel on the shelf if there is the possibility I’ll get to discuss it with someone I like. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s nice to have a book (and a character) all to myself. That is Olive Kitteridge.

Kids around the office mentioned the movie, Pain and Gain, a couple of times last week. It’s been a while since I watched a good action movie and the wife is out of town so what the hell. Sign me up.


If you haven’t heard the movie is based on a true story. A trio of body builders – played by Mark Walberg, Duane “The Rock” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie – kidnap an asshole millionaire and coerce him to sign over all of his money and property. One quote from the movie sums it up pretty well, “I don’t just want everything you have, I want you not to have it.”

As you might imagine, it didn’t end well.

The movie was good. Simple as that. I laughed and I wanted to know happened next. There were some great shots and the colors – as you can expect with a good action movie – were brighter. Most importantly, I cared about the characters. That’s not something I can say about all of the movies I’ve watched in the last year.

Pain and Gain isn’t going to win any Oscars. Most action movies won’t but we can escape into them. I can believe that Mark Walhberg is a bodybuilder who just wants to mow his lawn and sometimes – after a week of work and noisy neighbors and life – a person just needs some bright colors and decent music.

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